Category Archives: US Culture

Final observations on Europe before we get back to unicorns and wombats

cuppolaHi everyone, sorry for the lateness of this post. I was traveling back from Berlin. It is good to be back in Seattle, though I am jetlagged and look kind of like someone just punched me in both eyes. Today I realized I have lost 5 pounds, which gives me a great idea: The Vegan Balkans Diet! Basically, just become a vegan, then go to the Balkans.

Since I’m jetlagged and trying not to fall asleep until at least 9pm, I don’t know how coherent this post is going to be. Berlin, Germany was really great, except that people were kind of rude, saying things like “You do not have an account at this bank? Then no, you may not withdrawal money here” and “Stop! You can’t just try to break off a piece of the Berlin Wall at this museum!”

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Serbia, nonprofits, Breaking Bad, and veganism

Hi everyone. I am so exhausted. I don’t think I have thought this intensely for this long a period of time since, I don’t know, maybe the first season of Game of Thrones. I am now in Serbia in the city of Belgrade, some place that I never thought I would be. No one really says, “I want to go to Serbia for vacation” or “We’re going to Serbia for our honeymoon” or “Congratulations, you just won a free trip to Serbia!”

And that’s too bad, because the city is beautiful. Belgrade has been fought over in 115 wars and burned to the ground 44 times in its history by various armies. But, except for the buildings bombed by NATO during the Kosovo War in 1999, everything looks great, with shiny glass buildings standing harmoniously next to ancient architecture. I have been trying to absorb everything. There are some painful memories of the brutal atrocities committed during the tumultuous past, a significant part by the Serb army, but as a whole the country is trying to move forward with its future, a major step being joining the European Union.

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Europe’s nonprofit structure: The good, the bad, the stylish

The past few days have been intense, filled with 10 to 15 hours daily of meetings with government officials, local business leaders, education leaders, city planners, etc. The lunches and dinners are also packed with interesting stuff. In Copenhagen we toured the city by bicycle, learned about the port’s development while riding down the canal on a boat, talked with top officials of the Danish Parliment, got a briefing from an association of employers, had dinner with an industry leader in her office, toured and chatted with the publicly-financed radio and television station, rode the light rail and learned about its development, spent a night at a wine maker’s mansion and learned from him the challenges employers are facing with the inheritance tax and the high costs of hiring workers, toured a “ghetto” where many of the immigrants are living, and sat through a beautiful opera where I was struggling to stay awake after 12 hours information.

Each of those events would make a great blog post, if I had more time and weren’t so lazy. With everything being so fascinating, I didn’t think it was taking a toll on me, until one of the other fellows told me “Every morning, it looks like someone had broken into your hotel room and beat you.”

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Marshall Fellowship Day 5: Lost in Beer and Chocolate

Disclaimer: Vu is on travels in Europe with the Marshall Memorial Fellowship and writing quality, general coherence, and spelling and grammar, may be affected by Belgian beer.

Mall where I got totally lost

Mall where I got totally lost

Day 5: I just returned to my hotel in Brussels after a fun and intense day that spanned from 8am this morning to 11:30pm. So far, Brussels has been an impressive city with beautiful architecture, friendly people, environmental conscientiousness, and a vibrant energy. Really, the only thing I can complain about is the toilet paper. Due to the city’s green-focus, the toilet paper at this very nice hotel is like no other, combining the softness of sawdust with the smoothness of sandpaper.

I’ll talk more about Brussels in a minute, but first I wanted to recapture the intense last few days. Day 2, DC, had us and the European fellows visit American University for a lecture on American culture from an amazing professor, who basically said that we in the US are rallied around the verb “to do.” We focus on actions. This is why when we first meet someone, we ask them right away what they do. We focus on individual accomplishments and earned status. We hate asking for charity, and that’s why we say things like “Can I borrow a cigarette?” On the opposite end of the spectrum are cultures rallied around the verb “to be,” where relationships, group accomplishments, and ascribed status take precedence over the individuals’ actions and merits. Europe, with its long history of royal families, fall further along on that end.

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Marshall Fellowship Day 1: A Boy and His Pig

Disclaimer: Vu is traveling through Europe (Brussels, Copenhagen, Lisbon, Berlin, and Belgrade) for the next three weeks with the Marshall Memorial Fellowship and will be using this blog to reflect. Due to the intensity of the program and the amount of wine imbibed, spelling, grammar, and general quality of writing will be shamefully lacking.

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boy and pigDay 1: The program has started off pretty well. I am in DC for the first time and find the city to be pleasant. There are 14 other fellows, and they are an impressive and intimidating bunch who have accomplished a whole bunch of stuff. After our orientation and reception today, for example, this conversation took place, which I am not making up:

Me: So, what do you do?

Fellow 1: I am an elected official, and I also founded an orphanage in Kenya.

Fellow 2: What?! No way! I am an elected official too, and I have founded SEVEN orphanages in Kenya!

They laughed and started talking animatedly, forging an instant bond that only exist among people who have opened orphanages. Then they turned and asked me what I did. “I direct a nonprofit that helps low-income immigrant families,” I said, “and, uh, I have 12 orphanages in Kenya…”

Even more impressive than the American fellows are the European fellows. While we American are touring European cities to learn their policies and culture, they’re doing the same by touring our cities, though I think they’re getting the short end of the stick. I mean, seriously, I get to go to Berlin and Lisbon…and they’re visiting Memphis, Tennessee and Billings, Alabama.

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