French Immersion: My Happy Place

Sometimes when my anxiety is a little too much to handle, I take a moment to close my eyes and go back to my happy place. A place of sweet grass, mosquito spray, and deep blue waters. A place of growth, frustration, and empathy. A place of culture, education, and silliness. A place of tears from laughter, singing, and always dancing. A place of being free. A place of being 100% myself. A place of finding the sun in the hearts of children. A place I never ever want to leave. Lac du Bois.

The main building of Lac du Bois, "Paris", photo by Jean François

The main building of Lac du Bois, “Paris”, photo by Jean François

Lac du Bois is a summer camp in Bemidji, Minnesota. It’s part of Concordia Language Villages, which is a larger program that has 15 villages (campsites) set up around the lakes of Minnesota. Each village has its own language and the buildings within each site are designed with authentic architecture from countries that predominantly speak that language.

Concordia Language Villages sign, photo from

Concordia Language Villages sign, photo from

The goal of these camps is to teach language through immersion as well as prepare young people for responsible citizenship in global communities.

Each summer, all of the camps come together to interact at an event called “International Day.” At International Day, each camp sets up a booth serving foods from countries of their language or has games set up for others to play that are native to countries that speak their language. They even have a “World Cup,” where each camp forms a soccer team and they all compete.

International Day 2014, photo by Julia Schaller

International Day 2014, photo by Julia Schaller

Lac du Bois is the French language village, and is one of the greatest places on Earth.

I first went to Lac du Bois when I was 11 years old. My family heard about the camp through friends of my parents, and my parents both decided it would be a good opportunity for my sister and I. My parents enrolled my sister and I up for a two week, overnight session. We all drove up to Minnesota together and when we pulled our car up to the camp, a counselor greeted us at the window of the car and spoke exclusively in French.

It was terrifying! My dad had taught me some french when I was really young, and my parents put my sister and I in French classes when we were growing up, but I was not ready for complete sentences or even answering questions.

After my parents left, I was hopeless. I had nothing to hide behind and there was no longer someone to speak to the counselors for me. I felt naked and embarrassed. The first night was rough.

Throughout the second day, I bonded with girls in my cabin and from around camp and from then on, I was in my happy place. I learned more about french language and culture in those two weeks than I had ever before in my life. I made lasting friendships. I laughed until I cried, and I cried on the last night with my cabin-mates wrapped in my arms.

Extremely embarrassing photo of my cabin, Lac du Bois 2008

Extremely embarrassing photo of my cabin, Lac du Bois 2008

I then went back to camp for the next four summers. My fifth summer, I went to Lac du Bois for a month as part of their “Credit” program, which earned me high school French credit. They say that one will learn more French in one month at Lac du Bois than potentially a whole year in school (hence why they offer the credit program). They were right.

Language immersion is said to be the best way to learn a language and culture, and it is 100% true. I spoke more French at Lac du Bois than a full year of French class in public school. I was forced to use the language to communicate, since the camp was total immersion.

The counselors are only allowed to speak in the target language, and even the food is francophone authentic. Counselors and villagers come from all over the world. There are always counselors and villagers from the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia, Canada, and India, as well as other countries.

Villagers are put into classic summer camp activities like canoeing or soccer, but they are also put into language learning groups. These language learning groups focus on a francophone region or time period and are more education based (but always include crafting, dancing, and interactive games).

Activité Canoé, Lac du Bois 2012

Activité Canoé, Lac du Bois 2012

The entire camp is sort of one big simulation. The counselors put on a show for the villagers, and it’s the most fun show I’ve ever been a part of. There is continuous dancing, multiple skits every day, and songs about everything (even about baguettes at dinner!).

Last year I applied to be a counselor, and I got the job. I went back to my favorite place in the world for my 6th summer, and had the time of my life. This time, I was the one required to speak exclusively in French and I was the one teaching others about francophone cultures and about the language. I was the one helping villagers cope with their frustration and homesickness. I was the one teaching the songs and dances. And, the amount I learned about other countries and French language, was way more than I ever thought.

Journée Sénégal, Lac du Bois 2014

Journée Sénégal, Lac du Bois 2014

In an article posted in the New York Times, author Sindya N. Bhanoo discussed how language immersion is more beneficial than learning through a formal classroom setting. In a study in the journal PloS One, scientists tested the brain patterns of subjects who learned a language through immersion vs. in a classroom. The tests showed that the subjects who learned the language through immersion had the full brain patterns of a native speaker, while the subjects who learned the language in a formal classroom setting did not.

The camps of Concordia Language Villages are hands-down the best way to learn a language. Being fully immersed in anything is the best way to learn, empathize, and adapt to it. Even a two week program makes a difference.

The lake of Lac du Bois, photo by Alyson Kriz

The lake of Lac du Bois, photo by Alyson Kriz

In the middle of the woods by the lakes of Minnesota lies little villages that change the way people see the world. These programs really do cultivate global leaders, global thinkers, and peaceful communities.

Gamergate: Not Just an American Phenomenon

In August 2014, Zoe Quinn, a female game developer, was the topic of a series of blog posts by her ex-boyfriend claiming she cheated on him with journalists in the gaming industry. This curious public shaming spiraled out of control into a frenzy of rumors concerning Zoe’s personal life. All of a sudden, Zoe Quinn was a familiar name in the gaming world for outlandish reasons, and the issue escalated to the point where Zoe was receiving death threats from random internet users. Quickly afterwards, the hashtag “gamergate” was picked up and the controversy delved into two separate issues: ethics in games journalism, and sexism in the video game industry. This blog post will be focusing on the latter of those issues.
One of the most popular blog posts about Gamergate came from actress Felicia Day. Day, who’s quite popular in nerd and geek culture, wrote a blog post about how she now thinks male gamers she sees on the street might greet her with contempt rather than smiles, due to the Gamergate controversy. She struggles with the fact that people who share her same interests find fault with her just because of her public opinions on Gamergate. In her post, she urges anyone who is passionate about gaming to maintain their enthusiasm, despite the hardships that have surfaced in the gaming universe.

This led to a large variety of responses from bloggers in every corner of the internet. Kotaku, a large gaming news site, immediately points out that Day was doxxed, meaning her personal information was publicly posted, after she posted her blog. The writer of the Kotaku post even goes on to say that he fears for his safety just for supporting Day publicly.
Daily Dot, another internet culture news site, posted a story similar to the Kotaku story, pointing out the irony of Gamergate supporters, who are striving to achieve ethics in the games industry by doing unethical things. The Daily Dot post also points out that there are Gamergate supporters who do not support the doxxing of Day.

Arthur Chu wrote a post on pointing out similarities between his life, nerd culture, and Felicia Day. He points out that, growing up as a nerd, he often felt he and his passion were attacked for just being who or what they are. He then drew a parallel to Day, saying this is how she must feel right now. It’s ironic, too, because it’s the nerds who are now making fun of people for being who they are. Even if who they are is a fellow gamer.

The gamergate controversy has blown up so much that the issue has gained international attention, and it has started a global conversation on sexism in the gaming industry. BBC News published an article on Gamergate, spreading Zoe Quinn’s message that Gamergate “must be condemned”. This news article acts as a survey of the blogging activity that erupted in response to Gamergate, giving readers a chance to objectively look at what has happened. The article provides examples from Twitter of the online abuse that female gamers have experienced from the events. A similar article from a German publication, Der Bund, also aims to address the ongoing problems in the gaming community.

German reactions to Gamergate ran further than what was originally explored in the Der Bund article, however. Much like in America, social media played a pivotal role in spreading gamer’s responses. Using the hashtag #sosehengameraus (roughly translated to: “this is what gamers look like) German gamers shared photos of themselves, some also including tags like #happygamer or #gamerpositive in order to put a face to their avatars and humanize themselves. The hashtag allowed both professional and amateur gamers to come together in a positive manner. Additionally, as Roman Rackwitz points out in his blog post, #soshengameraus highlighted a constructive side of the gaming industry: collaboration. In addition to bringing gamers together, the hashtag served to bring industry professionals “face-to-face” with those who actually play the games.

The hashtag itself was started by Dr. Linda Breitlauch, Germany’s first professor of game design. After she changed her Facebook photo in February 2015 to include the phrase “so sehen Gamer aus,” she encouraged others to share their photos and #soshengameraus was born. Taking a quick scroll through the tag on Twitter, it is hard to deny the positivity. It is also readily apparent that Breitlauch’s main goal of breaking the stereotype of what a gamer looks like has been achieved. Instead of an overflow of photos of bespectacled, pimply, 15-year-olds, #soshengameraus highlights the diversity of German gamers, particularly women. As compared to American reactions to Gamergate, which lobs a considerable amount of hate at women, #sosshengmeraus instead accepts and includes women.

The French perspective comes from Le Monde’s digital and tech blog, Pixels, who wrote a #gamergate post in September 2014. Much of the blog is largely curated responses from other blogs and gaming writers. Through its collected tweets and comics from corners of the Internet, however, the writer’s opinion is clear: most of the people tweeting #NotYourShield and getting up in arms about Gamergate are in the wrong. There are reactionary social media knights who come in complaining about female chauvinists and social justice warriors (SJWs), but few actually present logical arguments as to why. The blog takes the stance that if these men were to acknowledge the intense sexism in the gaming world while also calling out unproductive or harmful “feminists,” Gamergate would actually be worth people’s time. Instead, it simply sounds like men who have gotten their feelings hurt or don’t want to take responsibility for a culture they’ve helped create. The very last line is snarky and gets to the heart of the author’s emotions on the topic immeadiately: If people on the Internet used a quart of the energy they used on #GameGate to save net neutrality, I would be much more reassured with the world.”
As seen through various social media mediums, the international response to Gamergate has been incredibly varied. Each perspective has its own nuances, but each has brought up an important dialogue about who can be considered a gamer, the stereotypes within the gaming world, and the implications that come along with being an active member within the gaming community.

Post by: Sarah, Hanna, Sam, and George

Deaf Culture Across the Globe: The life of the deaf in France, India and the U.S.


deaf pride

The universal symbol for deaf pride

Deaf Culture describes the social beliefs, behaviors, literature, art, values, traditions and shared customs that unite those within the deaf and hard of hearing community. This community finds solidarity in the issues faced in being deaf, and the use of sign language as a main mode of communication. A huge difference in perception of deafness between the “hearing” community and members of the Deaf culture, is that deaf people view their lifestyles as a different human experience instead of a disability.

Because of the deaf community’s minority population in comparison to that of the hearing community, they are often faced with the prejudices similar to those of other oppressed groups. Accommodation for people who are deaf has grown, and more awareness is being spread for those who are unfamiliar with deaf culture. Here, we will be taking a glimpse into what deaf life has been and currently is, in three countries. These countries being India, France, and the United States.

french flag

The French flag

The first school for the deaf, whose current name is Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris (INJS) was opened in 1760 in Paris,France by Charles-Michel de l’Épée. The school was started when l’Épée, a philanthropic educator who is now popularly dubbed “The Father of the Deaf”, met 2 young girls who were hearing impaired and in need of an instructor. l’Épée is also credited with being the creator of the world’s first sign alphabet for the deaf. Currently, France is a part of the European Union of the deaf, which is a non-profit that is the only organization that represents the interests of deaf Europeans at a union level. The National Federation of France for the Deaf is another major program in France, geared toward deaf support and awareness on a governmental level.


The flag of India

In modern day India, deaf entrepreneurship is a reoccurring issue that exists as a result of the heavy social and societal stigmas placed on those identified as being deaf or Hard of Hearing. Hinduism, which is the predominant religion in India, is historically known as including text (specifically in the Law code of Manu) that can be interpreted as oppressing those who are deaf. In the Law Code of Manu, it states that a person who is deaf should not be allowed to own property, but is to rely on the charity of others in their daily lives. This text and examples like these, along with preexisting negative views of deaf people as the “other” has made India one of the most difficult and least accommodating places in the world for those who are deaf/Hard of Hearing.


A translated copy of Manu’s code of Law

Because of India’s overwhelming size and population, there is a large and colorful variation of dialects of sign language within the country—making communication between deaf people in India difficult as well. According to an article on, there are 10-15 million deaf people in India, and that this large deaf population is poorly connected and uniformed of the resources within their community geared towards helping them. The main approach in classrooms toward the deaf community in India is the oral way of teaching. Leaving the education of members of the deaf community neglected due to a need in labor workers.


The United States Flag

The United States is seen as one of the more progressive countries in terms of accommodation for the deaf and HoH. While legislation and social awareness campaigns have been responsible in large part for the U.S.’s growing success in this area, the installation of deaf culture in media and television has proven to be pretty impressive and helpful. For example, Switched at Birth is an ABC network show that surrounds the life of two teenage girls who find out that they were, well, switched at birth. One of the girls, Daphne Vasquez, has been deaf since a young age due to an infection that she caught when she was still in infancy. Watching the show, you learn many things about the deaf and deaf culture. The television series features multiple deaf actors and shines light on common misconceptions that the hearing population has about the deaf community by showing rather than telling.


The television poster for Switched at Birth

However, the U.S. is not without its setbacks concerning awareness and accommodation for those of the deaf community. While many large public and private institutions (like the University of Missouri) have interpreters, a discouraging amount of Americans are still pretty ignorant when it comes to what deaf people can and can’t do as a result of their inability to hear. The United states has two similar but different forms of sign language. There’s the more commonly used American sign language (ASL) and the lesser known signed English language. The key difference between these two is that ASL deals more with gestures that include entire phrases, while English sign language works more with word by word translations.  Common complaints of those who are deaf in the U.S. is the need for those who are talking to face them when doing so. If communication is done by lip-reading, this social interaction requires 100% visibility on part of the deaf person involved. Discrimination against those who are deaf in America is still a very current problem even on the judicial level. On March 31,2015, a federal court ruled that three Indiana judges discriminated against a deaf citizen. In this case, the citizen, Steve Prakel wanted to attend his mother’s court proceedings and requested an interpreter in order to be able to do so. Despite multiple requests, the judges refused him accommodation and did not install an interpreter.

A more popular incident that occurred in South Africa, but was broadcast internationally that shed a light on the issue of oppression within the deaf community is the Nelson Mandela memorial debacle of 2013 .


A meme of Thami Jantjie

During President Obama’s speech in address to the memorial, government recruited interpreter Thami Jantjie made a bunch of fake signs that upset the deaf community at large. Random gesticulations and childish motions comprised Jantjie’s “interpretation” of President Obama’s speech, and the problem wasn’t addressed until after the speech was finished. This was a problem that would have presumably been addressed much more quickly had Jantjie been posing as a translator for an oral language.

To sum up this post, the world still has a lot more growing to do in terms of learning about and accepting deaf culture, (some more than others).

Learning French through Ballet

From age four through seventeen, my world revolved around ballet. Through it, I developed my interest in the French language and my appreciation for culture expressed through performed art. Interestingly, much of the terminology for ballet is rooted in common French verbs. For example, tendu, French for stretched, is arguably the most basic of ballet steps and involves the dancer stretching the foot and leg to a pointed position. Below, I have provided a short glossary of both common and unique ballet terminology. Several of the terms are quite literal; are there any that you’ve heard outside of the ballet context?

Assemblé: assembled – This is a jump that lands on two feet.

Sketch of dancer in croisé position via

Sketch of dancer in croisé position via

Croisé: cross – Instead of facing the audience directly, the dancer will turn slightly toward the corner of the stage.

Battement: beat – A step involving a beating action of the extended leg such as stretching, lifting or striking.

Changement: change – A dancer jumps, landing with the opposite foot in front.

Croisé: cross – Instead of facing the audience directly, the dancer will turn slightly toward the corner of the stage.

Développé: developed – The toe is drawn up the standing leg before bringing the working leg out to the front, side or behind the dancer.

Moving through the steps of a developpé via

Moving through the steps of a developpé via

Échappé: escaped – A dancer moves both feet from a closed to an open position.

Pas: step. A movement where a dancer transfers weight. In ballet terminology, there are several pas…

Pas de deux: dance for two – A duet between two dancers.

Pas de chat: step of the cat – Named for the similarity of the dance step to a cat’s leap.

Plié via

Plié via

Pas de poisson: step of the fish (a lot more graceful than it sounds).

Plié: bent – Known as the mother step of ballet, a dancer simply bends her knees.

Port de bras: way of the arms – Made by passing the arms through various positions.

Relevé: raised – A dancer lifts her body from a standing position to putting all weight on either the toes or ball of the foot.

Sauté: sprung – The same meaning as carried by the popular cooking technique. In ballet terminology, this means simply a jump.

Tombé: fell – Normally not taken literally. The dancer will step from a straight-legged position to a bent position on one leg. This step is generally done as a link between other steps.

Sauté via

Sauté via

LGBT Issues Across Borders

From an American perspective, when we think of France, we think of them as generally being more progressive with regards to aspects of life such as trends, socializing, and relationships. We think of their trends as being “hip,” and stylish, considering Paris is the fashion capitol of the world. We also think of France’s more liberal culture of sexuality, LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) rights, and gay marriage.

One would think that France would be extremely accepting of LGBT rights, especially when compared to the United States, who has jumped on board with it within the past several years. Instead, France has actually been fighting for its LGBT rights for a very long time, and even now that it’s legalized, France has still been facing some of the most violent and radically extreme of backlash and protests.

Protesters taking the streets against the same-sex marriage bill passed, photo from

Protesters taking the streets against the same-sex marriage bill passed. (Photo from

Dating back to 1791, homosexual rights have been sought after. Supporters of LGBT rights have fought for its decriminalization, lessened the bans of sexuality, and legalized same-sex marriage in 2003. The timeline regarding LGBT rights highlights some of the milestone years that have proved to be of significance to the movement.

People who have been social justice warriors for LGBT rights, either for themselves, friends, family, or humanity in general, are still facing social segregation and discrimination, unfortunately leading to violence. One would think France has come so far and the world is adapting to be more accepting of issues like LGBT rights. France has come very far, yes, but not far enough.

gay mar

Same-sex couple delighted that marriage bill is passed. (Photo from Ms.Blog)

Less than 10 days after France legalized same-sex marriage, it was in the news again. On a Saturday and Sunday at the end of May 2013, emotions on same-sex and non-traditional marriage hit a breaking point. On France’s Mother’s Day, a generally peaceful march of well over 150,000 protesters converged in front of the Invalides.

A separate, smaller march by conservative Christians also made its voice heard. Nineteen demonstrators were arrested after climbing onto the headquarters of the Socialist Party and unfurled a banner calling for the resignation of President François Hollande’s resignation. Hollande, after all, was the one who signed the equality bill into existence earlier in the month.

Streets are flooded with demonstrations and protests. 

Demonstrators included religious leaders and followers, the conservative French (especially Roman Catholics) who thought “gay couples should have equal rights, but within an institution other than marriage” and those objecting to gay couples adopting children.

The night before the largely peaceful Sunday protests was a more volatile showing. On Saturday night, 59 people were arrested “after chaining themselves to metal barricades on the Champs-Élysées.”

After the legalization of same-sex marriage, tens of thousands gathered to protest in fron of the Invalides in Paris. (Credit Etienne Laurent/European Pressphoto Agency)

After the legalization of same-sex marriage, tens of thousands gathered to protest in fron of the Invalides in Paris. (Credit Etienne Laurent/European Pressphoto Agency)

Or at least, that was the New York Time’s report of the protests. The Independent took a much more impassioned angle.

“About 200 young people, many of them masked, pelted police lines with bottles, stones, fireworks and flares. The crowd – led bizarrely at one stage by a lone bagpiper – chased and beat up TV crews and press photographers. Police and gendarmes responded with tear gas and baton charges.”

The Independent also addresses the discrepancies in turnout Police put the turnout at 150,000. The organizers claimed 1,000,000. Other organizers estimated over 400,000, which seemed closest to the mark.”

France was the 14th country to legalize same-sex marriage, and it continues to face the longstanding obstacles that have been holding LGBT couples back for centuries.

France’s LGBT tolerance since the bill and protests. 

*Happy News*

Not only did opponents of the gay rights and LGBT parenting bill protest, but supporters of the bill also held their own demonstrations. Just two days after the largest protest against the bill happened, 125,000 people took to the streets and staged their own demonstration in favor of these human rights.  There were also more than 7,000 same-sex couples that got married in 2013 after the bill was passed.

In January of 2015, the French court validated its first Franco-Moroccan gay marriage. A ban had previously stated that a Moroccan citizen could not marry a French person of the same sex abroad or in Morocco, but “the court put an end to the discriminatory interference” and allows the two to marry.

"People take part in a demonstration for the legalisation of gay marriage and LGBT parenting, in Paris on January 27, 2013" (AFP Photo / Thomas Samson)

“People take part in a demonstration for the legalisation of gay marriage and LGBT parenting, in Paris on January 27, 2013” (AFP Photo / Thomas Samson)

*Sad News*

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma against the LGBT community in France regardless of the bill. Segregation against people who are gay is relevant and ongoing in France. Separate nursing homes for France’s elderly homosexual population has since been discussed with France’s Prime Minister for the Elderly. In the months following the first round of protests, popular Twitter hashtags were #LesGaysDoiventDispaîratreCar (#GaysMustDie) and #BrulonsLesGaysSurDu (#letsburngays).

In February of 2014, tens of thousands of people, mostly right-wing conservatives, protested once again against France’s legalization of gay marriage. Not only that, but protesters were also demanding “the scrapping of an experimental school programme aimed at combatting gender stereotypes.” Members who identify as within the LGBT community still face structural and systematic oppression.

Paris, France: February 2, 2014, thousands of protesters against same-sex couples to adopt or have children. (Photo by Kristy Sparow/Getty Images)

Paris, France: February 2, 2014, thousands of protesters against same-sex couples to adopt or have children. (Photo by Kristy Sparow/Getty Images)

LGBT rights in francophone countries and around the world.

As is evident by the continuous discussion of LGBT issues and rights (or lack of rights) in virtually every news medium, the topic is of universal interest. Though not the first country to legalize same-sex marriage, Belgium became the first francophone country, and the second country in the world to do so in 2003.

Prior to this decision, Belgium had given limited rights to same-sex couples since 1998 with a law allowing these couples to formally register for joint responsibility of their household. The law passed with minimal controversy across the traditionally socially divided country.

In 2003, Belgium officially allowed and recognized same-sex marriage, and in 2006 the government passed a law allowing partners the right to adopt children. Since then, Belgium has become known as the LGBT “paradise” to many, even though historically Belgium was outwardly conservative, Catholic and prone to xenophobia – traits that would suggest more of a struggle for those promoting LGBT rights.

 Supporters march for LGBT rights in Belgium. (Photo from

Supporters march for LGBT rights in Belgium. (Photo from

Moving forward, Luxembourg, a country smaller than Rhode Island but consisting of three official languages, became the 20th country to fully legalize same-sex marriage in mid 2014. Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, openly gay Xavier Bettel championed the bill that would allow “gay and lesbian couples to wed and to adopt children.” Previously, the country had recognized same-sex partnerships after a bill granting this registration was passed in 2004.

As is the case both economically and politically, it seems that countries in Africa have historically had a harder time progressing. In the case of LGBT issues, most countries in the continent have the same issue. In 2009, francophone country Burundi made significant steps backward, banning same-sex relationships in any form. Scholars commonly cite colonization of African countries as reasons for lack of progressiveness in African countries in general, yet during it’s years as a colonized state, Burundi had no legacy of any laws prohibiting same-sex relationships.

Although some headway has been made in progressing LGBT rights worldwide, in the grander scheme, arguably only baby steps have been made this far.

Author Team: Skyler Alderton, Hanna Jacunski, Allissa Fisher, and Julia Schaller

Walking on History: Recent Archeological Finds in Europe

For centuries, the continent of Europe has continued to grow despite it being confined to an area of land. Europe has grown in depth with having built layers upon layers that represent different chapters in its history. To the visible eye, we see the beauty and charm of a European countryside, village, or city striking a pose for all to capture. What about all that lies beneath and everything that the top layer of Europe is built upon?


We don’t often stop and think about the ground of which we walk because it’s just dirt, right? What if your workplace’s parking lot was paved on top of an old church and everyday when you go to work, you’re actually parking your car on top of where a former King of England is buried? How would you feel about buying your groceries over a mass grave where hundreds of people most likely died from some sort of disease? Everywhere you walk, even the most mundane of everyday places, like a parking lot, has an unearthed story to tell.


Skeleton of King Richard III uncovered in Leicester parking lot. Photo: University of Leiceser

In 2012, a 500-year-old skeleton was discovered under a parking lot in Leicester, England. The Leicester City Council Social Services staff parking lot was one of three possible sites for the location of the Greyfriars Friary, according to old maps and documents. Richard the III, the King of England from 1483 to 1485, was long believed to be buried in the church of the friary after dying in battle. Archaeologists thought the possibility of finding his remains were considered very slim. The skeleton found showed battle wounds and signs of scoliosis, which fit his description in historical records. After tracing the DNA from the skeleton through a direct descendent of the King, it was confirmed in 2014 that the skeleton was that of King Richard III.


Photo: Denis Gliksman

Even more recently, a supermarket in Paris called in archaeologists before continuing the expansion of their basement, and for good reason. Archaeologists were expecting to find a few remains since the store was built upon the same spot that was once a hospital from the 12th through 17th century. Instead they discovered a mass gravesite with the remains of more than 200 people and as they keep digging, archaeologists expect to find even more remains. With a grave this size, it shows that there was a major mortality crisis resulting from an epidemic, famine or extreme fever. Scientists are working on how to determine how old these skeletons are. In the meantime, it is business as usual up above in the supermarket.


Neatly placed skeletons in the basement of the Supermarket. Photo: Denis Gliksman


It is quite surprising to see what you can find, but that’s what makes it all the more interesting. Unearthing that next layer that Europe is built upon, writes more to the story that is Europe’s history. The next time you walk around your favorite European city, sit at a café to indulge in a mélange or take an afternoon to go shopping, think about the history that lies beneath you. What will you find? What does it tell you? Most importantly, watch your step!

France’s climate change commitments

I sat numbingly and mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook news feed, my eyes unenthused crescent moons, my fingers robotic, my body a stone. After irrelevant minutes, I came across a picture that turned my waning crescents into full moons. I immediately perked up as I came across something that was actually worth my time. It was a picture my friend had posted while abroad in France. The picture was this:

Photo by: Julie Rozanski

Photo by: Julie Rozanski

My friend Julie captioned the photo, “Paris – Gare du Nord. You can sit at one of these tables with bike pedals and physically charge your phone by pedaling! So eco-friendly…epoustouflant!”

Now, you may be thinking this is fairly uninteresting like most things online. What’s the big deal? Why this picture? Well, as an environmentalist, I was very excited. I shared it on Facebook with my environmentalist friends and they all liked it. Any new sustainable invention or article sucks me in and sometimes makes my heart flutters from joy because of it. And, to be honest, I don’t understand why every single human doesn’t feel the way I do about sustainability advancements.

Luckily for Earth (and for my mental health and stability), there are fellow activists out there working, and environment issues are becoming a greater part of human lives. At the 2014 Climate Summit, more than 100 global leaders gathered in New York to discuss their plan to reduce their respective country’s carbon footprint. There were 44 countries that made commitments to carry out feasible solutions to the increasing environmental issues.

Peoples Climate March in New York City in honor of the Climate Summit 2014. Photo from Google.

Peoples Climate March in New York City in honor of the Climate Summit 2014, photo from

Because the picture my friend posted was from France, I took interest in sustainability advancements in France. France’s leaders pledged that France “will commit $1 billion to Green Climate Fund over the ‘coming years.’”

“Coming years”? What does that even mean? But, to be fair, France’s pledge almost sounds better than the United States’, which states, “President Obama signed an executive order directing all federal agencies to begin factoring climate resilience into international development programs and investments. The U.S. is also deploying experts and technology to help vulnerable nations better prepare for weather-related disasters and plan for long-term threats.” None of that sounds clear cut with a plan for a specific quantifiable result.

I wondered if other francophone countries were that vague with their commitments, but not all were. Belgium, for example, pledged to “reduce emissions by 85% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.” Luxembourg, another francophone country, committed “$6.8 million to the Green Climate Fund — %1 of the country’s entire GDP.

Examples of renewable energy, photo from

Examples of renewable energy, photo from

After hearing about France’s somewhat imprecise commitment at the Climate Summit, I was frustrated. So, naturally, I did more research to see what were some actual attainable, concrete goals that France has set for itself (and for the world, for that matter) before and since the Climate Summit.

Since 2013, France has focused a large part of its country’s efforts on renewable energy. As of 2013, France has “committed 2 billion euros to renewable energy and energy efficiency” over a three-year period. France has also concentrated a large part of its efforts on sustainable energy in Africa to both rural and urban areas. France has invested millions in programs and resources towards many types of energy in France and countries in Africa. “By funding more than 230 million euros, France has developed the geothermal potential of the Olkaria site in Kenya, which is among the most important sites in Africa.”

In December, France will be hosting the Climate Conference Paris 2015. At this conference, 196 countries will commit to a solution to combat climate change. This climate conference will alter and update countries’ commitments to create a more sustainable Earth, as well as set new goals. The previous climate conferences and summits, while successful, have been criticized by using a ‘top-down’ approach, whereas for the Climate Conference Paris 2015, the goal is to shift the conversations towards hearing from each country what they would like to do and what is best for their infrastructure.

Photo from Google

Photo from

Researching  about France’s (and other countries’) sustainability advancements and goals gives me hope and satisfaction. Because for me, the picture my friend posted on her Facebook was so much more than a cool post from a good friend in a different country. It sparked in me a hope for humanity. I saw this invention of a bicycle charger and I felt a sense of content for the world. Maybe we’re not all dooming Earth for the rest of our lives.

Oftentimes I get very overwhelmed by the weight of the world. I spend hours upon hours each week learning about the ways in which we harm the environment. I’m taught and teach others ways in which humans can change the path we’re headed towards and actually make a difference. I get very preoccupied on worrying about how we’re all going to clean up the giant dump we’ve taken on Earth, and I forget to look up and notice the positive, innovative, incredible things that thousands of people are doing right now through policy and service.

So thank you to Julie Rozanski for her picture. I doubt she ever thought it would make another human so content.

Global Art Attractions Ban “Selfie Sticks”

Around this time last year, in 2014, the word “selfie” was added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, following almost a year of the word making the rounds through American as well as international vernacular. What started as a seemingly innocent way to describe a photo you take of yourself quickly became a real thing, sparking even a television show. And of course, the infamous selfie stick. Selfie. Stick. There is no way to say that phrase and not feel a little stupid.

It’s also hard to not look somewhat stupid while using one. Extending a monopod almost two feet to snap a photo of you in front of wherever doing whatever may seem like a harmless way to document your vacation, but some of the most popular tourist art attractions in the world are pushing back, with officials citing that the sticks are obnoxious and potentially hazardous to the art.

In France, the Palace of Versailles is the most recent attraction to ban selfie sticks, with the Louvre reviewing their photography to possibly include a ban as well.

Meanwhile, in Italy, the Colosseum imposed a ban, after an official said, “The twirling around of hundreds of sticks can become unwittingly dangerous.” This image that is evoked of hundreds of tourists spinning around in circles in an effort to get the best photo and accidentally hurting themselves or others in the process is both simultaneously hilarious and saddening.

In Austria, the Albertina, one of the top art museums has been one of the first to ban selfie sticks, and require guests to check them in when they first arrive.


When I first heard about the selfie stick, I thought it might be a joke. When I first saw someone use one, I appreciated the novelty but couldn’t imagine paying actual money for one. Yet, I would argue that the practice of inventing seemingly dumb contraptions to go hand-in-hand with our advancing technology has been around for ages and will only continue to develop as our technological needs grow.

Perhaps the selfie stick will die out in the face of these preemptive bans, but it forces us to think about how technology, art, and people will interact in the coming years. Will it be important to see a painting in the Louvre and take in the experience for yourself? Or, will it be more important to prove you did the thing, that you saw the painting, that you were there?

Alain Ducasse, Renowned French Chef

When you think of France, a few things come to mind: Paris, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, sitting down for a coffee at a quaint little Cafe, and the beautiful French country side. But we mustn’t forget one important aspect of French culture that can’t be ignored: French cuisine. From the light, airy pastries, the scrumptious macaroons, to the Bouillabaisse, or maybe the Duck à l’Orange, French cuisine is a major part of French culture, and one of the most famous chefs of this generation is Alain Ducasse. 


Alain Ducasse is a world renowned French chef. A French native, he has 23 restaurants and 3 inns, creating more of an enterprise out of his own name. He also has created a gastronomy program in Paris for aspiring culinary artists. Ducasse has been active in his restaurants, hotels, culinary arts, and projects for over thirty years. His love for food, culture, and travel has expanded his culinary reach and influence throughout the world. His  restaurants are located in 8 different countries, including the United States.





Pictured above is Alain Ducasse at a local farmer’s market in Cubao. He is adamant about using local resources no matter where he is, and frequently immerses himself into a country’s culture.


(Photo: Danny Kim)


Although he enjoys traveling to exotic and new places in order to further his learning and to find ingredients to implement into his restaurants, he still remembers his French roots, and resorts back to some of his classic recipes. In an interview, Ducasse said that he felt most proud of his Cookpot, (pictured above) which is a slow-cooked casserole of seasonal vegetables. 


Since 1972, at age 16, Ducasse has been involved in restaurants. Beginning locally near his home in Southwestern France, he made himself known at a young age, gaining experience through apprenticeships and small jobs, leading him to an assistant position under Roger Verge. His first position as a chef was in 1980, and he hasn’t looked back. Now at age 59, he holds 21 Michelin stars. Even more impressive, Ducasse has already began progressing to the next step: taking French cuisine to Space.

Pegida and the Future of Islam in Germany

The movement called Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) has dominated headlines in Germany for months. News reports and blog posts have quieted down in February, so what now? Did the Pegida movement enjoy a prolonged fifteen minutes of fame and will soon fizzle out? Or are we merely witnessing a temporary lull in activity, before the movement once again forces itself into the headlines?

The Sprengsatz blog provides short, well-defined commentary on politics in Germany, and has commented frequently on the issue of Pegida. The blog’s author, Michael Spreng, maintains that Pegida is finished. A combination of factors has led to Pegida’s fading. Mr. Spreng is quick to point out that Pegida’s fall is more the result of self-destruction than the reaction of Germany’s leading political forces. The latter’s attempt at addressing the Pegida issue has been poorly coordinated and at times contradictory. For readers unfamiliar with Pegida, its talking points can be boiled down to this: Muslims and mass numbers of immigrants are subverting Germany’s economy and culture. This complaint is not new; from intelligentsia on down to neo-Nazis and hooligans, the idea that Muslim immigrants are burdening the German state has existed for decades. What sets Pegida apart is its membership from many different social groups. Such a large number of people demonstrating in the streets for a common cause, one as divisive as this, were bound to gain media attention.

Pegida protesters on the march

Pegida protesters on the march (Photo: Zukunftskinder)

Pegida’s apparent strength in numbers hasn’t gone unquestioned, and Spreng is quick to point this out. He distinguishes those caught up in the furor of Pegida as either Anhänger or Mitläufer. The difference is an important one, given that an Anhänger is someone who fully supports a movement. Mitläufer tend to be people who are involved in a movement but whose commitment and conviction is tenuous at best. Spreng considers a large portion of Pegida’s so-called followers to actually be Mitläufer, which is significant in that it means the number of people who actually believe in Pegida’s platform is smaller than people realize.

When it comes to the establishment response to Pegida, Germany’s two leading political parties, the CDU and SPD, have shown a surprising disunity. Standing up against racism and bigotry is a mutual priority for both parties (in the broadest sense the CDU is conservative and the SPD is liberal). While Chancellor Merkel (CDU) has unequivocally rejected what Pegida represents, members of her own party have shuddered at her assertion that “Islam belongs to Germany.” Countering the Chancellor’s assertion was the governor of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich (CDU), who retorted, “Islam does not belong to Saxony.”

The contradictions continued within the SPD as the party’s General Secretary utterly rejected any notion of holding a dialogue with Pegida. Strikingly, Sigmar Gabriel, an SPD member and Vice-Chancellor in Merkel’s government, chose to meet with Pegida supporters (Spreng uses Anhänger, meaning that Gabriel met with devoted members of the movement). Spreng’s contempt for this is plain to see, and he refers to such actions and contradictions as “spineless” and “opportunistic”

The issue of Pegida would perhaps be less complex were it not for its timing. Pegida’s arrival could not have come at a better time for the AfD (Alternative For Germany), Germany’s Euro-skeptic party. The AfD has had its own share of controversy and accusations of having intolerants within its ranks, but that has not stopped them from making electoral gains. What connects the AfD and Pegida is the issue of immigration. With the appearance that Pegida was gaining popular support from regular, fed-up Germans, the AfD sought to capitalize on the moment and join forces with Pegida. In this regard both Pegida and the AfD are populist movements, whose emergence Spreng again attributes to social and financial angst.

With the CDU and SPD providing confusing and unorganized responses to Pegida, and with the AfD actively seeking to fan the flames of populism, what more could possibly assist in Pegida’s rise? Enter Charlie Hebdo. The terrorist attack in Paris was as tragic as it was inopportune. The tragedy transcends the deaths of innocents in that those seeking to advance a narrative use those same deaths as fodder. Germany’s far-right political forces, both big and small, fringe and legitimate, have sought to describe the Paris attacks as motivated by an entire religion and culture: Islam. Before this situation could progress any further, action had to be taken.

Vigil against terror

Political and faith leaders rally in solidarity after the Charlie Hebdo attack (Photo:

Thus Angela Merkel flew to Paris and walked in solidarity, with a throng of other world leaders, for the victims, for free speech, and to show defiance against extremism. What was striking was to see the leaders of France and Germany, historically not the best of friends, tightly linking arms and walking together for a common cause. Merkel then moved quickly to quash whatever xenophobia may have been simmering back home. In front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Merkel stood with fellow German leaders and leaders of Germany’s main religious groups, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and asserted the official position that what occurred in Paris was not indicative of an entire religion’s goals. On the contrary, Merkel has promoted the narrative that extremists who would or have committed terrorism, have perverted the teachings of Islam. Lastly, Merkel addressed Muslim leaders in Germany by declaring that members of the Islamic faith have a responsibility to assuage the fears and bias the German people may hold against them. That process includes an outright repudiation of extremist and fundamentalist ideology. To my surprise, Mr. Spreng gives Merkel full support for her actions, stating “Merkel has done everything right,” and asserting that the Pegida issue is or very soon will be over. Pegida’s founder, Lutz Bachmann, was recently ousted after a picture of him surfaced sporting a Hitler moustache and hairstyle.

Founder and former leader of Pegida, Lutz Bachmann

Founder and former leader of Pegida, Lutz Bachmann. Photo: The Guardian

Bachmann’s indiscretion and the AfD’s beginning to show a lack of support are contributing to what Spreng refers to as the “self-destruction” of the movement. He describes it as an issue worthy of only a footnote in the history books. I am not so convinced. Europe is facing some very tricky situations: terrorism, the financial crisis, the Ukrainian civil war, immigration, social issues, and even the fight against ISIS. Any one of the preceding issues could be the spark that ignites further upheaval on the political fringe. What will be left to be seen, is whether such an upheaval will activate the passions and frustrations of the general population and influence elections.

The Haunting Allure of Europe’s Abandoned Places

The powerful stories of many European buildings can be seen in the cracks and dust left behind in these abandoned wonders scattered across the continent. After centuries of strength and poise, these buildings can still be found intact and full of empty, fascinating mystery. Although most of the following buildings are rarely on the list of ‘must-sees’ for world travelers, they might actually be worth the trip to indulge in some good, old-fashion history.

I found it especially interesting to know that I’m not alone when it comes to curiosity about abandoned places. In fact, many bloggers dedicate entire blogs to abandoned buildings and sites around the world. I’ve linked to several of them, as well as broader blogs that touch on the topic every once in a while. Bloggers from all over the world seem to have an interest in these historical findings and the stories that got these sites to their present state. Here’s a look at some of the many run-down sites and buildings that once stood extraordinarily tall.

 Beelitz Heilstatten:

This complex started as a military hospital during WWII and was continually used by Russians until its abandonment in the 1990s. For more photos and info, click here.


Photo by Sara at


Photo by Sara at


Photo by Sara at


Photo by Sara at

Castle of Mesen:

Dating way back to the 1500s, this small town Castle was rebuilt and remodeled until the middle of the 20th century. For more photos and info on the Castle of Mesen, click here.


Photo by Niek Beck

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9The Medieval Village of Craco, Italy:

Over time, this village lost residents due to the plague, French occupation and civil unrest. It’s final abandonment took place in the early 1990s when locals fled to America to escape the poor agricultural conditions. For more photos and info on Craco, Italy, visit this blog.

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Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture:

This Paris railway came long before the Paris Metro. The main source for Paris transportation in the 19th century fell to it’s decline in the mid 1900s. For more photos and info on this railway, visit this blog.

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Hafodunos Hall:

This deserted mansion in Wales was built in the 1860s for the wealthy, Sandbach family. Since the house sold in the 1930s, it has been used as a girls’ school and then an old peoples home until it was shut down in 1993. To learn more about Hafodunos Hall, visit this blog.

Photo from Alexander at

Photo from Alexander at

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Photo from Alexander at desertedplaces.blogs

Photo from Alexander at

Photo from Alexander at

Photo from Alexander at

Photo from Alexander at


These are just a few of the many buildings and towns across the European continent that once prevailed and are now deemed useless. I find it incredible how intact many buildings still are. I can’t imagine letting a spectacular castle waste away to nothing. It will be interesting to see if any abandoned wonders one day make a comeback and are remodeled to flourish on their old grounds that remain filled with memories and stories of time passed.

To read about abandonment of full European towns, check out this blog.

Femen: Giving us something to talk about

In my last post I talked about Ukraine is Not a Brothela recent documentary following the members of Femen. Originally based in Ukraine and now based in France, Femen is a feminist group of self-identified “sextremists” who lead protests with their messages written on their breasts. Before seeing the film I didn’t know much about the group, other than their chosen method of protest, since most of what I’ve read about the group seems to be exclusively interested in a) the fact that they protest topless (omg breasts—how scandalous!) and b) dismissing most, if not all, of their credibility as feminists based on that fact. Accordingly, many of the pieces that talk about them err on the side of the sensationalist (in the case of the more formal, “factual” media), or the downright patronizing (in the case of more opinion-based media like blogs).

Femen meme

An oversimplification of Femen’s ideology, at best

The way these kinds of pieces talk about Femen makes me uncomfortable in large part because they ignore the complexities of what it means to be feminist in a patriarchal society  and they pay little to no attention to the perspectives of the members themselves. Something that really struck a chord with me when I saw Ukraine is Not a Brothel is the fact that its interviews are exclusively of Femen members. Of the more thoughtful pieces I’ve read about the group online since then (and there are actually more of those out there than I thought there might be), “Rise of the naked female warriors” by Kira Cochrane of The Guardian does a particularly good job of incorporating a member of Femen’s voice into its analysis of the group, and “The femen phenomenon” by Reuters blogger Gleb Garanich (which I mentioned in my last post) definitely wins the award for most humanizing portrayal of the group. Jess Eagle’s House of Flout blog also provides a great, nuanced analysis of Femen’s implications for feminism as a whole.

"Fight for me! Let me be how I want, not how you think is right"

“Fight for me! Let me be how I want, not how you think is right #MuslimaPride (sic)”

This isn’t to say that there aren’t legitimate criticisms of the group that go beyond their chosen method of protesting. Not examined in Ukraine is Not a Brothel, for example, is the group’s approach toward Islam-specific feminist issues. When Tunisian woman Amina Tyler was arrested following a topless protest in her country last year, Femen activists protested for her cause in front of the Justice Ministry in Tunis, announcing that they were bringing a “Topless Jihad” to the Middle East. This has drawn backlash in feminist and Muslim spheres from those who see this as a neo-colonialist attempt to “save” oppressed Muslim women (sparking the hashtag #MuslimahPride seen in the picture to the right). For an on-point explanation of why people are (understandably) upset about this, I recommend checking out these pieces by Manar Milbes, an American Muslim, and Italian blogger laglasnost.

At the end of the day, the way the media portrays Femen has the biggest impact on what we pay more attention to–their message or their breasts–and currently it’s not their message that’s winning. That probably isn’t going to change, because, you know, sex sells and all (and apparently breasts = sex), but we as media consumers can certainly do better by recognizing the hype for what it is and acknowledging that whether we agree with it or not, there is more to Femen’s feminism than meets the eye.

True/False Doc Shows Physicists Hot For Answers

Missouri Theater being used for True/False

Missouri Theater transformed for True/False

Each year, during the last week of February, Columbia, Missouri is home to its largest annual arts event, the True/False Film Festival. The festival boasts a plethora of documentary films and over 35 bands from around the world.

True/False technically starts on Thursday, but really kicks off for local students on Friday, which was marketed this year as TGI T/F (Thank Goodness it’s True/False Friday), which featured a free screening of Particle Fever, by director Mark Levinson, for students and festival volunteers. The film was a good choice for the student kickoff, particularly as it’s a film about people’s excitement and got students excited about the festival.

The film follows the excitement of the scientists involved with the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at CERN (the name of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research based in Geneva, Switzerland) from the startup of the LHC through the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle (a.k.a. “The God Particle”). The film leaves after the discovery which yielded inconclusive results on which of two theories explain the existence of the universe.

At one point in the film, one of the theoretical physicists involved with the LHC is asked by an economist what the economic incentive for the roughly $10 billion project is. I won’t spoil the film by giving you his fantastic answer, but Pauline Gagnon, a quantum physicist, gives a greater explanation to the question than just finding the the origin of the universe, on her official blog on CERN’s site.  Gagnon explains that

the LHC could be opening the door to parallel worlds, extra dimensions or the discovery of as many new particles as the ones we already know. These are but some of the exciting questions we are trying to address.

Gagnon, and Levinson aren’t the only people trying to explain the LHC to the public, either. In fact, CERN has made numerous websites that cater to students trying to spark young peoples’ interests in science. CERNLand, a spanish language site encourages children and their parents to get involved in science through contests. They also encourage visitors to check out this “Taking A Closer Look at LHC” blog, which gives easy to digest explanations of what CERN does.

Part of the Large Hadron Collider

Part of the Large Hadron Collider

CERN’s next step is doubling the power of the LHC to conduct experiments that will hopefully determine which theories about how the universe is held together are supported by the Higgs Boson particle. To do this, the magnets, the main pieces of the LHC, needed to be strengthened. On their official organisational update blog, CERN announced in February that 1,000 of the 1,695 magnets have been upgraded so far.

After the film, theoretical physicist David Kaplan, whom the film followed, stuck around with director Mark Levinson to answer questions from students. The Q&A is a major part of the festival and someone who starred in or made a film is required to be present for the Q&A after each film.

Check out the website for Particle Fever and find out where the film will show next.