Author: Katie Jeddeloh

International night risks cultural tourism

International Night is a longstanding St. Olaf tradition, now in its 51st year. Students from a variety of countries around the world come together to showcase and celebrate their countries of origin through a variety of exciting performances including dance, song and spoken word.

While it is always an impressive show, and certainly has the potential to foster appreciation of other cultures, we must also consider some of the political nuances involved in such an event. When students from the United States attend International Night without a sense of mutual empathy and a degree of self-awareness, we risk reducing cultures to something consumable and entertaining while ignoring the larger political implications.

Please note, this is not to say that International Night is inherently bad or that we shouldn’t do it, but rather, I would ask that students recognize the framework around which the majority of us attend this event. For example, I might start with the name of the event itself: International Night. The labeling of non-U.S. countries as “international” centers the United States as a default, and people not from this country are automatically relegated to a kind of “other” status. The idea that non-U.S. countries are “international” is part of a larger hegemonic discourse that privileges the United States and its citizens (note: citizens, not residents or undocumented folks) over other places in the world. We might consider how we attend this event, already expecting something other than what we know, and how this “othering” can become dehumanizing.

Furthermore, the idea that students can somehow access and understand other cultures simply through one night of curated performance is absurd. Even the fact that it needs a specific day has some tokenizing connotations; if this is the one International Night, the implication is that all other nights focus on United States culture. We risk becoming objectifying cultural tourists when we believe that we are more worldly by having the world’s brown people dance for us one time. International Night is primarily about entertainment rather than a thorough, thoughtful, empathetic educational experience, and it is dangerous to conflate the two.

Again, this is not to say International Night is a bad thing. It’s wonderful to enjoy and learn about some aspects of other countries’ cultures, and International Night offers a helpful and accessible way to do so. However, the conversation cannot begin and end with this one event.

True cultural empathy and appreciation is not a one-night-a-year sort of thing. Working to better understand your peers and your relationship to them must be a sustained process, an ongoing project rather than a brief, passive glimpse into what we have deemed “international.” It does not and cannot stop at mere consumption and entertainment.

American St. Olaf students who attend International Night might consider the event a useful gateway into appreciating and respecting the traditions and experiences of other countries. It can be a way to discover cultural production (music, dance, writing) with which you weren’t previously familiar, prompting you to explore and learn more in your free time. It can begin to elicit more worldly thinking in considering how some of our countries of origin afford us great privilege, and others do not.

International Night can serve as the impetus to this kind of critical global thinking, but the event itself cannot be the sole method of bringing acute cultural awareness.

I would encourage Oles who attend International Night to do so, but to do so with an awareness of your position in the global society. Consider where you were born, where and how you were socialized and how all of this creates a particular worldview. International Night has the potential to be celebratory rather than objectifying, but this distinction depends on how each of us approaches and interprets it.

Katie Jeddeloh ’18 (jeddel1@stolaf.edu) is from Centennial, Colo. She majors in English.

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St. Olaf Sentiments: Northfield

I have recently taken up the nearly indefensible claim that Northfield, Minn. is the greatest place on earth.

I’m writing from my study abroad program in Aberdeen, Scotland, and, somehow, when I talk about my home university’s primo locale, people aren’t quite sold on Northfield. No matter how much I extol the glory of a $9 Pause pizza delivered to your door in sub-zero temperatures, they seem to only hear the latter part of that particular statement. I describe the gorgeous autumn leaves, the quaint downtown, the cookie-scented Malt-O-Meal air, and still, Scottish folks get hung up on Northfield’s lack of centuries-old castles.

The point is this: though I’m enjoying my semester, my time spent in Scotland and at the University of Aberdeen has renewed my appreciation for St. Olaf.

There’s just something about it, I guess. Northfield has a distinct charm that, for me, is yet unrivaled. I’ve had an incredible time traveling, seeing Edinburgh, London, Amsterdam and more, but part of me keeps coming back to St. Olaf in my mind. Admittedly, it’s pretty unexpected; I thought that I’d fall in love with every city I visit, never wanting to return to the States. But, every coffee shop I visit just isn’t as good as Blue Mondays and no chicken tenders have even challenged those of The Cage.

Also, the cultural differences can be staggering, especially academically. While St. Olaf students get one day off to prepare for finals, Aberdeen students get a full week. Professors have a singular office hour, and, perhaps most bizarre of all, the library is only open until 8 p.m.

Oles. Can you imagine the riots (seriously, the RIOTS) if Rolvaag closed at 8 p.m.?

However, St. Olaf has followed me here in ways that are unexpectedly rewarding. I found myself enthralled in the National Gallery in London, where all of my half-forgotten Great Con knowledge rose up in me and overflowed as I recognized paintings I’d studied and written about. I wandered through the Portrait Gallery, reminiscing on Karen Marsalek’s Renaissance Literature course, seeing the faces of all the poets, playwrights and politicians we learned about. It’s truly thrilling to watch your education come to life.

And this, I think, is why I’ve been so homesick for the Hill. I can go anywhere in the world – tour museums, hike around isles, and still the connection to St. Olaf is truer each day. I have learned quite a lot from the professors and peers in my life that is transferrable to living abroad.

For instance, I couldn’t imagine navigating discussions of international politics here without first having those conversations with my politically-minded friends back home. I feel lucky to be an international writing tutor at St. Olaf, and sometimes I’ll go over papers with my friends here who speak English as a second language. St. Olaf manages to infiltrate my life in Scotland in seemingly minute but integral ways, making me all the better in the process.

So, Northfield may not have historical castles, a vibrant night life, or a lower drinking age. It’s not a cultural, political, or social hub. In all likelihood, it’s not the greatest place on earth. But, my life there has made my experience abroad a more colorful one because of the friends and professors I’ve had, and that, I know, is something you can’t dispute.

jeddel1@stolaf.edu

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Fifty state model ignores capitalistic influence

Some economic scholars are currently pro- jecting a shift from the present United States system composed of 50 states towards a system that would emphasize economic distinctions between regions and large cities instead of state lines.

Countries in Asia and Western Europe are determining how to allocate subsidies and foster connections based on megacity clusters with massive populations and economic output. For example, China’s central government is now centering itself around various city hubs such as Shanghai and Beijing to develop infrastructure instead of around traditional provinces as it has for centuries.

One writer calls the current states system antiquated and argues that the way in which we currently allocate federal funds to states and the way in which we elect federal politicians do not necessarily reflect the ways in which our states function economically. He argues that a better way to organize ourselves politically would be to focus on the major hubs of economic activity, such as Los Angeles, New York City or Chicago, and work on building infrastructure between these megacities in order to further economic prosperity. The government could encourage this by improving supply chains and tele- communications between these megacities and also reducing the discrepancies in policy between them by eliminating state lines.

The emphasis on megacities would lead to a reconstructed map of the United States that divides the country into super regions based on what each area produces and the volume of its manufacturing. Examples of super- regions might include the Inland West, the Great Northeast and the Gulf Coast.

While this may seem like a radical proposition, in many ways, we are already performing these claims in practice. The United States straddles the dichotomy of capitalism and democracy, and often our everyday life is shaped more so by fluctuations in the eco- nomic system than by the governing body itself. As a natural reaction to large popula- tions and resultant high economic output, the megacities and regions described have already surfaced without any assistance from the federal government.

Furthermore, the development of these regions might illustrate simply how arbitrary state lines have always been. Of course, political differences between states – even states in the same region – can be distinct. For example, we might consider the differences in left leaning Minnesota and right-leaning Wisconsin, leading us to ask what specifically divides these two so much when they are reasonably similar economically and culturally. One might consider that these political differences have come out of the arbitrary drawing of state lines, and the regional model could potentially erase these differences. We could compare Minneapolis and Madison instead of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Such a comparison could be helpful in understanding United States politics and would better reflect the interests of citizens.

However, while it may be more politically and economically transparent to divide the United States into megacity hubs rather than states, such a change might bolster gentrification and inequality as the differences in large cities and small cities or towns become more pronounced. Areas with less economic influence would flounder while already flourishing areas would flourish, potentially creating spaces for extreme poverty and extreme wealth. Additionally, some cities or regions could potentially be privileged over others for various reasons (for instance, a military industrial complex in the Great Plains region), leading to hegemonic regions or megacities. The United States could suffer if one or two areas monopolize the country’s capital and acquire more power than other regions. However, some might argue that this is already the case because of the capitalist system, and it’s better to lean into it than shy away.

Overall, there are benefits and drawbacks to dividing the United States based on its economic megacities and manufacturing regions. In some ways, it simply acknowledges what is already happening and will continue to happen. Yet, endorsing this by building infrastructure around it may perpetuate inequality and the already present flaws in the capitalist system. In any case, the mere discussion of dividing the United States in this manner illustrates to me the extreme nature of capitalism and the ways in which we must attempt to reconcile them with our political reality.

Katie Jeddeloh ’18 (jeddel1@stolaf.edu) is from Centennial, Colo. She majors in English and women’s and gender studies.

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Idealized “van life” obscures real poverty

Recently, various list-article websites such as Buzzfeed have begun a trend centered around Instagram photos of people living in vans and traveling around the world for fun. These articles portray life in a van as an escape from modern pressures and expensive city life. The pictures portray this lifestyle as an exciting adventure showcased by young, attractive couples, taking this endeavor on together.

Because articles on van life are often accompanied by Instagram pictures from the road, I would think it is a safe assumption that the majority of the people taking part in such ventures are those that can, at least, afford a smartphone or a laptop to post their pictures.

While this kind of alternative lifestyle appears exciting and cool, romanticizing life in a van is rooted in classism. The people going on these trips are not doing it out of necessity; rather, they come from a place of financial privilege and are rejecting traditional social protocol out of choice.

In many ways, this practice invalidates the experiences of real people who are homeless or living out of vans who do not have a say in their situation. These articles idealize a living situation that, in reality, is heavily stigmatized and quite difficult for those who, because of need, are forced to live in their cars. They do this out of neccesity rather than a desire for an adventurous road life.

Furthermore, glamorizing van life reveals the hypocrisy of the ways in which we view homelessness in the United States. There is a significant difference between a list-article praising people living sexy, free lives in vans and the reality of homelessness, perpetuated by the ever-rising prices of urban living. Glamorizing road life through Instagram posts and Buzzfeed articles masks the real and present problem of homelessness and allows readers to ignore the difficulties of the homeless or, even worse, to glorify and envy them from a place of clear financial privilege.

Moreover, glorifying van life allows us to ignore the gentrification of the housing market and the failures of our capitalist system to provide reasonably priced living situations for all. These type of articles indicate that our society has a skewwed view of housing and shelter. We are now complacent enough to celebrate people who choose not to live in houses or apartments.

For many, having a permanent home is a pipe dream and the online image of van life – a sort of consciously chosen homelessness – invalidates the struggles they experience in trying to make a life for themselves. We cannot properly acknowledge and address the homelessness problem when we only see the fun, exciting side of living in a van.

While I respect the intrigue of road life and understand its appeal, we should also be critical of the ways in which we discuss this lifestyle. We can celebrate the adventure and excitement involved with alternative living, but we should also be aware of the classist structures at play in the ways we glamorize what is for many a real and difficult struggle.

Katie Jeddeloh ’18 (jeddel1@stolaf.edu) is from Centennial, Colo. She majors in English and women’s and gender studies.

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