Above and Beyond

Today we were asked to reflect on our original “Presidential Global Scholars Goals” that we wrote down back at the beginning of December. These goals were both personal goals as well as experience/sight-seeing goals. While I am blessed to have traveled to seven countries in these past months, I find it more valuable evaluating how I have changed rather than where I have gone. After all, I was looking for a life-changing experience, and not necessarily to travel as many places as possible. One of the valuable lessons I learned this semester is the importance of going deep. It is not always about doing as much as possible, but spending a longer time investing in the people and places I visited. Below are the original goals of that I set for myself, and looking at my previous blogs and reflection on Time and What Next?, I think I have far superseded my own expectations!

“As a new honors student, I hope for this experience of studying abroad to push me. I have not yet taken any honors courses, so taking 15 credits worth seems a little daunting, but I am excited for the challenge. Another goal of mine is to push my academic knowledge outside of my comfort zone. I don’t want to be content with easy answer, but want to constantly question myself and others around me. Although I personally do not know any of the professors yet, I hope to not only gain a deeper understanding of their area of study but also to develop individual relationships with them. I know that there is much to learn from the scholars that will be joining us and I want to take advantage of this privileged experience. As a student of Religion and Culture and International Studies, I hope to walk away with a deeper understanding of European culture and society through experience. My goal is to interact with the locals and assimilate myself into their lifestyle and “wear their shoes” for the 3.5 months I will be there. One of my final goals is to get to know and interact with everyone on the trip, especially with my group for our interest projects. Just from initial conversations I can see the great diversity that individuals in the group have to offer. I am excited to provide my knowledge and personal experience to others while learning from them as well.”


Where has the time gone? It feels like it was just yesterday when I was sitting on a bench in Zurich Airport with 29 strangers. I knew maybe 50% of my fellow PGSers names and thought it was going to be a long semester. Never having been in University Honors before I was very intimidated by the brilliant minds around me. From the very beginning of our first of many train rides, I knew I was in for an adventure of a lifetime. My peers seemed to all be so unique and have something special to add to the group. As the semester has gone on I have begun to develop a deeper relationship with many of them. Now the adventure is almost over. In less than a week I will be on a plane back to the states, and all I can think about is how fast time has passed. However, I know that I will still go back having made these connections and experiences, and I would not have chosen any other group.

Most people who have studied abroad will tell you that is a life-changing experience. If the traditional study abroad experience is an experience of a lifetime then mine must be an experience of a million lifetimes (at least). I have become part of a new family. I have dealt with the loss of a dear friend. I have racked my brain to pieces. I have debated for hours on end. I have left class with headaches. I have traveled to 7 countries. I have taken dozens of train rides. I have eaten more food, especially margarita pizza, than humanly possibly. I have climbed active volcanoes. I have wandered through the ancient ruins of Greece. I have ridden dozens of trains. I have experienced the wine culture of Europe. I have enjoyed way too many Swiss chocolate bars. I have researched the issue of human trafficking. I have had the ability to become a global leader. I have become a Presidential Global Scholar and so much more!

There are not enough words to describe this experience, but here are a few:

30 students. 8 faculty. 4+ countries. 3 1/2 months. 1 Villa.

What Next?

In less than two weeks my study abroad experience will be over and I will be on a plane back to my life in the United States. Back to work. Back to school. No more Riva San Vitale. No more villa.

I do not mean to be depressing because I am, in fact, quite excited about going back home. However, I am worried about the implications of returning home to family and friends that may not be interested and will not understand my experiences during the past 3.5 months of being gone. I have lived in Switzerland and visited seven European countries. I have struggled with the hard questions in life (what is truth?). I have learned more about myself than any other semester. I have become a part of a whole new family – the PGS family.

But all of this means nothing to those outside.

Even before we left for Switzerland, Dr. Papillon warned us that we were going to encounter this issue. As the date approaches closer and closer I am becoming more worried about integrating back into life at home and Virginia Tech. How will my untraditional study abroad experience fit in with my old life? How do I take what I have learned about the world and myself and bring it back? How do I express to those around me the changes I have undergone?

Although I am still struggling with all these questions, I know that having the PGS family back at Virginia Tech will be a great help and support. One practical way in which I hope to bring back my experience is through the group project work from this semester. Learning about human trafficking and meeting those that are helping to combat and prevent the issue has inspired me to make other college students aware of the prevalance of the issue. Group project work is more than just an excuse to vacation around Europe, it has been a life-changing experience that has allowed me to look at the world through a new lens.

But all of this means nothing to those outside.

One of the largest lessons I have begun to learn is that an experience will be whatever you make of it. With the passing of a PGS family member and friend, J.J. Stinson, I have struggled this past week in understanding why things happen. It is never easy to say good-bye, but I realized that it does not have to be a good-bye. As long as I hold on to the great memories with J.J., he will never be gone. I will forever remember his kind smile, his graying head (filled with wisdom), his laughter, his melodious voice, and his honest friendship. I am beginnnig to realize that the same applies for my experiences this semester. Although the travelling may be done, the family and conversation will carry-on.

But all of this means nothing to those outside.

My goal going back is not necessarily to make my experience mean something to others, but to be able to positively impact others and myself through my experience. How this will exactly look I am not sure, but I know that in the process I will try to evaluate myself more often and stay true to who I am and have become while being open to the ideas and views of others. I will try to take this experience and use it to become a better global citizen and leader (although I am still working on these definitions).

So bare with me!

Pursuing Passion

The following is a draft of my exigency that I am continually (and will continue) working on. It deals with a passion of mine: racial discrimination and stereotypes. Although I have presented a problem and not necessarily a distinct solution, I am currently working on feasible solutions to implement within society. I would love any input or suggestions!

This past week in class Dr. Nikki Giovanni said, “We stay silent to keep from making a mistake, but the biggest mistake you can make is keeping silent.” Often I find myself not being able to shut up when I get deeply involved in a conversation, but there is one issue in particular that I cannot keep inside – racial discrimination. I am not just talking about civil rights and liberties; I am talking about negative racial slurs and stereotypes.

For a large part of my life I have been numb to racial diversity, whether African, Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian, etc. My parents did not raise me to see myself as biracial or as black and white. I had always seen myself as a unique and loved individual. I didn’t have a group of black friends and a group of white friends. I just had a group of friends. Looking back at photos I can now notice myself being the only person of color or being the lightest person in the group, but it never dawned on me before. I never consciously chose to hang out with one group or the other. Much of what had played into who I hung out with was my environment. I grew up going to a small, private Christian school where the vast majority of the children were white. I couldn’t change that, and I didn’t want to change that. People are people no matter what color.
Growing up bi-racial, I understand what it feels like to be stereotyped as both a black and white female. Being told that you wish you could be “black like me” is not a compliment when you are implicating that the color of my skin gives me the ability to rap and dance. Because the truth is I can’t rap. Maybe I can dance, but just tell me that you like my dancing. Likewise, saying that I “act white” is not a compliment either. I am proud of all of my roots. I am proud to be me.

Although some of these racial stereotypes may be true, I struggle to understand why we use them. Why we can’t see people as people. Why we can’t look beyond the color of someone’s skin. I may be African American and Caucasian, but I want to be seen as Karli Bryant. Nothing else. Just myself…Karli Bryant.

Despite trying to convince myself that I am not racist, I realize that I am extremely racist just like everyone else. When I see a black man walking down the streets with his pants hanging off his butt, I immediately think – gangster straight from the hood. When I see a white girl dressed up in Lilly Pulitzer clothing on campus, I immediately think – preppy, sorority girl. When I see a Hispanic man doing construction work, I immediately think – illegal immigrant.

We are all racist, and that is why I am here to talk to you, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The first step to solving racial discrimination issues is accepting the problem. It is evident through the existence of this office that Virginia Tech recognizes the diverse community and need for a more inclusive university. However, I am not convinced that the university has realized the great degree to which racial slurs and stereotypes are exhibited.

It seems that the largest front to increase diversity and inclusion lies in the creation of the Diversity Development Institute aimed towards Virginia Tech faculty. The stated goal by the institute is “enhancing diversity and inclusion by developing the competencies of our faculty and staff as outlined in the Principles of Community and the Diversity Strategic Plan…” and “assisting with incorporating inclusion efforts into university messaging, events, and activities by providing a collaborative approach to enhancing institutional knowledge.” In terms of this goal, the institute has been successful in creating programming, such as the Spring Workshop entitled “Race Matters: Thinking About Racial Issues in the Classroom and Beyond”.

However, I see a flaw in that the institute has focused on how to handle individuals based on the student’s based on racial background. I am not refuting the importance of different cultural awareness, but I am asserting that awareness needs to extend to discrimination and derogatory connotations.

I was recently reading a story by James Baldwin, entitled Stranger in the Village, about a black man who seems to be a stranger within a small, white Swiss city.

“I knew that they did not mean to be unkind, and I know it now; it is necessary, nevertheless, for me to repeat this to myself each time that I walk out of the chalet. The children who shout Neger! have no way of knowing the echoes this sound raises in me. They are brimming with good humor and the more daring swell with pride when I stop to speak with them. Just the same, there are days when I cannot pause and smile, when I have no heart to play with them; when, indeed, I mutter sourly to myself, exactly as I muttered on the streets of a city these children have never seen, when I was no bigger than these children are now: Your mother was a nigger. Joyce is right about history being a nightmare-but it may be the nightmare from which no one can awaken. People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” (pg. 179).

Although the children were not knowledgeable about the impact of their words, the hurt still continued. The first step to this issue would be making the children aware of the power of their words, especially ones which they do not know the meaning.

I was just talking to a student the other day who was denied a job offer because of her racial background.

This is not acceptable!

We are not trapped by history, like Mr. Baldwin claims in his story. We have the ability to write history. Write our history. We have the chance to change the future.

The biggest constraint to fixing this issue is societal acceptance. For far too long we have allowed others to make racist and discriminatory jokes, while we pretend to go along and laugh. Embracing these racist jokes does not stop the pain or stop the person using them. However, it is not until something serious happens, like death, that we begin to become defensive.

I am sure most of you are aware of the recent murder case of Trayvon Martin. “Zimmerman, a Hispanic American, shot Trayvon on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Florida, claiming that he acted in self defense. However, Martin’s parents and lawyers insist that the shooting was racially motivated, a claim that a significant section of American people tend to believe, with President Obama saying that if he had a son, ‘he’d look like Trayvon.’” (NBC)
Whether Mr. Zimmerman was protecting himself or not is irrelevant within our context. What does matter is how the nation is viewing the case. One cartoon drawn by a student at the University of Texas shows Zimmerman as a “big bad white man” who killed an “innocent colored boy”.

The case has become a racial issue of black vs. white, despite the fact that Mr. Zimmerman is a Hispanic American. I am not saying this should be a black vs. Hispanic American issue either. I merely want to point out this tear within our society. We have decided to diminish people according to the color of their skin and racial background.

We are all people. Let’s start treating each other that way. No it’s not easy to break those embedded, society-driven stereotypes, but most things in life aren’t easy. It’s not impossible unless we decide to make it impossible.
We must start somewhere, and educating our students is the first step.

“We can do better!” (Nikki Giovanni)

Not My Own

The other day in class Dr. Giovanni had us watch a film The Remains of the Day. The movie is about an English butler, Mr. Stevens, who reflects on his life of loyalty and service to Lord Darlington. These next two weeks as we ask the question: Whose story is it? with Dr. Giovanni, I can only think about the lack of Mr. Steven’s story. Throughout the movie, Mr. Stevens continuously lives his life at the heels of others, letting them make decisions for him. Due to his loyalty to Lord Darlington, Mr. Stevens ultimately loses himself in supporting his lord. Even though Lord Darlington was cruel to two young Jewish girls and sent them back to Germany to live the rest of their lives in concentration camps, Mr. Stevens remains silent. He is even more conflicted when he finds out that Lord Darlington supported Hitler and the Nazi regime. Although Mr. Stevens openly denies ever knowing Lord Darlington,he cannot lie to himself. He knows that he never was able to stand up for what he believed. Mr. Stevens lived a seemingly unfulfilling life and even lost the woman he loves. Reflecting upon this movie, I wrote the following poem that portrays how I think Mr. Stevens felt looking back at his life. This movie has challenged me to stand up for what I believe and never let others speak on my behalf.

I tell my story.
But is it really mine?
I read through the pages and don’t recognize the lines.
There are things that I would never choose.
Regrets I have made and continue to do.
Times I wanted to do something else.
But something kept me from being myself.
Why have I let others write the pages I claim?
I have watched my book be written and it brings me to shame.
Never possible to changes the things of the past.
Finished living my life of which this page is my last.
My story has been told.
The book has been closed.
The ink has been sealed.

Not a Color!

Before leaving for a two-week long travel adventure (including one week of climbing active volcanoes), our class was studying volcanoes with Dr. Bodnar. During the movie Volcano, there was a scene where people ran frantically through the streets looting stores and houses. The lava was going to reach the city in a matter of minutes, so people tried to steal as many things as possible. Looking straight at the screen, the first few people I saw run out of the store were black men. Hmmmm…..I don’t think this was a coincidence on the movie maker’s part. Why black? Why men? Is this the way that society views black men? As thieves, convicts, and may I even say…killers?

Sure slavery is over and segregation laws have been destroyed, but we still live in an extremely racist and segregated society. After the movie, a group of students and I began discussing the racist implications from the movie. Next thing I knew someone had asked me, “Do you associate yourself with white people or black people?” What? Is this a joke? Sure I am mixed with an African American father and Caucasian mother, but what does that have to do with association? Am I supposed to choose one over the other? Love one more than the other?

I then realized that I never grew up seeking black and white. I had always seen myself as another person. I didn’t have a group of black friends and a group of white friends. I just had a group of friends. Looking back at photos I can now notice myself being the only person of color or being the lightest person in the group, but it never dawned on me before. I never consciously chose to hang out with one group or the other. Much of what had played into who I hung out with was my environment. I grew up going to a small, private Christian school where the vast majority of the children were white. I couldn’t change that, and I didn’t want to change that. People are people no matter what color.

Despite trying to convince myself that I am not racist, I realize that I am extremely racist just like everyone else. When I see a black man walking down the streets with his pants hanging off his butt, I immediately think – gangster straight from the hood. When I see a white girl dressed up in Lilly Pulitzer clothing on campus, I immediately think – preppy, sorority girl. When I see a Hispanic man doing construction work, I immediately think – illegal immigrant.

Although these racial stereotypes may be true, I struggle to understand why we use them. Why we can’t see people as people. Why we can’t look beyond the color of someone’s skin. I may be African American and Caucasian, but I want to be seen as Karli Bryant. Nothing else. Just myself…Karli Bryant.
Racial discrimination and jokes may seem funny until they are directed at you. Telling me that you wish you could be “black like me” is not a compliment when you are implicating that the color of my skin gives me the ability to rap and dance. Because the truth is I can’t rap. Maybe I can dance, but just tell me that you like my dancing. Likewise, saying that I “act white” is not a compliment either. I am proud of all of my roots.

I am not black.

I am not white.

I am not a color.

I am Karli Bryant.

We need to stop drawing lines between races and begin to build bridges. We are one people living in one world. We all deserve the respect of not being stereotyped. We are all people. Let’s start treating each other that way. No it’s not easy to break those embedded, society-driven stereotypes, but most things in life aren’t easy. It’s not impossible unless we decide to make it impossible.

So I challenge you to think before you decide to make a racial remark or begin to stereotype.

People are people, not just colors.

Behind the Scenes

The more I think, the more confused I get. Leadership is a word that often gets thrown out without second thought. Scholarship and university applications ask to list previous positions of leadership held by the applicant. From this standpoint, leadership is solely about status assigned through a title. However, I am realizing that leadership is way more complex. What does it mean for me to be a leader within a global context? (I still don’t have an answer to this looming question.)

Last week while continuing our study on leadership, I was asked to watch this video: Lead like the great conductors. The speaker in the video, Itay Talgam, attempts to make a metaphor comparing various music conductors with different types of leadership.

Itay showed a few videos displaying variations of conducting – from playful to commanding to dainty to carefree. The final clip is what concerns me. He ended with a video of an outstanding performance where the conductor stood still with his arms crossed while bopping his head to the music. The conductor seemed to put no effort into the performed piece. According to Itay, if all of the previous types of conducting he mentioned are combined then a conductor can reach this point of doing without doing.

However, I must put some resistance against this statement. The performance of the orchestra is all about the show the audience expects. The hard work, dedication, and tireless hours of practice that went into the musical piece are not directly conveyed through the conductor’s performance during a concert. The ultimate result is the quality of the music that the orchestra plays. It’s a show! – whether solemn or sprightly.

Most of the time, viewers only pay attention to the final product and do not give credit to those that lead everything behind the scenes. Note: I am not denying the credit needed to be given to those in the performance. Whether it is mostly the collaboration of the orchestra, the commanding of the conductor, or a combination of both, one cannot judge where the leadership originated from by the performance.

I have found this very relatable to my time in Europe with the PGS program. Some amazing, university distinguished professors have come through the program and pushed me to limits I never thought I could reach. For example, Paul Heilker made me really think about what my exigency is – what is the issue that I cannot keep quiet about. Although I wish I could solve all the world problems, I realized that I need to find a place where I want to focus my time and emotions. From conversations with him along with experiences within my group project on human trafficking, I have realized that I have a passion and compassion for women who are trafficked. The final output of the project is still in the air, but I know that whatever it is I cannot give all the credit to myself or even my group. Credit must be given to those that have pushed me and helped me further pursue this passion.

I encourage anyone reading this to think about the hidden leaders in your life. Most likely there is someone or many people who have helped lead you to where you are now. The show may be amazing, but don’t forget about behind the scenes. Without those people, the show would never go on.

Amsterdam’s Tulips: more than flowers

Dawn broke and I struggled to open my eyes. Peering out the window, I sulked at the gray and cloudy sky that fell like a heavy blanket. It felt like another bad start to the day. After 12 hours on the overnight train from Riva San Vitale, my body was quickly fading. I soon learned a valuable lesson – a sleeperette does not mean sleep. Oh, and 33 Euros is way overpriced for a hot, smelly, and crammed seat within a claustrophobic cabin for six people. More like six small children. With less than four hours of on and off sleep, I was anxious and fully ready (or so I thought) for the adventures ahead.

Nine o’clock in the morning finally came and it was time to debark at Amsterdam Central Station. Stepping of the train felt like being released from shackles. I was free to move and breathe again. For about thirty minutes we walked around the large, crowded train station trying to find Saskia – Not for Sale’s European Coordinator. Not For Sale is a nonprofit organization that works to fight human trafficking around the world. My group had previously contacted them in order to learn more about our research topic – human sex trafficking. After lots of looking for a woman I had never seen before, she finally found us. Being only 22 herself, I guess she could tell the lost and confused look of a group of American students.

Quickly we were off and about the streets of Amsterdam. Like a typical tourist, I continued to turn my head in circles trying to take in the new smells and sights. Yet it seemed so much like home – McDonalds and English-speaking people everywhere. From the train station we took a left towards the Red Light District. Soon I found myself among Dutch-style shops and ornate, yet simplistic bridges above the canals. Within ten minutes, we had arrived at Not For Sale’s office, which they rented two days a week from a local church. It was an apartment style-building with opened shutters and flowers in the windowsill that were inviting to guests. Being a great hostess, Saskia made us some hot tea, which was rather soothing after a long and tiring train ride. We settled into the comfortable, leather couches that molded to my body. I was settled in and ready to hear all about Saskia’s story and work with human trafficking.

While talking to Saskia, I happened to glance out the bay window behind me. Immediately, my eyes drew towards the large, glass window of a shop across the street. I felt my eyes begin to bulge out of my head as my body began to cringe. I was UNCOMFORTABLE!

She is a woman
She is like me
Yet she stands there like an object
Ready to be sold
As if a price tag can represent her worth
She stands there in shiny, gold lingerie
Showing off her curves and dark skin
Seducing men that walk by
Trying her best to lure them in
But why?
Doesn’t she know she is worth more?

The rest of the meeting I could hardly focus. I saw the red curtain close as the buyer walked in. A curtain stained with images that should never be seen. Like a permanent scarlet letter that feels no shame. My heart struggled and I began to feel nauseous. I may not have eaten much that day but I was no longer hungry. Something within me was turning and churning, as if my body was eating itself away. Fueled with disgust, I didn’t know how much more I can take.

Let my people go!

Part of me wanted to break through the glass and save the women from a life of pimps and sex. To free them of the bondage and torture. But I can’t, and it hurts! I wish I could solve all their emotional, mental, and physical problems. I wish I could provide them with money to sustain themselves and their family. I wish I could end it all. But is it possible? I cannot help but think that I am just another tourist. Just another observer. Just a 19-year-old girl that is clueless to reality.

Later that evening after touring around the city, I found myself in the hostel mentally and physically drained. I did not care that the hostel was small, cramped, and not well maintained as I looked at the wallpaper peeling off the walls. Or that I had to walk up four sets of narrow, tight, spiraled stairs with my suitcase. Grateful to have access to free internet, I sat down on the bottom bunk to do some emails when Wes stumbled upon a video posted on Facebook from the Passion concert about human trafficking. As I watched, I was empowered to continue the work set out for me. Those 27 million people could use my help.


Most of Friday was a blur because I was still stunned by the sights from the previous day. Night came quickly and it was time to meet Saskia for a tour of Amsterdam’s red-light district, De Wallen. I figured I knew what I was in for and braced myself.

I was wrong again.

Smells and sights so unfamiliar – so discomforting. The musk of marijuana hung over the streets, and I gasped for air. But soon I found myself struggling to breathe, as if an elephant had stepped on my chest. This time not from the marijuana, but from horrifying sights. Streets and streets of windows with shining, bright, red lights above them. Women of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities almost naked standing in the windows. Their bodies on display for the whole world. Breasts (many of them enlarged) are hanging out of bra tops while a thong barley covers their bottom. As they dance around and tease, my heart breaks. Yet they continue doing anything to bring in the next buck.

Behind the window and curtain lie a chair and bed, and even props for some. Chains and handcuffs – they are all part of the act. My eyes were burning and I literally couldn’t look any longer.

It is more than an act. It is a life.

Just when I thought I couldn’t handle anymore, we walked down another alley of red lit windows. I am DISGUSTED. More than fifty men lurked around like dogs with their mouths open and drooling as they searched for their next buy. How repulsive! These women are not toys. They are human beings with hearts, heads, and souls and deserve to be treated that way. Their bodies are precious. Yet, these men were okay with defiling their bodies at a price less than 50 euros – not that any price is acceptable. What ever happened to the sacredness of the body?

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father[d] is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

As I continued to look around, I began to realize the problem is larger than prostitution or human trafficking. There is an issue and break within the society of Amsterdam. This entire part of the city is dedicated to fleshly lust and desires. Located along one of the many canals, the area is brightly lit from advertisement and building signs. Yet part of me wishes I could not read the signs. Shops that sell ever type of sex toy and dvd. Theaters that feature strip tease shows. And people fill the streets to see and buy these things. Single, married, man, woman. They all go.

And it was soon my turn to go, but to go back to the hostel. The entire tram ride back I sat with a blank face – puzzled, confused, and disgusted. Everything was becoming too real. After a fifteen minute ride, I walked to my room like a zombie and lied in bed for the next hour in cycles of contemplating and crying.

What can I do?

Nothing is not an option!

This is an issue and I am going to do something about it!

Now I am beginning my search to find where I fit into helping these women escape the dangerous and unethical life of being trafficked. They are women like me and I must find a way to help set them free. I constantly find myself comparing these women to the tulips that draw tourists to Amsterdam. Not because they should be an attraction, but because they are beautiful and deserve respect. There can be a brighter future for them.

My life will forever be changed by my visit to Amsterdam. I will not be the same. I am starting to develop a new set of lenses by which I view life. I am starting to understand my role within a global perspective.

Let It Flow!

Organized Planner – that’s me!

But less than a week ago I realized that my first Spring Break travel was coming up and I had no clue where I wanted to go. Most groups had already booked flights and hotels. But not me. What was the matter with me? Ever since I arrived in Europe, one of my fellow students and friend, Wes, has been telling me to let things go and just to go with the flow. Every time I laughed at him. That’s not who I am.

Until now…

With only a few days until break, I decided to head somewhere I never considered exploring – Basel, Switzerland. Basel lies very close to the border of both Germany and France, so I was all in for seeing 3 countries in one trip. I booked a hostel that I had never heard of before and didn’t do much research on. At only CHF 16/night it was a bargain of a lifetime! (or a bad decision of a lifetime). Something about the mystery and adventure was exciting. I at least knew I had a roof over my head at night. Since I’m working my way up on the “let it flow” scale, I couldn’t bear to just find a place when I arrived in Basel. But I had no agenda other than that. I hadn’t researched Basel or what there was to do. I was going to find out when I got there.

7:45 on Thursday morning I found myself on the train to Basel – out for an adventure. After a long morning of travel, I had finally arrived. And so had the cold! Silly me was so into being adventurous that I hadn’t thought to look up the average temperature. So I found myself in snow flurries with no gloves, scarf, or hat. The adventure had begun! From the train station a few of my fellow students and myself found our way to the hostel. Not being able to check in, we wandered around on the local tram system. Which I have to take a second and say…It is amazing! The trams run all over town and stop at almost every block. When in doubt, just jump on a tram and you will eventually get there. Many times I found myself hopping on the tram to escape the cold.

Since being in Basel, I have discovered the adventure of not speaking a bit of the local language – German. Every word seems to be 18 letters long with no vowels. Hardly anything like English! But that was part of the fun.

Most of my adventures with language block has been centered around food. On the first night we went to a local restaurant by the Rhine River, which ended up being a traditional vegitarian restaurant. The place was hopping with a relaxed atmosphere much like Gillies back in Blacksburg. Not knowing what to order and with no pictures, we chose five things to order and decided to split, hoping that we would stumble on something good with five options. I ended up with some type of vegitarian curry with rice and pita. Delicous!

The next morning I found myself at Migros, the local grocery store buying some fresh made donuts and pastries – cheap and filling. For lunch we went to Tadim Kebab Haus. These kebab places are found all over just like McDonalds back in the states. Again I attempted to order some type of wrap but ended up with the notorious finger point. It was called “durum gyro” and was much like a burrito made of durum meat that was shaved off this 3 foot tall spool of meat. I still am not sure what I ate, but it was mouth watering after a long day of climbing up to the top of St. Elizabeth Cathedral. The feasting continued to dinner where we ate at a traditional Swiss fondue restaruant. On top of cheese fondue, we ate two types of rosti (hashbrown-like potatoes with meat) and raclette (melted cheese on a plate with tomatoes and other goodies on top). I was in cheese heaven!

The food coma wasn’t enough because yesterday, I went back to Migros and found myself with a fresh blueberry muffin and warm pigs-in-a-blanket style hotdog (or some other type of meat). It was a great protein-filled lunch to start off my adventures to Colmar.

I want to spend a little time talking about Colmar, France because it took my breathe away. Only an hour away from Basel and less than CHF 30 round trip, I was set on putting my French into use. Yes it was below freezing (and I still didn’t have a scarf, hat, or gloves) but the view was worth it. The Dutch and German style, colorful houses lined the strees in perfect rows. Small, family-owned restaurants and businesses were scattered everywhere. In order to escape the cold, we would run in and out of the stores. I should clarify that we is Christina, Cassidy, and myself – it was a girls day out! We got hungry and stumbled upon a creeperie we had found earlier. Only big enough to fit 15 people, the restaurant owner came up and talked to us in French. Since neither of them knew French, I was carrying the weight of our lunch. We ordered local wines, which were much better than the “vino economico” we had been ordering at the Mini Bar in Riva. A few minutes lader the owner came out with our meal. It was then that I realized she was a one man show, and she worked it well. My crepe consisted of mushrooms, chicken, and a comatizing cream sauce. Then for dessert we shared a cinnamon and sugar crepe. Needles to say, it was an unplanned adveture that I will never forget. The small-town feel and atmosphere was a great relief. Most did not speak English, and I was quite happy to know that people were not trying to speak my language in order to accomodate my needs. The French came right back and I was so pleased with myself, and even more pleased to be able to understand the conversation around me.

After the tiring and beautiful day in Colmar, we headed back to Basel and ended up more exhausted than we originally thought. So Christina and I decided to go back to Migros and pick up some food for dinner, but it was locked tighter than a prison cell. So we wandered around in the cold for a little while till we found one of the only places left open – Coop (another local grocery store). After more wandering around inside we decided to pick up a “light” dinener. We grabbed a fresh baguette, a cucumber, a bag of clementines, a block of cheese, some sliced meat, a carton of ice cream, and drinks. We got back to the hostel and realied our “light” dinner turned out to be quite filling. About an hour later I passed out, exhausted from all my previous adventures.

Today I am hanging out and resting most of the day. I woke up at 9 and decided to go out and find breakfast since the leftover clementines weren’t doing too much. However, I forgot that nothing, and I mean nothing is opened on Sunday morning. After 30 minutes on the tram with Cassidy, we finally ran into a little pastry shop where I once again reverted to the finger point. We ended up with a braided loaf of bread and a pastry each – mine was a lemon cream danish. I am refueled and ready for a day of rest. Heading to mass later tonight with Christina. But for now I am going to relax because in less than 24 hours I will be in Milan for the day until my flight to Greece on Tuesday. Excited to meet back up with the rest of my classmates/friends and see what Greece has to offer. It definitely won’t be money, but I’m sure there will be some breathtaking architecture and a riot or two or ten.

But for now just letting it flow!

Occupy Outburst…Lesson on Leadership

Last Friday presented a unique and possibly once in a lifetime experience – attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Nestled away in the Swiss Alps, Davos is the highest city within Europe at 5120 feet and is surrounded by beautiful mountains glistening with snow. The long and windy trip around the mountains made the event seem even more exclusive and special. Once I arrived in the city, I stood in shock for a second thinking “I am at the World Economic Forum.” After walking around for a few hours and exploring the city I noticed that there were thousands of black Audi cars that all looked the same – tinted windows and all. In fact, I even got a glimpse at Sean Parker, the creator of Napster.

Not only did I get to walk the streets where the top minds in the world congregate, but I got to explore the Occupy movement and talk to the opposition leaders. After an intensive conversation with some of the protesters, I began to sympathize with them and understand their position. They expressed feelings of discontent with the World Economic Forum because they believed it was an event where the rich and famous get together and make decisions for the world. They wanted every person to have a voice. The essence of democracy. However, I had to explain to them their fallacy – these leaders who meet do not make any decision for any country. They merely discuss suggestions as how to fix the current economic, cultural, and global situations. Unsatisfied with my comment, they continued to complain about the lack of public voice.

Later that night when heading to the open forum called “Reforming Capitalism”, we ran into them again. I should have suspected, considering the forum is focused around the issues of capitalism. Two hours before the forum started, they were some of the first people at the door, ready to barge in. Not knowing their intentions, a ton of police officers and officials were on standby to help regulate the crowd. As the officers opened the door I almost fell forward as I felt my body being pushed from every angle. Everything went fairly smooth as hundreds of people flowed into the forum.

However, as soon as the moderator finished introducing the panelists, the protesters began to stand up one-by-one shouting “Mic Check” as if they had a microphone. Some of the panelists let out a slight smile and laugh while much of the crowd became frustrated. After a few minutes of shouting and chaos, the occupiers began to shout things like “We want a voice.” A few more minutes of chaos ensued until the moderator tried to bring things under control. More arguing occurred until the moderator and protestors finally agreed on taking a democratic vote to see whether the forum be held in its original format or whether the occupiers got their way with a completely open forum – everyone sitting in a circle. The vote happened quickly, and almost everyone within the forum (350+ people) decided they wanted to hear from the educated panelists. At this point the occupiers became upset and one in the front row decided to start yelling remarks in a rude manner. The funny thing is one of the panelists, Maria, was an occupy leader who was allowed to voice the Occupy Movement’s opinions and views. There was no need for the insolent outbursts. They already had a voice on the stage representing them.

Needless to say that was not enough for the Occupy Movement. So one of the panelists Tomas Sedlacek, who was a reformer in his home country of Czech Republic, decided to give up his seat and allow Occupy to rotate in and out of his seat out of empathy. From this point on the debate went on without too much interruption or chaos, but I must mention my great disappointment with the Occupy Movement.

With over a dozen times to voice their opinion on how to fix the capitalism issue, all they did was complain and complain about the current system. Not one of them offered an alternative. Maria, the Occupy spokesperson, tried to defend this issue by saying “Occupy is not a political power. The aim is to get people to think for themselves.” I completely understood where she was coming from, but I believe that Occupy did not understand it is impossible for everyone to speak on the same level at once. There must be some time of order and rule within the system.

Many times Maria said “We want respect.” She wanted respect for their movement and ideas, yet the Occupy Movement during the session was anything but respectful. The numerous, rude outbursts were uncouth and out of place. The consensus was people wanted to hear from the professionals who were well educated on the issue. However, the Occupy Movement did not want this sort of democracy since it impeded their movement. They wanted a dictatorship where their group got to win over the majority.

I have been thinking this past week about the implications of the poor leadership of the Occupy Movement. Last week we studied the many theories of leadership and one that jumped out at me was the path-goal theory. The theory hinges on leaders motivating their subordinates to accomplish designated goals. One important aspect of this theory is the emphasis of motivation on the group members. If the group members believe that they can perform a task well then they are going to be more motivated. Also, the leader makes decisions with the group in contrast to the more typical hierarchical structure. This type of leadership takes on a more supportive role, although there is some directive leadership involved. This path-goal theory describes emphasizes the importance of the group over the leader.

The same situation existed within the Occupy Movement. The protestors wanted everyone to stand on equal ground and have an equal say. Literally, they wanted the panelists to come down from their stage, get out of their chairs, and join the crowd. However, I would still be there now if we tried to all sit in a circle and have almost 400 people voice their opinions. That is just one small forum. Imagine a world run like that. It would be completely inefficient. Hence, there is a need for directive leaders who take initiative and direct the group towards the goal.

Part of the failure of the Occupy Movement was the lack of a solidified goal. Yes, they wanted to fix capitalism and stop the corrupt rich who control the system. However, like stated before, they offered no other alternative. A goal involves shooting towards something. A goal is not just complaining about the current situation. Whether the solution works or not, an idea is better than no solution at all. They cannot expect change if they are not willing to contribute to the change.

One of the other issues with their leadership was the leaders who represented the Occupy Movement. I must say that the leaders did a poor job in representing who they were. They lacked some of the skills necessary to be a leader. According to the skills approach, one can use their knowledge to accomplish a set of goals and objectives. These types of skills can be learned. The prominent lacking trait that comes to mind in this situation is inability to communicate effectively. Having a leader that can speak for the group is important, especially if the group is trying to gain the support of others. Occupy wanted to get people to jump on their bandwagon, but no one in the audience did because they did not have a solidified goal or ability to express their beliefs to others.

Finally, I want to point out the lack of authenticity within the leadership, especially Maria. She seemed like a sincere person until she began to go against her own arguments. She wanted respect for her cause, yet she and the rest of the protesters did not want to reciprocate that respect to the panel or the rest of the audience. Authentic leadership partly focuses on five characteristics of a leader: purpose, values, relationships, self-discipline, and heart. The heart and passion was definitely there, but a lack of self-discipline and commitment to values outweighed the positive characteristics.

Through this experience I have learned the importance of effective and authentic leadership. “You have to walk the walk and talk the talk.”

What is Truth?

Today in class we were asked by Dr. Heilker to answer the questions: What is the nature of truth? What is its relationship with language? in only ten minutes. Not a practical amount of time (at all), but made me think really deep really fast.

After sitting silent and pensive, wasting the first three minutes, I began to write about absolute truth versus honesty. We may all look at one object and determine it to be different colors. Color blind people may see blue as red. But which color is it? Is it just one objective color? The color blind person would honestly believe it to be red because that is what they see. Here is the difference between honesty and Truth: honesty is something that one believes in whether it can be proven or not while Truth is something that is defined and unchanging. There is one singular Truth. I speak of truth with a capital “T” because there is only one, absolute truth.

I cannot deny my faith, so I must bring it into conversation. As a Christian, I believe that God reveals those things to man that He chooses. His ultimate truth is unchanging and set from the beginning. We may not know or understand everything, but there is ultimate truth. We as fallible humans try to explain things with honesty, but often fall short. Truth is not a subjective fact that is created by man, but something much beyond our grasp and reach as humans.

Beyond a personal perspective, we discussed the three main epistemologies of truth:

1) Romantic World View where a singular Truth exists but is beyond the human sphere that can be apprehended by man. Like an asymptotic curve, we can get really close but never get there.

2) Aristotelian World View where a singular Truth exists in the physical reality of the universe and our experience of it. It is available to anyone who perceives it in the right lenses. Language is used as a transparent, unambiguous medium for communicating this Truth.

3) Social Construction Theory where only little, endless truth exist that change over time and are bound by context. It is something that human beings create and language is the base of these truths.

(Please respond if you feel obliged as I would love to start a conversation on the topic)

WEF: Community Crushing Corruption

Community is a concept that we use often, but often fail to define. This past week in class we have been analyzing the meaning of community. Is it something geographical? Or something deeper? McMillan and Chavis in “Sense of Community: A Definition and Theory” define community in terms of membership, influence, integration and fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connection. I think this working definition is a good description of what we tend to define as community. However, it is debatable whether a shared emotional connection is always necessary. What is necessary, though, in the aspect of any community is people – or shareholders. A community is nothing without the input and ideas of the people within the community. Whether it be receiving feedback or letting the members have a voice, it is important to remember a community functions in order to fulfill the needs of its stakeholders.

Dr. Carlson gave us an assignment this weekend to dissect and map a community. Having recently attended the World Economic Forum, I decided to analyze the community that seeks to end the corruption associated with capitalism. With the theme of the forum being “The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models” and the Occupy protests, I find it fitting to analyze the communities that are working to find economic and social “justice”. From high level CEOs to aspiring future leaders, there is a large network of people who have the same common goal – seeking to operate within a more transparent and fair economic system. Although the map is not all inclusive, it provides an idea of how many people are passionate about making a difference.