For our last three days in China, we visited Beijing for a whirlwind of cultural sights.
On our first day, we visited the Forbidden City – the most infamous palace in China. Closed off to commoners, it served as the country’s governmental center for almost 500 years. Walking around the palace was amazing, because for me it was almost impossible to imagine just how elaborately the royals of China lived. Personally, one of the biggest takeaways from our tour guide’s stories was how one emperor had about 300 concubines to himself. He set the record of course, but it was really hard to wrap my head around how such a system could remain in place for so long. I wondered how he could carry out necessary government affairs yet still manage to lead such a large household and palace. I also found out that up until the 1500s, some emperors had started and carried out a tradition of bringing their wives and some of their most ‘honored’ concubines with them into the afterlife – meaning that when they died, the empress and some of the concubines would be buried alive too, in order to accompany the emperor beyond.
As a bonus, we ran into Governor Larry Hogan – the governor of Maryland. He even posed for a few pictures with us. After that, we briefly toured the National Center for Performing Arts, which looks nice on the outside, but has even more impressive architecture inside. It holds many world-renowned opera performances each year.
At night, the four of us left on the trip challenged each other to eating some pretty exotic foods. All of us ended up trying at least a bite of fried snake, and a friend and I each ate a whole scorpion. Another friend ate a seahorse. Of course, these foods aren’t really typical of China – I think they’re more of a moneymaker for the street vendors, who can lure tourists wanting to eat crazy things just for the sake of saying that they’ve eaten something bizarre. There were starfish, turtles, tarantulas, cicadas and centipedes for sale too – but I’m really glad that none of us wanted to try any of those.
The next day, we climbed the Northern part of the Badaling section of the Great Wall. Walking along the Great Wall of China is definitely an unparalleled experience – and it’s so worth it. Hearing about it being a remarkable landmark as often as we do can take away the awe factor over time, but hiking it in person puts it back in perspective. The Wall is over 13,000 miles long – and at one point, it was all connected. Today, many sections are separated because parts have crumbled or are unsafe now. Thinking about what it took to build it hits home too, as there are estimated to be over 300,000 people who died throughout the construction of the Wall. It was started during the Qin dynasty – the first dynasty – which, as I learned in Xi’an, was also responsible for the Terracotta Army.
Our last stop was the 2008 Olympic Stadiums – the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube. Visiting them was incredible, and it was nice to see that unlike a lot of other Olympic facilities, they are still being used for various conferences and other purposes.
When it was time for us to all go home, we realized just how fast our 6-week adventure had flown by. The entire trip was really an amazing opportunity, and one that brought us all together while taking us to places many of us had previously only dreamed about seeing. We couldn’t have had a better experience.
For the last week of our six-week program, we are visiting Xi’an and Beijing. Both are cities with incredible history and culture, and served as capital cities for China (Xi’an is the oldest of China’s four ancient capitals, and Beijing is the modern capital). Xi’an was formerly known as Chang’an, and was the origin of the Silk Road.
As our first stop, we flew to Xi’an to meet with Professor Fu’s cousin, who served as our tour guide for many parts of our stay. The flight was delayed for a little over an hour with us sitting in the plane, so they fed us lunch early, but I was informed by some of my newly made Chinese friends and Professor Fu that in China, it is very common for flights to be so delayed. If a flight is delayed over three hours, then the airline needs to reimburse people. I couldn’t imagine an airline industry where that is the norm.
Once we arrived in Xi’an, we had our first local lunch – and it was so delicious! The food in Xi’an is spicy, much more so than in Shanghai, and is mostly noodle-based. From there, we headed to Chang’an Temple. However, it was really hot and we were all pretty tired, so we elected not to hike to the top of the pagoda. Chang’an Temple, like many of the other temples we visited, has a lot of Buddhist relics and remains a center of worship for many.
The next day, we visited the Terracotta Warriors. Seeing them in person was truly incredible, because they were built during the Qin dynasty (read: 221-206 BC) but only discovered in 1974. There are estimated to be over 8,000 figures – and of course they were all made by hand, so each is unique. It makes sense why some people call them the Eighth Wonder of the World.
In the afternoon, we biked the City Wall. It is similar to the Great Wall of China in the sense that the wall was built to protect the city from outside invaders and it’s massive, but the City Wall is flat to walk on. One of my classmates and I checked out a tandem bike for fun, but it was definitely a challenge to figure out how to ride it successfully and still manage to avoid all of the other tourists walking and biking around. Not to mention that our first instinct to yell “watch out” or “please move” in English wasn’t particularly effective. We ended up meeting more American students there, from the Monmouth University basketball team. They had just played Shanghai recently and won.
Our last stop for the day was an area known as the Muslim Street. It was a lively street full of all kinds of vendors, from souvenirs to drinks, candy to food. Before going to Shanghai and Xi’an I hadn’t realized that there was a growing Muslim presence in China. Unfortunately we got caught in the torrential downpour of a passing summer storm, and we lost each other for a little while – and as one would imagine, trying to find people in crowds in China is no easy task.
Before I came to China, I knew nothing about Shanghai. My only memories of China were from when I was six years old, and I cannot even recall what part of China I was in (though according to my mom it was throughout Hunan province, and Guangzhou). I remember the different smells, different-looking people, different foods and a different language. There was one McDonald’s, though at the time the burgers were still made of soy and not beef, and there was a restaurant across the street from a hotel called “Lucy’s” (based on I Love Lucy) that sold both American and Chinese food. Other than that, not too many people spoke English well and the country looked like a very foreign land.
Planning for this trip to Shanghai gave me the idea that by living in China for six weeks, I could get a pretty good glimpse into what life is like under a communist regime. I wanted to see how everyday life works in a country that, in a way, prides itself on isolation from the rest of the world, and I was curious as to how western influence has changed China’s customs, society, and government. After living for four and a half weeks in Shanghai and hearing numerous helpful lectures, I think that now I can begin to formulate answers to some of these questions – though of course I cannot fully examine any without staying in the country longer, and visiting more traditional areas aside from Shanghai.
Shanghai is a very westernized, international city – I was not expecting it to be so developed, so modern, and so big. In many areas of the city, it felt as if I were simply walking around New York City again. There are many malls and outdoor shopping areas, all full of various things to spend a lot of money on. The malls have expensive luxury brands that cater to western preferences, with brands like Coach and Louis Vuitton and Barbour. At the same time, the outdoor shopping areas like TianZiFang and XinTianDi – as well as the areas surrounding places like water towns, temples and Yuyuan Garden – are full of vendors with small shops that are easily recognizable tourist traps. The city’s nightlife is bustling, though it mostly attracts wealthy, western and older crowds.
Shanghai has its own dialect, which reflects its unique culture. Many Chinese people do not feel that Shanghai is actually part of China, because it is so westernized. The signs around the city are in English and Chinese, and there are many English-speaking people in Shanghai. The different parts of Shanghai are distinct, just like the different cities and provinces around China, which helped me to truly internalize just how huge the country is. Now I understand how diverse it is, and saying that one visited China will not universally mean the same thing to me anymore. It would be comparable to if someone said they visited the United States – because going to an area in Massachusetts would be a wholly separate experience than going to an area in Florida or Washington or Nevada.
In Amazonas, it’s impossible to study economic development without spending significant time away from the city of Manaus. Manaus is responsible for over 90 percent of Amazonas’ economic strength, so continued development in the city is a priority. But in the rural areas of Amazonas, where half the population lives, you begin to realize that 50 percent of the population is subsisting on 10 percent of the state’s income.
There are two seemingly distinct types of rural living in Amazonas. There are those areas connected to Manaus by road, and those connected by the Rio Negro. They seem distinct for multiple reasons; prior studies have taught us that road construction and deforestation were significantly related. On the four-hour bus ride to Balbina, the effects of deforestation are obvious. Although we usually think of deforestation on a rather industrial scale, deforestation in Amazonas often just looks like the more productive utilization of land by small localities (I am assuming anywhere from 100-200 people). The quality of living appeared much higher on this side of Manaus; I once saw a pool and houses looked like they were much better constructed. I think there’s something about being near a road—whether it’s easier for people to transport goods to Manaus or to gain access to agricultural tools—that has allowed these individuals to flourish relative to those living in the rural Rio Negro region.
On the other hand, we spent five days on a boat in the Rio Negro (a total of 17 hours from Manaus) and visited two different rural communities for a day a piece, exploring their paths through the rainforest, their agricultural patches, and their facilities, which included one-room schools, homes, small pharmacies, and of course, soccer fields. We played a few games of soccer (the Americans went 2-0 against our hosts’ best players, thanks to the fact that we had two varsity athletes and another three high school soccer players in our group). Along the way, we asked lots of questions, learning as much as we could about what it means to exist in rural Amazonas.
The Comunidad de Ponta Da Terra (The Community at the Tip of the Earth) has 100 people, 18 families, seven boats, six kayaks, two soccer fields, one volleyball court and a single one-room school. Each family has its own small home. The homes aren’t well constructed and they have no windows. I saw only three young men (aged 18-25), as many have joined the military. The community educates its residents until the fourth grade when formal education stops. They receive negligible wages from middle men who bring their products to Manaus; a monopoly allows these merchants to offer literal pennies for agricultural products that they can sell after transport at margins well over 30 times (and up to 60 times) the price paid for each commodity. The communities suffer from a lack of education and few resources. Community members possess an impressive knowledge of plants, passed down over thousands of years. So I was surprised that their agricultural pursuits were not more streamlined. Today, there is a vast amount of scientific information and data available that can help people improve their farming practices. Accessing that information is difficult, however.
The Comunidad de Frederico Muchado was similar to the Comunidad de Ponta Da Terra but slightly larger, with a population of 180 people. The community appeared to enjoy an improved standard of living. With better houses, more deforestation, and more comprehensive agricultural projects, this community offered a classroom education to students until the fourth grade, and through the Federal University of Amazonas (UFAM) was able to offer Internet access to teachers to help educate students through the eighth grade. Even with these improvements, the community’s conditions were far worse than those of the communities connected to Manaus via road.
These communities suffer from limited human capital, but especially from a lack of competition in goods transfer. We learned about ancient communities like the Maghribi Traders who are organizing and unionizing to fight the evils of collective action and the fundamental problems of trade. I believe this is the first step to enhancing the welfare of the Amazonian people residing in the rainforest. If people can receive a fair price for their goods, there will be more capacity to support education.
Blogging has been difficult. We just got back from a five-day tour on the Amazon River, with no cell service and no Wi-Fi access for hundreds of kilometers. But there are lots of stories to share.
Our first week was largely spent touring Manaus, attending lectures at local universities, namely the Federal University of Amazonas in Manaus (UFAM), and getting to know some of the locals our age.
Manaus is the spinal city in the state of Amazonas (the largest of the 26 states in Brazil, geographically). Making up 90 percent of the state’s GDP and over half of its population, Manaus is the beneficiary of a free trade agreement intended to open up commerce in poor Northeastern Brazil while similarly enhancing the usefulness of Amazon resources.
Most people are surprised we have come to Manaus. It’s not a tourist destination like Rio de Janeiro. The streets are in general disrepair and graffiti dominates all corners of the city. Public transit thrives, roads are crowded, and there’s very little law enforcement. Trash is everywhere and trash cans are nowhere. Stray dogs roam all over. The city is physically falling apart, although the people appear to be fairing somewhat better.
A combination of poverty, corruption and fraud are to blame for the city’s disrepair. There are large, crumbling apartment complexes without occupants, merchants who are struggling to maintain their storefronts and failing infrastructure—people walk on uneven and broken sidewalks and drive on roads with potholes that are eight feet in circumference and almost three feet deep. But the city 20 years ago? Fifty years ago? I bet it was really something to see.
Lectures have been informal but have added to my understanding of the state’s history and policies. Understanding the urban rainforest dynamic takes time; it’s a complicated issue. Rainforest sustainability goals have been reached; studies are still in the observational stages, but it looks as if policy recommendations have been effective, deforestation goals have been achieved with ease, and the environment is well cared for. It’s development that needs much work, and I plan on addressing that in my next post.
As for the people? I have traveled very little but would have assumed there would be big differences between American and Brazilian culture. I figured Brazil and America would have some similarities but some fundamental differences. I was surprised to find so many English-speaking young adults throwing up peace signs, using selfie sticks, posting Instagram photos with more hashtags than there are people in the picture. Having met many young Brazilians, I’ve come to realize that we’re pretty similar. Beyond the language differences, I feel no divide.
Many of the people I’m living with are also studying abroad; our house has six people from four continents living under one roof. One of my housemates (Worth Smith) had sent a quote he found in a Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, which I think is fitting to share:
“The Professor explained how the coffee was made very different from anywhere else, and I realized, ‘So ******* what?’ Which kids in Turkey even give a shit about Turkish coffee? All day I had looked at young people in Istanbul. They were all drinking what everyone in the world drinks, and they were wearing clothes that look like they were bought at the Gap, and they were all using cell phones. They were like kids everywhere else. It hit me that, for young people, this whole world is the same now… We’re just one world now.”
It’s not that I want to belittle the experience and the joys of meeting and indulging in a new culture. But as globalization and development continues, we won’t just share a common humanity—we’ll also share a common experience and language. Ultimately, I think there will be a new global culture. In this future global society, it’s possible that national boundaries will matter less.
We spent the last part of our trip in Bongani Mountain Lodge, a private game reserve in Mpumalanga, close to the Kruger National Park. Bongani is located between several small mountain ranges where you can see all kinds of animals—lions, jaguars, elephants, snakes and even rhinos. The drive to Bongani is almost five hours from Johannesburg but it is so beautiful that the length doesn’t matter. As soon as you get used to driving on the left side of the road, the drive across the South African countryside is relaxing and enriching. Along the way, we drove through several gigantic rock formations and even ran into some slow moo-ving traffic (for some reason, cows in South Africa like to walk on the highways).
Once we finally arrived in Bongani, we still had a 30-minute drive through rough terrain in a big 4×4 jeep to arrive at the lodge. The guide told us to keep an eye out for animals but we were unlucky and did not see a single one on the short drive. We did, however, get some beautiful shots of the reserve.
Our hotel rooms were incredibly romantic – we had a mosquito net, a bathtub and each room had an exterior shower so we could bathe with the forest around us. We also had A/C, which was necessary because Bongani can get extremely hot, even during the winter.
We barely had time to take a break in our rooms; our first game drive started less than an hour after we arrived! Given that we didn’t see any animals on the drive to the lodge, I’d say our luck improved considerably; we ran into a group of elephants! We were able to get so close that, at one point, we became a little bit scared the male elephant would charge at us. We were also close enough to clearly see the baby elephants. The mothers like to tuck away their children from strangers but we were able to see them clearly! It was so cute!
Between safari game drives, we spent most of our time by the pools. There was a beautiful, large pool with a rock cascade and another smaller but even more beautiful infinity pool that had a view of the safari areas. We would watch animals from the infinity pool while we sunbathed and relaxed. On our second to last day, we spotted a family of elephants running out of the woods to take a shower in a small lagoon. It was by far one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen. The adult elephants ran in pace with the baby elephants to make sure they kept up, and when they showered, they did so with their trunks, just like you’d see in Animal Planet!
Later, we did a game drive at dusk. We left the camp around 4 p.m. and headed down the valley in search of more animals. We were lucky enough to run into a giraffe and some kudus! The giraffe was nothing special; it just ate leaves and chilled near the trees but the kudus were really interesting. Kudus are deer-like creatures that can jump four meters into the air. They also have beautiful antlers and the male kudus grow blue-greyish fur with black stripes.
The next morning our guide, Simeon, took us up a mountain to see the dawn. We had to leave at 5 a.m. but the early wake-up call was worth it to be able to see the sun rise over the reserve. The view from the mountain was one for the ages but, sadly, our cameras could not do justice to the beauty that our eyes saw.
On our third day, we went out to find lions. It was a cold, grey day so we were all wearing ponchos, and we were given hot chocolate and biscuits. We were unsuccessful in our search for the lions but we were able to see a group of lions that the reserve had caged. These lions were recently brought to the reserve from elsewhere and thus can’t be immediately released. Jamaal was skilled enough to get a shot of the male lion through the iron cage though!
On our last night in Bongani, we went on a game drive with the goal of finding the last two animals we had failed to see – the rhino and the leopard. Luckily, we spotted a rhino couple walking close to our lodge. We failed to see the elusive leopard but we did see a small cat that the locals call the mini leopard! After the drive, the hotel staff prepared for us a lovely outdoor dinner by a fire, complete with candlelight. The food was a mix of South African dishes, all of which were incredible. It was a unique, memorable night.
On our last day in Bongani, we visited a rock site with ancient art made by the San people many thousands of years ago. We also visited the neighboring village of Mpumalanga. The village was beautiful – in many ways it reminded me of villages in Nicaragua. The houses are small and humble but people take good care of them. The people were extremely open to us and friendly. We visited them during a Sunday, so all the village’s children were playing at church. We hung out with them for a while and we even sang together.
As this is my last blog entry, I’d like to thank Jamaal Jones ’16, who took the majority of the photos I’ve shared in these posts.
Today we spent our day in the city of Pretoria. Pretoria is about an hour north of Johannesburg and is the executive capital of South Africa. Pretoria is special in that it is also the one city in South Africa where the majority of people speak Afrikaans. Afrikaans is an offshoot of the Dutch that the first colonists in South Africa spoke. Pretoria is also home to the beautiful University of Pretoria, where we were to spend our day presenting a workshop about uncertain tax positions to the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and later to honors tax students from the University of Pretoria.
When we arrived in Pretoria, we were all anxious about our presentation. Morgan Ballengee, Jamaal Jones, Anna Hargett and Paige Hogan were the group in charge of presenting to SARS. I was in the group presenting to the honors tax students, along with Kate Feeser, Paige Gay, Amanda Garcia and Kristina Seon. The SARS group presented first, and they were awesome. They did a great job at explaining the different aspects of the American way of treating uncertain tax positions. They answered all kinds of questions from the audience and completely nailed everything down. Plus Professor Alexander and Ms. Pamela Miller helped us answer more questions after the workshop. The people from SARS were definitely impressed by their presentation, and they were very thankful and interested in our work. After the SARS presentation, we were given a tour of the University of Pretoria campus. We visited their historic buildings, climbed into a tower that overlooks the city, played in their science center with many cool gadgets, including a really fun mirror maze, and even visited one of their gigantic, 200+ student lecture halls. It was interesting to walk around a campus with more than 50,000 students, and amusing to find so many similarities between our own campus and theirs, despite the fact we are continents away. We had lunch at a historic replica of the first building of the University of Pretoria. There, we were served the traditional dish of bobotie. It was so good that I went for seconds. I don’t know how to describe it better than a quiche on steroids and meat.
After lunch, it was game time. It was time for my group to present our workshop to a classroom full of honors tax students. We were all at least a little bit anxious on our way to the classroom, but we had the opportunity to meet and break the ice with the UP students before our workshop started, and that definitely helped everyone to relax. The honors students were in many ways very similar to us! At the very least, we were all tax nerds, and we were all looking forward to the presentation. Kate presented first, with Paige, Amanda and I following. Kristina closed the game for us. We were really pleased with the results. We were successful in making University of Pretoria students interact and work with us throughout our cases, and we managed to make the best out of our hour-and-a-half presentation.
The day ended with a dinner with the honors students of the University of Pretoria and a group of partners from the South African branch of Ernst & Young. We were at a nice Italian restaurant, and it was a delicious break from traditional South African food. The dinner went smoothly and I had a great time talking to everyone in my table. But by the end of the dinner, we were all tired after such a full day and ready to head back to Johannesburg.
On Sunday, we arrived in Johannesburg after two weeks in Lexington and 17 hours flying over the Atlantic. As soon as we got here, we went through customs, had a health inspection and drove to our hotel. We are staying in a beautiful hotel called Fire and Ice! in a safe and cool area called Melrose Arch. We have everything here — a pool, WiFi and even a milkshake bar.
The next morning, we took a tour around Johannesburg. The city has huge buildings and looks really busy all the time. You see all kinds of different people walking in the streets. Joburg, as the locals call it, is extremely diverse. You can hear English, Zulu, Afrikaans, Xhosa and many other languages in the city. Later, we drove to Soweto, a suburb of Johannesburg, where the majority are Zulu and Xhosa and where Nelson Mandela lived before taking the presidency in Johannesburg. We were planning on visiting Nelson Mandela’s house in Soweto, but instead we visited the Apartheid Museum. There we saw and learned about Nelson Mandela, apartheid and the struggle to end it. We also had the opportunity to choose our favorite Nelson Mandela quote in a wood stick. I chose his quote about poverty: “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is the protection of a fundamental right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”
Today we visited the Origins Museum, where we learned about early stone age technology (a.k.a. rocks). We looked at all the different tools used in Africa by ancient tribes people and their cave carvings. We went on to visit the Sterkfontein Caves, also known as the “Cradle of Humanity.” Hidden in these caves are thousands of human fossils that were preserved for more than 3000 years. We went through several tunnels and we had to climb, walk, squish and even crawl to find our way out of the caves. It was the best!
Now, the fun stuff: food. Yesterday, we had lunch at Wits University and ate some great wraps at their own version of our Dining Hall. I had a honey chicken avocado and cream cheese one that was everything that’s good in the world. In the evening, we had a lovely dinner with the Claibornes where we ate traditional South African food, including the amazing Biltong. Biltong is similar to beef jerky, but made out of game and ten times better. I am not sure how they make it, but we are planning on making them back in the States. To end the day, we had ice cream in cups made out of fruits that were pretty cool and felt very “South Africa” until Paige said that they sell them at Costco.
Tomorrow, we have workshops all day with the South African Revenue System (SARS) and a group of graduate students from the University of Pretoria. We are all really excited (and nervous!) to present, but I think we will do a great job.
Spring term may technically be over, but Washington Term students are still going strong. We are kicking off our fifth of six weeks on this beautiful Memorial Day.
Friends who took standard four-week spring term courses have asked me why I chose to take a six-week course. To them, I say that I wouldn’t trade six weeks in Washington, D.C. for anything. Most of us have only recently hit our stride, and I don’t think any of us could imagine ending our internships already. In fact, I’ve loved my internship so much that I’ve decided to extend my time at the Weekly Standard for two additional weeks beyond Wash Term. There is just no way to have a full internship experience in only four weeks.
In those final two weeks of my internship, after everyone heads home, I’ll definitely miss the friends I’ve made during spring term. Although I didn’t know many of my classmates well before being selected for Wash Term, I’ve really enjoyed bonding with everyone over dinners out, movie nights in, metro rides to and from talks, and—one of my personal favorites—our trip to the Newseum this past Friday.
It’s hard to believe that we’ll soon part ways but, for now, I’ve got to push that thought to the back of my mind because this is the week we have to hunker down and finish our term papers. Once my paper is done, I’ll be able to look forward to our visit to the Brookings Institute, where Jonathan Rauch will speak to our class. Those of us who have taken other courses with Professor Connelly have read Mr. Rauch’s work before, so we are excited to have the opportunity to see him in person.
Speaking of “in person,” we’ve had some great encounters over the past two weeks: some of us saw Ralph Nader at his book signing the other day, and I sat two tables over from Thomas Friedman while out to lunch with the Weekly Standard’s Vic Matus and Daniel Halper. With so many people and things to do, it’s easy to forget that D.C. is actually a fairly small city—you never know who you’ll run into!
As for my own internship, I’m still relishing all the hands-on experience I’m getting. Last week, I offered to help Managing Editor Claudia Anderson copy edit the final galleys on press night. Although she was hesitant to allow me to do so at first, I managed to find two mistakes on what she said were near-perfect galleys, and since then, she has asked for my help on other occasions. Earning her trust gave me a great feeling and finding the mistakes made me feel like I was contributing to the publication in a significant way.
I have also felt this way about the research I’ve been doing for some of the staff writers; it’s a great feeling to read their final pieces and know exactly where they found their statistics and facts. Often, writers will go out of their way to thank me for my help, which is especially rewarding. Not only am I enjoying the work but these experiences are teaching me a lot about political journalism, my interests, and myself. I now have a clearer vision of my career aspirations, and as I continue to learn from the Standard staff, I am looking forward to writing a piece or two for the Standard’s blog in the coming weeks.
Although I still have four more weeks of my internship, this is my last blog post for W&L’s spring term blog. I sign off with a few final words: No matter what your major, I highly recommend participating in Washington Term. Our nation’s capital is an exciting place to be, and you’ll learn so much about politics and working in the real world.
Greetings from the car! I’m writing this as I say goodbye to the Capitol for a few days to attend this weekend’s biggest political event: Washington and Lee Mock Convention’s Spring Kick Off.
With two weeks of internship experience under my belt, it’s exciting to head back to Lextropolis. I’ve been thinking a lot about just how much I have already learned about political journalism since I last set foot on campus. I know that my classmates feel the same way about their respective internships; many of us quickly went “native,” as Professor Connelly puts it, meaning that we have adopted the perspectives that dominate our offices.
This enthusiasm for our work created (and I can imagine will continue to create!) a unique energy in the classroom. Last Friday, we were all eager to share our experiences. Since we each work in offices with different political orientations, our classroom feels like a microcosm of Washington. We’re interning with lobbyists, journalists, organization members, and Hill staffers but we’re united by our desire to learn from each other. Now I can see why, as my class has been told on multiple occasions, first-hand experience is so essential to learning.
I admit that I went native almost immediately. It was hard not to with a staff as open, embracing, and supportive as the one at the Weekly Standard. Not only has almost everyone there reached out to me to give me advice to maximize my internship experience and to get to know me, but they have also given me numerous opportunities. Since I arrived, I have helped at an event at which Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal spoke, met Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and sat in on an interview with feminist author Christina Hoff Sommers. I’ve also visited the One America News station twice to see how a show is broadcast and to watch Weekly Standard Assistant Editor Jim Swift commentate. This is on top of learning to properly copy edit articles, research, and fact check. I’ve even been encouraged to begin working on some pieces. There’s the potential to get something published by the end of my internship.
Although most of my day is spent at the office, I’ve also really enjoyed bonding with my classmates over the past two weeks. After hearing the Honorable Mark Kennedy speak at George Washington University last Friday, we all migrated to Georgetown to celebrate the end of our first week with Baked & Wired cupcakes (way better than the hyped up Georgetown Cupcakes!). Later in the week, we got together to watch a movie and celebrate Pacqui Toscano’s birthday. We’ve also done a lot of sightseeing. On Saturday, a group of us took advantage of the beautiful weather and walked all around the city in search of frozen yogurt (somehow we managed to pick the two places that were closed on a Saturday!). On Monday night, Callie Ramsey and I crossed a D.C. goal off our bucket list by going for a night-time run around the monuments.
In a nutshell, we’ve had a very fast, full, and fulfilling two weeks and are now geared up for the next four!
Loading up my car Sunday morning to head to Washington felt surreal. When I landed my internship at The Weekly Standard back in December, I felt like it would be an eternity before I would be slipping into my professional attire and riding the Metro to my office each day. Yet here I was, car packed to the brim and ready to take on my dream internship in the heart of the nation’s bustling capital.
Luckily, I had a fellow Washington Term student with me for the sunny ride to D.C. Our lighthearted conversations soothed any nerves I had and replaced them with an insatiable excitement for the experiences that awaited me. I knew that I was not only going to have an incredible, hands-on experience in the office, but I was also going to be surrounded and supported by a great group of peers.
There are 16 of us participating in the Washington Term program. We live together, attend classes led by Prof. Connelly and intern at locations all over the District. After move-in, we all gathered together for dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. What better way to bond than over the fast food that’s missing from Lexington? Only W&L students know how true this is — we can fully appreciate a Chipotle and Starbucks next door to each other.
My roommates and I decided to call it an early night so we would be refreshed and ready to start our internships in the morning. I was relieved to find that I had less trouble navigating the Metro than I had anticipated; in fact, I had 30 minutes to spare, which gave me just enough time to grab a cup of Peet’s Coffee and compose myself before finally getting to meet my boss.
When I entered the office, I was greeted by warm smiles and a wholehearted series of “welcomes” that immediately made me feel at home. Within my first 30 minutes, I met almost the entire staff — including magazine founder and legend Bill Kristol — and was invited to attend the weekly editorial meeting, which allowed me to quickly pick up on the dynamic in the office. As a loyal reader of The Weekly Standard, it was even more amazing for me to be able to hear writers toss around ideas that would eventually become the articles I’m accustomed to reading. This made me even more excited about the editorial work I’ll get to do in the near future, before the staff closes out each weekly issue.
I was struck by the deep sense of camaraderie at The Weekly Standard. Not only did staff members treat each other respectfully, but they extended that same respect to me by happily showing me the ropes and answering my questions. A group of them even took me out to lunch so that they could get to know me better.
Overall, this was a wonderful first day and a great indication of what the rest of the summer will be like. I cannot wait to see what’s to come!
The third and final week of our spring term trip to Ghana was spent touring rural areas and visiting several major cities. We saw the Cape Coast Castle, fed monkeys bananas in the Volta Region, learned how Kente cloth is made in Kumasi, and swam in the Vli Waterfalls near Ho. It was nice to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Accra and explore some rural areas.
This trip has marked my first visit to a developing country. Throughout my time here, I have meditated heavily on the relationship between developed and developing nations. Specifically, as a U.S. citizen, what is my role in this setting? Especially as the course comes to a close, my classmates and I have all been wondering how we will take what we’ve learned here and use it when we get home. We’ve had a fulfilling cultural immersion—scheduling plans around daily power outages, bargaining with taxi drivers, and washing our own clothes by hand—but at the end of the day, we will all return to the United States where we drive our own cars, have consistent electricity, and throw our dirty clothes in the washing machine. As I work to internalize this experience, I’d like to share some of my thoughts.
Last week, we were scheduled to complete a community service project in Krofu, an isolated rural village in the central region. We arrived at 9 a.m., a bus full of foreigners, ready to help with the construction of a library. We spent about an hour waiting for the chief elders to arrive, and while we were playing soccer and talking to the village kids, the majority of us felt uncomfortable. What were we doing here? What did these kids think of us? Were we right to be there? Yes, we were doing a community service project but we were also there to see what a rural Ghanaian village was like. Once we met with the elders, we set to work digging the foundation of what will become a library for the village’s school children. As we were digging, I couldn’t help but think: What impact are we really making? Is this the best use of our skills and resources? Is a library the most effective way to improve this village? When we quit digging about 45 minutes later, we left behind slightly deeper holes than the ones that were originally there.
The next day, while we were on the bus on our way to visit Kumasi, we had a full debrief with Professor Dickovick. The conversation helped many of us work through our feelings about the Krofu visit. As a former Peace Corps volunteer who spent two years in a village in Togo, Prof. Dickovick could relate to our frustration. He talked about how it can be difficult to prescribe development solutions, and he made one point, in particular, that stayed with me. Our experience in Krofu serves as a micro-scale metaphor for development as a whole. The World Bank, for instance, is such a large organization that its projects can sometimes be unproductive; it’s hard to know exactly what a country needs in order to thrive. Just as we had arrived, dug holes for an hour, and left—feeling good about ourselves and yet questioning whether we’d helped the village, NGOs and development organizations oftentimes get stuck in the same cycle. It’s very possible to provide unproductive aid. This realization, brought on by the experience in Krofu, is one that I will keep in mind as I continue to study development and other countries.
And such is the beauty of Spring Term. This course could have been taught in Lexington during a regular 12-week term but the benefit of studying in Ghana is that I’ve been immersed in the course content. The experience has made a lasting impression on me.
The past week in Ghana has been packed with lectures, site visits, and plenty of cultural immersion. As a poverty studies minor, I’ve been able to draw some connections between lectures on foreign development and my studies of domestic poverty.
On Thursday, we listened to Dr. Akosua Darkwah, of the sociology department at the University of Ghana, speak about women and rural development. She discussed how rural workers, mainly women, have been pigeonholed into roles as cash crop farmers, and as such, are subject to the control of corporations in outside countries. Last semester, I finished my poverty capstone on the structural isolation of the urban poor in the U.S., and I came across many of the same types of barriers. These barriers can leave people powerless. Though there are differences when it comes to scale and the types of problems each population faces, I found it interesting to be able to make cross-cultural comparisons.
The adjustments I’ve had to make to my daily life in Ghana have made me reconsider how much waste I produce, even on a weekly basis. On Wednesday, I woke up to find that all our water had run out. This has never happened to me at home or at school; our plumbing delivers a continuous supply of water. Later in the day, as the workmen came to refill the tank at my home stay, I was very aware that every time I ran the sink, some water from that limited tank was expensed. Even brushing my teeth with bottled water every night, I’m more conscious of how much water I use, as I watch a third of a bottle disappear.
I’ve also been thinking about excessive consumption in terms of data. I read an article praising Facebook for being one of the most efficient smart phone apps, in terms of information delivered per megabyte. With frequent access to WiFi and a large data plan at home, I had never considered my consumption of data. Now that I have to buy credit for my Ghanaian SIM card and monitor my data usage, it’s on my mind a good bit.
In other immersion news, I did my own laundry by hand for the first time this week. I had three buckets, for washing and rinsing, and in order to make the clothes clean, it’s necessary to scrub them together hard until the dirt comes out. We spent the better part of an hour doing this, before hanging all our clothing on a line to dry in the Ghanaian heat.
My roommate Lucy and I also experienced Accra’s public transportation for the first time this week. The system consists of unmarked minibuses called Tro Tros, which are distinguished by a man hanging out the side window, yelling the route with accompanying hand signals to passerbys on the road. With directions from our host mother, we were able to take two Tro Tros to the tourist spot, Labadi Beach, on our free day this week.
When we’re not walking or taking a Tro Tro, Accra’s taxi service is most convenient. Driving in Ghana should be left to Ghanaians—traffic is dense and scooters dart in between cars, everyone trying to outpace each other. Honking is a necessary part of driving, done more to announce that you’re proceeding through an intersection or passing another car than to indicate frustration. If you were to do a study of honks per minute, I would bet that there’s a positive correlation with efficiency of travel. Perhaps this is something to look into on any future economics trips to Ghana!
Hello from Accra, the capital city of Ghana! After spending a couple days in Lexington, preparing to study Ghanaian politics and economic development, we’ve finally arrived and settled into our home stays, enjoying the sights, sounds, tastes and newness that comes with exploring a place for the first time. During our three days in the city so far, we’ve tried local cuisine, toured the Masoleum of Kwame Nkrumah, driven through the coastal markets and neighborhoods downtown, and attempted to bargain for souvenirs at the Cultural Arts Center.
The home stays have been an integral part of our course, and I’ve already learned so much about Ghanaian life and history from my host family. Upon our arrival on Thursday night, the lights in our house were off because the power had been shut down. Ghana is currently having an energy crisis, called Dumsor, caused by insufficient rainfall to power the hydroelectric energy converters. Households are on a timed schedule, with 12 hours of power followed by 24 hours without power (though we haven’t been experiencing this pattern regularly). Since we don’t have a generator, this has affected the heat in the house — we can’t turn the fans on — and our access to WiFi.
Today, my roommate, Lucy Ortiz, and I went to an Evangelical Presbyterian church with our host mother. Ghana has 10 regions, which contain over 63 distinct ethnic groups. Our parents are both from the Volta Region of Ghana, where Ewe is spoken. (I’ll note that in Accra, the most common language is Twi). My host mother explained that the Germans colonized the Volta Region, bringing the Evangelical Presbyterian faith with them, and many of the Volta natives who live in Accra continue to worship in this religion.
The service was unlike any other church service I’ve ever attended. We arrived at 9 a.m. to sit with our host mother’s choral group, and spent the next four hours singing, dancing, and listening to men and women read scripture. Most of the service was in Ewe, but our host mother translated the main points for us. The community was lively, using trumpets, drums and clapping to go along with each song. And everyone was incredibly friendly! The W&L Speaking Tradition is alive and well in Accra, Ghana.
There were two collections of tithes, and everyone formed a line to dance up to the front and place the offerings into the basket. The second collection was a special one, done on the first Sunday of each month. In Ghanaian culture, each person has a name that identifies the day of the week on which they were born. For instance, I was born on a Friday, so I am called Afia. (If you want to find out your own Ghanaian name, there’s a great summary on Wikipedia.) This collection, then, was a competition between the names, and the winner was announced at the end of the service. It was a great experience, and I was glad to be able to partake in local culture at such a close level.
Tomorrow is our first guest lecture, and we will be hearing from a professor at the University of Ghana. After finally getting somewhat acclimated to the weather and time zone difference, I’m excited to start connecting my cultural observations and daily experiences with economic models.
The last leg of our trip was packed of even more constructive meetings. We started on the Sony lot where we got to meet Marie Jacobson, VP of Worldwide Networks. Marie has worked in the television business all over the world and her experience and hard work eventually earned her an incredible job leading Sony’s international networks. Sony reaches over 180 countries with 1.3 billion subscribers to 80 channels on 151 feeds.
Marie is clearly passionate about her job—she eats, lives and breathes television. She knows the industry inside and out and was able to walk us through what it’s like to run an international television network. It’s not enough for her to focus on the American audience; every country has specific taste when it comes to T.V. A show that went over well in India might do terribly in Japan. Marie works to ensure that Sony’s television shows fit the cultural and entertainment needs of the countries in which they air. We followed up the fantastic meeting with a private tour of Sony’s lot, which included the chance to see several famous sets. Seeing Jeopardy’s set was a highlight.
Next, we got the amazing opportunity to contrast the Sony franchise with Fox. We met with Grant Gish, who’s the vice president of animation at Fox and a Washington and Lee alumnus. Grant talked about the company as well as what his day-to-day job is like. He’s responsible for selling and developing animation shows. Grant said that Fox has always tried to differentiate itself from the other major networks by attempting to make innovative and bold choices. The challenge within his industry is developing shows to which audiences can relate. To do this, he looks for good characters who live in a grounded world. The entertainment industry is all about relating the show to the viewer, but there’s an element of creativity there that can be hard to consistently reproduce. It was cool when Grant gave us a sneak peek of a television show he’s currently developing.
We concluded our Fox adventure across the lot with another W&L alumnus, Keith Rauch. Keith works in marketing, developing trailers for movies. He asked each of us to name the last movie advertisement that stuck out to us, a question that none of us were able to answer. This question highlighted his consistent struggle to reach our generation with marketing and advertising messages. After explaining how he got to his current position and showing us some of his work, he brought in some members of the team that developed the marketing for the upcoming Peanuts movie. It was interesting to circle back to Charlie Brown and the Schulz franchise and hear about some of the movie’s challenges and goals. The team talked about how today’s youth do not know the Peanuts characters like their parents do, so accessing them and getting them excited about the movie can be hard to do.
Time and time again on this trip, we’ve seen how tough it is to get a target audience excited about a product, especially when the audience is young. Sam Levine seems to be in the right industry since all his company does is work with large companies to help them market their products to youth.
In Santa Rosa, we had the amazing opportunity to go behind the scenes at the Peanuts headquarters. We explored the Charles M. Schulz Museum, Schulz’ recreated studio, and Snoopy’s Home Ice–the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, which are all part of the Schulz campus. Before we left for California, we had spent two weeks at W&L, inundated with all kinds of Snoopy propaganda. The Santa Rosa leg of our trip was well worth the indoctrination! We explored the life of Charles Schulz and every event that shaped his career, and we saw how the Peanuts comic strip rose to prominence. Most importantly, we got to see what makes a franchise like the Peanuts one so successful.
Just as we thought the Peanuts tour was ending, we got an amazing opportunity—to meet with Jeanie Schulz, Charles Schulz’s wife. She talked with us about how the Peanuts franchise strives to maintain the values that were important to her husband. She also talked about the upcoming Charlie Brown movie and how she hopes it will introduce the next generation to the Peanuts gang.
Meeting with the various individuals who work every day to ensure the Peanuts comic remains iconic was an experience of a lifetime, but there was still more to come. We headed down to Los Angeles for three more packed days of meetings and events. First, we got the opportunity to meet with W&L alumnus Sam Levine. Sam is the director of brand partners at Fuel Incorporated, a youth marketing firm. His firm has digital products in over 193 countries in 90 different languages. I learned a lot over the course of the meeting but took away one big concept from his talk.
Relationships. Relationships. Relationships. One of the biggest ways that Sam got to where he is today is through the relationships he built. Sam said, “at the end of the day, everything is a relationship business.” Through hard work one can succeed, but it helps to have some connections to aid you along the way. Washington and Lee is known for having amazing alumni that are open to starting relationships with students and new grads, but Sam really put it in perspective. He said no one does a deal with Warner Brothers, but instead they do a deal with individual people who work for Warner Brothers. In any industry it’s imperative to make, build, and maintain relationships.
Coming away from this meeting, I realized how special a school like Washington and Lee is. It is a school that encourages individuals to go the extra step and build lasting relationships. One can see this through the speaking tradition or our honor code, both of which create independent and trustworthy individuals who thrive on making and maintaining lasting relationships.
I’m taking Professor Stephen Lind’s business communication class, Framing Snoopy: The Making of a Franchise, and as part of our class, we’re traveling to California to visit with a lot of people who are connected to the PEANUTS franchise.
We shuttled from Lexington to Washington, D.C. on Saturday, taking an early evening flight to San Francisco. On the plane, there were 10 of us and about 90 antsy middle school kids who had been on their school’s annual trip to D.C. and were decked out in FBI hoodies. Six hours and three movies later, we landed in San Francisco, grabbed our bags and headed to the nearest In and Out burger—officially playing into every stereotype about California tourists.
I slept well and woke up with tons of energy. After grabbing a hearty continental breakfast in the hotel lobby, we were off to the Walt Disney Museum, which is located in The Presidio, near historic Crissy Field. Professor Lind had arranged a private tour of the museum, which was great because we got to learn Disney’s entire life story and see relics from his career, including many of his Oscars. The Museum was arranged chronologically, according to the timeline of Disney’s life, and there were a lot of interesting visuals that framed the Disney franchise in a positive manner. Physical mementos went a long in helping to illustrate the various facts that our guide shared with us.
Following the tour we headed outdoors to enjoy lunch at Crissy Field. Off The Grid is a traveling group of food trucks, and it happened to be located in the Field that afternoon, so we got to take our pick of great local foods. I personally gorged myself on calamari, Asian meat skewers, and freshly squeezed lemonade. After we’d eaten ourselves into a food coma, we went to Fisherman’s Wharf, a local tourist destination on the bay. Our class wandered the piers, taking in the street performers and the famous seals at Pier 39.
Later that day, we boarded the van and traveled to Santa Rosa. Tomorrow, we are going to the Charles Schulz Museum where we’ll meet with various people, all of whom contribute in some way to the management of the PEANUTS franchise.
On the drive to Santa Rosa, we did manage to stop at the Red Wood Forest, where we walked amongst trees that are hundreds of years old. Considering the smorgasbord we’d enjoyed for lunch, the walk turned out to be a decent way to burn off a couple calories. We kept dinner fairly light, eating at a local Mexican restaurant, and then we checked in at the Flamingo Resort, where we’re now retiring and recharging for day two of Communicating a Franchise: the California Edition.
We have just finished watching the final project presentations, and what a relief it is to be done! The two weeks in Lexington followed by another two in Copenhagen have been fast-paced, but rewarding.
The highly anticipated visit to Carlsberg Brewery ended up being an interesting visit, but not in the way any of us imagined. We toured the brewery’s museum to learn about the company’s history and greatly enjoyed the tasting room. Unfortunately, the representative we were supposed to speak with was busy, so we were unable to hear about Carlsberg’s CSR initiatives. Still, we managed to entertain ourselves. We discovered the Carlsberg app and ended up in a fierce competition to see who could achieve the highest score in the beer-making game and win free beer. Professor Straughan was initially a strong contender, but Kellie was better and won! Another intense competition occurred at the foosball tables, where champions Keith and Nate defeated multiple challengers.
It’s easy to forget that we are here for class, but reality kicked in this week. We spent the week working hard on our final projects Each group decided on a CSR topic that’s relevant to Denmark and created a video about the issue. The process was challenging, because we had to find an interesting topic, gather the research, and create the final product—all within a short time period. Our hostel has terrible WiFi, so most groups wound up giving up and going elsewhere to work. One of my favorite spots was Andersen Bakery, where my group spent most of our time. The quiet atmosphere was great for work. And more importantly, we had delicious pastries and coffee within arms reach.
By Wednesday night, we were all ready for a study break. Many of us went to watch FC Copenhagen play at Parken Stadium. It was exciting to watch professional football (or as Americans call the sport, soccer) and to experience the cheering fans. For Henry, the best part of the night was when he caught one of the balls the employees threw into the crowd.
Thursday night concluded with a class dinner at Höst, a restaurant that serves new Nordic cuisine. Our meal consisted of three main courses, three surprises and a snack. The meal itself received mixed reviews from the class, since not everyone is an adventurous foodie. I thought the meal was definitely interesting, particularly because the chef used ash and various local vegetables in multiple courses.
Tomorrow, we will bid Copenhagen farewell. Our last stop is the amusement park Tivoli! At our professors’ insistence, we tried a local delicacy—salted licorice. Unlike our meal at Höst, where everyone found at least something they enjoyed eating, the general consensus was that salted licorice was not a favorite of anyone’s! However, if you happen to be in Denmark, I highly recommend that you try salted licorice (and visit Tivoli) for the experience!
The past few days have kept us busy with company visits and cultural lessons. During our visit to global shipping giant Maersk, we found out about how the company has integrated the concept of shared values into their business model. My professors have taken W&L students to visit Maersk before, so the staff provided an update on the company’s progress since the university’s last visit. I thought it was fascinating to learn that Maersk costumers value reliability over speed when it comes to cargo delivery. The session ended with a creative mind-mapping exercise, which was very entertaining to watch!
Other visits this week included the new office of pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. It is amazing how something as small as a molecule inspired the building’s design. The building also has many sustainable features, which is fitting, considering that Novo Nordisk is a leader in CSR reporting. The media always portrays pharmaceutical firms as profit-oriented organizations, so we were pleasantly surprised to learn Novo Nordisk has committed to finding a cure for diabetes and making the treatment accessible to all.
Our last visit this week brought us to the Confederation of Danish Industries, where we learned how the organization promotes CSR by working with both the government and privately held companies. This was the first time we talked about the CSR strategies employed by small firms, and it served as a good contrast to all the larger companies we have studied so far.
Most of us agree that one of the highlights of this week has been the dinners with Danish families. We’ve been served delicious meals of traditional Danish cuisine, such as Smørrebrød, which are open-faced sandwiches. It’s definitely been nice to enjoy amazing home cooked meals after months of eating in W&L’s D-Hall. Our hosts have also given us the names of trendy restaurants and cafes in Copenhagen to try.
At the end of this week, we got to enjoy a couple days of sightseeing. We saw Frederiksborg Palace, a palace so luxurious that it was too expensive for the king to live in regularly, and Kronborg Castle, which is where Hamlet took place. Did you know that a castle was for defense and fortification while a palace was a place for royalty to live? Or that most landmarks in Denmark have burned down at least once? We learned quite a few fun facts on our outings.
We’ve also learned that there is such a thing as too much ice cream! The class visited an ice cream shop outside of central Copenhagen and watched as Nate decided to take on the Lydolph (multiple scoops of ice cream in a cone, topped with incredible amounts of soft serve and then a topping of your choice). You’ll have you ask him if he was successful in his endeavor!
Next week, we have fewer class events planned because we’ll be busy completing our final photo essay project. We’re all looking forward to the last company visit at Carlsberg, especially after hearing that we will be meeting in the company’s tasting room!
After months of anticipation followed by two weeks of fast-paced preparation, we finally arrived in the amazing city of Copenhagen! Each of our rooms has an incredible view of either Tivoli, the amusement park that inspired Disneyland, or the beautiful riverfront with historic buildings. We’ve already experienced the famous bicycles and pedestrian-centered traffic culture that we’d heard so much about prior to our arrival.
Of course, looking at the city is never as exciting as exploring it. On our second day in Copenhagen, we took a tour of the city in the morning and visited Deloitte in the afternoon.
Our tour covered Copenhagen’s medieval district and included a boat tour of the harbor. While our spirits were slightly dampened by the rain and wind, we learned a lot about the city. Historical events characterize Copenhagen, including the numerous great fires that ravaged the city’s historic buildings — some buildings have been ruined multiple times. The architecture varies. One minute we’re walking down winding streets with houses that have been preserved from the 1700s and the next we’re passing modern buildings such as Copenhagen’s library, the Black Diamond. I think we were all interested to learn that there was a time when Copenhagen’s sewers were open, which means that layers of human waste could be found underneath much of the city center.
That afternoon, following the tour, we visited Deloitte for a lesson about corporate social responsibility. The Deloitte office was vibrant, open and — true to Danish design principles — simple and modern. It was lit almost entirely by natural light. We had our first sighting (and testing) of the infamous Danish “egg chairs,” which we had read about beforehand. The staff at Deloitte provided us with a great overview of the five main aspects of corporate social responsibility.
One of the best things about traveling is sampling the food. For our first dinner, some of us ate at Mother, a restaurant that’s known for delicious sourdough pizza. What stood out the most to me was how organic and natural the atmosphere was (this seems to be a repeating theme in Copenhagen). There was an open kitchen and pots of herbs were the centerpieces in the middle of our wooden tables. Other fantastic food moments have included a meal at an outdoor café, where we huddled under blankets trying to stay warm, and a quick trip to a hygge pastry shop. Hygge is a Danish word without an English translation, meaning something along the lines of cozy or comfortable.
Although we have a busy schedule, there is plenty of time for exploring the city. Tomorrow, we are off to visit Maersk and will experience more of what Copenhagen has to offer!
“What are you liking most about Ghana?” my classmate asked me the other day.
“Dancing,” I said, without hesitation.
During last week’s visit to the central region, which is northwest of the greater Accra region, our bus stopped in a rural village where we were to help build the foundation for a library. When a rainstorm kept us from getting to work, we began to dance in the rain with some of the local children. A couple of street drummers made music, and we moved to the rhythm of their beat. Although our original plan had fallen through, the afternoon was not a loss. We danced the time away with our new friends.
Last night, dressed in the traditional African clothes we have each accumulated over the last three weeks, everyone in our group gathered together for a farewell dinner. While we ate, we were entertained by a group of drummers and accompanying dancers. The music pumped during dinner, and once we finished eating, the dancers called us all up onto the dance floor to teach us some of their moves. It was a perfect evening for dancing.
My second favorite thing about Ghana, I told my classmate, is the food.
Months before I ever left the United States for Ghana, I began anticipating the food. Having some African friends at home and at school, I’d already had the pleasure of tasting delicious dishes from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and other countries in African. Here I am, eating Ghanaian food three times a day, and loving it. I love jollof rice, foo-foo (a soft mixture of cassava grain and plantains) and red-red (bean stew made red by the addition of palm oil). Then there is grilled tilapia, fried plantains and banku (another cassava mixture that tastes something like sourdough mashed potatoes). The food is spicy and delicious. And the best part? Everything is eaten with one’s hands. At first, some of us were a bit apprehensive about forgoing silverware, but now we’re fully embracing this new way of eating!
After deep consideration, the third thing I told my classmate I’d miss about Ghana is the timelessness.
The only way I can think to describe this aspect of Ghanaian life is to introduce its opposite: the rushed, time-efficient nature of life in the United States. Even in a little town like Lexington, Virginia, I am always trying to efficiently and productively manage my time. Here in Ghana, we certainly have an everyday agenda of activities and classes, but we are also aware that time is fluid and our plans are subject to change. You would think I might be frustrated or feel unproductive but that’s not the case. I am relishing the relaxed nature of life here. There is plenty of time to retreat from the unrelenting sun and sit in the cool shade or to spend a little more time at lunch in the company of friends. It is a new and refreshing way of life for me and I am enjoying every bit of it.
I realize that the three things I love about Ghana will soon become the three things I miss about Ghana. But I plan to continue dancing to African music. I bought a cookbook full of delicious Ghanaian recipes. And I’m learning to walk a little slower, sit a little longer and enjoy my time. Although I am leaving today, I believe I will bring a little bit of Ghana home with me.
“Ghanaians are nice,” said Winni, our tour guide. It was our first full day in Ghana and she was leading our orientation.
Several thoughts popped into my head in response to Winni’s claim: “How could a whole country be nice?” and “Of course she’s going to say that, she’s Ghanaian!” I quickly dismissed her comments as tour guide rhetoric, but that was on the first day of our trip to Ghana, and the experiences I’ve had in the two weeks since have proved her right.
If you read my last post, you’re already acquainted with the nice taxi driver who saved my housemate Cathy and me from being hopelessly lost in Accra. Well, the story doesn’t end there.
Two mornings after our misadventure, Cathy and I were enjoying our breakfast of mangoes and oatmeal when our other roommate’s phone rang. It was the original taxi driver calling—the one who had driven away with Cathy’s phone in the back seat of his car! He had found her phone that night and returned to Jerry’s to give it to us, but we had already left. So the next day, he went out and bought a charger for the dying phone. With the battery revived, he telephoned one of Cathy’s recent calls and reached Caroline! Cathy and he arranged to meet at a nearby plaza where she retrieved her phone. The three of us were shocked by this turn of events and extremely overwhelmed by the kind-heartedness of the taxi driver.
The returned cell phone alone would have been enough to make me reevaluate my quick dismissal of Winni’s claim. But soon after the phone’s return, our housemother Auntie Lydia made an announcement, “We’re going to a wedding this Saturday!” Two people from her church were getting married and, according to Auntie Lydia, “everyone was invited.”
On Saturday morning, my two roommates and I drove with our host family to a beautiful house where the wedding was to be held. Before the ceremony even began, we enjoyed some pre-show entertainment. Two jolly women sang songs, cracked jokes and contributed to a spirit of merriment that rippled through the crowd of more than 100 people.
Just as the wedding was about to officially begin, a woman shuffled the three of us out of our seats and into a small backroom. We glanced at each other, confused, wondering why we had been removed from our seats. Soon we found out that we had just been appointed the newest members of the wedding party! We fell into line with several other women and processed down the aisle with the bride, dancing along to calypso music. The guests in the audience clapped and smiled at us as we returned to our seats.
After the two ceremonies had ended (a traditional African ceremony was followed by a Western-style one), we stayed to enjoy delicious food at the reception. My housemates and I approached the bride to give her our congratulations, somewhat embarrassed that we had crashed her wedding. But she was as gracious and nice as Winni had promised. “Thank you so much for coming!” she said, offering to take a picture with us. The new groom welcomed us heartily as well, even expressing his hope that we would attend services at their church on Sunday.
These two experiences—as well as a number of others that I do not have the space to transcribe—have me convinced that Winni was right and Ghanaians are truly, genuinely “nice.” I consider myself blessed to be able to enjoy their company this month.
*Take a look at our Instagram page instaghana288 for more pictures of our adventures!
Yesterday evening, my roommate Cathy and I decided to go meet up with the rest of the students on W&L’s Ghana trip at Jerry’s — a local dive bar that’s well known and came highly recommended. With few cell phone minutes between us, it was difficult to make plans. The group finally agreed to simply meet up there “sometime after dinner.”
After a delicious meal of mashyam (mashed up yam covered in a spicy soup) with our host family, we left the house for Jerry’s. Cathy made sure to save the location of our house on her phone’s map so we’d know how to get back. There are few street names in Ghana, so people must rely on a combination of arrows, landmarks, and ubiquitous road signs to get around.
With our professors’ advice to “stay away from isolated areas” in mind, we quickly made our way through the mostly empty streets of our neighborhood. It took us a while to realize we were walking in circles. Eventually, we found ourselves on the main road and hailed a cab to Jerry’s. When we arrived, we hurried out of the cab, eager to find our classmates and spend a night on the town in Accra.
Once inside, we began to look around for our friends but we didn’t recognize anyone.
“Let’s call them,” I suggested.
Since my phone had not yet become acquainted with Ghanaian cell service (which is spotty at best and utterly frustrating at worst), I turned expectantly toward Cathy. She shuffled items around in her purse.
“Uh oh,” she said.
“Don’t say that.”
“I think I left my phone in the cab. It was on my lap and must have slipped off when we got out,” she said desperately.
We stood there silently, coming to terms with the fact that we were stuck. We had no contacts, no map, and, we soon realized, no friends at Jerry’s. Apparently, they had all left while we had been wandering the streets of our homestay neighborhood.
All that was left to do was sit down, have a beer, and figure out a game plan. The only resources we had were the landmark, “Magnolia Lodge,” near our homestay and my rapidly fading sense of direction. We were feeling pretty hopeless.
We soon decided we should leave. Neither of us knew how long it would take to get back and we needed to make it home before the lights went out (Ghana is enduring a country-wide power shortage; only a certain number of power hours are allotted per day and many people rely on generators).
Unfortunately, none of the taxi drivers we approached knew where Magnolia Lodge was. After paying five cedis (Ghanaian dollars) too much for a cab ride down the street and feeling more and more like an oburoni (“foreigner” in Ghanaian Twi), Cathy and I came upon a hotel where the receptionist graciously searched online and found us a loosely-drawn map to the lodge.
Reinvigorated, Cathy and I returned to the street and hailed another cab. We got lucky — this cab driver was actually an angel. After several twists and turns, he got us back to Magnolia Lodge.
That should have been the end of the story but, as it was only our second day in Ghana, Cathy and I were unsure which house was ours. It didn’t help that, by this time, a power outage had blanketed the city in darkness.
The cabbie pulled over to ask directions from a group of guys on the side of the road. They seemed helpful at first but soon started jeering at us and getting too close to the car. Cathy and I were freaked out, but thankfully, the driver was unfazed. He drove off, leaving the group of guys in a cloud of dust.
“Wait! That’s it!” Cathy suddenly called out. Sure enough, just down the street from where we had left the group of men, was our homestay.
Once our taxi driver/angel saw us safely inside the house, we could finally relax and even laugh at our series of misfortunes.
Coming on this trip, I didn’t expect to find myself so unprepared. Our professors talked about Ghana’s challenges, including its lack of infrastructure, but it was hard to envision how those challenges played out in daily life. Going without cell service, power and even road signs has helped me see the picture more clearly. While I acclimate to life in Ghana, I appreciate the genuine kindness and helpfulness local Ghanaians are showing this oburoni.
Living a few miles outside of town in the quiet community of Salt Hill, my class’ presence has not gone unnoticed. For the past month, we’ve become known as “the Americans down in the Grattan Apartments.” But I would never take that as an insult. To me, that means that we actually explored the town. Tomorrow is my last day and I already miss all the places that have made this town feel like home. Here is my makeshift love letter to my favorite Galway classics.
To Galway Girl:
Whenever this song comes on, I always pretend that I know the accompanying dance. It’s a cross between a country square dance and Irish step dancing. There’s something about the lyrics, “And I ask you friends, what’s a fella to do? Because her hair was black and her eyes were blue, and I knew right then, I’d be takin’ a whirl, down the Salt Hill Prom with a Galway Girl.” We belt it out at the top of our lungs every time.
The go-to “I’m in college and don’t have enough money for a nice meal” restaurant. While it is very reminiscent of Chipotle, I appreciate that it was there for us whenever we needed a quick bite. I’m still a little bitter that I never punched my frequent buyer card enough to get a free burrito. But I wouldn’t be at all upset if Boojum expanded into the United States.
What kind of student would I be if I didn’t say that I’ll miss the National University of Ireland, Galway? Home to many of our incredible lectures and classes, I can genuinely say I’ve learned more in that room than I ever could have hoped. Not to mention the fact that the NUIG cafeteria provided the perfect reference point for my friends and I, all of us eager to observe the latest Irish fashion trends.
To the Cliffs:
I completely understand why people used to think that the world was flat. A few daring classmates ventured to the edge of the cliffs, and the view was spectacular—cascading rocks and crashing waves. From such a dramatic vantage point, it seems impossible to believe that there could be anything on the other side of the ocean. The Cliffs of Moher and the ruins of Dun Duchathair, the Black Fort, and the Aran Islands are scenes that not only took my breath away but that I will remember forever.
To The King’s Head:
The King’s Head pub was always a reliable stop for some craic, local slang for “a good time.” It gets its unusual name because, at one point, it was the home of Col. Peter Stubbers, who in 1649, executed the King of England, Charles I. We enjoyed many nights there, staying out until the wee hours of the morning. I can assure you, even though The King’s Head is over 400 years old, it’s not going anywhere!
“Sweet, sweet Morton’s” was our name for the store that was a stone’s throw from the front window of our apartment. Every morning we’d run across the street in slippers to get ingredients for our version of an Irish breakfast. More than anything, I will miss this country’s fresh ingredients: butter, milk, salmon, beef. Local farmers produce the freshest products, and as a result of this trip, I think I’ll always crave Galway Bay salmon and local crème fraîche.
I couldn’t have asked for a better experience in Galway, Ireland. This being my first business course, my next one has some big shoes to fill. Watch out, C-School!
I never expected any culture shock when I came to Ireland. After all, I’m speaking my native language, studying under a W&L professor, and traveling alongside classmates with whom I’m already comfortable. At the same time, I’m learning basic things like the fact that I’ve got to look right when crossing the street—the Irish drive on the left side of the road. Or I’m trying to remember to call French fries “chips.” There are so many little things I do that make me stick out like a sore (American) thumb.
However, now that I’m on week three in Galway, I find myself becoming more confident. I know my way around town, I go to my regular restaurants and pubs, and I ask questions of the speakers in class. The other day I strolled up to an ice cream shop and ordered like a local, “Can I have a 99 with an extra flake?” (That’s an ice cream cone piled high with a tower of vanilla soft-serve and two chocolate sticks sticking out of the side!)
I know I’m not the only one beginning to feel more confident. As a class, we traveled to Dublin last weekend to meet with leaders in human resource education, speak to successful entrepreneurs, and of course, take a tour of the Guinness brewery. At an Irish dance show on Thursday night, I watched my friend Nicki sing every word to a traditional children’s song, Bog Down in the Valley (Raitlin Bog). I recommend looking it up. Later that same night, our friends Maggie and Lauren unintentionally made €3 on the steps outside the pub, attempting to replicate the Irish step dance we had seen earlier. Apparently, they were convincing! On Wednesday our entire class watched a hurling demonstration, and afterwards, we all tossed the ball around—poorly! Still, we managed. Alongside a group of Irish students and the hurling instructors, we felt at ease.
Our confidence extends to little things like striking up casual conversations with cab drivers. We’ve heard some amazing stories; one cab driver drove the Zac Brown Band around Dublin and another convinced me to cut five inches off my hair at a local salon. To me, the Irish seem inherently confident, and comfortable in all situations, which is something I admire. When we visit with Irish entrepreneurs—whether they work in the clothing industry, the medical supply industry or the aerospace industry—there’s a certain charisma they all seem to have. Here, business people become captivating storytellers, which must undoubtedly contribute to their success.
We had only just arrived in Dublin, Ireland, when a group of us boarded the wrong bus. The drive from Dublin to Galway is less than that from Saint Louis to Kansas City—just 130 miles. But while half our class boarded an express bus and managed to speed across the lush Irish countryside in two-and-a-half hours, it took the rest of us closer to six hours to make it to Galway. We’d accidentally boarded a local bus, but the mistake wasn’t such a bad one — we got an incredible portrait of the country as our bus stopped in small villages and towns along the way. Looking back, I’m glad it was our first taste of Ireland.
Galway is a college town on the west coast of Ireland, nestled in Galway Bay. Every morning I get to walk behind my apartment and look past the boardwalk to a rocky beach that extends out into the water and meets a set of rolling hills on the other side.
So far we’ve enjoyed a mix of literature, lectures and landscapes as our syllabus weaves together the intricate history of Ireland, and Galway specifically. On our first day, in typical Irish fashion, we all sported raincoats and trekked through a wet downtown Galway with a tour guide who seemed more encyclopedia than human.
Our class visited Coole Park, frequent summer home of W.B. Yeats, and ventured through the limestone covered Burren to the Cliffs of Moher. Both stops showcased Ireland’s natural beauty. From the cliffs, we went to Fleadh na gCuach in Kinvara, a music festival that takes place in a series of local pubs and showcases Irish talent.
Despite the picturesque landscapes, I’ve already learned that this place is more than misty green mountains and fairytales about leprechauns. With a highly educated workforce and competitive economy, the Irish are an active people, bringing in massive corporations and investors from around the world. The IDA, a government-run agency charged with attracting foreign direct investors, just signed a €850 million contract with Apple to begin building a new data center in County Galway.
On a local level, small businesses are flourishing in Ireland’s growing economy. Every day, I see restaurants and pubs that were established in the 1600s and are still fully functional, serving up delicious food and drink. We went to the popular greyhound races at Galway Greyhound Stadium. The racing industry originally started to give people jobs and reasons to stay in Ireland during times of economic trouble.
My mother asked me the other day if I was eating more than just cabbage and potatoes. My father asked me if anyone was walking around in kilts. Their questions highlight Ireland’s perception problem. When people think of Ireland, the people and the culture can get confused and overshadowed by stereotypes, myths and Hollywood images. The reality is that Ireland’s history, economy and way of life are unique and strong, more so than I ever imagined.
I just booked a shuttle car to take me from my apartment in the 11th arrondissement to the airport. The confirmation email is definitely taunting me. 05:20am…yikes. I already know that in the early morning haze, eyes hardly open, I’ll be fighting off the weight in my stomach that accompanies the acceptance of “The End.” My spring term in Paris is over. Done. Fini. Somehow four weeks went by as fast as reading days. Did I go to enough museums? Did I take enough photographs? Did I eat enough baguettes? Yes, Yes, and definitely yes. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t going to miss this city.
Each of my family members responded to my “Spring Term in Paris” plans in the same manner: “Paris in the springtime at twenty-one! What an experience!” As much of a media cliché as Paris is, I feel so endlessly lucky that I got to spend the past month sucking this city dry of every thrilling cliché it has to offer. I walked along Hausmann boulevards in the spring rain to meet my fellow students for a cruise on the River Seine. I picked up colorful pastries and crisp baguettes at my local bakery daily. I (almost) professionally avoided eye contact with strangers on the Metro. I took photos of the Eiffel Tower as it shimmered with white lights at night and people-watched at cafés in my spare time. Laura Wiseman: a striped shirt and beret away from being every Parisian cliché you could imagine. It was fabulous.
In between all the enjoyable moments that travel books rave about to the Parisian newbies, I experienced genuinely life-changing moments. Endless museums and galleries filled my days along with landmark after landmark. One afternoon I got to enjoy an amazing lunch and then casually stroll into the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and flip through books of original Eugène Atget albumen prints. No big deal. Wait. Yes big deal! We were able to freely browse volumes of the library’s collection of early 20th century albumen prints by one of Paris’ (and the world’s) most prolific photographers! At twenty-one years of age I was standing in a national library looking at Atget’s own handwriting, a mere few inches from my face! I realize this might seem a little underwhelming to anyone outside of the Wilson Hall, but trust me, this was a monumental moment. Le Sigh.
Now I’m headed back to the Washington and Lee Colonnade and Lexington bricks, and while I’m already homesick for my Rue de Faidherbe apartment, I’m endlessly grateful to W&L for giving me this opportunity. I’m adamant that this will not be my last time in the city of lights but this definitely will be an experience that I cannot repeat. I saw the city through a new perspective, got a permanent souvenir (thank you, True Love tattoo!), made new friends, and discovered my love for challenges in new places. I wouldn’t have changed a single day (even though I do wish I could have had just one more of those amazing paninis I discovered in Montparnasse). To my wonderful apartment, my absolutely fantastic roommates, Professors Bowden and Horowitz, W&L, and my family: merci beaucoup!
“So, you’re living in France for a month and you’re not here to take French language classes?”
I’ve been asked variations of this question many times since I arrive in Paris two weeks ago. And I would be lying if I said this didn’t instill some guilt in me. We have gone on several gallery tours where the tour guide constantly apologized for their “terrible English” skills, even though their English was flawless. While I do feel some guilt for living in Paris with a rough, working vocabulary, I definitely recognize how lucky I am to develop my French language skills through the best system possible: total immersion.
Several years ago at my secondary school I was lucky enough to study French with the most wonderful and charismatic teacher. As wonderful a woman as she was, this was over a decade ago, and so as you can imagine, the majority of what I learned got moved to the back burner. I mention my past experience with French because I noticed something quite amazing while studying here: I think it’s all coming back to me, bit by bit. When I’m in public and conversations are flying to and fro, I find myself being able to pull phrases out of the rapidly flying words. I know a part of this learning is being exposed to the language every day and slowly building my vocabulary, but I also know that a lot of this knowledge is being unearthed from my French lessons when I was 12 years old. The other day I heard a couple discussing “equitation” and my eyes lit up when I remembered my teacher jumping up and down, pretending to ride a horse and yelling “equitation!” over and over in an attempt to get us to remember. And it worked! Horse riding, of course!
Apart from picking up words and phrases that have been lost in my head for years, I have also been learning French in some very peculiar ways. This week I learned French from a German speaker, attendees at a concert and a tattoo artist. Who would have guessed? Having taken German at W&L, my German skills are obviously far better. This led to a native German speaker explaining some basic French grammar to me… auf Deutsch! Last week I went to see Against Me! Perform at La Flèche D’Or, and being in a large, loud and crowded venue will definitely force you to work out French phrases you didn’t think you had in you! Yesterday I met a tattoo artist, and while talking to him about art, I learned that if you can perfect the nasally French accent, then all you have to do is speak! Tout est possible when you just go out into the city and speak the language. Parisians are definitely not shy about correcting you, and when they entertain your attempts to speak French, you’ll be able to walk home with your croissant and a little pride. Worth it.
It is the end of my first week in Paris, and I already feel at home. Become a regular at a café? Check. Find almond milk at the supermarket? Check. Maneuver multiple-transfer metro journeys without getting lost? Double check. I’m certainly no stranger to cultural acclimation, having lived in three different countries, but Paris is an entirely different animal. On my travels, I have always been confined to the tourist identity and used this to my advantage. Taking selfies in front of tourist sights and eating at Trip Advisor’s top recommended restaurants are perfectly fine activities when you’re in a city for a short trip. Now, I will admit that our first few days in Paris definitely generated their fair share of selfies and Eiffel Tower snaps, but after the initial rush of “Oh wow! We’re in PARIS!” wore off… so did the selfies.
The transition from tourist to student definitely began once I arrived at my apartment. Fourth floor walk-up. No elevator. Lots of luggage. Let me just say that after dragging my belongings into the apartment, I definitely earned “une tradition” from the bakery on the corner! Initially we were set up to live in what I like to call the “Woods Creek of Paris.” But instead of our class all being under one cozy roof, we were split up into apartments all over Paris. We have a few apartments in the fifteenth, thirteenth, and eleventh arrondissements, meaning that by the end of the month we will all have vastly different experiences to talk about. When I key in the door code to enter my building, fresh fruit from the market in hand, I receive the reminder that I am a resident of Paris, not a tourist. While four weeks is merely a blip in the grand scheme of things, it is enough time to settle in and get comfortable.
Now it is 8 o’clock, and our hallway will become fragrant with garlic and herbs from the apartment across the hall like clockwork. At 9 o’clock a woman from the apartment downstairs will go out onto her balcony for a phone call and a cigarette. Every morning around 7:30, the family upstairs will try to quietly make their way down to the lobby, two young children in tow. Occasionally something of a soiree takes place in the courtyard in the evenings and they play familiar music with the bass turned up. These are the little patterns that have made our wonderful apartment feel more like home. One week down, three to go. Time will go by faster than tourists at the Louvre and before we know it we will be shuffling our feet onto our planes headed home. I’m keeping this in mind in hopes that I will make an effort to take in all of the beautiful little moments while I’m standing at the foot of the Eiffel Tower or the Sacre Coeur.
As of today, I’ve been in Europe for exactly 30 days. And in seven, I won’t be a W&L student anymore. In one week I’ll be able to say that I have received my Bachelor of Arts degrees in Economics and Spanish with a concentration in Latin American and Caribbean Studies from Washington and Lee University.
On our long drives and train rides to Toledo and Granada, I’ve been able to not only reflect on my four weeks in Seville, but on my entire four years in Lexington. And on one hand, I’m so sad to be leaving Seville and my host mom. I know that I’ve learned a lot about myself on this trip. Our art history professor, Conso, has said time and time again: perfection is boring. For as much fun as we have had on this trip, we have also worked very hard along the way. Spring Term, like any semester at W&L, often follows the work hard, play hard mentality; this class was no exception. But in Spain, there’s no pressure to be perfect. Everything rolls along and everything gets done without the stress that’s common in the United States. People stop to eat cheese and drink wine with friends, and stuff still gets done.
But on the other hand, I’m so excited to get back to Lexington. I’ve missed spending time with friends that won’t be living next door to me anymore, and I’ve missed the classic Lexington Spring Term experience. Right now, I’m excited to graduate (in a week, I’ll probably be balling my eyes out on the Colonnade, telling my parents I don’t want to leave). I’m excited to get back to the States to start prepping for my job as a National Consultant for Chi Omega. And I’m excited to see my family members who I haven’t seen in months.
During my first two weeks in Seville, I had a roommate named Alexis. She had been studying in Seville and living with Merchi, my mom, since February. When we were around the house together I would often hear her singing the lyrics of a Sevillan song, though I never knew which — that is, until a week ago. The song is the Himno del Centenario, and it is the song of the Sevillan fútbol club. The two verses below are the verses my old roommate used to always sing around the house, and now I finally understand why.
Y es por eso que hoy vengo a verte,
sevillista seré hasta la muerte,
La Giralda presume orgullosa
de ver al Sevilla en el Sánchez Pizjuán.
Y Sevilla, Sevilla, Sevilla,
aquí estamos contigo, Sevilla,
compartiendo la gloria en tu escudo,
orgullo del fútbol de nuestra ciudad.
Sevillista seré hasta la muerte, sevillista I will be until death. Though the words are more directly linked to the Sevilla Fútbol Club S.A.D., I like to interpret them differently. Sevillan I will be until death. Though the past four weeks have flown by, I will never forget the people I’ve met here, like Conso and Merchi, and the experiences I’ve had. Sevilla will always have a special place in my heart.
Reflections on our Trip
Through almost daily visits and three larger excursions, the Spanish 312 class was able to experience as much of Andalusia as possible during our short four-week stay. Our visits during the week typically consisted of tours in Seville. We visited the Cathedral, the Royal Palace, the Fine Arts Museum and more. On the weekends, we took three larger trips to Cordoba, Toledo and Granada, to visit various historical and cultural monuments. We were able to see the El Escorial monastery, the mosque of Cordoba, paintings done by “El Greco” in Toledo, and La Alhambra in Granada. The majority of the class took advantage of our one cancelled class by spending the day on the beaches of Cadiz. Throughout it all, we ate cheese, tried bull’s tail, went to bull fights and took lots of selfies. This video is a compilation of all of our adventures throughout Seville and beyond. Enjoy!
The Time We Tried to be Cultured
Professor Bailey came to class one day raving about a flamenco show he had seen the previous night. He offered to take us if we were interested in going — his treat (one of the many perks of the W&L community and Spring Term abroad). We agreed to meet at the Center at 8:15 that evening to walk to the theater together. I will preface the remainder of the story with this: Erin and I were out shopping, so we didn’t receive Professor Bailey’s email about the meeting time changing to 8:00 p.m. (so we could walk over to the theater at 8:15 p.m. sharp). The show started at 9:00 p.m. We were the last to arrive at the Center, maybe two minutes behind the original schedule. And together we began one of the longest walks I’ve probably done during my two weeks in Seville. Initially, it began as a normal Spanish walk — chatting and walking at an upbeat pace. 8:35 p.m. We decided to walk along the river since the weather was so nice. 8:45 p.m. Those of us at the back of the pack slowly drifted farther and farther away from our professor and the rest of the group, who walked at the pace of a Spaniard, times ten. By the time we arrived at the bridge to cross the river (8:55 p.m.), I completely lost sight of Professor Bailey and a few other students as they took off running toward the theater. The rest of us jogged across the bridge with no sense of where we were going to catch up to the others. It was probably about 9:05 p.m. when we finally arrived at the theater, most of us dripping sweat in the dresses, skirts and polos we had worn for the occasion (except for Matt and his Chubbies, because Chubbies are a lifestyle, I guess). We even arrived with enough time for a restroom break before the show began, and ultimately, I think the show put on by the Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía was well worth the exercise.
Córdoba and Toledo
After our morning classes during the week, we often take short visits around Seville with our Art History professor, Conso. We’ve seen the Real Alcazar, the Catedral, barrio Santa Cruz and have explored various parts of Seville through these visits. Weekends are typically reserved for free time and longer overnight trips to places like Córdoba and Toledo. I think many of us enjoy these longer trips because they give us an opportunity to explore more of what Andalucía has to offer. We just got back Saturday from a two-night stay in Toledo, a city that I absolutely fell in love with. Additionally, Professor Bailey *reluctantly* cancelled class today so we could spend the rest of our weekend in Cádiz (another perk of Spring Term abroad)! If you need us, we’ll be laying on a beach somewhere…
Our Favorite Songs
Though Seville is a fairly large city, it is also an extremely walkable one. Everybody walks here (at least right now while the weather is still tolerable). Many of us live approximately a 30-minute walk away from the Center. Initially, it was hard to adjust to all the walking from my apartment in Triana on one side of the Guadalquivir River, to the Center on the other side. Many of us are pro-walkers now (sign us up for Olympic Race Walking—Brazil 2016, here we come!) and we rock out on our way to class each morning. Want to be like us? Here are some of our favorite jams:
“El Taxi” by Osmani Garcia (feat. Pitbull, Sensato)
“Stinker Muffin” by Vertigo Jazz Project|
“Take Five” by David Brubeck
“Overload” by Life of Dillon
“Que Viva la Vida” by Wisin (feat. Michel Teló)
Buenas from Seville, Spain! Now that we’re all settled into our homestays, here are a few snapshots of our first few days in Sevilla.
The Lone Ranger (a.k.a. The Lone Senior)
It’s not common for seniors at W&L to take classes their last spring term, let alone ones that travel abroad. @wlulex makes their “Senior Bucket List” for this one moment: senior year spring term. But I know a few students who have taken that last opportunity at W&L to experience a completely different culture, a completely different life. I am one of those students.
Initially, I didn’t plan on being in Seville the spring term of my senior year. I knew I would need to take a class to finish my double majors and minor, but I always imagined the class would be on U.S. soil. By the end of fall, I realized I had no choice but to sign up for the Seville trip. Though it came about rather unexpectedly, I’m so grateful to return to a country I fell in love with five years ago. As many of my professors said when I came to them for advice, there really is no better way to finish up my Spanish major at W&L than with a trip to Spain.
Friends and family of mine who have visited Spain always say that Seville is their favorite city. Tourists who visit Seville fall in love with the city, and often, they won’t stop talking about it. Sevilla this, tapas that. Maybe the obsession comes from the pueblo feel of Seville, even though the city is one of Spain’s largest.
But for me, and probably many of my peers, what really makes Seville unique is one thing: the accent. Right now I would say the entire Spanish 312 class understands about 80 percent of what our family members say to us. The other 20 percent is some sort of Spanish mush. The look on our faces probably says it all: “I have no idea what you are saying to me, so I’m just going to look at you blankly, nod, and smile. You can never go wrong with that, right?” But we’re an optimistic group, and I’m hopeful things will improve over the course of the next three weeks. Be sure to check back on May 11th for a progress report!
In our first class at the Spanish Studies Abroad (SSA) Center for Cross-Cultural Study (CC-CS, a.k.a. the center), we were asked to sign the “Spanish-Only Language Policy.” We know a lot about pledges already, and this one is no different than the one that upholds the Honor System at W&L. The policy is one that can only be upheld through a collective effort by every group member. It complements and contributes to the progress of every student who makes an individual commitment to use only Spanish.
At times, the pact is ironic, because it’s in English. The contract is in English, the WiFi password is “spanishonly” (in English), and various miniscule details around the center are in English. But check my Facebook, check my What’sApp. Though the conversations may be in broken Spanish, there is 100 percent effort, 100 percent of the time. When we walk from one place to another, we speak Spanish. When we’re in class, we speak Spanish. We’re always asking one another cómo se dice and stopping mid-sentence to think out-loud about a verb conjugation.
And apparently, we’re not too shabby, at least when we’re around the center. SSA held a small welcome party for our class (with tapas!) and other students at the center were allowed to mingle. One of the members of the Spanish 312 class overheard a conversation between two non-W&L students asking one another if we knew English, because we were only speaking Spanish at the party.
I don’t think I speak for myself when I say that experiencing Seville (at first) is hard. Our host families are wonderful, but the adjustment hasn’t been without its challenges. But the fun has only just begun. Stay tuned as the Spanish 312 class attempts flamenco dancing, ventures outside of our Starbucks coffee comfort zone, and travels to Córdoba, Madrid, and Toledo.
The most challenging journey of this entire trip (and probably one of the most challenging I’ve ever tackled in my life) came on Tuesday of our third week here in the west of Ireland. Our class woke up bright and early and hiked to the peak of the highest peak in all of Ireland, the Holy Mountain of St. Brandon, just twenty minutes or so outside of Dingle. The mountain is named for St. Brendan, and is still included in Irish Catholic pilgrimages today. Over the course of about five hours, our class made the trek from the bottom of the mountain up the craggy ridges and slopes to the foggy peak, 950 feet high and marked by a white cross.
The outset of our journey seemed promising—the sun shone on the base of the mountain and a light breeze blew off the nearby sea. Many of us shed our jackets and sweatshirts in anticipation of the cardio to come as we began the hike. Unfortunately the steep climb and quickly thinning air soon took its toll upon our burning calves and lungs. To be honest, I had not fully considered the implications of climbing the highest peak in Ireland when I was preparing for the trip. Rather than the light sneakers and unlined jacket that I had chosen to wear that morning, I would have been much more prepared with full hiking boots to ward of the swampy mud puddles the covered the mountainside and my knee-length puffer jacket to guard against the wind, which legitimately blew a few students of their feet at some points.
The higher we climbed, the stronger the gale-like winds blew, and the thinner and rockier the trail became. We took quite a few breaks to catch our breath and take shelter from the wind for a few moments behind larger rocks. As we paused with just 75 feet or so left to climb, our guide raised his voice above the shrieking wind to warn us that this would be the most difficult part of the journey. This part of the mountain was often covered in cloud, as it was now, impairing vision, and the “trail” was quite steep and covered in rocks. We often had to use our hands to pull ourselves up from one rock to another. It was difficult to be sure, and a bit scary at times. But when we reached the top and stood around the sturdy white cross the marks the end of the Irish Catholic pilgrimage, looking out over the entire Dingle Peninsula through the foggy lens of cloud-cover, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment, despite my numb fingers and toes.
From visiting Yeats’ Tower in Kiltarten and climbing in the rain to the top of a Celtic fort at the cliffs of Dun Angus to listening to Professor Conner recite poetry as we sauntered through the grounds of Lady Gregory’s Coole Park, our second week in Dingle has certainly been a whirlwind of travel. We visited, watched, ate, met, read about and encountered countless individuals and locations this week along with holding regular classes. However, despite our cyclone of activity, one charming individual stood out to me — Brother Seán, who led us on a full day theology tour of the Dingle Peninsula. Holy Wells, deserted monastic sights, ancient sanding stones, castles — we saw it all. But Brother Seán himself was probably the most memorable part of the day. He is a self-proclaimed madman who is passionate about Irish theology and spirituality, very smart, and quite enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge with us. He insists that the best way to live life is through “conscious sensorial contact with nature,” and proved it throughout the day as he came upon local flora that was safe to eat and passed around the leaves, insisting we taste them. Admittedly they were, for the most part, delicious.
When we came upon the first site, a holy well associated for centuries with John the Baptist, Brother Seán told us how visitors from all over the world journey to this well to drink or bless themselves with the water. (He also encouraged us to drink from the water, which again tasted lovely.) He then insisted we all march clockwise around the well nine times (three sets of three), a ritual that sets the self “in tune with nature” because three is a complete number and the route of the sun is clockwise. The water from the well is apparently very good for knee problems, so I’m expecting that I will not be plagued at all by sore knees next basketball season.
Brother Seán filled our day with lessons and laughter, and by late afternoon we began to grow weary. But if anything, he seemed more invigorated to push onward. He re-energized us when he took us to one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. We walked down a hill to the very edge of the Dingle peninsula — sandy limestone cliffs that drop almost straight down into the Atlantic Ocean; nothing but a few islands between ourselves and thousands of miles of cold grey water. It was freezing and incredibly windy, but Brother Seán reported that he comes and sits at this spot often, and it relaxes him. He implored us to sit alone on a section of cliff for fifteen minutes in complete silence. He was correct — it was an incredibly rejuvenating experience, and we were more than ready to continue our tour afterwards. Brother Seán is a captivating individual, and I hope that I can claim to have half as much energy and passion when I am his age.
On Tuesday of our first week in Dingle, my class visited the Blasket Islands Interactive Center — essentially a museum depicting life upon the Great Blasket Island. Though now deserted, this largest member of the Blasket Islands was once home to a small fishing village whose residents lived a very primitive life up until the beginning of the 20th century. It was at the Blasket Island Museum that I came upon a statue from which I divulged the importance of storytelling, both presently and historically, to Irish culture. The statue was inspired by a passage from The Islandman by Tomas Ó’ Crohan in which he describes women congregated about a Holy Well. Upon first glance, the statue appeared unimpressive and unaesthetic. The artist had utilized copper-colored metal to erect the statue and had chosen not to construct the well around which the women were standing. Similarly, their bodies were abstractly made, one or two not even appearing to have human form. Yet as I read the passage from which the artist took inspiration, I realized the underwhelming nature of the artwork was purposeful. Ó’ Crohan noted that the women were garrulously gossiping about the well such that their “voices drowned out the voice of the King and the sound of the sea.” The unremarkable features of the statue, along with the absence of the well in the work, emphasize that the focus is the storytelling and renders the women and their location less significant — it is what they are doing, not who or where they are, that is important. By swapping stories, the women are both perpetuating and preserving their culture — it crucial to who they are, and thus their bodies are only half formed while they are in the midst of their stories.
The simplicity of the celebration of storytelling led me to realize the magnitude with which stories had defined our first week of class. From listening to Irish ballads that preserve traditional folklore and hearing locals tell stories in pubs, to sitting for a delightful hour-and-a-half listening to the Monsignor of the church where our classes are held relate tale after tale of his life’s work, stories are more than prevalent in this small Western town. There is almost a hallowed attitude towards the stories that preserve the past and create community. As a rising senior, I consistently feel pressure in Virginia to look to the future and figure out what it holds. But I have discovered in the quaint town of Dingle that is just as important, if not more so, to remember where you have been as it is to know where you are going.
The last leg of our trip was packed with even more wonderful alumni visits and meetings. After leaving Beijing on Thursday, May 14, we took the high-speed train southwest towards the nationalist capitol, Nanjing. There we met Mr. Hao and his associates who showed us around the government controlled and promoted Software Development Park. Mr. Hao rolled out the red carpet for us, giving us the grand tour of the park itself, but also of their promotion center, which helped us understand their goals for the future of the project.
The Software Development Park was fascinating because it got a very different start in China than how we might have imagined a comparable project would launch in the U.S. The government spearheaded the project, sized land, and developed the office space. We got to ask questions and try to understand the reasoning behind their approach.
From Nanjing we took another high-speed train back to Shanghai. On Saturday, we met Mr. and Ms. Owen, the parents of Andrea Owen, who discussed their time working for a fledgling coffee company in western China. Mr. Owen discussed the many difficulties he faced working in China, from reporting errors to tax issues to working with local government officials. It was a fascinating to have the opportunity to talk with someone who’s so close to W&L and who has also had experience working in the western part of the country.
We then met with Julie Harris, who discussed her career path and plans for the future. This meeting was actually the most helpful one for me because Ms. Harris was able to articulate the benefits of working abroad and how it has helped her build a more global career.
We had a fantastic visit at Estee Lauder on Tuesday. We discussed a range of challenges the company faces—from the accounting issues of big conglomerates to their future strategy in China. One issue that I found particularly absorbing was the Chinese government’s testing of products, which isn’t necessarily a move to protect consumer health but rather a non-tariff measure to block new products.
Finally, we got to attend what may very well have been W&L’s first big alumni reception in China. Don Childress, the Rector of the University’s Board of Trustees, attended the event and gave an update on the capital campaign and other issues of strategic importance to the W&L community. The evening was lovely for me because I was able to engage with different alumni from various backgrounds. I only hope that one day I have the opportunity, as an alumnus, to share the same kind of valuable information about my career with future W&L students.
Greetings from the North Capitol of Beijing! Since my last update, we have been very busy traveling around and talking to wonderful alumni. In the last week alone, we visited with six different alumni and have traveled to three different cities in China.
Our meetings began with Evelina Gospodinova ’06, whom we met for coffee in the lovely French Concession area of Shanghai. Evelina discussed her post-grad transition from philosophy major to freelance photographer and finally to boutique clothing store founder. It was fascinating for me to discuss potential career paths with someone other than my parents and to discover that people’s paths can be eclectic and not completely planned out.
On Monday we met with Daniel Swiggett, who’s a partner abroad with the accounting and consulting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers. He gave a fantastic presentation on how PWC is set up and operated in foreign counties. What really fascinated me was how PWC keeps corporate control through their subsidiaries. I never imagined that they organized new markets like franchises, allowing relatively independent firms to operate under their name and branding. We also had a good discussion about the American tax code, and found out the U.S. is one of only a few countries that charges income tax to citizens who live abroad. This led to a great discussion on the benefits and merits of this policy.
On Tuesday we visited two firms, the American Chamber of Commerce Shanghai and General Motors. At AmCham Shanghai, we listened to a really interesting presentation on how China’s economics have changed over the past 30 years. The country has transformed from being an exporter to being a consumer. They used the analogy of “Ms. Wong’s Purse,” which today is a designer handbag filled to the brim with all the same amenities as “Ms. Smith’s Purse”—smart phone, car keys, cosmetics, etc. We’re beginning to realize that the Chinese are not as different as we had come to believe.
In the afternoon, we met with Richard Makov, General Counsel of GM’s China Group. Mr. Makov showed us around his office and discussed how China and shockingly, Buick cars, have become GM’s biggest market in terms of units sold. He also led a discussion on bribery laws in the U. S. and China and what he does to try to minimize GM’s risk.
There is much more I could say about this amazing week. We were thinking of everyone on campus this weekend and hope you all enjoyed Mock-Con Kickoff!
I will see you on the other side!
The class is finally in Shanghai, and it has been a crazy trip so far. I woke up in Atlanta on Friday morning at 3:00 a.m. full of excitement and doubt. This was my first time traveling outside of the Americas, so I was very excited to be challenged by a culture completely separate from my own.
After a quick, two-hour flight, I arrived in Chicago and met some of my fellow classmates and Professor Bai, which quickly calmed my nerves. There was no way I was going to last on a 14-hour flight without talking with some friends or getting some help through immigration. Surprisingly, the flight was pretty enjoyable, a consistent stream of movies and interesting scenery made it all the more fun.
We arrived exhausted in Shanghai at 2 p.m. on Saturday—12 hours ahead of Lexington. After catching a bus to Eastern China Normal University, we unpacked and received a lovely tour of the small campus, which is in the heart of Shanghai. After dinner, I finally went to sleep after being awake for 72 hours.
On Sunday, the class got organized and we received the basics required for China life—new Chinese SIM cards and paper money. For such a big city, it is amazing how few retailers will accept credit or debit cards. All transactions are completed with RMB. This requires constantly searching for ATMs that will accept American cards and give a preferable rate on the 6 to 1 conversion from Dollars to RMB.
After the basics were out of the way, my classmates and I were allowed some freedom to explore the city. We decided to go to a famous local market near People Square. After getting lost in the subway for a few hours, some helpful Australian expats guided us to the market. It was a fantastic experience, haggling and discussing items in a combination of broken Chinese and English. The experience gave me new hope that I will actually be able to communicate and travel around the city.
Today, we attended two interesting lectures and had dinner with our teachers. The morning class was a basic “crash course” in Chinese. We reviewed Pin Yin, the basic pronunciation of Chinese characters, and learned helpful phrases that should make it easier for us to communicate. Dr. Do taught an afternoon class on modern China’s economy; the discussion touched on Confucian principals, and I particularly enjoyed a discussion about Chinese and American auction markets.
Although I have only been in China for two days, so much has already happened. I look forward to the adventure ahead and will report back in the upcoming weeks. If you want updates on the group in real time, you can follow me on Facebook or on Instagram at Shipphappens12. Thanks for reading!
ACCT 372 Course Description
Nine bottles of sunscreen, 10 tubs of peanut butter, two gallons of Gatorade mix, a few nice Teva tans and countless memories. We bartered in sunscreen and Oreos, and success is now measured in the number of unburned body parts each of us can claim. We made it back to Lexington, having completed our 800-mile sailing journey through the Caribbean in one piece.
Over the past three weeks, we have learned to autonomously operate, navigate, and ultimately sail our beloved 54.5’ Beneteau. I don’t think any of us realized how busy we would be aboard the ship. We rotate daily roles to keep the ship running smoothly. The skipper is the captain and works closely with the navigator, first mate, and info officer to plot the day’s course and direct the crew. Two-person teams tackle meal preparation, dish cleaning, and deck swabbing, but everyone always helps keep the ship in shape. Sailing is time consuming, so we did three overnight sails in order to make time for all we wanted to do during the daytime. Pulling all-nighters in 30-knot winds and six-foot swells certainly wasn’t what I imagined when I considered what it would be like to sail through the Caribbean!
Although it was a large part of our trip, sailing was only half of what we did. A major component of the trip has been meeting with ex-patriot managers like the HR director and general manager of the Four Seasons Resort in Nevis. He discussed the challenges of assimilating into a new culture and working effectively with a new team. For example, when new management tries to implement immediate changes, Caribbean locals can be resistant. Often, putting any kind of change in place within the first three months is infeasible. He talked about how employees are intrinsically motivated to do well and are less motivated by money. We also met with local government leaders like the Commissioner of Statia and a vice president for St. Barts and discussed challenges that local governments face managing the islands as a whole.
Each student has presented on a relevant topic to his/her major. We’ve learned about microfinance of small businesses, the physics of sailing, the psychology of leadership in stressful scenarios, the regional geology of the Caribbean, the economics of sugar cane production, the philosophy of slavery, poverty in the Caribbean, and conversational French. It has been very cool to learn from each other, particularly when we’re each so individually invested in the topics.
A final component of our adventure has been exploring the islands in pursuit of cultural understanding. This mainly took the form of talking with and learning from the locals. We’ve figured out that just about everyone in the Leeward Islands thinks his or her island has the nicest people; however, no two islands are the same. All the islands are driven by unique economies: Statia survives on the oil trade while St. Kitts gets by on sugar cane production and St. Barts thrives on purely tourism.
At the end of each day, we each found a perch on the boat and kept a journal of our experiences and how they related to our own personal insights about leadership, both on and off the boat. It’s been quite an enjoyable way to reflect on the day’s activities and interactions and relate them back to the lectures we attended during the winter term.
Some of the highlights of the trip have been:
The Quill Hike in Statia
A perfect volcanic cone protruding from the small island, The Quill is a well-maintained nature reserve. We hiked to the top ridgeline of the extinct volcano and decided that just peering into the center of the cone wasn’t enough. We descended into the cone and entered a new world – a full-on rainforest with trunks as big as redwoods and vines as plentiful as the exotic plants.
Snorkeling, hiking, dining. You name it, and St. Barts has the best of it. The meeting we had with a local government official only confirmed our desires to live there one day. He told us about their low taxes, zero crime, zero debt, and very low unemployment. Oh, and their beaches are okay too…
Loblolly Beach, Anegada (Pictured above)
An absolutely pristine, horseshoe-shaped beach protected by a barrier reef and lined with brilliant white sand. Definition Paradise. The lagoon was home to the clearest water and the biggest barracuda any of us had ever seen.
Hobie Cat Sailing, Virgin Gorda
Our friends at the Bitter End Yacht Club rented us three Hobie Cat sailboats, and after learning how to windsurf, we proceeded to race and zip around the North Sound for the entire afternoon. Such a great time!
Thank you to all who have been following our journey. We arrived back in Lexington late tonight and now we start our 20-page research papers, which will finish off the term. All in all, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend three weeks.
Harry and the Rest of the Crew
We are off to an incredible start to our journey, and time is flying by in the islands. Let me get you back up to speed.
Since the last time I wrote, we have all “earned” new nicknames—partly to resolve the Perry-Harry-Mary-Barry dilemma, but mostly just for fun. We now have Pear-dog, Hairbare, Al-Pal, Addigirl, Port, Consuela, Big Dog, Moon Dog, and of course, Deputy Dog/Dad. All of these names have stories to go along with them, however, none of the stories could fit in this post! Just know that we are all getting along great, and spirits are high.
On day one, we packed 10 days’ worth of food in the galley. It was a puzzle packing everything in the cupboards, and it’s now a game of Jenga any time we take something out. That said, our cooking has been delicious. We’ve whipped up dishes like BBQ chicken, steak, chicken teriyaki stir-fry, and pasta with Dr. Shay’s signature sauce (Prego & Salsa). Not complaining!
After completing our final preparations, we left the dock and hoisted the sails for the first time on April 28th. We were pretty rough at first, but with some tutelage from our resident sailing experts, we were off and heeling at 10kts like the best of them. Since that first day, we have navigated places called “Collision Point” and “Shark Bay,” squeezed through a tight channel called the “Blow Hole,” and sailed 120 miles in a single night. We’ve come a long way, and our sailing continues to improve every day. Since there is so much I could include in this blog post, I thought I’d write about the top three things we’re appreciating right now.
So far, we have explored six islands in six days: St. Thomas, Tortola, Norman Island, Virgin Gorda, Beef Island, and St. Martin. During these visits, we have interviewed local business owners and managers who represent various industries. For example, we’ve met with owners and operators of small restaurants and a 100-year-old rum distillery, as well as administrators from Tortola’s Community College and the manager of the Bitter End Yacht Club (located in “Billionaire Alley”). Beyond these meetings, daily interaction with locals has given us valuable insight into the diverse cultures present throughout the islands.
We’ve snorkeled through the caves of Norman Island and explored the baths of Virgin Gorda. Along the way, we’ve met a wide array of marine life, including an octopus that matched my turquoise bathing suit, lobsters that hid under the deepest coral, and barracuda that lurked in the shadows. At the baths, we followed a trail that led past towering boulders and caves, all the while enjoying views of the pristine blue water below. At the Bitter End, we hiked a local peak to watch a brilliant sunrise, and then we zipped around the bay on Hobie Cat boats for several hours. Island activities never get old and there are always more new things to try.
Food and Ting
Who doesn’t like a good meal with a Drop of Caribbean Sunshine*?
*Ting is a popular island soda in the Caribbean that we have come to love. Withdrawal symptoms are inevitable upon our return to the states…
In summary, we are very fortunate to have started off the Spring Term with such an unforgettable week. We can’t wait to see what the next two have to offer!
Until next time,
Harry and the Rest of the Crew
I’m writing this from the Mariner Inn and Marina in Tortola, where our sailboat is moored. Today we laid eyes on the “Erocridar II,” which is the gorgeous vessel that will be our home for the next three weeks. She’s a beauty—55’ in length and fortified with strength. My classmates and I will sail this boat around the Caribbean, studying cross-cultural leadership with our professor, Dr. Shay.
There are eight of us students on the crew. Selected for our varying interests and academic pursuits, we are a diverse group. We have majors in business, accounting, math, psychology and geology, and our interests are just as widespread. The one trait we all have in common: a passion for adventure.
Signing up to spend three weeks on a boat—living, cooking and traveling in very small quarters—might worry some people, but to us it’s an adventure and an ideal learning environment. Dr. Shay helped us prepare for the trip over the winter term by leading a series of lectures, readings and discussions about cross-cultural leadership. We wanted to learn as much as possible, so that we’d be able to wholeheartedly focus on the application of these lessons in the field.
We left at 3:50 a.m. on Sunday to catch our flight to the Caribbean, and arrived in St. Thomas around noon. Stepping off the plane, we drank in the view—the way the mountainous landscape met the pristine waters below made us excited for the weeks to come. After months of preparation, we had finally made it to the Caribbean.
All of us enjoyed watching Dr. Shay rekindle some friendships with familiar locals. While we waited for a ferry to Tortola, we dined at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the harbor. The “ferry” surprised all of us. It was more like a speedboat. We flew by neighboring islands, which gave us a just a small taste of the historically rich sights we would soon be able to enjoy at our own pace.
Once we arrived in Tortula, it was just a short taxi ride to the marina where our boat was moored. While the boat was being checked out, we got to relax in the pool and enjoy some final showers. The rest of the afternoon was spent packing our gear below deck and preparing for the next day’s departure.
By 10 p.m., Dr. Shay’s “dad” jokes had slowed to a trickle. I think we all welcomed our pillows after a long day of travel. Despite being tired, our spirits were high. We woke up with the sun and began our first full day in the Caribbean. We can’t wait to push off this afternoon!BUS 390B Course Description
Throughout this trip, I’ve had high expectations for our fourth and final day of visits.
We were lucky enough to be able to talk with Jason Wright, the former attorney for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind 9/11. I think a lot of us came into this meeting alarmed by the fact that someone would take on this job in the first place. I definitely had questions. For instance, how did Wright balance doing his professional duty with keeping his conscience clear as he defended this man and other Guantanamo Bay detainees?
I came out of this discussion with new thoughts about international law, particularly how it pertains to Guantanamo Bay. Understanding the conditions of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay is key; many are in indefinite detention and aren’t given the right to a trial, which is illegal under the Geneva Convention. Wright detailed the corruptive measures taken during his time as defense counsel; attorney-client privilege was broken when letters between his client and his counsel were read and when they found a hearing device in the room during their conversations. Wright holds firm in his belief that everyone deserves a fair trial, although he did say that, of course, it is hard at times to defend someone for whom you have distaste. Wright’s conversation opened my eyes, and I very much enjoyed the discussion.
From there we went to the CIA, where we were greeted by David Moore and his wife Elizabeth, both of whom work at the NSA. Of the agencies we’ve visited, the CIA was by far my favorite. First off, it has a beautiful campus, and I felt like I was in an episode of Homeland on our drive in. We toured the CIA’s museum and met with the vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council and the national intelligence officer in counterintelligence, which was a treat. At HR, they took us through the different job opportunities in the CIA. I came out of that meeting with a much better understanding of the CIA. It’s not just sexy case officers running agents out in the field!
We then met with a lead analyst in the CIA’s weapons intelligence and counter proliferation arms control center. He took us through the process of developing a briefing – from the initial brainstorm to the final analytical product. He taught us the importance of BLUF – bottom line up front – which emphasizes cutting out the fluff in an intelligence memo and providing only the important details in clear and concise writing. He is perhaps one of the most brilliant people I have ever come in contact with.
We were lucky to have some of our hosts join us for a group dinner. Some good Italian food was the cherry on top to a wonderful trip. I am sad that we are packing up to head back to Lexington, but I know that our conversations in the remaining week of class will provide the perfect opportunity to reflect on our incredible trip in D.C.
We headed out early on our third day to the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is located on the Potomac River. There we met with civilian and military analysts who spoke with us about their role in the intelligence community and about the hiring process for prospective employees.
I hadn’t learned much about the DIA before this visit and found the concept of strategic military intelligence fascinating. The DIA is a defense all-source intelligence agency that deploys agents worldwide to provide mission support and warning analysis. Knowledge of a foreign language is not required of prospective recruits but it did seem as if a second language would be an asset at the DIA.
The analysts we met with were hesitant to answer any questions that even teetered on the line of sharing classified information. I think they were prepared to give a standard talk about how to get a job in the intelligence community but were less prepared to address a group of students who are enrolled in a class about intelligence. Because of everything we’ve learned, we’re naturally very interested in the inner workings of the DIA. Even without being able to get into too much detail, their presentation was very helpful.
From the DIA, we went to the FBI, where we toured their intelligence exhibit, which includes a moving display about 9/11. It was the most engrossing and informative exhibit I have seen so far on this trip, partly because the FBI was so involved in post-9/11 intelligence collection and law enforcement.
I found our discussion with Department of Justice lawyers Mark Bradley and Jeff Breinholt later that evening to be my absolute favorite part of the trip so far. Mr. Breinholt led a discussion on terrorism financing and took us through real-life examples to illustrate how the DOJ deals with the growing threat of non-state terrorism. They have an incredibly difficult job that requires them to walk a fine line; they’ve got to push back on terrorist threats while at the same time safeguarding U.S. citizens and sustaining our rights in a post-9/11 world. To do their jobs, they examine and analyze money-laundering patterns, as most international terrorism organizations are being funded in the U.S. The life of a DOJ lawyer seems exhausting, but I came out of the meeting with a newfound interest in the law and the analysis of the non-violent aspects of terrorism: funding.
We will continue the conversation about international law and human rights tomorrow when we meet with Jason Wright, a Washington and Lee law professor and former defense attorney for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind 9/11. We are all highly anticipating this conversation and the chance to visit the CIA.
We began day two of our D.C. trip with a meeting at our hotel. Col. Daniel Pinnell and Col. Mark Haseman are officers in the U.S. Army and gave us an overview of how military intelligence systems work. Then they ran through an interesting simulation that helped us see how military operations are conducted. The intelligence community is increasingly moving away from utilizing human intelligence (HUMINT) sources in favor of signal intelligence, and they warned about the possible consequences of this trend. It could become easier for the military to overreach and it’s possible that analysts will lose touch with the reality of what’s happening at the street level.
It shocked me when Col. Pinnell told us that, during the course of a four-year deployment in Baghdad, an average of two car bombs a day affected the military’s ongoing operations. Their assessment of our failures and successes in Iraq was very though provoking, and I appreciated learning how communication with local government officials played a key role in our counter-insurgency efforts. Both men were very compelling storytellers, and when they talked about the power of pattern analysis in military intelligence, I think it left a strong impression on us all. Their visit has definitely been one of my favorite discussions during this trip.
Next, we went to the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), which is located in the State Department. We spoke with Julie Johnson, the director of professional development, and two analysts who work for the terrorism, narcotics and crime branch. In the early 2000s, INR was the only agency that dissented when the rest of the intelligence community agreed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; their assessment was largely ignored as we prepared for the 2003 invasion. INR is an interesting agency because it reports directly to the secretary of state and is the only intelligence agency that co-locates with policy makers to jointly serve foreign relations interests. One of the INR analysts who spoke with us focuses on drug trafficking in Central and South America, and it was interesting to learn more about an issue that is less widely publicized. We also got to hear from a foreign service officer and decided that the job seems like a sweet deal—getting paid to travel and move around every few years doesn’t seem so bad!
We ended the day at the National Spy Museum, a crafty spot that was as entertaining as it was educational. We heard from Peter Earnest, the museum’s founder and a former CIA case officer, who told us about some of his “James Bond moments” in the field.
All of our visits have been very rewarding. As the week goes on, I’m enjoying being able to compare and contrast each agency, all while exploring the extraordinary restaurants and bakeries of northwest D.C.!
I’m enrolled in Professor Seth Cantey’s Intelligence in Practice spring term course, and one of the things that attracted me to the class was that we got to travel to Washington, D.C., to visit some of the agencies we’re learning about in the course. We had two weeks in the classroom before making the trip, so by the time we arrived in D.C.—the homeland of espionage—we’d already learned a good bit about the roles of the 17 agencies that make up the American intelligence community.
After checking in at a boutique hotel called the Normandy Hotel, we ventured out into the humidity to grab some grub and enjoy some live music around Dupont Circle. Professor Cantey told us to expect early mornings and long days. For four days, we’re attending meetings with intelligence officials, touring museums, and exploring the greater D.C. area.
On our first day, we started off at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a homey cache of buildings that looks nothing like the daunting compound that is the National Security Agency (NSA). At the DHS we met with members of Intelligence and Analysis (IA), visited the National Operations Center, and spoke with analysts who specialize in border security, cyber-intelligence, and counterterrorism — particularly as it relates to English language violent extremism propaganda and female radicalism. Contrary to what I had thought, the DHS is made up of more than just the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Coast Guard. The DHS is a relatively small intelligence agency but with very broad capabilities — 90 percent of its employees are stationed outside of D.C.
We were lucky enough to get to talk to Francis X. Taylor, the Undersecretary of Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security. Both he and his colleagues stressed the fact that what they write goes into the hands of local and state law enforcement officers, and that it’s those men and women who play an important role in stopping attacks at their point of origin. Mr. Taylor also emphasized that, with a more unified approach to intelligence sharing, government agencies can work more efficiently. I very much enjoyed our Q&A with the analysts; they were all relatively young and talked enthusiastically about how their research and writing skills are central to their day-to-day jobs, which involve sifting through pieces of information and deciding on the parts that are most critical, particularly so they supply the best information to policymakers.
We then left for the National Cryptologic Museum, which is located in the suburbs of D.C., next to the heavily monitored NSA (the one place we couldn’t get inside to tour). At the cryptology museum, we learned about the Enigma machine’s role in WWII. One thing I found interesting was that, during WWII, the Allies used Native Americans to transport radio signal in their native Navajo tongue, as the language acted as its own form of encryption.
After the museum we went back in the hotel and met with an NSA traffic analyst, David Moore, who also happens to be a W&L alum. Mr. Moore took us through a simulation of deception analysis, teaching us the aspects of fabrication, manipulation, conditioning, diversion and feedback. This was particularly interesting in relation to the deception surrounding D-Day in WWII. We tried to pose some questions about Edward Snowden, which he graciously dodged! It’s a topic that we will continue to discuss as the week progresses.
As we’ve traveled through our spring term class, the course here in Berlin has progressed through periods of German history. We started in the medieval period and worked our way into the nineteenth century, all the while exploring the architecture of the imperial buildings and the original market “platz.” Nothing too serious, nothing too somber. But this past week as hit like a ton of bricks on the traditionally dark focus of German history – the horrors of the World Wars and the Holocaust. After a trip to the Jewish Museum and the preserved New Synagogue this week, today we reached the most sobering day of our spring term. We visited Sachsenhausen, the concentration camp just a 45-minute train ride from Berlin.
Our train couldn’t even make it into Orienienburg. This morning the Berlin authorities found an uncovered and undefused bomb in the area close to the Orienienburg train station. This is a prime example of how the events that officially concluded almost seventy years ago to the day still affect the modern culture here in Berlin. Instead of taking the S1 line directly to the camp, we took a train, then a bus, then a 20-minute walk to reach the front gates.
Almost immediately, a silence fell on the group. We’re a pretty rowdy bunch, constantly talking and joking. However, it didn’t take a word from either our guide or Professor Youngman for us to realize that this was a place of silence and respect. During our three-hour tour, we learned the history of this place – it was predominantly a camp for prisoners of war and enemies of the Third Reich – and viewed the solitary confinement cells, memorials to the dead and the extermination sites. Although I’ve taken Nazism and Anti-Semitism classes and written countless papers on the topic, there’s really nothing that compares to walking through these places and fully absorbing what took place there. It was moving and definitely disturbing. However, as our tour guide consistently pointed out, it is more of a disgrace to remove or alter the history. Rather we should preserve it as it was, in an attempt to honor those who lost their lives.
Our tour guide was a native Englishman who has just finished his Ph.D. in Modern German History. I think it was interesting and important to have a third-party, but obviously well-informed, perspective. He did not attempt to hide the history, nor did he attempt to assign blame or tell an unfair narrative. He told the stories of the German camp use as well as its later appropriation by the Soviets as a prisoner and execution camp. As I looked around the camp, I focused not only on the actual features but also on the reactions of the people who were visiting. Some adults were crying, others walked around stone-faced. Large groups of high school students ran through in oblivion, laughing and flirting. Overall, I think that the trip to Sachsenhausen was a microcosm for our entire trip so far – you only get out as much as the effort you put into the trip. It would be easy to walk through and only see the surface in an attempt to brush over and forget the past, but the three hours we spent there today forced me to integrate this piece of German history as another layer in the culture of Berlin and what it has become today.
We have another week-and-a-half here, but this is my last blog for this project. Writing these has helped me to reflect on my experiences here in light of both my personal interests and as a representation of the group as a whole. For a first-time spring term class, I think Berlin has provided a wonderful opportunity for me to grow in both my language and analysis skills, and I have loved the opportunity to share a little piece of this with you.
This past Friday, the other W&L Berliners and I were gifted with a day off of classes at the international education center. Why? Because it turns out the first of May is a much bigger deal here in Germany than it is in the United States. While the U.S. Labor Day in September conjures up memories of small backyard BBQs and back-to-school shopping, Labor Day here was a massive, two-day event of county fair-type festivals, political demonstrations and even a few violent riots. I managed to avoid witnessing any rock throwing, but I did hang out at the more family-friendly affair and take in the modern German culture.
I don’t know if it gets any cooler than listening to a live concert under the Brandenburg Gate. This iconic piece of Berlin architecture has witnessed the first unification of the German nation in 1871, survived both World Wars, and was a point of massive tension with the building of the wall in 1961 until its fall in 1989. It has seen the Napoleonic conquest, Hitler’s marching armies, and FIFA World Cup celebrations. Yet on Friday afternoon, I stood in its shadow drinking Berlin’s local Pilsner and taking in the live performers with hundreds of other Germans. There were multiple singers, youth dance groups and many political messages. The giant background message on the stage says, “The work of the future starts with us.” Throughout the city, different labor unions were staging sit-ins and peaceful demonstrations while left-wing radicals were being a little less peaceful. It was an entire day devoted to labor and the cause of the worker — Labor Day in its true sense.
But the most entertaining part of the day definitely came from the music. As we entered the party, the band was performing a heavily accented rendition of “Tonight’s Gonna Be A Good Night” by the Black Eyed Peas. After we found a spot to take in all the action, the vibe shifted to some middle school dance classics. “Do The Twist” made an appearance, as well as “Shout.” All the Germans say along to “Lollipop” and really got into it when the band sang out the words, “do you love me… now that I can dance?” It wasn’t just little kids dancing either; the 20-something guys in front of us knew all the words and were gladly joining in. So while half of the city might have been getting a little rowdy, out at the Parisianer Platz it was all good beer, good vibes and good music.
My experience at the Brandenburg Gate that day kept my thinking about the idea of German nationality and identity, the two major themes of our course with Professor Youngman this term. From listening to predominantly American music to casual integrating English phrases, Germany has become a truly bilingual country. It’s not about being able to speak multiple languages or translating between the two; they have adopted English as part of the way they entertain and work. The lead singer yelled out mid-set, “Sehr geerhtliche Ladies and Gentlemen, wie geht es mit sich heute?” Ladies and Gentleman, not Herren und Frauen, totally English, totally integrated. Studying in German hasn’t been about speaking only German constantly, but learning how the German people function in two languages at once.
Greetings from Berlin! My first few days traveling have proved quite interesting. While in route to Berlin, I spent twelve hours in the Istanbul airport for a flight delay. I made the most of my time there, scoping out the Turkish bakeries and people-watching. Little did I realize that I would be seeing a lot more of Turkish culture and influence while studying in Berlin.
Berlin, and Germany in general, experienced an influx of guest workers in the 1990s, most coming from Turkey. Now there is a large Turkish-German population and their presence can be seen throughout the city. My first experience with the Turkish culture in Germany came Sunday afternoon, when three other students and I were exploring the streets of Berlin, mostly trying to find lunch. We ended up in the Turkish quarter, attempting to communicate with people who knew even less German than we did. With the few words we did have in common, we managed to order what has quickly become a staple of our diet here in Berlin.
Döner are kind of like a Greek gyro. The meat is roasted on a turning spit, usually in the window where everyone can see it. They only cost about three euros and are huge and filling. And with lamb, lettuce, cabbage and carrots, it almost seems healthy! They’re sold everywhere around the city, not just in the Turkish quarter where we first stumbled on them. The little shops dot the street, often three within the same block. Although they’re not originally a German food, they’ve definitely found a place as a common lunch for businesspeople, students and everyone in between. With the IES program here in Berlin we’re often on our own for lunch, and I see a lot of döner-filled days in our future.
It’s only day three here in Berlin, but my first cultural lesson has definitely come through the food. Not just with döner or other Turkish food, but more generally. German people eat very little German food. While we stereotype Germans as a bratwurst- and potato-loving people, the majority of restaurants throughout the city describe themselves as Italian, Asian or American. My first night with my host family, they asked where or what I wanted to eat for dinner. When I answered, “German food,” they paused and had to think before giving a true German option, which was a few blocks away. This struck me as both odd and interesting. As both a history and German major, we talk about Germany as a formerly very nationalistic country, particularly with the World Wars. Isn’t it interesting then, that a country formerly so fixated on national identity now rarely identifies with their own cuisine? I can’t wait to see where these initial thoughts (and foods) will take me as I keep exploring Berlin.
As I sit here without power in my hotel in Pushkar, Rajasthan, a dust storm blows outside my window. The desert wind howls ferociously with all of its might. Regardless of social position, the storm sends all in its path running for shelter. The natural disaster reminds me of the chaos in Nepal that is not so distant from where I sit now. Nature does not discriminate in the way society does. That is to say, with both the dust storm and the Nepali earthquakes, all in the area of impact are affected. But the extent of the damage is often determined by social structure. In Pushkar, my thick hotel walls seal out the particles of sand flying at high speed. Down the street, locals are not as fortunate as their carts of fruit and hot chapati flip over. In Nepal, the earthquakes damaged older buildings rather severely — those which house the poorest and least politically powerful. Caste then becomes a defining element in the recovery process of Kathmandu and surrounding areas.
In light of the horrific natural disaster, our spring term class becomes particularly relevant. Professors Lubin and Silwal guided our class through research and literature on the current political and economic state of Nepal. More recently, we discussed affirmative action policies and their potential for remedying inequities caused by the caste system. Like most other countries, Nepal faces under-representation of minority groups — most notably the lower castes, women, and non-Hindus — in the political sphere. Reasons for under-representation are diverse. One of interest is the stigmatization of lower castes, a direct result from the lesser purity associated with them. Because lower castes are considered “impure” to some degree, upper castes have traditionally refused to associate with them, either by dining or marriage, in order to retain their purity. A side effect of this discrimination is an internalized understanding of impurity. That is, the lower castes in Nepal may guard the caste system’s boundaries to the same extent as the more advantaged castes. This past week, I saw an example of this as a musician of a lower caste refused to dine with me and my traveling partners. It wasn’t until I realized there was a Brahmin joining us that I understood why the musician refused.
Though the musician seemed content with his decision, the implications of such a decision are far greater than just one dinner. How are minority groups going to be accepted and feel accepted into political and social bodies filled with upper castes? That is where reservation systems, or affirmative action, may help. Such a system ensures representation of oppressed groups in political office and other institutions, such as universities. Reservation systems are often critiqued for a variety of problems. For example, often the most advantaged within a disadvantaged group is able to access reserved seats. Yet despite their possible problems, reservation systems provide a place in society for those identifying with a particular group to voice their concerns. Systems will, over time, naturalize lower castes and other disadvantaged groups in positions of power, so that they may influence policy to alleviate the inequities their group faces. In the case of the Nepalese earthquakes, such a system would allow lower castes living in the dilapidated villages outside of Kathmandu to have a voice in the restructuring process. Though it is hard to tell whether Nepal will implement reservations, issues of caste discrimination and under-representation are of concern, suggesting a more egalitarian future in on the way.
I wake slowly. My eyes blink, resisting the sunlight that streams through my windows. The social network addict in me reaches instinctively for my phone that is lost beneath the covers. Clicking to unlock the screen, I am greeted with text messages and calls from friends. Alarm bells sound as I read the over the concerned words, “Where are you?” and “I’m so sorry. Please tell me you haven’t left yet.” A CNN alert confirms what my professor’s emails say: this morning, there was an earthquake in Nepal and the Spring Term trip has been postponed. My mind runs through a list of expletives as I start to process what this means, laughing out loud unintentionally as I think of how preposterous this is. How could an earthquake hit Nepal the morning of my departure? I cringe at my own selfishness as I look at the pictures of utter terror and debris, a national crisis unfolding on my phone’s screen. My mother walks in as I talk on the phone to my roommate and classmate, Sierra. Our minds scramble as we tackle questions without answers: what would happen to our class?
At that time, we had no idea of how bad the earthquake was. I eagerly packed my bag, thinking our travels would proceed within the week or so. Lexington was just a mere pit stop in our journey to Kathmandu. Yet as the death toll increased and aftershocks took further lives and resources, it became apparent the trip was officially off. The course was to be taught in Lexington. Though our entire class, students and professors included, were indescribably disappointed, we understood the gravity of the situation. Grateful for our own safety and the safety of our Nepalese peers’ families, we began our class and our transition back into Lexington. Our professors worked swiftly and professionally to revamp the syllabus. Guest lecturers and small field trips now bring some of the vibrancy of Nepal to us. For example, Professor Melissa Kerin of the Art History Department at W&L gave us a presentation about the Kathmandu-based Buddhist nuns that we would have visited; her pictures capture the beautiful sand mandalas they create. Further pictures on PowerPoint and descriptions from assigned readings allude to the beautiful Hindu temple in D.C. that we will visit on May 16th. Following an hour in the classroom each day, we spend time outside. Professor Lubin of the Religion Department and Professor Silwal of the Economics Department pick our brains about the readings of the day. Slowly, but surely, we began to dive into the complicated caste system, a world filled with identity politics, economics, and religious tradition.
In our quest to visit the nation’s landmark Civil Rights battlefields, our class has walked some of America’s most hallowed ground. In Greensboro, North Carolina, we visited a statue commemorating the “A&T Four,” whose tenacity sparked the proliferation of the student-led sit-in movements of 1961. From North Carolina we traveled to Georgia, where we visited the final resting place of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose tireless crusade against injustice ensured his rightful place among the pantheon of America’s finest leaders. Our travels then brought us to Alabama, where we first journeyed to Birmingham. The site of Eugene “Bull” Connor’s vicious assault on peaceful protestors in 1963, Birmingham became the site of one of King’s most successful campaigns when unprecedented media coverage of Connor’s attack dogs and high-pressure fire hoses begun to transform the hearts and minds of American citizens.
From Birmingham, we made our way to Selma, where we traced the path of those who marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge only to be met with the tear gas and bill clubs of Alabama State Troopers. Our final stop in Alabama was Montgomery, the state capitol, where Rosa Park’s quiet act of courage sparked the creation of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956 and the rise of Dr. King and the SCLC.
On Thursday we traveled to the uniquely vibrant and always entertaining New Orleans, where we toured the dilapidated Lower Ninth Ward, a largely black area ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Though the city itself holds little in the way of Civil Rights memorials, our drive through the Lower Ninth Ward was an alarming reminder of the deplorable living conditions forced upon many African Americans today. After a lively tour of the French Quarter, we journeyed to Jackson, Mississippi, where our visit to the Medgar Ever’s house proved an exceptionally chilling and powerful experience. Field Secretary for the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP, Evers was assassinated in his driveway just feet away from his wife and children in 1963. From Mississippi we traveled to Tennessee, where we toured the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel and then Fisk University, one of the nation’s most prominent historically black universities, in Nashville, our final stop.
Ultimately, my experiences this past week are memories I will cherish for the rest of my life. To walk the ground tread by activists like King, John Lewis, Diane Nash and the thousands of ordinary foot soldiers for the cause was a dream come true for me. The places I’ve visited, the lessons I’ve learned, and the faces I’ve seen have lit my soul on fire. Professor DeLaney’s course has reaffirmed what I believe to be my purpose in life: to join the struggle to obtain full civil rights for all, regardless of the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, their socioeconomic status, or their religious affiliation. This journey begins for me in the classroom in just a few short months, as I prepare to educate and mentor minority students from low-income communities in Charlotte, North Carolina, through Teach For America. I have no idea where life will take me from there, but I know it will be somewhere in pursuit of the dream of equality, to which King and so many others have dedicated themselves.
Our travels today brought us to Selma, Alabama, the site of one of the most significant battlegrounds of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Brought recently to the nation’s attention with the release of Ava DuVernay’s 2015 film Selma, this small Alabama town is one that, as a History major and Africana Studies minor, I had studied extensively before visiting. Yet after crossing the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge, I learned that to read about a place and to stand in it are two distinctly different things.
After successful campaigns in Montgomery and Birmingham, Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) turned their attention to the issue of securing voting rights for black Americans, who had been systematically disenfranchised through repressive legal measures and violent intimidation in the years since Reconstruction. Selma proved to be the ideal battleground upon which to wage a campaign for full voting rights. Although organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had been working tirelessly to increase voter registration of black citizens, when King arrived in Selma in January 1965, less than two percent of Selma’s black citizens were registered.
After twenty-six year old Jimmie Lee Jackson was murdered by a white Alabama State Trooper in a protest in the neighboring town of Marion, Alabama, activists proposed a march from Selma to Montgomery. Because King was in Atlanta, Hosea Williams and John Lewis led a group of protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday, March 7. As the group reached the other side of the bridge, they were stopped by a group of armed Alabama State Troopers, led by Selma sheriff Jim Clark, who ordered the protesters to turn around. When the group refused to leave, the troopers pushed forward with tear gas and batons, attacking the protesters, who began to flee for their lives. National media coverage captured the events on the bridge, which has come to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” and hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country witnessed the utter horror and brutality of Southern racism.
Deeply affected by the television coverage of “Bloody Sunday,” thousands of Americans answered a call made by Dr. King, and traveled to Selma in the following days. On March 21, King finally led a march from Selma to Montgomery, with thousands of participants, both white and black, and on August 6, President Johnson signed the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. This act signified a major victory for King and the thousands of Americans who committed themselves to the cause of justice and equality.
Yet fifty years after the events in Selma, the fight led by Dr. King and others is far from finished. Recent events in Ferguson, Baltimore and North Charleston raise significant concerns about racially motivated police brutality, and there exists the sobering fact that one in three African American males will be incarcerated at least once over the course of his lifetime. If King’s lessons are to be truly applied, however, one must also address the discrimination and struggles faced by the poor, women, other racial minorities and the GBLTQ community, to name just a few. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s made significant strides towards achieving greater social justice, but there remains an incredible amount of work to be done before our nation is able to truly rise up and fulfill the creed of its promise. To borrow terminology from the movement, revolution must rage on before reconciliation can occur.
Today marked the beginning of our class’s nine-day journey throughout the Deep South on a quest to explore our nation’s extraordinarily rich Civil Rights history. Our travels will take us through six different states, and more than ten unique cities as we visit some of America’s most significant Civil Rights landmarks. Leaving the parking deck at a dreadfully early 7 a.m., our group of eight (seven students and Professor Ted DeLaney) set out in our fifteen passenger van for our very first stop, Greensboro, N.C. More than any of the other places we will visit over the next eight days, Greensboro will always hold a special place in my heart, as it is my hometown.
Our stop in Greensboro was unfortunately brief, but we did take the time to visit the campus of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, the nation’s largest historically black university. Although our group enjoyed the campus’s quaint beauty and refreshingly warm weather, we focused our attention on a statue commemorating the famous “A&T Four,” a group of students who rose to national prominence during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
By January of 1960, the Civil Rights Movement had slowly begun to develop across the United States; Civil Rights organizations like CORE and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund were working tirelessly to achieve social justice, while the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 and 1956 catapulted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., into the national spotlight. Yet on February 1, 1960, four exceptionally brave young black A&T students staged a sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro to challenge the racial segregation of public facilities across the South. Though the Greensboro sit-in was by no means the first of its kind, its effect was perhaps unparalleled. The courage and fortitude displayed by the four men inspired droves of young students across the nation to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience as sit-ins in Southern cities everywhere began to spread like wildfire. Planned and executed entirely by students, the Greensboro sit-in was instrumental in ushering in a new wave of the movement dominated by the nation’s youth.
Though I’ve spent the entirety of my life thus far — aside from my four-year stint in wonderful Lex-Vegas of course — in Greensboro, I found my homecoming this morning filled me with a peculiar sense of both shame and pride. It is impossible to deny or ignore Greensboro’s capitulation in the perpetuation of the most egregious aspects of the Jim Crow South. Yet as I gazed up at the solemn monument of the “A&T Four,” I also felt an immense amount of pride that these four men from my hometown, no older than myself, found the courage necessary to take a stand against social injustice. Their actions are rendered all the more poignant in the context of the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, where young people are protesting injustices not at all dissimilar from those fifty years ago. As our class continues our travels to Alabama and as I prepare to graduate in less than a month, I hope that I can, even in some small way, emulate the valor and tenacity of those four young men in fighting for that in which they believed.
It’s sad to say my time in Argentina is coming to an end. This next week (5 days) is going to go by too quickly for me to process. As we’ve gone through the course I’ve thought we have focused more on the “film” than on the culture. But in this last week of classes, excursions and interacting with my host family, I have realized that there is no end to the culture I have experienced while in this country.
This Wednesday we had our last day trip. This time we went out to a ranch in the countryside to experience a cultural workshop full of horseback riding, cooking lessons, folk dancing and games. Even though we got off to a rough start on the ranch (several of my classmates either fell off, were rolled over by a horse, or hit in the face with branches), the experience was amazing. Not that I was feeling very homesick, but being able to just pet a horse reminded me so much of home. Seeing the Argentine country without buildings towering over me was refreshing. There was little sign of human presence out there except for one thing, the trash covering the river bed. This summer Argentina experienced major rain storms, and flooding trash has been carried downstream to the country. Seeing this otherwise untouched piece of land covered in trash was heartbreaking. This doesn’t just happen in Argentina, it happens all over the world, and it’s one thing that we have keep in mind when we think about throwing a gum wrapper on the ground. After we got back from the horse ride, all in one piece, we learned how to make Argentine Criollo empanadas. It was my dad’s birthday this week, so I am excited to get back to the States and make them for him. They seem easier than I originally thought, and I even got to help my host family make them that same night. We then learned a traditional folk dance, and let’s just say I am definitely better at the tango, which I still am not good at. We played bochas, which the Argentines say is a folk game, but I’m pretty sure the Italians brought it over as bocce with their initial immigration. After that full day of culture we were all pretty ready to go to bed or at least siesta, but we had a tango class. It was refreshing for me to actually understand the dance and be semi-decent at it.
Later in the week my family had their last asado with us, and I was both excited and sad at the same time. I knew the grill was going to be full of meat, but I was thoroughly surprised when there was no room left on the parilla to put more meat. Few vegetables in sight, I was ready to sit with the entire extended family and eat what Luly made us. You really haven’t eaten meat until you’ve had an asado and eaten meat right off the bone and off the grill. There was shouting and people everywhere. Even though there were many jokes and a lot of laughter, it was hard to imagine that this time next week I will probably be eating a steak with my real family back in New Jersey. After saying chau to some of the family members that I probably would not see next week, I realized how great it was to be in Argentina for the last month. I do wish I had more time, but I am so thankful for the opportunity Washington and Lee has provided me.
To end the week, two of my classmates and I traveled to our families’ cabin in a small town near Carlos Paz. We went to the river to pescar and nadar. I wish I had brought my bathing suit, because after the initial cold shock accompanied by the spring-fed river, the water felt amazing. The views from the river were breathtaking, and we got to have a nice sit-down conversation with our host family about their history. Luly walked with us along the river and sat with us at a breathtaking swimming hole. This river held so much history for the family. None of the stones were new to him, the river and waterfalls held stories and were in the process of making new ones. We saw the place where he and his wife, Dora, shared their first kiss and where their children would play every summer. Not only were they sharing this beautiful place with us, but they were sharing personal stories.
I will miss Argentina. I will miss the people. I will miss the food. I will miss my classmates. I will miss the view of the sunrise I get from my bedroom, but most of all I will miss the culture. Argentines are some of the most welcoming people I have ever met. I will miss my host family, nuclear and extended. Their stories and their accommodation are what made this trip truly fulfilling. Saying goodbye will be hard, but what will be harder to comprehend is that my time in Argentina is over. For now. Chau and besos Argentina, and thank you for all you’ve given me.
This week was full of class, travel, and more culture than I ever thought could be packed into a week of classes. Even though I came into this class knowing a decent amount about the history of Argentina, the activities were extremely enlightening, highlighting the cultural aspects behind the historical facts that I already knew. This week our class traveled to the clandestine torture prison, La Perla, just outside of Córdoba, and then traveled to Buenos Aires for a long weekend. Both of these trips were amazing and I know will be unforgettable.
It is well known that during La Guerra Sucia and the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983, the Argentine government detained thousands of people deemed as “subversios” to the state. During their time of arrest the subversios were imprisoned in many clandestine torture centers around the country. The subversivos included college students and anyone who was thought to be against the military dictatorships, including pregnant women. In addition to detaining these people, the government made anywhere from 9,000 to 30,000 of them seemingly disappear. Up until this day, bodies of los desaparecidos are being found in places like La Perla.
This somber visit was a profound experience which I don’t think any member of our class will forget. A visit to La Perla starts with a drive through a barren, brown landscape into a campus of brick buildings with a watch tower atop the largest one. In an opening lecture we were taken through the timeline of the torture center before and after the military dictatorship. One of the most heart-wrenching moments came after the lecture in an unexpected part of our visit. As we explored the campus we met a woman whose brother was detained in La Perla and became a desaparecido. Now a resident of Australia, she came with other family members to remember her brother. Her stories and tears were amazing to hear, and it showed our class the deeper effects of what happened during La Guerra Sucia. So many people around the world are faced with the fact that their relatives will never be seen alive again, and their bodies will probably never be found. Let’s just say that the stories told at La Perla will always hold a special place in my heart.
Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina and the center of government and protest in the nation. Our first stop on the tour of the city was The Plaza de Mayo, made famous by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who march around the Plaza every Thursday to protest the 30,000 desaparecidos and the loss of their grandchildren, who were given to other families to raise as their own. The plaza is traced with graffiti tags — not affiliated with individuals like we usually see in the U.S., but rather with political movements and figures. It is rare to see graffiti in Argentina that is simply a tag; for the most part there is a political statement behind it. As Mother’s Day was just yesterday, it was hard to think about the mothers and grandmothers that march there every Thursday, missing the thanks and praise from some or all of their children.
In addition to visiting the famous sites of the Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada, we spent time in museums and learning about the historical figures of Buenos Aires, like Eva Peron. Although a fairly controversial figure in Argentine politics and history, “Evita” won the hearts of many Argentines throughout her husband’s time in office until her death in 1952. As we walked through her former home, we learned about the forces the drove her political ideals, her experiences before she became famous, and the mourning the country went through in the days after her death. The anniversary of her birthday was just the day before we arrived in Buenos Aires. The museum was decorated in flowers from the people who still revere her. In addition, we visited her gravesite in what was one of the most gorgeous cemeteries I have ever seen. Her site and many others were adorned with flowers, and the mausoleums had altars dedicated to the dead in the family. The labyrinth-like cemetery didn’t have the eerie characteristics I would usually associate with a cemetery, but rather beauty and grandeur that surrounded the mausoleums of hundreds of families.
Although the likes of Eva Peron and the Dirty War are controversial throughout Argentine history, it is impossible to say that both haven’t become a distinct part of what makes Argentina, Argentina. Before leaving for Córdoba my mom made me watch the movie “Evita” with her. One of the first movies we watched for class here was “La Historia Oficial,” about the cries of The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. In addition to what I am learning in a more formal sense, I am also learning that it is impossible to ignore history. History cannot be erased, and rather than erase it, it is important to learn from it. I know this week seemed a little depre, but these are important things that have shaped my time on this trip. Hopefully next Sunday I’ll have something a little more feliz to share!
After a full day of airports and planes, I was finally in Córdoba, Argentina. As soon as I got out of customs, I was met by not just the welcoming faces of my host mom and dad, but also their daughter and their parents. Within five seconds of getting into the family van with two other students in my class who are living with the parents, we were told that this first week was going to be one of the longest, but also most fun of our lives. My host mom, Coty, had told me that we were going to have a ton of family parties this week, and boy did I underestimate her. Not only did I have to start thinking and doing daily tasks while speaking another language, but we also had to interact with native Spanish speakers and sound somewhat coherent while doing so. If this week could be summed up in a couple of words it would be: “¿Cómo se dice..?” or “How do you say…?”
One of my classmates jokes that he wants to have steak for every meal while we’re here. Although a doctor wouldn’t recommend doing that, he wouldn’t have a hard time at all, considering the country’s leading exports include agricultural products like cows. After a late lunch and a siesta, my family and I walked two and a half blocks to my host dad’s parents’ house for my first asado, or barbeque. I am not kidding when I say that there was no extra space on the panilla (outdoor grill) for vegetables because there was a mixture of steaks, ribs, and sausages covering it. Being in this family would be difficult as a vegetarian, but it would also be difficult as an introvert. When you’re surrounded by multiple families, with multiple children, it could be easy to fall under the shadows of their big personalities; the only way to make yourself part of the family is to be willing to try new things and meet new people.
Professor Pinto-Bailey was not kidding when she told us to bring comfortable sneakers on this trip. Everyone walks everywhere. We walk everywhere, including our two-and-a-half hour walking tour of the city. The architecture in Córdoba is a mixture of Modern, Jesuit, Gothic and Colonial styles. Everything is gorgeous, but in my opinion, the cathedral, formally named La Parroquia Sagrado Corazón de Jesús or more well known as Los Capuchinos, is the most beautiful. The cathedral was built in 1934, and its Neogothic architecture is surrounded by the modern buildings in the rest of Paseo del Buen Pastor. But the best part of this church is what seems to be a missing tower on the left side of the building. We learned from our tour guide that it was actually an architectural wonder, and the first artificial wonder in Córdoba.
Argentines run on a completely different schedule than Americans. Although classes still start at nine in the morning, many Argentines in Córdoba need to start their day two hours earlier just to traverse the colectivo, or bus system. Two classmates and I have a forty minute bus ride and fifteen minutes of walking before making it to class. But first we have to get on the right bus. On the second day of classes, my classmates and I didn’t realize we had gotten on the wrong bus, but in reality it was one of the best experiences and tests of our Spanish-speaking skills so far. We ended up at the end of the bus line and an hour late to class after we spoke with several drivers at the terminal about how we should get back to the city center. After our multiple hours of public buses, we were starving, but our next meal wasn’t until the 1 o’clock lunch. After this we have a merienda, or snack, around 5 o’clock, and then dinner somewhere between 9 and 11 o’clock. Let’s just say it has been an adjustment for our circadian rhythms. Over the next three weeks this schedule will certainly lead to long days, late nights and a ton of memories.
After leaving the tourist filled island of Santorini, we traveled by ferry to the island of Naxos. Even though it was incredibly windy, it was nice to travel to an island that was not swarmed by tourists. Naxos is well known for its high quality marble. One day, we were able to tour a multi-generational, family-owned marble quarry that was cut into the side of a mountain. During our tour of the quarry, of my classmates asked the owner if he knew how far down the marble went into the mountain. He responded with, “hopefully all the way to Australia.” The quarry was an incredible site to see. While the precarious state of the Greek economy has reduced domestic demand for marble, he continues to remove large blocks of marble in anticipation of when the economy improves again. While times are tough, he reminded us, “its not like I have to water the rocks once I remove them.”
After Naxos, we were supposed to travel by ferry to Syros. This trip required us to first sail to Mykonos and then switch ships. Because the ferry arrived late to Naxos, we missed our only chance that day to reach Syros from Mykonos. Our class wasn’t too upset about this, though, because Mykonos is a very lively place. Since our ferry was departing in the afternoon, our professor did not let this unplanned stay go to waste. What was supposed to be a twenty-minute layover became a 24-hour experience that really helped with our comprehension of the regional geology of the Cyclades. Once in Syros, we looked at rocks that can only be seen in a few places around the world. When garnets are mentioned in geology courses back in Lexington, our professors almost always make a comment about how we will probably never see these in the field. We are extreme outliers in this case.
After traveling to Athens and taking a final exam, everyone in our class needed to decompress from geology. While we haven’t had long to spend in Athens, we have tried to see as many of the important sites as possible. As aspiring geologists, our spring term class has spent the last three weeks on the Greek islands of Crete, Santorini, Naxos, Mykonos and Syros, looking at rocks as “young” as several hundred thousand years old and some as “old” as 20 million years old. With a geologist’s view of time, it is easy to look at ruins over two thousand years old and think of them as “more recent history.” That being said, it didn’t take long for us to snap out of this “geology” frame of mind and marvel at how impressive it was for people to have built the Parthenon without modern equipment in less than ten years. Athens is one of the few places where you can walk through a museum and recognize multiple artifacts from history textbooks. While this trip has been very productive and fun, I think everyone in our class is ready to enjoy the last week of spring term back in Lexington.
After seven tiring days driving along Crete’s back roads in search of different “road cuts,” we ended our time in Crete by touring the ancient Minoan city of Knossos. It was incredible to see first-hand something I’ve only seen in middle school and high school history textbooks. The next day, we had our exam on the material we learned in Crete. While the exam was difficult and took several hours, it was one of the most enjoyable tests I’ve ever taken. This was because we were taking it overlooking Santorini’s caldera. Santorini is one of the best places in all of Greece to study various styles of volcanic eruptions.
While Santorini is incredibly beautiful, it is also crawling with cruise ship passengers during the daylight hours. Luckily for us, we were able to experience all that Santorini had to offer. We visited the archaeological site of Akrotiri that was only recently opened to the public. Akrotiri was likely a Minoan colony and is relatively well-preserved. It was buried and forgotten about in one of Santorini’s 12 major eruptions around 1,600 B.C. This eruption is widely considered to have caused the decline and eventual collapse of the Minoan civilization. Like Pompeii in 79 A.D., the eruption left the town relatively well-preserved. Paintings, sculptures and furniture have been all been recovered from the excavations. It was pretty neat seeing the oldest discovered toilet with plumbing. According to our tour guide, this technological advance was not rediscovered for another millennium!
I don’t want you to think that we haven’t been doing any geology. Today, we took a catamaran around Santorini to observe the various layers of volcanic material. It was very helpful seeing these layers, which represent different stages of individual eruptions and eruptive cycles, from a distance. One of the many perks of geology is getting to spend a significant amount of class time outdoors. The swimming, dinner, and sunset weren’t bad either! While Santorini has one main island, we still needed a van to visit certain outcrops, road cuts, and pumice quarries. Unfortunately our professor still hasn’t fully mastered stick-shift vehicles. That aside, Santorini has really help us all decompress from our busy time in Crete. Sadly, we can’t stay in Santorini forever. Tomorrow morning, we travel to the island of Naxos by ferry. Also sorry for the geology pun in the title. I couldn’t help myself!
I knew I wanted to study abroad at least once during my time at W&L. Going abroad for an entire semester as a geology major is possible, but not the easiest thing to accomplish. Luckily, the department offers a regional geology course every spring term. This year’s class is in Greece.
Before arriving in the Greece three days ago, my understanding of the country’s culture, history and geology were limited to our one-credit winter term seminar, Wikipedia, and articles about their ongoing national debt crisis. I can’t say I am surprised so far about the great weather, friendly people, food and beautiful scenery. The geology is a different story. While our winter term class was great for forming a basic impression of Greece’s geologic and tectonic history, seeing it first-hand in the field has been invaluable.
Our trip began three days ago in the city of Chania, on northwest coast of the island of Crete. Our days have been spent mostly traveling between different “roadcuts” (the “walls” of a earth exposed along roads from their construction) along the rural back roads of western Crete. These have helped us interpret Crete’s complex past. The dramatic scenery, narrow winding roads, and our unfamiliarity with standard transmissions have made these trips even more interesting. Because I want this post to strike a healthy balance between being informative and interesting to someone other than a geologist, I will spare you anything too specific about the geology.
One of the most interesting things we have seen so far is the remains of the ancient harbor town of Phalasarna. The archaeological site is important geologically because sea level is currently 20 feet below where it would have been when the docks were in operation. Since global sea level has remained relatively constant for the past two thousand years, the difference in elevations is most likely from the land uplifting. After consulting with historical writings, many geologists attributed this to at least one major earthquake near Crete in 365 AD that was likely at least a magnitude 8.5.
This morning, we leave Chania and drive east to the city of Rethymnon. While the last few days have been tiring (mostly due to jet lag), our island-hopping and probably the most exciting part of the trip begins soon. Hopefully next Friday I will have more to share. Also, Happy Labor Day!
This week started with the announcement of our group projects and presentations. Like any good spring term class, we were to present at the Spring Term Festival to share our findings to those in other classes, and those curious about our subject matter. My group decided to focus on sedimentation rates throughout history and their effects on the Chesapeake Bay and the oyster population. Our class has been focusing on the changes that humans have caused in the Chesapeake, and by studying sedimentation rates in 4 different time periods, we were able to pinpoint the unique challenges humans have brought to the water. What we found could be best summed up by the Pocahontas quote, “These white men are dangerous.” Native Americans had created a perfect balance with the land by only fishing what they needed and sticking to small scale agriculture, keeping the biodiversity and clarity of the water. When the settlers came in, they started deforesting the land and introducing non-native species in order to further agriculture. This led to the elimination of buffers, allowing sediment to freely enter the water. As time progressed, so did technology, and new methods of fishing and farming created even more pollution in the Bay and the partial obliteration of the oyster population. Now the Chesapeake Bay waters are cloudy, full of dead zones, and impaired to the point where full recovery seems unlikely, even impossible.
Luckily, classes and projects like this exist with the goal of educating people about these problems in order to make sure that we can take steps to solve them. Maryland and Virginia have already started passing legislation restricting fertilizer use and creating buffer zones to limit sediment going into the Bay. People help raise oysters to be put into the Bay in order to clean it through their filter feeding, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has started a Clean the Bay Day, where people help filter excess sediment in order to speed up recovery efforts.
There was really no better way to spend my Spring Term. I was able to learn more about the Chesapeake Bay and travel around Virginia in a way I wouldn’t have been able to during any other part of the school year. Geology rocks.
I consider myself an indoor person most of the time. I do enjoy nature, but I like the benefits of air conditioning even more. Last week we took a two-day field trip to go digging for fossils and camp in Westmoreland State Park. While the fossil-hunting wasn’t as successful as I wanted it to be (the Karenosaurus will not be in existence), I did find a mako shark tooth, and there were plenty of ancient shells and bones found by walking on the beaches. The views were beautiful as well, with the sandy beaches of the Chesapeake connecting to gorgeous cliffs.
Once we arrived at the campsite, the real fun began. After three tries, I was successfully able to set up the tent with my group, and we prepared and cooked the kebobs for the dinner leading into scary stories by the fire and s’mores. The next morning was a blur of bacon, eggs and breaking down camp, but we were rewarded with lunch on the beach, where warm sand helped alleviate the pain of sleeping on gravel.
This week we stayed in D.C. the whole week. Washington, D.C. is my favorite city and I love going back every time. We started our week off in the Smithsonian Museum of American History, focusing on an exhibit of America’s use of waterways. The exhibit explained how Americans have been using the Bay for centuries, and how they depended on the Bay and its “protein factor” for their livelihood. The exhibit then explained some of the negative impacts that humans have had not only on the Bay, but on other famous waterways as well. It called for more environmental protection and awareness, exactly what we had been talking about in class.
Wednesday was our trip to an actual archaeological site on the Bay. The site is owned and operated by the Smithsonian, and our class got to see three different areas. The first site focused on prehistoric peoples and their relationship with the oyster population at that time. These peoples lived off of the Chesapeake Bay and put their trash all together in a structure called a midden. Through these middens, researchers can see what they were eating, how much, and when. Our guide took us along a trail explaining the different middens, and how through their research, they’ve discovered how much the oyster population has declined and how the water has suffered. The second site was more of what you’d expect in archaeology. Some scientists had found the remnants of a plantation and were excavating to find our its historical and ecological significance. The owners of the plantation had actually introduced many non-native species into the environment, and the pollen remains could still be found over a hundred years later. This family also highlighted the differences in living styles at the time, as their trash and anthropological leftovers were extremely different from that of the slave house, as is normally expected. There was also a flurry of activity in another nearby house/excavation site that was felt throughout the area with their agricultural changes and general adjustments to the land itself.
On Thursday, our class was lucky enough to go to the off-site storage facility owned by the Smithsonian. Anything that doesn’t fit in the actual Smithsonian Museums is sent to this facility to be put in one of five pods. Among their collection is Sitting Bull’s Winchester, used at Custer’s Last Stand in the Battle of Little Bighorn, an elephant killed by Teddy Roosevelt, a Tokugawa era bridal carrier, and an Olmec head. After being escorted around, we finished with a presentation on rising sea levels around the planet and the plight of the Chesapeake Bay oysters. The presenter was incredibly informative, as her research spans globally, studying just how much glaciers have been melting and changing the oceans. We then made a trip downtown to visit a lobbyist who works for CCL, a grassroots movement focused on getting citizens to talk to their congressmen about addressing climate change.
Friday was our final day in Washington. The last day consisted of a trip to the Museum of Natural History, one of my personal favorites. Their ocean exhibit always makes me feel grateful that enormous ancient marine predators did not share the Earth at the same time I did. We were told to focus on exhibits that explain how humans have affected the natural environment through pollution, erosion, and the introduction of non-native species; there were more than enough examples. The best part of this trip was seeing how much I had been able to learn over these past 2 weeks. In a true testament to liberal arts education, a group of non-majors were able to descend upon important geological and archaeological sites, understand the significance of everything, and look at D.C through new eyes.
As an Economics and Global Politics double major, I can safely say that I am not a “science person.” I’ve always been fascinated by scientists and admired their work, but knew that as soon as I was put in a lab, I would find someway to mess up the results. One of the best parts of W&L is our four-week Spring Term, where we can study intensively in a subject we might have not known about. I took this Spring Term opportunity to learn more about the Chesapeake Bay.
Being from Michigan, I’m constantly surrounded by water, but the Chesapeake Bay offers a different take on ecological history and the different problems facing the Bay. Last week we took a (rainy) trip to the Dismal Swamp, and our Professors Jill Leonard-Pingel and Euan Mitchell told us that no matter how lush the swamp looks now, it is nothing compared to its pre-logging days. Almost all of the current vegetation represented second growth as a result of restoration efforts. We also spent some time at the Brock Environmental Center, one of the homes of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and part of the Save The Bay movement. They helped educate the class on being greener and how to help clean up the Bay.
In this class we’ve mainly been focusing on the plight of the oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, and how their populations have declined due to both anthropological and environmental reasons. John Smith writes in his Chesapeake Bay expedition notes that the oyster reefs represented a boating hazard because they were so large and numerous. Oysters were commonly sent back to England as a sign of the colony’s success and potential wealth. During the Industrial Revolution, dumping waste became more and more common along the Bay, and technological advancements made dredging a more common way to fish oysters. This led to an exponential decay both in the oyster population and the cleanliness of the water. Oysters are important to the Bay because they are able to filter the water and preserve the environment. The majority of the water in the Bay has little to no oxygen (anoxia and hypoxia), making it hard for anything to survive and creating algal blooms that allow little to no light to enter the water. By being in this class and learning about the different dangers affecting the Bay has made me realize that everyone can use their different knowledge to solve the problem from different angles, like new technological innovations or governmental regulation. There’s still hope for the Bay and for future generations of oysters, and education is the first step.
On the last day of our trip to the accounting “motherland,” we visited the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) near Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan.
We were graciously welcomed to the PCAOB—when we arrived, there were legal pads, pens and bottles of water at each of our seats. Note-taking had never been made so easy, and it’s a good thing because we had a lot to learn. A panel of three PCAOB inspection team members showed us a video that detailed the formation of the PCAOB. The PCAOB was established in reaction to accounting scandals in the early 2000s and the subsequent passing of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
The panelists told us about their day-to-day work—inspecting the auditing practices of accounting firms. I was surprised to learn that the PCAOB covers such a large range of firms. One day, inspectors could be in the boardroom of a downtown office building, meeting with firm partners and industry specialists. On the next day, they could be perched on a sofa in the basement of a house in Brooklyn, reviewing the audits done by a small firm.
Our session with the PCAOB was the most interactive of the trip. The presentation quickly turned into an open discussion with the panelists, as each of our questions sparked another. As W&L students, this type of environment was most natural to us. It seemed like the PCAOB members were pleasantly surprised by the interest we took in their work.
One interesting question fielded by the panel was, “Why leave a job at a large accounting firm to join the PCAOB?” The responding panelist talked about the advantages of being away from the client service side of things. He liked how this allowed him to focus solely on accounting issues, without having to worry about selling business or satisfying clients. Additionally, all of the panelists talked about the better work/life balance they had found at the PCAOB. One member jokingly chimed in, “We’re not in it for the loot.”
We left the office with an understanding and appreciation of the important role the PCAOB plays in ensuring the integrity of auditing practices and protecting investors.
After grabbing a quick bite at the nearest Chipotle (an establishment revered by most W&L students), we hopped on the bus and headed south for Lexington. As I close this entry, I would like to formally thank Professor Irani for organizing this trip, and for putting up with our endless shenanigans.
Most of my spring term class, Contemporary Cases in Financial Accounting, takes place on campus, but we are enjoying a brief trip to Connecticut and New York, where we’re visiting with various professionals involved in the accounting standard-setting process.
After a good night’s rest in the posh Hotel Zero Degrees in Norwalk, Connecticut, we were eager to begin our visits. All of us dressed up for the visits, and I think we turned a few heads as we filed onto the bus.
The day began with a visit to the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) headquarters. Upon arrival, Professor Irani remarked, “The Motherland.” This was a funny yet appropriate comment, as most of our accounting education thus far has been rooted in the standards set by the FASB.
At headquarters, we sat in on a board meeting in which the board and staff were discussing proposed changes to the presentation of certain items on the income statement. We were simultaneously reassured and overwhelmed by the fact that so much attention is applied to the minutest details. For the entire time we were in the room, the board was engaged in intense deliberation over the definition of “infrequent” and its implications for financial statement users.
After the board meeting, FASB staff members shared more information about the standard-setting process. They talked about their recent work to change the revenue recognition standard, and walked us through some of the grey areas of “collectability.” Collectability is part of the requirement to recognize revenue, and the staff used this example to illustrate how FASB and its constituents go back and forth to iron out issues in the standard-setting process.
Next, two gentlemen from the FASB Post-Grad Technical Assistant (PTA) Program came in to talk to us about their experiences at the FASB. They went over the process for becoming a PTA, which was extremely helpful. It was interesting to learn that college graduates can become part of the FASB team right out of school.
Soon thereafter, we hopped on the bus and made the quick drive to Stamford, Connecticut, where we grabbed lunch and headed to Deloitte’s national office. We met with a W&L alum, Rob Moynihan ’02, and one of his colleagues. They discussed Deloitte’s stake in the standard-setting process, and highlighted the importance of weighing input from the Big Four accounting firms. They are the ones who implement the standards everyday in practice.
We were all relieved when Rob told us about the “Technical Practice Aids” provided by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). The aids help to fill in some of the blanks in the standard, and supplement the sometimes-vague guidance in the FASB codification. We would have loved to have the aids last week in class when we were combing through the codification, searching for solutions to real-life accounting brain-busters with Professor Irani.
It seems like yesterday that we were arriving in Siena, and it is already time for my final blog post! Just like the two previous weeks, this week was jam-packed with lectures, field trips and cooking lessons. Lella has taught us even more traditional Tuscan recipes that I’m excited to try out once I get home. However, I’ll probably need a good two weeks before looking at Italian food again. We had the opportunity to visit an artisanal cheese maker on one of our day trips. It was one of the coolest and smelliest things I have ever experienced. We had to wear booties to protect our shoes from the cheese water. We then journeyed to Fattoria Poggio Alloro, a agrotourismo farm with the most breathtaking view of the Tuscan countryside. While there, we toured the facility’s vineyard and saw the farm animals. Of course, the trip wouldn’t have been complete without another phenomenal meal. On our way back, we were able to go into the town, San Gimignano. The small city was full of old towers, and Pip, our IES coordinator, gave us a fascinating tour of their duomo. On Thursday, we were able to see science and cooking combine in a molecular gastronomy class. We used liquid nitrogen to make several dishes and even smash frozen roses.
This week we had a three-day weekend and took the opportunity to visit Rome! We did our best to see as much of the city as possible, and needless to say, our feet are sore. We were able to take a tour of the Colosseum at night and go underground. It was really cool to learn all the history and see the Wonder of the World with about 100 people instead of the usual 60,000 people who visit during the day. This, along with a trip to the Vatican, were definitely my favorite parts. We also made our wishes in the Trevi Fountain, even though it’s currently under construction.
In our final week we will be focusing on our final projects, in which we create our own food-related experiment. I’m excited to put all of the knowledge I’ve gained into one final product. Throughout our trip, we have been fortunate to visit so many places and learn so much more than I could ever cover in this blog. This was made possible from the generosity of Jamie Small and the Jockey John Robinson Endowed First Year Seminar Grant, which allowed us to take the trip as first-year students and see so much more while in Italy. On behalf of the entire class, I would like to thank Mr. Small for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I would also like to thank Professor France and IES for putting together such an amazing month of fun and science.
This course will be offered again next Spring Term for all class years and I highly encourage everyone to consider taking it. You’ll eat more food and learn more science then you can ever imagine.
Thank you for reading and I’ll see you in America!
What a whirlwind this week has been! It is so hard to believe that our time here is almost halfway over. This past weekend we traveled to Florence, about an hour’s bus ride from Siena, to attend an international gelato festival. We climbed all the way to the top of the Piazza del Michelangelo to experience some of the world’s best frozen treats. We each had six cups of gelato, including Nutella flavored, and voted for our favorite. We rushed back to our bus happily stuffed. We were able to follow up this experience with a tour of a local gelateria. We learned the process of making gelato with fresh ingredients and were able to apply the chemistry we have learned with Professor France. We all have said we need a break from gelato, but each night you’ll still find us buying another scoop. We even celebrated Professor France’s birthday with some gelato on the Piazza Del Campo. I think I have decided my favorite flavor is stracciatella, which is basically chocolate chip – only better.
My favorite event this week was our day trip to Valdorcia through the Tuscan countryside. We loaded a private bus early in the morning and made stops to a coffee roaster, an olive oil production site, and a honey farm. At the coffee roaster, we were able to taste freshly roasted and brewed espresso, which definitely had us buzzing the rest of the day. The olive oil site focuses on agriturismo, meaning they are a farm that must produce at least 60% of the food that they serve in their restaurant. After we were shown a one-thousand-year-old olive tree, we sat down for a five-course meal with their fresh ingredients. Lunch included an antipasto plate, two types of pasta, a meat course, dessert, and of course, lots of their delicious olive oil. We each left with one of their signature bottles of extra virgin olive oil.
If any of you have seen the Bee Movie with Jerry Seinfeld, please let me inform you that it is all a lie. At the honey farm, we learned all about bees and honey production. One of our students actually keeps bees and was able to clarify some information that was hard to translate. We tasted many types of honey, and the group seemed to really like the honey made from pollen of the lime tree. We all bought our favorite honeys before getting back on the bus to return to Siena.
We have had lectures this week on coffee and tea, breads and baked goods. These continue to embrace chemistry in a creative way and complement our tours perfectly. Professor France also does a wonderful job of making lecture interesting, with funny clip art and food samples. Lella, our cooking instructor, has taught us how to make even more delicious meals, including the best lasagna I have ever had (sorry, mom). This weekend I am planning to stay in Siena to explore the city, work on our lab reports, and plan our trip to Rome next weekend. I am basically planning the trip around the Lizzie McGuire Movie. Each day here has brought new experiences, and I can’t wait to see what is next!
A car, three planes, a bus and a taxi later, I made it to beautiful Siena, Italy in almost one piece. We have been in our temporary home for only a few days, but things are already in full swing. While the weather hasn’t been very Instagram-worthy, we have not let that stop us from taking full advantage of the city and all this Spring Term Abroad has to offer. My raincoat got great use as we did a walking tour the first night here, ending with a delicious four-course dinner with our IES coordinator, Pip.
We learn about food, we make food, and we eat food. We have already had three lectures with Professor France on the science behind food, covering eggs, cheese and fruits and vegetables. These lectures give us the background information needed to understand the chemical processes we explore during our cooking lessons and field trips. A big theme this week has been pasta. Fun fact: Siena is known for their pici pasta, and I now know how to make it! Our first full day here we met Lela, our cooking instructor, and she taught us how to make our first four-course meal. During the lesson, I was able to make the sauce that went over the pici each of us prepared by hand. This was definitely a struggle for some of us! However, some thought their noodles were molto bene. I could write an entire blog on just the food we consume during this class, but trust me–it was all absolutely delicious.
On Wednesday we got to visit a local pasta factory, Mundo Del Pasta. They are locally owned and supply many of Tuscany’s restaurants with pasta. They are even being highlighted in the 2015 Milan Expo. We were shown how pici, ravioli and several other homemade pastas were created. They allowed us to taste the different noodles and sent us on our way with ingredients for a progressive dinner. On each adventure we go on, Professor France is there to explain the chemical processes that allow the creation of the foods we are seeing.
For dinner Wednesday, we had pizza on the Piazza Del Campo, which is in the center of Siena. The piazza has been very useful for me in finding my way around, as I have no sense of direction. We are doing our best to assimilate into the Italian lifestyle, which has translated to consuming an overabundance of espresso and gelato. This weekend we plan to attend a gelato festival in Florence and explore the city. Be sure to read next week’s blog to hear about that and the other amazing things that we learn and EAT abroad!
The onset of SOL testing during our final week at Falling Creek has brought those of us placed at the middle school a slight alteration to the schedule. Over the next three weeks, the students and teachers will wrap up the testing frenzy in a final assessment of their academic preparation and endurance. Scores will be used to measure the school’s achievement, compare Falling Creek to other schools throughout the district and determine the effectiveness of new academic strategies and initiatives. It’s a high-stakes time, and the administration’s actions reflect this.
All students must be silent in the hallways between classes. Some blocks are shortened while others are elongated to accommodate the exams. Students must eat lunch during second block in the classroom instead of in the cafeteria. Students may not leave the classroom during the blocks. It sounds ideal — common sense really. It seems intuitive that such actions create a quiet, respectful testing environment for the students taking exams. But I can tell you that it’s a whole lot harder to implement than it sounds.
Mrs. Warfield’s third-block class is a co-taught C-level (general level) class, and trying to get them to walk silently in a straight line to the cafeteria to get their lunches was like herding sheep. “No, Tiana, close your locker, now is not the time for that.” “I need you to sit here quietly while the rest of the students get their lunches.” “No, I don’t want your crackers.” “We do not use that language in school.” I felt like I was being a bit negative with the students today, but asking nicely for students to follow the rules lost its impact late last week as my “newness” began to fade.
Tuesday night was an awesome opportunity for some of the W&L students to learn about the immigrant community in Chesterfield County through a program offered by the school on family reunification. It featured activities for ESOL students and their parents, including a thematic film screening, breakout sessions and discussions. In reflection, Bri Shaw commented that one of the questions posed to the students was “What advice do you have for parents who will be reunited with their children?” And student simply responded, “Get to know us.” One parent in attendance had moved to Chesterfield to start a life for her family twelve years ago and her son had only arrived to join her one year ago. He is thirteen years old.
Despite the students that constantly play games on their Chromebooks, the school policies that frustrate me, and the early, early mornings, I’m really grateful to have had the opportunity to take this class. I’m going to miss many things: the teachers in the sixth grade social studies professional learning community and the support the give each other, the students that give me hugs when they see me, the discussions I’m able to have with the students that really care about learning and history, and the reward of seeing a student who acts like he doesn’t care actually completing an assignment. It’s been an adventure, but a good one for sure!
The kids ask me, “Miss Alison, how old are you?” or “Are you her [Mrs. Warfield’s] daughter?” or “Why aren’t you in school?” The teachers ask, “So are you observing or student teaching?” The employees ask, “How are you enjoying your time?” or “Who are you subbing for?” And I ask, “What do you need me to do?”
In the beginning, there seemed to be a general misunderstanding about who I was. Half of the people I encountered thought I was a substitute teacher (something Chesterfield District seems to be short on), and the other half thought I was a student teacher. It was almost as tough to explain to the adults as it was to explain to the students that I am here to learn.
As I begin my sixth day in the classroom, perhaps the most significant thing I’ve learned is how education is impacted by community, family and personal life, and how our age-grade system disservices students. It’s an enormous challenge to keep some of the kids on task, to get them to turn in work, and to put effort into tests and assignments. From time to time, the teacher I work with will inform me, “She experiences significant peer pressure from some of the mean girls,” “He has some anger problems; his parents’ relationship is abusive,” “He just got out of juvie and isn’t very well adjusted to the classroom yet,” or “He doesn’t get much to eat at home.” From students who just crossed the border from Mexico a few weeks ago to students who don’t have shoes to wear to school, so many of the students we are working with have home lives incredibly adverse to education and learning.
Additionally, so many of these students do not have the skills to study at the level the SOL mandates. Reading, for example, keeps many students from not only attaining proficiency in the language arts, but in math, history and science as well. A teacher at a team meeting I attended said that she can tell some of her students understand the math concepts, yet they can’t perform on an exam with word problems because they can’t read the questions.
It’s tough to be in this classroom surrounded by so many students facing so many challenges, knowing that there is little I can do besides what Mrs. Warfield asks of me and saying, “Is that what you’re supposed to be doing right now?” when the kids start playing games on their Chromebooks. But it’s gratifying to know that the teachers are appreciative to have an extra set of hands in the classroom.
Falling Creek Elementary and Middle School are not quite as they appear. The drive to school winds through a quaint, wooded residential neighborhood; “urban” was not the first word that came to mind when we arrived for our first visit yesterday.
After a long day of driving, visiting the Chesterfield School District’s main offices, meeting the teachers we will be working with at the elementary and middle schools, and socializing with our gracious alumni hosts, I woke up Tuesday morning feeling like I could have used another ten hours of sleep. But excited for my “first day of school,” I dragged myself out of bed and eventually into the sixth grade social studies classroom I will be in for the next three weeks.
As a Title I school, Falling Creek receives grant money which they recently used to purchase Chromebooks for all of their middle school students. The learning environment that this creates is new to me, as even my high school did not allow students to have any sort of technology in the classroom. Mrs. Warfield’s lesson for the day involved using the program “Story Jumper” to create a virtual picture book about the abolition and suffrage movements in America. The administrators and teachers we talked to yesterday told us that our familiarity with technology would be appreciated by our classrooms, but I felt that I was of little help in the beginning, as I had never even heard of the program! By fourth block, though, I had picked it up pretty well, and thanks to the nature of the block schedule, I’ll be able to use my new knowledge to help the students learn the program more efficiently tomorrow.
When we broke for lunch, Mrs. Warfield told me that when she was student teaching, she was told not to listen to “teacher talk,” or the gossip of the teacher’s lounge. But I found it to be valuable insight into the school environment. I was told that you have to have a real passion for teaching to teach at a school like Falling Creek. The kids are a challenge to teach and the Title I status along with the SOL curriculum puts tremendous emphasis on test scores, which is stressful for both students and teachers. I was also informed of a recent incident involving a student bringing a weapon to school and the security measures being taken in light of this. Being from rural New Jersey, my first experience in an urban school occurred just last week on the Nabors Service Trip in Baltimore. I am both excited and curious about how I will adjust to this new environment and what new understandings I will take away.
Saturday morning we all hopped on a train to the Baltic coastal city of Gdańsk for the weekend. It was only a three-hour train ride, so we arrived early afternoon. We stopped by a traditional Polish restaurant to eat, where I got a sampler platter of buckwheat and potato pancakes, a common Polish meal. Other students on the trip got pierogi and two even shared a large meat platter, all very typical Polish foods. After lunch we met up with our tour guide and headed to the Solidarity museum next to our hotel.
The Solidarity movement began in the shipyards of Gdańsk as a series of strikes fighting for free trade unions under communist rule. After a decade of peaceful protest, Solidarity succeeded in helping transition Poland into a democratic country. The museum was absolutely beautiful. It was particularly funny when Professor Jasiewicz pointed out three featured men on a display and said that one was his classmate and the other two were his professors (this kind of thing happens a lot with him). After the museum, we embarked on a walking tour of the largest port city on the Baltic.
Like most of the large cities in Poland, Gdańsk was almost completely leveled during World War II, so much of what exists there now is reconstructed. However, like in the Old Town of Warsaw, the buildings were rebuilt as reconstructions of their pre-war facades. Walking through the streets was almost dream-like. We could hear “Con Te Partiro (Time to Say Goodbye)” coming from street performers’ violins as we looked at the view over the river (the picture included in this blog). We also saw people walking around in traditional French military uniforms and Viking regalia for reasons we were unable to discover. It was quite an interesting experience.
The following day we took a short journey to the resort city of Sopot. We got to have free time here, so we all walked on the board walk and got to explore a touristy pirate ship. We spent time on the beach and made sure to touch the Baltic, even though it wasn’t very warm. Afterwards, we went to the Grand Hotel on the beach for warm drinks and had the best hot chocolate of our lives. We ate lunch at a beachside restaurant, looking over the Baltic Sea. The town was so beautiful and peaceful; it was a nice change from the metropolitan atmosphere of Warsaw.
Our last day of class is on Tuesday, and our final papers are due Thursday. After that, our group will be off to Prague for the weekend and then homebound on Sunday! We have all had a fantastic time here and have learned so much. Thanks for following my blog, and I hope you have enjoyed getting a glimpse of our adventures in Polska!
Hello again! I have decided to make this post a little different. Because we only have seven students on this trip and we have all gotten pretty close, I have chosen to formulate this post based on quotes from each of them:
Diem Tran: “I’m voting for Duda”
This past Sunday we took a journey with Professor Jasiewicz to visit a polling site and watch him vote in the Polish presidential elections. All seven of us lined up against the wall of the polling room quietly as Professor Jasiewicz marked his paper ballot. We had seen campaign posters all around town, of which Duda’s were the most aesthetically appealing (hence Diem’s joking quote). Poland, a democratic country, differs greatly from America in many ways. For example they have both a President and a Prime Minister. The President also has to win in a majority vote, so more often than not there is a runoff between the top two candidates two weeks later. There was actually an upset in the elections during this round, and Duda gained more votes than the incumbent, so we are all looking forward to the results of the runoff.
Maddi Boireau: “I will always remember the White Eagle.”
Nancy Lu: “Say something about the partitions.”
We have gone on so many tours that we feel we are really getting the hang of Polish history. For example, all of them mention that the White Eagle is the symbol of Poland. Also, usually the guides say something about the partitions, referring to the time when Poland did not exist as a country because three of its neighbors took it over. It is definitely cool to really feel like we are understanding the country in which we have spent the last two weeks. Poland has a very interesting history, and we see remnants of it everywhere we go.
Drew Teitelbaum: “At this point, I know the Polish Royal family’s history better than my own family history.”
Emily Zavrel: “We’ve visited four royal palaces so far, so I’m confident in telling you that Polish kings (and lady kings) had it made.”
This past weekend we visited more royal palaces than I knew existed in all of Poland. Poland has a monarchical history, but they elected their kings. They even had women rule as Lady Kings. In each palace we had a guided tour, something that really helped us get the most out of each visit. The Polish monarchs definitely had good taste in décor, as these residences are some of the most beautiful structures I have ever seen. Unfortunately, so much of Warsaw was destroyed during WWII that many of the palaces had to be reconstructed. Some were saved, however, due to the fact that they served as Nazi headquarters during occupation.
Conor: “They say Hera is the Versailles of Spacerowa”
Our hotel is called Hera and our bus stop is Spacerowa. Polish is a very difficult language, so the only words we have mastered are “przepraszam” (excuse me/I’m sorry), “dziękuję” (thank you) and “przystanek Spacerowa” (the name of our bus stop). Lucky for us, we haven’t gotten lost and have had a fairly easy time returning to our hotel after exploring the city. Not many people speak English in Warsaw, however, so when we’re on our own we have to leave communication up to lots of gestures.
We are all having a great time in Warsaw. This weekend we are taking a trip to the coastal city of Gdańsk, something I’m greatly looking forward to.
Until next time…
Hello from Warsaw! It has been a very long few days for all of us, as we spent the long holiday weekend in Krakow. Just a two-and-a-half hour train ride away, we left Friday morning and returned Monday afternoon. During those three days, however, we were practically nonstop.
After we settled in at our hotel only a quarter of a mile from old town Krakow, we headed to a nice Polish restaurant for lunch. None of us had ever seen portion sizes as large as they have in this country. We leave every meal stuffed to the brim. After fully gorging ourselves on some Polish cuisine (i.e. meat, cheese and bread in various forms), we left for our three-hour walking tour of Krakow. Krakow is a beautiful, medieval city, practically untouched by World War II. Warsaw, in contrast, was flattened during the war, so all of the buildings are fairly new.
Our Friday tour covered the old town, now a heavy tourist area with kabob stands and nightclubs mixed in among the 13th century churches and market squares. On Saturday we walked around the city all day, touring the royal castle, churches and the Jewish Quarter, including Schindler’s factory. Krakow has a bittersweet history, filled with the kings of the past, the beloved Pope John Paul II, the Jewish ghettos of Nazi occupation and remnants of the Communist era.
Sunday was filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows. We began the morning with the 45 minutes drive to Auschwitz concentration camp. Walking through the gates sent shivers down our spines as we saw the notorious words, “Arbeit Macht Frei,”or “Work Sets you Free.” Our three-hour tour took us through the original barracks, gas chambers crematorium and exhibits. One room had only a small hallway to walk in, as the rest of it was filled floor to ceiling with the shoes of those the Nazis murdered in Auschwitz. Another room was filled with the hair of the women who entered the camp that the Nazis collected to send to Germany for reuse. The last hour of the tour took us to Birkenau, the much larger concentration/extermination camp part of the Auschwitz compound a couple of kilometers away. Walking over the train tracks where over a million innocent people were herded like cattle to their death was simultaneously nauseating and sobering. I would saw that this experience was one of the most amazing and important experiences I have ever had.
The second half of the day we visited a salt mine. We were all pretty solemn from the morning events, and did not know what to expect. Our guide told us that we would be 300 feet underground for the next two hours, and we all looked at each other like, “Oh no, what are we getting ourselves into?” This ended up being one of the coolest places I have ever been! The mine is filled with tunnels, exhibits, statues, and chapels, all carved out of salt rock. Also, our guide was hilarious. We walked into the largest chapel, complete with chandeliers made out of salt rock, with our jaws on the floor. It was like an underground city entirely made out of salt!
We all loved Krakow and learned so much during the course of the weekend. I’m glad to be back in Warsaw, however, and to slow things down and get back to a routine. As I write, this I look out of our hotel balcony onto Lazienki Park. I run through it in the mornings and take in all of the beautiful lakes, palaces, peacocks and tulips. I look forward to learning more about this historic city. Until next time!
For those unfamiliar with the word, “flâneur” in French refers to a wanderer, a stroller, or someone who meanders through life without a predetermined destination. My knowledge of the flâneur lifestyle began when we read a book on the subject during winter term. The book (titled The Flâneur, by Edmund White) was assigned to introduce us to one of the most traditional lifestyles that continues to be practiced by many Parisians today. Reading about flânerie certainly got me interested in putting the concept into practice. Over the past three weeks that I’ve been living in Paris, I’ve tried my best to channel my inner flâneur as often as possible. We have lots of scheduled class meetings and group activities, but outside of these, we are free to explore Paris at our leisure. One of my favorite things to do is to take the Metro to a neighborhood that I have not yet visited. Usually, I pick one that I’ve heard my classmates talk about, so that I know there will be interesting things to do and see once I arrive. But I never try to have any plans set in stone. One of my favorite afternoons so far was when I spent some time walking through the circling paths of the Luxembourg Gardens by myself. Now, I know that this may sound like a lonely way to spend one’s time, but the whole concept of flânerie is to explore the world on your own, in silence, with no outside distractions. It’s about walking through life with your eyes wide open and your head on a slow — yet constant — swivel. While I love sharing my time here with my classmates, there is also something to be said about taking in the beautiful city of Paris on your own terms.
This week, one of our class assignments was actually to go on a flâneur adventure to any destination that we wanted. Seeing as this is what I’ve been trying to do all term, I was overjoyed by the task! For my solo excursion, I chose to wander through the Madeleine area in the eighth arrondissement. It was an area I had not seen yet, and boy, was it eye opening. Every shop in the Madeleine area is either a high-end designer clothing store or a gorgeous restaurant or café. The people who work in this area are all very professional, and I was fascinated to watch them hustle to and fro in their finely tailored suits and lovely satin scarves. This was a side of Paris I may have never seen had it not been for our flâneur project, and I’m grateful for the exposure it gave me to yet another incredible part of this city. With only one week to go, I’ve made it my personal goal to say I’ve seen the entire city of Paris in just four short weeks. Let the flâneur games begin.
I’ve never been so happy to feel this tired. Over the past week-and-a-half, my classmates and I traversed all around Paris, visiting various monuments and museums as well as exploring a number of the city’s neighborhoods. Perhaps my favorite place that we’ve visited as a group so far is the Père Lachaise Cemetery. The largest cemetery in Paris, Père Lachaise is home to a number of world-famous writers, musicians, poets and resistance fighters. Our professor led us on a walking tour of the burial grounds, and along the way we were able to visit the graves of two highly acclaimed writers: Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein. Although I’m not as familiar with Wilde, I have discussed the work of Gertrude Stein in a number of my English classes both at W&L and in high school. To stand at her tombstone and think about all she accomplished during her career was both a chilling and incredible experience. In addition to being the final resting place of so many illustrious people, Père Lachaise also distinguishes itself as one of the most ornate and grandiose cemeteries in existence. Each tombstone is not only large in stature, but also designed so intricately that it memorializes the persons buried below in a unique way.
While our cemetery tour was my favorite class activity, I think the most exciting visit was one that I made on my own with a friend. We went to the Louvre, one of the world’s largest art museums and one of the main attractions in all of Paris. The Louvre is daunting to anyone who makes a visit. The sheer size of the building and the expanse of the collection of art inside requires you to spend nearly an entire day there if you want to see it all. We started of our trip with an obligatory visit to the Mona Lisa. Next, we made our way through the Louvre’s many hallways and levels, taking in art from the 19th century all the way back to the 15th century. After four hours, however, our energy had dwindled. Down the flights of stairs we went, retracing our steps back through time and passing all of the centuries-old paintings we’d spent our morning gawking at. Just as we turned the final corner on our way to the exit, my friend let out a gasp. Right on the wall in front of us was a plaque bearing a name and a city all too familiar to us both: “Cy Twombly, born in 1928 at Lexington, Virginia, U.S.A.”
Stunned, we entered the room to observe the mural on the ceiling that Mr. Twombly had painted. The two of us couldn’t believe it. Here, in the Louvre, a museum that nearly everyone on earth has heard of, lives a huge work of art by a man from the town we’ve called home for the last three years. As amazing as it is being away from home and learning about a new culture, I felt a ton of Generals pride and nostalgia for W&L in that moment. So let it be known, while studying in France is an incredibly different experience than studying in Virginia, a little piece of Lexington lives in the Louvre.
Greetings from the city of love! This term, I’m fortunate enough to spend the next four weeks traversing the streets of Paris, France. My classmates and I arrived over the weekend, and I feel like we haven’t slowed down since I stepped off the plane. I say this in good spirits, though — the excitement I feel about being in a foreign country keeps fueling me to wake up each morning with the goal of seeing as much as I can that day. On Monday night, our entire group of twenty-six students sat down at an authentic Parisian bistro for a welcome dinner, compliments of our professors and W&L Spring Term Abroad. It was a great way to bond with my fellow classmates and practice a little bit of my amateur French skills (the waiters and waitresses have all been very patient with us!)
One thing I’ve learned after only being here for a few days: Parisians love their bread. When my table went through its first basket of bread at dinner, another basket full of fresh slices seemed to appear instantly. I’ve eaten at a handful of cafés and even been to an outdoor food market since then, and bread is everywhere. It comes in all shapes and sizes: baguettes, croissants, filled-pastries—you name it. At first glance, all of these baked goods look familiar, much like the kinds of bread products you can find easily in the U.S. (think Panera). But after just one bite of my first chocolate-filled croissant, I understood why France is known for them. The exterior was delicate and flaky, while the interior was dense and almost chewy. It was still warm, hinting that it had been taken out of the oven just moments before. Since trying that first pastry, I now pause to observe the fine craftsmanship of every pastry that I see on display in the windows of Paris’ countless boulangeries. Each pastry is exquisitely decorated with colorful glazes or precisely placed fruit slices. No two pastries are identical, but they are all beautiful.
For me, this symbolizes a grander theme about the city of Paris. The effort that is put in to making the bread and pastries that are sold all over the city captures just how much pride Parisians seem to take in their work and in their livelihoods. Furthermore, the people of Paris — both past and present — appear to strongly believe in the value of aesthetics. I’ve been amazed by how ornate the city is, from its clean streets and lush parks and gardens to the way the Eiffel Tower sparkles when it’s lit up at night. I cannot wait to discover what other hidden beauties this city has to offer. When I wake up each morning during the next few weeks, I won’t know for certain what I will see that day. But I can say with confidence that whatever I witness while I’m studying in Paris will surely be unforgettable.