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.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Looking at the science behind marketing

Joanna Karpen, a business marketing major in the Verrazano Honors Class of 2018, is intrigued by the intersection of psychology, technology, and marketing.

Joanna Karpen earns Honors in her major!

My name is Joanna Karpen, I am a fourth year Verrazano student, from the Class of 2018. Upon starting my capstone, I was confident I knew exactly where my research would lead me. It seemed so simple. Psychology of Advertising? There was a whole class dedicated to it only a couple years ago! I figured it would be straight forward and a piece of cake. Then I started researching. Then I was lucky enough to take the Verrazano Capstone class. This is where my research really began to develop and change into what it has finally become. Within the class, the other students would share ideas in their respective majors. I, being a business major, am not as computer savvy or knowledgeable in science as some of my peers are. I learned so many new things I never even thought about before. Together, we learned about the “Internet of Things” from a fellow Verrazano student, I didn’t know it at the time, but by learning about this new form of technology, would help shape and move my research into a direction that can influence and change the way the advertising industry functions. My faculty mentor is a seasoned professor as well as professional in the marketing industry. The advantages of having him as a mentor led to insight on the workings of an advertiser and how an advertisement is really made. The amazing thing is how little advertising has changed in the last couple of decades. Have you ever watched Mad Men? That show encapsulates the true renaissance of modern day advertising. Today’s Era is beginning to change all that we as advertisers have learned and mastered. The Internet of Things is what is transforming advertising! It takes someone who understands this complicated new technology to understand how it will affect advertising. If it weren’t for learning about the Internet of Things from my fellow Verrazano students, I would have overlooked this great development. Products that are now becoming common in the American household such as Amazon’s Alexa, are having a huge impact on how company’s reach their consumer as well as how a consumer purchases products. This will create a whole new approach for advertisers.

It is so important, as a marketer, to understand these devices and how they are used. By being on the cutting edge along with the Internet of Things, the advertiser whom develops with the technology will hold the upper hand, for the consumer won’t even know what hit them. It’s amazing how everyday a new piece of technology is released with such great impact on our lives. To be honest, after doing my research technology scares me a little, it’s wild how much these devices learn about us in such short periods of time and without our conscious knowledge of it! My advice from all this: technology is good; as long as you understand it! Learn about it! It’s pretty interesting what you will find out when you do.