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on the Bard College Berlin Student Blog

Two people wading through Irma’s flooding (Credit: USA Today)

Various Caribbean island states and the southern coast of the United States were devastated this summer by a sequence of catastrophic hurricanes. Killing roughly 241 people, hurricanes Irma, Maria, Harvey, and Jose wreaked havoc on the lives of thousands, literally sweeping away livelihoods and costing 100s of billions of US dollars in damages. Mainstream media outlets in the US have covered these disasters extensively with CNN reporting on the tragedies of fathers killed by flying tree limbs and dolphins found on front lawns. In reading these sorts of stories, I found myself troubled, becoming increasingly uncomfortable with their subtle ideological slant. Yes, mothers and fathers have been killed by these hurricanes; this is most certainly tragic. But in the narrative media tragedies being displayed to the public, I sensed a veiling of the further-reaching travesty of these hurricanes: that these events are the ominous manifestations of a changing climate.

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Falling Man by Richard Drew

I think I must have been holding some brightly colored toy. I remember the flash of color falling from my hands to the ground as my mother’s bloodcurdling scream reached my ears. I ran into the house to see what had happened. My aunt, uncles, grandmother and mother stood crowding around the TV screen. They had closed faces of general disbelief while my mother stood crying hysterically in the middle. I remember a hand coming to cover a mouth, eyes bulging, a limp cigarette dropping ashes on the living room floor. I knew something big, bigger than us, was happening from they way they could not hear me as I shouted “what’s wrong?” from the fact that they didn’t feel me yanking at their sleeves. So I tried to understand what the television was showing us, but it was a blur of strange sounds and incomprehensible images. Flames and something familiar, something I had seen on countless postcards my whole life. The live stream from CNN was dubbed by an Italian newscaster. The volumes of their voices were equal, like two people shouting over one another. Their words tangled around each other so I couldn’t understand either of them. All I knew was that the place on the TV was New York.  “Una delle le due torri. Colpita. We do not yet know che cosa sia accaduto.” Then the second tower was hit and my family began yelling.

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The opening of the 8th Round Table on Higher Education (from left to right: Prof. Dr. Thomas Rommel, Prof. Dr. Geoffrey Harpham, Prof. Dr. Catherine Toal and Prof. em. Micha Brumlik)

The opening of the 8th Round Table on Higher Education (from left to right: Prof. Dr. Thomas Rommel, Prof. Dr. Geoffrey Harpham, Prof. Dr. Catherine Toal and Prof. em. Micha Brumlik)

The Round Table on Higher Education was inaugurated in 2010 by representatives of German and U.S. educational institutions in order to define and advance the role of liberal arts in the higher educational practices of Europe. Both countries have a unique approach to higher education, whereby American universities cultivate exposure to an assortment of disciplines such as the sciences and humanities, and German universities foster research-oriented study along with teaching. The round table serves to acknowledge these differences whilst tackling an issue that confronts these two systems, that is: how should a university envision its education in lieu of the demands its graduates face?

The 8th Round Table was hosted by Bard College Berlin in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy on the 30th of January. Thomas Rommel, Rector and Provost of Bard College Berlin, commenced the event by quoting the German writer and Salon hostess Rahel Varnhagen, who noted that where disposition of talents divide us, we are united by friendship, understanding, tolerance and true education that go beyond borders. This was fitting for the transcontinental affair of the round table, where both representatives attempted to diagnose the issues they face of contemporary times, in particular the challenges that the labour market puts forth to the universities.

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Live streaming of the U.S. elections, Berlin (Photo: Valerie Pochko)

Live streaming of the U.S. elections, Berlin (Photo: Valerie Pochko)

I have never been interested in politics. Writing about cinema, animals, food and city traffic, I always considered politics as a predictably double-dealing (although well-paid) field, which never appealed to me. However, my 2012 autumn happened to be extremely politicized.

This past October, there were parliamentary elections back in Ukraine, where I come from. I experienced all the aspects of the expat election process – from the (a bit too) ceremonial voting in the Ukrainian Embassy in Berlin, to a pathetic meeting with compatriots, followed by an intensive three-day browsing of blogs and websites for the latest news from my homeland.

Even though Ukrainian elections got a certain coverage in German newspapers, my university classmates and the local media focused mostly on the U.S. presidential elections. Before this year, I couldn’t say for sure which of the parties had a donkey and which an elephant for a symbol. Today, I can easily list the so-called “swing states,” understand the meaning of the “magic number 270,” and briefly sketch the portrait of a Democrat or Republican voter.

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