Have We Been Duped?

Before departing for Southeast Asia this December, I had two Hollywood-inspired images in my mind. The first is of starving children begging on the street for food, flies buzzing around their eyes and ears. The second is of people packed into sweatshops like farm animals, toiling endlessly for long hours each day. These images both proved to be completely wrong.

Instead, everywhere I went, the kids that I saw seemed genuinely happy. As I walked by, they would look up from the games they were playing to shout “Hello, mister!” in a chorus of giggles and smiles. I met a Thai Rasta named Tae in the seaside town of Krabi, who made it clear that I could stay at his bar indefinitely, free of charge. His catch-phrase? “Welcome home, brother!” On a hot day I remember passing by a shop where the owner was dozing off in a chair under a big fan, with sounds from a TV playing lightly in the background. I remember thinking “She doesn’t have it half bad.”

I visited many different places, some ultra-touristy, others where people would stop me on the street and ask for a picture because they had never met a white person before. I expected to find people unhappy and hungry, but what I found was the opposite. People did not stress over retirement savings – their kids would take care of them when they got old. People spent more time with their families, neighbors, cousins, friends. All my life I had held the belief that people outside of America are by definition worse off, but slowly a scary proposition started to occur to me: “Have we been duped?”

It’s certainly convenient for the American psyche to have us believe that we have it better off than the rest of the world because we make more money than them. How else do we justify the trade-offs that we make? My childhood experience was one of barely seeing my parents – they both worked full-time demanding jobs. What did all their hours of working afford them? The enormous house of their dreams, which they ended up selling for a net loss after their divorce.

The funny thing about this article, is that I don’t expect it to make sense to you – it certainly wouldn’t have made sense to me. The point of this isn’t to convince you that I’m right, but to show you that spending time in a different setting can cause profound and tremendous shifts in your perspective. My experience is entirely my own – even if you retraced my steps and saw all the same things, you’d likely come away with an equally valid but completely different take-away. What’s important is that you can, and should, step outside of your comfort zone. Take some time away. Try something new. You will learn things you couldn’t imagine and grow in ways you didn’t know were possible.

Questions or comments about my experiences or anything I’ve written here? I’d love to talk with you about it when I’m back on campus!

Oliner to Running HOA

How Being an Oliner Teaches you Everything You Need to Know to Run a Homeowners Association

I understand that I am the president of my HOA for reasons that I brought upon myself:
1. I repeatedly volunteer services in my neighborhood, like trimming trees and shrubs, picking up trash, and mending broken things.
2. I am fastidiously attentive to detail and read legal documents.
3. I show up at meetings, ask researched questions demonstrating attention to said legal documents, and incite positive change from leadership.
4. I didn’t decline the position when nominated by my neighbors.
Maybe this sounds strikingly familiar to you.

But we at Olin are high achievers. I presumed that I would have something to contribute to this nascent organization. The reality would serve to check my optimism in short order:
1. Some people just really like to complain.
2. People like the idea of an HOA because it means that an HOA theoretically compels other neighbors to “be normal”.
3. People reject the idea that their HOA should apply to them. People feel that they inherently are entitled to their personal version of “normal”.
4. People have zero understanding of what [little] an HOA can do to enforce its provisions.
5. Most people will do as little work (paid or volunteer) as possible. See also number 1.
I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. Was I the right person for this job? Maybe I should defer to someone else with better people skills, thicker skin, or more personal ideas for how the HOA should act.

My father-in-law told me years ago that being an HOA board member is a thankless job. And perhaps the rote tasks of selecting contractors, managing the management company, and completing required documentation are invisible, thankless work. But I have learned valuable life lessons serving as president of my little neighborhood’s homeowners association. To this end, I assure that you being a member of the Olin community has fully prepared you for running a homeowners association of your own—even if it feels overwhelming at first. Granted, you’ll be as fastidious as any when reading your community’s legal documents and consulting with its legal counsel. You’ll also bring the fabulous, intangible skills that all Oliners develop to bear on an unsuspecting board of directors.

First, create a bubble. People value a sense of community. Creating a neighborhood identity through inspirational messages on the sidewalk’s sandwich board, annual neighborhood events, and a digital forum helps people feel like they belong. This place is home.

Second, spread the “do something” spirit. People are apt to follow. Neighborhood work days to spread new mulch on the playground, to pick up trash around the common areas, and to plant shrubs bring neighbors out of the woodwork to talk and bond over a shared project. You have to be the first one out, with tools to share, and instructions to give.

Third, work to resolve problems as a team. People become defensive when chastised, especially when protecting their home turf. The positive effects of the community bubble and the “do something” spirit are lost on angry neighbors. A neighbor who realizes that an HOA’s bark is often worse than its bite can call the HOA on it in a very expensive way. With HOA funds coming from only one source—the neighbors—one person’s fight can quickly become everyone’s fight. Head off problems before they become more than a complaint to eliminate the risk to time, money, and emotional health. The application of active listening skills may be sufficient to handle the complainant, and the application of sincere empathy may be sufficient to compel the defendant.

An HOA is a special type of business. There are numerous laws, bylaws, regulations, and exceptions thereto that come into play. With the right resources at hand and the skills you practice every day in the Olin community, you too can give back to your neighborhood in a very tangible way.

Interview: Meet Gwendal

In January, Olin welcomed 3 exchange students to campus for the spring semester. One of those students is Gwendal Plumier. Gwendal is an engineering student from Olin partner school KULeuven, a leading higher education and research university located in Belgium. He has come here to improve his English and his intercultural communication skills and to have the opportunity to learn from people and experiences, which is (of course) the Olin way!
How did you find Olin and why did you want to study here?
I found Olin on my institution’s website (Campus Group T, the industrial engineering wing of the University of Leuven), where there was a list of partner schools by country. I knew I wanted to study in the United States.
Tell us about your academic experience at Olin.
I chose 3 project-based courses at Olin which is a learning method not widely offered at my institution. I believe engineering is much more than just mathematics and scientific courses. You can have an unrivalled idea but without good communication with your team and investors, your idea will not see the light of day. I think studying at an American institution will help me improve my presentation and networking skills to help me launch a successful career.
How is life outside the classroom? Did you feel welcomed to Olin when you arrived?
From the first day on campus, I have felt welcomed to the Olin community. Some students were especially welcoming and consequently I met many students very quickly. I really like suite life and it has offered me the opportunity to become familiar with American culture through my suitemates.
When you reflect on why you came to the U.S. to study, do you feel you are accomplishing your goals?
The experience of working on projects that have a real world impact has exceeded my expectation. I have learned so much from meeting with people who would benefit from my group project. And I believe my English has improved because I am immersed in the language in my classes and dorm life.
Is there any part of Belgian culture that you miss?
Leuven is a very much a university town with lots of outdoor cafes and places to have a drink or coffee with your friends. That is one thing I miss but little else since I am so busy and enjoying myself at Olin.
Would you encourage Olin students to spend a semester at KULeuven or to visit you in Belgium?
Yes, definitely. Belgium is in the center of Europe and a very international place. It is the home of Stella Artois beer, excellent Belgium chocolate, and is known for its beautiful medieval towns and Renaissance architecture. With a population of over 11 million people, the country has distinctive ethnic regions including Dutch-speaking Flanders to the north, French-speaking Wallonia to the south and a German-speaking community to the east. My institution is the best engineering school in Belgium. It is only 20 minutes by train from Brussels, the capital. For students interested in international politics, Brussels is home to numerous international organizations. It is the de facto capital of the EU and the headquarters of NATO.


Hello, Olin. I write to you now from The City of Good Airs, the capital of a faraway country in the Southern Annulus called Silverland. My path here has been treacherous, requiring me to cross that impenetrable band of intense solar radiation, the Scorch, or the Equator as some call it. I believe my decades spent living next to it may have granted me an immunity to its deadly rays, as the crossing passed without incident, save the six month time warp. It is a strange land, this “aɾxentina”, where people speak a foreign dialect of Latin called “espaɲol” and drink carbonated water. Now that I have reached this untamed frontier that few humans have seen, as is customary of those who study abroad, I shall share with you some of the incredible truths that have come to light during my journey thus far.
The Earth is round.
I know how that sounds, but I’m completely serious. I have taken careful celestial observations both north and south of the Equator, and I have reached the undeniable conclusion that my orientation with respect to the stars has changed dramatically, and that the surface on which we stand rotates once each day. My observations of the celestial sphere here have not only thoroughly contradicted the well-known Planar Earth Model, but have matched the phenomena of the “Southern Hemisphere” that government agents describe as evidence for their Round Earth with astounding precision. Chilling precision.
Think about it. How would the US have known the exact rate at which the southern celestial south pole rotates? How would they have known that it were summer here? How were they able to set up their embassy facade in this city? The US has never held any territories in the Southern Hemisphere, and everyone knows that lizards are cold-blooded, so the Reptilluminati can’t have ventured out here to see this first-hand. The facts just don’t line up. Clearly, something is afoot. And I think I know what it is.
What are the biggest countries purportedly in the Southern Hemisphere? The Malvinas, Argentina, Rhodesia, and South America. The United States purportedly has an embassy at one, has two embassies indirectly at two via the UK embassy and the Zimbabwe embassy, respectively, and refuses to acknowledge the existence of the last. One, two, and one. One, one, and two. Fibonacci numbers. Auspicious. And check out what the initials of those countries spell out. I always thought that there was something fishy about the Antarctic Treaty. It prohibits anyone from setting foot on an entire continent, yet most people have never even heard of it.
That’s because Earth is on Mars.
It is very important that we not alert the US government, as they would be sure to retaliate were they to know that we had unearthed their greatest lie yet, one that not the most recognised of conspiracy investigators have discovered. The Earth is a globe, resting on the Martian surface. They don’t patrol Antarctic waters with an invisible multinational navy and engage in land wars over seemingly useless archipelagos because the South Pole doesn’t exist. It’s because anyone who tried to reach the South Pole would hit their head on Mars. They don’t send probes to The Red Planet to learn about it or to make money, but to search for methods that we might escape from this gravitational prison. This also explains the fake Mars that the NASA has in the night sky. Everyone knows that planets are supposed to have retrograde motion, but Fake Mars just constantly circles east to west once per day. It’s obviously a hologram.
It is unclear whether Earth has always been on Mars or if we have only recently landed here, though if the latter is true, the landing was almost certainly orchestrated as part of the government’s nefarious plan. I have also not yet determined the motivation for this particular cover-up, though it almost definitely has to do with money. More investigation is definitely necessary, and I will likely know more after the personal chat with the Prime Minister of Argentina in a platinum bunker full of krypton that I have planned. I encourage all of you to investigate for yourselves. You can examine Fake Mars for any clues as to our precise location on the real Mars’s surface, harass NASA officials online or in person, or participate in that new satellite class with Chris Lee and design a satellite to try to detect Mars’s surface.
In conclusion, I have conceded to change my world-view from a flat one to a round one because that’s what real thinkers do. We actually look at the world around us and, when what we see doesn’t match up with what we expect, we change our minds to explain. We don’t just blindly hold onto crackpot theories like evolution and gravity and grapefruits just because we’re too afraid to see the truth. This is what differentiates us from mindless Science believers. And this is what has enabled me to make the proletariat’s greatest discovery of our time. They’re not just lying to us about the shape of our planet. They’re lying to us about which planet we’re on. This madness needs to stop. Wake up, broomans! Rise against, shoaliners! The Man has gone too far this time! Tune into your conch shells, because the revolution is coming. Date: soon, and location: Mars.

Crossword Puzzle

1. Wide-mouth pitcher
5. Like Dark Souls or Borderlands (abr.)
8. The very top
12. With 36A, an infamous Frenchman
14. The smallest constellation
15. Common Bar VIP freebies (2 words)
16. Kanas-based movie company
17. Dad to Grandpa
18. O.J. Simpson Judge
19. __ sham bo
21. Followers of effs
22. Häussermann invention
24. Like Molly and Meth
27. Store welcomers
30. Gunpowder or Darjeeling
33. Apparent border in sewing?
34. Part of a three-piece
35. Parkland survivors’ opposition
36. See 12A
38. Started on (abr.)
39. Of positive electrolytic charge
40. A nose, __ eye
41. Exists
43. Priest’s subject (abr.)
45. Outlandish
47. Ice-cream option
48. Energy units
49. Loudly lament

1. “But no more deep will I ___ mine eye” Romeo and Juliet
2. Atilla and Genghis Kahn
3. “Totally wicked dude!”
4. Harry’s ginger friend
5. 12A took power after one
6. Fool, in Australia
7. Wildebeest
8. More sore
9. One who takes an exam early?
10. Catchall currency of the UK
11. Petites size
13. Facebooks thumbs (abr.)
20. Sandwich moistener
23. Giving rewards to
25. Nautical flags
26. Vas__ das?
28. Dorothy’s Aunt
29. 12A’s island of exile
31. Spanish ‘this’
32. Egyptian sun god
33. Reaction to dust
34. Texas-based gas chain
37. Where 12A is buried
42. Windows file format
44. Lawyer’s must
46. Mississippi neighbor