Click here for Rose’s first reflection on her work at ABT.
The upcoming Metropolitan Opera House Season of American Ballet Theatre has so much good programming to choose from! At the top of my list are Romeo and Juliet and La Bayadère–the first two ballets in which I performed as a supernumerary, an extra in the ballet. While I am drawn to watch these performances because of the fond memories I have of being a part of them, they are worth seeing in their own right. The crypt scene of Romeo and Juliet is heartachingly beautiful and La Bayadère offers impressive choreography, particularly Gomzatti’s fouettés and Solor’s variation. La Bayadère has only four showings and since every single cast announced for this ballet is phenomenal (and different), I am considering watching each one! Of the eleven performances of Romeo and Juliet, I am particularly excited to watch Sarah Lane and Joseph Gorak in the lead roles, as I absolutely loved them in Theme and Variations this past season.
To celebrate its 80th anniversary, ABT is offering ABT Then and ABT Now performances. I have already been lucky enough to watch the ABT Now offerings, and I am eagerly awaiting a chance to see the ABT Then programming, most of which I have not yet seen performed by ABT. The ballets on this agenda are Theme and Variations, Jardin aux Lilas and Fancy Free. I am intrigued by the Edwardian setting of Jardin aux Lilas. Fancy Free, the first ballet Jerome Robbins choreographed–and the inspiration for the musical On The Town–promises to be a fun watch.
Of Love and Rage, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, is having its New York premiere in the spring. Set in ancient Greece, the work has an extremely intense storyline, as evidenced by the title. I am expecting this ballet to encapsulate ABT’s dual objectives of preserving the classicism of ballet and fostering new innovations for ballet. Jane Eyre, which had its American Premiere last year, is back at ABT for the second time this summer. I am hoping to watch a performance starring Devon Teuscher and James Whiteside, as they were the ones who danced the roles of Jane Eyre and Rochester during the American Premiere.
At this point I’ve already touched on at least half of the ballets being performed in the spring, but there is one more that needs to be mentioned. Though Giselle is one of the most classical ballets, I have yet to see it. Luckily for me, ABT will be dancing it this season, with multiple must-see casts. I am especially excited to watch the performance in which Hee Seo, Cory Stearns, and Devon Teuscher take the lead roles. I am also hoping to attend principal Stella Abrera’s farewell performance in the title role of Giselle.
Here’s to hoping my interest in ballet is not of financial detriment to me! Fortunately, there are some student ticket discounts; two years ago I was able to buy tickets to Whipped Cream for only $14.50 apiece.
Click here for Anonymous’ previous reflections about ICE.
So, unfortunately, I’m not able to tell you much about the work I’ve actually been doing with HSI since most of it involves ongoing investigations. But I’d still like to give you a sense of the type of cases the agency deals with, so what I’m going to do is tell you about the ones that are…wait for it…
Which, admittedly, isn’t as fun, but it’s still pretty interesting!
Since I’m interning at the New York office, the majority of cases are prosecuted in either the Southern District of New York or the Eastern District of New York. Press releases are frequently released from both of these courthouses and the HSI website. All of the cases discussed come from one of these three sources; links will be provided below if you want more information!
The first case I want to talk about is rather high profile – the conviction of El Chapo. HSI did the investigation in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the U.S. Marshal Service (USMS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the New York Police Department (NYPD). Due to the transnational component of El Chapo’s crimes, HSI’s involvement in the investigation was critical. HSI’s New York Division tasked the case to its El Dorado Task Force, a group that primarily deals with financial crimes and is made up of individuals from multiple different law enforcement agencies. Due to the work of the Task Force and the other investigators, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera was extradited to the United States and was prosecuted by multiple courts for his crimes, one of which was the Eastern District of New York. His charges, according to the HSI website, included drug violations, a murder conspiracy, firearm violations, and a money laundering conspiracy. It was determined that Guzman Loera was the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, an organization based in Mexico. The cartel trafficked cocaine, heroin, and marijuana from Central and South America to the United States using submarines, carbon fiber airplanes, trains, and tunnels while also laundering money and peddling weapons between Mexico and the United States. Additionally, Guzman Loera utilized hitmen and committed his own brutal attacks in order to ensure that the Sinaloa Cartel continued to prosper. Guzman Loera was convicted of his crimes after a 12-week trial in 2019.
A more recent case prosecuted by HSI, and one radically different from the El Chapo investigation, was the charging of Ruless Pierre on November 6, 2019. According to the Southern District of New York, Pierre is accused of securities fraud, wire fraud, and structuring charges. Pierre is alleged to have acquired over $2 million through his consulting firm by lying to people about how much money their investments were expected to return. Under this pretense, he also falsified records showing that these investors’ funds were growing, the reality being that he lost almost $1.4 million after engaging in day trading. Pierre is also alleged to have spent the investment money he didn’t lose on personal expenses. Additionally, he is accused of embezzling over $400,00 from hotels by which he was formerly employed. Pierre could face a sizeable chunk of time in prison if convicted of these charges: while he would only face a maximum sentence of five years for the structuring charges, the securities fraud and wire fraud could land him in prison for 20 years.
On a different note, David Jones was convicted in October by the Southern District of New York to 30 months in prison for defrauding people on a dating website. The HSI investigation showed that Jones would engage users on a dating website posing as an adult, have them share explicit photos with him, and then claim that the account belonged to a minor. In order to avoid the family from filing charges, Jones would claim that the user needed to pay the minor’s family a substantial amount of money. At the end of the day, Jones and his associates made off with over $40,000. Following his prison release, Jones will be required to forfeit $27,066 and pay $41,459.51 in restitution.
Homeland Security Investigations, beyond having its own cases, also aids in many other investigations. For example, HSI aided the FBI and U.S. Secret Service with their prosecution of Andrei Tyurin, a Russian Hacker who, according to the Southern District of New York, engaged in computer intrusion, wire fraud, bank fraud, illegal gambling offenses, and hacking offenses that affected a number of American companies between 2012 and 2015. Tyurin pled guilty to these crimes on September 23, 2019 and will be sentenced in 2020. The maximum prison sentence he could face is 30 years.
As you can see, the cases HSI deals with are extremely varied. This is hardly surprising, though, since HSI’s prosecution capabilities are one of the most diverse in law enforcement. The types of cases that HSI handles are incredibly broad, meaning that there’s hardly ever a dull day!
안녕하세요! Hello from Korea! My name is Celia, and I am currently studying abroad in Seoul. This is my first time visiting Korea and my first time in Asia! My experience in Seoul has been great and I feel so lucky to be here. Recently, I have been discussing with my family back home the Korean concepts of nunchi and kibun and the role they play in our lives.
Nunchi (pronounced noon-chee and written as 눈치 in Korean) literally translates to eye measure. Euny Long, the author of the New York Times article that brought the term to my family’s attention, defines it more clearly as “The subtle art of gauging other people’s thoughts and feelings in order to build trust, harmony and connection.” I have learned that nunchi is an important part of Korean life and in learning about it, I have found that I wish it was just as important in the U.S. Nunchi places value on emotional intelligence and the rare ability to understand others’ emotional experiences and needs. You do not have good nunchi, but quick nunchi, if you are able to rapidly and accurately read an entire room of people to assess the atmosphere.
Another Korean word related to societal peace and balance is kibun (pronounced kee-boon and written as 기분 in Korean). Kibun literally translated means “mood,” but the word contains much more meaning than that. Linguist Arika Okrent explains that kibun is “…your state of mind with respect to your place in the world.” Social harmony and positive vibes are important in understanding kibun. The word teaches us to respect others’ kibuns and to act accordingly. If a person is in a bad mood, we should try not to make that mood worse through our own actions. With the concept of kibun, we can help both others and ourselves to preserve good moods and improve bad ones.
I hope that you find these two terms as interesting as my family and I did and that you try to implement them in your own life. I know that this knowledge will be one of the best things that I bring home from Korea. If we all try to cultivate quick nunchi and a firm understanding of kibun, then I hope that we can achieve greater social harmony and personal happiness, making both ours and others’ lives better.
Learning a language is one thing, but learning a language in another culture is something entirely different.
My first month in Bogotá, I made sure to respond to every sneeze—of friends, strangers, even my own—with a cheery “salud!” That is how I was raised; it would never occur to me to do otherwise. Nobody, however, ever blessed me back. Not a single salud. To this day, I do not think a single Colombian has ever responded to a single one of my sneezes. “The nerve!” I would think to myself.
One day, I could not stand it anymore. I did not understand how the entire Colombian population I had encountered, from the mountains of Bogotá to the beaches of Cartagena, could be so apathetic in the face of another’s sneeze! In class, two friends were talking face to face, and the one sneezed, but not a word came from the other.
“Excuse me,” I asked, “why is it that you do not bless each other when you sneeze?”
They laughed, “why do you?”
I was stupefied. Why do I? I remember salud being on the very first vocabulary list I ever received during my first Spanish class in middle school. I really thought about it. Why do I? Why do I bless people when they sneeze? What could that even mean? I remember reading an article online about it being a short prayer pleading that God protect the sneezer from sickness or death. It comes from the original phrase “May God bless you.” Interesting.
In Spanish, the response we learn for someone who has sneezed, salud, directly translates to health. I learned in middle school that it can also be used as a toast before a round of drinks, though Colombians seem to prefer a more ritualized:
¡pa’rriba, pa’bajo, pa’ centro, pa’dentro!
Up, down, to the middle, now inside as the glasses trace the path of the cheers. I had to learn that cheer here, as my simple “¡salud!” never seemed to suffice with my Colombian friends. (If you ever travel to Colombia, you are already two steps ahead. You can thank me later.)
So, what is my point in saying all of this? No, I am not looking for a pity salud to make up for my several, several sneezes which went unblessed. My point is something every person learning a language should know: learning a language is not memorizing vocabulary lists. Learning a language is not being able to recount grammar rules, nor is it the ability to produce perfect orthography. Most importantly, and I cannot stress this enough: you never learn a language. Instead, you are always in the process of learning.
This process is painful; trust me. It is embarrassing. I remember telling one of my high school Spanish teachers that I had 17 anuses (that cursed ñ can make all the difference), and more recently I asked for a penis instead of a straw at a restaurant here in Bogotá. Here’s a tip: always search the proper term for straw when traveling to a Spanish-speaking country. A simple Google search could save you tons of embarrassment; in Colombia, you would say un pitillo. Look, now you are three steps ahead. You are so welcome.
More funny anecdotes, you ask? Sure. On my first day of class, my teacher asked what I believed to be “who here is from outside of Bogotá?” I shot my hand up; surely as the only gringo in the class I was the furthest from being a rolo: someone from Bogotá.
“From the United States!” I exclaimed.
“Oh, you bike all the way from the United States every day for class?” she asked.
“What,” I replied audibly, in English.
As it turns out, she asked who rode their bike to campus. I was mortified. How I understood what I understood: that remains completely beyond me. I switched out of the class that exact same day.
As demonstrated in my sneezing epiphany, a language is not just which words to say; a language also encapsulates a culture, which implies proper words to say, proper actions to perform, and when to say or do them. I learned Colombian greetings and farewells the hard way as well. One day, I was invited to a family celebration of a daughter who had just graduated. The whole extended family was there; there were Germans, Spaniards, Canadians, and Colombians from every stretch of the country. And there was me, the American. Imagine my shock as every woman came up to kiss me hello, and I was advised to stand to shake every single man’s hand present. Keep in mind, I knew probably about 4 of the 50 people attending. I got the hang of it though, and soon I knew exactly how to turn my cheek to greet the women, and I understood when to stand and just how to shake the men’s hands with a polite mucho gusto. Then came the time to say goodbye. I was so confident, until I was approached by a very old man. Caught up in all the farewells and decepted by my confidence, I kissed him. On the cheek. He looked at me, and I looked at him. There was an awkward pause, and then he left. Everyone at the table laughed; men typically do not kiss each other on the cheek unless they are related: especially not older, more conservative men with complete strangers. This poor guy received way more than what he expected, and I received enough embarrassment to think each farewell or greeting through thoroughly before executing it. No vocabulary list could have saved me there; I had to live it to learn it. Dear reader, I do believe you are five steps ahead now. Just go ahead and book your ticket, you are now an expert in Colombian etiquette.
Amidst all this embarrassment, however, I found a bit of relief atop Monserrate, a chapel 3,152 meters above sea level with an amazing view overlooking the massive city of Bogotá. Remember what I said about learning a language as an unending process? Just ask native speakers. My sister had come to visit me, and atop the mountain we decided to order two fruit juices. Sidenote: the fruits here are superb. My sister decided on blackberry, and I decided on soursop. As the waitress poured the blackberry juice, she forgot which I had ordered.
“Guayabo, cierto?” she asked.
She turned beet red. Not only had she confused the fruit—guava for soursop—she had put an o at the end of the word instead of an a: the word for the fruit is guayaba.
“Hangover, right?” she asked.
I did not find it to be that embarrassing; a simple o instead of an a is really not that big of a deal. She seemed to think so. She apologized several times, and nervously laughed during the entire encounter. My sister asked what the confusion was, and I explained.
As I explained the simple mistake, I realized how many times I had done the exact same, and how embarrassed I had been. As I said, the difference between the words year and anus is a simple ñ versus n. Año and ano are really so similar. Looking back, my mistake ordering a straw was part of this same learning process, but now I can order a straw in any Spanish-speaking country knowing exactly what I am actually asking for. Really, test me. I have made a multitude of mistakes throughout my years of learning this language, but so have the people learning it as their first language.
So yea, maybe I have kissed a very old man, and maybe my professor that day thought I could easily take home the gold in an Olympic cycling event. Often times I have to smile at the Uber driver, pretending I understand exactly what he is saying, when in reality I only catch a total of three words in an hour long conversation. I was surprised to discover that you address your professors by their first names, as I had avoided addressing them at all up until three months into the semester. And I will not even begin to explain how confusing it is that three thousand five hundred pesos equals one American dollar, so a bottle of soda shows up on the bill as 6.500 COP. I am thankful for these experiences, however, as I recognize them as steps in a long learning process.
I just hope I relearn to say “bless you” when I get home.
Hallo! (I know, my German skills have soared since I got here..)
As an International Studies major and a German Studies major, I’ve always thought that Berlin was the natural choice of city for my year-long study abroad plan, and after more than two months here, I can say definitively that I’m glad I came here.
First, the basics: I’m studying with a program at Freie Universität, which is one of the largest public research institutions in Berlin. The program this semester is about 160 people large and consists primarily of American students who want to study political science and the humanities from a European perspective. I am enrolled in Intensive German, which means 3 hours of German language instruction every morning from Monday to Thursday. I am also taking 3 subject courses: Themes and Issues in Transatlantic Relations, Migration Dynamics and Controversies in Berlin and Europe, and Contemporary Germany from a European Perspective.
I’m currently living in a studio in a student apartment located an hour away from the FU satellite campus where our program’s classes are held, which means I get to use three forms of public transport to get to class every morning. (Thankfully, the public transport here is practically utopia compared to the MTA – no ticket barriers, clean seats and timely trains a slightly less grumpy commuter make!) Per the tradition of German universities, all students here are commuter students, as there are no residential halls on campus as in U.S. colleges and universities.
As far as European capital cities go, Berlin is by far one of the most affordable and historically engaging places to be. When I’m not stuffing my face with doner kebab and currywurst, I’m exploring one of the many museums and memorials the city has to offer. I was especially excited to learn that 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th. In between writing my term papers that comment on this very event, I’ll have the opportunity to witness a momentous landmark in European history, and it will be a blast to hop around the various festivals in the city this weekend.
My program, FU-BEST, has played no small part in providing us with a myriad of unique experiences in Berlin. I (or half of my face) had a brief moment of fame when our German class went as audience members to the central studio of ZDF, one of the largest public news stations on German TV, for their morning news segment. Another remarkable experience through FU-BEST was our recent visit to the Foreign Ministry, which involved a lecture and Q&A session on current transatlantic relations from the former German ambassador to Washington D.C., Klaus Scharioth (2006 to 2011). The lecture was exclusively for students in our program, because the professor for my Themes and Issues in Transatlantic Relations course worked as a diplomat in the foreign service with Dr. Scharioth, who has been his friend for more than 30 years. Later that day, we took a private tour of the Bundeskanzleramt (Chancellor’s Office) for a “behind the scenes” look into Angela Merkel’s office and daily duties, where the original handwritten notes for JFK’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech are on exhibit.
My German listening skills have certainly improved since my arrival in August, but speaking has proven more of a challenge, as the majority of Berliners can speak English better than I can speak German and often switch to English after hearing me stumble through basic sentences. In my studies, I am continually impressed by the ability of German nouns to span nearly the width of a sheet of printer paper; one of my new favorites is “Vergangenheitsbewältigung,” which is a uniquely German term that means “coming to terms with the past:” namely, Nazi war crimes in the 20th century. It has been fascinating to contrast the American attitude towards patriotism with the ambivalent feelings of Germans on the subject; you can find American flags on the lawns and porches of every block in the suburban U.S., while most Germans pale at the thought of waving their flag, which usually only appears atop federal buildings.
I could go on for ages, but as the semester draws to a close in four weeks, I’m sure I’ll have a wealth of new experiences and insights to share for the next blog post. Until then, tschüss!
I have lived on campus for my entire time at Fordham, and so I never had to deal with a commute to class longer than a walk across the plaza. When I studied abroad in Dublin, however, I lived in international student housing off-campus, and so getting to class became its own adventure.
There were a few ways to get to class. I could walk, which was free but slow, about a half-hour trip. If it was raining, I usually took the bus, which was fast but cost €1.70. It also involved putting money on my Leap Card, which for some reason could only be reloaded at convenience stores that only took cash. My favorite way to get to class, though, was on my bike.
I’m lucky that most of my family still lives in Ireland, and so my aunt lent me her bike while I was in Dublin. It was purple and only had one gear, but I loved it. I spent €40 on a lock to make sure that no one would steal it, even though the lock probably cost more than the bike.
My morning commute would start in the bike shed. I would kick the door open, then frantically try to back my bike out of its stand and make it to the door before it swung closed with a heavy clang, which I usually failed at. After sighing and unlocking the door from the inside, I was on my way.
Once I made it out of the building, I had to walk my bike up a hill, through the parking lot of a tech startup and up to the main road. At this point, I finally got on my bike, and after dodging a bus or another commuter, I was on my way.
Dublin is much more bicycle-friendly than New York. Where there weren’t designated lanes for cyclists, they shared with the bus lane. Buses may be big, but their drivers tend to be much more careful than an average car driver. I never worked up the courage to run red lights like the Irish commuters, but I also never got hit by a car, so I considered my biking skills perfectly adequate during my time abroad.
My commute was more or less a highlight reel of Dublin tourism. I began by passing the Guinness Storehouse, which was directly across the street from my student housing. After a few months, you get used to the smell of hops never entirely leaving the air. I would turn left and head towards Dublin City Center. After passing the Lidl, the grocery store with suspiciously low prices and delicious chocolate chip cookies, I usually got stuck at the red light next to Christ Church Cathedral. It’s amazing how quickly the awe of seeing a nearly one-thousand-year-old building fades when you’re running late for class.
When the light finally turned green, I continued on my way, next passing Dublin Castle, the center of the Irish government since the Vikings ruled hundreds of years ago. It was nowhere near as elaborate as Versailles, but that’s not really the Irish style anyway.
The final stretch of my commute was straight through Temple Bar, the heart of tourist Dublin. Even in the early hours of the morning on my way to class, I had to keep an eye out for tourists wandering into the street, if not just blatantly jaywalking. It was always crowded, the Times Square of Dublin, although it lacked the blatant capitalist sentiment. Instead of being bombarded with ads, visitors are bombarded with overpriced beer and mediocre folk music.
After about fifteen minutes, I would arrive at Trinity College Dublin. It’s a little mind-blowing to attend a college that was founded before the Pilgrims arrived in the new world. I would hop off my bike and walk it through the arched entranceway, usually having to dodge a few tourist pictures in the process. I locked my bike to the fences just inside the campus and headed to class.
Now that I’m back in New York to finish my senior year at Fordham, I can’t help but miss my daily bike ride a little. It was incredible to see so much history in such a short time. But it also made me realize how I had stopped noticing all the incredible New York landmarks on my doorstep: Lincoln Center, Times Square, Central Park, the Natural History Museum. All are as close to where I live on campus as the sights of Dublin were to my housing there. By going abroad, I think I learned to appreciate all of those places from a fresh perspective.
Hello, Fordham friends (and others)! My name is Lucie and I’m a Junior at Lincoln Center studying Natural Science and French. I’m writing from Paris where I will be for the school year with a program called CUPA. As I write this I am about to finish my sixth week here (!!). Time flies faster in France than even the normal blur of a college semester; it’s the socialism or something. I’m living with a host family- a mother and young daughter- in a town just outside the western border of Paris called Neuilly (as hard to pronounce as it looks). Since you must be dying to know my class schedule, I am taking two chemistry classes at the Sorbonne Faculté de Science et Ingénierie, a Sociology of Police, Justice, and Prison class at a different campus, and a Phonetics and Diction class at a third campus.
The process of registering for classes here was long and chaotic. Never again will I whine about Fordham’s registration system. There are multiple universities in and around Paris, most with multiple campuses. Each department releases its course listings basically whenever they want, up to a couple of days before classes start. Schools start at different times and I happened to be the first CUPA student to have a class (I’m the only science student). My chem classes started three days after I arrived, which I only learned about the day before! You’ll be glad to know I survived the first day and now, five weeks later, have also survived a quiz, test, AND, most recently, actually talked to and befriended a few French peers in said classes. Feeling pretty proud of myself.
Since college is free here, there is a different feeling to university. On one hand, my friends who are in first-year classes have been surprised and frustrated by the attitude of (albeit younger) French students, saying that it feels like being in high school. Someone explained to me that in France students have a right to higher education, but not necessarily to a degree. So in some ways, the French system is more competitive than in the US because a good number of students are expected not to get past the first year. There is a sort of weeding out, especially in very prestigious, difficult fields such as medicine where there are a limited number of spots for the top students (see the movie Première Année, or The Freshmen in English). Because of this it is not uncommon or looked down upon to redo years of undergrad to try to get better marks, or to change one’s field, since it’s free. However, my chem classes are second year and the students, I think due to the challenging nature of the Chemistry program, are overall pretty serious and actually want to be there. My friends have said that Master’s level classes in other subjects are similar, which makes sense. The first year of university here is almost an extension of high school since there is no risk for French students to attend. Then a ‘natural selection’ occurs with each subsequent year, yet there is little stigma about redoing a year or taking longer than three years to finish your license (bachelors). As someone who hates making decisions, I envy that lack of time pressure, but even more, I appreciate that college is accessible to everyone here.
Events consist of small details that come together to make a beautiful evening. At my internship with American Ballet Theatre, I am able to see the work every aspect of an event requires, and to appreciate the effort that goes into even relatively minor features. This past weekend, ABT hosted its Junior Turnout, a social event that included a silent auction for members of its Junior Council. My duties in preparing this event varied. One of my favorite details of the event that I worked on was the framed autographed photographs of company dancers. We used these photos to decorate the space and they doubled as silent auction items.
In the weeks before the event, I ordered the prints of the photos and then ran around to various stores buying frames in the correct sizes. 10 x 15 frames are harder to find than you would expect! Those, I had to order online. Once I had the physical prints, we laid them out on a table in the development office and the dancers came in to sign their photos when they had a free moment. After that came the arduous process of framing them. Pro-tip, courtesy of my mentor Fallon: If the back of the frame is held in place by pieces that need to be bent up instead of rotated, it is much easier to move them out of the way if one slides an ID card under them and uses it to push them up.
When we got to Spring Place, the venue for Junior Turnout, we arranged the framed photos in a display case. We had so many that some had to be put on a table! In front of each photograph we placed a label naming the dancers in it and explaining what the photo captured. At the end of the night, we placed the pictures in bags to be distributed to their respective auction winners.
My favorite photo we used is one taken by Patrick Fraser of Herman Cornejo and Zhong-Jing Fang. It is dynamic with a bright orange background and diagonal composition reminiscent of Baroque art. Both dancers have an arm wrapped around the other and Herman Cornejo leans over Zhong-Jing Fang as her other arm and flowy dress trail behind her.
Tuesday afternoon, I was excited when I walked into the office and there was a large version of this photo resting on an easel. It is being used to help get the #abtmember hashtag going. People watching the ballets this season will be encouraged to take a picture in front of this poster and use the hashtag when they post it. A couple of other photos I printed for Junior Turnout will also be printed as large posters in front of which ballet-goers can pose. Working in the office does have its perks; I was the first person who got to take a picture with the photograph of Herman Cornejo and Zhong-Jing Fang, and it is currently in the same room as my desk, so I can look over and see it anytime!
This fall I began an internship at StoryCorps, an oral history non-profit in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. It’s a straight shot on the C, but I generally have to hop on the A express and transfer to the C local one stop early. I generally have to do this because I am generally alwaysjust a little bit late.
Friday October 18, I was late to the all-staff meeting. At such meetings we listen to StoryCorps’ weekly NPR segment as a team and discuss how the 3-minute cut was distilled from a 40-minute recording. I walked in as meekly as one could, tiptoeing in my pink flats just the two steps I need to cross from the hallway into the sixth floor common space. Then I leaned against the light switch and plunged the room into darkness. I want to die! I clicked the lights back on, and someone was smiling at me. He was older and had gray hair and glasses and looked very familiar. I work on 7. Maybe he works on 4?
He smiled at me and said, “Oh, I did that, too.” His posture was a little poor, his smile gold. I smiled back and whispered, “Thanks,” feeling a lightness disproportionate to his minute acknowledgment of me. Next time I’m on 4, I’ll make sure to ask how his day is going. He totally works on 4. Yeah.
Then this person moved through warm applause for the sixteenth anniversary of StoryCorps to the front of the room. I realized I didn’t recognize him from 4, I recognized him from his Ted Talk and his Wikipedia page and his picture on the StoryCorps website and his Genius grant and his status as one of my personal idols.
Dave Isay had smiled at me. The person who began StoryCorps in a little booth in Grand Central, a booth with two microphones. His vision was to turn documentary work upside down, to record two people (who typically know each other well) having a conversation for forty minutes. To record the conversation for its own sake, its value not contingent upon polish or distribution. Its value contingent upon knowing that every person has a story.
In his own words, that day in October 2003, “Nobody came.” Until they did. All kinds of people. Everyone. And then they came with force of numbers to recording stations in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, hundreds of partner radio stations and hospitals, the itinerant Mobile Tour trailer, the StoryCorps app….
These hundreds of thousands of conversations are stored at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps has facilitated the largest oral history project in human history.
And StoryCorps has facilitated a renaissance in listening.
On Friday, October 18, I leaned against the same light switch as Dave Isay and somehow, in the dark, he saw me clearly. I’m not saying I’m never going to wash my jacket again. I’m just saying that that is very cool to have almost literally rubbed shoulders with someone whose life work embodies my belief in integrity in communication.
Communication is the comprehensive art and intimate love of coming to know one another clearly. Clearly means leaving your preconceptions, prejudgments, preferences at the door. Clearly means that when someone needs to speak, you are receptive. You’re there. You’re not looking for the crack in their story that will allow you to neatly insert your own premeditated bit.
Clear communication – human connection – can only begin by listening to others with undivided attention.
I’ve always believed this in a removed, romantic way, in my little bedroom in Georgia, listening to music, running away in a book. I’ve always known genuine connection to be infinitely powerful. StoryCorps has shown me that it is immediately possible.
My name is Natalie Grammer and I’m reaching out on behalf of the Hope for Depression Research Foundation with an exciting partnership opportunity.
After an amazing summer at my internship at Hope for Depression, I had the opportunity to stay on for the fall semester. HDRF felt like a kind of home to me. I grew really close with my coworkers over the course of the summer and my time there helped me to feel more ownership over my work and more comfortable in my cubicle.
As the fall started, we turned our attention away from the race of the summer and towards our two large fall campaigns: the HOPE Luncheon Seminar and #GivingTuesday. A shift in the event type –– from an active event to an educational luncheon and online campaign –– meant a shift in my outreach. Instead of calling stores in Southampton, I began emailing stores, companies, and brands based nation-wide about our two fall initiatives, and this time, I had to ask for a donation. This new medium of communication brought an unfamiliar distance in the outreach process. I no longer heard the voice of the person I was contacting, and often I wasn’t addressing a specific individual but emailing a general “info@” address.
Though I appreciated the fact that an email gave me more control over my initial outpouring of information to a potential partner, I found myself shocked that I missed hearing another person’s voice on the other end of the phone. This is not to say that I missed some of the aggressive or surprising reactions people gave me on the phone. I did not. Rather, I missed the feeling of making a request to an individual person.
With my email outreach, I had to face the very real abyss of an email inbox. I cannot count how many times I’ve received a marketing email and either immediately deleted it or opened it purely to no longer have a notification in my inbox. It’s very easy to dismiss a marketing email as somehow not generated by an individual person, and therefore not worth my time.
Email outreach this fall at HDRF has shown me the other side of this interaction. First, these emails are painstakingly crafted by individuals, often with several processes of drafting, checking, and collaborating with members of their team with the self-reflexive tagline, “Thoughts?.” Second, it can be very frustrating when I don’t receive a response; obviously, it can be disheartening when an individual or business you’ve reached out to in hopes of gaining a campaign sponsor declines your request, but it can be even more discouraging not to receive a response at all.
My internship at HDRF has taught meempathy. Yes, sending outreach emails has helped teach me better human empathy. By putting me on the other end of communication, my fall outreach process has shown me the very real energy and care people put into something as seemingly small as sending an email. It has reminded me to think about all of the hard work people put into aspects of my life that I dismiss or take for granted. I have become a more mindful person (and am working to continue to become a more mindful person) in the types of communication I have with other people because of my time so far this semester with HDRF.
Now, instead of immediately deleting the mass emails I get, which I dismiss as spam, I take the time to respond. At the very least, I open the emails or take a moment to appreciate what team of people wrote that message before I delete it. I hope that everyone does the same, especially if the email comes from Hope for Depression Research Foundation because if so, there’s a chance I am waiting for an email back.