Long Distance

Sitting on the stones outside the newly crowned Thomas Hall, Banji looked confused as I held up my phone, opened up the camera app, pressed record video, and began prattling off bits and pieces of the day. He glanced between me and the screen and added on details to my recollections. We informed the camera that Maya had wanted to buy four boxes of hot pockets (Banji took them out of her cart because, “She’ll die in a month of hot pocket consumption.”); about the death of Gabe’s phone and his Uber trip to Safeway for a last-minute temporary-replacement burner phone; and our failures in super gluing a car phone mount via a confusing messed up jar lid and Pringles can connection. Immediately after finishing the video, I sent it to Emily.   

Long distance seems increasingly relevant in college. The beginning of each semester is met with hugs and how are you??? and I missed you and catching up on the peaks of the summer and the mundane everyday. The beginning of my sophomore year was met with friends moving into our Trimble suite all at once and immediate inside jokes and snapchats of hands up in the air captioned “REUNITED.” Junior year, in a way, has begun with a rockier start. Everyone is everywhere, busy around campus, and the best friends I’ve made at college are packing their suitcases to begin their respective semesters abroad.

There are gaps that need to be filled and the distance during those months can seem expansive. I’ve gotten in the habit of texting Emily every morning, sending her videos throughout the day, recapping everything that has happened, asking stupid questions, and letting the conversation ramble (a text a sent her last week: “tell me all of the hip 1996 baby names”).

While there’s still how are you and I miss you. It’s an I miss you and I wish you were here but it’s okay that you’re not and I want you to have a good time and tell me everything. It’s a tell me everything right as it’s happening and on a daily basis and then you not being here isn’t as sad. Conversations aren’t focused on I miss you but on stories of, “We’re in a restaurant right now and I see this guy I went to middle school with and I’m showing my mom photos of him on Instagram. She wanted to zoom in, so she double tapped it, and she just liked the photo.”

The videos fill the gaps of the mundane every day and insert the humor of bad sunburn lines and listening to the Shrek soundtrack; they are I miss you but it’s going to be okay.

Dijon: Welcome to My Crib

I have currently been living in Dijon, France, for a little over a month; long enough to get moderately well established in this city, to work out my favorite boulangeries, bars, and so on, and figure out how late I can sleep before I miss my tram and therefore class.

But I am mostly here today to talk about the city.  Dijon, of course, is mostly known stateside for mustard (in fact, my host family eats it literally every night with dinner, much like salt or pepper.  It’s much hotter mustard than normal, actually, and it reminds me quite a lot of the fresh-ground horseradish that my grandmother makes).  However, Dijon does boast some attractions other than condiments.

Wine, for example.

I would like the record to reflect that a) no one drank these because they are much too valuable and only worth collecting dust and b) I am 21 and a half.

I would like the record to reflect that a) no one drank these because they are much too valuable and only worth collecting dust and b) I am 21 and a half.

And other more classic French attractions: like most French cities, the centre-ville of Dijon is the oldest part of town, made of layers of buildings dating from the Gallo-Roman era, the early medieval periods, and the Renaissance.

The little tower in the middle of the photo is from the Romans: literally thousands of years old.  It is in my courtyard.

The little tower in the middle of the photo is from the Romans: literally thousands of years old. It is in my courtyard.

This is either a tiny(er) Arc de Triomphe or one of the last remains of the medieval wall that surrounded Dijon; it is possible that I misunderstood the tour guide.

This is either one of the last remains of the medieval wall that surrounded Dijon or a tiny Arc de Triomphe; it is possible that I misunderstood the tour guide.

In ye oldene times, Dijon was the capital of the Duchy of Bourgogne (Burgundy); now, Dijon is still the capital of Burgundy, but the government is socialist instead of monarchist.

The palace of the Dukes of Burgundy aka my backyard.

The palace of the Dukes of Burgundy aka my backyard.

The further you go out from the centre-ville, the most similar to blocks of concrete the buildings look.

I live smack dab in the centre-ville, on a road that runs a block parallel to the main shopping and walking road of Dijon.  This is highly convenient for my ability to access shops and restaurants and so on; this is much less convenient for my wallet.  (Everyone in France looks so stylish all the time, which is a far cry from UPS’s brand of hipster grunge.  And they always wear little booties, regardless of the rain or snow levels.)

I’m gonna sign off now, otherwise I’ll continue talking about how the French are just too stylish and beautiful.  Join me next time for more unorganized talks about my days.


Seven Memories Abroad

In which Daniel circumnavigates Europe.


To my dear reader,

There’s a certain irony to the fact that, in spite of the grand scale of the adventure, the summer of 215 spent studying music and literature in Milan, Italy, is something that seems so unreal in retrospect. This isn’t to say that it was earth-shatteringly good, yet thinking back on it makes it seem like I might have read about it in a book, or seen a movie, not went there myself. A few memories do float to the top, however, and these are those memories.

  1. The Tree of Life


I’m standing at the World Expo, an enormous fair wherein countries create exhibits addressing a specific global issue – this year, food sustainability. It is fitting given my sophomore year spent as the Director of Sustainability in Puget Sound’s Residential Life. The crowd I’ve joined has circled an enormous statue of a tree which, amid the Verdi opera aria blaring from the speakers, has begun to bloom huge cloth flowers.

  1. Many Boats


At the largest art museum in Milan, there is a small room with one glass window for a wall and mirrors for the remaining surfaces. Blue cloth is piled on the floor with small, antique boats on top, and although there are only three boats in the tiny room, the mirrors multiply the number, and multiply again, until the room seems like an endless fleet of tiny boats.

  1. Verdi’s Café


The proudest moment I have during this time abroad is in Verdi’s Café, a small restaurant near the IES Abroad Center that I frequent. With only two days of the program left, I have become quite proficient in Italian, and as I look around the café, I’m shocked to realize that I can understand the words on every poster in the room.

  1. In the Black Forest


After the program ends, I spend two weeks wandering Europe, and in this time, I end up visiting Shoshana Strom, a fellow Puget Sound student studying in Freiburg, Germany. On one adventure, we arrive at a café in the Black Forest, and it is there that I have the best meal I can remember eating. It is a Potato-Leek Soup, with Black Forest Cake and a Café Macchiato. I have since tried and horribly failed at recreating this meal.

  1. Cobblestones


Salzburg is the Europe that I had dreamt of before coming to Europe, but never received. I unexpectedly befriend two Korean girls that are staying in the same hostel as me, and we stumble upon a tiny tavern together amid the rain in the tiny, cobblestone streets.

  1. Delicate Shades


Vienna is the first city on my free adventures in Europe that makes me realize how homesick I am. The city is so much more crowded than the others I visited, and I’ve become nervous and anxious in the crowds. While wandering the city with two Korean boys I’ve befriended, I find a quiet chapel. The windows seem peaceful.

  1. One Night Town


The last city I visit before I return to Milan for my flight home is Bled, Slovenia, and although it is small, t bustles with life. On my last night there, I befriend a large group of students from around the U.K. and, after buying some pizza, we unexpectedly decide to go on a bar crawl. When we return to the hostel in the wee hours of the morning, we find that someone has stolen my pizza, but left the box. Although I’m not too irked, the group seems irked on my behalf, and I find myself feeling a strange affection for these strangers that bemoan my lost pizza for me.

Does it all mean something? I wouldn’t know.


With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

That Lizzie Life: A Summer in Roma!

Hello first semester of senior year! It’s good to be back. This summer was particularly eventful; I spent the first half of it living that Lizzie McGuire life abroad in Italy! Last semester, I was lucky enough to have made it into a brand new connections class called Rome: Sketchbooks and Space. This class was based in the study and appreciation of ancient Roman art and architecture, focusing heavily on sacred spaces and the utilization of space as a whole. Throughout the semester each student also worked on a sketchbook with weekly entries. As an art major, I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the class, though it wasn’t all art majors in the class. The classroom part of the course was very interesting… but the best part was going to Italy for the first three weeks of summer.

You heard me, Italy! Our entire class lived in Rome– along with our fabulous professor and official guardian angel, Elise Richman– and worked in the Rome Center studio spaced owned by the University of Washington. The Rome Center was right in the middle of the beautiful Campo di Fiori, a bustling marketplace during the day and vibrant city life scene at night. I used to sit in this one particular windowsill and look out onto the square… and people used to take pictures of me in my little spot! I guess it is pretty rare to see a redhead in Rome. Here’s the view I had from that windowsill one night as the sun was setting. Stunning. 11390041_10153300221982778_8003798161520122779_n

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Between Love and Hegemony

In which Daniel bids farewell to the United States of America, as well as his penultimate year of college.


To my dear reader,

The Melancholy of Mechagirl is a collection of short stories and poems by Cathrynne M. Valente, all written during or inspired by her time spent as a Navy wife in Japan. It was the last book I read while in Tacoma, Washington, and was one of the most enjoyable pieces of fiction I’ve read in several months. The intricacies of its cultural reference, alongside the wide array of emotions and topics the stories traverse, paint a colorful and fascinating picture of her conception of the nation. In the book’s afterword, however, the author discussed her trepidation in writing about a culture which was not hers, and to which she held so much respect:

“To write of a country, a culture, a world that is not your own is an act, forever and always balanced between love and hegemony. I have tried to err on the side of love.”

Upon reading this, I was suddenly and forcibly reminded of my freshman year writing seminar. It was a class focused on travel writing the act of “othering” – viewing and altering perceptions of other cultures or groups as alien – and much of the class was spent examining writings Europeans and Americans had done on other places. Over and over again in those writings, Europeans and Americans colored their perspective with their own enculturated values and ideals, condemning different societies, exoticizing foreign women and displaying contempt for other cultures.

Ms. Valente has done, I believe, a marvelous job of treating the Japanese culture with respect. Her use of Japanese folklore and religious ideologies is insightful and meaningful, while still remaining accessible to English-speaking audiences. But this book, and that line in the afterward specifically, has remained with me because in two days, I will be departing to study abroad in Italy.

How much of study abroad is comprised of othering, I wonder? Are students from America usually seen as a form of education hegemony? What will never been mine to hold, no matter how much time I spend there? I will be there to study the intersection of Italian music and literature. What will I miss when I inevitably look at this intersection through American eyes?

I once took a composition class outside of Puget Sound with a teacher that was not a lover of world music. “Many modern composers,” he said, “have taken to using ‘ethnic’ music to spice up their compositions… silly, really.” I was initially shocked and upset that he’d said this. By saying that other culture’s music were “ethnic” he was implying that the compositions of European and American composers were effectively “real” music, and that the music of all other cultures was a tool to be used, or otherwise negligible. At the same time, however, he had a point: many composers today do use other culture’s music as a spice for their own compositions.

I suppose that the difference between doing this with love and doing this with hegemony is a question of attitude. Writing music inspired by or based on another culture’s music – much like writing inspired by or based on another culture’s writing – can be done with respect and admiration for that culture, or it can be done with disdain and disregard for that other culture. I suppose that the difference is that love is creating something on that other culture on its terms, and hegemony is creating something on your culture’s terms. As I study music and literature in Italy this summer, I shall try, as Ms. Valente, to err on the side of the former.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Teaching English in a French Classroom


Today was one of many new discoveries, doing things that put me out of my comfort zone, but things that felt so fulfilling all at once. Thursdays I am busy solely with my assistant English teaching internship. With my schedule and class numbers all laid out, I headed for building D (the school where I work is huge, but I found my way around really well today), only to find it was just me and five students for la conversation collège. It took me a few minutes to realize I wasn’t assisting a prof, but that I would facilitate the conversation alone in English. This turned out to be really fun for me! Slowly I adjusted back into English, surrounded by young people who understood every word I said. All five students had different British accents when they spoke English, one had more of a British London accent, for example and another more of a Yorkshire-like accent. These students have a parent who is French and another who is British, hence why they live in France, but travel to England often to visit family. I just had fun the whole time asking them questions, since the idea is for them to have a chance to use their English. When I told them I was going to Morocco for my fall vacation, one of the boys asked, “vacation?” One of the other kids quickly explained to him it’s the same as, “holiday.” The kids were very helpful answering any questions I had about French vocab and where to find the teacher’s lounge. I look forward to more spontaneous discussions with them.

Next, I worked with the prof, Mme. Lalaude in my own separate classroom, which I was not expecting. I knew, however, that we agreed I would work separately with a small group of her students, while she worked with the other half. The middle school French students looked confused for a moment when I told them to place the chairs in a circle and not to go to their desks. I think I brought with me my American casualness, lack of formality, yet still able to take charge. That must have been quite the interesting surprise for them: who is this American student and why does she do things so differently? I prefer classes Socratic seminar style: everyone is gathered in a circle, there is a sense of equality and less strict formality. I think it really charges the energy of the room and certainly puts me more at ease because I like to sit next to the students, not above them. We went around and made introductions and I had each of them explain their favorite activities, writing on the board to explain certain grammar that was unclear. I laughed with them, enjoyed hearing their travel stories to America or England, and would occasionally switch to French to translate anything unclear I had said in English. It felt like something I was supposed to be doing: I’ve always loved working with young people, especially when it comes to learning foreign languages. They are my French teachers and I am here to facilitate the class period in English. It’s very much a win/win situation. It was really funny seeing the first group reluctant to switch with the second group of kids. I felt like I had done something right.

The last part of my English teaching at the school was to work with high school students. This definitely put me out of my comfort zone the most. I think it’s due to the fact I’m closer in age to the high school students. I don’t have the natural sense of authority with age when I’m with the middle school kids. So I had to really fill the space with purpose and look like I know what I’m doing. I made the same kind of introductions with the high school kids with their desks all in a circle. I facilitated more complex discussions in English like what do you like, or not like about the U.S. when you visited? One girl in the class shared how she found Americans more friendly than the French during her visit. Another student asked me what I liked about France. Since there were two other American-French students in the room, I chose my answer carefully. My experience is not the same as theirs. I have been in France as long as they have, nor do I have French family members. I told them I liked how the French in general are more relaxed, mostly because Brittany where I’ve spent most of my time is calmer. People get a coffee, or share a meal together and they take their time; they’re not constantly rushing. One of the American-French students mentioned how that wasn’t her experience, but she said, “Yeah, Bretagne is kind of dead,” meaning everything is way more chill here than Paris, or other parts of France. Zack, the second American-French student said how much he liked the European community, the food, and how much more relaxed people were as well.

I think the students didn’t mind my presence at all. It was certainly something new for them and I look forward to planning lessons for the middle and high school students. I’m just more used to working with middle school level students; they aren’t as self-conscious about their English and are more curious to ask questions. So for each group, I will have to compartmentalize a bit: what kind of communication in English and in general works for this age group and what doesn’t? It’s going to be a good challenge and learning experience for me. I’m planning on personally journaling about it. Overall, it was a very satisfying day!

Fun fact: winter nighttime temperatures in the TCI rarely fall below 65 degrees.

No, the School for Field Studies did not get a Thanksgiving break.  But we go home on Thursday, December 5, so I guess that’s understandable.  And we did get a Thanksgiving dinner, despite the fact that (1) as a study abroad program, we’re kind of by definition not in the United States, and (2) half of the staff members are British and are therefore horrified by the thought of sweet potato casseroles with marshmallows.  It involved a bit of logistics, because if you want to make something, you have to order the ingredients far enough ahead of time for them to arrive via the infamous food ship, and then juggle the baking of various things with the restraints of having a single functional oven to cook for 50+ people.

I suppose the "big blue" beyond the wall of the reef is rather aptly named.

I suppose the “big blue” beyond the wall of the reef is rather aptly named.

In the spirit of recognizing that the semester is almost over, our last two dives were yesterday (diving in December without wetsuits!), so our gear will be ready to be packed up once it’s dry.  Those dives, incidentally, are worthy of a blog post in and of themselves – the divemaster said we were going to drop in “over the big blue,” and none of us realized what that was until we backrolled off the boat into the water, let the air out of our BCDs, started descending, and realized that, despite the perfect tropical visibility, there was nothing around us.  We descended without a single point of reference, freefalling into a sort of vast emptiness, before levelling off when we hit a hundred feet and swimming up to the wall of the reef, watching it slowly appear through the blue haze.  I don’t know why we haven’t been doing that all semester, but at least none of us will ever forget those final dives here.

Final exams are over, data collection has finished, directed research papers are turned in, and research presentations, cleaning, packing, and an afternoon visit to the tiny and uninhabited Long Cay are all that’s left.  When we first got to South Caicos, it took a while for me to really accept that this was going to be my home for three months.  And now that it’s just about time to leave, it’s hard to accept that I am, most likely, never going to see this place again.  I won’t miss the mosquitoes.  But I will miss Cerano’s Jamaican jerk chicken.

It’s also just about impossible to picture the transition from 90-degree weather here to 30-degree weather at home in Northern Virginia.  I don’t think I’ve felt a temperature below 75 degrees since May in Washington.  You know the scene from Cool Runnings where the Jamaican bobsled team flies to Canada – how they feel the icy grip of below-zero temperatures through an open door in the airport and gape in horror?  I’m unspeakably glad to not be flying from the Caribbean to Minnesota, like one of my roommates.  Call me Sanka, but I somehow suspect that my cold tolerance will be a bit lacking for a while.

Fun fact: the TCI Department for the Environment and Marine Affairs has twelve officers nationwide.

There’s nothing like the feeling of being done with exams – which I now have been for several delightful days.  So here I am on my tropical island, no more classes, and two weeks until I go home to DC; clearly, all I’m doing with my life right now is tanning and swimming in the clear, warm, turquoise ocean, right?

Actually, right now I’m sitting in my room wearing a fleece jacket and looking through the window to grey, Tacoma-esque skies.  I just got back from a snorkel at a site called the South End of Long Cay, and for some reason the elements never cooperate when we go there.  Last time, there was a huge current; today, it bucketed rain.  But hey, an eagle ray swam right next to us, so there’s that.

Lectures are over, but we’re still collecting data for our directed research (DR) projects (thus the necessity of the stormy snorkel).  Our papers are due a week from tomorrow, which is an absolutely terrifying thought, and then we spend a few days presenting our research to the community and the rest of the Center.  And then we return to the world of normal winter (as opposed to winter here, which means sleeping under a sheet and without a fan on).


But before that, we have to get these papers written.  It’s already looming over my head, and we haven’t even finished collecting data – and then there’s the analysis of said data.  I’ll be creating a management plan based off of my group’s findings regarding the abundance of the invasive lionfish Pterois volitans, which basically means that I’m acting as a middleman between the scientists and the policy-makers, synthesizing and interpreting our results to suggest methods for controlling the lionfish invasion.  Think about it as a report for a government environmental agency, giving them scientific knowledge in a way that gives them a basis for creating policy – because may be what it turns out to be.  Fun things can happen when you’re at a prestigious field station in a small island nation.

Fun fact: over 90% of the food consumed in the TCI is imported.

Wednesday mornings have the best scenery of any day of the week.  When I look out from the Center, I see a stretch of sparkling turquoise water, hopefully flat so it doesn’t limit our water activities for the day, the limestone-and-scraggly-vegetation hill of Long Cay, maybe a flamingo flying around or a local fishing boat getting some air off of wave crests on its way out for the day’s work – and a ship.  Well, possibly multiple ships.  But what makes this one particular ship exciting is that it carries all of our food for the next two weeks.


The availability of food isn’t something that you really think about in the Unites States.  I know there comes a point in every semester when all you want is a home-cooked meal, but still, the SUB exists so at least the food is there and you have the opportunity to eat it.  This isn’t to say that we go hungry here on South Caicos at the CMRS – just that fresh food is less readily available than some places in the world (although certainly more readily available than others).  Depending on a floating piece of metal with some boxes on it showing up every so often in your backyard is rather different than popping over to Safeway because you need your own personal jar of peanut butter.

In 2008, Hurricane Ike slammed into the Turks and Caicos Islands, severely damaging or destroying a third of the buildings on South Caicos and temporarily preventing the food ship delivery.  Now, five years later, a lot of the buildings still haven’t been fixed – at East Bay, a favorite beach bonfire site near the Center, the remnants of a hotel development are scattered around the sand and pine trees.  On any given visit, if it weren’t for the number of pine needles on top of the piles of lumber and insulating materials, the hurricane could have happened last week and we could be out surveying the damage for the first time on empty stomachs.

Basically, the ability to walk to the Met and take as many free cheese samples as your conscience will allow (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything) is a luxury.  Which sounds a bit cliché.  You don’t realize how different things are in other places until they are suddenly made relevant to you – like eating rice and cabbage for the fifth time in as many days while watching rusty shipping containers come trundling towards you over the algal plains and patch reefs of the Caicos Bank.

Fun fact: lionfish create jets of water to orient their prey for headfirst consumption.


Back in September, we were taken to a site called Admiral’s Aquarium for our first snorkel of the semester.  There wasn’t much of a current, but there was more than we were used to, and the swell was pretty big – as in every time you lifted your head to try and listen to the intern showing you around, you got a face full of water.  My first night snorkel here was at a site called Shark Alley, which is really quite spectacular, except that we had no idea what we were doing and ended up on a shallow shelf of coral, turning it into a mind game that went along the lines of “if I suck my stomach in enough I won’t hit those corals.”  My bazillionth snorkel here had both big swells and shallow reef – and I was carrying a laboratory.

This is the usual amount of scuba gear - bulky, yes?  Now add several additional pieces of equipment.  Carabiners are basically the most useful thing ever.  (Side note - look closely for a shout-out to UPS Crew.)

Okay, not quite, but it was our second time collecting data for directed research and we hadn’t gotten used to the equipment yet.  Directed research projects started last week, and the resource management professor and three other students and I are studying the proliferation of the invasive lionfish, Pterois volitans, at various sites near South Caicos.  When we go out for a research dives or snorkels, we carry underwater slates, pencils, transect tapes, clip weights for the end of the transect tapes, and plastic T-bars with centimeter increments.

Besides the fact that it means I get to dive between four and eleven times a week, this is a fascinating and relevant research project because it involves the world’s most ecologically-harmful marine invasion ever.  You know the stereotypical look-at-this-reef-and-all-the-pretty-fish-isn’t-nature-amazing type of picture?  A lionfish will eat pretty much every single fish in that picture as long as it can open its mouth wide enough.  They eat up to 6% of their body weight per day (even as a rower, I can’t eat nine pounds of food a day); not only that, but native reef fishes haven’t figured out an effective defense mechanism to avoid their predation, and the only fish that eat them are the hugely-overfished grouper.  Also, they’re venomous.

The environmental morals of the story: don’t let your cool aquarium fish out into the ocean because they will take over everything, and use reusable water bottles instead of buying those single-use plastic ones.  That latter part was absolutely unrelated to lionfish, just something I thought I’d throw in there after a recent lecture on pollution and marine debris (remember that campaign on campus last spring with the plastic jellyfish hanging in the SUB?).  I’ll get down from my soapbox now.