Betty Blogs

Bonjour à tous!

My name is Betty Hailu and I am a recipient of the Fund for Education Abroad Scholarship for the Spring 2020 semester! I am a junior at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. studying International Affairs with a concentration in International Development and a minor in Economics. I will be studying in Paris, France with IES Abroad: Business and International Affairs. Come adventure avec moi!

Au Revoir Paris ! (Return Vlog)

Finally, Finals! (Blog 10)

This is my second to last week of the semester. It feels bittersweet to be writing this blog. In January of this year, I imagined that I would be writing my final blog post at Centre Pompidou library next to an anxious university student shuffling through their papers. Instead,  I am sitting at my parents’ dining room table in Colorado with the sound of my little sister watching TV in the background. 

I have more or less solidified my schedule. While I appreciate the efforts made by my study abroad program and the professors of my classes, I am ready for the semester to be over. In many ways,  I have come to terms with my study abroad experience being cut short, but now it feels like the classes continuing is a constant reminder of the hypotheticals. Two weeks ago, I would have a class field trip to Geneva, Switzerland to visit the World Trade Organization (WTO) and speak to officials working there. Instead of Switzerland, our class watched a few videos on YouTube about the WTO and had a discussion post assignment. In my other class, I was supposed to have a class field trip where we visited the crowded streets of the Marais neighborhood and observed people and asked them questions. Instead, we made powerpoints comparing two countries’ response to the Coronavirus. I recognize that these problems are miniscule in the context of everything that is happening but nevertheless, they are still frustrating.

These past few days in Colorado have felt a drag because of all the snow. Something that I have really been looking forward to each day is my daily walks. The cold weather has made this hard and unpleasant. This adaptation made me realize that life is filled with many obstacles, inconveniences, , and challenges. These will never stop and you just have to choose how you make the best of every situation. When I could not go on walks, I saw this as an opportunity to make bread with my mother, or spend that time catching up with my grandmothers on the phone. Moreover, the terrible things happening around me (like the death of a 21-year old classmate from high school, or the death of my friend’s mother; both due to COVID-19), have reminded me that I should  cherish the important things in life. Having the opportunity to travel Europe for two more months would mean nothing to me if my loved ones were not okay.

This past Sunday, my family and I celebrated Easter. We all watched a church service from our living room, while my pastor from my church in Maryland spoke from his kitchen in Silver Spring. We had communion at home, at first it felt silly getting a cracker I just had for a snack from the cupboard, but I continued. I grabbed cranberry juice and a small amount in the little traditional Ethiopian coffee cups in our home and prepared it for my family members and I. We shared communion with our pastor (and the rest of our church), all at different time zones and rooms. Knowing that my entire church and I were sharing communion gave me comfort. A global pandemic can arguably be one of the most disturbing events many of us in the word will endure in our lifetimes but we continue to create normalcy in our lives. I am constantly inspired by the human ability to be resilient in the face of challenges. 

How Betty Got Her Groove Back (Blog 9)

This week, the popular phrase  “mind over matter” was put to test for me. Since my repatriation to the US, I kept annoying my sisters and other family members, complaining about the “tragic” end to my study abroad experience. I was in a constant slump. I would sleep around 6:00AM, wake up around 4:00PM. I was behind on homework assignments and spent my days lounging in the house and feeling sorry for myself. Every time I would watch the news, I would hear more devastating statistics about the recent events of the Coronavirus. I felt like a ball of sadness, anxiousness, and tiredness. Not having any structure was not healthy for my physical and mental health. 

Recognizing this, I created a routine;one that focused on activities that I value, and not just those which keep me busy. My morning routine consists of skin care, my stretch regimen, saying a prayer, and eating a nice breakfast. Then I start working on homework and lectures, followed with a walk with my mom to the nearby park. I signed up for virtual seminars and joined an on campus Bible ministry group (and committed to virtually attend these meetings and seminars). I deleted the Instagram app off of my phone because I would just scroll for hours on end, subconsciously comparing myself to others and feeling bad about myself. Anytime I would catch myself complaining or feeling bad about leaving Paris, I would remind myself that this situation is not about my travels but about saving precious human lives and I would revisit my gratitude list. I am constantly journaling and monitoring my emotions and taking note of the circumstances and headspace that lead me to those emotions. 

For me, this was the week where I resumed my (routine) groove back. I am still worried about this disease and the threat it has on all the people it affects. I hope that it ends soon and that we can resume our normal lives. I also hope that these moments we are at home, we take time to reflect on who we are and what matters. I hope that this time can build resilient communities and foster compassion among each other. This week was not perfect. There were still days when I woke up at 4:00PM. There were still times I got frustrated and cried. There were times where it was hard for me to concentrate on my work. However, each day I am working on trying to be a more adaptable person. Whenever I wake up late, I carry on and start my daily routine as if I woke up in the morning. Whenever I feel frustrated, I let myself feel upset then continue on and do an activity I love. Whenever I can not concentrate, I let myself take a break and come back to work. Sometimes we can not change our situations, but we can always choose how we react to things.  

Adjusting to Life in the US (Blog 8)

My new reality is being home in Denver, Colorado with my family. I always feel a bit guilty for feeling sad or complaining because I know I am safe and healthy and I am with my safe and healthy family too. My current life impacts me in a lot of ways because it is such a unique situation. This past summer, I spent it at home. But this does not feel like summer vacation at all. I can not see my friends and other family members, I can not leave the house to go to my internship or work, I can not go out to eat or really do any leisure activity other than an occasional walk around my neighborhood park. My repatriation experience is extremely different from what I expected. I remember before going on my study abroad experience and attending training at my home university. They told me that I would experience “reverse culture shock.” I feel like this was an understatement. I went from having 100% freedom in Europe and literally visiting different countries every weekend to not being able to leave my home in Colorado.

My current challenges are related to daily structure. In university and during the summers, I always took the earliest work shift or classes. Naturally I am a night owl (regardless of how much I love waking up early in the mornings). I force myself to get up and be productive. I always separate where I work and where I study. I love going to libraries and coffee shops. In my precautionary confinement to avoid getting the virus, I do not have these freedoms. There is no real structure for me. It is really hard for me to study at home and in my room. There are constant distractions around the home and other people around me. It is hard to bring myself to wake up early and sleep early. I created a checklist of a structured day, although it feels impossible right now, every morning I wake up and attempt it. 

The way that I am coping is having an attitude of gratitude. First and foremost, this situation is beyond my control. And just like the recent tragic death of a family friend reminded me recently, life is fragile and short. Life will throw you curveballs, things that you did not expect or plan for at all will happen, but you have to keep moving forward. I try to stay positive by commemorating all the amazing memories and growth that I had in those first two months in Paris. I have a list of things, moments, places, and memories I love from my study abroad experience. I add to the list every time I remember something about my experience. I want to focus on the things I learned and experienced rather than the disruptive end. This experience makes me more determined to live in Paris one day or at least return and visit all the places I planned to and visit all the parts of Paris I missed. I recognize my privilege in this situation. I have primarily been preoccupied with an enrichment experience being cut short, and not about a sick family member or not being able to return home. I know that the situation is not ideal, but with every hardship I know it is an opportunity to grow and learn something about myself and have compassion for others.

Au Revoir Paris (Blog 7)

I am writing this blog post during my evacuation flight back to the U.S. from France. During the past few weeks,  I have been listening to and thinking about the music of Frank Ocean. Additionally, I have been listening to the Dissect podcast which analyzes each of his songs in the context of the album and, more broadly, Frank Ocean’s life. Two songs in particular I love with a new set of ears: “Forrest Gump” and “Ivy.” Both of these songs talk about a failed relationship in Frank Ocean’s past. What I love about each of these songs if that, while the relationships ultimately failed, Ocean chooses how he wants to commemorate them. He chooses to acknowledge that the relationships ultimately failed but chooses to commemorate the good. He memorializes the good in these relationships. I feel like a part of why he does this is to give himself peace. It is normal to focus on the horrible ending of a relationship and fixate on the problems. Nevertheless,  Ocean is intentional to be happy and content with these relationships because they have changed him for the better and the good parts showed him a different part of himself. Although these songs are very nostalgic and at first listen are very sad. I have come to realize that these songs are actually quite happy. Again, because Ocean choses to sustain the sentiments of love even if those feelings are not necessarily the present reality. 

I want to approach my study abroad in the same way. I can focus on the bad. Most of my close friends last semester studied abroad and I choose to study abroad in the spring, alone. I had very specific reasons why I chose to do that, and in that moment with the information that I had I decided that it would be the best decision for me. There was no way of me predicting that there would be a global pandemic that would have such an impact especially in Europe. When I realized that my study abroad experience was coming to an end, I was (and sometimes still am) very sad. I would cry and think, “Why is this happening to me? Why THIS semester?”  I felt guilty for even complaining since I was safe and able to return home. I remember in 4th grade when my older sister, Mez, studied abroad in Spain, she would send me post cards of all the different countries she visited. I was so excited about it and could not wait till it was my time to study abroad. Even the months leading up to the experience, I would always find a way to talk about it. It was going to be my first time in Europe, the first chance to really practice my French, the first time I would travel on my own. I planned so much for it, went to information sessions, applied to scholarships, and did everything in my control to make sure that it was a smooth transition. But that’s the thing about this situation: it is out of my control. 

My study abroad experience has taught me two main things. The first is that no matter how much we have this illusion of control in our lives, we do not control our lives. You can plan all you want but you will never be fully prepared. The second, relates to the Frank Ocean songs in the beginning. We choose the way we look at memories (and past relationships). Just like the motifs mentioned in Frank Ocean’s songs, we have a choice to how we remember our experiences. We can look back at them with pain or confusion. Or we can look back at them with gratitude because of how much those moments impacted who we were at that moment and happiness that those moments even happened in the first place. My friend Kyle asked me the question, “Do you feel like your study abroad experience was ruined?” and without hesitation I replied, “Definitely”. But he reminded me of all the amazing things I did and places I visited and said, “If you’re not positive then what do you have?” This conversation reminded me that despite this unfortunate crisis, nothing is ruined about my experience and these good moments can coexist with the current situation.

A Nice Time in the French Riviera (Blog 6)

I visited my friend Kyle from my university who was studying in Nice, France. It was such a different atmosphere from the crowded, busy, and fast-paced Paris I was used to living in for the past two months. Nice was peaceful and calming. People seemed to be enjoying their lives more and taking time to walk along the promenade and sit in the sun. 

My program in Paris enrolls  130 students, and my cohort is one of the largest in the history of my study abroad program. It felt a bit harder to make friends for me because oftentimes people divided up into cliques and maintained close-knit friendships with others they knew prior to the semester. Kyle’s study abroad program in Nice was about 60 students, because it was a smaller community people seemed to form tighter relationships. Since I did not feel very connected to all the students in my program, I tried to make an effort to integrate and meet French people. Whenever, I had the chance I would speak to French people and went to the same restaurants regularly in hopes that I would build a connection with the people that worked there. I would make great strides in my comprehension abilities and have small conversations with people but never a deep connection. In Nice, Kyle introduced me to some of his friends in his program. Many of them were also North-American students studying in France. It was so much easier to connect with them. We shared similar cultures, experiences at university, and mostly importantly, the same language. I was so relieved speaking to them because they were experiencing the same struggles and feelings in France as me. 

These interactions made me think critically about integrating into other countries and the kind of life you would live as an expatriate. As much as I might want to be integrated into what I imagine as the “real” French society, it can be hard to connect seamlessly with others in a different society. The times that I felt the most comfortable in Paris was when I was connecting with Ethiopian immigrants  who spoke Amharic or other North Americans who spoke English. The interactions I had in Nice made me reflect on my own experiences of being a daughter of immigrants. Oftentimes, my parent’s closest friends in the United States were other East African immigrants, and they lived in a community of other immigrants. I am reluctant to define who a “real” American or “real” French person is. However, I recognize how immigration can create nuances to identities and create sub-cultures and communities based on similar heritages and past experiences .  

In many regards, I still do want to live in Paris or another Francophone country to master the language. However, my trip to Nice made me remember that my life as an expatriate, especially not being fluent in the main language, will be different from the average person’s and I can not expect myself to be fully integrated. Expatriation comes with its own challenges and at times can be extremely isolating. During multiple times of my study abroad experience, I value having a community of people with similar backgrounds and experiences as a support system during this time of intense change.

Sister Day (Blog 5)

“Vous voulez le petit gâteau?” my host mom asks with a small smile. “Oui” my roommate and I reply with a laugh, as we never say no to her offering us dessert with a side of cookies. Every night we have dinner around 7:00pm, eating traditional french dishes while watching Demain nous appartient, a dramatic French soap opera. Dinner is always followed by a dessert, usually with cookies on the side. When the show wraps up and the evening news begins, we collect all the dishes and take them to the dishwasher.

Something I noticed in France is how important it is to have a routine. Midterms are coming up this week and I am reminded that even when studying abroad: life continues to happen, just as it always has. This past month, everything has been new and exciting. I traveled internationally to different European cities for the first time in my life, learning new things, meeting new friends. But the more that my classes are picking up, I am realizing that I get homesick, stressed, and bored, just like any and every semester in college. Moving to a new city (although temporary for me), does not fix any of your problems or magically makes you happier. Therefore, this week more than anything, I am reminded to keep a routine and do things that are familiar to me, despite all the constant change that comes with living in a different country.

One of my favorite conversations that I had during dinner was when I asked my roommate what her favorite holiday was. She hesitated at first and went through the holidays in her head. I was expecting to hear that it was Christmas, since this is the answer most people give. She finally replied, “Saint Patrick’s Day” and I laughed a bit. I never heard of anybody replying with Saint Patrick’s Day. She then explained that this was not her favorite holiday because she celebrates St. Patrick, but because that was the day her little sister was adopted into her family. My roommate’s family nicknamed that day “Sister’s Day” and celebrated that day together. Then she continued to tell me about her sister, the rest of her family, and the traditions they have maintained over the years.

This conversation with my roommate reminded me that holidays are the most decorative parts of a culture. More than anything, these celebrations are a vessel to share sentiments about important people in our lives. This week I am really grateful for these daily  dinners with my host family, where I get to learn small things that shape the thoughts of my host mom, roommate, and myself.

Berliner Fantasie (Blog 4)

This past weekend I went to Berlin, Germany. I was really excited to go and visit the remaining pieces of the Berlin wall and the famous graffiti on it. The stereotype that I had of Germans, ever since the first day that I learned about World War 2 in the 4th grade during social studies class, was that they were gruff. 

It might have been the rebellious nature and history of the city, or the neighborhood that I was in but Germans and Germany itself was not at all as somber as I had anticipated. Many of the Germans that I met were gregarious, welcoming, and kind. A lot of people that I saw had long messy hair, tattoos, and lots of piercings, primarily on their faces. The walls were all filled with graffiti and art. My favorite moment was when I just finished visiting the Berlin Wall and the Wall Museum and I was getting some soda. I asked the man at the register what his favorite soda was and he told me that I should try the Fanta in Berlin because it was the best Fanta in the world. I immediately laughed and replied that, “The best Fanta in the world is in Ethiopia!” and he laughed and told me the history behind Fanta in Berlin. Apparently Fanta was created in Germany during WW2 by the German Coca Cola bottling company. However during the war there was no shipping between Nazi Germany and the United States. As a result they could not get the the coca cola syrup and had to use an alternative syrup which we know today as the orange fruit flavored bubbly bliss called Fanta (short for the German word “Fantasie” which means imagination). I had one sip of the fizzy orange flavored soda and I had to admit–it was delicious.

It was such a humanizing experience for me. Growing up in an African-American household, I knew many stereotypes about Africans. However, I had the chance to interact with so many so many African immigrants in my community–both at church and home–and visited a few African countries and I could experience for myself how these perceptions were not real. However, this study abroad experience is the first time that I have been to Europe. It is giving me an opportunity to learn about people that I do not have any cultural ties to. Maybe it was the places that I visited that were personalized for tourists, but I loved how people incorporated history so much into their lives. Even people that I met on the street–who were not necessarily tour guides or museum docents –could tell me so much about the place they lived in the implications of these historical events in their everyday lives. 

As always, every time I travel, I compare what I see to my own understanding of U.S. and Ethiopian history. I feel like in the United States and Ethiopian history, there were many traumatic moments that happened but we are not able to really talk about it or process our feelings out loud. In Germany, there is a large effort to not forget what happened during WW2 and to make sure it does not happen again. I hope that my own home can do the same thing about colonization, slavery, and genocide in a way that is respectful and healthy for all people who are affected, even generations later. It is important for people to acknowledge that human suffering happened and to be able to talk about them. I am sure there are events that are not always talked about in German society, but from what I was able to observe in these small moments made me more appreciative of Germany and love Berlin so much. I look forward to visiting this beautiful city again soon. 

Sauce Samouraï (Blog 3)

Adjusting to France has been an exciting journey. Familiarizing myself with the metro stations, perfecting my order at local boulangeries, and helping people with directions. One of my favorite moments this week was when I went to get a Kebab. The man at the counter recognized me and started reciting my order and at the end of my transaction he handed me a loyalty stamp card. All of these small interactions made me feel more acclimated into the city.

The food in France is delicious, I love going to these little kebab restaurants and getting “grecs.” They taste so good and are so cheap. I can get fries, a drink, and a kebab for only five euros. I also loved coming to these stores because usually they were a blend of different cultures. My favorite sauce that is used with these grecs is called “sauce samouraï.” This sauce is a combination of mayonnaise, ketchup, and harissa. Harissa is a spicy sauce that includes tomatoes, onions, and peppers among other spices. Versions of harissa are found throughout many cuisines around the world. The Samurai sauce is known as a “Belgian” sauce, however in reality, the key ingredient that gives the sauce such a tangy taste is the harissa that comes from North Africa. I love these stores not only because of the sauce, but also because of the diversity of the people who keep them running. Most of the shopkeepers are from North Africa, the Middle East, and Turkey. They speak among themselves in Arabic and Turkish and reply to me in French. Occasionally, they ask me what my background is, and I tell them “Ethiopian-American” and they reply with where they are from. These small encounters between other immigrants is something familiar to me as an Ethiopian-American. However, I quickly realized that if I had grown up in France instead of the United States, that the term “Ethiopian-French” would not really exist. A person of French citizenship is considered both legally and socially as French.

One of the most peculiar aspects of society that I have experienced in France is the underdevelopment of race relations. There is a law in 1978 that bans the collection of data of a person’s race, ethnicity, or religion. The rationale behind this law is to create a non-discriminatory society. Due to WW2 and other traumatic moments of France’s history, the country decided that all French citizens should be treated and seen equally by the state. In addition, they wanted to avoid the data being used against these ethnic, racial, and religious minorities. I appreciate and understand these efforts but from my understanding of race relations, I feel like this law does not solve the problem but rather just ignores it. Data on race, ethnicity, and religion is crucial in conducting research that helps bring resources, funding, and awareness to different discrepancies in a society.

It is evident from my everyday life in France that the country has been positively influenced by its large immigrant populations. I eat Turkish kebabs everyday for lunch, my professor’s family is from Chile, and the hair salon by my host family’s apartment is owned by a Senegalese woman. It is evident that Paris is an international city and not all people who live here have been here for many generations. As an American, one of my favorite things about growing up in my home in Colorado was the embrace of the Ethiopian-American community. Where I grew up, there are coffee shops, churches, conferences, and community centers that embrace Ethiopian-Americans. I am aware that I am applying an ethnocentric perspective onto France and I am projecting American experiences onto French society. I hope that throughout my study abroad experience, I can learn more about strategies that other countries use to promote inclusivity and integration for immigrant populations.

Hot Dogs, Bikes, and Afro-beats (Blog 2)

This past weekend I visited Copenhagen, Denmark. This is my first trip outside of Paris. At first I was nervous at the prospect of traveling alone. Additionally, I was concerned that visiting a Nordic country would be boring and that there would be nothing to do. In all honesty, I  booked the flight because I knew that I would have free housing because I was visiting a friend of a friend. When I first landed the first thing I did was find food in the airport. I was surprised by how much English everyone spoke when they realized I am not fluent in Danish. This was the first difference between France and Denmark. Danish people are more open to catering themselves for the Anglophone world, while people in France speak French almost exclusively. After noticing this, I quickly ate my hotdog because I was incredibly hungry. I usually hate hot dogs and all the condiments on top of them except mustard and jalapenos. But since I was in a new country I thought it was appropriate that I try the food, even if I thought I would not like the food. Afterwards, I searched on Google Maps Thorvaldsens Museum. I took the metro there and explored the city. I noticed that people were very kind and accommodating on the streets. It was interesting to see the city alone. It was the first time I went to a country without knowing a single person in advance. I walked the city for about three hours and met the friend I was staying with. I only know her through a mutual friend that she went to high school with and I currently attend university with. When I first saw her, she hoped off her bike and gave me a huge hug. That is another thing that I noticed in Denmark, everybody seems to have a bike and actually use it. 

Constantly in Europe, I am surprised by how people have so much faith in the government. If people do not like something, they strike and protest and expect the government to do something about the situation. Another aspect that I thought was really interesting about Denmark was the use of bikes themselves. I saw edlerly folks, young children, families, couples, and just about every type of person on a bike. There seemed to be no real social distinction. Also, in France everyone dresses in neutral colors but in Denmark more people dress in bright colors and there is an added sense of comfort that is expressed in what they wear since everybody uses bikes. This bike phenomen really amazed me. My friend, who was born and raised in Ethiopia, and I laughed at the mere thought of bikes being used in Ethiopia. We shook our heads and agreed that it could not work because there was too much theft, over-crowded streets, too many hills, and everything would be disorganized. We laughed at the thought of our grandmas wearing a helmet and biking, it felt so unrealistic. It just reminded me that sustainability, government politics, and urban planning must be specific to each country. The reason that biking works in Denmark can be attributed to government initiatives to try to be more eco-friendly and accessible. There are bike lanes and designated areas on the metro for bikes. Also, Denmark is not densely populated and is a flat city, suitable for biking. All of these factors contribute to why it is so common that people in Denmark bike. 

In the evening, my friend and I visited an Afro-Caribbean event at a nightclub. There we saw the diversity of Denmark and people of all ethnicities dancing and singing songs by Black artists in Spanish, English, and French. This was such a different experience from the majority ethnically Danish population that I encountered throughout the day. I had no expectations when I came to Denmark. But I left thinking about different ways cities are built and how it shapes the lives of its inhabitants. I discovered that hot dogs (and all their condiments) can actually be delicious, potatoes taste good on pizzas, and to always keep an open mind about traveling and just try to listen. 

Parisien Prayers (Blog 1)

Paris welcomed me with rain, a crowded metro, and a charming host mother who embraced me warmly when we met. When I arrived in Paris, my friend from DC helped me navigate the metro for the first time and dropped me off at my host mother’s apartment. When I opened the door, a smiley elderly woman welcomed me with hello and kissed my cheeks. I felt so relieved. The friend that dropped me off told me that it was a good sign if my host mother kissed my cheeks instead of shaking my hand. So as she was leaving stains of her red lipstick on my cheeks, I sighed and felt comfort. 

My first week of studying abroad included many “firsts.” This past week was my first full week in Europe. My first French Uber ride, my first experience with the French metro system, my first time in a French elevator. Prior to this study abroad experience, I had never been to France or Europe in general. The whole week felt like an out of body experience. Visiting the landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame was so fun, they were so beautiful and I could not believe that I was actually seeing them in real life instead of photos. It felt a bit overwhelming everything was so different. Every part of my life was different. Different smells, different language, different family. Even now, settling into my first week, things still feel so overwhelming and new. 

Faith has been one of the aspects of my life that has been consistent and the same in my life. Every Sunday, rain or shine, my mother or older sister would take me to church. On my first Sunday in France, I went to Hillsong Paris. Hillsong is an international Christian mega church that originated in Australia and has branches all throughout the world, including the United States. Although I had never attended a Hillsong church while I was at home, it was similar to other mega churches I have attended in the States. Upon arrival, I decided to not get the headsets which translate the sermon from French into English. I wanted a full linguistic and cultural immersion in Paris. I sat next to a man that was from New Zealand. When we spoke to each other during the break, he was surprised I spoke English because I did not wear the headsets so he assumed I was French. I told him I was Ethiopian-American and he told me about how he was Australian and has been going to Hillsong there for many years. He also told how he traveled to 27 different African countries for the past few months. He drove from Cape Town to Cairo and he was finishing his holiday in France. At the end of the sermon, the man and I exchanged goodbyes and wished each other a good life. Although I anticipated for Parisian church to be very different, it was not. I was still moved by the message, sang along to the songs (thanks to the lyrics on the screen), and prayed about all my worries. This whole experience reminded me why I love my faith so much. It has a certain characteristic that brings people together in an unexplainable and familiar way. Being in France did not change that element of religion for me. 

À bientôt à Paris ! (Pre-departure Vlog)

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