All around the developed world nations and local governments are trying to persuade people to go have a COVID-19 vaccination. Where I live, I am flooded with ads, which are mostly politicians and public health authorities. These ads mostly have a talking head format, so they don’t have a lot of visual interest. And no catchy songs. Then there is Singapore’s approach.
Who would have guessed that one of the best sources for regular and reliable COVID-19 information would be a retired nurse teacher in northern England? By this point in the pandemic, one would expect that the last thing that anyone would want to hear would be more news about COVID-19. Yet people turn in daily for Dr. John Campbell’s YouTube update, which usually feature Winston -a stuffed dog- wearing a mask in the background. One of the reasons that the show is so popular is Campbell’s English humor, his guests from different parts of the world, and his concise description of major trends in the pandemic. I don’t know that I always agree with all that Dr. Campbell suggests, such as the strength of the evidence for vitamin D being advantageous. But I enjoyed watching him debate the issue with a vitamin D skeptic, who was also a leading researcher in this field. Such reasoned and respectful academic debate is too rare now.
As I write these words, the situation in India is truly dire. I’ve just been texting with a friend in the country, who said that so many bodies are being burned that their city is covered in smog. The Daily, a news podcast of the Times, has a remarkable episode about what is happening in India now. As an article in Canada’s National Post suggests, India’s experience is a warning to the rest of the world about what can happen if a nation becomes overconfident that they have managed the pandemic. But India is not alone, as COVID-19 cases are also surging in Chile, despite a high level of vaccination with a Chinese vaccine. In the United States numbers are in a steady decline, despite an uptick in both Colorado and Oregon. But we still have a long way to go in this pandemic. In many parts of the world, such as Thailand and Cambodia, the situation is worsening. And Japan is still holding the Olympics, even though most of the country’s citizens do not want to host it. I recommend John Campbell’s YouTube channel for anyone who wants to stay current with COVID-19 news.
What is the best way to study a language? I’ve been studying Mandarin since January of 2016. I recently won a Taiwan Fellowship, which means that I’ll be working at the National University in Taipei this fall. Since my Chinese is still just lower intermediate, I have two Chinese lessons a week to try to prepare. I also have one Portuguese lesson a week, so that I can maintain my speaking skills. Once COVID-19 permits, I’ll be traveling to Lisbon and Macao to do archival research on the 1918 influenza pandemic. For this reason, I spend a lot of time each week on language study. And I’ve fallen in love with online learning platforms, particularly italki, although I know there are other excellent ones such as Verbling. To be clear- I have no financial stake in any of these platforms, and I don’t get any funding whatsoever from them.
You certainly don’t need to use these platforms to find excellent instructors. I had two kind and patient Chinese teachers before I moved to italki. I think that the friendship that I developed with them partly explains why I have stuck with learning Chinese over the years. But when my last teacher left the United States, I needed to find someone else. And it was in the midst of the pandemic, so the sessions couldn’t be face to face. I tried italki, and fell in love with the platform for a number of reasons:
On italki you can search for a teacher from a specific region, using a pull-down menu in the upper left of your screen. Since I knew that I would be traveling to Taipei, I wanted to find someone from Taiwan. That way I could begin to learn traditional characters, and become familiar with the Taiwanese accent. The freedom to decide that you want to find a Chinese teacher in Malaysia -if for some reason that location is important to you- is really helpful. You can also find someone to teach almost any language that you can imagine, and from any world region.
Every teacher has a brief video talking about their teaching style, as well as a bit about themselves. It is intimidating to find a teacher. You want someone who you feel that you will be comfortable with, and who matches your best approach to learning. It’s interesting how much you can get a sense of someone based on a short video.
You can have different teachers for different needs. Currently, I have lessons with someone completing a master’s degree in teaching Chinese as a second language. Her classes focus on grammar. She’s an outstanding teacher, and I really enjoy the structure of her classes. She sends me a worksheet with vocab and grammar points in Google Docs each week, so I have material to study between tutoring sessions. At the same time, I also wanted someone who could be a conversational partner. So I have a second teacher with whom I meet once a week just to talk. Since speaking and listening are the two skills that I most want to develop, this session is not only fun but also a good way to test my progress. I also find that during a pandemic it’s a welcome time for social interaction.
The prices are reasonable. You can see what each tutor charges per hour when you decide to schedule class. Most will let you have a first class at a reduced rate so that you can decide first if you’re comfortable studying with them. You can also choose the length of your classes. My grammar class is 45 minutes, but my conversation class is just a half hour. Personally, I prefer shorter classes because I start to lose focus after a half hour. With these platforms you can find classes at an inexpensive price, and set the length of your classes based on your needs and budget. Of courses classes with conversational partners are cheaper than classes with someone with graduate level training to teach a language.
Freedom. I really like the flexibility of scheduling as many classes as I want, and at times that I want. When you want to book a time with a tutor you just go to their calendar, and find a time that they have available on their schedule. If it’s a quieter week, I can book two grammar classes. I’ve loved learning with both my online tutors. But it’s not awkward if you want to switch tutors; you just stop scheduling classes, since you sign up for them individually.
All that said, I also feel that I have a deeper relationship with my first Chinese teachers, whom I didn’t meet on italki. That may just be because I’ve known them for much longer, or perhaps I was just lucky to meet people with whom I formed a bond. Still, for all the practical reasons above, if you are a language learner, I’d really recommend trying an online learning platform.
As an aside for any Chinese language learners out there, I’ve learned that many common words from the HSK vocabulary list (HSK refers to the Chinese language levels recognized by the Chinese government) aren’t in regular usage in Taiwan, which I didn’t expect. My Taiwanese tutors usually kind of know what they mean, but wouldn’t typically use them in day to day conversation. So a restaurant is “can1ting1 餐廳” not fan4guan3. I keep coming across words like that when I try to use a HSK 2 vocab word, and one of my italki tutors gives me a confused look back. There really are advantages to having language teachers from more than one location.
However you choose to study another language, just don’t stop. There are no shortcuts. It’s all about the time.
I want to thank Prof. Kim Brown for this guest post:
Can a person be too interested in chocolate? I think not. We can see all dimensions of issues in international and global studies through the omniscient chocolate bar. This time of the pandemic once again reveals the fragile nature of the lives of cocoa producers, their product, and consumers. This post explores what has happened to cocoa and chocolate during the past 14 months.
While major multinational companies such as Cargill, Mars, Wrigley, Kraft, and Callebaut continue to publicly endorse responsible sourcing and long term planning for sustainability, they are not always able to achieve their goals. The pandemic has made these goals particularly unattainable. Even as members of the confectionery industry remain committed to key goals –vanquishing child labor and land deforestation, providing better attention to the needs of women farmers and guaranteeing a living wage to farmers– the past 13 months have seen few achievements in these areas. Nevertheless smaller projects have seen success. For example, Barry Callebaut has provided support to African Startup Seekewa. Divine Chocolate has underwritten literacy programs in Ghana.
Product prices have fallen and the two countries producing 60% of the world’s chocolate –Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire– face not only falling prices but a surplus of cocoa brought on by COVID in the past 14 months. Initiatives to ensure farmers receive a living wage remain in place. Plans are good but implementation is not always successful. A key example in this area is the Living Income Differential levied in the amount of $400 per ton proposed in both countries. It is designed to offset current low global prices. In central American producing areas such as Guatemala and Honduras, small farmers have struggled to get their products to market.
For those interested in more information about chocolate, I would encourage you to consider subscribing to Confectionary News. While this is an official newsletter of the industry, it curates a wide range of information on everything chocolate from industry reports to NGO reports. One of particular interest at this moment might be the Easter Scorecard from Be Slavery Free. This annual report in infographic form profiles how well roughly 20 chocolate producers are doing in areas from Fair Trade to child labor, to deforestation and providing a living income to farmers. It is also possible to work through global websites that detail statistics, trends, and follow the cost of COVID.. They include The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), Confectionery News profiled above, and The Cocoa Initiative.
On the supply chain end of things, niche marketing and futures predictions have given small chocolatiers a run for their money over the past 13 months. In spite of this, we see trends such as less plastic packaging, more biodegradable packaging especially on the part of the larger companies, and an increase in various types of vegan chocolate. Companies such as Nestle have introduced a chocolate bar with no added sugar, only cocoa fruit and pulp. It is the Incoa chocolate bar, currently only available in France and the Netherlands. Other companies are infusing new ingredients from ancient sources such as baobab powder.
Those of us working from home seem to have discovered more and more chocolate to buy but as we return to the workforce outside our homes it remains to be seen what we will do. In any case, keeping track of the chocolate bars around us is a very appropriate activity for consumers, researchers, and activists.
I want to thank Mija Sanders, who talks about her experiences interviewing Syrian refugees in Izmir, Turkey in the latest episode of my podcast, Dispatch 7. This city is a major transit point in the movement of Syrians to Europe. Many people have an interesting story about the challenges that they faced starting their doctoral fieldwork. But I think that few people can have had such a dramatic start to their fieldwork as Mija.
Over the last year I’ve been enjoying a series of podcast interviews on global topics. One aspect my podcast that makes it more fun for me is that many episodes focus on topics of interest to students and people in their twenties. For this reason, I’ve recorded a number of episodes on careers. If you are curious as to what you might do after you graduate, or want to explore a career shift, here are some episodes that might help you.
What you didn’t know about federal jobs. Joyce Hamilla is the executive director at the Oregon Federal Executive Board. She’s also had a fascinating career in multiple intelligence and security agencies, as well as academia. Many students don’t think that they would have any interest in federal jobs. Many students also know next to nothing about federal jobs, apart from what they have seen on television series like Homecoming and movies. Joyce spoke with such enthusiasm and conviction that by the time I was done listening to this episode, I was ready to apply for federal jobs.
Internships. Regina Navarro Gomez was an energetic speaker, who had done multiple internships as an undergraduate student. She talked about the pros and cons of internships, and why they matter. If you are an undergraduate student who hasn’t yet done an internship, you might find that you have a new perspective after listening to Regina’s interview.
Career Opportunities in Global Studies. In this talk I discuss the four main tracks that most people will follow if they graduate with a degree in International and Global Studies. I also talk about the choices that you should make during your studies in order to prepare yourself for success. The talk was designed to be a practical guide to think about career choices.
Useful Career Websites:
idealist.org This website allows you to search for non-profit job openings based on your location. It’s very popular with my students.
https://www.macslist.org/ If you are in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, Macs list is a great resource to look for jobs.
Indeed.com This job site does not show jobs specifically for international careers or non-profits, but is popular with students.
Pickering Fellowship: “The Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Program is a program funded by the U.S. Department of State, administered by Howard University, that attracts and prepares outstanding young people for Foreign Service careers in the U.S. Department of State.” To be clear, I have no ties whatsoever to either the Pickering Fellowship or Howard University.
The early story of Britain’s reaction to COVID-19 was an unmitigated disaster, driven in part by uniformed cabinet discussions of herd immunity. Even Prime Minister Boris Johnston himself was infected with COVID-19. As if this story was not difficult enough, a new variant of COVID-19 appeared in Essex towards the end of 2020. We now know that not only is this variant more communicable, but also may be more deadly. In late December this virus came to dominate all the COVID-19 clades in Britain, and caused a remarkable surge in infections.
In spite of this difficult history, Britain has pulled of two remarkable achievements. First, it has conducted outstanding genomic surveillance. While Denmark was also doing so, it was the British tracking which revealed the extent of the threat these new variants posed. Now other nations, such as the United States, are playing catch-up, as they try to create an effective system for genomic surveillance. Even more remarkable, Britain has joined a short list of nations (along with Israel and the United Arab Emirates) leading the global race to vaccinate their populations. How was this success achieved?
Paul Waldie has a remarkable article in Canada’s Globe and Mail, titled “How Britain became a world leader in COVID-19 vaccine distribution – despite other pandemic problems.” In Waldie’s narrative one remarkable woman, Kate Bingham, and the task force that she led, managed to identify the likely winners in the vaccine race, negotiate contracts, and bring vaccine production home to Britain. What is most impressive is how proactive the task force was. Britain has had many missteps and still faces many challenges. Yet when the history of this pandemic is written, I think that -based on Waldie’s description- this task forces’ actions will be held up as a case-study of effective leadership during a crisis.
I recently interviewed Joyce Hamilla, the Executive Director at the Oregon Federal Executive Board, about federal jobs. In the podcast, she talked about the many reasons why people should consider applying for federal positions I’ve noticed a clear trend over the last decade in which my students have become increasingly uninterested in working for the federal government. Of course, I think part of that is led to the ugliness of political discourse in the United States. But I also think that students and many other people are poorly informed about the wealth of jobs in federal service, and the opportunities to do work that is truly meaningful.
Joyce spoke to these questions. One of the points that she made is that if you are looking for a work environment that is apolitical, federal service may be the right place for you. She also pointed out that the federal government is hiring accountants, engineers, and people from every other possible background that you can imagine, even a cowboy. She also talked about applying for one of the eighteen different intelligence services in the U.S. government, and why -despite what you’ve seen in the movies- might want to broaden your horizon beyond the CIA. She also spoke about why -contrary to expectations- people often move jobs in federal service, so that’s a great workspace for people who want to explore different jobs. If you’re thinking at all about what do to after graduating, or if you might be interested in a new career, this might be the podcast episode for you.
Recently I’ve been reading a book (published in 2004) by Betty O’Keefe and Ian McDonald titled, Dr Fred and the Spanish Lady. The work examines the experience of Dr. Fred Underhill, who was the senior public health officer in Vancouver during the 1918 pandemic. While there had been a host of influenza pandemics through history, the 1918 pandemic killed perhaps 100 million people globally.
What struck me while reading the work was the manifold similarities between our experience of COVID-19 and that of almost exactly a century before. During our current pandemic some countries, such as Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan, acted quickly to enact travel restrictions. But that was the exception rather than the norm. Similarly, in 1918 troop ships brought influenza to Canada, even though during the crossings the ships would have to repeatedly stop for the burial of sea for returning soldiers (O-Keefe and MacDonald, 30-31). In 1918, travel restrictions were not implemented because everyone in Canada wanted to bring the troops home. While understandable, this was also tragic. During COVID-19 there were no effective limits on returning citizens in the United States, likely because there just was not enough public support for this measure. Of course, there were limits on non-citizens’ travel. But since the SARS-Cov2 virus does not discriminate based on citizenship, those countries that did not limit their citizen’s movement, and quarantine them on arrival, have paid a heavy price. …