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Salamanca is Like Mini United Nations

Jon O’Donnell ’10 -Slightly more than two months have passed since I first arrived in Spain. It’s not often articulated that to leave everything behind to live in a different culture for several months is a substantial challenge, but without a doubt I can say that my off-campus experience has been very formative. While my first four semesters at Wabash certainly taught me how to think and I’ve filled my head with all of the physical constants that exist in the Sciences, I had not grown much socially and culturally. Salamanca, Spain, where I am studying abroad currently is like a mini-UN consisting of students. 

No joke: I have met one student from EVERY country in Western Europe and many from Eastern Europe, as well as someone from nearly all the SE Asian countries, all around Latin America, and Australia.  My best friends here are from England, Switzerland, Germany, and Australia.  I keep in touch with a girl from Tehran, Iran, who is currently studying in Madrid.  While there are loads of Americans studying abroad here (Salamanca is THE place to study if you desire traditional Castilian Spanish), I intentionally try to avoid as many as I can in order to prevent the trap of falling back into a “comfort zone.” 

It is nearly impossible to describe the impact that this cornucopia of nationalities has had on my worldview, but I have learned that we don’t live in an “Americo-centric” world, though America is an important, powerful presence in every other country.  I, as an American, have tremendous responsibility to live well and correctly.  I hope I can carry this lesson into my adulthood and practice it wisely.

Besides being exposed to many differing worldviews and cultures, I have traveled plenty.  I was fortunate enough to work out one trip to Northern Spain with my friend and classmate Forrest Craig (Wabash ’10), who is currently studying in Segovia, Spain.  We traveled from Salamanca to the País Vasco and Cantabria (two regions in the north of Spain).  San Sebastián is perhaps the most beautifully located city I have ever experienced; Bilbao’s amazing Guggenheim Museum dazzled me with its modern art showcase and sinuous architecture; Santander’s beaches provided a welcome respite; and Santillana del Mar’s Altamira Caves display some of the oldest known paintings on earth, about which I had learned just the week before in my Spanish Art History class.  

I also visited Rob Harvey and Dan Metz (both Wabash ’10) previously for a week in Rome, where they are studying; they graciously shared their apartment with me. I have plans to meet up with Mark Thomas (Wabash ’10), who is studying in Toledo, in Madrid in early December.

My Spanish language speaking skills have come a looooong way.  I can understand everything that is said when one is talking directly to me, and my own conversing abilities continue to improve exponentially.  I have several friends from other countries (notably Germany and Japan) with whom I only speak in Spanish, although English would be more comfortable even for them.  The fact that we both are working hard to better our Spanish only works as a snowball effect, so that it becomes easier to speak Spanish the more we practice it together. 

Although it is difficult to avoid the occasional homesickness, I am so blessed to be having the truly international experience that is found in Salamanca.  I have made friends from all over, friendships deep enough where a quick message in the future will setup a place to crash for some period of time in Europe, Asia, or Australia.  Priceless.

In Photos: Upper right, A view of the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca at night. Center left, Forrest Craig and I above La Concha bay in San Sebastián, Spain. Lower right, a view of the Patio de Escuelas Menores that is located just outside my classroom window at the University of Salamanca.

Being Immersed in Italian Life

David Haggard ’10 – My experience in Rome has truly been a blessing.  Studying aboard in Italy has enriched and enhanced my study of religion. I feel like I am completely immersed in the Catholic culture of Italy, whether it be having my Baroque art class in St. Peter’s Basilica or the Borghese Gallery or going to daily mass with Dominican Nuns my study of religion constantly surrounds me.

One of my favorite stories so far in my travels has happened to me at the beginning of the Studying Abroad. I was on my way to Mass to a Church that Professor David Kubiak recommended and of course I got completely lost. So after hour and half and missing Mass, I hopped on the first random bus.  I then precede to strike up a conversation with the man next to me.  He sees that I am holding my Roman Missal and tells me that he is in fact a Byzantine Priest.  He then invites to Mass with him.  Little did I know that the Church where he Presides also houses La Bocca della Verità (The Mouth of Truth).  Legend has it that any liar who sticks his hand in the large marble mouth of the face will have it immediately bitten off.  La Bocca was made famous in the 1953 film Roman Holiday which stars Audrey Hepburn. So anyways the Mass was amazing (the east has amazing liturgy) and the Priest took me out for Coffee afterwards. It was also the first time in my life where I was surrounded by non-english speakers.  Talk about being immersed.

 

I have spent most of my travel time visiting small Italian towns and villages.  My favorite town has been Alghero in Sardinia (a town on one of the islands outside of Italy).  The seafood was amazing, I had chargrilled octopus for the first time.  Alghero was also a great place to practice my Italian since none of the natives knew any English.  The people were nice and the beaches were perfect. I had a great time.

 

 

Volunteering at the Hermitage has its benefits

Aaron Bonar ’10 – Sure, one can freely roam one of the greatest museums in the world and see  priceless masterpieces, or get into shows like “Swan Lake” for free, but nothing beats the discounted pizza at the Hermitage Cafe. I mean, what Wabash Man doesn’t love cheap food?

Now, what was I supposed to talk about? Oh yes, culture, excursions and all that. I guess I can mention those things too.

Our group excursion to Velikiy Novgorod, the oldest city in modern Russia, provided a great picture of Russia’s rich history. Founded over a millennium ago, it began as a democratic republic, electing its prince from a large field of nobles. This democratic reign came to an end when Ivan III, Grand Duke of Moscow, united all of the Russian lands under his authoritarian grip. On the city’s one thousandth birthday in 1862, the Russian Millennium Monument was dedicated to honor Russia’s accomplishments. From the founding of Kievian Rus to the victory over Napoleon and beyond, the monument features famous Russian artists, religious leaders, and Tsars who made important contributions to Russia’s culture and national power. Surrounded by its own kremlin, Velikiy Novgorod is an often overlooked treasure chest of Russian culture and history.

On September 20, my group traveled to Peter and Paul Fortress, one of the most famous structures in St. Petersburg. Instantly recognizable by the high, golden tower of Peter and Paul Cathedral, the fortress was the first structure built in the city. Tsar Peter I himself took part in the construction. While the fortress contains many historical sites and museums, one of the most interesting structures in the Peter and Paul Cathedral, the resting place of every Tsar since Peter I. Even Nicholas II, the last emperor, is buried here alongside his family. Standing in the main hall surrounded by the bones of history is quite an experience. The panorama of the city seen from the fortress walls is beautiful at sunset.

Pavlovsk, a beautiful palace built in the classical style, was our next destination. Situated in the middle of a seemingly endless park filled with woodlands and rolling hills, the palace contained priceless paintings and personal artifacts of the late Tsar. While it was beautiful, I have to admit that I still find the Winter Palace to be more beautiful.

On Friday October 10th, the group departed for Moscow on an overnight train for our semester break. While the excursion was supposed to last three days, I had different plans. My parents flew in for the break, and we left together on Sunday for Saratov, a city in southern Russia, to visit some Russian students who had come to Wabash during my freshman year. It was great to see them, and I hope I have an opportunity to visit them again.

Over the past few weeks, I have continued to explore St. Petersburg. The group as a whole has settled in, and many consider St. Petersburg their second home. Personally, I can tell that my Russian has improved by leaps and bounds, and Veronika, the former Wabash Russian intern whom I met in Moscow, agrees. I only hope that the approaching months will be as good as the first. 

In Photos: Top right: A sunset view of Peter and Paul Fortress. Center left, Aaron in front of the circus in Saratov, the first circus in Russia. Below, the seat of government – the Kremlin.

 

Exploring Cities Around Toledo

Mark Thomas ’10 – After finishing up my third week in Spain, I can definitely say that I am having a fantastic time living, learning, and traveling here.  Also, I have quickly learned how easy it is to pick up drinking coffee in Europe, especially for someone who used to hate the taste.  Currently I am drinking only one cup a day, but who knows what the future will hold.

The first week of classes consisted of traveling around my host city of Toledo.  The historic and antiquated city of Toledo is drastically different from any city in the United States.  Even though it has a smaller population than my home town of Muncie, Indiana, the city sits upon a hill guarded by old stone walls and fortifications. Early on in my stay, the school took my fellow students and me on a tour of the city.  The highlight was when we drove up onto the neighboring mountain and took pictures of the city.  Toledo has so many unique aspects and sites to see, but even though I live here, I haven’t had the time to discover them all.

After the second week of classes, a couple of friends from school and me traveled south to the city of Granada.  There we were able to visit Granada’s main attraction, Alhambra.  Underlined by its artistic quality and grand size, the site is most famous for being the last Moorish stronghold in Spain before Christians from the north seized it.  Even though we were at the location quite early in the morning, we had to wait four hours to get into the palace area of Alhambra, which turned out to not be a problem.  The actual area around the palace was so large with its gardens, museums, and forts that we spent nearly five hours exploring the whole site.  Granada was also exceptional because of its cheap and quick kebab stands.  For around 3 euro, one can become quite stuffed, or allow half of it to fall onto the ground. 

The latest and definitely most entertaining trip I have taken during my stay in Spain was Barcelona.  The city of Barcelona is definitely one of the most fascinating cities I have ever visited.  The architecture, highlighted by famous Gaudi structures, displays a mixture of French, Spanish, and Mediterranean influence.  The only city in the United States similar to Barcelona would be New Orleans.  Also, in all of the large cities in Spain one would not see dozens of skyscrapers and cranes for construction. Instead one would observe a vast amount of original structures, many over hundreds of years old. 

My favorite and perhaps most interesting part of the Barcelona visit was having the opportunity to attend a FC Barcelona soccer match.  Though, this was no usual soccer match. This was a Barcelona vs. Espanyol derby.  Both teams reside in the city, but have totally different fan bases.  The majority of FC Barcelona fans are separatists, wanting to secede from Spain, while the Espanyol fans are said to be nationalists.  This created conflict that I was not expecting to see.  During the game the visiting fans of FC Barcelona starting hurling lit flares and bottles of unknown substances onto the stands were the supporters of Espanyol resided.  These acts created an uprising from many Espanyol fans which was quickly followed by riot police surrounding the Barcelona fans until the end of the game.  So with all of these visits I would definitely say that I have been able to experience much of Spain  . . .  and more.