Takeaways from the Academic Life Retreat

For three days after Commencement last May, 60 staff members, faculty, and students spent over 20 hours bonding, talking about problems they see in Olin, ideating, and testing out ways to work towards a better Olin and a better world – and most importantly, talking about what “better” means. We called this the Academic Life Retreat.

Throughout the retreat, I was on teams with staff, faculty, and fellow students. My teammates included deans, design professors, SCOPE leaders, engineering professors, marketing professionals, family and alumni relations team members, and a provost.
I participated in a few conversations with particularly interesting people/topic combinations. Below are a few including what we talked about, what I learned, and how their insight has impacted my behavior.


I spoke with Olin’s Director of Marketing Alyson Goodrow about the tense divide in viewpoints between the student body and the Marketing & Communications (MarCom) team.

I learned that the MarCom team is self-aware. Student jokes do not go unheard – but if it’s not actionable feedback, it’s hard to know what exactly to change. MarCom is willing and excited to share their approach with anyone who asks, and they want feedback from us!

Next time I find myself confused or frustrated with how Olin is being communicated to the world, instead of making tired MarCom jokes to my friends, I’m going to try knocking on Alyson’s door (Milas 229) to get informed about the decision and then offer feedback if I have any.


I spoke with professors, staff and students about how the stories we tell about Olin don’t always reflect what the people here are most proud of (i.e. differing definitions of success between students, Admissions, PGP, Marketing, etc.). This included professors of all disciplines initiating discussions about the pressures students face to get high-paying software jobs, and leaders of SCOPE who are excited to make social good a greater focus of SCOPE projects and to enable organizations who can’t afford SCOPE’s current price tag to get projects anyway.

I learned that the perspective, “It makes me uncomfortable/angry/sad that it feels like we’re defining success as a six-figure software job,” is shared certainly beyond students, and also beyond Design and AHS faculty. Engineering faculty and staff members in all departments think about it just as much.

I’m going to try to initiate more conversations with people who aren’t students, especially about important topics like this. By talking with a more diverse set of people, I hope to continue expanding my own personal definition of success and affect how we present our definition as a community, while also remembering that each of us has a right to our own.


I spoke with many people in diverse roles about the student culture of spreading experiences and opinions to those who have not had those experiences or the chance to form their own opinions yet.

I was reminded that in this community, we hear a lot about each other’s experiences and often become biased before we get the chance to form our own opinions based on firsthand experience. This can be pretty dangerous in that it prevents new voices from developing, and it’s a concern that worries people beyond the student body.

I’m going to try to make a conscious effort to talk less and listen more, especially to people in younger classes. A lot of my grievances are outdated (e.g., that class we found irrelevant has been redesigned, that person I didn’t like has graduated). I want my words and actions to illustrate that learning about and supporting new progress, even if it’s too late for me to directly benefit from it, is more important to me than reliving the glory (or gory) days.

I’m also going to try to make a conscious effort to approach people, classes, members of the administration, etc. under the assumption that they have good intentions towards me and Olin. If I give people a chance and treat everyone at Olin as a partner on my team by default, I believe our team will be that much stronger.


Most of these lessons center on differing perspectives within this community. To be clear, I don’t think differing perspectives are a problem. I do think it can be problematic when we don’t discuss them with the people who are different from us – in respectful ways that focus on understanding each other and continuing to work together.

Please stop me in the halls or reach out with thoughts, concerns, questions, etc. – and also talk to each other, including people who aren’t students. I have so much faith in this community and our ability to grow.

Special thanks to Jessica Townsend, Jason Woodard, and Emily Roper-Doten for spearheading the retreat, to all who contributed content and led activities, to the participants for opening up to these conversations with me, and to you for reading!

An Offense of Esperanto

Note: This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. If you don’t know the IPA, I highly recommend learning it; Once you do, you can pretty much pronounce anything. For the purposes of reading this article, here’s a brief rundown:
Forward slashes / / denote IPA, double quotes “ ” denote English text, and angle brackets ⟨ ⟩ denote foreign text (e.g. “when”, ⟨cuándo⟩, /ˈkwan.do/). Most consonants are the same as they are in English, except /x/, which is like a harsh /h/ sound (Spanish ⟨ j⟩), and /j/, which is English “y”. /ʃ/ is “sh”ˌ /ʒ/ is the “s” in “usual” (French ⟨ j⟩), /t͡ʃ/ is “ch”, and /d͡ʒ/ is “j”.
The vowels /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, and /u/ are as in Spanish, Latin, or Japanese. /y/ is a weird “ew” sound (French ⟨u⟩), /æ/ is “a” as in “cat”, and /ə/ is “u” as in “cut”. /˥/, /˧˥,/ /˧˩˦/, and / ˥˩/ are tone contours; they apply to the previous syllable. Pretend anything else is whatever letter it looks closest to and ignore anything that doesn’t look like a letter, and you should be good to go.

Once upon a time, there was a little Jewish boy with a dream. He lived in the city of Białystok in eastern Poland. ‘Twas a town of many tongues—Polish, German, Russian, Hebrew—as a result, most of its inhabitants could not understand one another.

Misunderstanding bred mistrust, and mistrust bred fear. What are those Germans saying? Are those Russians talking about us? Everywhere he looked, this boy saw people speaking in strange languages, casting hostile looks at their fellow Białystokians.

And so he dreamed. He dreamed of a world where Poles saw neither Russians, nor Germans, nor Jews, but fellow humans. A world where information could flow freely regardless of the origins and nationalities of the interlocutors. Where all the world shared one tongue that would bring humanity together as one race.

That boy was named Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, and he went on to construct a language that sucked in almost every way. That language was Esperanto: The International Language.

Esperanto, first published in 1887, was one of the first constructed auxiliary languages (henceforth “auxlangs”). Designed to be neutral and easy to learn for people of diverse backgrounds, Esperanto was intended by Zamenhof to become the International Auxiliary Language (henceforth “IAL”), a globally agreed-upon human language for all international communication.

Contrary to popular belief, it was not a complete failure and is not a dead language. Far from it. With millions of speakers, hundreds of thousands of Vikipedio articles, and a place in Google Translate, Esperanto is the closest auxlang by a huge margin to attaining worldwide acceptance, and that bothers me.

Don’t get me wrong; I hold Zamenhof in high esteem. He was highly educated, knew a dozen languages, and had a wonderful vision for the future. While I don’t agree with his belief that Esperanto was the solution to war, I do think he was onto something with that IAL idea. He was not the first person to have it, to be sure. Jean-François Sudre released Sol-Re-Sol: The Musical Language back in 1827, though it never caught on, and Johann Martin Schleyer constructed Volapük: The Father of all Auxlangs in 1879, though Esperanto largely overtook its user base when it came out a decade later.

No, my qualm with Zamenhof is that for all his intelligence and drive, he was incapable of creating a good auxlang. He was just one person, with no background in formal linguistics or any languages that weren’t Indo-European. The result is a language of good intentions and immense relative success riddled with obnoxious flaws that are far too easy to spot from 2018.

Many argue that Esperanto is good enough and that we should stick with it, given how successful it is. While its acceptance in the international (read: mostly Western) community is remarkable for what it is, it’s still not that successful; only a few million people speak it. It’s not yet far enough for that to outweigh its numerous flaws. Because believe me, does this language have flaws. Enough that I believe we should drop Esperanto for a better-constructed auxlang now, before it gets any more influential, and push that new language to international acceptance.

The first problem with Esperanto is its phonology. The average natural language has 31 distinct sounds, so it may seem like Esperanto’s inventory of 28 is a good size. The problem with such thinking is that the set of sounds that appear in natural languages is extremely diverse.

There are a few phonemes that are quite common cross-linguistically, but most phonemes only occur in a tiny minority of languages. In practice, only about 0.5% of monolingual humans (and that only using a liberal interpretation of Ukranian phonology) can actually pronounce Esperanto words without needing to learn some new sounds—a non-trivial task.

Anglophones are fairly well-off, needing only to learn how to say /t͡s/ and /x/, neither of which is very hard. If a Mandarin sinophone wants to speak Esperanto, though, they need to learn how to make all nine of /b/, /d/, /g/, /d͡ʒ/, /v/, /z/, /ʒ/, /h/, and /r/. That’s nearly a third of the letters in Esperanto that members of the world’s largest linguistic demographic can’t say.

This seems even stranger when one notes that, because Esperanto words are so long and so few, several of the letters don’t even really get used. /ʒ/ never contrasts with /d͡ʒ/, /z/ never contrasts with /s/, /t͡s/ never contrasts with /s/, /x/ rarely contrasts with /h/, and /ʃ/ rarely contrasts with /t͡ʃ/.
Yet with all the letters it does have, it omits some of the most common ones. Esperanto has no /w/, for instance, replacing all /w/s in its source words with /v/s. Thus, the word “four”, derived from Italian /kwat.tro/, is /kvar/, which seems to imply that Zamenhof thought /kvar/ was easier to say than /kwar/. This is all exacerbated by the pointlessly difficult onset clusters Zamenhof allowed, such as /ʃr-/, /st͡s-/, /kn-/, and the aforementioned /kv-/.

Grammatically speaking, Esperanto is solidly mediocre. It is far simpler and more regular than a natural language, to be sure, but far more complex than it has any need to be. Verbs inflect for tense and mood, while nouns inflect for number and case, and adjectives inflect for number and case in agreement with their nouns. On the bright side, words don’t inflect for aspect, person, or gender, so this is certainly a step up from Spanish. That’s a low bar, though; the level of inflection that Zamenhof left in is completely unnecessary and adds more rules to learn and keep track of. A good auxlang wouldn’t inflect anything at all and would use adpositions to alter meaning where necessary. At the very least, the inflections should be optional.

Other than that, it’s just pretty generic as far as European grammars go. Nouns are either singular or plural. Definite noun phrases must be preceded by the definite article. The object follows the verb, which follows the subject. Nouns in intransitive sentences always act as subjects. None of these features are necessarily bad, but the fact that all of them are the same as in the majority of European languages suggests that they were chosen not for quality, but for their prominence in the narrow set of languages Zamenhof knew. Considering the vast grammatical possibilities outside of European languages, these grammatical features make Esperanto look ill-thought-through and culturally biased.

The vocabulary is where Esperanto really sucks. First, there’s the eurocentrism. All of Esperanto’s words are taken from European languages, primarily English, French, German, Italian, and Yiddish. As you may notice, most people don’t speak any of those languages.

Some Esperantists will be quick to point out that there are words from outside Europe, for example from Japanese, due to natural loanwords. If a word is loaned from Japanese to English, that word can then be drawn from English into Esperanto.

Let’s test that theory: Japanese people call their own country ⟨日本⟩, /ni.hoɴ/. This is related by meaning and spelling to Old Wu Chinese ⟨日本⟩, /t͡ʃ i.paŋ/, which is related by pronunciation to English ⟨Japan⟩, /d͡ʒə.ˈpæn/, which is related by spelling to hypothetical Latin ⟨Japan⟩, /ˈja.pan/, which is whence we get Esperanto ⟨Japanio⟩, /ja.pa.ˈni.o/. It is indeed derived from a Japanese word. You may notice, however, that /ja.pa.ˈni.o/ has literally nothing in common with /ni.hoɴ/. I wish I could say this is an isolated case, but alas. Germany, which calls itself /doy̑t͡ʃ.lant/, is called /ger.ma.ˈni.o/. China, which calls itself /ʈ͡ʂuŋ˥.kwə˧˥/, is called /ˈt͡ʃ i.no/. Even the United States of America, which calls itself /ju.ˈnɑɪ̯.tɪd steɪ̯ ts/, /ə.ˈmɛ.rɪ.kə/, or /ju ɛs eɪ̯/, is called /u.so.no/. Whence in Davy Jones’s Locker did he get ⟨Usono⟩‽

Then, there’s the sexism. The word for “man” in Esperanto is ⟨viro⟩. The word for “woman”, ⟨virino⟩. “Boy” is ⟨knabo⟩, and “girl” is ⟨knabino⟩, “masculine friend” is ⟨amiko⟩, and “feminine friend” is ⟨amikino⟩. The rule for words that describe people in Esperanto is as such: they are masculine by default and become feminine by inserting the suffix ⟨-in⟩ before the final ⟨-o⟩.

It’s like that thing where overzealous feminists sometimes say that “female” is sexist because it’s a compound of “male”—they actually have separate etymologies, so any perceived sexism is coincidental—except that in Esperanto, ⟨virino⟩ really is a compound of ⟨viro⟩, so the language is inherently sexist.
To be fair, for words like ⟨amik(in)o⟩, most Esperantists agree that it’s not strictly necessary to inflect for gender if it’s not relevant to the conversation. In that case, it’s recommended that you just use the default, masculine form. ⟨-in⟩ then serves to emphasise the femininity of the friend, and if you want to emphasise their masculinity—wait, why would you want to do that? Isn’t it just safe to assume that every human is a man until specified otherwise?

Beyond that, Esperanto uses English’s pronoun system, including the separate words for “it”, “she”, and “he”. Modern developments in the definition of gender aside, this is just an unnecessary number of words for a language that strives to be easy to learn. There’s no reason for pronouns to inflect for gender. If you need specificity in the third person, just don’t use a pronoun. That’s not what those are for.

Overall, these pronouns highlight the biggest systematic problem with Esperanto: so much of it just isn’t well thought through. As smart as Zamenhof was, he was just one person. He created a language riddled with issues that would have been so easy to spot and fix with a second person looking over it, which add up to make Esperanto nigh unpalatable.

If we are going to go through the effort of installing an IAL, shouldn’t we take the time to do it right rather than sticking to this one hot mess that has managed to gain popularity against all odds? After all, once we have an IAL, we’ll never be able to convince the world to switch to another one.

So what is the solution? Esperanto does have competitors, but most of them are as or more problematic than it is. Interlingua: The IALA’s Choice and Ido: Esperan2 are the main ones.

Interlingua is a naturalistic auxlang that seeks to combine all European languages in a fashion that makes it “unusually easy to learn [for people who already speak European languages, which is everyone who matters]”. Like many natural European languages, it has an irregular case system, but only in the pronouns and a letter ⟨h⟩ that appears in many words but never makes a sound. Apparently, it occurred to none of the creators of Interlingua that natural languages are stupid and that the whole point of Esperanto was to be easy to learn for everyone.

Ido, on the other hand, is a reform of Esperanto that fixes some minor issues but ignores or creates other ones. For instance, they added pan-gender third-person pronouns but also left in the masculine, feminine, and neuter ones, so that people have to learn four singular third-person pronouns. Worse, they scrapped Esperanto’s one-symbol-per-phoneme-one-phoneme-per-symbol writing system by reintroducing the letter ⟨x⟩ for /ks/ and the digraph ⟨qu⟩ for /kw/. Apparently, it occurred to none of the creators of Ido that the letter ⟨x⟩ is stupid and is, in fact, one of the most common complaints about English after the spelling exceptions and gendered pronouns.

Beyond those two, there are uncountably many other auxlangs, though most, such as Novial: The New IAL and Interlingue: Not To Be Confused With Interlingua are Eurocentric, poorly constructed, and generic. Two popular languages that stand out are Lojban: The Logical Language and Toki Pona: The Language of Good. Both have many virtues, but neither is specifically designed for international communication, leaving them ill-suited as IALs.

One must start looking at really obscure languages like Elefen: La Lingua Franca Nova, Kotava: The Language of One and All, and Neo Patwa: The New World Pidgin before finding anything resembling quality. Most of the people who make good auxlangs don’t care to promote them, leaving them to struggle and die, while those who have the time and resources to promote their auxlangs never seem to make good ones.

The generic poorly-made auxlangs saturate the internet, and the few people who care enough to go hunting for good ones are divided among the hundreds of alternatives.

The solution then is simple. There are two ways to resolve competing standards. Either a unifying force could choose a good one and convince everyone else to stick with it (there was an International Auxiliary Language Association assembled for this very purpose, but they chose Interlingua, so they’re obviously compromised), or everyone could just learn all of them. If enough people learn enough auxlangs, both good and popular, then one is bound to eventually reach the majority of humans and emerge as the people’s choice. In that spirit, here are my recommendations for with which auxlangs you should start.

Neo Patwa is a gem. It’s a little on the minimalistic side, but nearly perfect in most other ways. Despite all I’ve said about it, you should probably also consider Esperanto. Its popularity in the realm of auxlangs cannot be overstated, and knowing it might even turn out to be a useful skill in coming decades. After that, I recommend Toki Pona, which only has 120 words and about a dozen grammar rules. It’s far too ambiguous and simplistic to be an effective IAL, but it’s fairly popular and so easy to learn that if you’re studying auxlangs already, you might as well check that one off.
If you hunger for more after that, look at Elefen, which is a perfect execution of the generic eurocentric auxlang, or Kotava, which is pretty decent despite its massive vocabulary. You might even check out Lawnsosliel, my language, once I finish constructing it (I have a really cool pronoun system, guys). Go crazy! And if you actually plan on learning any of these, you should totally hit me up so that we can study together.

The most important thing, as always, is to be informed, and not to take the first international language offered to you. If we all work together, we can make that little Jewish boy’s international language die once and for all. Restu ebenaj, kamaradoj.

Close Encounter

I don’t know what makes me linger to look across the cove. I’m bringing the formed bread out to the porch to proof in the cool evening. The door sits open behind me as I set the dutch oven down, but I step forward instead of back.

Maybe it’s the delicious chill of breeze on my arms. I’ve been reading too long by the fire, down to a thin tee while I wait for water to boil on the woodstove. So I’m there in the stillness to see it, just past the sandbar: a plume of spray, fading.

No way. It’s too close, too shallow. But it comes again, now that I can hear it:
Phwhwhwww. A spume. Humpback whales in Sunnyside Cove.

The door is still open behind me, but I’m pulling my boots on, running. Across the goosetongue patch, the rocks, the kelp, I race to the waterline. Twenty feet off, a whale blows, rises.

Whales’ pace is commensurate with size. I take double-digit breaths waiting for their next one. I wrap my arms around my thin blue tee, stare down the inlet.

Seagulls wheel in front of low yellow clouds. A whale surfaces, breathes, sinks. The above-water part between the dorsal fin and tail is as big as my canoe.

I watch until I see a tail: sure sign of a whale diving deep. I go back inside.

It’s my one night at Sunnyside home alone. Dana and her crew left this afternoon; my friends are arriving tomorrow; and Rick’s in town playing basketball tonight.

I check the rhubarb crisp, consider making tea. But I keep hearing whale sounds. So I go out to look again.

Closer than ever, fifteen feet offshore of the point. The whales surface in intervals, breathing, rolling, turning in the shallow water so their side fins breach.

I run out again. There’s an urge to be close to something so huge- a need to stand there and see: how big is it, really? Can I feel that mass of muscle if I’m near enough?

The water rises just before the exhale, mounding over the whale’s back. The ridge in the water, the blow, the breach, recede. A rush of water shushes along the shore: wake, displaced.

I’m still down by the water line, watching the whales circle, when motor noise alerts me to Rick coming home.

“Rick!” I yell across the water. “Whales!” I signal with the flashlight on my phone. I run over to him while he ties up the boat, run back to the whales by the point.

We decide to get the canoe. The whales aren’t moving off, so we figure we can get pretty close in a boat.

Down the long low-tide beach we carry the canoe. Quick on the calm water, we paddle. In the fading light, the sky is silver; the sea black. We chase toward the sprays and sounds.

Pretty soon, we hear whales off both bow and stern, forty feet and seventy. We wait, watch, guess their moves. We always see whales from afar. This time, can we get close?

We’re thirty feet out from shore when the far one blows. Then the near one blows between us and land– twenty feet away. They’re syncopated: the far whale blows, then the near.

I paddle in towards land. The far whale blows. Three. Two. Holy shit.

The water directly off the bow is rising. Four feet in front, a ridge. And then–
Breach. Four feet ahead, a side fin rises, higher than the boat, higher than me. The canoe tips in the displacement, wobbles.

The fin is a dark triangle, white underside. It cuts the water in a sweeping curve. Our canoe drifts still closer as we sit stunned. I don’t even reach to stabilize. The leviathan must be right below us in the black water. The water moves.

We see a hint of the massive body emerge, then sink. The fin sinks back down. The water roils. In our little canoe, all we can do is sit there. And then it’s past. The wave of displaced water rolls a susurrus down the rocky shore.

Hands shaking, I paddle to shore. Close enough for tonight.

See more of Kelsey’s writing at medium.com/@SelkeyMoonbeam

Horoscopes by Drunk Editors

Taurus (Apr. 20 – May 20): Stay in school kids. There are more drugs there.

Gemini (May 21 – Jun. 20): Dunce, ignoramus, dullard, drongo, klutz, Little Witham, silly billy, nincompoop, poop-stick, blockhead, dunderhead, dumbo, nitwit, stooge, sucker, twit, birdbrain, blockhead, bonehead, clod, cretin, dimwit, dolt, dope, goose, imbecile, loon, schlemiel, and numskull are all synonyms for fool. You’re welcome.

Cancer (Jun. 21 – Jul. 22): It turns out people don’t have an “I’m Feeling Lucky” button like Google does. But it would make making plans with your indecisive friend Jerry a lot easier. Come on, Jerry, Chipotle or Five Guys? It’s not that hard.

Leo (Jul. 23 – Aug. 22):
Fun fact: snails can survive in almost any habitat. I find that oddly inspiring.

Virgo (Aug. 23 – Sep. 22): Virgo means virgin in Greek. Which means most Virgos eventually have to change their birthdays to a more appropriate date.

Libra (Sep. 23 – Oct. 22): It’s a good thing cactuses don’t die as easily as that basil plant you killed last year. Yeah, we remember.

Scorpio (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21): Much like you, a scorpion can glow in the dark, gives birth to live young, and consume anything they can subdue.


Capricorn (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19): I don’t know. You probably like goats.

Aquarius (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18): Water can dissolve more substances than any other liquids. So I’m thinking next time you get a super annoying teammate. You may want to try dissolving in. I don’t know, just throwing it out there.

Pisces (Feb. 19 – Mar. 20): I’m not drunk. Your face is drunk.

Aries (Mar. 21 – Apr. 19): As the great prophet Don McLean once said:

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
And singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die


Welcome back, and to all you fresh faces, welcome to this year’s first issue of Frankly Speaking!
For all you fresh people, Frankly Speaking is Olin’s student unofficial student-run newspaper, which means we publish almost anything and we do it for free.

Our staff, which ended last year as two people, has more than doubled this year! Let me introduce them to you.

Our distributors, the lovely Kristen Behrakis and Hannah Kolano will spend hours printing, folding, and tossing papers gleefully onto the dining room tables.

It’s the job our editors of Kai Loewenstein and Marie- Caroline Finke to check your commas and remind you whether it’s it’s or its.

Finally, let me introduce myself, Editor-in-Chief, Sophia Nielsen. For those of you that don’t know me, you’ll have to wait another couple months. I’ll be putting together this semester’s layouts studying abroad on the – cold – beaches of St. Andrew’s.

For now, just know that I have a deep love for the reality TV show Survivor and, thanks to Justin, a deep fear of angle brackets. If you would like to join our staff, shoot me an email at sophia@students.olin.edu. We can always use help editing, posting articles to our website, doing layouts, and distributing. Someday, I’ll even graduate and a young person will have to take over this paper. That person could be you.

As always, we depend on contributions from Olin students, faculty, and staff to fill it with content. So if you have any opinions, inspirations, or printable talents, consider submitting them to your favorite unofficial student-run newspaper.