Making the Most of Memories: the benefits of Reminiscing

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Memory of going to a “hobo” party with siblings 🙂

July 4th I went to work at the campground as usual (holidays aren’t breaks for campground workers–they are busier actually). Half an hour into my work day, two guys in black ski masks and sun glasses blocking out their eyes snuck into the campground office while I was distracted. I turned around and they grabbed me, blindfolded me, and put me in a car. My mind was racing during the following 40-50 min drive and, aside from a hasty command to remain seated and just wait at the beginning of the ride, nobody in the car spoke during the whole time. 

File:Balaclava 3 hole black.jpgWhen we finally parked, I was pulled out of the car, passed around from person to person at least once or twice, and after what seemed like a very, very long time, the bandanna blindfold was ripped off; I was greeted with a chorus of “Happy Birthday” and a cake with burning candles. 

I spent the day in the company of good friends exploring the ruins of an old cement factory and biking on the North Country Trail. I had a fantastic day and know I will remember the day for a very long time.

Memories are astounding things. But they don’t seem to get the credit they deserve. Experiences that were hard work, cost a lot of money, or are long gone are easily retrievable and re-experienceable and yet we so often forget to take full advantage of this mysterious thing called memory. I would like to encourage you to go back and consider some good memories for multiple reasons:

Memories are a way to stay content

The day after that kidnapping adventure, work was especially slow and boring in comparison. But while I worked, I remembered the happenings of the day before and was forced to smile every so often. Plus, I recognized that the only way adventures like that can happen is if we go through our normal, every day lives most of the time. Thinking about that instead of having a pity party at work helped me to be grateful for what I have instead of bemoaning what I don’t have. When you are bored or discontent, take the time to consider an old memory that will make you smile. I can guarantee it will make you just a little more content in the current situation.

IMG_20170708_153310165_HDRMemories are a way to stay connected with friends

Relationships have a past, present, and future too. As explained in my intriguing post “Relationships in the 3-D,” keeping the past (good memories together) in mind helps to strengthen the present. Remembering old adventures with friends and siblings is a guaranteed way to rejuvenate love and admiration toward others.

Memories help us to keep a good perspective on life

Have you ever been on one of those vacations where everything goes wrong? Or you had an experience with a friend that was just rotten at the time? Our family once watched a terrible movie. It had a lame plot and ended with the family being broken up and doled out because the parents died and the orphans needed homes. It was such a waste of time to watch, and yet, now our family laughs whenever we remind each other of it and we use that waste-of-time experience for good now. Remembering and laughing about those Image result for hippie vankind of situations in the past helps us to keep a better perspective in the present. When you have a hangnail and your eyelid won’t close all the way and have a mosquito biting your nose (but you can’t swat it because your hands are sticky from eating spoiled oranges) and you get a flat on the side of the road and have to hitchhike with a hippie gangster (not a true story and NOT recommended), you’ll be more likely to take it in stride–recognizing in a little while it’ll be over with and just be a memory to laugh at. Rough things have to happen, but they aren’t the end of the world.

Memories are a way to keep in mind what God has done for us

In the book of Exodus we see God doing miraculous sign after miraculous sign after miraculous sign to free the Israelites from their bondage to the Egyptians. And yet, as soon as they are freed from their miserable slavery, they immediately forget God and turn to such wretched activities as building themselves a golden calf to worship. How guillaume-de-germain-303020 (1)insane is that?! And yet, I do the same thing. I am SO quick to forget what God has done for me. Taking the time to remember what God has done for you in the past is an invaluable way to keep your faith strong and to keep you well connected to your maker.

It is true that sometimes we need to leave the past behind. You’ve been forgiven for your sins and there are some memories we need to let go of in order to move on. But there are also countless memories we are way too quick to forget. Reminiscing over past joys is such a free, easy activity that can really have so many benefits!

I’d like to challenge you to remind a friend of a shared memory with him/her–just to Image result for smiley facemake the two of you smile, or to thank God for something he’s done in your past that you sometimes forget, or to wake up in the morning (and, if you’re human, you’ll sometimes wake up grumpy) and to immediately consider a good memory so that you can start the morning with a smile. Why not take advantage of the advantages of memories?

Also, I’d love for you to comment on the post with a good memory or just your thoughts 🙂

The Dark Side of Communication: Reasons Why Studying Comm is Worthwhile

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Why study communication?

When I started my Interpersonal Communications class and then again when I began my independent study on communications, I was shocked by a wave of despair. The more I studied communication the more I saw how impossible it was to actually communicate exactly what I wanted to communicate. Words can have multiple interpretations; ideas are taken differently according to past experiences; different personalities make communicators prone to take things in opposite ways; tone of voice, facial expression, nonverbalsproxemics, and much more can be taken the wrong way.

When people find out I’m majoring in Communications, I almost always get the joking response, “ah, so you’re good at communicating.” No, I’m not good at communicating. And, after having continued studying communications, I find myself more and more assured of that. In fact, arguably most people aren’t good at communicating. So what is the point? Why am I majoring in communications and, an even more relevant question, why in the world am I blogging about communications and making you think about the depressing topic?!

Well, the truth of it is, there is value in knowing how treacherous the art of communicating is. After all, with the countless possible incongruencies and the necessity of communicating every single day, there is bound to be a few hang ups. Knowing this fact alone makes the hang ups easier to deal with. After all, recognizing that you won’t always take the other person quite as they meant to be taken and vice versa always leaves a margin of error, which stops us from being overly-confident in the first place. If something someone said (or seemed to say) appears to be significantly “off,” having a background in some communication makes it more likely that you will recognize that there may have been a miscommunication, instead of immediately reacting negatively. You’ll be more likely to extend grace, understanding that miscommunication is inevitable.

This knowledge of communication and miscommunication also helps us feel better about ourselves when another person reads us wrong. Knowing that miscommunication happens is by no means an excuse not to try to speak more clearly to others. However, this knowledge can be relieving when someone informs you that all your life you’ve been telling him/her that he/she stinks. My sister used to tell me that what I was constantly communicating was not love–she felt I did very little to show her I loved her (we have significantly different love languages). Obviously, at this point, I needed to make some changes in my communication with my sister. However, knowing that there was a misunderstanding allows me to stop second-guessing if I really had such bad intentions my whole life (it allowed me to recognize that I really do love my sister–I just hadn’t been speaking her love language). And it can stop you from convincing yourself that you just can’t express anything right and that you must have something wrong with you.

Once you begin to recognize these miscommunications, you can start to embrace my favorite of Deborah Tannen‘s quotes: “What seem like bad intentions may really be good intentions expressed in a different conversational style.” When you are willing to humble yourself and recognize that different people (who still have good intentions) express things in novel (but not entirely negative) ways, you’ll have a whole new world opened to you.

Ultimately then (big picture), the very least learning about communication can do for you is broaden your understanding of the world and encourage you to extend grace–both to yourself and to other communicators. And when you’re willing to give yourself and others a second chance, you have that much more opportunity to build relationships (and to keep relationships). You could have less opportunity to hold grudges and more opportunity to understand differing perspectives. This will give you some freedom to step out and build relationships with people who are different from you. In doing this, you can eventually start to bridge some communication gaps. No, you’ll never have such a sturdy bridge that you’ll be able to completely avoid such miscommunications. But you can at least build a rope bridge will allow you to go on adventures that previously hadn’t even had available.

The Unannounced Challenges Facing Cross-Cultural Teachers

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A short compact man with a beautiful, well-trimmed gray beard* spreading across his dark-skinned face walked into the classroom. Setting his bag down on the table in the front of the class, Dr. Sérgio da Silva began class with a broad smile and a Portuguese accent.

As college students in the 21st century, we are more than likely to have a foreign professor at some point or another throughout our education. While it may be entirely subconscious, most students from the get-go have a slight prejudice against non-native teachers. We sometimes seem to think that these professors don’t teach well, their accents are too hard to understand, or such professors don’t “get” the culture, and we generally have less respect for foreign professors (which is very dangerous because even this assumption can affect reality).

However, what we don’t consider is that the “American” way isn’t necessarily the “right” way. Additionally, the challenges that non-native professors have to face are factors that we ought to take into consideration before we decide the edict on the professor’s teaching skills and person as a whole. In order to help students form a more empathetic viewpoint, I intend to address some of the struggles which foreign teachers have to face that we American students rarely contemplate, encouraging American college students to be less judgmental of foreign professors right off the bat.

Let me introduce to you Dr. Sérgio da Silva, a professor at Cornerstone University who is originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil (S. da Silva, personal communication, February 24, 2017). He achieved his masters in Brazil, but wanted to study abroad. After graduating with his Ph. D. from Central Michigan, he and his family stayed in Michigan and he has since been teaching in the US. Since his time in the states, da Silva has started studying Cross-Cultural Psychology and has brought up some valuable nuggets of information regarding cross-cultural teaching.

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Teaching Expectations

In my conversation with Dr. da Silva, he introduced the fact that one of the major hurdles faced by teachers for whom the school in which they teach differs from the school in which they learned is understanding the student expectations of teachers (consider this article written by a foreign student explaining how different American professors’ expectations are from his own). One example of this is that students in the US expect the burden of learning to be on the professors. Students are paying big bucks to end up in college classes and if the students don’t accomplish the grades they expect, they blame the professors and their teaching styles. In Brazil, on the other hand, it is seen as the students’ job to learn the material–going to college is a privilege and it is up to the students to make as much out of it as they can (Kuhn, 1996**).

Dr. da Silva explains that where he grew up, “students assume that professors are competent in their areas, and it is the students’ responsibility to do the work of learning themselves, even if the professor does not present instructional content in a fun, engaging, or even “organized” way. Cultures where individual performance is valued above authority seem to place more emphasis on the ability of professors to “engage” the students, than on their depth of knowledge.” To a professor used to having students who take great initiative for their studies, presenting information to a more passive group proves to be a bit more challenging. da Silva concludes by saying, “From this perspective, student evaluations of teaching using adjectives such as ‘boring’ or ‘unengaging’ may be understood as ‘incompetent teacher’ creating problems for faculty who come from a different cultural background.”

Lesson Organization

Organization, too, is different. Students in the US expect clear landmarks, marked transitions, and strict organization. Professors who run off on rabbit trails are seen as easily distractible and in general gain less respect. In Brazil, distractions are “positively expected” as a way for the students’ questions to be fully addressed (Kuhn, 1996**). The students and the professor are free to let the lesson flow from whatever seems most appropriate in the given situation.

In addition, US students expect professors to be extremely clear with their outlines and obvious in their structure, distinctly marking their transitions and main points. Brazilian students, on the other hand, are accustomed to following the flow of presentation by their own attention. A professor who is used to having students catch on to the lesson organization on their own would struggle with feeling comfortable stating what he feels to be obvious. It may appear demeaning to the students to make the obvious so clear.

The importance given to what students perceived to be ‘well organized’ was greater [here in the US] than I was used to in my country,” stated Dr. da Silva. “In my academic experience as a student, organized teachers were those who had deep knowledge of their disciplines, and were able to communicate to the class, even if they did not give us any outlines to follow and told many stories.”

Therefore, Dr. da Silva found this aspect of American expectations for organization to be an especially challenging one so he put forth extra, sincere effort and has, in fact, proceeded to make his lessons out in extremely clear, short outline form which he puts up on the PowerPoint for the sake of his American students who expect strict organization.

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Authoritative Persona

Another obstacle that is certainly rarely considered is that of knowing how to effectively pull off the appropriate persona that is expected of an American professor. This consideration was brought forward by Dr. da Silva. Dr. da Silva encountered problems responding in the correct emotional response necessary for the variety of roles a teacher must play. For example, he had trouble being strict partly because he simply didn’t have the vocabulary. In learning English, da Silva had been taught the friendly ways to speak and friendly things to say. He didn’t have training in how to respond to a student who didn’t agree with da Silva’s grading or who was being disrespectful.

Along with this, not only does one have to know English, one has to know the expected and appropriate responses and common phrases for different situations. Because of cultural differences, when Dr. da Silva was talking to people, he would often feel disrespected, offended, or accused. In situations where the professor doesn’t have experience in the new culture, he/she will revert back to their original culture’s “cognitive scripts.”

Psychology professor Sergio da Silva in his officeThese cognitive scripts are likely to involve a number of facial expressions, body movements, and translated idiomatic expressions that, although were effective back in her cultural setting to establish authority in respectful way, may be interpreted in the culture of the students as weak and over-defensive,” Dr. da Silva explains. “Also, the very situation of having the students approaching her, and their expressions of discontent, may be interpreted by this professor as having a meaning or social value very different from what the students intended.”

What Now?

These differences cause tangible struggles for students and teachers who are from different cultures. It is important to realize that no matter how hard one tries, there can never be perfect harmony in communication across cultures. Dr. da Silva attempts to “embrace the mismatch”;  to “sit here in hurt, accepting and loving myself even when I realize I don’t fit perfectly.” He understands that it hurts, but understands that there is more than just the hurt.

Deborah Tannen said it well in her book That’s Not What I Meant; How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships when she stated, “What seem like bad intentions may really be good intentions expressed in a different conversational style.” We American college students are quick to dis professors who grew up in a different culture. And, while it is true that there are things that may make classes with such teachers an experience requiring more mental effort, this is something that is two-sided. The amount of work non-native professors have to struggle through is admirable. So as students it is essential that we withhold conclusions, embrace the mismatch, and try to see the world from their point of view.

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While foreign professors may not teach in the epitome of American-style teaching, who is to say that, just because we grew up with American expectations, that ours our the best way to be?

Please leave comments. Let me know of your experiences with foreign professors. Have you ever considered the struggles they face?

*The beard has since been removed.

**Link only works for students with access to JSTOR–which includes all Cornerstone students

Additional resources:

Examining different educational expectations

How different cultures approach student motivation

Kuhn, E. (1996). Cross cultural stumbling blocks for international teachers. College Teaching, 44(3), 96-99. 

 

 

Ontologically Impaired (Dead)

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My roommate and I were sitting at dinner recently when I leaned over and, nodding forward, I stated, “Wow, look at that table. Can you imagine sitting with that group?”

“I would die,” were her exact words. For a few seconds more we considered the reasons we did not want to sit with the group sitting at that table, before my roommate exclaimed that we needed to stop. I immediately agreed. Gossip is a very dangerous weapon.

While I believe gossip is always a risky game, Christians especially need to keep a tight reign on our tongues (and thoughts!). Ephesians 4:29 says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

One of the concepts I have learned from my studies of communication is that, just as reality forms how we communicate, how we communicate forms reality. This is seen concretely in considering the following scenario: on the first day of class, I get a slightly negative vibe from my teacher. As the semester continues, I mention this to my classmates, most of whom–in some shape or form–are willing to reciprocate my negative viewpoint. Having further cemented by original perspective, I continue through the class with this perspective, finding more and more that I dislike. As discussed in my previous post “You’ll See What You Want to See” perception works in such a way that, if not countered, we’ll see what we expect to see. Hence, the worse I speak about a class, the more negatively I’ll think about it, the more I’ll see the bad end of everything related. Talking negatively about the class will help to create a reality of negativity about the class.

As stated in my Cross-Cultural Psychology textbook,* “…not only do our beliefs, values, and perceptions affect our use of language, but our use of language affects our beliefs, values, and perceptions (p.52).” Take the title of this post for example (which I drew from this textbook). “Ontologically impaired” and “dead” mean the same thing, but speaking of them with different words changes the way they affect our emotions. Similarly, the way we speak of people changes our perceptions of them.

On the flip side, being positive (even if it’s forced) will help to create a positive reality. Consider Amy Cuddy’s research on how (non-verbally) communicating confidence actually makes a person more confident. Communicating confidence actually raised confidence-boosting hormones! Communication really makes reality.

Therefore, even if the gossip never even goes farther than your lips, gossip is never innocent. Even so much as thinking the negative thoughts can make them a reality, if you allow the thoughts to incubate. For others’ sake, as well as for your own, stop yourself from speaking and thinking negatively about others. Aim to make a more positive reality. Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Have you ever experienced how thinking or speaking negatively or thinking or speaking positively actually affected the situation for the worse or for the better? If not, give positive thinking a conscious, sincere effort and see if you can tell a difference. Let me know how things go!

*Shiraev, E. B., Levy, D. A. (2013). Cross-cultural psychology: Critical thinking and contemporary applications (5th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.

Relationships in the 3-D

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The summer following my freshman year in high school, I went and volunteered at Center Lake Bible Camp on the summer missions team. Coming from a home school background, friend choices were very scant  (and don’t get me wrong–I’m so glad I was home schooled). Imagine my delight when I found myself surrounded by a whole swarm of similarly-aged high schoolers. I finally had the choice of who to befriend and that summer I made the closest, bestest friends who I thought would last forever.

But when camp was over, after exchanging contact info, we parted ways and, despite my desperate attempts to keep in contact, I discovered the brutal reality that not all good things last. For the most part, I lost touch with those friends.

Even though I am not still interacting with most of those friends, I do have marvelous memories of my time with them. And memories–the past–is one dimension of relationships. So in a way, even though I lost my friends, I didn’t lose them completely. However, just having memories doesn’t make the dimension alive, you have to actually consider these memories from time to time for this dimension to be active. It’s only when you are conscious of the past that it counts as being there.

The second dimension is the present–which is made active when I am currently friends with the person, keeping in touch, interacting. You can even bring a friendship into the present dimension just by thinking about the friend–since doing so is keeping the person and the relationship current.

The final dimension is the future. This dimension is made up of any plans or expectations for future relationship. For example, I had met a girl on campus and saw her every so often and, in passing, we would converse. But the relationship never had the future dimension until she said one day, “BethAnn, we should hang out!” When we both had expectations of a lasting relationship, the future dimension was activated.

While there is obviously more to any relationship than these dimensions, a general rule is that if you add a dimension, the given relationship is strengthened and if you take away a dimension, then the relationship is weakened.

Even when I am at college and away from family, I can keep my relationship with my sister strong if I make the conscious decision to, every so often, reminisce about (preferably with her) memories from the past with her. I also have to keep the relationship alive in the present, maybe calling, emailing, or visiting her every so often (or even just texting to let her know I’m thinking about her). The last dimension can be strengthened by reminding my sister that I plan to be her friend for the rest of our lives. I expect to keep in touch and I want our relationship to continue.

So what do you think? Have you experienced these different dimensions? Can you think of ways you’ve applied these? Do you have relationships with just one or two dimensions? Who are those people with whom you have 3-D relationships?

Me and My Space Bubble

As a college student living in community housing, I share one dorm room with two girls. When I sent a picture of my room to a friend, his response was, “Wow! When your roommates chew gum, can you taste it?!” demonstrating how small he thought the area was for three girls to live in. Life as a college student means learning to live in limited space.

One aspect of communication and people watching that has especially interested me has been that of “proxemics”–which is a fancy word for use of space. One easily-visible aspect of proxemics is personal space bubbles. Everyone has a space bubble, although the size of this space bubble changes based on a variety of factors.

The word “bubble” indicates an invisible, round bubble evenly surrounding the person. However, this is overly simplistic. If you look around or think back on your personal experience, I’m sure you’ll find that you allow people to get closer to you when they are behind you or on your sides, as opposed to in front of you. You probably don’t mind sitting down two feet apart from someone to your side. However, it would be pretty awkward to stand face-to-face at the same distance.

If you must come closer-than-comfortable to others face-to-face, one way we distance ourselves is through controlling eye contact. When you are making eye contact with another person, the person feels incredibly closer. Therefore, if you want to distance yourself in an uncomfortably-close situation, you are likely to avoid eye contact. Take crowded elevators, for example. In such a case, people are probably closer than they’d normally be to strangers, and nobody is likely to make eye contact.

Another aspect of space bubbles that fascinated me in my studies was the effect that status has on space bubbles. Those who have a socially-determined higher status seem to have the right to control the size of space bubbles. Imagine, for example, that you are speaking after class with a professor. If that professor invades your space bubble, even though you are uncomfortable and may shift slightly, you are not likely to back off, for fear of seeming rude. However, if you get into a conversation with an average child who is younger than you and the child gets too close, you are likely to take a step back, feeling that you have the right to demand your space from someone who isn’t of a perceived higher status.

The shape of space bubbles, the eye-contact aspect, and how space bubbles are affected by perceived social status are all visible when people-watching. It’s great fun to watch people with proxemics in mind, getting a glimpse of how real these invisible bubbles really are.

If you are interested in learning more (and/or hearing a more scientific approach), feel free to check out my research in greater detail in my paper The Distance Between You and Me: A Study of Proxemics in Communication.

As always, please let me know your thoughts! I love to get responses from readers and feedback lets me know I’m not just talking to myself 🙂

Nonverbals: How to Accurately Read People’s Thoughts and Determine Their Subconscious.

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This is the post everyone’s been waiting for (who am I kidding? Nobody has even thought about asking me to write about this topic–but nonetheless, it’s the topic everyone should have been waiting for!): the post on nonverbals. Nonverbals, it seems, are a hot topic related to people-watching. This is because nonverbals allow us to learn so much; through nonverbal reactions in those around us, we can discover what they are thinking and feeling, what they believe, what their reaction is to us, what their parents were like, who they have as friends, what socioeconomic status they are from, how many pets they have, who they want for president, their true birth date, their place of origin, what kinds of food they eat when they are alone in their bedrooms, and, among others, their subconscious and their motives.

That is, anyway, what we like to read into people’s nonverbals.

In all seriousness, nonverbals do speak volumes. The disclaimer, however, is that these communicated volumes are vague and ambiguous at best. Attempting to put interpretation to nonverbal behaviors is a risky business that can end badly for all involved parties.

Despite this dire warning, I don’t want to spoil your fun. Watching nonverbals is one of the absolute best parts of people watching! And I don’t mean to discourage it.

Yesterday I was filming B-roll for my upcoming blog video. Because my topic is people-watching, I needed lots of extras to walk by. Instead of attempting to organize a bunch of extras, we just determined to use footage of random people walking out of class. Playing my role, I sat there and watched them. It was a hoot.

Understandably, some people don’t like to walk past recording iPads. Some of them gave the camera very odd looks before walking past, some gave odd looks and cut through the grass, and some people ignored it completely. On the opposite side of the spectrum, there were some people who decided to make a big show out of passing in front of the camera.

The faces some people made when they looked at the camera did communicate something. I can state pretty confidently that their nonverbals announced that walking past a recording camera isn’t a normal occurrence. I could tell some seemed rather nervous about interrupting something. Some were happy to be in the spotlight for a few seconds (see pictures at beginning and end of post). I could get a general feel for how comfortable they were with walking by because of the nonverbals they expressed while doing so.

However, what I couldn’t get from their reaction was their specific thoughts.

Take another example: I am leaning far back in a chair, my feet crossed and propped up on a table in front of me. I could be expressing power (with perhaps an air of haughtiness). Or I could simply be expressing a level of comfortability with my situation and surroundings. As I sit here, my arms are crossed. This could be demonstrating anger or disinterest in what I’m listening to. Or I could be cold and attempting to warm up a bit. Squirming could be a sign of boredom–or the opposite: excitement, or even nervousness.

When you are people watching, don’t ignore the nonverbals. Arguably watching reactions and silent messages is the best part of watching people. But at the same time, however, remember that, while much is communicated, the communication is very vague. Don’t jump to too many conclusions based on nonverbals alone. Nonverbals can shout out that a person is alive, awake, and thinking about something, but they can’t accurately, and with certainty, cement what color  toenail polish the person would’ve used on his or her grandma, had he or she had the opportunity.

Let me know about the experiences you’ve had with nonverbals. Do you have any good stories where you read someone wrong or they read you wrong?

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