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A more manageable bubble (Credit: Pinterest)

Campus is a “liberal bubble”, right?

During many discussions on the current political climate, the word ‘bubble’ pops up, as if by magic. It attempts to explain why some recent political developments—Brexit, Trump’s election, AfD’s success, etc.—appear to have come out of the blue. Often, this observation is appropriate. “Birds of a feather flock together”: It’s natural for us to stick to the familiar. However, in the age of social media, this tendency has reached a whole new level. We increasingly find ourselves in online bubbles which, due to Facebook algorithms and our own self-selection, are drifting farther and farther apart.

On Tom Ashbrook’s NPR podcast OnPoint, guest Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger and radio host, observed: “We’re all spending a lot of time building ourselves into communities that look a lot like us, thanks to the Internet, and we are less and less focused on the physical person that lives next door to us.” He’s right—How many of us can say we really know our Niederschönhausen neighbors? No, smiling at the 250 bus driver and saying “Danke!” to the cashier at REWE do not count.

It’s easy to construct a community of like-minded people online. Stepping outside this safe haven can be scary. You never know what you will find. But intuitively we know there can never be progress without discussion. This is true for both society and our own development. Change requires engaging in real disagreement, where the different parties have deeply rooted, contradictory opinions. Social change cannot exclusively happen online; we must also burst our online bubbles.

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“Plato Goes Live” Poster. (Credit: Bard College Berlin)

The contest “Eine Uni – ein Buch” invited German universities to pick a book, any book. The goal: to inspire a semester of events, ideas, and extensive, diverse participation… all with this single text. BCB students entered with Plato’s Republic. And we won. We were among ten universities who received the scholarship. Yay, us! The result: seminars, debates, conversations, film fests, and “a Long Night of Plato” sprouted from the seminal work of an infamous, bearded Ancient. (Shout out to the sponsors: Stifterverband and the Klaus Tschira Foundation, in co-operation with DIE ZEIT.)

Full disclosure: I’m not a student in the Plato course, not a Plato-phile in the slightest. Even so, last Tuesday curiosity led me to the “Wandering Image” event at the ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry. It was one of those ruggedly sleek buildings tucked away in a Prenzlauer Berg courtyard, packed with well-dressed intellectuals.

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“The Significance of Looking Upwards,” a drawing by Hannah Scharmer (Credit: Hannah Scharmer)

Learning. How does one learn? For whom is one learning? These questions have followed me as long as I can remember. Throughout my academic experience, my answers varied from “I am learning for the satisfaction of a good grade” to “I am done with learning.” Now, I find myself back in an academic environment (after a year of working) and suddenly, expectedly, these questions are more relevant than ever.

Now in the fourth week of the semester, I am beginning to — through dialogue and self-reflection — discover new answers to these age-old questions. I decided to explore my thoughts on this subject through a specific format inspired by the Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules by Sister Corita Kent [*1]. The original set of rules were introduced to me during the Language and Thinking course, and I decided to explore them further due to individual interest in both the format of the piece and the topic itself — how to think and learn.   

∙∙∙

RULE ONE: Work harder (whenever you can)

RULE TWO: When you can’t work (harder), use your energy wisely. This means to not self-destruct, but to self-construct.

RULE THREE: Force yourself to produce. Anything. Always.

RULE FOUR: Never throw away your art.  

RULE FIVE: Before critiquing blindly, engulf yourself in the concept. Before critiquing anyone else, look at yourself. Before critiquing yourself, critique your critique.

RULE SIX: Contradictions = Movement

RULE SEVEN: First ask yourself “have I done enough?” Then ask yourself, “am I being honest?”

RULE EIGHT: The beginning of a class is for you to check, not showcase, your understanding of the matter.

RULE NINE: Allow yourself to admit that you don’t know.

RULE TEN: Consider your exploration of the world (aka a bus ride, a conversation, and so on) at least as important as a lecture. Treat it accordingly.

During the process of creating this piece, the significance of thinking about thinking became clear to me. This is the whole point: to act with intention, whether this be the act of being in a classroom or in the act of thinking. It seems to me a waste to do anything but this. The rules presented in this piece both instruct a certain mode of specific behaviours and, through their effect, ask the reader to question, critique, reflect, and (most importantly) think.

*I would love to hear/discuss your ideas on learning and being a student, and thinking, and being in general.

Notes:

  1. Kent, Corita, and Jan Steward. Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit. Allworth, 2008.

 

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Petite France, a historic district in Strasbourg and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Grande Île. (Credit: getyourguide.com)

On the 28th August 2017, I crossed from Germany into France — from the little town of Kehl into the city of Strasbourg where I will remain for the upcoming academic year as part of the Erasmus exchange program with BCB. As I had never visited France, I was more than excited for my Erasmus Exchange, and curious about the similarities and differences I would find between these two nation-states at the heart of the European Union. But, despite the attention I afforded the view from the bus window, I’m still not sure exactly when I crossed the border. There were no bells or whistles, no fanfare, no berets or baguettes in sight. The landscape remained unchanged and my fellow passengers continued to doze, or stare at their mobiles, uninterrupted. It was only when we disembarked that I noticed how road-signs and the displays in shop windows were no longer in German, but French. Listening in on the conversations of those who buzzed around the terminal, I quickly recognised its distinctive melody, a smooth and slippery river of sound falling unintelligibly upon my dumb ears.

Almost a month later and I can’t help but think the true wonder isn’t how similar these neighbouring countries seemed to me initially, but how language and culture are preserved despite their geographic proximity, and how deeply the notion of the border runs within the human psyche.

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The Speakers and Moderator of Panel VII (credit: Tamar Maare)

Organized by the Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam in co-operation with numerous esteemed institutions including our very own Bard College Berlin, the three-day conference titled The Impossible Order: Europe, Power, and the Search for a New Migration Regime brought together researchers, artists, historians, academics activists, journalists and students from all over the globe to reflect, act and help resolve current issues facing Europe’s outdated migration structures and discourses. Divided into 7 discussion panels, performances, and an art exhibition, the conference aimed to tackle highly politicized and controversial questions surrounding how Europe’s migration regime is reacting to recent demographic changes and migration movements. The conference challenges the regulation of migration and further complicates the notions of ‘integration’ and diversity by looking at the history behind global migration movements.

Chaired by Dr. Kathrin Kollmeier (ZZF Potsdam), Panel VII on Crafting New Narratives considered how the forms in which migration narratives are verbally (re)produced not only influence the way academics conduct historical research but also how humans, as active cultural agents, conceive of and perpetuate hierarchical social structures and categories of knowledge. The speakers examined the interwoven nature of discourse, politics and identity by tracing discursive labels throughout history and analyzing the views of the employees in the Ausländerbehörden (Immigration Offices), ultimately putting forward a redefinition of ideas of national belongingness, collective identity and inclusion.

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L&T performances (Credit: Andrea Riba)

Students from all corners of the globe arrived in Pankow this past August to participate in a two-and-a-half week writing intensive called the Language and Thinking program. These academic exercises were at times trying, new, or unusual, but certainly left an impression on students and teachers alike. Over dinner in the cafeteria, we chatted about the nature of the program and student’s reactions. A special thanks to Ido Nahari, Hanna Bargheer, Hans Stauffacher, and (of course) the graduates of this year’s L&T program.

 

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Tuvshinzaya during the 2012 Commencement ceremony, held at Rathaus Pankow. (Credit: Personal Archives)

On the BCB campus, it’s not uncommon to find students who switch seamlessly between their three mother tongues. Someone might hesitate before answering the question “Where are you from?” or “Where will you be next year?”

Last month, I sat down in front of my computer to chat with Tuvshinzaya Gantulga, a BCB alumnus who is also always on the move. Born in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Tuvshinzaya was studying economics at the American University in Bulgaria when he decided to come to BCB (then ECLA*) to attend its Academy Year program. Before the year was up, he had decided to stay in Berlin and complete his BA studies at ECLA as part of its first graduating class in 2012. Upon his return to Mongolia, he worked in a grassroots NGO, founded the Mongolian Rowing Association, and headed the American Chamber of Commerce in Mongolia. My webcam caught him in Manhattan, New York, where he had just graduated with a Master of Public Administration degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Over the course of a few hours we talked about Berlin, rowing, and education: what does a liberal arts education offer to students who are exceptionally mobile, and what can being mobile offer students who are exceptionally curious?

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Students in the Summer Language German Intensive Program visit the Hamburger Bahnhof. (Credit: Irina Stelea)

The BCB Summer Language German Intensive Program came to a close earlier this month. From the 10th June to the 10th July, a handful of students from various universities immersed themselves in the German language and took part in cultural events across Berlin. This podcast includes snippets of conversations with some of the participants on their experiences at BCB and in Berlin.

Featured songs, in order of appearance:

“Komm Doch” by Die Caufner Schwestern (1978)

“Sonnenallee” by Rio Reiser (1990)

Essay by Mark Twain, source here.

 

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