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I’m almost done! I’m putting the final touches on my thesis and preparing to head home to the US on August 1. Its a bit odd I suppose, definitely a little surreal but I can’t really say I am full of final concluding thoughts to sum up what has been a great year. I am just going through the motions, focusing on what needs to be done in order to go home- I need to close my UK bank account, sort out the return of my housing deposit, get my work bound and handed in, and sort out a way to get my suitcase under 23 kilos. Challenge accepted. Oh, how I miss the days when suitcase weight and water bottles with more than 3 ounces of water weren’t seen as national security issues…

People keep asking me if I am excited to go home, or happy to be returning to the US. I don’t have an answer on this definitely one way as I don’t care so much about returning Stateside specifically (this seems to be embedded in everyones question- ‘do you miss the US’) as there isn’t really a whole lot I miss that is uniquely American- though, Vitamin Water is a pretty significant draw. I am really, really, really looking forward to seeing everyone in the US who I have missed this year- from friends to family to pets, as this is always the best part about coming home (Buff and Harry, I’m lookin’ at you).

I think (and hope) that being here for the year and having been in an academic setting with entirely non-Americans has given me a new or broader perspective on the US as it relates to global politics and culture. I look forward to the re-introduction to American news media and things like that because I am curious to see if I pick up on things I didn’t before. Beyond this, I am indifferent about returning and I certainly hope to have the chance to live abroad again, perhaps for a longer period of time, or permanently. I just love that you know what to expect a little less… even after being in tiny little Lancaster for nearly a year, there’s still so much to discover and funny little quirks I find, even in a country as similar to the US as England. I love the weird and bizarre things that happen… for example, the other day I was in a taxi and the radio was on, and there was some news clip mentioning President Obama and the cabbie goes “those Americans- dumbest people in the world, they elected a MUSLIM! I mean, we’re at WAR with the Muslims, and they go and elect one!” I was dying laughing inside, because I almost thought he was kidding. I don’t know if the guy just didn’t pick up on my accent or just didn’t care, but he continued on and on for a bit about Obama being a Muslim from Africa. I was a little surprised, because its the first time I have heard anything this nutty from a Brit, but hey, there are crazies everywhere.

I know I’ll be itching to come back here the moment I touch down at Logan Airport- I will definitely miss lots of things about northern England itself, such as the tiny villages that are so easy to come upon with a little exploration, the British pubs, the summer sun that stays in the sky until ten pm, and the unique beauty of this northern landscape. I will certainly miss running here as there are always new trails with no one on them but perhaps a stray cow or sheep from a nearby farm. I’ll miss going to school with people from all over the world as I feel this has been invaluable to my education, and has allowed me to expand me perspectives on so many topics. Things I won’t miss: mayonnaise on absolutely everything, the fact that the summer temperatures do not get about 70 Fahrenheit, and food prices.

Anyways, thats all I have to say for now… I may do a follow-up entry upon returning home but we’ll see. I would like to extend an enormous thank you to everyone who has been reading this- it means a lot, and I hope you enjoyed a window into my year here through my often wordy and convoluted thoughts :).

Until next time,

Estelle

Me at Glasson docks marsh

Oh-so-English inn/pub

For those of you in Washington, DC: England does the canal path 🙂

Tranquil Lancashire

I will most definitely miss the 10 pm sunsets…

… such as this one

Nordic Adventure

Note: the way I am laying this blog entry out is in two parts. The first in about my actual trip, i.e. what I did, etc. The second part is about what I learned culturally and politically. I know not all of you are so interested in that, so I separated it. I do recommend reading it as my experience in Norway expanded my views on what is possible politically in ways I wasn’t expecting. In a land so similar to New England, I found that we can learn from the way they do things up there to improve our own lives.

 

Second note: The fabulous Miz Laura Petrik has a blog of her own going, which I highly recommend to the ladies. Check it out here: lamodadilauramarie.blogspot.co.uk.

 

Malin and I being silly

I have just returned from a magical week in the nordic lands- I visited my friend Malin (who I have gone to Edinburgh with, etc- previously mentioned on this blog). What an unbelievable week! I really can’t say enough good things about Norway- as a country, it is truly impressive. I think that for many Americans (and people everywhere?), Scandinavia is kind of mysterious and a non-consequential land. We imagine snow, mountains, and blonde-haired people born with skis on their feet. These things are mostly true, but my previous ideas of what Norway is politically and culturally have been expanded enormously from this past week.

I stayed in Fredrikstad, the town Malin in from, alternating a few days with each of her parents, Lise and Arne. I would like to note how kind and generous and hospitable they were- I had some of the most amazing seafood I have had in my life, including a delicious salmon dinner on my birthday, and the freshest shrimp imaginable a few days prior. It was really a treat to stay with Norwegian people as I feel that this allows you to gain a much better insight into any country you visit, even ones in western Europe which are culturally similar to North America. If you visit Norway and stay in a hotel room in Oslo, you simply won’t get the same understanding of the country. As a visitor, you get a much better idea of the national character if you talk with the people in-depth, and as a politics student, I feel that this is absolutely crucial for me to gather and process ideas from places which operate differently from the United States; I try to take in everything around me at every possible juncture in the hopes of fully understanding every new place I go, even if this means my brain feels like it is constantly in overdrive. Trying to process and analyze everything is kind of exhausting, and yet I never, ever feel that grappling to understand a new country is a task because I am simultaneously astounded at how lucky I have been in my own life in so many ways.

I got to do so, so much in my week in Norway, more than I could have imagined. For one, Lise (Malin’s mum) and her boyfriend Arne have a sailboat, so I we spent the better part of a day sailing around Oslofjord. This is the main body of water in the south-east of Norway, and looks strikingly like the coast of Maine- the rocks, the lighthouses and small fishing villages sprinkled on islands surrounding the main water. The weather is almost exactly the same as in Boston, so this certainly contributed to my perception of the similarities between the two places. The land around Fredrikstad, Rade, Moss and Saltnes is also not unlike that in Carlisle or further west in Massachusetts, with farms and trees making up the majority of space.

We spent the next day biking around Fredrikstad, which is also called the “fortress town” as it was built into a fortress in Medieval times, and the old town is surrounded by a kind of star formation of water. The ancient fortress part is called “Swedescare” in English, and is a series of old jails and small stone buildings. This gave me an idea of what it must have been like back when, and it was pretty neat to see how they have turned these old prisons into cafes and art studios. I bet they never could have imagined this when they build the stone walls to keep out the Swedes. The rest of old town is very cute, small, and pretty much what you picture when you think of Scandinavia. Like everything in Norway, it was expensive (think nine GBP or fifteen USD for a beer) but the quality of everything is very good. This is kind of a rule-of-thumb in Norway- the quality of food, clothes, and life is just high everywhere you go, even if you pay a lot for it. I really appreciate this now, particularly as England is an expensive country but doesn’t follow through on quality. Norway hasn’t got Starbucks for example, but they have so many other coffee shops which out Starbucks coffee to shame. This is one thing Europe does much better on a whole than the US- the coffee everywhere is good. That and the candy. 🙂

Following the Fredrikstad tour and boat adventure, we met up with a few of Malin’s friends from school, and went to a birthday party for one of them on a nearby island. It was a lovely little spot, kind of reminiscent of Nantucket in the appearance of the houses. The whole island is owned by some wealthy guy, and was on the eve of my own birthday, so it was an excellent way to ring in the golden age of twenty-three.

Malin took me to some other seaside towns including Hvaler and Tønsberg, both of which were truly lovely. Tønsberg is a bit bigger and had some cute shops similar to those on Main Street on Nantucket with preppy Ralph Lauren clothing and Burberry jackets, which I fantasize about endlessly of course. Hvaler is smaller, but so calm and relaxing with its numerous sailboats flying red-white-and-blue Norwegian flags and people everywhere relaxing and enjoying ice cream. To those of you who find yourselves criticizing Europe at this juncture of this entry and pointing to the Eurozone crisis, and blaming those lazy Europeans who spend excessive time relaxing and drinking cappuccino in cafés, know that Norway is not in the European Union, and has a phenomenal economy. Its absolute proof that there is a balance in life that can and should be struck between work and pleasure. I don’t believe we have properly found it in the US.

Some of the most glorious things about Norway: waffles, brown cheese (‘brunost’), strawberries, chocolate and seafood. I really could go on for hours about the salmon and shrimp- I just have never tasted anything fresher in my life! Norwegians also make these great waffles, which Malin’s grandmother was kind enough to make for us. You put sour cream and jam on them, depending on what you like, or you can out this stuff called brunost. This “brown cheese” is not really cheese at all, and is kind of like caramel-cheese. It is so, so delicious, I probably could have eaten it until I vomited (mmmm) and I am desperately trying to figure out a way to get it in the US (of course, it can probably be ordered from Minnesota or Wisconsin). I will be acquiring it, so many of you will have a chance to taste it. Similar to brown cheese is this stuff called ‘prim’, used mostly on crackers for breakfast. Its also quite nice, and I wish I could find a way to get that as well because I haven’t seen anything similar. In Norway, they do sweet stuff extremely well- the chocolate was to die for (we bought candy everywhere) and the sweets everywhere are almost guaranteed to be delicious. One of the main chocolate makers is called “Freia”, and the store in Oslo had small pieces so we could try the many options they offered (all of which were delicious).

On Monday, we went to Oslo, the capital city of Norway. Its small by American standards, with about 600,000 inhabitants. Like the rest of Norway, its exceptionally clean, quiet, and the people are very well-dressed (particularly compared with the English). We wandered about, and saw a few separate neighborhoods including the famous sculpture garden. To finish out our day, we ate at an Ethiopian restaurant called “Mama Africa”- of course, I go to Norway to eat food from Africa. We arrived for dinner at about 5:30, and the sign said they were opening at 1, however they seemed to be closed when we got there. We knocked, and they said they were in fact open, but had gotten a late start due to the fact that it was Monday.

POLITICS AND CULTURE: WHAT WE CAN LEARN IN THE GOOD OL’ US of A

Scandinavia on a whole is much more similar to New England than England, which I did not expect; New England is, in a sense, to the US as Scandinavia is to the rest of Europe. The education level, the attitude and the general values placed on aspects of life are similar to inhabitants of our small corner of the US, particularly in stark contrast to the education level and values of those in the middle and south of the country. Norwegians are truly an exceptional people- they are quiet, they do not seem to suffer from road rage, they are sensible and do not like to live in excess. They value nature and are hard-working. Politically, Norway is a welfare state: they have national health care, and a social security-like system while allows them to retire at a very reasonable age if they so choose. The quality of life is very high for everyone, not just a few. Norwegians value hard work and luxury, but not at the expense of enjoying life. In the USA, this has been at the forefront of national debate as of recent as we contemplate nationalized health care and the fact that social security is running out. Thats the thing with a welfare state- you pay a lot of taxes, but you get a lot back. The trick is this: everyone has to work, everyone has to contribute and realize it only works if everyone is committed to the state running smoothly. Somehow, they have mastered this in Norway: homeless people are extremely rare, and these are almost exclusively immigrants, rather than native Norwegians. Unlike the United States, or the UK, or so many other wealthy countries, there are no “neglected” parts of the country- the schools in the far north are just as good as the ones in Oslo. They may not be the absolute best in the entire world, but they are all very good. For the first time, I was able to comprehend that “good enough” may be okay, or even better than the idea that the school should be the absolute best. Seeking to be better, to push everyone to their limit to improve may actually be sacrificial in other ways. The numbers support this theory: for example, the literacy rate among Norwegians is among the highest in the world with nearly 94 percent of Norwegians able to read. Compare this to the approximately eighty percent of literate Americans. Here are some more number comparisons: Norway in has a population of five million people, and Massachusetts has about 6.5 million, so they are comparable. In Boston, we have about 10,000 homeless people. In the whole of Norway, there are an estimated less than 1,000. I have been operating for so long under the idea that a system like the Scandinavian ones is politically impossible in the United States, and I stand by this. These welfare systems are impossible for the whole of the United States, however it may be possible on a more individualized level, particularly in small states with high education levels, such as Massachusetts, Connecticut or Maine.

Norwegians take advantage of their northerly place on the globe- every night, the sun sets around 11:30 or midnight and rises a few hours later, though its never truly dark in between. This means people sit outside enjoying a beer, or having dinner with family and friends. People seem relaxed and happy in a manner not common anywhere I have seen in the United States, including New England. As Americans, we focus so much on achievement and getting t the next step whether it be an advance in your career or the purchase of a larger home. In Norway, people take what they need to live a comfortable life and not more. Again, the idea that “good enough” is actually better resurfaces: unlike the suburbs of Boston or Washington, you don’t see enormous homes with six cars in the driveway. Almost everyone has a comfortable home, one or two cars, and the food and clothing they need. There are the same luxuries we have of course, but the idea that “I should be working to acquire more” isn’t prevalent. Its a kind of unique contentedness and the idea that such should be preserved that drives Norwegians to work, and something I firmly believe we Americans can learn from. For the first time, I can really see that though we have such a great life in the US and so much freedom, we can absolutely do better and we must do better. Seeing the Norwegian life has made me see that there are more possibilities we must work towards, even if this means restructuring the way politics is handled in the US. I don’t have an exact answer for how to go about this, but I suspect the route lies through a state-by-state approach, rather than a nationalized system. There are differences of course between the way a country of 311 million people should function politically compared to a country of 5 million. I am certain however that we can model some state systems after the Scandinavian ones.

One last little anecdote of Norway- police don’t carry guns anywhere in the country, even Oslo. (Hence the picture I have included). I was so surprised by this because I couldn’t imagine this working anywhere in the US. But it works in Norway because of the national character, the respect for laws and order and the functionality of society. I am not sure why this is not so widespread in the US, but I think that a society which does not need to enforce order with the threat of a potentially deadly weapon has a lot to be said for it.

The more time I spend away from the United States, the more clearly I see it. As fortunate as we are to have these freedoms and opportunities, we are so disadvantaged in that we are geographically isolated. I grow more frustrated with the religious extremism in the US- people screaming about how homosexuality is evil and spewing other nonsense is just as bad as those who follow Sharia law or an extreme form of jihad in the Middle East. Its crap we cannot tolerate, particularly as it has come to define the US in the international arena. I know full well that not everyone has had the opportunities I have had, however in a globalized world where information is so readily available due to the internet, there is no excuse for ignorance.

Alright thats all for now. I have included pictures- enjoy!

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Ambleside, England

Ambleside, England

Charlie Chaplin speech- The Great Dictator

First off, let me apologize for the lengthy time lapse since my last entry- its been a busy time trying to get a start on my dissertation, writing and researching as much as possible and narrowing my topic. I have finally settled into focusing on the progression of the war on terror in Afghanistan, and I will be theorizing on the future of this war following the first five years after the scheduled 2014 withdrawal of troops from the region. Its an absolutely fascinating topic, and i really am enjoying that I am able to focus on politics and security while gaining an understanding of the rich and diverse culture in Afghanistan, central Asia and the Middle East. Anyways, the school work coupled with the never-ending and depressing job search has left me with little time for much else. I have applied to eighty jobs with little response; I’m almost pleased when I get a formal rejection, because normally you hear nothing despite countless follow-ups. The whole process has left me feeling a little defeated, to be honest, but I obviously I have to keep forging ahead with this and praying something works out, and soon.

On to the good stuff: I went on a school trip to Geneva, Switzerland with the politics Masters students. It was a great trip, and Geneva is a lovely (albeit expensive) city with a lot to offer, especially if you’re interested in international organizations.We visited the UN, the Red Cross, the World Trade Organization, and a few small NGOs. The UN is of course amazing to see and be inside, but I was really impressed with the Red Cross and the work they do. Our speaker was a Norwegian man who had spent time in several conflict zones in the past decade including Iraq, and he had several interesting stories, some rather shocking, and possessed a perspective on conflict situations I had previously not considered in depth. He said the Red Cross helps everyone, regardless of status: i.e., an insurgent who has been injured will receive the same aid as a civilian who holds no allegiances. My first reaction to this was “well, thats silly.” But we discussed this with him, and he explained that if the Red Cross enters a conflict zone and refuses to help certain people than a) it has politicized itself, and now takes on additional responsibilities as such and b) is not an improvement on the terrorists who arbitrarily decide who lives and who dies. One question I ponder the more I study conflict and security is embedded within this morally gray area: are people good or bad? I know this seems like a silly, naive question to ask, but it continually nags at my mind. Some of the things I come across in my research truly baffles me- try as I might, I am unable to grasp the horrors that people inflict on one another- some in the name of religion, some in the name of politics, some inexplicably. At the same time, I am amazed by the strength of individuals and groups who persist throughout times of extraordinary difficulty. How do we answer these injustices on an individual level? Do we, as humans, owe each other anything? Is there some base level of humanity that I should show every other person I come in to contact with, even if they have done something unspeakable? I don’t remember where I heard this, but someone answered this conundrum by saying  “People are just people. Its their actions, what they do that defines them as good or bad.” There are good people forced to do bad things; how do we classify these people? How can we even really determine right from wrong when the experiences which shape the perspectives of the individual are so sharply varied across the globe? Food for thought.

Back to England: one of my best friends came to visit during her first European excursion! Ash White is traveling about the UK and we met up in the Lake DIstrict, went up to Glasgow, and then she and her friend headed up to see more of Scotland. There is a picture included of us in Glasgow.

I’m posting some recent England pictures, including one with my flatmate Eva (I made the mini pizzas), and then some Geneva pictures, one with my friend Elin (by the lake in Geneva). Enjoy!