Posted in Issues, Souvenirs, Study Abroad

Internet and the Study Abroad Experience

An educator recently posed the question to a study abroad listserv I subscribe to about whether or not there have been recent studies conducted comparing the study abroad experience for students pre- and post-Internet. He was seeking to know if the Internet had fundamentally altered the study abroad experience due to increased ability to remain connected to home.

Image: Kevin Law

I find this to be a very interesting and important topic to be discussed, particularly as international educators continue to promote the study abroad experience as being vital for our students, and as technology continues to advance and reach parts of the world that did not have access before. Are the “vital” components being undermined by technological advancements? The research on this topic would have great implications on a number of areas including education, marketing, communications, and economics.

Before I dive in, here’s my technology background: I grew up in the 80s and 90s. I recall life before cell phones, Internet and digital cameras. I was computer-less my freshman year of college and thought nothing of it. My first cell phone was purchased in 2004, was pay-as-you-go, and was used primarily for texting, which was done without a full keyboard.

My initial thoughts to the question posed were that yes it has changed the experience and not for the good. At first glance I see the computer mediation as a hindrance. If a student keeps in contact with friends and family on a daily or hourly basis, what time are they allowing for the act of being present in their new environment, getting to know the people around them, and learning or unlearning parts of themselves? Not only is time being invested, but also the mind and emotions.

My first cell phone looked very similar to this one. Image: ifixit.com

If a student only spent five minutes a day connecting with home, that may be a short amount of time, but there is a much larger deposit in the emotional bank. If he is having a bad day, that five minutes could perk him right up, but what happens when he cannot reach those at home in a moment of crisis? Unfortunately, he’s felt so supported by those at a distance that he has not taken the time to seek out a local support system. Where does he turn in these moments? Also, there may be times when his best friends can’t help him because they are physically not there and he needs someone in person to aide him.

Also, why are students keeping in touch? Are they concerned they will be missing out on their life at home, who’s dating who, and what’s happening on campus? Newsflash. While they’re worried they’re missing out at home, they’re also missing out where they are. People at the host institution who have direct contact with a student studying abroad (fellow study abroad students, native students, advisors, teachers) are friendly and welcoming. They can also perceive when someone is disinterested or preoccupied. I don’t know that I would take the time to get to know someone those first crucial days if I thought they came across that way. There are plenty of other people to befriend.

While in Ireland for the summer I wanted to keep in touch with my friends. I only had Internet access in a computer lab that had limited hours. I would send mass emails weekly letting everybody know what I was up to. I was trying to set a routine early on as at that time I would be away an entire 12 months over the course of both my study abroad programs. I didn’t want them to forget me or lose touch. Eventually people stopped replying (which was frustrating to me) and I became too busy. When things are going well or as expected there is less reason to connect with home. In my experience, only when sh*t hits the fan, issues come up, or something is unresolved does the desire to reach out to a known support system increase and contact is made more frequently.

If, on the other hand, students are keeping in touch as a requirement or request from their parents to contact them at a preset interval or as in one such case I read about where the student’s parents required her to use Skype in order to see that she was in her room each night – that’s a whole other issue. All I have to say on this topic is if you’re okay with your child going, then let your child go.

My second thought was that this might not be that simple because I believe the study abroad experience to be very personal, and, therefore, very subjective and contextual. If I had a friend or family member who had sacrificed a lot for me to go abroad or had never been abroad but was really invested in my experience, I would probably send them a photo daily and tell them I’d go over the photos with them when I returned. Students might be forwarding articles and information about a local event or local opinion on an issue to their friends back home thus feeling connected by sharing a new perspective, and, consequently, expanding the knowledge of the entire group.

As I’ve discussed before, my time in Utrecht, Netherlands was much different than Ireland. Yes, I made friends, traveled, and enjoyed most of my classes. I also encountered minor issues with course scheduling, funding, and equivalences. And some major ones: debilitating anxiety, culture shock, and 9/11. All of these required increased communication with home, either with my parents or my university. Dealing with the school issues made it hard to just get on with my time and achieve some normalcy which is all I wanted while navigating my culture shock and newly found anxiety. Then 9/11 happened and I didn’t know if the program would end or how much I was at risk being an American student abroad. Many people felt on edge and initially we really weren’t turning towards each other for help.

Here’s what I wonder – if Skype had been released and I had been a regular user, would I have reached out to my friends back home during that time when I felt lost, worried, and lacked a local support system, and, consequently, have stayed the whole year?

I can’t ever know for sure but I want to say yes. Not only being able to hear their voices (inexpensively), but to see their faces would have brought great comfort. I know they would have been cheering me on to stay, and talking me through my darker and most paralyzing moments. In that set of circumstances, turning to my established support group so instantaneously, so tangibly, so completely through the technology rather than trying to forge a local one from shaky ground would have been greatly appreciated and wanted. Even if the result wasn’t to have completed my year abroad, having that access at that time would have changed the experience for me and for the better.

Overall, I find this topic fascinating. More thoughts went through my mind on this than I could write, let alone organize for a post. I’ll be very interested to read more research as it’s published and hear firsthand accounts of students as they reflect on their use of the Internet as means of connecting with home and their experiences abroad.

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Posted in Issues, Study Abroad

Saying Goodbye

It’s August. Summer study abroad programs are coming to an end. Students are packing up, returning home, and within a couple weeks will be headed back to their college campuses for the fall semester. But while thinking about going home, they’re also figuring out how to say goodbye.

I was very tired at the end of my summer program in Dublin, Ireland. It was without a doubt the busiest eight weeks of my life: attending class, doing coursework, going on program excursions, sightseeing around Dublin, and traveling every free weekend. That was just the physical side. Don’t forget the emotional roller coaster of meeting new people, pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, and experiencing something new daily. A part of me was looking forward to the rest that would come with being home but I didn’t want to leave this amazing place and these awesome people I had befriended.

As the final week approached there was a sense of things winding down. My friends and I were all in agreement about how special the summer had been and what it had meant to us; we dared not speak a word of it ending. But you couldn’t ignore the sadness in the exchanges when you would run into someone else also doing their last minute shopping on Grafton Street to pick up gifts and purchase those items they’ve long had their eye on. And everywhere there’d be students with their cameras out snapping photos of their friends and sights around the city obsessively making sure they’d captured everything.

Inishmore, Aran Islands

Then came my friends and my last trip together. We headed west to Galway, the Aran Islands, and the Cliffs of Moher. Sure, there had been arguing and attitudes on other trips but there was a different tone this time. Everyone was on edge. We couldn’t decide what we wanted to do collectively. Plans changed numerous times all within the first few hours of arriving in Galway. Splitting up proved to be our best solution – a precursor to what would happen in less than a week.

We came back together that first evening to celebrate the 21st birthday of the girl who became my best friend (and still is). Tension was still in the air but we rallied and ended up having a great time. With our bad moods exorcised, we sailed to the Aran Islands a much more cohesive group. We realized how far we had stretched our comfort zones by how much we found we trusted each other. Our gaiety, lightness, and silliness returned amplified.

On the last leg of our trip we chose to hike the couple of hours from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher along the coast rather than take the 20 minute bus ride. We just wanted more – more mishaps, more adventure, more laughter, more anything. And we got more. There was an incident with an electric fence shocking one of us as we crawled underneath. There was the discovery of someone’s fear of cows, which we had to walk amongst. And there was a moment of panic as we passed an ‘Extreme Danger’ sign as the land rose up higher, the path drew nearer to the edge, and the mud grew slipperier in the falling rain.

While waiting for the bus to take us from the Cliffs back to town, our conversations leaned towards the reflective and back to the beginning of the trip. We began to share our first impressions of each other unedited. This moved into sharing our favorite highlights from the summer. It was bittersweet to know we didn’t have much time to make more memories.

Back in Dublin, the last night arrived. The evening started with a party sponsored by the program. After drinks and dancing we said goodbye to the rest of our program. We headed to our favorite club and danced till the wee hours of the morning. Once back at the dorms we met in the boys’ kitchen for sustenance and some final rounds of our favorite card game of the summer – Hearts. We tried to stay up all night as everyone was leaving early in the morning. Unfortunately, we didn’t all quite make it.

Hugs and goodbyes took place in the kitchen. One girl passed out playing cards on which she’d taped her contact information – an homage to all our Hearts playing. She and I then talked in the hallway outside my dorm suite until I needed to get ready to meet my parents. They had come to Ireland a week prior to do some traveling of their own before we went as a family to Scotland and England.

Cliffs of Moher

I tried to close my eyes for a few minutes before leaving but the sound of suitcases being wheeled across the courtyard below my window as people left to meet their bus, train, or taxi kept me up. It was a somber moment when I did the same. I met up with two others who were also leaving at the same time. I walked them to their bus stop and then went to meet my parents on the nearby O’Connell Bridge.

All the goodbyes felt hasty. None reflected the gratitude, sadness, and elation I felt. I was glad my parents got to meet these people. In some way this made my summer real. Outsiders had witnessed our bond and were given a glimpse at how I felt about these people and this place.This helped the saying goodbye process – a little bit.

As I would be studying abroad the following school year, I wasn’t sure when or if I’d see any of these fantastic people again (we were all UW students). I wanted them to have something that would remind us all of the great summer we seven strangers shared together. With my mother’s help, I made everyone a collage of photos of our time in Ireland. For me, this was how I was able to say goodbye properly.

Posted in Study Abroad

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

While studying in another country, you may miss some of your own national holidays. But they can still be celebrated. They are what you make them. Yesterday was July 4th, Independence Day, here in the United States. I thought I’d share the journal entry I wrote from July 4, 2001 while on my study abroad program in Dublin, Ireland. As I’ve stated before, the style (or lack there of) of journaling I did while on this program was the catalog, boring, “this happened and then this happened” variety. But by the end of the day, our group of Americans managed to celebrate the day with some ‘back home’ touches.

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Happy Fourth of July! I am wearing green! I had class in the morning. The thing here is that their voices tend to lull one to sleep unlike @ home where it is boredom that puts you to sleep. So this means that I slept thru most of class. Then lunch woke me up.

Me (and friends) awake in class

On our way to class we picked up our play tickets and received info on where to be on Sunday for hurling. Then we went to history. Normally I can understand what he is saying. However, today every time he was saying something important he would turn his head the other direction. I had to look on my neighbor’s notes for many things. Then the next class was boring but somehow the guy’s voice just keeps me going.

Then Kevin, Zara, and I went to buy the tickets for the concert on Friday!!! Lisa is going. So is Becky and Caitlyn. Then we went skirt shopping for Zara. I bought blue pants at T.K. Maxx. Zara got 2 shirts + skirt.

At Bruxelles. It was, at the time, a jazz/blues bar (another American touch). The mentioned Sandy (and friend, Mike) dancing.

Then I went home and cooked dinner, caught up on my journal entries and rested. The speaker about pop culture was good and funny. Then we were treated with a drink at the Buttery. We sang songs – American ones in honor of the 4th. Poncho and I did a nice duet to Son of a Preacher Man.

Then we left and went to Mulligan’s. Then we checked out “Fireworks” which is a dance club. We decided not. Then we went to McD’s and that Big Mac + fries tasted so good. Then we went to this place called Bruxelles. It was cool but a bit smoky in the basement. Sandy & I tried to have open wrists to pick up guys – negative.

The group photos. We posed for a bunch of these. Took us a bit of time to get centered in front of the camera before the timer went off.

Then we went home. We sang the Star Spangled Banner and toasted w/ a shot of vodka courtesy of James. We then took group photos. Then we all checked our email. I wrote Amy, Sam and Trevor and yelled @ them for not writing. Then I walked home and went to bed.

Beers: 3 + 1 shot

Posted in Issues, Souvenirs, Study Abroad

Luggage – Bringing Home Your Adopted Culture

Tara Donne (RealSimple.com)

There is a small shop in a town near where I live called Celtic Treasures. Yes, it’s cliché. There’s the Guinness barware that can be found many places. And they have the claddagh rings, Celtic crosses, and crystal. But what always stood out were the foodstuffs and candy sections. The day I saw they carried the same roll of sandwich cookies my friends and I would get for our lunches I was transported back to Ireland, to being on the train, traveling to some new town, seeing the lush scenery, and feeling downright blissful. This store became my connection to that feeling, that culture.

Returning home and figuring out how to reconcile the two worlds you live in (it’s probably more like three: the world you left at home, the world you encountered away, and the world you thought you were returning to only to find it has been replaced by a world that is a mix of the old you knew and something unknown) to create an entirely new (4th) world can seem daunting, frustrating, joyous, and liberating. It is definitely worth the effort.

There are many ways to go about this. Below are just some of the ways I stay connected through things and language – the outer stuff. This is the easy part. (The real challenge is reconciling your new attitudes, opinions, and viewpoints – the inner stuff. But I’ll save that for another post.)

Things I learned to like while abroad that I continue to enjoy. Football is the first to come to mind, particularly with UEFA Euro 2012 going on right now. I love seeing players I watched down at my local pub while living in London. And getting to know the up-and-coming lads to continue my growing affinity for the sport. Gastronomically, I obtained a strong hankering for Indian cuisine. Also, lest I forget about mayo with fries – yum! To wash down any food, I learned to savor the taste of a well pulled pint of Guinness.

Items I don’t know how I ever did without. Duvets, people. They are a genius way to go for bedding. Why? Because they eliminate the need for multiple layers. Making your bed is a breeze when you have just one layer to pull up and straighten. Plus, with duvet covers (which are sheet-like) you can change up your look while one is in the dirty laundry pile. Initially, I had trouble finding exactly what I was looking for, but the increased prevalence of Ikea has made this issue rather moot. Also, scarves are the number one fashion accessory I took from being aboard. I have a rainbow of colors and am still trying to perfect the different ways to wear them.

My first American attempt at a duvet and cover – pre-Ikea.

The linguistic reminders. I curse in British-English and German. I say little phrases in my head in Dutch and Spanish. I overuse the words ‘indeed’ and ‘quite’ when I’m speaking. In response to asking a friend why she was looking at me oddly, she said, “You just said car park.” For the life of me I didn’t understand why this was “wrong” and my brain couldn’t come up with the American word (parking lot or parking garage).

Posted in Study Abroad

Class Assignment: Haiku

While organizing my parents’ basement over Memorial Day weekend, I came across my papers from my courses in Dublin, Ireland. The program was through USIT and my group was comprised of students from the Universities of Wisconsin and Michigan. In the mandatory module taught by a faculty member from the University of Michigan we talked about haiku as another way to express our experiences while in Ireland. As I had been casually writing rhymes and raps for years I actually looked forward to completing this assignment of writing our own haiku. I remember being quite proud with how mine turned out.

I wrote some of these while sitting on the green at Queen’s University, Belfast. These first haiku were describing what was happening during the lunch break that day.

She tries to juggle fruit
Practicing the toss she fails
Even with two fruit

He can do it well
Juggling is his forte
She still fails at it

 

 

Hearts was the card game of the summer. Games could get very competitive, tempers flared, and tantrums were known to be thrown. One girl, in particular, would bring out the anger “Claw” when a certain card would be played that she had to pick up.

Pass them left then right
Queen of spades and hearts are bad
Many points are bad
Rage comes with the Queen
His eyes wander card to card
He has shot the moon

 

 

A group of us liked to shake our groove things every now and then. These two haiku are about one night out in Belfast when I was giving a dance lesson to a fellow classmate.

Dancing at the Globe
Sex on the Beach fills me up
Move hips side to side

Did you drop something
Here, let me get that for you
Doesn’t that feel good

 

 

What poetry exercise is complete without some tale of love, or, in this case, a crush.

His eyes tell a tale
Places haven’t seen not touched
Unobtainable.

Says he has seen me
Hands on my shoulders, warm, new
Fades into the east

 

 

 

Posted in Issues, Study Abroad

Reaching Slot Zuylen Castle

In the early weeks of my culture shock while in the Netherlands weekends were a fearful thing. I didn’t know too many people yet. My Dutch roommates were often out of town or busy doing their own things. Without school to get me out of the apartment and interacting with others I feared I’d spiral even further downward. I saw a weekend trapped inside my head, and, thus my apartment, as a failure in time usage while I had this opportunity.

I had come from a summer in Ireland where I was very quickly incorporated into a group and was assumed to partake in any weekend plan. In the Netherlands, things weren’t so instantaneous. With people spread out across an entire city it proved more challenging to make friends than living in the dorm-style environment in Dublin where everyone was at my fingertips.

The first weekend in Utrecht in which the school wasn’t sponsoring an event neared. I began to hear about other people’s plans. It frustrated me that I didn’t have any, and my brain translated the fact that I hadn’t been asked to join anyone meant that I was un-liked. And if I was un-liked then it would be a very long, lonely year of limited travel and experiences. It never occurred to me to figure out what I wanted to do and ask other people if they wanted to join me. Not when I was in victim mode.

Two girls I had hung out with a couple of times were discussing how they were going to check out Slot Zuylen Castle located not far from town. They were going to ride their bikes along the Vecht River. It sounded very idyllic to me. Just the sort of local exploring I’d have chosen if I had been thinking that way. The more they went on about it the more I wanted them to ask me to go too. I wasn’t outgoing enough (it would be rude I thought) to just ask if they’d mind a third.

Slot Zuylen Castle

Friday came and they were still planning on going the following morning, but no invitation followed. I was boiling inside to the point of screaming with my thoughts about a failed, unused weekend, being trapped in my apartment, the dread of not having plans and forcing myself to go outside, and feeling un-liked enough to not be asked to do anything by others. I no longer cared if I was being rude. To me, I’d sacrifice being rude to try and avoid the darkness that loomed in my head. So I blurted out, “Can I go with you guys?”

“Of course,” one girl said. “We would have asked you but we thought you had other plans when you didn’t express an interest in going.” I didn’t see that response coming. When she said this something sort of clicked inside my head. I was able to step back from my situation and I recognized how my dealing with culture shock had affected the way I was viewing the scenario. Without my cloud of fear and anxiety, simply saying, ‘Hey that sounds like fun. Mind if I join?’ wouldn’t have felt like a do-or-die, all-or-nothing event. It would have been normal.

On that bike ride to the castle I was thrilled to see a snapshot of the countryside. I encountered my first windmill up close, saw sheep, and saw how the farmers direct and contain the plentiful water supply. Experiencing firsthand a taste of the extensive bike network out of the main cities was cool too. It seemed like something every country should have.

This freak-out, then blurt-out, and resultant positive response was the first step in breaking with my shock. It helped me to see whatever situation I found myself in more than one way. All was no longer doom and gloom. I still had a ways to go but having made that first step was everything.

Posted in Study Abroad

Let’s Go To The Movies

We have entered the summer blockbuster season. I have had a few movie-going experiences that have made lasting impressions or provided new experiences. Below are four such times – on Nantucket, in Dublin, Utrecht, and Rotterdam – plus my two experiences at movie premieres while in London.

There once was a girl on Nantucket…

I was ten years old. My family was visiting friends staying on the small island of Nantucket. We kids (two 11 year old boys, who wanted not to be stuck with me, and I) were shooed out of the house by our parents. The boys did everything they could to lose me but I stayed close-by. Mid-afternoon I followed them to the movie house in town. They wouldn’t even let me stand with them while we waited to go in, let alone sit with them. I had never seen the first Terminator and I hoped that this would be an action flick; I had a history of not faring well with scary films.

Courtesy IMDB.com

I found a seat three quarters of the way down on the right side of the three-sectioned seating. The AC offered a nice reprieve from the summer heat. The auditorium filled up quickly with college and high school kids. People were getting antsy for the film to start. A boy a few rows in front of me let out a huge belch which drew much cheering and applause.

Then the lights went down and I heard the crescendoing ‘DA-DUN DUN DA-DUN‘ for the first time. My heart pounded so loud and fast under my Hawaiian Punch pink shirt and Fla-vor-ice blue with pink flowers overall shorts (that’s how much this day sticks out in my memory). My eyes never wavered from the screen. Terminator 2: Judgment Day kicked ass. When it was all over there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation before we all stood up and cheered.

Why Hello, Clive Owen

Having returned earlier that afternoon from Kilkenny, and then having written a short paper for a class assignment, I decided to treat myself to a movie at the theatre just down road from my housing at Trinity College in Dublin. The film was Croupier. I didn’t know how things worked in Irish theatres. I saw on my ticket that I was to sit in seat GA GA. It wasn’t until I noticed that the rows didn’t have markings that I had my ‘duh moment’ realization of GA = general admission. I headed to my usual center-of-screen seat. 

After finding a seat, a couple came and sat down leaving an open seat to my left. Then as the theater began to fill I knew I’d be sitting close quarters. I saw a small group approach from the right and figured they’d ask me to move over one to fill the gap. Instead they asked me to let them in the row as they knew the folks on my left. I obliged but was annoyed to loose my perfect center-center location. But then the lights dimmed and I was introduced to Clive Owen with his deep voice and piercing green eyes. All was forgiven.

The Discovery of National Pride

In 1992 Dutch author Harry Mulisch published The Discovery of Heaven (voted “Best Dutch Book Ever”). In 2001 I attended the film adaptation in Utrecht. You would never know by the large turn out that the film had been released three weeks prior. People around us outside of the entrance were buzzing with anticipation of seeing a Dutch author’s work played out on the big screen. It was like everyone knew Harry personally and were there to show their support.

We made our way through the crowd to try and get good seats. I noticed as we passed the concessions that the offerings were a bit more fancy than I had seen before. They sold wine and beer, which you could take into the theatre with you! Also, the film being 2 1/2 hours long, had an intermission during which practically everyone purchased ice cream. Overall, I was blown away by the festive national spirit, the luxury of the concessions and the heaven-sent intermission (I needed to use the little girl’s room).

Who’s the Philosopher?

Courtesy harrypotter.wikia.com

I had not read any of the Harry Potter books. But on a cold December afternoon in Rotterdam, I didn’t care if I hadn’t read the book; I would see the movie. Most films I had seen in the Netherlands were either in Dutch with English subtitles or in English with no subtitles, as much of the adult population speaks English. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was the first children’s film I had seen and, therefore, my first English film with Dutch subtitles.

My friend Leslie pointed out that the film used the original UK book title of Philosopher’s Stone as opposed to the US title of Sorcerer’s Stone. I had to admit I had no idea what the philosopher’s stone was nor that it had any actual historical context. She explained that those marketing the book figured US kids wouldn’t know either and that sorcerer was familiar and gave a similar connotation.

Also, the names of the characters changed for the Dutch translation (and I would assume for the books as well). I never really thought that names would be changed even if they weren’t in the language of the audience. Someone’s name was someone’s name. Hermione Granger became Hermelien Griffel and Ron Weasley, Ron Wemel. Harry Potter, however, remained Harry Potter.

Leicester Square Shenanigans

Leicester Square in London has a movie theatre on at least three of its four sides and is often HQ for UK film premieres. While my sister was visiting we happened upon the premiere for Aviator. The red carpet was rolled out for the film’s stars. We were close enough to snag this photo of Leo DiCaprio:

On a rain day I went to check out the Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith premiere. This one was a bit more exciting, what with the orchestra playing the soundtracks while the films played on a screen, not to mention the life-size fighter plane (fans, please forgive me my ignorance on the actual name) complete with its own R2-D2.

Posted in Issues, Study Abroad

July 7, 2005

On Thursday, July 7, 2005 four bombs were detonated in Central London during the morning rush hour. Three, triggered within a minute of each other at 8:50AM, exploded on the London Underground: the Circle Line between Liverpool Street and Aldgate, the Circle Line between Edgware Road and Paddington, and the Piccadilly Line between King’s Cross-St. Pancras and Russell Square. The fourth bomb was detonated on the top level of a double-decker bus in Tavistock Square at 9:47AM. In total 56 people were killed, including the four suicide bombers, and around 700 were injured.

 

I never thought being lazy could save my life. The morning of the 7th my alarm went off at 7:30AM. I had made plans the day before to meet friends at the London School of Economics library to work on papers. The plan had been to get up, shower, gather my notes and books, and walk down Holloway Road to the Holloway Road Tube station on the Piccadilly Line. The train would have made stops at Caledonian Road, King’s Cross-St. Pancras, Russell Square, and then Holborn, where I would have disembarked, and walked the short distance to campus in Central London. The trip would have put me at the LSE library at approximately 9:00AM. But, like most students at that early hour with no class to attend, I turned off my alarm, rolled over, and went back to sleep.

Image: London Transport Museum

Two hours later there was a knock on my door. My flatmate, Meghan, came in and said the Tube had been shut down due to some explosions from power surges. She had a job interview in the south of London and was trying to figure out how she would get there. Her tone was one of frustration and annoyance.

About 20 minutes later she came back saying that not only was the Underground shut down but a bus had blown up. Her tone this time was of urgency and concern. The Tube shutting down due to power surges is one thing; a bus being blown up is another. “Are you serious?” was the only response I could produce.

I got out of bed and we went downstairs to watch the news. We channel flipped amongst the BBC 24-Hour news channel, CNN Worldwide, and local channels. They just confirmed what Meghan had said – that there were three explosions on the Tube and one bomb on a bus.

The UK channels kept using the word ‘explosion’ when referring to the Tube so I was unclear as to whether bombs were involved in light of the bus bombing. I called my parents in the US at 6:30AM EST to let them know I was okay. They had been asleep and had no idea what I was talking about. They turned on their television and told me there were four bombs. The theory of power surges proved false.

My way of processing the events was by donning my ‘media analysis’ cap and picking out the differences between what my parents were hearing and what we were hearing. Perhaps it was trivial to be paying attention to word usage at a time like that but it was all I could do as I grappled with the situation.

Bomb was a word I understood; I was used to seeing and hearing it from US news sources. But my UK news never used the word bomb pertaining to the Underground. Was it a case of the US media outlets being overexcited or the British outlets being understated? Was the meaning of the term ‘explosion’ being put through my American filter where it isn’t synonymous with bomb? Was it synonymous for a Brit?

Midday the Metropolitan Police Commissioner made a statement instructing people to stay at home and if they were already in the City, to stay at their office, university, wherever, and to not travel to central London. What I found most interesting was what happened next. The American news anchor asked if this was because it was suspected that there were more bombs. The Commissioner responded with a slight chuckle stating that no, that wasn’t the concern. The concern was that there was just no way to travel and get around the city so why bother coming in. The phrase “keep calm and carry on” came to mind from this practical thought process. His answer summed up quite well the UK response to this horrific day.

Image: Martin Godwin, The Guardian

That evening I decided to stay with friends living south of the Thames. I did get on a bus, and, yes, I consciously did not sit upstairs. On a normal day, though people rarely speak to each other on the bus, you can hear the engine, mobiles ringing, and babies crying. That day even the engine was eerily quiet. There was definitely a great sense of loss and concern floating amongst the silent passengers.

I ended up having to walk the last couple of miles through the city center due to reduced service. At the time I was concentrating more on getting to my friends’ place than anything else. I do, however, remember how deserted the streets were. London is a huge metropolitan city that has people out at all hours. That day, I encountered almost no one.

A week after the bombings the transportation system continued to experience delays. The Piccadilly Line remained closed as bodies were still being removed. My flatmates and I had to rely on buses. My usual one bus for 30 minutes to reach school turned into multiple buses for two hours. With all the extra time my mind kept going back to what might have happened had I not decided I wanted more sleep. That was one day I was truly thankful for my lazy moments.

Posted in Study Abroad, Travel

Please Don’t Stop the Oompah Band

I always held a fascination for Germany, more specifically Bavaria. It began with my parents’ almost yearly trips to München (Munich) when I was four or five years old. They would bring back dolls dressed in traditional clothing with shawls, hats, and sashes; a stuffed elephant (Benjamin Blümchen), who apparently held a variety of occupations as I had clothes for him to be a boy scout and a chimney sweep; chocolates that tasted like nothing the Easter bunny had ever left me; and books in a language with too many capital letters. I even had my own pair of lederhosen.

I often wondered about this far off place that my parents had to take a plane to get to, and which produced so markedly different takes on toys and clothes and chocolate. The pictures in my parents’ slide shows added to my wonder. The timber-exposed buildings, the elaborate Neuschwanstein Castle, the largeness of beer steins, the hats with feathers and pins, the merriment and splendor of Munich’s Rathaus-Glockenspiel (to my child-eyes, it was a marionette show for everyone, right in the middle of town) – this is not the stuff of adults!

As I got older, little changed my view. I found out that one of my favorite films – The Parent Trap – was based on a German children’s book by Erich Kästner. The pictures my sister brought back from her first trip with my parents looked much the same as from years before. As a special treat, we would eat knackwurst, and like the big beer steins, these were oversized hot dogs. Everything seemed bigger, and, therefore, more magical over there. When would I get to see for myself?

When I did get to Munich, it was an impromptu trip at the tail end of a week in Prague and Vienna that four friends and I took during a break while studying in the Netherlands. Two of the girls and I decided to take a few extra days and stop in Munich on our way back to Utrecht; the remaining two headed back home. I was so excited. I’d finally get to see what the rest of my family had seen. I’d get to find out if my childhood images of the place held true. If the train ride was any indication, I wouldn’t be disappointed.

Leaving Vienna we had nowhere to sit on the train. Once in Germany, we switched to a smaller train that would take us into Munich. We were happy of the late hour and the low number of travelers as seats were plentiful. My friend, Ximena, from Mexico, was teaching me and our other friend, Leslie, the words to La Bamba when we heard music coming from the next car. The sounds reminded me of the polka bands that played at a German restaurant back in Madison. We decided to investigate.

Entering the next car we discovered an Oompah band! They were on their way home from a gathering and competition. On their heads were hats with pins and feathers, and on their bodies were lederhosen. I couldn’t have pictured this happening nor could I have asked for a better greeting to Germany. They happily played for the crowd that began to gather in the car.

Munich, too, did not disappoint. I drank from the oversized beer steins, I tried on a colorful traditional dress, I ate knackwurst, and I saw the performance of the Glockenspiel. The city also had a surprise up its sleeve for me too – surfing! People were surfing in the Englischer Garten! My expectations had been reached and exceeded.

Though overstuffed with touristy sites and actions, this was a fantastic introduction to the country. I knew my childhood view was only a part of a greater, more complex culture and society. I knew that if I had the time to get out of the city center, I’d see many contrasts to my romantic image. But, such as that band on the train, I’d also see many reinforcements too.

Posted in Study Abroad

Hurling with Cúchulainn

It is March Madness time here in the US and I am writing during an unwanted lull after the first week of speed and excitement of the men’s college basketball tournament has come to a close with the original 64/68 teams being whittled down to just 16. As I anxiously await the upcoming four days of games in the second week of the tournament, my mind, in its craving for exhilaration in this downtime, keeps going back to the day when I saw the quickest, toughest, and most intricate sport being played. The sport was hurling.

As part of my study abroad program to Dublin, Ireland, I had the option of attending a hurling match. The excursion included entrance to the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) museum at Croke Park, and a ticket to a championship match between Kilkenny and Wexford. Though I had heard about hurling, seen a Guinness billboard with hurlers depicted on it, and had bought a hurley a couple weeks prior, I had little idea of the awesomeness of the sport.

Walking into the stadium I had no clue what I was in for. The museum was great for a historical perspective and had fun interactive stations, but didn’t prepare me. The field itself was enough to give me pause. It was huge. It was longer than an American football field and nearly two times as wide. I had learned that there are 30 players on the field at once, 15 to a side, but even that number couldn’t need that much room, could they?

Before heading to my seat I chose a team to root for. Though Wexford shared the same colors (purple and gold) as my high school, I had to go for Kilkenny (gold and black) for no other reason than I really liked Kilkenny beer. I bought a braided headband, though I didn’t know at the time it was for my head; I just wore it draped around my neck. The space on my head was occupied by what I had considered to be a headband – a narrow strip of cloth with Kilkenny written across the front. It was most likely an armband. Oh well.

I sat next to a guy on my program who was a sports fanatic. He decided to root for Wexford and decked himself out in purple and gold. He had a headband, armband, and a team jersey. He also waved a purple and gold flag. Having chosen our sides, all we had to do was figure out how the game was played.

The crowd was loud and pumped up for the game waving their flags of varying sizes above their heads. I was surprised to see that the two support groups were quite intermingled. There was no real sense of separate home and visitor sections in the stands. I was also surprised the seats weren’t full, this being a championship game. But I paid little attention to these details as I was riveted by what I was seeing on the pitch.

(Author: Peter Wöllauer)

Field hockey was the first sport I thought hurling comprised elements of.  Hurling has two main pieces of equipment, a hurley and a ball. The moments when the hurlers played the ball on the ground or performed small lifts or scoops of the ball with the hurley I felt I was watching hockey.

Once the ball was off the ground the sport added huge dashes of lacrosse, for when they ran with the ball they had to balance it on their hurleys if moving further than four steps, and a pinch of baseball, for when they would toss the ball in the air out in front of them to then swing at it with their hurleys. Rugby can join the mixture with the lack of protection worn for a game that allows some forms of tackling. Handball is the last to lend itself to the concoction with players being able to open-palm pass the ball to each other. Scoring, I eventually figured out, went one point for between the uprights and over the bar, and three points for a goal in the net, below the bar.

The game is fast and tough. The amount of body contact was striking due to the fact that players were wailing hurleys about. One player had to come out due to blood on his uniform and needed to change before he could return to the pitch. I was surprised there weren’t more like him. As someone with good hand-eye coordination but poor something-extended-from-hand-eye coordination, the high level of a multitude of skills involved amazed me.

I left the park that day knowing I had just witnessed something truly awesome in the world of sports. As my words cannot do hurling justice, here is a video I came across to illustrate what I saw that day. I’ve watched it a number of times to help fill the void caused by the tournament’s break. It seems to do the trick. For the rules and other background information click here.