The big city life, exploring caves, discussing politics and more – live from JMU

Soon my last week at James Madison University begins. It will be tough to say goodbye to all the friendly people I’ve met here and lived so close to. But before we go our separate ways, we have one more week of projects, lectures and excursions left.

Last weekend was a fun one, when we all spent two days in Washington D.C. We had a guided tour around the big monuments in the National Mall and then visited museums around the area. Most museums in central D.C. are free to enter, so you can bounce around quickly from one to the other. I can’t put into words how much fun it is to have so many great museums lined up one after the other! Later in the night, I met an old friend who lives just outside the city, and we biked around and saw the monuments again but this time lit up against the night sky.

My favorite monument was without a doubt the Vietnam veterans memorial. When you approach, it looks like just a large black stone sculpture. When you start to get closer, you see the thousands of names engraved into the wall showing the American casualties. The memorial was designed by a young college student, and I think the concept it interesting. Instead of listing the names in alphabetical order, they are written according to the date the soldiers were killed or reported missing. It makes for more of a narrative display, compared to what would have looked like a phone book of dead soldiers if the names were shown alphabetically.

Later in the week we visited the amazing Shenandoah Caverns. They were very beautiful! The strange shapes created by minerals traveling with water has been featured in the National Geographic, and it’s not hard to see why. See for yourself in the pictures below!

We were invited to a panel discussion where four people born in the US answered questions about North American life, culture and politics from their personal perspective. It was interesting to hear their different points of view. Something that really got me thinking was when one of the participants said that “local-level politics are where the real meaningful decisions are made”, which should be a reason for people to get involved in what’s happening in their local communities. A problem in the US today is that fewer people go to vote, and focus on the local level seemed to me like a good attitude to have when fighting that problem.

As I’m writing this we have just come back from a very rainy trip to King’s Dominion, a big amusement park about two hours away from the university. It was without a doubt the wildest rides I’ve ever been on. Now it’s time to relax and have a warming cup of mate!

Thanks for reading.

Jakob

Playing with children, camping and studying – first week at JMU

I have now spent just over a week at the James Madison University here in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It has been some very busy days, and I have been sleeping like a baby every night. In this post I will mention a few moments that have stuck with me!

After a few days of settling in, being toured around campus and stocking up on necessities at a huge supermarket, the group went for the first excursion: the Boys and Girls club of America. It’s a daycare for kids all ages, located in central Harrisonburg. Seeing this place compared to a daycare in Sweden was a big contrast. Instead of small groups of children, divided by age, all the kids share a big building with several classrooms, a gym and a small baseball field in the outside yard.

It was very impressive how just a few caretakers could handle almost 60 energetic children running around. However, I think it may be almost impossible to give enough individual attention to the kids. I remember having a personal relationship with teachers at my daycare as a kid, and this experience made me appreciate that more.

The next day, we packed up to go camping at the picturesque Sherando Lake. So far, this was without a doubt the highlight for me! I have always liked being close to nature and the area we stayed in was very beautiful. Our campsite was close to a few different hiking paths, a lake where other campers would fish in the early morning and not far away from another lake where we would go for a swim.

Everybody were in a constant good mood and the trip was a great way to relax. Since I arrived to the US there had been a lot of new impressions, so having some peace and quiet in a pretty forest was perfect. There were even some members of the group who had never camped before, which in a way let me experience camping for the first time again! When I asked another member of the group what his favorite thing about this camping trip was, his answer was the modern amenities that was available at the campsite, like grills for a barbecue, many water taps and even an amphitheater for outdoors movie nights.

In addition to leaving campus for different activities, we’ve had classes with the professors of the Center for Global Engagement. It has been interesting lectures, seminars and workshops on subjects such as diversity, global citizenship and leadership.

Every day we exchange enlightening stories from our respective countries of origin, and they can often be surprising – like how children in Taiwanese school will be taught positive values while in the US the norm is that school “stays out of the raising of children”.

Last but not least, I have to make a shout-out to my classmates from Argentina who always has a cup of the herbal tea mate available to keep you alert and in a good mood!

Until next time,

Jakob

Three tips for taking photos worth keeping

In a few days, I will be traveling to Harrisonburg, USA, to attend the Cross Cultural Summer Program on Leadership and Global Engagement at James Madison University. It’s going to be a jam packed month of different activities and excursions around the university and the American capital city of Washington D.C. It will be a month with a lot of experiences to remember.

The singer and actress Rickie Lee Jones said that ”you never know when you’re making a memory”.  And while that’s true, there’s a way to get around the weak points of the human memory: cameras. They give you the ability to choose your memories, in a way. The modern digital camera can store hundreds or even thousands of snapshots on a single memory card. But if you are anything like me, there’s a lot of pictures from some vacation lying unobserved on a hard disk somewhere. These digital memories won’t do you any good like that.

I will share three things that help me to take better pictures. What someone likes in a picture is of course really subjective, and these tips are really situational, but maybe these tips will work for you like they do for me.

  1. Get close!

When you’re about to shoot some old monument, most people would probably take a step back and try to fit the whole thing in the frame. This works for many occasions, but can also lead to boring postcard-style photos. Thousands of tourists have probably already taken the exact same photo as you are lining up right now. Instead, crop your image boldly. Find the small detail that catches your eye. It might make for a unique photo and will usually not feature any other tourists in the image, which is usually a plus. This tip works really well for photographing people too. Getting up close usually leads to more personal, fun and playful pictures.

  1. Be quick!

Keep your camera close, and draw it quick. For digital cameras, don’t be afraid to snap a few quick shots in a row to capture something happening in the moment. While carefully composed pictures are not necessarily bad, I find that my favorite shots are the ‘in-the-moment’ pictures, often with someone who has not yet realized I am taking their photo. It’s better to ask for permission after rather than before shooting the picture. And don’t skip cleaning up your camera reel by the end of the day, it’s the best time to edit out the boring pictures.

  1. Tell a story.

Humans love narratives. If you are ever going to show your vacation shots to a friend or relative, make it into a journey that is worth listening to. Landscape pictures are pretty hard to make very interesting, but can work as an establishing shot for the location that you arrived to. Then, follows a portrait of a local that gave you directions. Maybe you can get a picture that says something about the personality of your traveling buddies. Thinking about what a picture is saying can be a great way to make the images come to life, and help you remember all the things that you were thinking about when you were taking them.