An Obsession of Olympic Proportions

There’s no other way to say this: I have an obsession with the Olympic Games. This obsession is no secret, nor does it come with shame or disgrace. I closely follow every host city bidding process for the upcoming and yet unannounced Olympiad. I know the difference between the Olympic Anthem and the Olympic Hymn and the Olympic Fanfare, and all of them give me chills every time my ears are graced by their tunes. I openly cry at the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, for the anticipation and secretiveness of its lighting overwhelm me, and its symbolism and power as a beacon for world unity inspire me more than I could ever put into words. I tear up at medal ceremonies when athletes display such pride for their successes and for their country. I spend days researching athletes and teams from my favorite countries, plus those dark horse athletes whose stories intrigue me. I openly am bored by and have negative opinions of most popular American sports, but I could and do watch seemingly endless hours of Olympic competition no matter the sport – and I actually read the sports section of the Globe and the Times for these rare occasions. For seventeen days every two years, my friends and family know that if they want to see me, they’ll have to be watching the Olympics with me, or at least discussing them in depth as they allow my squeals of excitement and my incoherent phrases of love for the Games.

Then there’s the whole international aspect. I am a loud and proud international relations student and nerd, and the Olympics are on the same level of admiration and awe for me as the United Nations and similar international organizations. To think that the alphabet defines your order during the Parade of Nations at the Opening Ceremony, not your permanent seat on the Security Council or your oil fields or your powerful army. To think that differences of religion, ethnicity, politics, and class are social constructs that for seventeen days come second to athleticism and physical ability, rather than first and dominant over daily human interaction and existence.

People roll their eyes at my idealism and sentimentality, saying that the Olympics have become nothing more than a gimmick for sponsors to gain customers and for nations to build some fleeting patriotism. They say that the unity inspired by the Olympics is nominal at best and just sentimental banter that is quickly forgotten in times of global disagreement. Humans will be humans, they say, for just as there will be another Olympics two years from now and then another and another, there will be wars and conflict.

Surely, there is merit to this argument. No one is perfect, everything is unfortunately political, and money and economics have penetrated our lives more than ever before. But that’s why the Olympics are so perfect: they allow us to accept these things as reality, and from there we can begin to look past differences to find unity. Your muscles don’t care about your country or region of the world, nor does your heart or legs or arms know the difference between ethnicities or religions. Strength against strength, stamina against stamina, will power against will power are all that matter in sport. What better way to celebrate our humanity than to bring together thousands of athletes to one city to compete for medals and glory that have no real dependence on your skin color or faith or education or identity, but rather medals and glory that celebrate what you can achieve?! Of course, these athletes represent nations and they may be inspired by succeeding for their country, but they are humans first and countrymen second. The Olympics shows us this more than any other event in the world.

Call me naïve or far-fetched or even wrong, but at the end of the day I’m a passionate global citizen seeking hope and inspiration for my generation. I find that hope every time I think of the thirty Olympiads of the past and present, and the dozens of Olympiads to come. Idealism comes to life through the Olympics, and whether it’s London 2012 or Sochi 2014 or Rio 2016 or PyeongChang 2018, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Not All That’s Left

Yesterday morning, I picked up my white Wednesday BU Orientation shirt from the floor of my room. I threw it across the room on to my laundry pile, but not without noticing a unique fragrance. I picked up the shirt from the pile and instantly smelled a mix of colognes and perfumes that I didn’t recognize. It then hit me that this was the shirt I wore to the vigil for those who passed away in New Zealand, and it must be the fragrances of all those I encountered that day. This shirt found comfort in the hugging (and apparently fragrant) arms of dozens of people and found solace in a community of dear friends who loved Austin Brashears. I then found my Nantucket red shorts on my floor, shorts I purposefully wore to the vigil since Austin and I wore our matching shorts proudly together each Wednesday last summer. These two material items now had a different meaning, and I couldn’t help but think of more things that would now take on another meaning.

There’s the white BU hat that a few of the Orientation Student Advisor guys wore on our self-proclaimed White Hat Wednesdays, a hat I bought with Austin. There’s the Martha’s Vineyard tank top that eight of us, including Austin, bought together to remember one of the best weekends of our lives. There are the red Orientation polos, which now symbolize a family that supported each other through our loss of Austin. Eventually I forced myself to stop, for it hurt too much to think of all that was left of my friendship with Austin. But then I took a breath, and some remaining optimistic fiber of my being caused me to rethink. Certainly, these things were just physical, but there’s so much more beyond them. This is not all that’s left.

There are the numerous life chats Austin and I would have in my apartment last summer, chats that would go on for hours and chats that defined the depth of our friendship. There are the glares Tori and I gave him when he said he wanted to bring that crazy gray rat tail back. There’s the conversation that basically forced him to get a Twitter, even if he wouldn’t admit it. There’s the swimming in Vineyard Haven, and there’s the interesting nights and outings of my birthday weekend. There’s the aggressive games of Monopoly, Risk, and Ninja that he always seemed to win. There’s the advice given to each other from thousands of miles away across continents these past two semesters, the Skype chats, the recollection of stories of our deepest thoughts and hardest challenges abroad. There will always be those three hours he spent with me after my return to BU from Geneva and before he left for home and then New Zealand, an incredible few hours that turned out to be our last together.

These are timeless. They had an impact on me then, and they have a greater impact on me now. Austin was a gem of a human being. He was a gregarious, life-loving, passionate individual who managed to fit so much friendship and compassion into one contagious smile. He had a depth of character and intelligence that are rarely paired together, and we understood each other’s pasts, present, and future. He is gone and gosh does it hurt so much to accept that, and it may never get easier. But I loved him as a friend and brother, and he loved me back in the same way – and that will never die.

So now we must wake up each day, show gratitude to those we love, and live on with the burning passion that Austin exuded from every action and smile. We can live on to make him proud, for “when it gets dark enough, you can see the stars.”

La vie en rose, to be continued…

In the movie Sabrina, Audrey Hepburn (in the original black-and-white version with Humphrey Bogart) moves to Paris for a year to take cooking classes in the hopes of escaping her unhappy life in America and to distance herself from the love of her life that barely recognizes her existence. She seeks to find herself and discover who she really is at the deepest level (quintessence) and learns to love life and see beauty in all things (joie de vivre). She writes a letter to her father in America telling him of her neighborhood in Paris, particularly of a neighbor who plays La Vie en Rose every night at a certain time, without fail. The song becomes a symbol of her transformation, her new-found happiness, and her life-changing experience in Paris.

I grew up watching Sabrina, fell in love with Paris because of it, and La Vie en Rose became my symbol and motif for my own time in Europe (dreams came true when I finally heard it played on a violin in the Paris metro – epic moment in my life). However, I did not come to Europe to escape anything or anyone, nor was I unhappy and needing to run away. I came to Europe for a transformation, for a life-changing experience, and for my pursuit of quintessence and joie de vivre. All of these things happened, and I couldn’t be happier.

I return to America not a new man, but a different and changed one. I leave here with a new appreciation for food, art, fashion, and the general beauty of life and humanity. I leave with a new understanding of the world and with a reaffirmed love of international relations and my future career field. I leave Europe more motivated, passionate, spontaneous, and self-assured, but of course still hopelessly romantic, sentimental, and perfectionist. I also leave Europe with more questions than ever, questions of my future, my role in the world, and how I’ll bring this European lifestyle to America – but I know that all things will work out with a mix of planning, intuition, risk-taking, and hard work. And surprise, for the first time in my life I am comfortable with change. I’m okay with admitting that change is good and freeing and exciting, even if it continues to scare me just a little bit.

America does not have Paris and everything that city has come to mean to me. It does not have London, or Rome, or little Swiss villages with views of the mammoth Alps alongside cows and sheep with bells around their necks. America does not have the culinary masters of Europe, nor does it have swans in every lake and the most beautiful parks in the world or fountains on every street corner. America does not have a city essentially dedicated to international affairs, nor does it have so many cultures and languages crammed into a small continent that give so much excitement to an ordinary day.

But America does have Boston. It has Washington, DC., and Acadia and Bar Harbor and New York (as overrated as that city might be). It has the White Mountains and the Berkshires, quaint and beautiful in their simplicity. It has Cambridge and Brookline, and my home town of Haverhill and the Merrimack Valley. America has my grandmother’s New Hampshire farm and apple orchard. America’s streets, towns, and cities might not be full of fountains or bistros or epic statues, but they are full of my favorite restaurants in the world and parks where I retreat to and museums that inspire me and bookstores that enthrall me. They are full of familiar faces of people I know and love, people who mean the world to me and define my life at every step and turn. They are full of history – my history – and the magnetic comforts of home, and Europe will never have such a priceless thing as that.

To America: please be gentle as I return, for it’ll take some time readjusting. To Europe: see you soon and thank you for changing my life in the best of ways. No words can really sum up my experience here, but I leave you as if we are old friends. To be continued, Europe. To be continued.

Things I Will Miss

1)      The people in the program. We’ve shared an experience that no one but the forty-eight of us will ever quite understand, and I’ve made some amazing, life-long friends.

2)      The international vibe and atmosphere of Geneva. This past semester, my life has been dedicated to soaking in new cultures and investing myself in the IR world here, so leaving behind that global environment will be difficult.

3)      Traveling. In less than the time it takes for a bus to get from Boston to New York City, I could take the TGV to Paris or fly to London or Rome (which I’ve successfully done) or various other countries with different cultures, currencies, lifestyles, politics, and so much more. It will be nice to return to lazy weekends in Boston, but nothing can compare to jet (or train) setting across Europe.

4)      Paris.

5)      Experiencing something new every day. This could be something from my internship, or a new French idiom, or a new aspect of Swiss/European culture, or a new section of Geneva that I have yet to experience.

6)      Legally drinking. By this I do not mean binging, as everyone assumes Americans do when they get to Europe, but I mean good wine with dinner, exploring vineyards and then tasting new wines from that same vine you just touched, and being treated as an adult. I’ll be returning to a place where I am trusted to drive all sorts of vehicles, vote for my leaders, join the military, buy and use a gun (as much as I disagree with certain aspects of this point), and contribute to society….but not drink.

7)      European fashion, classiness, and quality. Beauty is a way of life here, from your food to your clothing to your city, and this lifestyle is something I hope to bring back to my American life.

8 )   London.

9)   Rome.

10)   European parks. We just can’t compete in the US.

11)   European cities in general. They’re old and beautiful and full of cobblestones and fountains and have so much character and personality. No coincidence that my favorite parts of cities (Beacon Hill in Boston, Georgetown in DC) are the oldest and most quintessential areas.

12)   Paris.

13)   The French and Swiss Alps. The White Mountains of New Hampshire will always have my heart, but the Alps take my love of mountains to a new level.

14)   Did I mention Paris, and the magic that comes alive in that city, and the perfect nine days I’ve spent there?

15)   Europe, with all of its glory, history (good or bad), hidden treasures, politics, opportunities. It sounds weird to say but it’s like Europe is a new friend that I’ve come to love in a short amount of time and learned so much about, but I know that there is so much more under the surface. America remains and will always be the best friend, to continue this lame metaphor, but Europe is new, exciting, and refreshing, and I will dearly miss it.

Geneva, by the Numbers

Days: 103

Weeks: 15

Months: 3.5ish

Swiss cities visited: 13 – Bern, Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, Grutschalp, Murren, Gimmelwald, Oberhofen, Neuchatel, Russin, Lavaux, Lausanne, Broc, and Gruyeres

Countries visited: 5 – Switzerland (obviously), France (Paris three times, Giverny, Chamonix and Mont Blanc, Yvoire, Mont Saleve) , United Kingdom (London), Italy (Rome), and Vatican City (yes, technically it’s own city-state)

International organizations visited or interacted with (in addition to Hillary Clinton, who I’m hearing speak at the UN tomorrow): United Nations Office at Geneva(UNOG), UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), World Trade Organization (WTO), World Health Organization (WHO), International Labor Organization (ILO), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), US Permanent Mission to the UN, Swiss Permanent Mission to theUN, UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE),  the Geneva Initiative, the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform, Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), IHEID’s Global Health Centre, Geneva International Model United Nations, and the Centre for Socio-Eco-Nomic Development (CSEND)

Classes: 3

Internship: 1

Chocolate bars consumed: dozens, yet never enough

Currencies used: 4 – US dollars, Swiss francs,the euro, and British pound sterling

Pictures taken: thousands

Memories made and perspectives gained: endless

Things I Will Not Miss

As my the end of my time here in Europe approaches, here’s a list of some of the things I won’t miss upon my return to the US:

1)      Being defined as American. To the numerous Europeans who ask questions and raise their eyebrows when they realize that I’m American: yes, I am fully aware that Obama is the President – I went to one of his campaign events even though I was too young to vote. No, I do not agree with the Tea Party that has grabbed media attention across the world. Sure, the Occupy movements are very interesting, but believe it or not, I do not necessarily agree with every aspect simply because I’m a young person and no, my friends have not left school to join the movement – we have more sense than that and we can still consider ourselves passionate for causes we believe in. Yes, I am very lucky to have this amazing abroad opportunity and I do appreciate it. Yes, it is possible to still love your country even if it often makes bad decisions or gives off bad impressions.

2)      Living a double life of sorts, meaning that when you’re abroad you try your best to stay up-to-date with friends and family back home while you’re attempting to fully embrace your new life away from those friends and family

3)      Miserable internet across the continent. Anyone who has attempted to video chat with me has experienced my frustrations.

4)      Excessively expensive prices for all things in Geneva, especially restaurants

5)      Aggressive European coffee and the lack of bagels

6)      Exchange rates and having to use multiple currencies

7)      Red light districts, for so many reasons ranging from probable human trafficking to having people sniff you as you walk past them.

8)      240 Hz power plugs, even if the Swiss plugs are better looking than their American counterparts.

9)      Not always understanding everything going on around me. Sure, I have a good handle on French and have used it a lot here, but there are just some street signs or conversations or mannerisms that just don’t make sense without further explanation, and that lost feeling is never an enjoyable experience.

10)   Being away from friends and family, the people who keep me sane and make my life amazing.

11)   Living with a set number of people. I love the people here and the atmosphere of the residence, but after this summer (basically associating with 70 or so summer leadership staff) and then 48 on this semester program, I’m ready for the monstrosity of BU’s student population and the ever-changing faces that come with that size.

I’m Angry

I’m angry. The longer I live in Geneva, the angrier I get. Why am I angry, you ask? Follow my train of thought. Every day at my internship, I do research for my long-term project and report on how poverty reduction is affected by the environment. I’m focusing on twelve countries in Africa, all deemed Least Developed Countries by the international community (yes, we have a definition for LDCs and this definition greatly effects a county’s foreign policy and even aid eligibility). I read about the lack of water sanitation leading to deadly diseases that kill more children than any other cause of death in the world. I read about depressing child and maternal mortality rates. I read about resource pillaging, illiteracy, food insecurity, destitute refugees, and more.

Then at 6pm I walk home to my cozy, warm, safe dorm, where I cook dinner and spend time with friends. On this walk home, I pass by probably a dozen different Swiss banks, all holding at least millions of francs in assets. I walk by Chanel, Hermes, and Patek Phillipe, the maker of superior Swiss watches that sell for millions of francs. The cars that pass me are most likely Porsches, Bentleys, Audis, BMWs – take your pick of expensive cars. The buses for public transportation and even the taxis are Mercedes.

I get even more angry when I think about one of my visits to the Palais des Nations, the home of the UN in Geneva. One of the defining artistic features of the building is an interesting and unique ceiling crafted by a Spanish artist and donated by the Spanish government, meant to look like bottom of the sea, but flipped upside down. The location of this ceiling? The main chamber of the Human Rights Council. The cost of this ceiling? $20 million. I repeat: artwork, on a ceiling, in the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, which cost $20 million.

Now tell me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there something wrong with this picture?! That $20 million could have built dozens of new schools across Africa or hundreds of water sanitation projects that could’ve saved lives. Innocent children are being recruited to be child soldiers across the world because they have no other option to survive, and some Swiss banker is honking the horn of his Porsche because he’s stuck in traffic on his way home from such a long, hard day at work. An unemployed mother of five spent close to four hours fetching water for her family for the day, and here I am wondering what I should bring to read for my three hour, first class TGV train ride to Paris next weekend.

I realize that things are relative, that the world has had the filthy rich and the terribly poor for as long as we’ve had written history. I understand our materialistic, Western lifestyles are part of the system that enable tax revenues that can be used for foreign aid. And I certainly am not pointing fingers since I can be just as materialistic and self-centered as any Swiss banker, hence why part of my anger is that I myself am part of the problem. I do not write this to make anyone feel guilty, nor do I pose any solutions, as much as I wish I had all the answers, plus I hate being yet another American trying to change the world without any real direction or solutions (cough…Occupy Wall Street…cough). I simply write to express frustrations, to call to mind the inequalities of the world around us, to question the priorities of our lives.

Call me ignorant, call me idealistic, call me naieve, even call me communist or socialist or whatever else you want. I don’t care, because all I want to do is help that child soldier, help that mother get water for her kids, and I won’t stop until I do.

My Think Book

If you were to find me anywhere around Europe, or even Boston, for that matter, I have no doubt you would find me with a little red notebook in hand. Often confused for a Swiss or Portuguese passport, this little red book (no, not the same as Mao’s little red book) is what I like to call my think book. I have it on me at all times and it has become synonymous with my daily life in Europe. I started carrying around a little book in second semester of freshmen year in an attempt to keep better track of a hectic life, and the practice quickly evolved into a habit that I cherish and love.

In many ways, my think book defines me. It contains my musings on life, observations of the world around me, to-do lists that often set the tone for any given day, notes from meetings or visits to international organizations, a list of goals for the semester, and some of my favorite quotes that pertain to quintessence (my theme this year). It represents my view that every day and every moment should be taken advantage of, reflected upon, and cherished. When I write down things or thoughts occurring in the present, I ensure that I can look back on the past but also stay motivated and find direction for the future. My think book is a snapshot of all things Danny Bradley, and I can’t imagine my experience here, or my life in general, without its constant presence in my back pocket.

Here are some things I’ve written that you’d find, taken word-for-word from random pages:

“Chi non risica, non rosica” – “Qui ne tente rien, n’a rien” – “He who risks nothing, has nothing”

“N’imitez rien, ni personne. Un lion qui copie un lion devient un singe” – Victor Hugo (meaning “Imitate nothing or no one. A lion who copies a lion becomes a monkey.”

Goal 4: Find a favorite tree, park, bench, and coffee shop.

Goal 7: Establish new, genuine friendships while staying closely connected to old friends

Goal 8: Stay healthy, yet indulge.

Goal 14: Discover a favorite wine, and explore red wine.

Goal 15: Embrace quintessence, joie de vivre, and my motto – and wake up happy every day.

I just watched the sun rise over France with a view of the Seine…what is my life?!

Woman in Thunersee after hearing that we think Switzerland is perfect: “Why not be perfect? Why shouldn’t it be perfect?” – perfectionists unite

Piece of paper found in Shakespeare and Company, Paris: “I love you for the white dove that you are! No matter how high you soar or how low you glide, I will continue to fly by you. And if you have decided that you want to be a robin or maybe a beautiful blue jay, that’s okay! Because I’ve got some red and blue paint. So we can make your dreams come true.”

Also from Shakespeare and Company, Paris : “Take care of the banana tree, and the banana tree will take care of you.”

Realizing you don’t remember what your American cell phone looks like….

“Here, they don’t live to work; they work to live”

Grad school in Paris?

Find Shedrub Choekhor Ling and meditate there.

So there’s a little insight into the randomness of the think book. Friends in the program have come to understand my think book and what it means to me, and some have even started think book versions of their own. Try it, and you might just start appreciating the little things that make every day amazing.

Positive Detachment in the Emerald City

When I embarked on this abroad experience, the word and concept of “detachment” loomed over me for quite some time. Would I have a hard time with the detachment from Boston and Massachusetts, from friends and family, from the life I love and am comfortable with? The overall answer has been no, the detachment has not been difficult. I often miss home and the people there, for sure. However, the detachment has been refreshing and interesting to experience, especially as someone so attached to Boston and everything that comes with it.

You know you’re detached if you’ve forgotten what the screen and buttons of your American phone look like, and you avoid your Swiss phone like it’s a treacherous fiend that burdens you with annoyingness. I never feel pressured to constantly check my phone like I do in the US. Sure, my friends and I in the program will text or call from time to time, but that’s nothing compared to my over-connectivity in the US. To stay in touch with friends and family, Skype or some form of video chats have become the only option, but the internet is so terrible in this building that you have to be super committed to the conversation to make it work out. Facebook is always a help, but long messages take time and effort no matter how much you love a friend. I’ve learned that the quality of an interaction is much better than the quantity, and until I get back to the US, I’ll cherish this detachment.

The best part of the detachment, and I dare to say this, has been to get away from BU. I will be the first person to share my love of BU and rant about it for hours on end, but gosh is it great to be away from the politics that often seem to take over the University. It’s been nice to escape it all and just be in Europe with no commitments other than my own development and growth here, rather than some most likely unnecessary networking event that is sure to determine my future success or some student group event that claims to be the event of the year but whose funding would most likely be better spent on a CSC project. I digress, and I love these types of events in any given semester, but these few months have none of that and I love it.

But there are exceptions to my appreciation of detachment: Geneva, while being the epicenter of international affairs and the home of impactful organizations, is certainly detached from the world it is trying to change and help. Geneva is an emerald city of sorts, a place where the policies are debated and made but definitely detached from the world it is trying to help. My best analogy would be that Washington, DC is to America as Geneva is to the world. The best minds and thinkers are here, but do the politicians and lobbies in Washington really know how to help the millions of people outside the city limits? Do the diplomats and researchers in Geneva understand the billions of people affected by their policies? I have yet to learn that about this place.

Just more thoughts and observations from the young and maybe naïve American idealist faced with the European emerald city, but somehow still loving every moment of it.

Geneva – the Stepford of Europe

Welcome to Geneva, Switzerland – the Stepford of Europe, but maybe not so worthy of a creepy movie. No, there aren’t women controlled by computer programs, but there are plenty of other things that keep bringing the thought of Stepford to my mind.

Geneva is perfectly clean and pristine. The streets seem to be washed once a week, and recycling is a way of life. You can walk down its streets and feel like you’re in France, but another street could be Germany, and yet another could be Italy. It has a beautiful yet typical European Vieille Ville (Old Town), including water fountains and tiny cobblestone streets and an old cathedral and some former home of some European philosopher or writer (Jean Jacques Rousseau and John Calvin, in Geneva’s case).

Everyone is well-dressed, professional, and thin; all are calm, reserved, and on-time to any event or meeting no matter the situation.  On top of individual timeliness, every tram, bus, boat, or plane is on time as well, and your carefully timed-out day is thrown off if the public transportation system fails you in any way. Most people are working to save the world, and they’re informed on every international issue and most likely speak three languages or more. You greet everyone you see on the streets, stranger or friend, and there is no tolerance for rowdiness or seemingly spontaneous behavior in public. Of course, this last point excludes public displays of affection, which plague the single people across Europe but are acceptable in all venues and all times of day. Everything is unnecessarily expensive, but no complaints are made by citizens because if you base your life in Geneva, you can certainly afford to live here. Because of all of these mindsets, nightlife can be timid compared to Madrid, London, or Paris, but that’s fine because chances are that you have some conference, flight, or dinner scheduled the next day for which you have to be prepared (to the frustration of the eager American students here).

Essentially, I’m living in the perfect little Swiss city that embodies Europe. As much as this post might give a sarcastic or bitter tone, I realize more and more that I dearly love this little city. The opportunities here for IR are second to none, and it has jumpstarted my IR life and will always represent my first adventurous trip out of the comfort of the United States.

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