Monday, May 7, 2018

Computer Scientist Meets Art in Florence

 Shannon Milone, Verrazano Class of 2018, is a Computer Science major, and now, a traveler.

Shannon in Fiesole
            My name is Shannon Milone and I am a senior studying computer science. For years, I’ve always thought about studying abroad but this winter semester I finally decided to make it happen. I traveled to Florence, Italy to study art history for three weeks. As a computer science major, taking an art course was definitely out of my comfort zone but I can truly say I’ve learned so much and I have a greater appreciation for art, different cultures, traveling, and myself.  
            Every day in Italy was an adventure. My class was almost never in a classroom, we spent time in museums looking at some of the most famous art pieces in history. When class was over, my friends and I continued to explore the streets of Florence – uncovering the most delicious foods, beautiful antique shops, and of course more art. The study abroad program had many activities I participated in such as a cooking class, a trip to the countryside of Florence in Fiesole, and a wine tasting class.
Ah, Venice. . .
            During the weekends, I deemed it necessary to travel to various parts of Italy. The first weekend I went to Rome. It was incredible to see such ancient buildings in the middle of a modern city.  I also took a short trip to Vatican City where I climbed over five hundred steps of St. Peters basilica, which overlooks so many beautiful sights, including hundreds of people gathering in the square to see the Pope. The next weekend, I went to Venice, which was such a different yet equally amazing trip. I took an obligatory gondola ride through the city where I saw magnificent houses, churches, and museums all standing on the water.
The Climb of St. Peters
            Studying abroad is such a rewarding experience that I am so glad I decided to partake in. I learned about art history, about a whole different culture, how to live on my own, how to navigate a different city, but mostly I learned how important it is to be in the moment and to cherish each experience you’re given. I will definitely be back to Europe to continue my new love for travel. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Belfast and Beyond: Exploring Castles, Caves and Giants

 Roseana Jolly, Verrazano Class of 2018, is a Social Work major with minors in linguistics and biology. She related her experience on a study abroad in Ireland.
Queens University

Studying abroad in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is perhaps the best decision I’ve ever made. Belfast is well known for the Troubles, a conflict between unionists who supported reunification with the Irish Republic and Loyalists that wished to maintain British sovereignty over Northern Ireland. While the conflict lasted roughly thirty years, today Belfast serves as a global example of successful peacebuilding and co-existence. And it was only fitting that I chose to study Conflict Transformation at Queens University while I was there. 

The city has come a long way since the Troubles and has all sorts of fun things to do! We spent almost every afternoon visiting museums, exploring castles and taking in the stunning scenery. Belfast is also one of the most affordable cities in Europe,making it the perfect travel destination for a student. Did I mention that Scotland is a short 2 hour ferry ride? You can even see the coast of Scotland on a clear day.
The Dark Hedges

The highlight of my four weeks was probably doing the Game of Thrones tour. We spent a day visiting different caves,beaches and iconic sites like the dark hedges.The locals joke that they know what's going to happen before episodes air because they get to meet the actors and even grab a drink with them at local pubs. We kept our eyes peeled for celebrities but met none.
Giant's Causeway

We also visited the Giant’s Causeway which is a formation of over 40,000 interlocking hexagonal blocks.The views are breathtaking and it's no surprise its a UNESCO world heritage site. Legend has it that the Irish giant, Finn McCool challenged the Scottish giant across the sea to a fight. Finn built a bridge to Scotland only to realize the giant was massive in size. He ran back to Ireland with the Scottish Giant following behind. Finn’s wife came up with the clever idea to disguise Finn as baby. When the Scottish giant saw how big the baby was, he feared how big his father would be and ran back to Scotland destroying the bridge and forming the causeway that stands today.

One of the most breathtaking sights we saw was the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. It may not sound like much but check out my photos before you judge! Its a rope bridge connected by cliffs suspended about 100 ft above sea level. The bridge was originally constructed by salmon fisherman over 350 years ago. Crossing the bridge while the wind rocked us back and forth was both terrifying and exhilarating. The bridge offered spectacular views of the crystal clear turquoise water if you were brave enough to look up!

One of the reasons, I chose to go to Belfast in the first place was because I’m such a huge fan of the movie Titanic. Most people don't know this but the iconic Titanic was built in Belfast, Northern Ireland. They have a beautiful museum that contains actual artifacts from the shipwreck. They also narrate touching stories of survivors and passengers who boarded the Titanic in hopes of a better life in America.

All in all, studying abroad in Ireland has inspired me to go explore the rest of this beautiful world. My advice is simple, just study abroad!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Study Abroad in France and Beyond!

Fabienne Geara (Class of 2018) is  Verrazano Honors Student majoring in Psychology with a business minor. Originally from Lebanon, she relates her adventures traveling through Europe while on a semester-long study abroad in France.

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”
I was planning to study abroad in Europe since I started college. I was able to go to France in the Fall 2017 through IPAG, an international school where I made friends from all over the world including Germany, Poland, Russia, Algeria, Sweden, Mexico, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Finland, India, and even New Jersey!It is hard to find the right words to explain my four-month adventure in France and other neighboring countries. It was more than just taking classes--it was about exploring a continent. I will give a glimpse of every trip I made.

I booked my flight to France two days prior to my departure. This is when I realized that I was going to spend the next 4 months in an unfamiliar environment. However, the moment I landed in Nice I have felt peace and happiness. This colorful place is full of life and positive vibes. Also, being a French speaker made me feel I was home. I spent the first few days in a hostel I shared the room with 3 other travelers. What I liked best in this hostel is that we all shared breakfast together in the morning, downstairs at the lobby. I met with a German girl that was going to the same school as me 
and we were able to share a spacious apartment together, located on the 4th floor, with a big balcony 3 minutes away from school. We also had a nice TV in the living room that was never turned on. It was late August, the weather was so sunny and the water so warm. We spent so many days having lunch or night parties at the beach.

My first trip was to Paris; I took a flight with a Swedish friend of mine that I met on the first day during orientation. It was in September; the weather was so refreshing and at night the Eiffel Tower would turn pink since it was Breast Cancer month. We went to a food festival where they had food stands to try from all over the world. We also spent a few hours at the Louvres appreciating the beauty of art.

I also had the opportunity to visit Germany(Stuttgart) during Oktoberfest. I went with my roommate to her home where her family hosted me. Using an app, we have found someone driving from Monaco and we drove with them through Italy and Switzerland to get to Stuttgart. I went with my roommate and her mother to buy my “Dindl,” the German traditional costume dress. I felt like I was trying on my wedding dress; there was a tailor there and everyone was helping me pick the right one. I tried every traditional dish they had at the festival and different kind of beers. We had booked a flight to go back to France and make it to class on time but the flight was canceled due to a pilots' strike, so we made our way back overnight by bus. I am very glad things turned this way--I got to enjoy Switzerland’s nature at dusk and we stopped at Milano, Italy, for a couple of hours to have a delicious Italian ice cream and contemplate the Milan Cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world.  

The journey became even better when my parents came to France to visit me and we booked a trip for 4 days to Venezzia, Italy. We walked all the little roads and bridges of Venezzia and we got lost so many times trying to make it back home. That was the best part. The way those islands are connected is amazing, different than any other. We had a gondola ride in the canals. We also visited Murano, Burano and Torcello islands in a boat ride. Murano is known for manufacturing Murano glass, they showed us how it is made. Burano is known for its sweets and it was yummy! Torcello was my favorite little island, so small and peaceful! It is known for its lace work. 4 days felt like 4 hours.

My last trip was to Amsterdam and Belgium. My New Jersey buddy and I took a flight to Amsterdam where we spent two nights. We just booked the flight, we had no idea where we were going to sleep. We arrived at 11 pm and started walking around asking hotels if there were any vacancies. We were so spontaneous and lucky during this trip. There was an international show they do in Amsterdam once a year called “Turn the lights on,” which is based on a Christmas story, where they light up the whole city that night. I felt that I was on a different planet.

Two days later, we took the bus to Belgium, where we had great beer, waffles and Belgium chocolate! We stayed one night at a stranger’s house. Yes, I actually said a stranger’s house. We met a girl at the train station and we told her if she recommended a place to stay and she recommended her house! We went out with her and her friends that night and went home where her mother made us tea and prepared the bed for us, even brought the family album and told us funny stories. She also gave us little gifts as souvenirs! After all, that stranger became a friend.

And of course I studied! I took 4 classes: (1) A level-four French language class taught by a French professor that didn’t speak any English throughout the course, which helped me practice my French properly. (2) A French culture and civilization class that taught me more about European cultures and history and we took a few trips around the city which was fun. (3) I also took an International Human Resource management class that focused on how to do business in a culture you are not familiar with. (4) The last class was International Economics, which covered basic economic theories; we discussed how Donald Trump's presidency fit into our conversations about the international economic policies. 

My favorite part of this experience was that I  never kept track of the time and didn’t plan ahead. My classes always started in the afternoon. I wouldn’t know if tomorrow I was going to start my day at the beach or in a different city. Overall, I visited 7 different countries (France, Itlay, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Monaco) and 18 French cities (Nice, Antibes, Juan les Pins, Cannes, Eze, Ville-Franche, Avignon, Lyon, Paris, Peymeinade, Grasse, Mougins, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Mouans-Sartoux, Cannes la Bocca, Valbonne, Menton and Cap-Ferrat). I also had so many adventures and funny stories in those cities.

I encourage all the students to study abroad--don’t worry about home it will be the same when you come back to it. However, you will grow, go out of your comfort zone and meet people from all over the world!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Amanda Tukaj on the JK Watson Fellowship

Amanda Tukaj, Verrazano Class of 2019, is studying Communications with a Journalism concentration. She talks about the influence  her prestigious JK Watson Fellowship has had on her life thus far.

Amanda Tukaj
This time last year, I was contacted via email by Michele Callahan from the
Office of Scholarship & Fellowship Opportunities. She recommended I apply for the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship, a prestigious and selective three-year fellowship for NYC undergraduate students that provides paid internships for their fellows each summer. In addition, each fellow can spend up to two of these summers interning abroad.

At first, I wasn’t sure whether to apply. Aside from filling out an application online, applicants must also go through a series of competitive interviews. I felt certain I wasn’t going to be selected. However, just a few weeks before the internal application deadline, I decided to give it a shot. If anything, I thought going through the interview process would improve my communications skills and let me practice for future interviews. 

So when I found out in March of 2017 that I had been selected as a fellow for the JK Watson Class of 2019, my world was turned upside down. A few months prior to this, I had been worrying about finding a journalism internship to complete my major requirements. I worried I wouldn’t have any professional work experience related to my field prior to graduating, and although I always wanted to go abroad, I never thought would have the financial means to do so.

Watson changed all of that. Suddenly, I had the opportunity to pursue all of the goals that once seemed impossible. 
Amanda, lower right, with Watson cohort

During my first summer with Watson, I interned at Gotham Gazette, a non-partisan New York City digital news publication focused on increasing government transparency and reporting on city and state policy issues. For ten weeks, I got to work as a real journalist. I interviewed public officials, sat in on City Council hearings at City Hall, watched bills get voted into law, stood in front of Mayor Bill de Blasio at his rallies for the 2017 election cycle, attended academic symposiums to learn more about the issues facing New Yorkers, and, for the very first time, had articles published with my byline. 

 Oh, and I got to shake John Avlon’s hand at a fundraising event. He is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast and can be frequently seen on CNN as one of their political analysts. I was so starstruck that I didn’t have the courage to give him one of the business cards Watson provides their fellows with (a missed opportunity, I know).

It all felt surreal. It still does. Right now, I’m in the process of self-initiating, which means I get to apply for internships with organizations all across the globe. I don’t know where I’m going to end up next summer, but I’m hoping to either go to Washington, D.C. to be closer to the national political scene or abroad to Europe. Some of the places I’ve been applying to have included Radio Free Europe in Prague, Reporters Without Borders in London, The Hill in Washington, D.C., and the UN’s Girl Up. I should know which organization I’ll be matched with in a few weeks. 

And while Watson’s internships are life-changing and prepare fellows for future professional careers, I think the best part of my Watson experience thus far has been getting to know the other fellows in my cohort as well as those who have been with Watson longer than I have. Whenever I feel nervous about everything in store for me, I know I can turn to them for support. They’re all absolutely incredible, and I know each and every one of them is going off to do amazing things. Shahrukh Khan and Joseph Gyasi, CSI students and Watson fellows from the Class of 2017 are both already making an impact in the world.

Watson has become my second family, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to express how grateful I am to have been given this opportunity.

And it’s all because I actually checked my CSI email and saw that message from Michele Callahan! It’s funny how little moments can forever change the direction of your life. So, always take that chance and seize an opportunity when you stumble across one because it might just make a big difference. It did for me, and I can’t wait to see where my Watson journey takes me next!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Portrayal of the LGBTQ community in animated children's films

Brian Spagnoli, a Communications--Media Studies major in the Verrazano Honors Class of 2018, talks about how research impacted his life.

My time at CSI was turbulent to say the least. There were moments of pure excitement inspired by professors and the people I’ve met at the school, but the research project in which I worked with Professor David Gerstner and my great friend Lauren McKenna led to the culmination of some of my favorite people and work. If you had asked me when I had first started my academic career at CSI, I would have never thought I would have even begin to openly identify under the LGBTQ umbrella nor would I have thought I would have invested a significant part of my time as a student researching and studying so many social issues in America.
Brian posing after being told to "look like a smart person."
In fact, I never entirely intended on pursuing this research myself. It was a day like any other when Lauren had come up to me and said “I put your name down to work on a research project with me and Professor Gerstner.” At the time I had spoke to Dr. Gerstner maybe once or twice, but I didn’t have any idea of what I was getting in to. I just said “sure.” That sort of became my identity over my last two years at CSI -- saying yes to the little projects and endeavors that people had asked me to get involved in. This “little project” turned out to be a bit more than that.
We didn’t have a clear thesis from the get-go. All I knew, is that Lauren and I were in similar situations with how we were sexually identifying, and being able to invest our time into researching why LGBTQ people have certain stigmas and stereotypes was something that tied incredibly well into our interests. Eventually, after literally weeks of deliberation on what our thesis should be -- and a few times being rejected by Dr. Gerstner for being “too broad” -- we settled on researching how animated films have perpetuated gay stereotypes. Specifically, we examined children’s films, because people are socialized at a very young age on what to expect from the greater society. We spent nearly two months researching LGBTQ history and watching animated Disney films highlighting when LGBTQ stereotypes could be construed by an audience and how that influences other films and audiences. The expectations for where gay people were “allowed” to be in films became clear as patterns and trends began to form.
It was almost exciting to find real ideas and concepts related to the grander scheme of LGBTQ representation that weren’t exactly uncovered in the way we were uncovering them. It felt new, and while our research was preceded by others, we found new ways to integrate these concepts with other concepts. This was the only undergraduate research project I had gotten involved in, and part of me even regrets not doing more of them. I got closer with Dr. Gerstner and Lauren because of it, and gave me life-long academically-inclined friends that shared many common interests with me.