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Culture, Identity, & Religion

Cultural topics such as "Who you Are?" and Religion.

Transition to Duke

We spoke to Gerald Tan, a Trinity freshman from Singapore, about his transition to Duke and the United States. The Economics student has a great sense of humor and loves all things food.

1. Where have you lived or traveled?
I have only lived in Singapore. But my Mum was born in Malaysia, so I would often head there to visit my relatives.  It’s a 3-hour drive away.

2. Why did you come to Duke?
Many reasons: the liberal arts education, the community of friends, the weather, the over-aggressive squirrels. But most important of all - to explore. My mum left her hometown, alone, when she was barely 16, to seek a new life in a foreign country. Coming to Duke is, in some way, my lesser emulation of that immense courage and entrepreneurship she had.

3. What are you planning on studying while you are at Duke?
I want to study Economics. I am also interested in Philosophy – Philosophy 101 is an excellent course to take!

4. What are you involved in outside of the classroom?
I am on the Duke Debate team. Over weekends, I would travel out with the team to other schools, like Yale [University] and [University of] Vermont, to compete in inter-varsity tournaments. I am also in Duke Consulting Club: I write for the Duke Consulting Review and work closely with a Durham start-up, Ripcog, under the community-consulting program. Ripcog is a platform that helps local businesses generate more referrals at a lowest cost. I have also most recently been preparing for the regional Federal Reserve Challenge.
During my free time (if there is even such a thing), I cook.  Pork Belly stews; caramelized chicken wings in Chinese cooking wine; Tangyuan – colored rice balls in sweetened ginger broth. I also play the viola.

5. How did you feel when you first came to United States? Were you surprised or were things similar to life in your home country?
It was almost dreamlike; partly because it was after a 24-hour flight, but mostly because the moment I had waited for 2 years finally arrived (I deferred my matriculation to Duke by 2 years to complete Singapore’s mandatory military service). I was most surprised to find strangers greeting me whenever they saw me, and blessing me whenever I sneezed.

6. What was the biggest adjustment you had to make to get immersed into the American culture?
To speak in an accent-neutral way that could be understood. People used to ask me what language I was conversing in, even when I was speaking in English.

7. Are there some parts of the American culture you haven’t gotten used to? If so, what are they?
The food. The food here is fantastic, but every so often, I miss authentic Chinese food (no offense to Panda Express).

8. How did your thoughts about the USA change after coming here?
As an international student, I was initially afraid that I would not be able to integrate into the Duke community. But the folks here are friendlier than I expected. Everywhere I go I bump into affection. 

9. Is there something you wish you had known about America before coming here?
How hot it really was in the first few weeks of Fall.

10. What do you miss the most about your home country?
My family, my old friends and food, glorious food.

11. What do you like the most about Duke?
The faculty. I am always amazed by how approachable (and humorous) many of the faculty members are. They really make learning more enjoyable. Earlier today, during my Economics lecture, Professor Zelder put on a woman’s scarf and began to shout in Italian. It was to demonstrate the effects of negative externalities.

12. What are your plans for this summer?
I haven’t really decided what I will do for this summer. But as of now, I am inclined to use that time to explore the States and to volunteer.

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Flag of the Week - Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea, officially the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, is an Oceanian country that occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and its offshore islands in Melanesia, a region of the southwestern Pacific Ocean north of Australia. Its capital, located along its southeastern coast, is Port Moresby. The western half of New Guinea forms the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.
Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. 848 languages are listed for the country, of which 12 have no known living speakers. Most of the population of over 7 million people live in customary communities, which are as diverse as the languages. It is also one of the most rural, as only 18 per cent of its people live in urban centres. The country is one of the world's least explored, culturally and geographically, and many undiscovered species of plants and animals are thought to exist in the interior.

Strong growth in Papua New Guinea's mining and resource sector has led to the country's becoming the sixth fastest-growing economy in the world as of 2011. Many people in the country live in extreme poverty when measured in terms of money, with about one-third of the population living on less than US$1.25 per day.

At the local level, the majority of the population still live in strong customary societies and - while social life is overlaid with traditional religious cosmologies and modern practices, including conventional primary education - customary subsistence-based agriculture remains fundamental. These societies and clans are explicitly acknowledged within the nation's constitutional framework. The Papua New Guinea Constitution expresses the wish for "traditional villages and communities to remain as viable units of Papua New Guinean society" and for active steps to be taken in their continuing importance to local and national community life.

At the national level, after being ruled by three external powers since 1884, Papua New Guinea established its sovereignty in 1975 following 70 years of Australian administration. It became a separate Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations in its own right.

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Internationals Celebrating An American Tradition: Thanksgiving

Let me start by sharing two things that comes up to my mind when I think about Thanksgiving. Firstly, as an international student whose home is approximately 5,430 miles away from Duke, I am always nervous about being left alone during short breaks like Thanksgiving when none of the on-campus eateries, stores, libraries are open for their regular hours and almost all of my friends leave campus to go back to their homes. This year, fortunately, International House organized an amazing Thanksgiving meal on Wednesday, Nov 26th, for a group of internationals that included undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty. I thought the event was a great success!

There were many delicious traditional American Thanksgiving foods such as turkey with gravy, green beans with garlic and parmesan, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows and pecans, macaroni & cheese and a variety of pies for dessert. The best part was that lovely IHouse staff cooked all of this food in their homes and brought them in, just like a real Thanksgiving meal in someone’s house. We met with people from all around the world, had interesting and enjoyable conversations while eating delicious food.

The second thing I remember every Thanksgiving is related to the main dish of this day: the turkey. As a Turkish myself, Thanksgivings are always in a sense stressful for me since whenever someone talks about the turkey they ate, I immediately attend to the conversation because it could be something related to my country, Turkey. Last year, I decided to research why this traditional Thanksgiving food is named with my country and whether it is named after Turkey (the country). This is really intriguing for me because in Turkish, a turkey is called “Hindi” which refers to India. I found that New York Times’ Mark Forsyth wrote a beautiful and informative op-ed to answer these questions. It turns out that this exotic bird is imported all the way from Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa to Europe by merchants from Turkey, so the name of this bird stayed as Turkey. Ironically, French and Turkish people thought that turkeys came from India so they call it dinde and hindi respectively.

All in all, we had a great time in International House to celebrate Thanksgiving together as internationals. I would like to thank all IHouse staff for this nice event! I wish a Happy Thanksgiving for everyone with amazing people and delicious food. ☺

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CSGD Welcomes New Director

Bernadette Brown has been named the new director of the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (CSGD) at Duke.

“She brings strong management skills, expertise in LGBTQ issues, theories and perspectives,” said Zoila Airall, who oversees CSGD as VP of Campus Life for Student Affairs at Duke. “Her colleagues describe her as someone they will miss because of her encyclopedic mind, engaging sense of humor and commitment to social justice issues.”

Throughout the Fall semester, “Queering Duke History” has commemorated a turbulent 50 years of LGBT life and progress on campus. Brown’s arrival on Jan. 5 will be an integral part of the next chapter of this story.

“Duke has a very interesting social justice trajectory, especially pertaining to race, cisgender women, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression (SOGIE). The LGBTQI community here, in particular, has a rich history,” Brown said. “CSGD, the LGBTQI undergraduate and graduate student groups, the LGBT Task Force and the LGBT Alumni Network all have had, and will continue to have, a profoundly beneficial impact on the lives of the LGBTQI community at Duke and beyond.”

Brown has dedicated much of her professional career to advancing social justice, with particular emphasis on those who exist outside the heteronormative and/or transgress gender roles. Most recently with the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, she has been co-managing the “Improving Permanency for LGBT Youth” project that works to improve stability for LGBTQI youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice system in California.

“My work is really about facilitating interpersonal and institutional relationships that will create equity and inclusivity for the LGBTQI community, and doing this with an intersectional lens so that none of our identities (e.g., race or ethnicity, SOGIE, religion, immigration status, socioeconomic status, veteran status, physical and/or mental abilities) are ignored,” Brown said

Stephanie Helms Pickett, director of Duke’s Women’s Center, met with Brown during the lengthy interview process. “I found Bernadette to be excited about building upon the foundation and powerful history of the work of the Center through engaging with the community,” Helms Pickett said. “Personally, I am excited about the depth and expertise I believe she will bring to the Campus Life team.”

The excitement Helms Pickett refers to comes through in Brown’s own words. “I'm tremendously excited about working with everyone to continue this work and explore new paths to promote and support LGBTQI inclusion,” Brown said. “Many LGBTQI students come here struggling with accepting their SOGIE, some are trying to determine if they are going to be "out" with respect to their SOGIE, some are dealing with family conflict around their SOGIE, and some are trying to reconcile their religious and/or political beliefs with their SOGIE. The same is true for many of Duke's faculty and staff. These are serious concerns and CSGD is here to support them as they move through this journey.”

Brown comes to Duke from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in Oakland, California, where she focused on LGBT youth and welfare within the juvenile justice system. She has held numerous positions around the country focusing on social justice for a variety of communities. Brown holds a juris doctorate from Boston University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Columbia University. She has conducted numerous trainings and presentations on social justice and the LGBT community, including LGBTI Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) trainings for The National PREA Resource Center, a cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, for those seeking to become certified PREA auditors by the US Department of Justice. Brown was raised in Detroit. She has one son, and is obsessed with gargoyles, which is yet another reason she can’t wait to get to Duke.

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Flag of the Week - Hungary

Hungary, formally, until 2012, the Republic of Hungary, is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The country's capital and largest city is Budapest. Hungary is a member of the European Union, NATO, the OECD, the Visegrád Group, and the Schengen Area. The official language is Hungarian, which is the most widely spoken non-Indo-European language in Europe.

Hungary's current borders were first established by the Treaty of Trianon (1920) after World War I, when the country lost 71% of its territory, 58% of its population, and 32% of ethnic Hungarians. Following the interwar period, Hungary joined the Axis Powers in World War II, suffering significant damage and casualties. Hungary came under the influence of the Soviet Union, which contributed to the establishment of a four-decade long communist dictatorship (1947–1989). The country gained widespread international attention regarding the Revolution of 1956 and the seminal opening of its previously-restricted border with Austria in 1989, which accelerated the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.

On 23 October 1989, Hungary again became a democratic parliamentary republic, and is today an upper-middle income country with a very high Human Development Index. Hungary is a popular tourist destination attracting 10.675 million tourists a year (2013). It is home to the largest thermal water cave system and the second largest thermal lake in the world (Lake Hévíz), the largest lake in Central Europe (Lake Balaton), and the largest natural grasslands in Europe (the Hortobágy National Park).

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Flag of the Week - Qatar

Qatar, officially the State of Qatar, is a sovereign Arab country located in Western Asia, occupying the small Qatar Peninsula on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Its sole land border is with Saudi Arabia to the south, with the rest of its territory surrounded by the Persian Gulf. A strait in the Persian Gulf separates Qatar from the nearby island kingdom of Bahrain. In 2013, Qatar's total population was 1.8 million; 278,000 Qatari citizens and 1.5 million expatriates. Although tiny, Qatar wields significant clout due to its natural gas wealth and its sovereign wealth fund, which is one of the world's largest.
Following Ottoman rule, Qatar became a British protectorate in the early 20th century until gaining independence in 1971. Qatar has been ruled by the Al Thani family since the mid-19th century. Qatar is an absolute monarchy and its head of state is Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. After Saudi Arabia, Qatar is the most conservative society in the Gulf Cooperation Council as most Qataris adhere to the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Sharia law is the main source of Qatari legislation according to Qatar's Constitution.

Qatar is the world's richest country per capita and has the highest human development in the Arab World; furthermore, it is recognized as a high income economy by the World Bank. Qatar has the world's third largest natural gas reserves and oil reserves in excess of 25 billion barrels. Qatar has become an influential player in the Arab world. Qatar supported several rebel groups during the Arab Spring both financially and by asserting global influence through its expanding media group, Al Jazeera Media Network. Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, becoming the first Arab country to host the even.

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Flag of the Week - United Kingdom

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a sovereign state in Europe. Lying off the north-western coast of the European mainland, the country includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with another state: the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea in the east and the English Channel in the south. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. The UK has an area 94,060 sq mi, making it the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world and the 11th-largest in Europe.

The United Kingdom is the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 64.1 million inhabitants. It is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of governance. Its capital city is London, an important global city and financial centre with the fourth-largest urban area in Europe. The current monarch—since 6 February 1952—is Queen Elizabeth II. The UK consists of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The latter three have devolved administrations, each with varying powers, based in their capitals. The UK has fourteen Overseas Territories, including the disputed Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, and Indian Ocean Territory.

The United Kingdom is a developed country and has the world's sixth-largest economy by nominal GDP and tenth-largest by purchasing power parity. The country has the 2nd largest amount of external debt, behind only the United States. It was the world's first industrialised country and the world's foremost power during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The UK remains a great power with considerable economic, cultural, military, scientific, and political influence internationally is a recognised nuclear weapons state and its military expenditure ranks sixth in the world. The UK has been a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council since its first session in 1946. It has been a member state of the European Union (EU) and its predecessor, the European Economic Community (EEC), since 1973.

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Flag of the Week - Greece

Greece  is a country in Southeast Europe. According to the 2011 census, Greece's population is around 11 million with Athens as the nation's capital and largest city. Greece is strategically located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, and shares land borders with Albania to the northwest, the Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north and Turkey to the northeast. The country consists of nine geographic regions and the Aegean Sea lies to the east of the mainland, the Ionian Sea to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Greece has the 11th longest coastline in the world, featuring a vast number of islands (approximately 1,400, of which 227 are inhabited). Eighty percent of Greece consists of mountains, of which Mount Olympus is the highest, at 2,917 m.

Modern Greece traces its roots to the civilization of Ancient Greece, considered the cradle of Western civilization. As such it is the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, the Olympic Games, Western literature and historiography, political science, major scientific and mathematical principles, and Western drama, including both tragedy and comedy. This legacy is partly reflected in the 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in Greece, ranking it 7th in Europe and 13th in the world. The modern Greek state, which encompasses much of the historical core of Greek civilization, was established in 1830, following the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Greece is a democratic, developed country with an advanced, high-income economy, a high standard of living and a very high Human Development Index. Greece is a founding member of the United Nations, has been a member of what is now the European Union since 1981 (and the eurozone since 2001), and has been a member of NATO since 1952. Greece's economy is also the largest in the Balkans, where Greece is an important regional investor.

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