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Minutes before boarding…

Names are a tricky business.

Most of the time, it’s just a matter of translation—yo=I, estudiar=study, and España=Spain. A rather bland, formulaic process if you know the vocab.

Sometimes it’s a little more complicated: do I call myself Steve or Eteban* with native Spanish speakers? Should I refer to the Austrian emperor Franz Josef or Francis Joseph? Should I translate “hacer” to say “to do” or “to make?” Value judgments are required, oftentimes instantaneously, to avoid loss in translation or looking like a jelly doughnut (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ich_bin_ein_Berliner).

These judgments are made primarily by a thorough knowledge of the subject. Renowned physicist Richard Feynman noted that simply knowing names had limited use. One of many defining characteristics about this man was that he insisted on discovering the ins and outs of a theory instead of simply knowing where to insert specific variables to obtain specific results. Feynman cared about practical meaning more than names. It strikes me that his sort of practical familiarity will be most useful in the coming semester.

The past few days have not been without a variety of practical problems. Last night, my three-year-old laptop battery kindly informed me it was operating on 4% capacity before plunging into oblivion (taking with it the first draft of this blog post). My first credit card payment decided not to go through online (for the record, Capital One has excellent rates abroad, but terrible customer service). Oh, and I forgot to bring sunscreen to my sister’s first collegiate tennis match last Saturday, so I’m traveling to Europe looking like an embarrassed lobster. Given my complexion, I guess it was only a matter of time.

In the coming semester, I’ll be learning a lot of names—historical figures, verbs, and street signs. I’m hoping to finish up a Spanish minor abroad—the first time in my education that I’ll be able to focus on directly correlating subject matters. When I get back in December, I’m sure that I’ll continue in my quest to augment my mental encyclopedia—LSAT training, business terms, and constitutional law.

But the part that I care most about this semester is a little more fundamental. How can I hone my ability to associate a linguistic label with the thing itself? How can I communicate with friends and coworkers abroad without English or similar backgrounds? How do I translate as a person?

Of course, the little things should be remarkably interesting too. How exactly am I going to be getting to Valencia tomorrow? How is it to live with a Spanish widow? How will life in 90˚ weather work without air conditioning? Where will I find time/Internet to blog on a weekly basis?

These questions and more will be answered next week. Here’s to a fantastic semester.

*In my admittedly limited experience, native Spanish speakers seem to aspirate the “S” far more than in English. My host mother, whether on purpose or on accident, addressed her principle email to “Etevan.” I replied, graciamente, Steve.

多谢我的大学:Summer at ECNU – last weeks here

As mentioned in the previous note, I’ve been spending my summer at the East China Normal University in Shanghai. I picked this place because I thought it would be a great environment to focus on my senior seminar research; it was a good choice:) Every day I have the chance to interact with Dr. Melissa Butler and Dr. Ethan Hollander from our political science department. Moreover, I met quite a few students in the ECNU summer school (most of them are Chinese who study in the U.S.) who provided help with some of the most difficult aspects of researching the 2008 fiscal stimulus in China.

Apart from working together (going to their classes was a great review for the upcoming comps), I also spent much of my free time with the Wabash professors. We caught up on what happened at Wabash last semester, saw a lot of Shanghai together (The Bund, Pudong, French Concession, St. Ignatius Cathedral of Shanghai, World Expo, Fudan University, you name it:)), and met with our alumni.

There’s one more week ahead of us in Shanghai. On Tuesday, we will meet with Chris Beebe’79 who spent many years working in Asia. I am really looking forward to finally meeting Mr. Beebe in person. I will take my time to say bye to this fascinating Chinese metropolis and leave for Beijing after the weekend. I will spend about five days there networking (including a meeting to discuss my research with a political science scholar who I met during the winter) and on the 23rd of this month I will board my returning flight to Indiana.

Dear Wabash community, it’s been an amazing experience, which I can’t wait to share with you in person. Thank you for everything.

Hull ’11 Reflects on Spring Study in Portugal

Cliff Hull ’11 – I recently returned from my semester abroad studying in the Netherlands. After I finished my exams, I left Leiden with a couple of friends . Through the non-profit organization World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), we were able to get in contact with the owner of an organic farm in the Algarve, the southernmost region of Portugal . For a menial maintenance fee (and sometimes for free, depending on the country’s WWOOF organization), WWOOF provides access to a database of local farmers using ecologically sustainable farming practices.

After communicating with a few farms, we decided on a farm located outside of the city of Portimão . We spent two weeks volunteering on the farm, in exchange for housing and food. Since no herbicides are used on the farm, a majority of the work consisted of pulling weeds by hand. But we also helped with other projects around the farm, such as building a new area to store firewood (as well as splitting a lot of the firewood), creation of compost areas, clearing brush for fire prevention, and cutting down dead or dying trees.

My WOOFing experience allowed me to spend time in a country as more than a tourist. I was able to get a much more authentic experience, being able to work, live, and eat with a Portuguese family. It was also nice to do volunteer work, especially in the region we were working, since it is one of the poorest regions in Portugal . It was especially rewarding to know that besides helping out the family for whom we worked, our efforts were also helping to positively effect the environment.

Just a little over 24 hours after getting home to Indianapolis from my six month stay in Europe, I started an internship at KERAMIDA Inc, an environmental engineering firm located in downtown Indianapolis. Although it’s a bit of a change from my previous summer job as a whitewater rafting guide in West Virginia , it offers me a great chance to experience working in a professional environment before making my decisions for graduate school.

Once I’ve graduated from Wabash , I’m hoping to go to graduate school in the area of environmental engineering. Getting a chance to work alongside professionals who have taken the same path I plan is helping me to better focus my plans for the future. It’s crazy to think how close “the future” is. It seems like just the other day I was a disorientated senior in high school on Honors Scholar Weekend, trying to decide where to live if I decided to come to Wabash College . Now, a little over three years later, I’m deciding what to do once I’m finished with Wabash. It’s amazing how fast it all goes.

In photos: Top right – Hull, in red tshirt, helps take down a tree. Lower left – a look at the Portuguese countryside.