Letter to… Planet Earth

Dear Planet Earth,

I hope you’re doing well. But I fear you’re feeling a little under the weather.

Firstly, I want to say sorry. Sorry for the destruction that the human race has caused you and continues to cause every day. Pollution, litter, deforestation, over-consumption; the list could go on. I apologise on behalf of the man who will continue to cause a lot more devastation to your precious land and atmosphere: the current President of the United States, a man who should know better. His lack of interest in the environment and climate change is particularly unfathomable considering the almost unanimous agreement of the dangerous consequences of climate change by numerous scientists, societies, science academies, government agencies and intergovernmental bodies.

After the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement in October 2016, we all thought things were heading in the right direction. It was, after all, the first ever universal, legally binding global climate deal between 195 countries. Their long-term goal is to keep the increase of global average temperatures below 2°C. But now all of that hard work may be for nothing – and the reason begins with a big fat capital T.

Trump’s new executive order ‘Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth’ announced on March 28th is seen by many as a step backwards in terms of green energy and a big slap in the face of Planet Earth. The order instructs every agency of the federal government to immediately review and get rid of existing regulations that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources. i.e. the regulations surrounding the fossil-fuel and nuclear-power industries.

In particular, it directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revise the Clean Power Plan – created by Obama in August 2015 – which was meant to show the world that the US is committed to leading global efforts to address climate change. Helping the US to get halfway to their target of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by a quarter, from their 2005 levels, by 2025. In Trump’s words it is a “crushing attack on American industry”.

Here are some pretty incredible statistics: the plan would, it was projected, result in 870 million fewer tons of carbon pollution released into the atmosphere, as many as 360 fewer premature deaths in the US between now and 2030, and 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children. Surely something worth keeping?

The EPA is rapidly descending into a shambles. Scott Pruitt, the new EPA administrator (and known skeptic of climate change) announced that the agency was no longer interested in even collecting data on the amount of methane that oil and gas companies release. This, from the person in charge of an agency specifically created to protect human health and the environment.

In a recent New Yorker article entitled Trump V. The Earth, Amy Davidson argues that this order is not what Trump calls “an end to the war on coal,” but is in fact a war on the basic knowledge of the harm that coal can do. I would argue that this is the battle cry of a man who wants to recommence the war on our planet – it was far from ending, but it was at least being recognized and addressed. A war which will affect every single one of us. I wonder if he ever thinks about how his actions will affect the world for future generations – the one his son, Barron, and grandchildren will grow up in.

But climate change will not just affect a far-off distant future; it is already impacting the here and now. Just ask the displaced communities forced from their homes due to rising sea levels (global sea level rose about eight inches in the last century. The rate in the last two decades, however, is nearly double that of the last century.) Or ask the people in South Sudan – where drought is a contributing factor to one of the worst humanitarian crises since 1945, according to the UN. In March 2014, TIME Magazine published a report which found that global warming of only 2º C will likely reduce yields of crops like rice and maize as early as the 2030s – much sooner than expected. This is happening in countries that produce barely any carbon emissions, countries with almost no industry or few vehicles. Looking after the planet also means looking after our fellow human beings.

Davidson writes; “For all the talk of American greatness, Trump’s actions regarding climate change represent a historic abdication of leadership.” Particularly as a survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre last year found that around two-thirds of Americans think climate scientists should have a major role in policy decisions about climate matters, more than say that of the public, energy industry leaders, or national and international political leaders. In other words, the American public think climate change is important and want to do something about it.

Maybe Trump could look at the younger generation for inspiration; more and more young people are choosing to adopt daily practices to protect the environment and combat climate change. A survey conducted last year by the European Parliament found that – out of the 10, 294 young adults questioned in the 28 Member States – 63% sorted household waste, 47% reduced their consumption of disposable items and 46% reduced water and energy consumption at home.

Around 7.5 billion people call Planet Earth home. That’s a lot of mouths to feed and a lot of homes to warm. But it is not over-population that is necessarily the main threat to our globe, but over-consumption. As Gandhi once said; “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” By doing small acts to help the larger picture, I believe we can at least try to combat the ignorance of others.

But this isn’t just one long grumble; I also want to say thank you. Thank you, Planet Earth, for your sunrises and sunsets; the orange glow which never fails to mesmerise me. Thank you for the cherry blossom in Spring and the crisp leaves that crunch underfoot in Autumn.

Thank you for your vast oceans; even the freezing Atlantic, which I like to dip my toes into from time to time. For the water that I drink, for the food that grows within you, for the shelter you provide.

Thank you for being so beautiful that I sometimes have to catch my breath. Thanks for the smell of freshly cut grass and the whisper of the wind between your branches; the sound of the birds singing at dawn and the crash of thunder in a storm.

I may not be the greenest person out there, but I do try. Because I know how precious you are. I appreciate your beauty, your strength and your resources – growing up on a diet of David Attenborough documentaries, it was hard not to be awestruck by nature. As Louis Armstrong’s dulcet tones once sang: what a wonderful world.

All the best from your ever-grateful inhabitant,

Jessie

Letters to… A Younger Version of Myself

Dear eighteen-year-old Simay,

You look adorable with that haircut. You are probably incredibly excited to start a new school in France and I wish I could go back in time and warn you –it’s not going to be as amazing as you expect it to be, and that’s okay. You are not going to kiss someone on top of the Eiffel Tower, you are certainly not going to be the best student in your class, and there will be lots of mental breakdowns along the way. However, you are going to change as a person in ways you can’t even imagine and that’s probably worth all the trouble. I should also add that your French will suck by the end of two years but you’ll have that one teacher who will make you read Voltaire and Victor Hugo and even though it will take you ten minutes to read a page, you will be able to say “I have read Voltaire in French,” when you are twenty-five and want to sound highly intellectual at a dinner party.

I have a couple of pieces of advice for you to get through your years in Reims. First of all, the reason you are going to be disappointed is not because Sciences Po does not offer a high-quality education, but because you imagined it as a utopian place upon your arrival on campus. Above all, it’s an institution, which means you are going to have professors who will really change the way you look at the world, and those who can’t form a proper sentence without looking at his/her notes. You will meet people that’ll make you wonder “How did he/she get in here?” and those whom you will admire and look up to as role models.

It is going to be a difficult task to realize that grades do not matter as much as learning. You can get really high grades without learning the subject properly if you know how the system works, prioritize courses that will give you the most credits, and do nothing else. Or, you can settle for an average grade, but actually dedicate your time to learn the things that you really want to learn. It’s a choice you need to make between being pragmatic and ethical, and sooner or later you’ll know which one makes you happier. Do not brush aside your hobbies just because you need to pass that micro quiz. Nobody is going to ask you to calculate marginal utility in two years, but you will regret it a lot if you sit in front of a piano and can’t even play the most simplistic sonatas of Beethoven. If you are going through a depressive episode, do not force yourself to study. Treat it as any other health issue and take care of yourself. You deserve that ice cream. Do not go to your Italian class if you have a fever that is above 38.5 (I am serious that class isn’t going to end very well, go back to sleep). Do not hesitate to ask for help when you need it, some people are going to turn you down , but that is not a reason to stop asking. There will be someone who will finally respond, understand, and be there for you (I would list the names of all the people that I would like to thank here, but I don’t want to turn this into an Oscar speech). Invite people to dinners and movie nights. If you want to get to know someone and don’t have the opportunity to do so, then create one on your own and chances are there are lots of people out there waiting to be reached out to. If there is an association that you want to join that does not exist on campus, start one. Do not force yourself to socialize the way everyone does. You don’t have to go to every single event during the integration week in order to make friends. Go out if you feel like going out, but you can also make yourself popcorn and get a beer and watch How I Met Your Mother for hours and that is an acceptable way of spending a Friday night. Lastly, try to judge people less. Judge yourself less. If you are not happy, stop whining and try to make the best out of a situation. Regarding your third year abroad, don’t worry about it too much. You’ll end up in some place really cool.

Lots of love,

A slightly wiser version of yourself that really needs to work on an essay but instead decided to write this.

Letters to… Tea

Dear Tea,

You sat in my suitcase, rectangular boxes of ceylon crushed between sweaters, shoes, and family photos, as I made my way across the ocean all those months ago.

“Maddie, I bought tea at the grocery,” my father said as he placed the two orange packages of Twinings on my bed. I looked at you and then at him, and said with a smile: “I think they’ll have tea in France, Dad.”

“I know, but what if it’s different? I want you to have tea from home.”

I remember thinking how absurd it was that I was wasting valuable suitcase space on you, of course they would have tea in France! And if it was different, so what? Everything else was going to be different. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to remove you from the collection of items I had deemed important enough to bring overseas. So there you stayed, accompanied by an army of mismatched mugs to boot.

You and me, tea, we have a long history. My mother likes to tell the story of going to visit my great grandmother on Tuesday afternoons when I was younger. I was about a year old and only just learning how to shakily toddle across the kitchen floor. During those visits, my mom would sit chatting with Nanny, who would have me walk across the room to her, offering up tiny sips of tea as a reward. According to most doctors, I was much too young for the drink, but the Irish immigrant in Nan seemed to think the practice was quite alright.

Tea, you have been a unifying force in my life. You aren’t simply the drink that offers comfort in the cold days of winter or cool relief during the dog-days of summer. And I would never dare label you as just a vehicle for caffeine. You are caring in object form.

“Will you stay for a cup of tea?” my grandmother asks me as I take off my shoes in the entryway. Tea, it isn’t really about you, but the conversation we will have in your company. With my grandfather in his rocking chair and my grandma on the couch, we talk about school and politics and how the Yankees are doing that season. And I become closer to them.

“I’ll make you a cup of tea,” my younger brother proclaims before leaving me at the dining room table to complete yet another college application. He returns a few minutes later with a perfectly brewed mug. Just enough sugar, just enough milk. It’s his way of doing something, anything, to help me through what he knows to be a stressful time. And tea, I’m going to be honest, I’m getting a bit emotional thinking about it.

From my father putting the kettle on in the wee hours of the morning back in New Jersey, to the electric kettle I plugged in next to my row of “imported” mugs in my apartment here in Reims, to the pot my mother sat on the coffee table when she visited me a month ago…tea, you have silently borne witness to my life, moments big and small. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Yours,

Maddie

P.S. Twinings Ceylon doesn’t taste the same in France, Dad. You were right.

Letters to… Amygdala

A letter to Amygdala (your brain’s equivalent to a teenager),

There is nothing better than the feeling of calm that comes with a Sunday lie-in, when you have nothing due the next week and all seems right in the world. On the other extreme end of things, there is nothing worse than absentmindedly scrolling through your emails on said Sunday, eating cereal straight from the box and coming across an email stating you have a five page paper due tomorrow. That split second of combined panic, dread and distress is exactly what it feels like when our brains engulf us in the hopelessness that is a Panic Disorder. So my letter today is to you, Amygdala, the pop tart-looking part of our brain in charge of all our emotional reactions (now you know who to blame when it’s 2am and you’re crying over a man eating a taco on YouTube).

Before addressing your pop-tarting ways, I would like to speak to the many others reading this (here’s me hoping I’m not just talking to myself). Did you know, according to the WHO, mental disorders are among the leading cause of ill-health and disability in the world. Yes, those ‘inconvenient, attention seeking’ illnesses we all like to avoid and sometimes pretend don’t exist, affect about 450 million people worldwide.

My analogy above of what a panic attack feels like might be a little lacking but think of it like the ‘It’s Complicated’ button on Facebook, it’s just, you know, complicated. Like all mental disorders, people experience it differently, but that is not what should really matter. What does matter is recognising the importance of taking care of ourselves and putting our mental health first. Trust me, I know, it’s easier said than done, but the first step is really taking a step back and consciously engaging with our stress levels and mental processes. Try some yoga, drink some Kale, but most importantly talk to someone, you are not alone and oh! Breathe and maybe don’t drink Kale, it tastes like unfertilised weed fields.

Now as for you, Amy (can I call you Amy?), you do not work alone in causing people to frequently think their lives are coming to an end, but you and I both know I am not baselessly blaming you. According to Dr. Jieun E Kim of the Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, Ewha Womans University Graduate School, animal studies have linked Amygdala stimulation to behaviour similar to human panic attacks. The theory goes that abnormal activity within the 13 nuclei of Amy indirectly or directly causes panic disorders. The Amygdala reminds me of my teenage self, one minute acting out against my mother and the next declaring my love for her because she replenished my milk supply. The fun thing about Psychological disorders and Psychotherapy is that for now we truly cannot pinpoint what exactly causes them or what the best ways are to treat them. Good news is: there is hope, there is science, and there is spirituality and a number of other options out there to help.

So why am I writing to you Amygdala? Well it is simple; like Pizza but unlike croissants, you no longer control me and I just wanted to tell you that. (I know, sounds a little cliché but in my defence I have referenced pop tarts and tacos and you are still reading). This is not me saying I will never have another panic attack, but just simply that I won’t let it stop me from living my best life. It’s also a little promise to myself to take care of you, Amy, so you stop trying to ruin my life because obviously once something’s written down, it’s like a pinkie promise and I can never go back on it. And remember kids, at the end of every five-page paper is a box of cereal and a tub of chocolate chip ice cream.

Love,

Anjeola

Letters to… Moneta

Dear Moneta,

“Time past and time future

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present.”

T.S. Eliot

 

We remember when we still felt young.

When we rode steel rivers that’d cut the hills.

 

The countryside, still ripe with the grapes of the land.

The air ripe with the spirit of their labor.

 

All hanging earth from the tired branches.

The rays in our sky,

and the sweat of heat still trickling down with elation.

 

Moneta, we walked through your doors that shimmered red like blood.

 

We did not know what to expect.

 

The work,

the stress,

the joy,

the ecstasy.

 

In your streets we walked,

the crippled walls who’ve known the tragedies of war.

 

But we were here.

We were new.

From the corners of the world we came- skies and oceans and moons apart.

But we were here.

 

And now we are leaving.

 

From a fragile glass,

the warm colors that shined like copper.

Deep amber.

The old gold crying with its steady wake.

Our feet planted to the earth,

our knees shaking as you told us that we were here to make something.

That we were here to prove something.

 

With your coming weeks,

your months and years, we changed.

Felt the heat of August turn into a timid gust.

 

We made bonds hardened like chainmail.

 

What we proved is that our hearts were weak

but our eyes still trembled with fervor.

 

With late evenings,

the sky grew black with hours that reached beyond your broken sleep.

Under pressure we felt the nerving weight on our shoulders.

We were put to the test and sometimes we failed.

Each time feeling your tepid touch.

 

Moneta, I’ve kissed death and it still lingers on my lips.

 

Perhaps we were unfaithful.

Ignoring your love for another.

Walking amongst the columned books, stacked up like mazes.

Perhaps we quivered with the dust,

too many unforgettable nights to remember.

 

We forged a story.

 

Told it in an empty hall.

And perhaps no one was listening.

But we knew you were still there.

 

Our ink dripped on cheap paper.

But from the black ink we painted on a page,

sometimes the script we were writing shimmered blue.

 

Now, it’s time for you to greet the stranger in the forest again.

 

Remember all those who’ve accompanied you here Moneta;

your merry band of gypsies.

The friends, the family, the loved ones.

Some of them are here today.

And others less fortunate.

 

They heard you crying.

They made you out of clay.

From hundreds of points on a map we shall travel,

but we will always feel the blood in your fingertips.

 

Remember that gothic church tower,

the eye of Providence,

the ones who watched over you in your sleep.

Because we were tangled roses.

 

We laughed,

and loved,

and hated,

and cried.

 

Two years at shutter speed,

glossing over our film-like dreams

none of which we imagined.

 

Take a second to feel that heat again.

Feel it grazing on your naked skin.

 

The taste of the indefinite countryside.

Where we made a home for ourselves.

 

Moneta when we set our wooden vessel ablaze,

our embers will still glow in the midst of any storm.

 

Remember us.

Just a little bit longer.

 

  • Marcos Castellá

Letters to… Nostalgia

Dear Nostalgia,

I remember:

  • the giddy feeling of being alone in my Residium room with new bedsheets and bare walls
  • the way the light struck the cathedral so that the brick became rosy and warm
  • champagne, in flutes and water glasses and plastic cups and mugs
  • seeing the old library for the first time, falling for its wooden shelves and musty smell
  • the teachers that sparkled, the teachers that burned me out
  • early trains into Paris, groggy but eager
  • late trains back from Paris, footsore but content
  • the tired collapse onto a small bed after a long day, a friend, a cup of tea, fairy lights
  • pasta sticking to the bottom of the pot, burning
  • running through the streets, drunk and stupid, in love with being drunk and stupid
  • the feel of hardwood floors under my bare feet as I moved my things in to a new apartment on the other side of town
  • breakfasts where baguettes were broken and eggs were cooked on a hob
  • parties where empty bottles were broken and glass danced all over the kitchen floor, glittering
  • cups of milky tea cradled in hands I have held
  • red-eye flights and sleeping on different shoulders in different airports
  • heels tottering over cobblestones
  • the buzz of a night out, the droop of the morning after
  • sore eyes reading readings that must be read
  • countless cups of coffee at Oma, unwinding, unpinning myself from myself
  • the courtyard in the sun
  • the courtyard in the shade
  • the courtyard in the rain
  • the courtyard
  • Sciences Po, for all its beauty, for all its flaws, for letting me belong for a little while

Love,

Megan

Letters to… Reims

Cher futur,

Je t’écris cette lettre parce je suis à nouveau pris par un moment de réflexion et je ne peux pas m’empêcher de questionner ce qui est, ce qui a été et ce qui sera. Deux années passées dans cette ville à taille humaine vont bientôt s’écouler et il est donc l’heure de tirer un bilan et de penser à la prochaine étape.

Au total ça fait 480 jours dans ce beau collège des Jésuites, entre journées de frénésie et moments de difficulté, entre cours éblouissants et moments où tout semble se remettre en question. Comment ne pas repenser aux mots qu’on nous a dit en arrivant ici pour la première fois : « Deux années d’épanouissement personnel et intellectuel vous attendent, et à la sortie vous ne serez plus la même personne ». Une promesse très flatteuse, mais en même temps la question qui se pose maintenant est « Ai-je été à la hauteur de ce qu’on m’avait promis ? ». Je te demande donc, cher futur, « Ai-je véritablement profité des opportunités qui se sont offertes à moi pendant ces deux ans ? ». Je pense que finalement, c’est une question légitime à se poser : après chaque étape importante, il faut bien tirer un bilan. Quand on arrive ici, on se dit que l’on va apprendre énormément de choses : on commence à envisager nos deux prochaines années et on n’y voit qu’un parcours académique, fait de cours, essais, exposés et révisions. Alors que maintenant, si j’y repense, ces deux années n’ont pas été que ça. Ce qui les a vraiment caractérisés sont toutes les expériences personnelles eues en dehors de la salle de cours. Beaucoup d’entre nous, pendant ce temps, se sont lancés dans la construction de projets, se sont engagés dans des associations et se sont découverts de nouveaux talents et de nouvelles passions. Tout ça pour comprendre que « construire » quelque chose nous-mêmes, avec notre talent ou même seulement avec notre passion, nous enrichit beaucoup plus que simplement l’apprendre.

J’admets que parfois faire partie d’une équipe, que ce soit une semaine de campagne ou un projet de groupe, l’organisation d’une soirée ou d’un concert, n’a pas été simple. On arrive ici et ayant déjà du mal à gérer notre vie de personne indépendante, l’engagement associatif n’est sans doute pas notre première préoccupation. Ou du moins ce ne l’était pas pour moi. C’est pour cette raison, cher futur, que je te dis que probablement, même si cela m’a pris du temps, j’ai enfin compris ce qu’il fallait vraiment retenir de cette expérience. Finalement, si je devais faire une morale de ce en quoi le milieu universitaire constitue, je dirais que c’est avant tout un endroit d’épanouissement culturel et personnel : de projets réussis et de projets complètement ratés. Finalement c’est un des rares d’endroits où tu peux te lancer dans la musique, dans le théâtre, dans le journalisme, dans le bénévolat, sans trop de soucier si tu vas réussir ou pas : parfois ça sera un échec et parfois ton énergie, que tu pensais cachée, va même te surprendre.

Tout ça pour te dire, cher futur, que j’ai peut-être compris ce qu’il fallait apprendre de ces deux années ici : nous arrivons en tant qu’individus un peu perdus et en sortant, à vrai dire, nous le sommes encore. La différence étant que, si on a eu le courage entre temps de se lancer dans le ring, et de véritablement s’engager pour créer quelque chose qui sans nous n’aurait pas pu exister, être la même personne n’est plus possible, exactement comme la promesse qu’on s’était faite au début. J’espère que dans les années à venir, ces types d’expériences me serviront. Je sais que tu ne pourras pas répondre à cette question, parce que tu ne donnes jamais d’indices. Toutefois, je suis maintenant convaincu que ce qui te caractérise le plus, cher futur, c’est ta capacité à faire en sorte que ce que nous apprenons à travers nos expériences, n’est peut-être pas ce à quoi on s’attendait, mais c’est exactement ce dont on avait besoin.

Gabriele