Understanding Depth of London’s Culture

A.J. Clark '16 making his presentation in London

A.J. Clark ’16 making his presentation in London

A.J. Clark ’16 – Participating in this immersion trip to London has been a great experience thus far — and I have only been through the first day! It is exciting to see the diverse the city of London. The most memorable trip we took today was to Hyde Park. We visited the ‘speaker’s corner’, which is a space in the park where multiple people get on a soapbox and rant about whatever their grievances are. What is interesting is the number of people who take time to stop and listen to each speaker; hundreds of citizen’s and tourists visit the ‘speaker’s corner’ everyday. You can chose to engage in the conversations and attempt to have a productive discourse; or you can watch other people have unproductive civil discourse by arguing and yelling — which is very entertaining in itself.

Another aspect of the area surrounding Hyde Park I enjoyed was seeing the architectural memorials dedicated to horses and other animals that were used in World War I. I was so interested in the memorials because the research project I conducted for the immersion course dealt exclusively with the stage history of War Horse, which is a novel about a horse’s experience in the First World War. The information I researched told me about the deep reverence and respect the English culture had for horses, especially pertaining to their involvement in the war. Visiting the various memorials/statues dedicated to horses reified my understanding of the English culture’s ‘love’ for horses, which were used ubiquitously during the war. Horses were used to perform several tasks from supporting cavalrymen to hauling mass weapons as beasts of burden.

First Day, First Presentation in London

AJ Akinribade ‘15 – So about that flight in … smooth and easy! Comfort was the name of the game. American Airways had music and movies to my fashion, great food and beverages catered, and awesome service. My first experience on an international flight was a pleasure!

We arrived in London to a cool, calm, and breezy day! For a major city everything seemed polished. The streets were clear of litter, the cars were fancy (the old fashioned English cabbies caught my attention early), and the people were beautiful. Everybody seemed well put together here — comparable to New York City.

We dropped our bags off at the International Hostel and off exploring we went. Our first stop was Speakers Corner. At the Corner people got on their soap boxes and passionately argued their displeasures to any crowd who was willing to listen. One Islamic man tried to use the Quran to deconstruct the Bible and Christianity. Many argued against him rather than sit there and listen. A sub-group of young people formed and engaged in debate over issues of the controversial Racial Contract. Another group of men shared their very sexist views on women in society. The most interesting speaker of them all was the cynical man with a megaphone — not allowed. He was simply there to tell everyone to relax, meditate, and laugh. He kept reminding everyone that what they’re really mad about is usually not the root of their anger. Although he was weird, his sort of optimistic angle at life was different; it was a breath of fresh air at the Corner.

Our next stop was the memorial to war animals where Junior (AJ Clark) gave a nice presentation on the topic in novel, stage, and film depictions. We took pictures and paid homage to the animals by talking Junior out of harassing the pigeons. We also caught the attention of a few London pedestrians who clearly knew we were from the States. We went on to explore Hyde Park and navigated the Oyster a little bit (London’s subway train). We also stopped in a basilica/cathedral and listened to an organ recital. Very soothing. We then dined a little and appreciated the diverse culture within a nice London restaurant.

This was my first time (that I can account for) across the pond and day one in London was a success!

First Day Spent Taking In NYC

Wabash guys went to top of Empire State Building for this view.

Wabash guys went to top of Empire State Building for this view.

John Vosel ‘ 15 – Our first day in New York has been quite exciting. I have never been before, so everything is quite surreal and I am thinking about everything “New York” I’ve ever known. The ride in went smoothly and we had no complications getting to our location and having our rooms situated. We have not gone into any galleries yet, given that it’s a Sunday, but we are about to go have dinner with Trustee Bill Wheeler this evening.

Students in NYC with Art Professor Elizabeth Morton.

Students in NYC with Art Professor Elizabeth Morton.

We have been sight seeing around the town and getting comfortable in the neighborhood of Chelsea, where our Hostel is located. We walked around the area and Dr. Morton pointed out a lot of the local galleries and artists’ studios. We also went to the Empire State Building, which was absolutely stunning. Using our New York passes we got to the top efficiently, and were able to take many quality photos. Something I find very intriguing about New York as a whole so far is the graffiti everywhere. Some see it as a form of self-expression, and others associate it with vandalism and gang violence. Whether it is or not, a lot of it is quite beautiful and adds some serious character to the architecture.

Today, the eight of us guys stopped into Bravo’ Pizza for some giant slices. It was pretty reasonable and run by Italians, sort of old fashioned. It was deep-dish and delicious, and I hope to experience some more of the famous “New York Pizza.”

 - Photos by Scott Hastings ’15

Rome’s Great Art Makes First Impression

Daniel Miller ’17 – Today we started our Immersion experience. From the moment we stepped off the plane we knew we were not at little Wabash College anymore. Some highlights from today were going to all the great Basilica’s throughout the city and seeing the Pantheon. The paintings in the church’s are extraordinary. The enormous amount of wealth accumulated by the churches here is just something that you can not put into words.
I was especially impressed with the paintings on the ceilings of many of the church’s. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference in the buildings. Going to the Pantheon was another wonderful experience. The sheer size and beauty is something everyone should witness in their own eyes. It was also wonderful to see the tomb of Raphael in the Pantheon. He is one of my mother’s favorite artists and I know his work well. The fact it is just wedged into the middle of the city makes it look even more impressive.
At the Pantheon I also had my first Gelato which was the best desert I have ever had. To end the day we ate at a Pizzeria. It was the best Pizza I have ever consumed. The sausage is nothing like I have ever had. It also was a great time to hangout with the guys and unwind after the long day. I look forward to going to Ostia and the Vatican in the coming days. This week is going to be an experience I will never forget.

First Day in Rome Opens Eyes

Brent Poling ’16 – Just had a wonderful first day in Rome!! So far I have been up for about 32 hours straight with the plane ride over here and being super busy the entire day. The trip from the airport to the hotel was a very interesting one to say the least. The people here are very busy and seem to get mad very easily at Americans. But once we were able to get to the hotel we took a long break before exploring some of the city.
The first day here we were able to see many small temples, a few churches, and even many ancient monuments. My favorites so far were the Column of Trajan, the Pantheon, and the Roman Forum. We spent a few hours scouring the city getting to see many of the major historical monuments from at least a close distance. I am very excited to be able to get to go see each of them up close when we go into more depth with the individual structures.
The last thing we did was got some pizza for dinner.  The cuisine here is different from America, it seems to be that every meal you have has at least two courses. Also, there were many small shops scattered around the town that you could just walk up into to get coffee or gelato. It was very hard to get used to the differences of the city as a whole, but it is one of the most extraordinary experiences I have ever had.

Biology Immersed in Belize’ Animal Diversity

Professor Eric Wetzel – There’s no better way to learn about the great diversity of animals than to experience them first-hand in their natural habitats. And there’s no better place to lo​ok for invertebrates (animals without backbones) than the coral reef.
A photo from a previous Belize immersion trip.

A photo from a previous Belize immersion trip.

Wabash students in Prof. Eric Wetzel’s Biology of the Invertebrates course will do just that as they spend the week on South Water Caye, a small island 10 miles from the coast of Belize. South Water Caye is in the heart of a large Marine Reserve in the Caribbean and sits directly on Belize’s barrier reef.

Students will spend most of their time in the water as they explore the various habitats adjacent to the island such as patch reefs, mangroves, and the deeper water of the fore reef; they’ll also be able to experience the dynamic intertidal zone as they search for snails, worms, seastars, corals, and the occasional octopus or squid. Even while it’s possible to study these animals in the lab on campus, there’s absolutely no substitute for learning about these animals in their ecological context as they face the challenges of these different habitats.
Be on the lookout for student posts and photos from this Wabash Immersion experience that lives up to its name!

Peters ’16 Enjoys Typical German Life

Wabash guys enjoy a wurst-fest gill party with local Mayor.

Wabash guys enjoy a wurst-fest gill party with local Mayor.

Steven Peters ’16 – Traveling to another country, one tends to have certain expectations going in about the people of that country. Ask most people in the USA what they think is typical of the German people and likely their answers will be fairly similar. Germans are a lederhosen wearing people, throwing around large steins of beer, their vocal inflections carry an underlying hint of anger, and all they eat are large wursts (sausages). My younger sister even feared that I would face many rude Germans, because apparently they are a mean people. After studying the language and culture for two years, one comes to find that those stereotypes are not necessarily true. Despite that education, however, there is still that hope that some of those stereotypes will be seen. A benefit, then, of an immersion trip like this is to discover for yourself, by mingling with the people, what is in reality typical German.


Neustadt Mayor welcomes Wabash guys to his town.

Neustadt Mayor welcomes Wabash guys to his town.

Our trip to Neustadt, a small town near Marburg, gave me and my fellow classmates an experience which allowed us to see who the Germans really are as a people and to practice our language skills. Through connections that Erik Kile has with Neustadt residents, we received a personal tour of the historical sites by two local historians. One of them, Gerhard Bieker, hosted Erik’s aunt as an exchange student some 30 years ago, and the families have been close ever since. Herr Bieker quite literally wrote the book on Neustadt’s history (entitled Nova Civitas: Eine Wanderung durch die Geschichte der Stadt). Through him we gained full access to the curious 15th-century “Junker-Hansen-Turm” (tower) that looms over the town. He also got us into the old town hall and gave us a tour of the most historic parts of town. Another friend, Herr Krapp, gave us a tour of the town’s oldest Catholic Church (built between 1502 and 1517). He led us through the small space behind the high altar, took us up rickety stairs into the attic of the church, and showed us the air pumps that drive the organ. We got a more personal view of these old sites than one can typically get in more popular sites in tourist-filled cities.

After our tour we were greeted by Thomas Groll, the mayor of Neustadt, and our hosts grilled kilos of wurst supplied by the local butcher. A reporter took our picture with the mayor and the historians who guided us, and an article about our visit will appear in Oberhessische Zeitung, the region’s largest newspaper. This part of the trip to Neustadt was the most memorable and useful part for me in experiencing German culture and practicing skills used in class. Our generous hosts fed us wurst after delicious wurst and we were able to converse with the mayor and others in a stress free environment where we were not worried about saying the wrong thing or not being understood well enough. While some of us lingered over apple strudel, some of the group joined a group of local teenagers in a game of pick-up soccer at the adjacent part.

So what is typical German? It is impossible to fully understand a people after only one week living within their culture, but from what I experienced the Germans are a people who seem reserved on the surface, but if given the chance will show you the greatest hospitality, even if they do not know you, and fill your stomach with good food and your head with good conversation. We may not have seen any large Germans with a beer in one hand, and a rope of wurst around their neck, but what we did receive was a greater understanding of who the Germans are as a people and an opportunity to become more knowledgeable as a whole. -

Scully ’16 Taken by Germany’s Unique Culture

The group visiting Frankfurt, Germany

The group visiting Frankfurt, Germany

Sean W. Scully ‘16 – The German people are fit, intellectual, and artistic; however, they seem to lack a sense of humor. In the one week that I have been here in Germany I have learned a great deal about the country and its people. I have come to appreciate the charismatic people of America much more having experienced this very different culture. I think that both countries can learn a lot about life from each other: the Germans can learn to not take life so seriously, while Americans can discover that there are greater things in life to appreciate like music, art, and poetry. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, one of the greatest writer/poets in history, was born and raised in Frankfurt am Main, and I had the privilege of visiting his house yesterday.

350 Daniel Craig, Annemieke Klein, Erik Kile, and Sean Scully at Goethe Haus

350 Daniel Craig, Annemieke Klein, Erik Kile, and Sean Scully at Goethe Haus

I awoke to the pleasantly warm breeze coming through the open window in my apartment at around 7:45 with a gigantic smile as I realized it was the first day without language class since I arrived in Germany. I made a breakfast with coffee, yogurt, bread, and the best cheese I have ever tasted. We met at the train station at 8:30, which is when I realized that I needed to use the restroom. To my surprise, the bathroom mandated a payment of 1 Euro for its use! This seemed absurd to me and although I am not the most frugal person, I decided to wait. We boarded the train to Frankfurt and luckily found some seats.

The train system itself is an amazing feature of Europe. Being able to pay a few Euros and jump on a train to anywhere in Europe is incredible to me. As we arrived at the enormous train station in Frankfurt I witnessed a completely different side of Germany. Frankfurt is probably the most Americanized city in Germany. The skyscrapers that tower over the plethora of tourists from all nations give Frankurt am Main the nickname “Mainhattan.” Frankfurt is a center for world finance, and most of those skyscrapers are bank headquarters. One of the first buildings we passed by was the Central Bank of the European Union.

Our group was joined by Annemieke Klein, who will work at Wabash as the German Teaching Assistant next academic year, and Wabash juniors Pierce Velderman and Jesse Stuckwisch, who are both studying this semester in Vienna but took time to come visit us. Our first stop was the house where Goethe was born and raised. As we entered those hallowed grounds I thought: I’m finally going to find out why Dr. Redding has such an unhealthy obsession with the man! We learned a great deal about Goethe, his family, and the manner in which he lived his life. The halls were filled with beautiful antiques and portraits that seemed to tell their own stories. After we finished a historical scavenger hunt in Goethe’s childhood home, we moved next to the portrait gallery next door. Some of the most profound art I have ever seen lined the walls and garnered my full appreciation.

How could one go to Frankfurt and not eat a frankfurter!? After the Goethe Museum we made our way to the Römerberg, the huge central square of Frankfurt, for food and a short break. The first thing I saw there was a beautiful young couple emerging from the town hall, having just been married while all of their loved ones waited outside to congratulate them. As we stood in line to buy a frankfurter I gazed upon the mass of people in the square: people from all nations were there experiencing the beautiful city just as I was. An Italian man played seemingly the only song he knew on his accordion for the hour or so that we spent there. Out of nowhere a large rally began to form in the courtyard with all sorts of people peacefully advocating their beliefs. There was a Christian rally and a gay-rights demonstration happening simultaneously!

David Boyer and Daniel Craig study Goethe

David Boyer and Daniel Craig study Goethe

As the rally went on, we toured the Paulskirche. This church was the site of the first attempt to create a German democracy following the revolution of 1848. Delegates from all the German territories met here for most of a year to debate and write a new constitution that would form a parliamentary monarchy. Ultimately the attempt failed as the monarchy used that year to reconsolidate power. Many of the delegates, now marked as political dissidents, fled to America and did much to create the modern civil society that we enjoy.

Our next stop was another church, the Frankfurt Cathedral. There is something enthralling about being in a seven-hundred-year-old church that is relatively unchanged. Ornate images with Latin subtitles covered the walls while gorgeous crucifixes and statues graced the remaining areas. Here we saw the so-called Electoral Chapel where the seven electoral princes met to pray, debate, and ultimately elect the Holy Roman Emperor. After learning a good deal about the church, we had time if we wanted to climb the endless spiral staircase to the top of the cathedral tower. To save both a little bit of money and my calves, I decided instead to walk along the Main River. Here I witnessed yet more beautiful scenery. While everyone else was sweating their way up and down the tower, I retraced Goethe’s favorite walk across the bridge over the river. We congregated again as a group, walked to the train station, and headed back to Marburg.

Back at my apartment I cooked myself an amazing chicken and egg sandwich and went to sleep with another gigantic smile. Germany seems to me like one colossal painting of surreal beauty, with an aesthetic that one cannot truly grasp until experiencing it first-hand. I cannot wait until I study abroad here next spring and even possibly live here for a portion of my life. The experiences I have gained so far on this trip are priceless, as are the ones to come.

Snyder ’16 Learns Jewish History in Germany

Paul Snyder ‘16 – As our German 202 immersion experience hits the one week mark, I pause to think about some of the things I have learned so far: 1) I often feel like I don’t know what I am doing. 2) Even the doors are different here. 3) There is more to Germany than beer and wurst. Although my first week trying to speak German in Germany has at times been difficult and frustrating, my overall impression is that the Germans are a very accepting people.

Today after our morning language class we hit the streets to learn about the Jewish history of Marburg. We began at the ruins of a synagogue that was built around the year 1319, but just 30 years later it was torn down by angry residents who blamed the Jews for a plague epidemic. The ancient excavated sanctuary is now a memorial, and we lingered there for a long time to discuss our text about Jewish Marburg. Like most people, when I thought about the Jews in Germany the first thing that would come to mind is the Holocaust, for obvious reasons. However, here I learned that the history of the Jews in Germany goes back much, much farther—and the discrimination against them does too.

Snyder, far right, gives his presentation to class.

Snyder, far right, gives his presentation to class.

During the reign of Philip the “Magnanimous” in the 1520s, laws were passed that prevented Jews from owning houses or land and restricted what jobs they could do. These laws were in many ways similar to those passed by the Hitler regime in the 1930s. This shows that the murderous policies of the Nazi era had their roots in a long history of discrimination, not just in Germany but throughout Europe.

In many German cities, including Marburg, you can find on the sidewalk small brass squares called “Stolpersteine”—stumbling stones. They are a memory project created by the artist Gunter Demnig to commemorate the lives of victims of the Nazi regime. He engraves the name and fate of a victim in a brass block about the size of a cobblestone, then sets it in place in front of houses where that person used to live. The idea is that a person walking along the sidewalk “stumbles” over the stone and remembers the person who could have once been their neighbor.

Each of us was assigned an address that had a Stolperstein in front of it, and we had to find it and gather the information prior to today’s discussion.  My address led me to a grouping of 6 Stolpersteine that memorialized members of the Katz family who were sent to an extermination camp in Sobibor, Poland. The Katz family was murdered because they were Jewish, but we saw other stones for people who were killed for speaking out against Hitler, for listening to foreign radio stations, for being on the wrong end of the political spectrum, or for being schizophrenic. Although we can learn about these things in a classroom, it cannot have the same impact as standing at the front door of a Holocaust victim, seeing their pictures, hearing their stories, and visualizing what their life and death must have been like.

This dark history could easily lead one to argue against my earlier comment that the Germans of today seem to be a very accepting people. But daily life in Germany quickly reveals a commitment to tolerance and social justice. Not only do they very publicly confront past atrocities through memorials, commemorations, and public dialog, but they have enshrined into law the concept that modern Germany will be a safe haven for people who are oppressed because of things like faith or ethnicity. The immigration policies are also fairly generous, so on practically every corner there are shops marketing food and merchandise from many different nationalities. As further evidence, we ended our tour of Jewish Marburg on a positive note at the new synagogue, which currently serves a congregation of about 500 local Jews.

So where does all this reflection on contemporary Germany lead me? Well, for one thing I know now not to get too discouraged when I freeze up while ordering a Döner Kebab because the guy asked me what toppings I want on it, or when I can’t even figure out how to get into the bakery because the door doesn’t work like I think it should. Someone might laugh at me, but someone is more likely to kindly offer the help that I need. For all of the anxiety and missteps that I and our group made when we first got here, we are now successfully navigating German culture—with a little help from the people we interact with on a daily basis.

At Wabash we hear often that immersing oneself in another culture is the best way to learn about it. I agree 100 percent. This experience has opened my eyes to different cultures and has given me better insight into how the world works than I could have gained just in the classroom.

Craig ’16 Has Unique View of Immersion Learning

Daniel Craig ‘16 – Day 6 in Germany: I want to go home. Yes, I said it. I’m not even halfway through the program, and thoughts of home keep creeping into my mind. Mom’s cooking, my own bed, Netflix (that’s right, NO Netflix here!), friends and family: all of these keep flashing through my mind as I sit here listening to people speak in a language I can seemingly just barely understand.

“So what is it that keeps you here?” I hear you asking. Is it the Döner (a tasty Turkish sandwich); the crazy, awesome, Goodwill-esque clothes everyone wears; or is it fear from knowing that if I actually try to leave, Dr. Redding will chase me all the way back…RUNNING…? Well, a little bit of each. But the biggest reason is this: My German is getting better.

It’s true. Full sentences, short phrases, colloquial nonsense — I can say them all. Sure, I may butcher them every now and then, but for the most part I say it just right. If I had met the current me 6 days ago, I would have been blown away. Heck, I’m having full conversations with people. It’s slow and hard, but it’s happening! Just recently when I ordered a scoop of ice cream, I was charming enough that they gave me an extra scoop!

Last evening I was relaxing on a bench in the Oberstadt, Marburg’s historic center, when Dr. Redding walked by. When he asked me how I was doing, I confessed that my brain is a bit full: 4 hours of language practice each morning, then lunch, then on alternating days another 3 hours in German with our language partners or Dr. Redding. It is mentally exhausting.

So in summary, why will I stay? Because it is fantastic here. Because I am actually being challenged, and I am learning. And on top of all that, it’s free (sort of). It’s just too good to pass up. -