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Almost home…

It’s official. Studying in Spain has changed me as a person.

A fairly epic snowstorm seems to have hit Europe with effects analogous to a zombie apocalypse. I’m writing from an airport in Amsterdam at 3:47 AM local time and currently waiting in a line to find out the best way to get home (I should have been home Friday for dinner). When customer service opens in six hours, hordes of highly strung travel warriors, complete with crying babies and excessive luggage, will demand a trip home.

I’ve fortunately never been the type to go hysterical over delays, but the Steve Henke before this semester would have certainly been at least somewhat worried… how am I going to get home? Where will I sleep? How is this Dutch cheese going to survive the journey? [note: see my first blog entry immediately before my departure for Spain. Nervous wreckage in written form.]

But now? My first thought was legitimately “Where am I going to charge my iPod?” I tried, futilely, to consol fellow study abroad students, helped an elderly find a bed for the night, and befriended some people from Spain.

According to a professor from the University of Valencia, the key to worldy success is twofold: be a nice person and speak English. This semester, I’ve been working on the former and learned not to worry so much about myself. I do everything that I can to solve a problem, and then move on to the next step or help others.

In the eloquent words of David Celma, “There’s no problem that can’t be helped significantly by a hot shower and a good night’s sleep.” Spain has taught me to keep a cool head.

Time will tell I this is an entirely beneficial philosophy… there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done (LSAT prep! Student Senate work! Christmas present wrapping!), but my mind is uncluttered and there’s a smile on my face. Thank you Spain.

Now back to work.

Sidenote: the last thing that my host brother Oscar said to me was, referring to my fall break adventures: “Well, you should be in America by what, three months from now? Maybe? Have a good flight.”

The Realizations of Heading Back Home

Jake Peacock ’12 – First, a quick update on what’s happened since my last entry. Matt Kraft came to visit me rom Spain, which was incredibly awesome. The due dates of most of my essays and exams have come up have had to do roughly forty pages of writing in the past few weeks. I got a cold or flu of some sort and am still recovering. I’m trying (with poor results) to find a place to live next semester in Crawfordsville, as well as roommates. I have one, Richard Fern, whose returning to Crawfordsville after graduating last May to student teach, but he and I are trying to get a few more of our Lambda Chi buddies to move out with us. It’s difficult to do from thousands of miles away. There’s probably some other things, too, but those are the most important details.

The bigger news is that it’s a week to the day that I fly back home. Pretty wild stuff. I can’t for the life of me figure out how my time in Scotland went by so quickly. Yet, at the same time, it does feel like it has been an incredibly long time that I’ve been over here. I’ve gotten really used to the UK during my stay, made loads of friends, and I’m finding it incredibly difficult to wrap my head around what it will be like to be back home, even though I’m excited to get back and get readjusted.

For example, yesterday morning I went to the bakery right next to where my apartment is and got a sausage roll for breakfast. Sausage rolls are really typical British pastry type things; usually the places that sell these have meat pies and sandwhiches and more dessert like pastries. Again, a UK or Irish thing pretty much exclusively. Anyway, I realized that this was the last week I was going to be able to go to one of these stores and get any of their typical goods. At first it made me kind of sad, but then I had this crazy epiphany. My experience here, while once in a lifetime, is actually totally mundane and arbitrary. I don’t intend for that to sound ingrateful, so I’ll explain a bit more. I realized that what I was going to miss was something incredibly ordinary to anyone from the UK, so much so that they likely wouldn’t even think about not having it. Like someone from the US when they get Taco Bell or something else like that.

Long story short, this epiphany made me realize that I had gotten exactly what I was meant to out of my experience abroad and met Wabash’s goal of having “found [myself] not only the creature of [my] time and place, but also a citizen of the worldwide human community (from http://www.wabash.edu/academics/bulletin.cfm?site_code_id=911&this_year=2010).” Not to sound too nerdy about all of this, but I was so excited about it that I spent more time than I care to admit yesterday thinking about how I would want to put the experience on paper. Then, thinking about how I was going to write this blog entry I realized it was actually time for me to come home, whether I liked it or not. I have, in my short time in Scotland, come to realize how big and diverse the world is, and I’ve realized the importance of my education within that context. Even more, I’ve come to realize how I need to take advantage of every opportunity available to me where ever I am and when ever it happens to be.

To cut back on the cheese a bit now, here are some things about my coming home that seem daunting to me now. I am going to be overwhelmed by real world American accents, I can get them on TV and things like that here, but its like watching a Harry Potter movie back in the States—only temporary. Now, I’m going to be overwhelmed by the accent most familiar to me in the world. Grid-based cities are totally strange to me now, I don’t think I’ve seen a straight road since I’ve come to Europe, and it’s just gonna be wild to be able to look down, say, Market Street in Crawfordsville. Fast food and the 24-hour Walmart, I don’t think those need much explanation. It’s going to be strange dealing with religious people, there just aren’t many serious practitioners of any religion here, and I can’t really remember what its like to just assume that any person I’m talking to is likely religious. Anyway, I’ll be back soon enough, and catch up with everybody then. Peace.

Italy Has Helped Increase Appreciation for Home

Robert Cassady ’11 – I sat down with the intention of taking you all back through my time here in Italy, but now that I recall everything that I have done, I am overwhelmed. If I had been able to see all of the beautiful art that I have, or to taste all of the delicious food I have eaten, or stand on the countless vistas of the Apennines overlooking Italy’s picturesque countryside as I have done so many times, I think I probably would have fainted.

Robert, second from right, with his family in Rome.

There is simply more beauty in this country than one man can comprehend at any one time. It reminds me of something a very good friend said to me once, namely that if we were able to experience at this moment all of the joy that will come to us throughout the entire course of our lives we would die of happiness.

Before I came to Italy, and for a good amount of the time that I was here, I considered myself to be perfectly happy with being a child of the Midwest. Coming from a fairly large city in northern Indiana, I enjoyed the slower pace and simpler way of life. I was also comfortable with the idea of one day returning to South Bend. Yet, now I feel sort of mixed up inside.

My parents visited me two weeks ago in Rome and we had an amazing time. After a whirlwind of a week with many tours, food, and laughs, they left me in Rome by myself once more with finals looming as well. This was the first moment when I really started to miss being at home with all of my family. But it was an odd feeling, because it is hard to miss the snows of Indiana when you are exploring St. John Lateran or the Roman Forum on a pretty warm Roman day.

The family enjoyed a lesson in making pasta.

I am ready to come home, but at the same time am beginning to find it difficult to understand how I am going to live without the blessings of Rome as a constant companion. Simply put, almost everything in Rome is beautiful from urban neighborhoods to Bernini’s angels. One cannot even ride the bus or walk to a produce stand to buy an apple without meeting gorgeous architecture or some beautiful statue.

What will life be like back home in Indiana?  I think it will be even more wonderful than my time spent here in Rome. For although the buildings might be less spectacular (and certainly much, much, much less old) and art less present and amazing, my life will be full of things even more meaningful. Being in the Midwest is mostly about family. In that family, I include Wabash. I long to see the scarlet halls and to discuss the questions of humanity inside.

Just as the beauty of Rome helps to answer those questions, so too do my extraordinary professors and committed colleagues. I feel that I have not given Indiana its justice in this essay, and I might not have, but I hope to when I return and maybe spend the rest of my life there (with many trips back to Rome of course).

In the Gardens of Turia

La vida en España

Wow. The past several weeks have been full.

Most obvious is the successful campaign for student body president. I spent a disproportionate amount of time on Facebook, sent out emails, and constantly had Wabash on my mind. I’m very grateful to Wallies for giving me this chance to help our school.

But this blog’s about Spain, so I’ll try to stay on task.

Two weeks ago, my language partner, María Minuesa García, informed me that Madrid Real and Barcelona would be playing and that she and some other Madrid fans could use a token American. She texted me Monday evening to meet her at 8:00 before watching the 9:15 game at a sports bar. I was busy across town, and showed up several minutes late. She relayed that the ideal bar was already full and that we’d need to find another. We were on the university side of the town, so there are more bars than bus stops. One bar, I noticed, was playing a cooking show while the bartender cleaned glasses alone. Every other bar was packed. We eventually found five seats in “The Electric Orange,” and my new friends slid slowly into depression as Real Madrid was destroyed by Barcelona (5-0).

Juan Mata and an American

But my soccer education was not over. Juan Mata, a soccer player for Valencia CF and world champion, came to the UVA Valencia campus to chat with students. Unlike the majority of his interviews, his audience had virtually no previous knowledge of his achievements… when I mentioned in passing to a friend that I’d be talking with Mata, he literally leaped into the air and begged to come. He was the most educated fan in the room. Juan Mata spent the majority of his time explaining life as a celebrity… he can’t go out for a night on the town without four bodyguards, can’t shop without being harassed for an autograph, and has received a hand-carved wooden mask of his face. Ladies in the program were disappointed to hear that he had a girlfriend, and guys were intrigued that he thinks Switzerland produces the most attractive women (his girlfriend is not Swiss). All in all, he gave a very candid and open interview, and I was impressed by his sincerity and focus. I informed him that I write a blog that would propel him to fame, and he’s ecstatic.

Last Friday was the program talent show, so I naturally appeared twice… once doing an impression of my literature professor and another in a movie loosely adapted from Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. It’s been a great semester with this fun group of students, and the slightly spontaneous and hilarious event proved representative of the semester.

Early the next morning, I left for Salamanca, one of the world’s oldest college towns. I met up with Shane Evans ’12, who’s been studying there since his epic trek across Europe. His host mom was kind enough to let me stay with him in Salamanca, and I enjoyed some mind-blowing tapas.

Early the next morning, we set out to explore Salamanca itself. Of all the sights we visited, I enjoyed the Catedral Vieja de Santa María the most… not only were we able to climb through the Cathedral’s winding staircases to explore the Gothic building, but we could get an amazing view of the city.

Wabash men en el Catedral

I miss scrambled eggs.

Completely exhausted already, I met up with two students from the UVA Program, Keaton Petro and Melissa Ngo, in Madrid. The day was full of waiting in museum lines and rain. Aside from the Reina Sofia, the highlight of the day was improvised eggs and toast at the hostel for dinner (yeah, I’m really missing my Logan Kemp omelets in Sparks every morning).

Tuesday we set out for Segovia, but failed to catch the AVE, and were forced to take the much slower train to the small city. We were shown around the city by Evan Bayless ’12. In addition to Disneyesque Alcázar de Segovia, we had the opportunity to watch Evan working in a metal artist’s shop (don’t worry; he’ll be posting sometime soon with more details). We all loved the city and returned to rainy Madrid thoroughly tired.

Evan and I after a hike in Segovia

The next day I spent the few hours before my flight back to Valencia in the Prado. While this was my third visit, I still managed to see new paintings—including quite a few Habsburg portraits. At the coming presentation of student research, look for my talk, where I’ll detail more about my independent study on the subject and how you can actually enjoy looking at portraits for hours.

At the law firm of Ángela Coquillat Vicente

Today, I had the opportunity to skip class and attend a Spanish trial. A Bolivian man was accused of beating his wife after she left a bar, though he claimed that the men within the bar shoved his wife to the ground and proceeded to attack him. Unlike cases within the United States, when the wife denounced her initial police report and claim against her husband, the prosecutor continued the case. I found the whole process thoroughly intriguing, though his Latin American born wife also found the legal differences startling.

And this afternoon, I played around on “El Gigante Gulliver,” a park constructed in the form of Lemuel Gulliver tied down by Lilliputians. Only in Spain.

In the Gardens of Turia, standing on Gulliver's shirt

Now back to studying like crazy for finals. I can hardly believe I’m leaving next week.

Christmas Pops Up All Over Europe

Stevan Stankovich ’12 - Christmas has arrived in Europe!  Everywhere I have gone for the past week one could see people putting up Christmas lights, trees, and decorations getting ready for the holiday season, and then on Friday night all the lights came on and it was brilliant.  Luckily for me I was in Spain when this happened, and let me just tell you Espania goes all out for Christmas.  I have never seen so many lights and so many types of lights then I saw in Segovia, Toledo, and Madrid it was simply magical.  If you add that to the Christmas markets in Madrid you are in Christmas heaven. 

Stevan with a view of Toledo

I visited Spain this past weekend as you have noticed from above and it was incredible there.  Everyone is so helpful and it is truly a beautiful and authentic country.  Our hostel alone looked like some historic mansion from the 13th century, and the towns of Segovia, and Toledo were incredible.  To get to see the sunset over the town of Segovia while your sitting on a hill with a couple of close friends is awe-inspiring.  Then to see the most beautiful cathedral in the world that I have ever seen in Toledo was an amazing ending to a perfect trip.  Also if one wants to party there is no better place for it then Madrid when they start at midnight with Sangria and go until 6 or 7 in the morning, and the best part about it is that it is cheap.

Stevan in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid

When I came back from Spain I was in a winter wonderland.  Harlaxton and the greater part of the UK are experiencing record snow falls.  So if one adds that on top of all the decorations in the castle it is the world’s ideal Christmas card.  

Well I am sad to say my time in England is almost up and I already desperately want to come back.  I am a football fanatic now (and it is football not soccer), I love pubs, and not being able to walk down the hallways in a 19th century castle in my pajamas will all be missed.  I will miss being able to jump on a plane and travel to Paris, Ireland, Spain, or Amsterdam cheaply.  I will also miss incredible public transportation that I can get anywhere in the UK within a matter of hours fairly cheaply. 

I will miss the British faculty and hearing British accents everywhere I go.  However most of all I am glad to have made life long friends both here with mates in the UK and bros in the States that I will remain friends with for the rest of my life. 

This study abroad experience has truly been life changing, liberating, and amazing.  I am glad to have done it and would do it again in a second, and would recommend everyone else do it to.  On that note I have to study for finals, get ready for a couple of last parties, celebrate an early Christmas with my host family, prepare for my trips to Istanbul and Greece, and pack to head back across the pond to the states. 

Thanks for the experience Wabash and Cheers from England!

Stevan, back in England, in front of Harlaxton in the snow.