International Observance

You know those internationally recognized days, sanctioned by the UN or some other highfalutin organization, like World Sleep Day, or International Tiger Day, or World Goth Day or, my favorite, International Talk Like a Pirate Day? Well, this whole blooming week is recognized as International Education Week, and Marlboro is celebrating with its usual panache, including international dinner menus, international movie nights and a captivating, cacophonous cultural quiz bowl. The week will wind up with a visit to the School for International Training, in Brattleboro, for their multicultural fashion show. But the highlight for me was yesterday, when a panel of Marlboro’s international students held forth about their respective cultures and the cultural challenges they can face on Planet Marlboro.

Like, did you have any idea how unusual it is, globally, to chat and chew at the same time? The esteemed panel included students from England, Korea, Slovakia, Peru, and Germany, and they unanimously agreed that talking while you eat was one of the biggest adjustments to Marlboro, where it is practically an organized religion. I mean, think about it, students meet with their professors over lunch, discuss Marcel Proust over muffins in the coffee house, and catch up with friends’ favorite episodes of Parks and Recreation over dinner. Freshman Jeanne Kim of Korea even described having to consciously develop a new technique for chewing on one side, so she could talk out of the other.

Lots of their reflections were a breath o’ fresh air to someone like me, who thinks of putting Sriracha hot chili sauce on my French fries as a cultural experience. Like freshman Fif Aganga of England suggested that the health center provide “tea and biscuits,” a.k.a. cookies, rather than jumping right to fancy medical treatments. Sophomore Daniel Zagal of Peru said he was used to people hugging more, leading to many awkward, head-bumping half-hugs. Sophomore Olivia Schaaf of Germany said it took time to adjust to the question, “How are you doing?,” being merely rhetorical. American students walking around barefoot in November were generally viewed with the kind of bemused amazement one saves for a cat stuck in a tree.

But perhaps the most surprising thing that came up, at least for those of us cultural greenhorns in the Sriracha-on-French-fries camp, was that American students were more guarded in their opinions. Really? Marlboro students, who boldly pontificate about their opinions on pets or smoking regulations or fire codes in Town Meeting, or who discuss the fine points of German idealism and post-structuralism and every other “–ism” into the wee hours? Sure enough, more than one international student said they had to be careful not to express opinions that would upset people, because Americans seem to take their viewpoints more personally somehow. The panel discussion was great food for thought for all of those attending, who now have a much richer appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of students from afar. True to form, we will talk while we chew that food too.


The Highest Form of Municipal Service

“Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.” So said renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith (right), but it was not the only witty and insightful thing he said, by a longshot. Ken, who lived in nearby Townshend and was an associate trustee of Marlboro College for 25 years, had a way of looking at the world through droll-colored glasses. This weekend Marlboro held a celebration of Galbraith’s life and legacy and illustrious, razor-sharp waggishness, and in particular he and his wife Kitty’s personal choice of reading matter. That’s because it was the official dedication of the Galbraith library, donated by Ken and Kitty’s three sons. I mean, we’re talking about 2,000 volumes including many by Galbraith himself and a comprehensive collection on India. Two of those sons, Peter and Jamie, were present and followed the dedication with a lively public symposium on foreign policy and economics.

“A man carrying ammunition for miles and miles through the jungle can’t carry appreciably more after reading the writings of Karl Marx,” said Peter (left), quoting Ken’s reflections on Vietnam, where he toured as an advisor to President Kennedy. Peter is the kind of guy you would want to chat with about weapons of mass destruction or the Taliban over a cup of chamomile tea. You know, a former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia and current Vermont State Senator, as well as a trustee of Marlboro—the pinnacle of any career—Peter shared his father’s same pragmatic realism regarding U.S. intervention and nation-building. From introducing a fresh chicken factory in Iraq, where people only buy chickens live or frozen, to building courthouses in Afghanistan, where there are precious few judges, his stories drove home the importance of setting foreign policy goals that are both relevant and achievable.

“I feel like a streetwalker who hears that her profession is not only legal, but is the highest form of municipal service,” said Jamie (right), quoting his quotable dad. This quip was in response to Nixon’s 1971 wage and price freeze, after years of Galbraith advocating the very same measure. James Galbraith is a professor of government at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas/Austin, and author of Inequality and Instability: A Study of the World Economy Just Before the Great Crisis. He spoke about the evolution of his father’s economic views and career, from Cambridge Keynesian economist to one of the architects of President Johnson’s “Great Society.” At every turn Ken challenged the “conventional wisdom” of economists, and he even coined that phrase in his book The Affluent Society. Both Jamie and Peter clearly shared their father’s honorable attribute of having “the guts to describe the world as it is, not as we wish it was.”