Ellie Wren-Hardin

Global Engagement Fellow Class of 2018

When Things Don’t Go According to Plan

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I plan a trip while I may plan for the worst, I’m still hoping for the best.  Unfortunately, sometimes things don’t go according to plan.

For our trip to Iceland, my friend and I rented a car.  It was little, green, very adorable, and the perfect size for our backpacks, sleeping bags, and tent.  We even slept in the car a few times in the north when snow meant that pitching a tent was impossible.

My friend with our car on Day 1

My friend with our car on Day 1

Then, about halfway into our trip, we crashed the car into a gas pump, doing severe damage to both the car and the pump.

Fortunately, my friend and I were both physically okay, but the crash was a deeply upsetting shock.  My friend and I were both very upset, and then while in the middle of a gas station parking lot she called first the police and the car rental company, and then her dad to talk about what to do because the rental and the insurance were both in her name.  I meanwhile called my mom, and immediately started crying as soon as she picked up.  I explained quickly that we were both physically okay in order to alleviate her worst fears, but that we were both really upset.

For me, I had been so proud of myself and my friend for planning and paying for this trip entirely ourselves, and in that moment it felt as if the whole trip would be ruined or tainted because of this car accident.  My mom then told me a story of how when she and my dad first got married they had planned to go camping, and on the way to the campsite my mom rear-ended another car.  She told me how instead of letting that ruin the trip, she and my dad decided to make the most of it and continue anyway, and they had a great time.  She then said that the only way she would be upset with me and my friend in this situation would be if we let this one incident ruin our whole trip.

After I hung up with my mom, I went and talked to my friend.  Fortunately, we’d paid for the full insurance when we rented the car, so even though we’d done approximately 4,000 Euros worth of damage we would only need to pay 150.  Then, even though we were both still upset, we decided to take it easy for the rest of the day and just try to get to our campsite so we could relax.  My mom offered to pay for us to have dinner at a restaurant to help us feel better, so once we arrived in the town we were staying in we headed to the only restaurant they had, which was in the lobby of a hotel.  After dinner, we went to the local swimming complex where we swam in a heated pool and relaxed in the hot tubs.  By the end of the day we were joking and laughing again.

While the car accident was scary and shocking, I’m glad that we didn’t let it ruin our trip.  Immediately after it happened I worried that all I would remember from Iceland was the sick feeling I felt after the crash, but instead I mostly remember happy events.  The crash has now become a more distant memory that my friend and I are able to laugh about, and I’m so happy that we didn’t let that one really negative experience affect our entire vacation.

The moral of this story is twofold.

1) Always ALWAYS always buy the insurance when you rent a car.  You never know what’s going to happen.

2) If something bad does happen, it’s okay.  Breathe.  Relax, and then let go.  Take care of yourself first, and as long as nothing life-threatening has happened, try and enjoy the rest of your trip.

A Quest for Puffins

I new before I even bought my plane ticket for Reykjavik that one of the things I definitely wanted to do in Iceland was to see puffins.  Iceland is teeming with interesting birds and aquatic wildlife, but those little birds with the bright orange beaks were the ones who captivated my attention.  I spent hours pouring over the Lonely Planet guidebook I had bought searching for the perfect place to go to spot them, vowing to wait as long as I needed in order to fulfill my quest and see a puffin.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait that long.  In Borgarfjörður Eystri, there was a lookout from which we could see hundreds of puffins!

A puffin poking his head up over the grass

A puffin poking his head up over the grass

Puffin chilling on the cliff

Puffin chilling on the cliff

Dozens of puffins in the water!

Dozens of puffins in the water!

We stayed at the lookout for a few hours, hoping that by sitting still and waiting we could encourage the puffins to come a little closer so we could take better pictures.  Of course, it’s against Icelandic law to get too close to them because they are a protected species.  Still, it was a really exciting experience to get to see these playful and colorful birds in their natural habitat.

Of course, puffins weren’t the only cool animals we saw.  We also saw seals and a wide variety of birds.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see any whales because we didn’t have the time for the half-day boat tour it would have taken to see them.

When we first arrived at this beach, we thought these seals were rocks

A cute seal

A cute seal

if you’re interested in cool aquatic animals and arctic birds, Iceland is definitely a place you should check out and visit!

An Icelandic Road Trip

Last year around this time one of my best friends and I decided that we wanted to go to Iceland and drive the ring road.  We both love traveling and nature, so Iceland seemed like the perfect location; beautiful, compelling, and filled with nature we wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.  We planned our trip, bought our tickets, and flew from JFK airport to Reykjavik for a two-week tour of Iceland’s ring road.

The ring road is Iceland’s main highway, and also the only consistently paved road in Iceland, and it completely circles around the country making it perfect for a road trip!  Due to the high price and low availability of hostels and inns to stay in, we decided to bring a tent and sleeping bag and stay at campsites.

An approximation of the several thousand kilometers we drove over two weeks

An approximation of the several thousand kilometers we drove over two weeks

The campsites were wonderful- clean, with fully functioning bathrooms and showers, and often equipped with kitchens, wifi, a washer and dryer, and a room with tables and chairs to hang out and chat with other campers.  By renting a car and not having to book hostels ahead of time we were able to free up our schedule a lot and be more spontaneous in our day-to-day adventures.  We also saved money by buying food from grocery stores and cooking instead of eating at restaurants or other fast food places.  Instead, we subsisted largely on a diet of cheese and crackers, cheap fruits and vegetables, pasta and potatoes that we cooked at the campsites, and a tub of skyr a day.

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Not even all of the skyr we ate in our two weeks

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A typical example of our lunch

We had a lot of fun our first few days in the Reykjavik area exploring the city the going to museums, including the Museum of Rock and Roll in Keflavik and the 871+/-2 Museum in Reykjavik, and then we headed out into the country side to see some of Iceland’s famed waterfalls and volcanic activity.

Reykjavik city center as seen from Hallgrímskirkja

Reykjavik city center as seen from Hallgrímskirkja

My favorite part of Iceland by far was seeing all of the geothermal activity, including steaming mud pots, bubbling water, geysers, and hardened lava flows.  When our plane was first touching down, my friend and I couldn’t help but stare with amazement as the ground got closer and closer, because we had never seen a landscape like this in our entire lives.  At first, we thought the lava rock was water because of its texture, and when we finally realized it was the ground it seemed like an alien planet.

Seltún geothermal area

Sultan geothermal area

That sense of amazement stayed with our entire two weeks as we drove through snowy mountains, up to lagoons filled with glowing, floating ice, past glaciers and thundering waterfalls, and down into the fjords.  The nature present in Iceland is unlike anything I’ve ever seen anywhere else, from the huge tourist attractions all the way down to the field of purple wildflowers surrounding a tiny church in the mountains.  I can only hope that one day I’ll be able to return to see more of the country, especially the interior and the west fjords.

Glacier!

Glacier!

Floating ice in Jökulssárlón

Floating ice in Jökulssárlón

Skógafoss

Skógafoss

Stykkishólmur, population 1,195

Stykkishólmur, population 1,195

Myvatn geothermal mud pots

Myvatn geothermal mud pots

Kirkjufell mountain

Kirkjufell mountain

A beach off the eastern coast

A beach off the eastern coast

My favorite flowers

My favorite flowers

Iceland’s Tiny Churches

One of Iceland’s most interesting man-made features is the huge number of tiny church dotting the country.  They’re mostly the result of the fact that Iceland has a very small population of only around 300,000 people who are very spread out once you leave the Reykjavik area, and therefore the towns were so far apart that every one needed its own church.

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The churches also came in a wide variety of architectural forms, from very traditional buildings with steeples to larger, modern, cement buildings that almost looked like alien spaceships that had landed in the countryside.

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One of my favorite parts of my friend and I’s trip to Iceland was stopping at these little churches to take photographs, walk through the cemeteries, and see if the doors were open to take a peek inside.  Some were very well maintained with elaborate alters while others had peeling paint and little to no decoration, but they all fit in effortlessly with their surroundings.

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I was also very interested in the culture surrounding these churches.  While statistics show that most Icelanders consider themselves Christian, many of them do not actively practice their religion.  I wondered as we drove past tiny buildings in the middle of nowhere without even a driveway connecting them to the main road to what extent the churches are attended and how active the church communities are.

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I would imagine that perhaps in rural areas with only a hundred or so people in a town the church communities might be more vibrant because they would be one of the only organizations at the local level that could interact to a large degree with the community.  However, I can’t say for sure.

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Whatever their reality, getting to photograph and explore these tiny architectural gems was definitely one of my favorite parts of visiting Iceland.  dscn5831

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German Culture Events

Physik auf Deutsch

 

Earlier this semester I attended a physics lecture presented in German, which was very interesting.  Even though I understood only approximately 15% of what the presenter actually said, with the help of the power point slides and the fact that I have taken many physics classes previously, I was able to follow along with the presentation fairly easily.  I really liked how he used a lot of props, such as the spinning plates and the bicycle wheel, to demonstrate his points.  I also found it very interesting how several of the physics words in German are “false friends” with physics words in English; for example, momentum in German in “Impuls”, torque is “Drehmoment” and impulse is “Kraftsoß”.  Overall, it was a great presentation.

 

German Poetry Night

 

Poetry Night every year is a lot of fun, because so many people present so many different pieces from so many different genres.  I loved the amazing musical piece that one man sang for us, as well as Morgen’s rendition of one of Rammstein’s songs.  The acting in Rotkäppchen was very funny, and I enjoyed being the voice of the mother.  I also enjoyed reading one of my favorite poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, and getting to hear the poems that everyone else presented, especially the poem read in Middle/Old English.  As a linguistics major, it was very interesting to hear how English’s earlier sound was clearly identifiable as a Germanic language, yet still sounds almost nothing like English today.  Lastly, it was a lot of fun to sing 99 Lutftballons at the end while one student played guitar, and to sing the song with German scientists’ names in it.  I’m already looking forward to attending next year’s poetry night!

 

Opportunities Forum

 

The last German culture event that I attended this semester was the German Opportunities Forum, which was a great place to learn about all the possibilities for my future if I continue to stick with a minor in German.  I am very much interested in going to Leipzig this summer, so it was great to learn more information about that and the other study abroad programs that are offered.  Additionally, I will be applying for a Fulbright and so it was very useful that I got to get some information about the different opportunities there are in the Fulbright program for people who know German.   Overall, it was a very helpful and instructive event.

Street Art in Reykjavík

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Back in May, a friend and I went on an amazing two week road trip around the entirety of Iceland.  One of the features of the capital city Reykjavík that struck me the most during our first few days getting acclimated was the amount of graffiti and street art covering every corner.  Everything from stores to abandoned-looking buildings to houses had artwork prominently displayed, which created a vibrancy and vitality that I don’t think I’ve seen in any other major city I’ve visited.

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Apparently Reykjavík has been struggling over the past decade or two with, considering which side you’re on, either a graffiti problem or an excess of artwork.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s the amount of graffiti/street art was typical in Reykjavík of what one would expect from a major city.  However, something apparently changed in the early 2000s with the rise of international graffiti artists and increased tagging.

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Reykjavík became overrun with spray paint until words, logos, and pictures covered practically every inch of the city center.  On top of that, much of the work was often done without the permission of the property owners, leading to very tense relationships between the graffitiers and those in the graffitied areas.  Eventually the situation reached a point in 2008 where the city was forced to react, leading to a zero tolerance policy against graffiti and street art.

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This led to a lot of graffiti/street art being painted over, as well as the destruction of areas such as Heart Park, which was an area so heavily graffitied that it became a tourist destination and cultural icon in its own right.

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Of course, that extreme reaction also led to a lot of backlash from both those who created the art as well as those who appreciated it.  Nowadays, the city has reached a compromise of sorts.  Those wishing to create graffiti or street art must have the permission of the property owners, who in turn are supposed to (but don’t always) get permission from the city.  If you spray paint any public areas without the city’s permission, such as bridges, public buildings, streets, benches, or parks, it likely won’t last very long.

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So far, this compromise seems to be working in Reykjavík’s favor.  Iceland’s capital is spotted with tons of interesting and colorful pieces of art while still being respectful of property owners and city officials whose goal it is to maintain a positive public image of the city.

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I for one loved the random murals and paintings because of the vibe that they create and infuse the city with.  Without its colorful street art, Reykjavík wouldn’t be the same recognizably creative and interesting city that it is today.  The graffiti helps to highlight the imaginative and innovative nature of a city known for its art and music scenes as well as its bustling nightlife.

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One of the reasons that I love traveling so much is because I love experiencing different cultures and environments, and Reykjavík’s graffiti really helped it to stand out in the list of places I’ve been too.  My friend and I had so much fun just wandering the streets and bumping into unique and often beautiful examples are art around every corner.  Often we would decide to walk down a certain street or go into a different area solely because we thought we saw a particularly promising mural a distance away.  I can’t remember the number of times I said something along the lines of “Let’s go this way, I need to take a picture of that” before taking off down the block to stare at the side of a building, camera in hand.

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We photographed our favorites, but we could by no means photograph everything.  I just hope that you have as good a time looking at these oftentimes whimsical, unique, or beautiful examples of Icelandic street art as we did running into them.

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Canada’s Shame: The Murdered and the Missing

In April I attended the Women in the World summit in New York City.  This informative summit featured women from all over the world in a variety of fields, including politics, international affairs, film, journalism, business-creation, law, and academics.  One of the most illuminating yet devastating panels was on the treatment of indigenous women in Canada.

While we do occasionally learn in schools about the horrific and genocidal treatment of Native Americans in the United States, what is almost never talked about is Canada’s treatment of its indigenous groups.  These groups are called the First Nations, and they too have had to experience terrible abuse at the hands of the government.  The panel mostly covered what is referred to “Canada’s Shame”, which is the fact that up to 4,000 indigenous women in Canada have gone missing or have been murdered since 1980.

Two of the women on the panel were a mother and a sister to victims of Robert Pickton, one of Canada’s most notorious serial killers; another was a former detective on the Vancouver police force that worked on the Pickton case.  The last was Canada’s minister of indigenous and northern affairs.

The mother, Michele Pineault, and the sister, Melina Laboucan-Massimo, described how their relatives’ deaths were not taken seriously by the police; there was intense victim-blaming, as well as the pervading belief that the deaths of indigenous women were “inevitable”.  They were often just assumed to be overdoses or suicides without any investigation.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo and her family had to fight the police and the courts for a year and a half before they would even perform a toxin screen on her sister’s body, which proved that she did not in fact die of an overdose as the police ruled.  As for Michele Pineault, her daughter was involved in drugs, leading the police to drop her case and dismiss it as an overdose; however, she too was murdered.

The former detective talked about how she and the others working on the case new for a long time who they suspected of the murders once they finally connected the dozens of missing women cases; however, they couldn’t get the funding to investigate it as a major case since the police force didn’t take it seriously.  Even once the cases were investigated as murders, there were a lot of failures on the part of the investigative system.  It is suspected that Pickton murdered over forty women, but he was only convicted of six murders.

Michele Pineault was only told that DNA from her daughter had been found on Pickton’s farm six years after his conviction.  In 2014, she was informed by the police that they had two of her daughter’s vertebrae that had been in storage for almost 11 years, which certainly would have been enough to convict him of her murder; instead, he wasn’t even charged.  For Pineault daughter, there was no justice.

Pineault and Laboucan-Massimo stressed the importance of an overhaul within the government and police force in order to further protect the lives of indigenous women and persons, although Pineault expressed skepticism that the current system would improve.  As in the United States, indigenous people in Canada have long faced discrimination, racism, and persecution, which is not a situation that is solved with a simple governmental inquiry.  There needs to be a total reform within society in Canada so that the lives of indigenous persons are valued, and not only once they are missing or murdered.  First Nations cultures and voices need to be validated and protected, not dismissed.

Mother’s Arms: Käthe Kollwitz’s Women and War

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Earlier this year I visited one of my best friends who attends Smith College.  She took me on a tour of her University and the school’s art museum, which currently has a special exhibit on works of Käthe Kollwitz, a German artist and social activist during the period of the late 1800s up  until the second World War.  She was born in 1867 in Königsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia) and then moved to Berlin with her husband in 1891.  Her work was mostly comprised of etchings, lithographs, and woodcuts, and she also helped to produce pamphlets on many social issues including hunger, abortion, alcoholism, worker’s exploitation, labor rights, and domestic abuse.

Kollwitz first received critical acclaim for her series entitled A  Weavers’ Uprising, which she made from the years 1893-1897 and which was inspired by the Silesian Weavers Strike of 1844, and then again for her series The Peasant War (1902-1908), which was based on the peasant war of 1525-1526.  These two series, as with all of her work, heavily emphasized the roles of women not only as mothers, daughters, or simple participants, but as the starters of revolutions and action.

Losbruch (Outbreak) from the series Bauernkrieg (Peasant's War), 1903

Losbruch (Outbreak) from the series Bauernkrieg (Peasant’s War), 1903

It wasn’t until after World War I that Kollwitz created her third series, Krieg (1921-1923), which was a significant departure from her earlier work.  The war had a very profound effect on her, most notably because her youngest son Peter was killed in 1914 in Belgium on the battlefield, and afterwards she sank into depression and became disillusioned with revolution and indeed with society as a whole.  The Krieg series, or War series in English, did not follow any specific narrative like her previous series did; instead, the works simply showed depictions of grief and the dark reality that followed war.  Kollwitz also at this point became obsessed with the idea of creating a memorial to honor not only Peter, but the thousands of other soldiers who were brutally killed in battle.  She started looking for ideas for the memorial in 1914, but wasn’t completely satisfied until she created a sculpture entitled The Grieving Parents in 1931, which depicted her and her husband in mourning.

Die Mütter (The Mothers) from Krieg (War)

Die Mütter (The Mothers) from Krieg (War), 1922

In the mid 1930s, amidst the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, Kollwitz began what she knew would most likely be her last series, Death.  This series depicted death in a variety of scenarios, most of which emphasized women and children, and which culminated in a self-portrait entitled Call of Death.  The Nazi Party, which she vehemently opposed, as well as the seemingly inevitable return to war once again disillusioned her about the future of her country and also gained her enemies in the new government.  She was forced to resign from her teaching position at the Prussian Arts Academy, all of her works were removed from museums, and in 1936 she was threatened by the Gestapo with deportation to a concentration camp.  She was spared this fate most likely because of her international renown in the art world.

Two years after the death of her grandson, also named Peter, in battle in 1942 she wrote in her diary “…everything is gone and still mankind starts anew.  Where does this strength come from?  It is almost incomprehensible to me how much suffering people can bear.  In the future people will hardly understand this time”.  Käthe Kollwitz died in 1945, only a few weeks before the end of World War II.

Ruf des Todes (Call of Death) from the series Tod (Death), 1937

Ruf des Todes (Call of Death) from the series Tod (Death), 1937

I found this exhibit to be very powerful and thought provoking.  Kollwitz’s work was heavily emphasized by the social issues that defined her time, thereby cementing her place as an artist and activist primarily of the 20th century.  The pieces are best understood within the context of the time period in which they were created, which is why I thought it was a good decision on the part of the University to organize the pieces by series and accompany them with excerpts from her personal diary.  Overall, I really appreciated the various artworks that I saw, and I enjoyed learning about an artist that I would not have heard of otherwise.

Fall 2015

Sister Rosemary

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Earlier in the semester, I listened to a presentation from Sister Rosemary from Uganda. She shared with us her story of the civil war in her country and her amazing efforts to help rebuild in the wake of violence. She runs a school where women, particularly those with children, can learn valuable skills to make a living. One of the school’s sources of income is the sale of bags and wallets made from the tabs off of soda cans; these bags, while made of material that many would consider trash, become beautiful and stylish once completed.

Sister Rosemary was kind enough to tell us about her life in Uganda and share with us the many different projects happening to improve the standard of living for victims of the civil war. She and her school will even be working with Education, Business, and Engineering students from OU over the summer to help out with some of her efforts. While I wont be able to attend that trip, it sounds like an amazing opportunity.

 

German Club

The German Club is a club that anyone can join very easily at OU that meets once a week at the Second Wind Café for around an hour. It’s a relaxing and helpful time for students of German to get to practice the language by having conversations in German with people of all levels. I always had a good time at the meetings. The most helpful times I attended were when I was able to receive advice on my future German studies and where I should go abroad. Since I was able to connect with other students who had already traveled abroad, I was able to ask them about each location to try and narrow down which foreign university would be best for me. Overall, the German Club is a great, low-key club for anyone who is interested in speaking and using German regularly.

A Trip to Iceland?

While I won’t be doing a formal study abroad this summer, I would still like to be able to travel out of the country. That’s why my friend and I are currently planning a road trip around Iceland! Iceland is a beautiful country that I’ve wanted to travel to for a while, but it’s also fairly remote and not as popular a destination as other countries such as France or Italy. My friend, who studies Old Norse at her university, a language that is very similar to modern day Icelandic, also has an interest in going. We hope to spend two weeks driving and camping around the country learning about Iceland, hiking, seeing nature, and interacting with locals. Iceland is a very interesting and unique country, so I hope my friend and I will be able to go on our trip!

Books in Translation

Ever since I was little, I’ve loved to read. My favorite author is Kurt Vonnegut, but I’ve enjoyed books across all genres from classics to science fiction to fantasy to mystery. But even though I’ve been reading for a long time, it wasn’t until I was in high school that I began I think about books being translated. My senior year of high school I took AP Spanish Literature, which meant reading a lot of poems and short stories in their native Spanish. I loved a lot of these readings, especially the poems, but whenever I tried to share them with my parents and brother, none of whom speak Spanish, I would struggle to find translations that actually sounded good in English while still maintaining their true Spanish meaning. None of the English versions I could find lived up to the stories and poems in their original language.

Meanwhile, I began thinking about one of my favorite books, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Doestoevsky (Фёдр Достоевский). The book was written originally in Russian, but as I did not speak any Russian, I read it in English and thoroughly enjoyed it. I wondered why I enjoyed this English translation when I hadn’t enjoyed any of the English translations of the Spanish readings. Was the Russian translation simply better than the other translations had been? Or did the fact that I had never read Crime and Punishment in its original language affect my perception of its translation?

Having read other books translated from Russian, I now believe it was the second. Since I’d never read Crime and Punishment in Russian, I had no expectations when I started, unlike with my Spanish readings. I had nothing to compare it to. With that realization in mind, looking back at the Spanish translations of some of my favorite stories and poems from that class, I now think that many of them weren’t that bad. I had been unfairly expecting almost word-for-word translations that still sounded good in English, when that would have been impossible. English and Spanish are two very different languages; to express the same concept in each requires different wording and turn of phrase. That doesn’t mean the English translations are worse or that they don’t have meaning; they are just different from the original works.

While I definitely still believe it is possible to have a bad translation, I now appreciate translations of books for what they are- English approximations of works that can still hold much of the nuance and power of the originals, although inevitably different. And this is good too, since there are many books from many languages that I wish to read. It would be impractical to expect myself or anyone else to learn an entirely new language every time we wanted to read a book from a different language. However, with the languages I am learning, such as Spanish and German, I do like to stick to the original language whenever possible.

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