A running list of my favorite quotes

In this running list I’m going to try and exclude song lyrics, but some Death Cab songs are just too hard to resist. I plan to date each new entry and include a photo or two that I like, but we’ll see how long I can keep it up for.

26.2.17 (almost 27.2.17 though, since it’s 11:59PM currently)

Who decides what a meaningful life is?

When we do a good job no one hears about it. 

Goals should shock you. 

The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough. – Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

I often catch myself criticizing my own country. But do I really think it’s that bad a place? Or am I just afraid of seeming nationalistic?…I often catch myself defending my own country. But do I really think that it’s that good a place? Or did I just grow up believing it is? – seen at the Statens Museum for Kunst

All truths wait in all things – Walt Whitman

They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Solitude sometimes is best society – John Milton

Occasionally words must serve to veil the facts – Niccolo Machiavelli

The majority is never right – Henrik Ibsen

I desire the things which will destroy me in the end – Sylvia Plath

 

 

 

 

Denmark is the world’s happiest country, no?

 

We watched this video in my very first class on the Danish Welfare State, looking more closely at the commonly held perception that Denmark is the happiest countries in the world. This video was extremely striking for me, especially the comments made by Sociologist Emilia Van Hauen. After watching this video I could not stop thinking about what she said. As I wrote about a few blog posts back, I think that as an American I view the world in a very unique way. I know that people are critical of the U.S. all around the world, but I also know that American culture and life in America is commonly admired. This video highlighted to me a fundamental difference that separates Americans and people living in America from countries around the world, which is the desire for more.

Upon first writing that, I’m sure many people will be critical. What’s good about having a desire for more? As Dr. Van Hauen said in the video, “we don’t need to be orgasmic happy, it’s more like – we’re satisfied.” Danish people are happy with the lives they live because they are happy with the simplicity of their lives, and have learned to “lower their expectations.” They enjoy waking up in the morning and knowing that their children can go to school, that they can go to work, that if they’re sick they can go to their local doctor. The risk and fear that overwhelms American society just isn’t present here in Denmark. However, what this video highlighted for me the most is that something else is missing here in everyday life – passion.

Yes, it may be more rational to live your life knowing that you will always be alright. It may be wiser to have an idea about how your life will play out, and be settled with the idea of your path. In Denmark you will go to school, then university, then obtain an advanced degree. Maybe after university you will enter a trade or a craft, or maybe you will start a family. You will always be paid enough to live on, you will never fear sickness or injury as an economic threat. You trust your government, trust your community, and don’t feel the need to act out.

This sounds nice, don’t get me wrong. I love living in Copenhagen and meeting people who share these ideas, who live these comfortable lives. But there’s two things I need to point out that are missing from this utopian society – diversity and desires.

Diversity: While in Copenhagen I have noticed that everyone here looks the same. As a relatively homogeneous society, it is much easier for Denmark to institute social policies. Immigration policies have historically caused issues for the Danish government,  and the welfare state was even based on the idea of culturally similarity of citizens. The population is largely regarded as homogeneous, something that people don’t say in conversations about how happy the Danes are.

Desires: The American Dream is one of the oldest ideas of our country. People come to America in search of a better life, better jobs, more opportunity. People come to America who want MORE. Denmark people don’t want anything more, they’re okay with their lives because everything is good. Although it’s common for people to resent this lifestyle, and everyone talks about how Danes are the happiest people, I wouldn’t want to live a life like this.

It is human nature to want more, and I want to live in a place where people dream. And yes, I am in love with Copenhagen and daydream about the unique Scandinavian lifestyle. A minimum of 5 times a day I wish I was Danish, as I’m sure most students on exchange do for whatever culture they’re trying to immerse themselves in. However, I do not wish to live a life that’s devoid of dreaming. I would much rather be sad because I tried to achieve a lofty goal and failed than be sad for never trying. What kind of life is it to live if you accept everything as it comes to you?

Buda & pest

I am finishing up my weekend in Budapest with an intensified interest in the countries of Eastern Europe, especially post-Communist states. I have always been a fan of European history and the influence of the Soviet Union, but after visiting Hungary and spending the weekend in Budapest I have a better understanding of the lasting affects that political systems have on how cultures develop. There were many interesting things about visiting Budapest, but I only want to touch on the few that I don’t think many people know about or wouldn’t expect.

Budapest is actually two areas separated by the Danube river, Buda and Pest – united into one city that we all know, Budapest. Many of the people I met this weekend were totally unaware of this truth, and were confused by the basic question about restaurants and nightlife activities “is it in Buda, or Pest?” The river is not too large, and people move between the two sides all the time. However, there are distinct differences between the two areas. Buda is built into the hill, with Buda Castle overlooking the river alongside Fisherman’s Bastion. Castle Hill is an area on the Buda side that boasts ruins of historical castles, marvelous statues, and outstanding views of Pest below. Pest, however, was where we spent most of our weekend. We stayed in the Jewish quarter, which is known as the hub of culture and nightlife activity. Pest also has Parliament Square, most of the major hotels, the National Museum, and many other tourist attractions like popular shopping streets and the famous Andrassy Avenue. I enjoyed being so close to all of the action with the opportunity to visit the Buda side with ease.

The legacy of communism is still quite clear, even in the currency. Budapest uses the Hungarian Forint, but most places also accept Euros. It’s commonly known that countries that accept more than one currency are in some economic distress, desperate for any transfer of goods and services. You can see how the city is still growing in the wake of breaking from communism in 1990, with an exchange rate favorable to foreigners. Moreover, the buildings themselves represent an interesting mix of history and attempts at modernization. The architecture itself is quite stunning, as every street corner seems to hold an impressive castle-like structure, although most times it’s been converted to apartments or commercial space. However, many of the buildings are decrepit and falling apart, with chipped paint and missing tiles, broken windows and broken staircases. Even walking down Andrassy Avenue it was clear that the once shining mansions were not in good condition, and an ominous feel hung over the city.

Hungary is defined by it’s history. Everywhere you turn there is a tribute to history, with plaques and statues present on every street. Budapest has had a very unique history, with several tales of invasion, foreign domination, cultural development, economic change. The city has seen several revolutions, and Hungarians are quick to recognize how these events have shaped it’s identity as a city today. Unlike other European cities I’ve visited, there seems to be very little modernization, and the emphasis on historical landmarks was a little surprising. As a history buff I thoroughly enjoyed it, although in reflection I’m intrigued by the discrepancy between remembering history and moving into the future.

Budapest is a must see city. Beyond the reputation of an amazing drinking culture and wild nightlife, Budapest demonstrates the stark contrast between Europe and America in terms of historical developments. Doing the stereotypical attractions like visiting Buda castle and visiting the thermal baths was interesting, but it was just walking around the different areas of the city that struck me most. The differences between our Air BnB in the Jewish quarter and the hostel I stayed in just by the Erzsébet bridge were striking, and definitely strengthened my views on the city as a whole.

Now, enjoy some pictures from the different sights of the city 🙂

When 2 hours means 1.5

This semester at University of Copenhagen I’m enrolled in the Faculty of Social Sciences, more specifically Political Science and Sociology. I’m taking 3 classes worth 27.5 credits total, two that last 2 hours and 1 that lasts 4 hours (it only runs through half of the semester).

What I learned from the first day of class at UCPH, though, is that 2 hours actually means 1.5. Everyone talks about the Danish lifestyle and how everyone outside of the U.S. thinks of time differently. In America, time is money. Every second is worth something, and if you want to be successful every second should be spent doing something productive. Here in Copenhagen, the attitude is much more relaxed. Although your class may begin at 1, that means that you won’t really be starting until 1:15. Those stragglers that can never make it to class on time are not seen as stragglers here. Your class may only be listed for 2 hours on the syllabus, but OF COURSE you’re going to get a 15 minute break after the first 45 minutes of teaching. So that you can get coffee or tea – of course! Before you know it, 3PM rolls around, and your 2 hour class is boiled down to only 1.5 hours of learning.

I’ve learned a tremendous amount from my first week of classes. In addition to being fully integrated into the relaxed lifestyle, I’ve discussed a lot of interesting topics with engaging and dynamic students. Socially, we’ve talked about the cost of education and the vast differences between countries. In Denmark there is a relaxed atmosphere around classes because students don’t pay for attending university. There is no direct monetary value associated with their time in class, and their degree isn’t seen as a costly but (eventually) worthwhile investment. Talking about the cost of studying at Boston University is embarrassing, and one of the few things that I can’t justify when people question why America is the way it is.

Moreover, the content of my classes has been incredibly enjoyable thus far. In the first session of my three classes we’ve talked about themes that have been consistent in my education since freshman year of high school. My three classes all have very similar ideas: Migration, Refugees and Citizenship in a Globalized World; Ethnic Conflict and Peacemaking in Divided Societies; and Danish Sociology: A Look at the Welfare State. Doing the preliminary readings exposed me to topics such as nationalism, European identity, immigration, social services, the role of the government, social integration, and how societies function – all SO interesting and relevant to the world today.

I can’t wait to gush about all of the interesting conversations I’m going to have, and truly nerd out in my classes that directly contribute to my passion for my career. For now, enjoy this photo of where I take my classes, which used to be an old hospital!

 

1200px-Kommunehospitalet_(Copenhagen).jpg

A little distance goes a long way

This weekend I went to Paris to visit two of my friends from Boston University, and I learned A LOT about life in France and realized even more about life in Denmark. I have visited Paris before, but I had never lived in a European city that I could directly compare it to. Every time I travel I think about how cities do things differently than Boston or New York, and even after being in Copenhagen for only a few weeks I’ve noticed my strong ties to the city and its ways. There are three main things I noticed about Paris and, ultimately, about Copenhagen: size/transportation, diversity, and attitudes. The fourth thing would be the weather, but that will be incorporated into attitudes.

  1. Size and transportation. Paris is huge in comparison to Copenhagen. It’s population is almost twice the size, and it’s geographically 20 square kilometers larger. You can see from the metro maps, below, that Paris is much more challenging to navigate, with a complicated web of neighborhoods throughout the city. Copenhagen, in contrast, is organized into several neighborhoods, and as most people know, biking is a much more common mode of transportation than metro. Spending the weekend in Paris made me extremely grateful for this difference. Relying on the metro is both costly and time consuming, and even over the course of 3 days I found myself missing the cool breeze whipping across my face that you’re sure to get when walking anywhere in Copenhagen.

     

  2. Denmark is not known for its diversity. Copenhagen, the nations capital, is praised as the largest city in the country that attracts thousands of people every year to come study, work and live. However, the area is still relatively homogeneous, which has not gone unnoticed. While in my few weeks here I have become increasingly aware of the lack of color on the streets, in restaurants, even at the University of Copenhagen. Visiting Paris reminded me of what melting pot cities really look like, where you hear more than just 2 languages everywhere you go and see all different kinds of people on the metro. Since Denmark is praised as one of the most progressive countries in the world, I look forward to further exploring the true nature of race-relations in the greater Copenhagen area.
  3. The world’s happiest country. Everyone knows that! Denmark is the place to be when it comes to positivity. Beyond the buzz-word that’s gracing style blogs across the world (you know, hygge), Denmark is known for a generally happy society with satisfied citizens who enjoy living here. People smile when they walk down the street, ask the driver to wait for strangers they see running to the bus, and enjoy sitting outside even when it’s freezing cold. It all seems too good to be true, especially for someone like me who grew up in two of the notoriously “harsh” cities (Boston and New York). But it’s real, all of it. People are genuinely happy all of the time, even when the sun doesn’t shine for 10 straight days. Now is when I quickly comment on the weather. Seeing the sun in Paris was a much more emotional experience than I had expected. In Copenhagen people don’t complain about the weather, and I’ve gotten used to thinking positively about the sun coming up at all! However, in Paris, people do not want to help you with directions, or use the bathroom in their store unless you buy something. The contrast in attitudes between the two cities really is striking, and I have become very accustomed to the Danish lifestyle. You can see some of the beautiful Paris streets (featuring blue skies) below.

The last note I wanted to include in this blog post is a very short line from the new Father John Misty song that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It’s carried me through stressful travel, social anxieties, and any other abroad challenge I’ve faced recently.

In no time at all, this’ll be the distant past.

America is everywhere

I have struggled with what to write about while in Copenhagen, because I myself dislike reading about people’s abroad experiences. I strongly dislike seeing the photos that people upload of places that millions of other people visit each year, as if that individual is the first person to ever see the colorful buildings of Nyhavn or funky entrance to Christiana. However, I also know that I want some way to document my time here besides just photos, and since I left my travel journal at home (oops) I am going to use this blog as a semi-substitute. I say semi because I hope to write about my experiences here, and the things that I can’t stop thinking about, not just a laundry list of all my adventures.

There are, of course, many striking things about Copenhagen that I had heard about but was still surprised to see firsthand. It is overwhelming to realize that this international city is truly the closes thing to a utopian city that I’ve ever experienced. All of the rumors are true – everyone is friendly, well-dressed, and attractive. Even more, the streets are beautifully clean, there are very few homeless people, and I have not once felt unsafe, even walking in the middle of the night down quiet streets. However, there is something that I can’t stop thinking about that isn’t even really related to these amazing qualities of Copenhagen (because it is truly amazing). Rather, I can’t stop thinking about how much of America there is here.

Every cafe, restaurant, bar, or club I have been to has played American music. Every person I’ve met speaks English in addition to Danish (or whatever other languages they may be fluent in). Every grocery store has American products, every shopping street has American store brands. Everyone here knows about what’s going in America at all times, beyond just talking about Donald Trump. This may not be that surprising to many people, but as an American student abroad you are almost conditioned to be ashamed of your culture, especially going somewhere as chic and visionary as Denmark. You are told that only Americans talk in public (and always too loudly), that Danes are always taller and dressed better than you, that you can realistically never learn their language in the time you’re there but that every Danish person knows yours. I tried to hide my American-ness as much as possible, and dreaded speaking to people because of the dreaded question after they notice my accent – “are you American?”

However, I’ve quickly noticed that this self-induced shame is completely and totally unnecessary. Although pretty much all of the stereotypes are true, and Americans usually are the loudest in the room, WHO CARES? It didn’t take long for me to give up on trying to fit in and “be Danish” because, as I’m sure you could have figured out, I’M NOT DANISH. Despite the dismal state of American politics and social life at the moment, I am still proud to be American. If the rest of the world hates America so much, why is it impossible for me to escape American influence? I admire every aspect of Danish life, from their community ideals to everyday pleasures like bike rides without a helmet. However, this doesn’t change the way I feel about my life in America, and I’m not going to pretend to be embarrassed of where I come from.

America is everywhere, and that is not a bad thing. I could write for days about the impact of colonization and the connection to globalization today, and how staggering it is that America’s influence is so far-reaching and deeply entrenched in foreign cultures, but I’m going to end the post here. I am studying abroad at the University of Copenhagen, an American student just here for the semester. I plan to immerse myself in the culture as much as possible, but I don’t intend to erase my cultural background from living for 20 years in the U.S.

And for your viewing pleasure – here are some nice photos from my Mom spending time with me for the past few days. Future posts will definitely comment on the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, etc. For now, enjoy the gray days of Copenhagen through my iPhone camera!

 

 

 

The importance of elementary school

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First day of school in 2nd grade, Westover

As I watched some clips and commentary on Betsy DeVos’ Senate Confirmation Hearing today (which you can learn more about here and here) I thought about her possible changes from two points of view – thinking back on my time as a student in public school, then thinking about my possible (distant) future as a mother. DeVos answered controversial questions about voucher programs, guns in schools, and proficiency vs. growth, defending her vision for education reform in the face of many angry Senators. I grew up in Southwestern Connecticut, Fairfield County,  known for the harsh disparities between towns in a county that’s home to less than 100,000 people. I was born in Stamford, one of the larger cities in the area, then moved to New Canaan, a “bedroom community” that borders Stamford, which is where my parents currently live. Stamford is known as a working city. With a larger population, there is a greater difference in household income from the poorest to wealthiest residents. As a city, Stamford supports a larger network of public schools, with a substantially more diverse student population. I went to Westover, a magnet school, for kindergarten through 2nd grade. I’m the youngest of four, so all of us went to Westover for elementary school, and my oldest sister spent a year at a Stamford middle school – Turn of River. Of course I don’t remember the deliberations or financial motivations for moving to New Canaan, but what my parents have explained to us over time is that the schools in New Canaan are substantially better. In our last year at Stamford my family was told that one of us would not receive the additional academic support we needed because of funding cuts. We also learned that two of us would not be able to join the advanced academic program for gifted students, because funding cuts meant that Westover couldn’t support specialized classrooms. It became clear to my parents that academic growth was going to be difficult for any of us, whether it was because school in Stamford would be too challenging or not challenging enough. Moving to New Canaan is one of the best things my family has ever done, and I have had an amazing childhood and young adult life growing up here. I know that if we had not moved to New Canaan I would not have been able to get involved in the extracurriculars I loved, taken the classes that shaped my academic career, and had the experience of living in a small town with outstanding athletics and school pride. However, I also know that growing up in Stamford, even if I was only there for 8 years, has had a profound effect on my outlook on the world. From a young age my parents encouraged me to be friends with whoever I wanted to be friends with, kids from my classes, my soccer team, that I met on the playground. In Stamford I had birthday parties that included kids of all shapes and sizes, all colors and classes, and I never thought a thing of it. It wasn’t until I got to New Canaan that I realized diversity was something to be aware of. As a traditionally white, Catholic town, diversity in New Canaan is somewhat of a joke. So many of my classes were all white students, and having someone from a non-white background often led to offensive jokes or mentions of racist stereotypes. Spending even just a fraction of my formative years in the (comparatively more) diverse setting of Stamford led me to be comfortable around people of all different backgrounds, and carried over through my time in New Canaan. Much of the discussion in today’s education system is around the concept of “individual choice,” often leading to extensive racial segregation in specific areas. My parents both grew up in Stamford, and they often comment on how they wish they didn’t have to move to New Canaan because of the lack of diversity and culture of wealth that permeates the town. However, no one can deny the importance of being able to let your kids walk to school alone, having a supportive public school system, and the benefits of a smaller, suburban town. I am truly thankful for the opportunities that my parents afforded me by making the move, and continue to value my experiences both in Stamford and New Canaan.

 

If you’re interested in reading more about the difficulties of racial segregation and the value of education in today’s world, check out one of my favorite New York Times Magazine pieces here: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/12/magazine/choosing-a-school-for-my-daughter-in-a-segregated-city.html?em_pos=large&emc=edit_nn_20160616&nl=morning-briefing&nlid=73481174&_r=0

Accepting the future of America

Watching the Golden Globes last night I was, of course, distracted by all of the references to Donald Trump. Several presenters and award recipients commented on the current political climate, their fear for the future of Hollywood and immigrants and the media. Hearing these comments created an internal conflict for me, since on some level I agree with them, but another part of me just kept thinking “can’t we get over it already?” I stayed up all night November 8 well into the morning of the 9th, waiting for the election results. As Trump’s lead continued to grow an impending sense of doom sank into my bones, and I started picturing life in America with Donald Trump as president. I know that my everyday happenings won’t change that much, aside from my insurance coverage and what I’m studying in International Relations and Public Health. However, I pictured the massive changes that are inevitable for millions of other Americans, and I felt both sad and disappointed. The following week was difficult at BU, as many students and professors were visibly shaken by the election result. As my classes began again with the normal curriculum and the news networks found new stories to focus on, I realized that people everywhere had to start doing what’s expected of them – accept the result, and move on. A cornerstone of American democracy is the peaceful transition of power, something that many people feared in anticipation of November 8th. Although many people are unhappy with the idea of President Trump, the fact is that it’s no longer just an idea, it’s reality. My favorite saying related to the idea that we need to just get over it says something like this: “Trump is the pilot of America now. He’s the one flying our plane, and just like our pilot, you want him to be successful. You don’t want to see the pilot fail, because if he does, then we all go down with him.” Even hearing this, I’m reminded of all the reasons I don’t want to support Donald Trump. I’m continually frustrated by his outbursts on social media, his misogynistic, discriminatory comments, his agency appointments, and his statements on foreign policy and healthcare in America. However, I also accept that Trump now holds the highest office in the country. Even if he isn’t the candidate that I wanted to win, he did win. Even if Hollywood’s celebrities are typically “left-leaning” they have to accept that Donald Trump will be our president in a short 11 days. It’s time for people to accept the future of America, including a Trump presidency. This doesn’t mean that people should stop fighting for equality, championing whatever causes they stand behind. However, it does mean that fighting against an individual, one who you should hope is going to rise to the occasion, isn’t helping to move our country forward. The first step in improving the future of America is accepting that it may not be the one you always expected.

Why is health care outside of social responsibility?

healthcareArticle 25 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”But the question is still brought up today – is healthcare a human right? The question has plagued Americans since the birth of our country, as countless efforts to enact healthcare reform have failed. In several of my classes we discuss this question in different frames. First, looking at the policy reasons why healthcare reform has failed. Scholars such as Quadagno, Hacker and Rothman all argue that it was the responsibility of different groups for why the U.S. hasn’t been able to establish a supportive healthcare system. Others look at the economic reasons, focusing on the implications of breaking down our current health insurance and health care systems. The greatest concern that plagues me, however, is why health care is seen as such a separate issue from the rest of social responsibility? Why is it that so many people think of taxes for education, housing, and food as a given part of life in America, yet thinking that taxes for health care is so ludicrous? Several reports have shown that Americans pay more for health care in taxes than many other countries that have universal health care systems. Some of the common pushback reasons given for why systems like Britain’s NHS could never work is the fact that Brits fund this system largely through taxes. When you compare the share of GDP and cost to the individual, the similarities are striking. So is this really a viable reason for not pursuing a more supportive health care system for Americans? Rather, I think the disconnect comes from the relationship between health care and health insurance in the U.S. Although health care may be viewed as a human right – if someone is sick, we treat them – health insurance is not seen in that way. This gap between payment and services is what continues to trouble any political or social effort to change health care in America. People may be willing to provide services to those who can’t pay for health care, but it’s much more challenging for individuals to purely support the financial aspect of securing health care. This obstacle to any positive change can be narrowed down to the for-profit nature of U.S. health insurance. However, even after identifying this issue, the path to change is not easy. Reforming an entire industry is a seemingly impossible challenge, one that politicians are especially hesitant to undertake. Moreover, the not-for-profit label is often associated with making little money, although anyone involved in nonprofit work knows that’s not true. Bringing health care under the umbrella of social responsibility for all humans is one of the essential steps in a hopeful future for the health of Americans, just one step among the many to facilitating positive change.

My REAL first blog post

Hello!

My name is Elizabeth Burke, or Lizzy. I’m a junior at Boston University majoring in International Relations and Sociology, studying in an advanced degree program to get my Master in Public Health at Boston University’s School of Public Health.

I decided to create this blog because I think that my roommates, siblings and parents are starting to get really sick of listening to my spirited rants. I am extremely passionate about the fields I study, and am very excited by current events and what’s happening in the world. I am fascinated by interdisciplinary approaches to today’s problems, and constantly strive to understand how to address the pressing issues of our time.

Throughout this blog, I hope to discuss a wide variety of things. I plan to post about what I’m learning in my classes, what’s interesting to me, and how my different academic focuses relate. Moreover, I will write about what is going on in the news, since I have solemnly sworn that I will never post on Facebook about my political views or controversial current events. Lastly, I am spending next semester studying at University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Although I’m not sure how diligent I will be (I have always struggled with journaling, I lack the discipline to document my life), hopefully I’ll be able to update the blog enough to keep everyone posted on my whereabouts abroad.

I am not looking to get any publicity from this, and I’m definitely not worried about how many hits this page gets. I really just need a space to organize my ideas about the things that get me heated that not many other undergraduates want to sit and talk about over coffee. I thought about signing this post “thanks for reading!” but I really highly doubt that anyone is going to read this. So, this is the end of my first blog post.