Different and Unpredictable

Now that a few weeks have passed, I am starting to get more comfortable with my role in the hotel. Typical for China and for a hotel, every day is different and there really is no schedule or far-advance planning. Usually, my boss will tell me about meetings a couple of hours before they start. This is very unlike my rigid schedule at school and the way that I normally like to organize my life, but I am learning to enjoy the flexibility.

My boss just let me know that I am going to be accompanying her on a business trip to Lijiang and Luguhu (a 2 hour and 6 hour drive away, respectively), to research new potential sites for the hotel. I am excited to see more of China, and to help influence an important expansion decision like this!

The new intern, Xiao Kun, arrived this week. He is a rising junior at the Cornell Hospitality school. He is from China, so he speaks Chinese more fluently than English. I think he is having a faster time adjusting to the staff because there is no language barrier. I speak in Chinglish with my coworkers, but a different kind of Chinglish. Usually, Chinglish is a mixture of Chinese and English words, smushed together with a mixture of English and Chinese grammar rules. Here, my conversations alternate in Chinese and English sentences. Even in a short conversation, my coworkers and I will both alternate between Chinese and English sentences. With my boss, I usually speak English, but with the Linden Centre tour guides (in the activities department), I speak mostly Chinese because they seem less comfortable speaking English.

Despite the language barrier, I have been getting along really well with my colleagues and I enjoy spending time with them outside of work as well. Last week we went to hot pot and karaoke (my first time in China!) in the city, and we are planning a movie night with snacks at someone’s house soon.

In terms of work, I have been doing a lot of design + translation/writing to promote the 3 summer camps coming up. The summer camps are all collaborations between local schools and the Linden Centre, and are targeting a Chinese and international market. The Chinese schools are doing the bulk of the organizing, but it means that all the promotional material produced so far is in Chinese. I translated (with the heavy and careful use of my dictionary) all the details about the summer camps into English and have designed posters and informational email PDFs for all three summer camps. The translation took a particularly long time because I realized our international audience has different interests. I made sure to put more emphasis on how students will be immersed in local culture and language. We’re also going to try to add a webpage that promotes the summer camps, so I designed a mockup for that to send to the IT team.

One of the most unexpected jobs I have had this summer is recipe testing. When I casually mentioned that I love baking to Brian Linden, he immediately exclaimed that they were looking for recipes to add to the bakery they want to start. Fast forward a couple weeks, and I have been spending most afternoons in the kitchen by myself, testing different recipes I have found. It is a double challenge because Xizhou is at a very high altitude, and I have limited Western-quality baking ingredients. A Chinese kitchen has very coarse sugar, for example, instead of the finer granulated sugar I am used to. Despite the challenge, I have been having so much fun and have been trying to come up with my own recipes, inspired by local ingredients. My most recent successful recipe is a pepper-sesame shortbread which is so good that I can’t wait to make it again at home for my family. It has very interesting and complex flavors. Baking has also become a great way to talk to more of the staff; no one can say no to trying cookies!

Every day here so far has been different and unpredictable, but I am loving every minute.

Leah Sprague                                                                                                                                               The Linden Centre, China


The Beginning

Vilma Jurkute, my boss and the director of Alserkal Avenue, created a very detailed program that outlined my daily tasks for the first few weeks. It comprised primarily of general real estate and historical research of Dubai. In this crucial period before the Expo 2020, the Dubai real estate market is in a pivotal phase, especially since its slow recovery from the 2008 shock. Being dropped into the dynamic Dubai real estate landscape without much context was frustrating for me initially. And given that Dubai is a young city, existing data on these topics was either very shallow or nonexistent, fully stretching my researching abilities. Eventually I found some incredible sources, most of which were surprisingly government initiatives. In addition to this, I had to reconcile the conventional research presentation style, a research paper, with the artistic style adopted at the Avenue, a well-designed PowerPoint; it was a compromise that I appreciated. These slides are the cornerstone of my future analysis of Alserkal Group’s property portfolio.

The environment at work is casual and comfortable. I never feel as though I’m pressured to sit and work for hours on end and there’s flexibility about how and where I work as well: the office has several work spaces, including cubicles (if I really need to focus) and the A4 creative space – which is a public space in Alserkal where people all around Dubai come to work. Usually, I take a one-hour break for lunch during which I catch up with my co-workers, most of whom are a couple years older than me, well-travelled, and love to order in food (typically an over-order of Thai food to my benefit). To my misfortune, Alserkal Avenue is a seasonal business and everyone takes leave around this time of year, robbing me of people that I had gotten close to recently.

Outside of work, I have many friends, old and new, and I have my weekend adventures with them. It’s incredible to meet new people through mutual friends and then get even closer to them. Jana, a woman from my villa, took me out for dinner and introduced me to Abeer and PK, an art manager and a psychologist, respectively. At dinner, they invited me to visit Abu Dhabi with them the following day, an offer I – of course – accepted. We visited the cultural art district, the NYU art gallery, and the Grand Mosque (it was even more special given that it was Eid). With a friend from high school who’s currently working with Consensys to get Dubai onto the Ethereum platform, I went to Dubai Parks and Resorts, hitting 3 theme parks in 6 hours and ending at midnight.

Harshil Shah                                                                                                                                                  Alserkal Avenue, Dubai

Economic Realizations

I remember when I used to hear about Economists when young. I was pretty sure they dealt with money, and that their aim in life was to make people earn as much money as they could. Little did I know I was going to choose this ‘money maker’ career later in life, and that it was going to become so much more than that.

The thing about Economics is that it is a science, plain and direct. Like other types of science, an object of study is needed – and Economics happens to focus on the most complicated, convoluted and sophisticated of them all: human beings. These objects of study are not only different and unique in every way, but also constantly evolving. And one would ask, what is the best way to tackle these objects of study, these unpredictable and dynamic beings? India offers a scenario where many samples of human beings can be found, and during these past weeks, I’ve been able to test one of the best techniques to study human beings, and at the same type, arrive to some economic realizations.

Taylor and I were meant to find out if Naandi’s coffee project was guilty of murder. Not any kind of murder, but one of the most tragic kind: cultural murder. By introducing tribal farmers to the international market and by selling their organic coffee abroad, was Naandi taking them away from their Adivasi culture? Away from their native languages? From their customs? From their values of caring and sharing with each other? Away from the sense of community where neighbors know each other stories, or where children are not fatherless, but fathermany (or is it fatherplus?), because children are taken care of by everyone in the village? Was Naandi taking them towards the mainstream culture? That one where individualism triumphs and were people don’t look at each other’s eyes anymore?

Was Naandi slowly killing the Adivasi culture?

The best way to get to a verdict was by immersing ourselves in these objects of study’ usual setting: the villages. After spending some days in the office planning our visits and building quantitative analysis based on coffee procurement information, we headed to the field to start our ethnographic study (and to observe our objects of study closer).

We had already visited their working places – the coffee plantations up the hill- so now we wanted to see them in their living places. We visited two villages, where we had long conversations sitting in straw rugs by the cattle sheds. Sitaram, a Naandi employee, helped us in these endeavors by translating from English to Telugu, while other farmers helped him translate from Telugu to Oriya – the original tribal language.

Curious minds asked about the US and Peru – my home country-: about our crops, our food, and our marriage system. There were some instances where Taylor and I needed more than a few minutes to build a solid answer, especially those inquiries about race, skin color, the tax system and the education process. We spoke Spanish, French, Chinese, and even showed Sign Language, so that the farmers could hear and see how different languages can be. At the same time, Taylor and Iasked about their families, their perspective of Naandi, their new opportunities, their desires to go to school, their clothes, their food, and more.

We toured some of the houses and admired their kitchen fueled by wood and their many shelves of tin pots. While eating mango with chili powder, we continued our relentless inquiry: we asked about their Bibles, their books, and their stored food; we asked about their traditional nose rings, about their wedding celebrations, their homemade cigarettes, and about their favorite TV program.

Although we still have more work ahead, Taylor and I got an initial idea of the final verdict by observing and listening. What is more, I realized that my numerical pre-conclusions did not show the whole picture. Based on my calculation of their low average income, I expected a certain village to have no recent purchases; opposite to my pre-conclusions, this village turned out to be going through a “golden period”. Numbers had failed, while personal interaction hadn’t.

I realized that the most numerical side of Economics lies only in its name, and that the rest of it is centered in the complicated objects of study that humans are, and who are the ones that give sense to the science.

I also realized that lots of knowledge is acquired and is given through direct interaction between the scientist and the object of study, between us (although I wouldn’t call myself a scientist just yet) and the coffee farmers. Ethnography is a tool that requires the vanishing of any levels of separation, and turns the scientist into the object of study, and the object of study into the scientist. And this is the secret behind its effectiveness.

I realized this.

And that I choose my career well.

Luisa Juarez Salcedo                                                                                                                                    CASI-Naandi, India      


I absolutely love my internship! I could not possibly think of a more amazing way to spend my last summer at Penn. I’m finally getting my way around Geneva and Ferney-Voltaire, and I couldn’t love being here any more.  The working environment is spectacular;  every day there is something new to learn. If I’m not going into the office in France, I’m usually in Geneva attending conferences, discussion panels, or any other events related to health and human rights.

For the most part, I have spent the majority of my time at the United Nations Office in Geneva representing the World Medical Association. For the past two weeks my coworkers and I have attended the 35th Human Rights Council Session which has been an incredible experience. Before we attended the council, we actually worked on a contribution on the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health. Working for an organization that represents physicians, we wanted to add the physician’s perspective into the report. Together with a psychiatrist from Brazil, my fellow interns drafted the contribution for the 35th session addressing the latest ethical and human rights issues as it relates to mental health and physicians.

At the Council Session, it’s been wonderful to learn about what’s happening across the world and how nations are trying to come together and help one another. While it’s interesting witnessing diplomacy in action, we also witness the hypocrisy of nations around the globe that claim to defend human rights but are actually some of the worst offenders. Nonetheless, it’s been incredible to meet amazing people from around the world working to make it a better place for humanity. Furthermore, it has definitely made me more interested in the intersection of health and human rights.

After the Human Rights Council Session, later this week we will be volunteering for the Humanitarian Affairs Segment of the United Nations Economic and Social Council to help strengthen coordination of humanitarian efforts around the world. Then for the first half of next week we will be attending the first ever World Health Organization Forum on Alcohol, Drugs, and Addictive Behavior in order to learn from the latest initiatives in reducing the global burden of mortality and morbidity from addiction. It is such an absolute privilege to be able to attend these events with leaders in healthcare and the humanitarian sector. I still can’t believe I’m this lucky!

When I’m in the office in France, I continue to work on reviewing policies for their General Assembly next October. In order to do this project, I’ve been doing research on the latest news and studies on the policies that need to be updated. It’s been such a great learning experience to gain knowledge on the various policies that I work on including violence and health and economic crisis and health. In addition, I have still been working on the English version of their website. Even though this is a tedious task,  I am able to learn more about their latest policies and initiatives to better inform myself on medical ethics.

Danielle Guy                                                                                                                                                 World Medical Association, France

Settled In

I feel extremely settled in. My usage of Portuguese has improved; I can navigate the town very well and have learned about a lot about quiet, out of the way places in town. Travelling often, I end up excited to returning to Braga and my temporary “home.” It is especially lovely to be here in June, because it is the month of the popular saints, with parties and fairs happening in the city center almost every day. This weekend in particular has been amazing. Portugal as a whole has a very developed and loved system of folklore, and here in Braga is the largest popular fair in the country, with tens of thousands of people in the streets, popular dances, parades, concerts, children’s games, food and a generally very special atmosphere that reminds me of my childhood in a small city with the equivalent fair (biggest in Mexico).

The day to day job is still the same. I analyse the court cases, research the background, dissect the language and provide instances of when the Court is referring to culture in the argument or decision. However, this week I moved from looking at Article 8 (family and personal life cases) to Article 9 (religious rights) and have enjoyed the transition. The topics present in this article are a lot more controversial, and they clearly involve the Court’s ethics, emotion and personal feelings more. This contrast is interesting and makes me enjoy the project, seeing the connection better. My boss is pleased by my performance, which is a great motivator, especially because she is so expressive and enthusiastic, helping me see the passion in her work and mimicking it.

My coworkers are excellent. My day starts at the same time as the secretaries, who are always very pleasant, smile and seem to be enjoying themselves. The girls from Penn are great as well, we get lunch together, sometimes with the law students, and generally find ways to spend time with one another.

The environment as a whole is beginning to turn a lot quieter, as students are leaving, tests are ending and the law school turns to summer mode. There are still some seminars happening, however, and my boss invited me to one in the second week of July, one which promises to align very well with my interests. Something that I often think about is the way that my experience seeing the university here differs from how I see it at Penn. Here, I am a professional, I come and go based on my work hours and have a very different perception of the campus as compared to my experience at Penn, where I reside within the boundaries. This had made me think a lot about the transitions to adulthood, living one place (alone, with roommates, etc) and making a commute to work, after which one departs. I have enjoyed it, but definitely want a bit more university life living and spending time on a campus.

Andres Fernandez Pallares                                                                                                                            Universidad do Minho, Portugal

First Weeks

I imagine our time thus far on San Cristobal as a bright blue expanse, pocked with colorful spots. By this, I mean that our time has been decidedly calm, broken up intermittently by reminders of life in a big-picture sense, stitching together our intended work with human subjects with the constant reminder of the robust animal life around us.

The pre-departure work completed at Penn has been integral in assuring our internship-related ease in the first weeks. Our first project, a community science project engaging a group of International Baccalaureate students at San Cristobal High School, has been progressing at full-speed.  This project is mainly focused on investigating hypothesized behavioral differences between the sea lion populations in beaches which are highly disturbed by humans versus those beaches comparatively less disturbed, giving the students a chance to learn the fine details of the scientific data collection process and increasing their awareness of the potential explanatory power of such research in the Galápagos National Park. Our grasp on this protocol is essential for the efficient communication of the protocol to the students, but their understanding of the protocol is underscored by personal lifetime experience with the sea lions. They are already experts on their behaviors, and so their preexisting knowledge makes our job of explanation easier; however, the language barrier that is inevitably present still poses a welcome obstacle, combatted by our simultaneous commitment to learning each other’s languages.  El aprendizaje es un proceso duro, pero el conocimiento es hermoso.

My relationship with Maddie, the other student on this grant, is effortless. We have been friends for about a year — having traveled together here, to the Islands, with a class over winter break — and so our work together has been smooth. Further, the relationships we have established with our native coworkers are extremely amicable. The teachers in the school setting are extremely welcoming to our presence, and even though some students embody the too-cool confidence that is characteristic of teenage years (a description which evidently knows no international boundaries, but we expect them to open up soon), the majority of the students themselves seem interested and engaged in our interactions.

As far as the other project we have undertaken, an interview-based qualitative needs assessment of the people on the islands, we have been off to a slower start (as anticipated). We are beginning this assessment by learning Spanish, but also by gaining connections in different sectors of life on the islands, such as with the teachers, parents, business owners, and naturalist guides. It is important to make these connections in order to gain a rich sample of opinions in our interviews, as their opinions of what is most needed on San Cristobal, and the Galápagos moreover, will vary greatly. Two things are important to note in this assessment: In one way, many people on the island can be understandably hardened to las turistas: mostly transient visitors here for only a week or two at maximum, here to see the wildlife on trips presenting little opportunity for interaction with the human inhabitants themselves (interactions often limited by little or no knowledge of Spanish on the tourist’s side, and the same for English on the side of the Galápgueños). For this reason, some of the people are skeptical of our motives and actions. Because of this, we are determined to present ourselves in a respectful and caring manner, and, as aforementioned, with as much personal knowledge of Spanish as possible. In another way, a large portion of the people we have interacted with so far have been very friendly and open to our questions and interests, fueling our excitement about how the project will progress. We look forward to continuing our investigation in gaining insight on the opinions of the population, and comparing them to our obvious interests in conservation of la naturaleza.

Sabrina Elkassass                                                                                                                                            Galapagos Guides Association, Ecuador         

Exploring the Forest, Formosa & Iguazu

The Owl Monkey Project research site is based within a ranch called Guaycolec in Formosa, Argentina. The research site consists of forests and is surrounded by mainly grasses with some trees, horses and a ton of cows. From time to time there are gauchos (ranchers) that will pass by on horses, wearing broad hats and colorful sash.

Within the forest area of the research site, there are flooded, muddy areas that attempt to get your boots stuck. There are also mosquitos that have no regard for bugspray or human comfort. There are tucans and other colorful birds. The biggest danger at the camp and research site is snakes, one species doesn’t have a cure to its venom. As tempting as it is to walk around in sandals and air out my sweaty feet at the end of the day, I have found it much more comforting to walk around in closed toed shoes.

Almost three weeks into the summer, I have become more independent and assured while walking around the forest and collecting data. The forest is divided into transects and flagging that we navigate through using a compass. We start our days off while it’s still dark outside, I’ve gotten used to this and navigating through a dark forest. The first time I did it, I was scared of, not snakes, but any random person that might be living in the woods and awaiting someone to abduct. This, of course, is a fear based on movies and not reality. Since my first solo morning forest walk in the dark, I’ve become more assured and less scared while walking around. Over the weeks I’ve become better at finding the quite, small, owl monkeys that live high up in the trees. One time I saw a small fleck of white in the trees and knew they were there! When we haven’t been collecting behavioural data on monkeys, we’ve been exploring other parts of the ranch and setting up cameras and taking pictures with a drone. Camp life has been a lovely mix of canoeing, playing the board game Settlers of Catan, and grilling on an open fire.

On our days off we walk to the center of Formosa, a small and vibrant city. The walk to the center of town is about 45 minutes, but it passes quickly because the sidewalk has boarders of a ton of green space. Along the walk there are different exercise contraptions, playgrounds, and people playing pick up games of soccer. Last weekend was July 9th, the Independence Day of Argentina and there was a big festival in the main park. There was live music and shops and food. The shops were mainly selling leather products and mate cups. Mate is a drink that consists of a lot of leaves in a cup, with a little bit of hot water, and a straw that has a strainer at the end. I didn’t love it at first, but it has certainly grown on me. It is drunk in a way where one cup and straw is passed around a group in a very communal manner.

After the weekend another IIP student and I visited Iguazu, some of Mother Nature’s finest work. While Maddie and I explored, we set a goal to talk to at least 7 people (beyond “Hola” and a smile). This brought us to ask people about directions, where to find monkeys and even American politics. We lucked out with the weather and got some pretty amazing views!

Rebecca Composto                                                                                                                                       The Owl Monkey Project, Argentina