Well this is it. My flight from Sevilla departs in 36 hours from this very moment (down to the minute- talk about good timing). I can't believe it's here. The idea that I'm going home is still foreign to me. I've spent 4 months in the beautiful city, and I can't even put into words what my time here has meant to me, how it's changed me.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
When you go looking for Mordor you are bound to find yourself on the way. Frodo and Sam were certainly subject to this inevitability, but the final scene inside Mt. Doom lets linger a message of community— a need for loyal friends in dark, perilous times—rather than the moral of self-discovery. But, what if Frodo had to go it alone? What happens if he doesn’t rescue Sam from the river Anduin at the breaking of the fellowship and take him along on the quest? Can you imagine it? Maybe the LOTR (Lord of the Rings) would be the story of a singular hero. Maybe the job doesn’t get done at all. Nevertheless, Frodo and Sam do have each other and, with tears in our eyes at the close of the Return of the King, we recognize that a loyal companion makes all the difference in the end.
I recently played the role of Frodo-without-a-Sam for a week this Easter. My mission: Visit LOTR filming sites stretching from Auckland to Queenstown. That’s a drive of 1500 kilometers (935 miles) over sacred Middle Earth ground. Kicker: I did it alone.
I began my journey with a 7am flight to Wellington, with great excitement to re-explore my favorite NZ city. A friend made on the road provided lodging for the weekend, The Embassy theatre provided a screening of The Hobbit in HFR (48 frames per second!), and the city itself was in no short supply of coffee for early morning adventures and late-night kindle hours. Windy Wellington allowed me a visit to the forest, with the kind direction of two ladies, where Frodo and friends hid from the Black Rider in the Fellowship of the Ring. It was a nice walk indeed, but the spot itself had been beaten down by time, weather, and visitors like myself. With some disappointment and shortly before my flight I made stops at Weta Cave (the tourist portion of the CGI and props studio for LOTR) and Stone Street Studios (indoor film sets) before gliding into the starry Kiwi sky.
Now, I would like to tell you three stories from my journey, but you must know in doing so I will have to leave out many other details that are very worthy of telling, however, at another time and place. These three stories find their importance in both their prominence in the LOTR story and the effect they unwittingly exerted on me.
The true beginning of my Middle Earth trek began outside the small town of Matamata. On a sheep farm set in the hills and vales of the North Island sits the Shire, Hobbiton itself. I drove my campervan an hour from Auckland with a freshness that comes only with keys in the ignition, beginning a road trip. As I finished humming with the ode Concerning Hobbits, I pulled into the parking lot of what looked to be just another tourist-ridden, albeit certainly worthwhile New Zealand gem. It was tourist-laden, but soon enough that didn’t matter. Only the charm and subtlety of the Hobbit world was of any importance. After an hour lunch and a bumpy bus ride onto the actually property that served as the film set, we entered Hobbiton. For those of you who are new to LOTR—Hobbiton is home to Hobbits (as you could have guessed!) and serves as the departure point for Frodo and friends on their preliminary journey to Rivendell. Hobbiton is painted as a simple, unbothered home of rather agoraphobic little people called hobbits. Gardening, drinking, and social drama are hobbit occupations and they accomplish all three quite well in their hillside homes.
I feel as if I both lived at the film set for a year and only got to see a glimpse of it in a passing moment. We walked through Hobbiton village listening to our guide talk about Peter Jackson quirks and local knowledge, but the scene spoke for itself—maybe that accounts for the lack of questions we asked our guide. Anyway, it wasn’t long before I was standing in front of Bag End, Bilbo and Frodo’s iconic and lovely abode. Then, I caught up to the group after taking a panorama of Sam and Rosie’s two-doored hole. Across the bridge and into the Green Dragon we went for a half pint of ale. And that was it. The tour ended and I was left dreaming about feeling the Middle Earth sun on my face and visualizing the vegetable patch at the bottom of Bagshot Row.
Not long did I tarry in Matamata, for a long drive I had ahead of me. My next destination was Mordor, Mt. Doom—known in New Zealand as Mt. Ngauruhoe and the ever-famous Tongariro Crossing. This part of the trip was less romantic, more sweat, fog, and the eeriness that accompanies volcanoes. I hiked into Tongariro National Park early in the morning, walking toward a row of volcanoes shrouded by fog and tales told of a flying rock zone. My trip up to the Tongariro crossing was easy-going, passing by a group of mocking high-school boys and a trio of American outdoorswomen. My decision for a Mt. Doom summit bid was preceded by a short conversation with a couple at the base of the unmarked journey up. I remember saying, “A 3 hour trip, that seems generous”
The man replied, “That’s return trip. . . Mt. Doom, eh? I really want to get one of those lava rocks from the top, you know?”
My eyes fixed on the trail leading into the fog, and unintentionally snubbing his remark I ended with, “Well, here we go,” and I walked away from the only humans I would see in the next two hours.
The climb started gently, as all do I suppose, but quickly turned into a sandy, 45-degree haul that stayed true to its warning—“No marked path.” I was soon scrambling with feet and hands, using rock outcrops to gain ground when I wasn’t stopping for 30-second breathers. Higher I climbed, the fog stayed, and no summit was in sight. When I finally stopped for lunch, I heard sliding rocks and German being spoken from not too far off. Investigating, I climbed up a slope on my right, and sure enough ran into two German guys that gave me the good news that the summit was just a few minutes away. I scrapped the lunch plan and pushed for the top. Five minutes later I found myself standing on the edge of the summit crater of Mt. Doom looking into the foggy innards of the place where the ring of power was forged. It was only at this point that I congratulated myself on a hard-fought climb and, at the same time, become utterly and hilariously aware of my LOTR nerdiness. But, standing in the lifeless austerity of Mordor, I was completely ok with it. And that was that. And then I ate lunch. And then I ran down the volcano just like we all used to leap down those Lake Michigan sand dunes. Absolutely amazing.
A day after my stay in Mordor, I traveled to the filming site of Rivendell, known to the elves as Imladris and to the Kiwis as Upper Hutt (northernmost suburb of Wellington). The same location was used to film the river Isen, chief water supplier to Saruman’s fortress of Isengard. This locale was much less impressive than the previous two, but not so in my appreciation of it. I drank in the forest setting with the same mouth that has drunken from the stream in the woods behind my house in Indiana. In fact, the forest of Rivendell (actually Kaitoke Regional Park) reminded me much of home, touching the part of my heart that will be eternally a young boy in his forest kingdom.
I hope you can see what I saw. Obviously not with your eyes, but with your imagination and in your own tales of self-discovery. I found different pieces of myself along my journey, or rather merely read the words that were already inscribed on my soul—the part of me that surrenders to other-worldly charm, like a hobbit village set in a grassy hill; an awareness of my strange prerogatives and the volcanoes I will climb to pursue them (also quite a testament to my determination, I think! You would say so too if you saw that slope.); and a deep, abiding love for my home that, simply put, is who I am.
Hello all… Time is flying over here. I can’t believe my study abroad experience is almost over. With so little time left, I feel it is a perfect time to share and reflect on all the experiences I have had and all the places I have visited. Even though I have spent the majority of my time in the rainforest at the School for Field Studies center, we have had the opportunity to visit much of the surrounding area of North Queensland. Some of our trips were through the SFS program and some were off-program time trips.
We have been on two program trips. Our first trip was to Chillagoe, which was northwest of where the center is located. Chillagoe offered some scenery that we cannot see in the rainforest. It was a spot-on representation of what I pictured the Australian Outback would look like. The landscape was beautiful with the occasional kangaroo hopping across the savanna.
Our second program excursion was to the Daintree rainforest. This was north of Cairns along the coast. Daintree has some of the oldest rainforest in the world. The highlight of this trip was the abundance of wildlife that we spotted. We were able to see a 5 m saltwater crocodile in the Daintree River. We also were very fortunate to see a cassowary cross the road when we were driving through the rainforest.
However, my favorite trip was our mid-semester break to Magnetic Island. I spent five days on Maggie Island with a small group of the students from my program. We stayed at a hostel that was located on the beach. We spent the majority of the time hanging out at the beach and eating food at all the local pubs. We also went on a hike were we saw a koala foraging in the wild. However, my fondest memory of my time at Maggie Island was renting scooters. Almost everyone that I went with rented a scooter on our second to last day, and we ripped around the island in a giant scooter gang. Later that night, I went out with one of the other guys, and we went on a night ride. It is one of my most enjoyable memories of my time in Australia so far.
Though all these places are magnificently beautiful, these experiences would not have been even remotely as memorable without the people I enjoyed them with at the time. I was recently writing a postcard to send back home, and I was thinking about how fortunate I am to have such wonderful people in my life both at home and here in Australia. I realized that it is not so much where I go or what I am doing that is important and memorable to me, but who I am with and sharing the experience with at the time. I might someday forget the majority of the experiences that I have had here in Australia, but I will definitely remember all the people here at SFS. The community that has formed from complete strangers in just 3 months is incredible, and it saddens me that it will soon come to an end. However, my journey is still not over, and I plan on enjoying every last minute of it.
The Netherlands are amazing, and the Dutch lifestyle is exactly how I’ve wanted my life to be. I was so excited to come here and take on this healthy, cyclist’s paradise, and now that I have experienced it (for two months, at least) I can honestly say, I could live here forever. But, as always, it may be too good to be true. There are always pros and cons to every situation like this, so here are my pros and cons to living in the Netherlands:
Pros: I love that there are so few cars. Sure, there are some, but as most people know, the Dutch are known for cycling…everywhere. Their towns are built much more compactly, so it is easy to get around on bike. I can get to the grocery store in less than five minutes on my bike, and I’m slow compared to these Dutch bikers. This means I can go to the store more often than I would in the States; therefore I can get more fresh vegetables without them going bad. Let’s face it, one person cannot eat all those vegetables by the time they go bad. In the States, I normally go grocery shopping once a week because of the distance and hassle it causes me, so I can only get enough fresh produce for two or three days before it goes bad. Here I can go every day if I want to. If I feel like having stir-fry for dinner, I can go straight to the store and get whatever I need. And I don’t have to freeze my chicken anymore! I can just buy it, and cook it that night. Easy peasy!
Another pro is the relaxed, friendly, and welcoming attitude the Dutch have. Everyone is so friendly; and is not just willing to help you with whatever you need, but they want to! And they don’t find it bothersome to speak English because they all speak it so well.
The best pro of all? The laid back lifestyle. The Dutch, on average, work thirty hours a week, while in the U.S., many work over 40 hours a week, sometimes more at home even. The U.S. is known for being overly stressed and focused too much on their careers and competition. One would assume that after all this stress over working, the U.S. would have extremely high productivity. But the Dutch win again! The Netherlands has one of the highest productivity ratings in the world (Discovering the Dutch, 2010). How do they get more work done, working less hours than us? It’s no wonder Forbes, along with many other sites/magazines/business reviews, has rated the Netherlands in the top 5 happiest countries in the world, for several years in a row. Because of this low workload, the Dutch have more time to enjoy leisure time riding their bikes, playing “football”, and drinking coffee at a cafe in the middle of the day.
And now that I’ve proven (with sources, even) that the Netherlands is a great place to live, let me bring it back to reality. Here are the major cons (in my opinion): The first is obviously the lack of food choices. There are many things that I love in the U.S. (that may not be good for me, but I still love them), like pancakes, the American kind (or Canadian, if you want to get technical). I’m sick of these little crepes. I want some big, fluffy flapjacks smothered in MAPLE syrup. They have syrup here, but I don’t know what the flavor is…it is not good. Or good chocolate chip cookies. You won’t find Chips Ahoy here (except I have some because my Mom loves me so much). And they don’t even know what S’mores are! It’s sad. I am teaching them our superb eating habits, don’t worry.
Another con, not necessarily my opinion, but many of the other American students here are bothered by the shop hours. Stores, all stores, including grocery, are closed after 6pm Mon-Sat and all day every Sunday. I could see why this would be bothersome after having such a luxury as Walmart, but I just try to do my shopping before Sunday. However, this was a problem for me when I was not aware that Easter Monday is also celebrated here, and all the stores were closed both Sunday and Monday. A little warning would have been helpful. But it all worked out in the end.
And finally, the worst con of all, voted by all exchange students here is the weather. I never thought I could be so annoyed by weather. In fact, winter in Indiana is colder and snowier, so how could it be that bad? Well, at least when it snows in Indiana, there is sunlight. There is NO sunshine here. That’s not an exaggeration. I think since I’ve been here there has been three whole days that were sunny, and every other day there was either an hour of sun, then it went away, or no sun at all. The Dutch may have smaller work loads, but I don’t know how that keeps them so happy with this lack of sunlight. Not just that, but its like a wind tunnel here, every day, all day, constantly. The wind blows, on average, at 15-20 mph. Again, constantly. But let’s look on the bright side (no sunshine pun intended), it isn’t as cold as winter in Indiana, and not as hot as an Indiana summer. It is always spring. Except no sun…
Now that my rant is over, what do you think about the Netherlands? Is it as great as I think? Come visit and see for yourself! (maybe in the summer time, there’s slightly more sun then)
Thanks for reading!
P.S. look how much my mom loves me!
(Originally published 4/12)
PRAY! I knew being in Italy for Easter Week was going to be spectacular; however, what I actually experienced surpassed every expectation. Being a very Catholic country, I knew I was going to be visiting numerous chapels, basilicas and churches. In Rome alone, there are over 900 Catholic Churches! And I thought Madrid had a lot with 500! As a devout Catholic, I knew this was going to be one Holy Week and Easter that I would never forget. My Italian church experience began on Palm Sunday in Venice. After winding through narrow street after narrow street following hard to read signs directing us to San Marcos Basilica, the streets opened up into a huge piazza(plaza) with the Basilica as the centerpiece. It was so refreshing to be out in open air and see the gorgeous Basilica welcoming the thousands of tourists. Because we were going to Mass, we didn’t have to wait in the visiting line, instead we went in the line for the door that read “prayers only”. It made me feel more like a local and less like a tourist to be going to Mass in this breathtaking city and church. As people from the earlier Mass filed out, we were astounded at what they were carrying alms, of course, as it was Palm Sunday, however, it was an entire a palm tree branch taller than many of the short Italians carrying them! I knew I was in for a treat. When we finally filled in, the outstanding architecture stole my breath away. The Mass was just starting and the choir in perfect harmony carried through the tall stone structure. Even though Mass was said in Italian, I was able to easily follow along. There is something special about being able to hear Mass said in different languages, it really makes me realize how universal the Catholic Church is and gives me a new appreciation for what is happening during the service.
On Good Friday we were in Cinque Terre, a National park boasting the only untouched Italian Riviera. The hiking and breathtaking mountain views were enough to make me fall in love with this small Italian town. However, while we were eating dinner that night, we heard someone talking/singing/chanting. Suddenly our waitress ran to the door, shut off all the lights, and stood outside to watch. Curious, we joined the crowds to observe what was going on. As I looked up the hill leading to the local church, I saw a large procession with people carrying a huge cross followed by Jesus and Mary depicted with swords piercing her heart in pain of her son’s death, making me feel an overwhelming sense of grief. After watching for a while, my friend and I decided to join the procession of the Stations of the Cross through the town. It was such a moving site to see all the locals remember the terrible death of Jesus. Further, it was amazing how faith can unify cultures. We couldn’t really understand what was being said, but we were able to join the locals in prayer. No one gave us weird looks for jumping in or for not being able to recite the prayers, we were welcomed into this very local event with open arms.
Our next stop was Rome, as you can imagine this was the highlight of my spiritual experience. One of the coolest parts of my trip was going to Easter Mass in St. Peters Square at the Vatican. The amount of people filing into St Peters square at this hour was unreal, but there was such tranquility about it. Any other situation with such a high volume of people would have been mayhem. When we filed I was astounded by the shear vastness of the key shaped square. A huge open area surrounds by buildings with 140 saint statues carved by the famous Bernini standing on top looking down over the crowd. St. Peters Basilica with its famous window in which the Pope appears to give his blessing captures the eyes and hearts of those in its presence. This incredible Basilica designed by Michelangelo and Bramante sits on top of St. Peters grave. Before this Basilica was built, another Basilica stood in the exact same spot that was built when Constantine, the first Roman emperor to become Christian, built the Basilica here. The Altar was especially beautiful as it was decorated for Easter with thousands of blooming flowers in various colors. As people continued filling in, the square was quickly filling up with people from all around the world. We could see all of the different countries present because it is tradition to bring your home countries flag to wave before Mass to show where you have journeyed from. As I sat in my chair underneath the blue brisk sky, I couldn’t wait for Mass to start. With 30 minutes left, the procession to the Alter with the countless Swiss Army Guards( the Vatican’s official Army) began with trumpets, drums, and bells. My anticipation was rising! I couldn’t believe I was standing in the Vatican on Easter about to hear the Holy Father say Mass. With only a few minutes before it was to start, the sky turned dark and it started to sprinkle. Oh no! What were we going to do? However, miraculously, as soon as the service started, the clouds parted. How perfect! The joy of Easter Mass was represented perfectly by the Joy the sun brought everyone in the square. The rain was a quick reminder for me of the sadness of Christ’s passion but the sun then showed me the joy of His resurrection. Mass was said in Latin, so naturally it was hard to follow, but we were all given booklets with the English translation. Despite not knowing the Latin language, it was quite the experience to hear Mass said EXACTLY how it was when the church started. Those precise words were used when Mass had to be said in secret during the early days of Christianity! The shear idea of being able to share that with the first Christians brings joy to my heart. The choir echoing through the vast square, the look of awe and joy on many of the audience’s faces, and sun shining down made it a perfect moment. After Mass, the Pope went up to his famous window to say the Easter Blessing in at least 25 different languages. Once again, I was amazed at how many people from all over the world had made the pilgrimage to the Holy City to celebrate Christ’s resurrection as each nationality cheered when the Pope spoke in their native tongue! Because the Vatican was incredibly crowded after Easter Mass, we decided we were going to come back later in the week to actually tour the Basilica and visit the Museums
Because I had already gone to Easter Mass with the Pope in the Vatican, I was not expecting to be as moved spiritually when I returned. However, I could not have been more wrong. Walking up the steps to the entrance, I was in awe that I was standing exactly where the Pope said Easter Mass just a few days ago, directly below the Popes window. As a gazed out across St. Peters square, the Easter Flowers that framed my view reminded me once again how spectacular Easter Mass had been. When we entered the grand doors with hundreds of other tourists, I was amazed to find out that daily Mass was currently going on. Most churches close their doors to tourists during Mass, so I felt a bit of disrespect as hundreds of people chatted casually and snapped photos during the service. Torn between my love for the Mass and my desire to see the entire Basilica, I split my time between the two. First, I was drawn in by Michelangelo’s Pieta. A statue he carved when he was only 24 of the Blessed Mother holding the body of her son. This statue is especially important because Michelangelo decided that instead of depicting Mary in grief and despair, as she had always been in past art work, he gave her a face full of peace. This allows those who reflect upon this great piece of art to understand human suffering and teach them how to accept life’s challenges. This is also the only Statue that Michelangelo signed. However, he did not sign his name on the piece of cloth strung around Mary’s body until he was not receiving credit for this masterpiece!
After observing this masterpiece for some time, the beautiful sounds of Mass drew me back to the center of the church. I wanted to just sit and participate however; the pews were blocked off to keep tourists from wondering up the aisle and disrupting the service. Longing to join in, I stood in the back just taking in the beautiful church listening to the service. After a while, I went to visit the other small chapels lining the edge of the church. Because I didn’t have a guide, I wasn’t exactly sure of what I seeing, but just the beauty was enough for me. I found a chapel that had a sign that read “for prayers only” so I stepped in and kneeled amongst several other devout Christians who wanted to step away from the normal tourists and really connect with God. This small act of prayer brought so much joy to my day as I continued wondering. I came upon another chapel with the Tomb of St. Pius X. You could actually see his real hand through the glass tomb. This had significant meaning to me as my home parish is called St. Pius X Catholic Church.
Again I was overwhelmed; however, I was once again drawn back to the Mass at the center of the church when I heard the beginning of the most important and beautiful part of the Mass: the transformation of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood. Surrounded by two Nuns as well as several other devout Catholics, we all kneeled in honor of Christ’s presence. At this moment, I felt so much joy and happiness that I was moved to tears. Never before had I witnessed something so beautiful. I continued participating in Mass, with my joy increasing with every second. Unfortunately, my friend came to find me to let me know that everyone was ready to go but we just couldn’t manage to pull ourselves away. Reluctantly, I turned and headed towards the doors, but I just couldn’t leave yet. Everything I looked at in the Basilica brought me so much joy, the beautiful frescoes on the ceilings, the Holy Water Fountain, the sight of so many pilgrims. I could have spent hours in St. Peter’s Basilica praying, learning, and taking in the beauty, but our tight tourist schedule wouldn’t allow for that, so I finally took a deep breath and exited walking out into the sunny St. Peter’s Square.
I knew the Vatican was going to be a great spiritual experience for me as a devout Catholic, but what I experienced was unreal. It is unfortunate, due to Mass going on when we visited, that I was not able to visit more of the important areas of the basilica such as St. Peter’s Tomb, the grottoes which hold the tombs of all of the Popes, or the Statue of St. Peter whose foot is worn down from so many pilgrims kissing it upon their arrival. However, what I did see and experience was more than I ever expected. Visiting while Mass was going on, made the experience come to life for me! During my trip, I just got a small taste of the vast beauty of the Catholic Church in Italy. But it has just left me craving more. Visiting the Vatican was the absolute best part of my entire trip. I never dreamed it would have such an impact on me. I hope can someday share this experience with my mom as she is the one who has taught me so much about my faith.
Being in Italy during Holy Week certainly allowed me to fulfill the PRAY aspect of my journey. Coming up next: LOVE in which I describe the love I have developed for the Italian people and retell the countless times they welcomed us foreigners like we were family as well as the love I developed for my travel companions.
I am often guilty of a moral or idea-centric type of writing. Sorry about that. I haven’t said much about what’s happening outside of my own head—undoubtedly a consequence of the constant activity up there. But, I think I will take a break from ideas, feelings, morals, and philosophy for today. I want to give you a plain account of Christchurch. Things see and sidewalks walked. Hands shaken and food eaten. Stuff I do and pictures on the side.
Yesterday, a friend from Purdue, Chandler, a friend from UWisconsin-Plattville, Kim, and I went a-walkin’ to downtown Christchurch. In my month of residence here, I have walked from uni (Kiwi term for college) to the CBD (central business district) before. It’s not any more than an hour walk if you put your head down and make a mission of it. However, this Saturday we chose the bus because most of our walking was going to happen inside the CBD. Ok, onward.
We got off the bus with few plans and so we started our exploration at the Re:Start Mall near the bus station. This place is so cool, let me tell you about it. First, most of central Christchurch is a mess. Rubble, empty lots where office buildings used to stand, and lots of fencing blocking the innermost parts of the CBD. The lack of venue and activity makes the central district a rather deserted place at most hours, even on Saturday afternoons. In the case of this downtown mall, however, businesses got together after the big earthquake and took a step forward, occupying the central part of the broken city. Here’s the catch: the stores are shipping containers. There is a bar, bank, bookstore, coffee shop, Apple store, pizza kitchen, and it goes on. Imagine it, a mall of shipping containers—stacked, cut out, prepared for human occupation. Oh, wait, you don’t have to imagine it all on your own. . . I have a picture!
We left the mall and went north in hopes of finding a little shop called Canterbury Cheesemongers. Cool name, eh? We found it, but unfortunately they closed up at 4 pm. . . on a Saturday. Seems strange, eh?
So, we changed course and passed by Christ’s College, a high school rather than a college, and made for the Botanical Gardens. I had also been to the Botanical Gardens before, but never had I climbed a Sequoia planted in the late 19th century. It was tough, but a British boy named Toby helped me out. Check it.
We meandered through the gardens and (ah!) the rose garden was a nice sight, fountains littered here and there. Our path was now to the road to drop off Kim at the bus stop to go back to uni, but not before we encountered another, and much bigger, tree in the gardens. I am very keen (kiwi word for interested) on trees.
Chandler and I bid Kim goodbye and made our way a bit south of the CBD with the determination of two dudes headed for a pub; we were on a mission for a beer and a belly full of pub food. On the way we passed by European car dealers, a half-destroyed Canterbury brewery, and a few Christchurch parks. Excellent!
Quite on cue, we strolled into our destination, Pomeroy’s Old Brewer Inn, reputed to be the best pub in Christchurch. And it delivered. Once we found out how to get a table—apparently sitting yourself down at any place that doesn’t have a ‘Reserved’ sign is Kiwi pub etiquette. Not long after we got some beer tasters Chandler and I were knuckle-deep in pints and two bowls of mushroom soup. I selected the Invercargill Pitch Dark for my beverage because of my curiosity of dark beers. Let me tell you, I found my new tall and dark acquaintance to be quite pleasurable. Chandler, struggling to translate our Kiwi server’s diction, had something of a light American ale with a mid-swallow citrus taste. Then came the main course; for me that meant a Meat Pie filled with chicken and veggies and all other sorts of warm, good things plopped on top of a landscape of mashed potatoes. I predicted it would be something like American chicken pot pie. It was, sort of. The ‘pastry’ shell on top was hard, but cut-able and the softer side had been flipped to the bottom. Good choice, I say.
Our walk back to the central bus station involved three detours. First, we encountered a fridge-turned-public-book-exchange. The content (i.e. the books) wasn’t so impressive, but the idea is ingenious. A miniscule library without librarians or library cards. People sharing and learning.
Then we saw the former site of the CTV building that had fallen in the 2011 earthquake. Now it is a flat, concrete lot that serves as a sort of gathering place for those who lost someone in the quake. Flowers, pictures, other remembrances stuck out here and there in the fencing. Caddy-corner to this lot was another memorial; this was one built rather than one destroyed.
In a grassy, rocky lot sat 185 white chairs. Lined up row after row after row, flowers at the foot of each chair. 185 people died in the 2011 earthquake and this artistic endeavor was soon after built in their honor and memory. It was a powerful sight for me and even more so at night—eerie and beautiful in the whiteness of the chairs reflecting the floodlights above. It is hard to describe. I felt humbled, educated, helpless, and drawn into a reflective mood. But words do injustice here. Take a look for yourself.
We arrived at the central bus station after perusing a video store (our third detour) and going on about the different subgenres of anime film. Our bus gladly dropped us to our flats, and no more than 10 minutes later we called it a night. What an adventure. Ah. . .
I have been home from Jordan and Morocco for a few months now, and was asked to write a short piece on my post-study abroad experiences. It has been great to occasionally reflect back on the events that have taken place over the past year, including everything that led up to studying overseas. One decision influenced the next, ex. having made the decision to change majors (originally ECET, now Political Science) led to the decision to learn Arabic for future career purposes, which then led to an adventure in the Middle East and North Africa. More big things are coming, but before we go into that I want to share some important lessons that I learned. Some might be obvious already, but studying abroad was the best time to really practice these:
Take your language experience seriously – If you are enrolled in intensive language and culture courses while overseas, treat them intensely! Even if you are a beginner, you can really learn a language if you put all effort, time and resource into it. I made a consistent effort to go beyond textbook Arabic by really working to improve my speaking ability (which in turn helped my reading and writing abilities). My host family in Morocco spoke only Arabic and French, so being reduced to Arabic helped me to determine what that I didn’t know…but really wanted to say. The language course required the students to prepare short weekly presentations on any subject. I choose topics such as the history of April fools day, Curiosity Rover, The Red Bull Stratos skydiving project, how to play Uno etc. and really forced myself to learn new vocabulary. I also attempted to know the subjects well enough in Arabic, as to be able to get up and freely talk about them outside of a rote presentation. Talk to Cab drivers and store owners, just go for it!
Leave bad habits at home – Come to the host country…and leave bad college habits behind! While in Jordan I studied with a great group of Americans. However, Jordan is a fairly conservative country in regards to religion and the “sober” lifestyle associated with Islam. Many of the students I studied with would go out at night and act like they were at an American college town. Some of them had a close call one night when they went to a drinking/loud music party. They were attacked by stone-throwing locals and had to be escorted back to the city in police vehicles (true story). What a scary memory to have for your time overseas! A study abroad program will really change you for the better if you let it, so give up your old life temporarily and give a new one a chance. Take the cultural element seriously, or you are just wasting your money.
Dealing with Panic-mode – Panic-mode can lead to logic-lock, where you start to make irrational decisions. The solution: train your brain so that when you face a difficult situation, the overriding thought in your head is “Ok well there is a solution to this, lets get busy and find it!” In Morocco, a fellow American and I attempted an independent excursion to the coastal town of Mirleft, in Southern Morocco (1 day journey). At the first stop on the way, we discovered that the destination was not where we originally thought, and would require a new plan of travel to get there. The situation was further complicated, as there was a major Islamic holiday occurring and all buses for travel beyond that were full. After price haggling and 3 taxi rides across the Moroccan countryside, we finally made it to the beautiful town of Mirleft. It was difficult, as we had to negotiate a new taxi at every stop, and at one point almost lost a bag. But you have to go through hard experiences to have the best experiences, and I consider the Mirleft trip to be one of the best excursions during the 6 month trip.
As cliche as these sound, they are absolutely true! My time overseas was incredibly satisfying. I am motivated to finish strong at Purdue and prepare well for a good future, one that will involve moving my future family (wife, 3-4 kids) around the world. In the meantime, the experience in Jordan has made it possible to return this summer for an internship with a major security studies institute. College life is great, and studying abroad has made it even better. Anyway, hope you have enjoyed all of the entries. As a study abroad ambassador here at Purdue, my job is to promote and encourage others to take up traveling while in university. Questions? contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Take care!
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain