The Scoop on International Internships


While in New Zealand, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience both uni life and professional life by interning at a super rad start-up called Ministry of Awesome. Before going abroad, I had planned to do an internship for credit — not because I actually wanted to do an internship, but because I thought international work experience would spice up my resume. And it does look good, and it is a plus in the job market — but I sigh at my pre-New Zealand self for being motivated solely by a resume.

It has to do with American career culture, for sure. On my first day at Ministry of Awesome, my boss, who moved to Christchurch from California herself, smiled at my questions and said, “You’ll be fine. We never have a problem with the American interns.” And they haven’t — at Ministry of Awesome, Lauren, Catarina, and Erica (my bosses) valued my opinion and entrusted me with real responsibility. I wasn’t around to observe; I was around to be involved. Honestly, it was a treat.

MoA logo (new) High-Res

It would be helpful if I explained what Ministry of Awesome does, exactly. In a previous post, I blogged about the rebuild efforts in Christchurch following the 2011 Canterbury Earthquake Sequence, and the entrepreneurial hub the city has become. Ministry of Awesome is one of those start-ups that emerged from the earthquake, and focuses on helping social entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground.  Social enterprise start-ups are like non-profits, but support themselves by making their own money rather than relying on donations. What’s not to love about helping the world while also making money?

Ministry of Awesome (MoA) is central to the Christchurch community as well. MoA only has three full-time staff (the aforementioned Lauren, Erica, and Catarina) and operates a co-working space out of their headquarters to help support themselves (office space is lacking in Christchurch at the moment). MoA also

me hosting coffee and jam

Yours truly hosting Coffee & Jam.

provides resources to entrepreneurs (they are the self-proclaimed “starting point” for New Zealand entrepreneurs) and runs a weekly community event called Coffee & Jam where two speakers pitch ideas on how to improve and rebuild Christchurch. Coffee & Jam also features delicious locally sourced coffee, bread, and spreads, and allows time for people to chat and get to know each other. There are regulars, there are newbies, and mostly there are inspiring, organic conversations. At the end of Coffee & Jam, anyone can give a “20 Second Shout Out” asking for a job, advice, offering a service, etc. It’s a lovely event, and I’m actually hoping to start something similar once I am back in Philly.

This week is my last week with MoA, and I’m wrapping up my time here by running the social media campaign for Unreasonable Lab New Zealand, a social enterprise conference that MoA is running in conjunction with a start-up in Boulder, CO called Unreasonable Institute. It’s an absolutely inspiring conference — check it out! Or help me out and see the hashtag #AUL15. (apologies for that shameless plug)


Unreasonable Lab interns and volunteers!



Unreasonable Lab New Zealand in action!

So, to give you the scoop on international internships — they’re invaluable. Working at Ministry of Awesome, I’ve become more aware of both the pros and cons of American work culture. New Zealand has taught me that leisure time is invaluable, that networking should be about forging real relationships rather than just using people for their connections, that competitiveness and overstress are overrated, and that a sense of humor and social skills go much further than a spiced-up resume. That being said, I also value the “American work ethic” more — we definitely get things done in a timely fashion. But I have never felt so supported by a community as I have in Christchurch, and I’ve never felt so nurtured in a professional environment.

I highly recommend an internship abroad. Not only did mine illuminate the highs and lows of my own culture, it also enriched my experience abroad by exposing me to more than one type of community. Do you really know Philly if you only hang out with college students? Of course not. I’m indebted to New Zealand and indebted to Ministry of Awesome for an incredible ride, and who knows? Social enterprise could finally be my thing.

*(all photos courtesy of Erica Austin)*






Finally starting school


My classes started around the time students back at Temple were taking midterms. It felt strange to still be going through a more relaxed “syllabus week” while my friends at home were stressing out over papers and tests. I’m coming to an end with my fourth week of classes here at Tübingen Universität. It’s not as if I am in a storm of projects and papers, but I am still starting to feel the stress. I feel I have to study very hard in order to stay caught up with everything. I think it takes me longer to digest everything said in a lecture being that I am studying in a foreign language, but I think I’m also just getting adjusting to the German style of education.

I am taking 6 classes altogether, but only 3 of them I think would be considered “real” German classes. The “real” ones are general university lectures taught in German and attended by anyone from the university. Being that they are lectures, there is of course no emphasis on in-class participation, but I was really surprised that we have absolutely no side work (essays, group presentations). Our grade comes all down to attendance and one big test at the end of the semester. It truly makes me a bit anxious to think I will be expected to completely understand and remember all the course material so that I can bring it together in a test come February. What also surprised me was that professor-student relationships don’t really exist, at least not in the lecture settings that I have experienced. The professors have the job of delivering and analyzing course material and to give suggested reading, but it is expected that you can go forward on your own from there. Where problems arise, you should first seek the answer on your own or ask a classmate. Emailing the professor should be the last resort. Universities are places to learn so to go straight for the answer without doing your own research first would be denying yourself that education. This way you can form your own opinion from your own experience.

The other half of my time, I am in Deutsche als Fremdsprach (or German as a second language) courses. In theses classes, there are about 20 students and most of them I already know from having our earlier 3-week German course together. This makes it so much easier to feel comfortable expressing opinions and asking questions because we recognize that German is a foreign language for all of us. These classes are just like any Temple seminar course. We have weekly homework assignments, we have to write papers, and we have to give presentations. Everything is completed in German, but there is nothing daunting about it. Not only do I feel confident in my Germans skills at this point, but there is also comfort in knowing that all of the other students in class are still learning the language. If I were asked how confident I would feel in a real university seminar, I think I would give a different answer. It also helps that all of my professors are so patient and helpful. They take time for our questions on the material and enjoy explaining German culture to us.

When I talk to my German floor mates, they don’t seem as stressed out as I feel at times. They have plenty of work as well and some are even here to get their master’s or PhD. But it appears that they are more used to finding a balance between classes, homework, and actually living a life with friends. German students are taught self-dependency and organization from a pretty young age. Here at college, my classes meet only once in the week for about two hours. There rest of the week is ours to understand whatever material the professor went over in class and to prepare for the next week. Time management is key for keeping up with everything. I am not trying to get too comfortable thinking about how there are six days between each class to complete my work.

I think the goals of students at all universities are to get a true education, to become an individual with opinions and to be able to handles our responsibilities, but I really feel the pressure here in Germany. I suppose I never realized how helpful weekly assignments and quizzes are to make me familiarize myself with the course content and put it in practice. I think my experiences in Tübingen are weaning me off this dependency and helping me truly take charge of my education.

And below are photos of things I have been doing besides studying! Including two pictures from my recent trip to Croatia.


This is what the small creek by my house looked like in September….


And this is what it looked like a few weeks later. It changes everyday. I wonder what it will look like in winter.


In front of the biggest waterfall at Plitvice Lakes National Park


Just layers and layers of waterfalls at Plitvice


Me and some of my roommates took advantage of beautiful Saturday afternoon to go hiking into the hills of Tübingen.


This is the Neckarinsel, or the Necker Island. The tiny strip of an island in the middle of the river flowing through town. During this time, the ground was concealed almost completely with large, burnt-orange leaves.


This was another unbelievably warm and beautiful fall day where my roommates and I went for a 5 hour hike to this chapel. It is called the Wurmlinger Kapelle. I thought this sight looked like a painting.


Comfort and Crisis


I am having a rather difficult time writing this blog post given the events of the last few days. Since Friday, most of the conversations I’ve had with people in my townhouse have been more political than ever before. We have been using words in order to help us deal with the tragedies that took place in Paris and elsewhere, and naturally, these conversations have begun to bleed into my own personal thoughts and reflections.

Five of my housemates are from Continental Europe. Two are from Germany, only a six hours drive from the French border, one is from Denmark, one is from Spain, and one is indeed from France. To say that the attacks in Paris hit fairly close to home would not be hyperbole. Contrary to the United States, where the discourse is generally about the tragedy of the situation and showing support for the people who were affected, the conversation here is a bit more urgent. People are scared for their lives and for the lives of their loved ones.

I really don’t know what to say about these attacks, and in any case it is not my intention to write anything political. I currently do not feel afraid of the threat of terrorist attack, but I think this is because of how surreal it all is. I will be traveling to Budapest this upcoming weekend, and I am no more afraid to get on an airplane now than I ever was. Despite this, several of the people I have met in my time here are genuinely frightened, and just being exposed to that kind of fear—a fear directly induced by terrorist attack—is difficult for me to come to terms with.

It’s strange, but a part of me feels like I should be scared. A vague sense of guilt has begun to come over me due to the fact that I, unlike some of my housemates, feel a notable degree of detachment from these tragedies. I am having conversations here that I know I would not be having if I were still in America. While this is undoubtedly a good thing, it is a little disconcerting to think that if this had happened six months ago, it would not have affected me like it has now. If I were still in America, I would not be witness to the kind of fear and sorrow that tragedy like this is capable of causing. I feel very fortunate to be a visitor to Europe during this rather unfortunate time because the reactions to and conversations revolving these events are influencing my perspective in a way that would not take place otherwise.

As I type this post, countless new sentiments come to mind and now I feel as if I can keep typing for hours. The final thing I will say is that while this whole situation is undeniably tragic, it is also wildly complex. It pains me to see people argue senselessly in the wake of such tragedy, especially when the issues at hand are so exceedingly difficult to grasp. Differences of opinion are inevitable, and they are not worth fighting over at a time like this. I think we have to decide to act with compassion and empathy, and to know when to throw our hands up in bewilderment, because it is a bewildering situation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with deciding not to turn a situation like this into a political debate.

I will digress now by briefly mentioning a few things unrelated to the events in Paris. For one, my dad and my sister came to visit me last week. They weren’t crazy about haggis, but they both enjoyed Irn Bru, so I’ll count that as a win. I was very happy to see them and to show them around Stirling, and they left way too soon, taking a small bit of comfort and familiarity with them. Also, it has not stopped raining since my last blog post. I am not exaggerating—we have seen at least three straight weeks of daily rain here in Stirling. But like with everything else, I am adapting to the rain. After an initial stretch of reasonably good weather, it’s finally beginning to feel like the Scotland I signed up for.

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My meal from Mother of India in Edinburgh (with the obligatory glass of Irn Bru, the national soft drink of Scotland), enjoyed with my dad and sister.

Making the Most of Melancholy


Lights in Uppsala Cathedral

As I write this, I have just nine weeks left in Sweden. Just 63 days. My time here is more than halfway done. The realization shocked me out of a daze that I hadn’t noticed I’d fallen into. While I was going about my business in Uppsala, the better part of my semester abroad came and went and I was left staring after it like a train I’d just missed.

The mid-semester slump is a very real phenomenon. Even at my home university, I find that the middle of the semester is when everyone gets bogged down in schoolwork and just bumbles through their mundane routines. But the slump seems to function a bit differently in the context of study abroad.

When I was new to Sweden, the first order of business was to make myself at home. I made some friends, decorated my room, figured out how to navigate the university system, started studying Swedish. I didn’t travel much, inside the country or out. I wanted to be really settled here in Uppsala. And I did settle in. I did school work every day, spent time hanging around with pals, hit the gym a few times a week, had a class now and then.


Grey skies behind the last fall leaves

But some days ago, I was struck by a spontaneous and keen awareness of my transience here. What was I doing sitting at home when there were still so many things I hadn’t seen and done, in Uppsala, in Sweden, on the continent? What had I done with the last month? How could I have wasted so much time just floating along when my time here is so scarce?

Upon reflection, I feel that that time wasn’t wasted. I had a lot of little experiences in that time, though perhaps without being aware of and appreciating them. But I realized that I need to make the best of my last 63 days, to be more present and to stop “settling in.” I had settled right into a post-honeymoon slump, but I’ve been startled out of it.


I wrote a list of all the things I want to do in the time I have left here: visit every student nation at least once, go to the art museum in Uppsala’s castle, visit a different part of the country, go to a concert or to the ballet. I want to go for more walks, plan more activities with friends, go to more events around town.


Early evening in central Stockholm

My school workload is lighter now, so there’s nothing to keep me from actively being here, taking it all in while I can. I could deactivate my Facebook to make it easier to focus on the present. I’ll plan for the things I want to do instead of acting like they’ll eventually happen of their own accord. I’ll be more intentional in what I make of this opportunity.

I’m told there’s a Swedish word for the feeling I have now, a word without an exact translation. Vemod– the quiet, longing sense that something dear will soon be gone. How strange it will be when I go home and that word stays here and I’m left with no name for how I feel.

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Kiwi Food


Food isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of New Zealand — try Lord of the Rings or beautiful scenery, as annoying as these clichés are — but it’s a crucial part of any place. Food is so central to the identity of a culture—it brings people together, represents local traditions and history, and fuels the lifestyle. For this post, I decided to reprise the format of a post I wrote while blogging for Temple in Paris, and answer some questions from friends back home about the cuisine in NZ.

1. What exactly are NZ foods?

One doesn’t come to New Zealand for the cuisine, and before I arrived in NZ I had a very vague idea of what to expect food-wise. There are, however, some staples of the Kiwi diet; I’ll detail a few here.

Pies, stemming from New Zealand’s British influence, are very popular. Pies are usually filled with meat, potatoes, and/or vegetables, and can be bought anywhere from a fancy restaurant to a gas station convenience store. If you find yourself on the South Island, Sheffield Pies in, you guessed it, Sheffield, or Fairlie Bakehouse in, you guessed it, Fairlie, both sell phenomenal pies.

Pavlova is a Kiwi dessert made out of meringue and usually decorated with fruit, especially kiwis (the fruit, not the bird or the human!).

A pavlova making event put on by my External Program provider, Arcadia University.

A pavlova making event put on by my External Program provider, Arcadia University.

Hokey pokey is an ice cream or chocolate flavor that consists of bunches of honeycomb. Absolutely delicious.

Fish and chips are also popular, thanks again to that British influence.

Marmite is the Kiwi equivalent of the Australian Vegemite. A salty breakfast spread, it’s usually on toast or Weet-Bix in a very small amount with a ton of butter. I tried it once and have been scarred ever since.

Lolly cake is another Kiwi dessert, a type of candy-cake concoction I haven’t quite been able to figure out.

Hangi  is the traditional Māori way of cooking food using heated rocks in a pit oven underground. For a hangi, Māori usually cook meat, vegetables, and kumara (New Zealand sweet potato). The food has a delicious smoky flavor and usually cooks for a long time.

Tomato sauce is the closest thing you’ll find to ketchup in NZ. It’s sweeter, and served with meat, fish and chips, etc. Aioli is also super popular here, available nearly everywhere and served more frequently than even tomato sauce with chips (French fries) and other fried foods.

2. What is a food that is eaten mainly at social gatherings?

Depends on the social gathering. A hangi, mentioned above, is usually prepared for gatherings at Māori marae (meeting houses) or parties. If you’re hanging out with uni students, however, “sausage sizzles” — daytime barbeques with plenty to drink and grilled sausages served on a single slice of white bread with tomato sauce — are quite popular.

3. Do Kiwis use a lot of natural ingredients? Are their ingredients locally grown or imported?

Surprisingly, New Zealanders use less locally-sourced products than I had expected. Farming is a huge part of New Zealand’s economy, especially dairying, meat farming, and certain types of produce. However, the majority of these products are exported out, leaving Kiwis with very expensive locally-sourced foods or very expensive imported foods (shipping costs aren’t cheap when you’re so far away from everything).

That being said, there are a ton of farmer’s markets in New Zealand, which offer reasonably priced local meats, dairy, eggs, produce, fish, and baked goods. I usually buy my produce for the week on Saturday mornings at Riccarton Bush Farmer’s Market, about a 25 minute walk from where I live. Since imported prices are so high, I can support the local community for the same price or cheaper, and farmer’s markets are popular with almost everyone. Local ingredients are definitely more accessible for a wider range of people here.

Some stalls at the weekly Christchurch Farmer's Market, which also features buskers. (photo courtesy of ChCh Farmer's Market)

Some stalls at the weekly Christchurch Farmer’s Market, which also features buskers. (photo courtesy of ChCh Farmer’s Market)

Delicious locally grown vegetables! (photo courtesy of ChCh Farmer's Market)

Delicious locally grown vegetables! (photo courtesy of ChCh Farmer’s Market)

I will definitely miss some of the culinary staples of New Zealand, and especially the fact that the food tastes fresher and better than what I’m used to. Also, I may be forced to make my own hokey pokey once I’m home….

Angel Olsen and Autumn Leaves


“This time of year, the nights fall longer. So grow a spine or catch cold.”

So sings Angel Olsen in her song “Lonely Universe.” She has been on my mind a lot lately, and I can only speculate as to why this is the case. For one, I bought a guitar not too long ago, and I’ve been trying to learn a few of her songs in my free time. This may be the reason why I dreamt last night that I watched her perform, and then had a conversation with her. I actually did see her in concert back in August, but for some reason other than the fact that I’ve been listening to her music a lot, she is only now breaching the forefront of my unconscious mind.

I think this has something to do with my current environment. Since I left for my trip at the beginning of the mid-semester break, autumn has hit hard. Daylight savings time kicked in while I was away, and now the nights truly are falling longer—and earlier. I am less ready for these cold, short days than I thought.

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A tree in my backyard that has been ravaged by autumn.

In addition to this, it is becoming more and more apparent that we are past the halfway point of the semester. Most of my assignments were due before the break, save for one paper that I had to finish in the two days between when I returned from my trip and when classes resumed. However, most of my housemates are busier now with schoolwork, and for all of us there is a sense that finals are looming. I guess, in some way, the hopeful melancholy of Angel Olsen’s songs and voice reflects this to me.

This is also the point in the semester when many people’s families come to visit them. My dad and sister arrive in Glasgow next Wednesday, and I am very excited to see them. I will enjoy my time here with them immensely, but I know that when they leave I will experience a new type of homesickness that I haven’t yet felt in Stirling. I will have had a taste of home, and this will remind me of two things: that I can’t go home with them, and that my time here will be over before I know it. As much as I miss being home, I know I will miss Stirling just as much once I leave. But I know this kind of thinking is unproductive, and I am chalking up this tiresome reflection to the weather.

Stirling is actually quite beautiful today. It is considerably foggy, and there are now more leaves on the ground throughout campus than there are on the trees. One of my friends just returned from spending a week with her family in different parts of Scotland, and she told me that at one point she and her sister had decided that it was “Bon Iver weather.” I know this feeling; right now I want to do nothing more than listen to Bon Iver and Angel Olsen and look out my bedroom window at all of the fog and bare tree branches. It’s just that kind of day.

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Fog over the loch in the center of campus.

Home and Away


“I can’t wait to see the Wallace Monument,” Cameron said as we hurdled through the darkness toward Stirling. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to see the Wallace Monument at that time, since the lights illuminating the tower shut off at midnight and it was nearly half past already. Nonetheless, we looked out the foggy windows in tired excitement as the taxi we took from Edinburgh International Airport drove past Bridge of Allan, through the University of Stirling, and up to Alexander Court. Our trip to Belgium and the Netherlands was a great success, and we were ready to get home.

I call Alexander Court home because at this point in the semester it has started to feel that way. My housemates, neighbors, and other friends have quickly become familiar faces, and I can’t imagine my study abroad experience without any of them. Even the distance between Alexander Court and the rest of campus has become dear to me—there’s nothing like a commute, even if it’s a 15 minute walk, to make you feel like you’ve earned a seat on the couch when you get home.

I do miss my real home, but I am comforted by the idea that it will all be there when I get back. My time in Stirling is limited, which lends a sense of urgency to almost everything I do here. I try to take every opportunity I can to do things I’ve never done before or that I probably won’t be able to do again. One of those things was the trip I took over the mid-semester break. I flew to Brussels with two friends, Cameron and Libby, who I didn’t even know two months ago. We were shown around Bruges by yet another new friend, Sarah, who went home to Belgium for the break and was a better tour guide than anyone we could have hired (thanks again, Sarah, for making the time to show three Americans around your city). We met Till in the airport in Amsterdam, and his being from Hamburg brought a new perspective to our European travels. When else would I get the opportunity have such amazing experiences with such great people?

Sometimes, though, it is difficult to get everything out of the experience that you set out to get. Being abroad opens many doors, and you want to go through all of them, but you can’t. It is easy to get bogged down with thoughts of all the things you can’t do, including going home. Before I left, I told myself that I wouldn’t let myself get distracted by homesickness, and so far I haven’t, but I know this isn’t the case for everyone. The truth is it can be really hard to adapt to situations like studying abroad, and it can be really easy to be overwhelmed by it all. I know what it’s like to feel homesick, and it’s a tough illness to remedy.

I can only speak for myself, but for me, the antidote to homesickness is in my new home away from home, my Stirling family, and having faith in the experience itself. I’ve immersed myself in all these new people, places and things, and so far it’s been incredibly rewarding. I’m fully invested now, and as much as I will enjoy being back at home when the semester ends, I will miss everyone and everything here terribly. I guess that means I’m lucky.

View of Bruges from the top of the Belfry Tower.

View of Bruges from the top of the Belfry Tower.

The Belfry Tower in Bruges. Foreground: Cameron, Libby, and Sarah.

The Belfry Tower in Bruges. Foreground: Cameron, Libby, and Sarah.

Diversity in New Zealand


Earlier this semester, a group of elementary school students visited my Māori Studies (the indigenous people of New Zealand) class to see the Māori art on the walls of our lecture room. The group of children was mostly white, with one black student, one Asian student, and a few Māori students. After the class left, my professor said, “Isn’t that the most diverse group of little kids you’ve ever seen?”


"Rima" wall art similar to the walls of my lecture room.

“Rima” wall art similar to the walls of my lecture room.

Coming from a diverse city in the Northeast U.S., New Zealand was an adjustment. Additionally, I’m based on the South Island, which is notoriously less diverse than the North Island. Still, diversity in New Zealand (or lack thereof) is an interesting topic. I’ve split this post into different aspects of diversity I’ve come across.

Religious Diversity

On Clubs Day this semester, I fully expected to find a booth offering the New Zealand equivalent of Hillel. I did not find one, but I did get free candy from a Christian youth group.

It makes sense that New Zealand has much less religious diversity than the U.S. Nearly everybody is Christian, and the few other religious communities are comprised of students from other countries, temporary travelers, or recent immigrants to NZ. Surprisingly though, I feel less aware of my status as a minority here than I do in the U.S. (then again, it isn’t quite the Christmas season yet). In general, religion isn’t a big part of life in New Zealand. A huge proportion of the population identifies as atheist, and those who don’t are quite private about their beliefs. There aren’t any Bell Tower Preachers.

For many Kiwis I’ve met here, I’m the first Jew they’ve come across. I find myself answering a lot of questions about Judaism, some of which require me to reach far into the depths of my memory and think back to my days of Hebrew School. I’m glad I can answer the questions, and although I’ve felt like a token Jew, I’ve never felt discriminated against.

I did manage to track down the only synagogue on the South Island, which happens to be in Christchurch. My friends Becca and Molly (also Jewish exchange students) and I attended on Rosh Hashanah, and it was so nice to be surrounded by my own culture for a few hours! There are 600 Jews on the entire South Island, and now we joke that there are 603.

I’ll be more appreciative of the Jewish community in Philly in the future, and I miss the conversations that come from being among people with vastly different religious backgrounds. For now though, I’m happy to be an ambassador for my culture.

Racial Diversity

In the words of a friend, New Zealand is “an island full of white people.” This is very much an overstatement, but…yeah. That’s what happens when a bunch of British and Scottish people move to the South Pacific.

Obviously, Māori also make up a large proportion of New Zealand’s population, although there are no fully-Māori people left. There is also a large Korean and Chinese population as a result of immigration.

An interesting aspect of race relations in New Zealand is the concept of biculturalism vs. multiculturalism. We discuss it a lot in my Māori class, which is about the Treaty of Waitangi (1840 document of cession between Māori and the Crown). Since the Treaty was signed between two parties, Māori and Pākehā (white people), there is an ongoing debate in New Zealand concerning whether their society is bicultural (i.e. Māori and everyone else who isn’t Māori) or multicultural, and whether that consideration should affect the legal system, politics, and other organizations.

Socioeconomic Diversity

As with religious and racial diversity, New Zealand also has less socioeconomic stratification than the U.S. The North Island has more cities and struggles with more poverty and homelessness than the South, but in general one can comfortably support a family on minimum wage, and there are no private universities (and university is cheap — one year as an international student at UC costs the same as one year in-state at Temple). Most of New Zealand seems solidly middle-class.

New Zealand will be an interesting country to watch in the future and see if diversity increases as the world grows. In the case of Christchurch, many people have told me that they believe the earthquake was good for the city — people are more open to the differences in others post-quake, and different types of people are moving into the city.

And worst comes to worst, we can all unite over cheering on the All Blacks — beat Australia!

I will be waking up at 4:30 am to watch the World Cup Final...when in New Zealand... (photo courtesy of the All Blacks website).

I will be waking up at 4:30 am to watch the World Cup Final…when in New Zealand… (photo courtesy of the All Blacks website). (In the picture, the All Blacks are performing the haka, traditional Māori battle dance, which they do at the beginning of every match.)

Impractical and Important: Why I Learn Unpopular Languages

Burial mounds at Gamla Uppsala. Each mound is one grave, dating to the 5th and 6th centuries.

Burial mounds at Gamla Uppsala. Each mound is one grave, dating to the 5th and 6th centuries.

When two people are proficient in the same language, the path of least resistance is for them to communicate in that language. It’s instinctive, it’s pragmatic. It’s the greatest barrier to my learning Swedish.

Before I left home, I memorized the necessary Swedish phrases to sustain an air of polite cluelessness– hej, tack, ursäkta. Hello, thanks, excuse me. I figured I’d pick up more robust language skills relatively easily once in country. On my gap year, I learned French in Senegal and then picked up Wolof through French. I know I learn a language best by going where it’s spoken, being too shy to speak it for 4 months, and then waking up one day and yammering nonstop. I don’t have a better alternative to offer, but I don’t love the term immersion; it feels a bit romantic and exotic. Beyond objections of sentiment, total immersion is an ideal hardly attainable in much of our globalized world.

Film, music, television, internet, and international business have served to propagate English as an international language, to different degrees in different places. Here in Sweden, particularly among the very international student population of Uppsala, most people speak English comfortably if not fluently. My courses are taught in English, I talk to my friends in English and watch movies in English. Aside from my Swedish language course, the most Swedish I hear all week is 75 minutes of yoga instruction. However, though I’m surrounded by spoken English, everything in public and on Swedish websites is written in Swedish. If Swedish was a pool, I’m sipping lemonade on a raft, just dipping my toes in.

I’ve only been in Sweden for about two months now, but I think I can predict the way language learning will pan out over the rest of my time here. If I let myself skate by on just enough basic Swedish to pass my exam, I won’t be able to converse in any useful sense and I’ll forget what I learned as soon as I go home. But if I take initiative and make use of the resources available to me, I expect I’ll come to understand written Swedish better than spoken, and understand spoken Swedish better than I can speak it myself. The ubiquity of spoken English does limit my familiarity with the sound and social context of Swedish, but it also presents plenty of opportunities to ask questions to native speakers and have words and conventions explained as they come up.

Typical Swedish countryside. The sun doesn't get higher than this at this time of year, and it gets dark around 5PM now.

Typical Swedish countryside. The sun doesn’t get higher than this at this time of year, and it gets dark around 5PM now.

It’s not uncommon for native English speakers in Sweden to live here for years without learning the language, and I understand the temptation. If you can get by without it, is it worth the effort? There are just 8.7 million native speakers– slightly more than the population of New York City proper–and of those, many also speak English. It can be frustrating for both parties to communicate in stunted Swedish when their English conversation is fluid. But there is so much more than ease of communication or international applicability to be gained by learning a less popular local language.

Our languages reflect the way we see the world around us, and our worldview is colored by the language in which we articulate it. To insist upon English is to impose a foreign lens on Sweden. I may still be grappling with the basics when my time here is done, but I think slow progress is better than none. If I hadn’t tried to set aside my own linguistic worldview, to appreciate the language that came from this place and these people, then this experience would be little more than a series of novel amusements. A place is what its people make of it, and the mind of the people is candid in how and what they speak. I think that that insight is worth the effort of making a few flashcards.

Where I Live


I’ve already written a few times about my townhouse in Alexander Court at the University of Stirling. The townhouses are new and clean, they’re filled with fun, interesting people, and they’re in a really cool location, but there are some downsides to being situated at the edge of campus.

The most obvious downside is the long walk to class. Here is a map of the campus of the University of Stirling:


Alexander Court is made up of the four yellow symbols on the far right of the map. I have class four times a week in the Pathfoot building, which is denoted by the big blue symbol on the far left of the map. This walk usually takes about 15 minutes, and there are many hills along the way, which makes going to class a daunting task sometimes.

It is becoming more tempting to not go to class, partially because of the walk, but also because I have reached a point of comfort in my new home. The initial excitement of being abroad has worn off—I live here now. I still often think to myself, usually as I am falling asleep at night, “I am living in a foreign country,” but this thought is becoming less and less alarming to me as time goes by. I am becoming as comfortable in Scotland as I am at home, and while it is nice, it is also somewhat frightening. No matter where I go, after a certain amount of time I am no longer safe from falling into old routines.

For what it’s worth, I have been going to class. As a senior, I realize how important it is to show up for class, and to be prepared for it. I’ve learned that lesson already. Just thought I would get that out of the way.

I’m in a weird place right now. Fall break, in which students get a week off from classes, is fast approaching, and that signifies to me the halfway point of the semester. I am afraid that this semester, just like every other one, will be over before I know it. In the past this hasn’t been a bad thing; the sooner a semester ends, the sooner I will get a break from classes. But this semester is different. This is the first semester of my final year in college. When this semester is over, it’s back to Philadelphia for me, and when my final semester is over, I will graduate and become a full-fledged adult.

So my solution is to enjoy everything here while I can. I will enjoy not having a job for a few more weeks. Fall break is next week, and I’ve already booked a trip to Belgium and the Netherlands. I will enjoy that, and when I get back, I will continue enjoying the sheer beauty of Scotland. I may even find a way to enjoy all of the papers I have to write before the end of the semester. Stranger things have happened.

Highland Coo (

Highland Coo (“cow”) seen just minutes away from my townhouse.