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Amazing Days in Kenya

Pete Guiden ’12 – Feb. 19 - So…this is Africa.  Since arriving in Kenya, I think I can admit that inside I still feel a little confused.  You would think that being transplanted to a different continent, half the world away, immersed in a completely foreign culture would feel strange, different, uncomfortable. 

But really it doesn’t — it’s just life, the same as Crawfordsville, Indiana, in a lot of ways.  Take the kids, for example.  Anywhere you drive, they stop what they’re doing and wave at you from the side of the road, they laugh, they ask over and over and over for candy.  That’s feeling number one, and it occupies at least 90 percent of the time here.  Feeling number two, that sneaky other 10 percent is triggered in those random moments such as, waking up to the sound of monkeys climbing on your cabin roof, or the news that what you thought was thunder last night was actually an elephant trying to knock down the camp fence.  Or waking up every morning and catching the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro - that one gets me every time.  This is Africa alright.

A couple of super-interesting experiences to note.  I’m here to study wildlife ecology and conservation intensively, so I was expecting lots of that.  No problems or disappointments there.  But what surprised me a lot in the first few weeks here was the stress put on the human involvement in the process, specifically using the revenue generated from tourism to empower the local people, who are severely impoverished — in other words, living humanely.  As part of that, the 29 students in my class were dropped off at local Maasai homesteads near the camp a few days back to spend a day with either a warrior or mama, living a day in their shoes and experiencing that culture firsthand. 

My host’s name was Thomas, and I’m grateful for the little English he speaks (my Swahili is broken at best, and I know maybe two words of Maasai).  I spent most of the day helping to a prepare a tomato field for planting, or fixing the goat pen fence.  It was an amazingly humbling experience, and served as a healthy reminder to how blessed Americans truly are. 

Today was focused entirely on the wildlife, as we made our third trip to Amboseli National Park (also known as heaven on earth).  Today was special though —  we worked hand in hand with the Kenyan Wildlife Service to conduct a complete count of animals in the park.  This involved leaving the road, which all tourists must stay on, to reach the largely pristine areas of Amboseli, seen by very few.  We covered a plot of about 100 square miles, and in doing so remarkably managed to only get stuck in the mud twice.  The wildlife was spectacular—topping the lists were elephants, giraffes, ostriches, and zebras (unfortunately no big carnivores).  We even got up-close and personal with some while driving out of the park, as we found the road blocked at one point by a family of elephants crossing the road. 

Nine hours of standing in the Kenyan sun takes a toll on you though, so tonight’s agenda is to relax a little bit by the campfire before a full day of class tomorrow.

Through Germany and Finally Settled in Vienna

Michael Trevino ’12 – After a month of intensive German courses and a five-hour train ride, I have finally made it to beautiful (albeit chilly) Vienna. What can I possibly say about Vienna that has not already been said; it is a beautiful city with friendly people, a rich history, and more cafes than you can shake a stick at. But, before I can talk about that, I should backtrack a few weeks. Since my previous post, I have visited Frankfurt, Ulm, and Tübringen.

Trevino atop a viewing platform in Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt is one of the biggest cities in Germany and sits on the Main River. It is home to the EZB (Europäisches Zentral Bank), which is the main bank of the European Union. In addition to that however, it is also the birthplace of the famous writer and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Touring his rebuilt childhood home was a delight to say the least, although the attached museum was closed for renovations. Ulm on the other hand is famous for the Ulmer Münster, which the tallest church in the world. For a mere 2 Euro, you can climb the 768 steps to the top and enjoy a gorgeous view of the country side. I have to warn any future tourists though, as it is a very difficult climb up a lot of narrow stairwells. In Tübringen, I had the opportunity to enjoy a true Faschings parade. Faschings is a pre-Lenten celebration much like our Mardi Gras, but with a definite German twist. The people in the parade wear ghastly masks and colorful costumes, throw confetti onto unsuspecting viewers, grab young women from the crowd to stick into their carts, and hit tourists on the head with inflated pig bellies. It is an absolute riot to witness and unfortunately no picture will do it justice.

Even though I occasionally enjoy being a tourist, some of my favorite times have been sitting in a café with friends (Austrian or American) and having a true “Wabash” discussion. No stone is left unturned as we plough through topics ranging from world politics to the best sandwich stand in the area. At times like this I miss my Wabash brethren the most, but it is always followed by the reassuring feeling that Wabash men everywhere are engaging their surroundings, investigating others view points, and thinking critically in the same way I am; I just happen to be doing it in a different language.

Learning to Appreciate a Different Form of Music

Yangnan (Paul) Liu ‘12  – Recently, I have been exposed to different dimensions of art, particularly musical performance during my program seminars. Each week, a couple of us New York Arts Program students are invited to non-traditional music concerts to experience the different music composed and performed in an organic way.

Most of the pieces would not be considered “music” right away by many of us. However, after listening to these amazingly pure and dynamic compositions quietly with appreciation, I could gradually feel the emotions and start making my stories and scenarios that fit into the melody and the special mood. The most exciting part of this kind of music is that it allows the performers to redefine the traditional types of music by incorporating different cultural instruments together, forming new styles and giving audience fresh feelings. For example, the one concert I attended last week brilliantly added traditional Chinese instrument Erhu and Pipa in one piece of jazz and consumed a refreshing “east meets west” style, which suddenly lightened the heavy atmosphere and poeticized the western beats.

Many of the interpretations and meanings of the music are also inspiring. There is one title called “Burning Bridges”, which is very likely to remind audience of the old saying “do not burning bridges” meaning that being nice and leaving yourself more options when making a decision. This one, however, is given a completely different interpretation, meaning forgetting old traditions, entering a new era and accepting new customs in the ever-changing life. I guess this is the personal statement of the Chinese composer David, who heritages an eastern blood but is also willing and ready to experiment new styles in his cultural journey in the western art world. From his music, I can clearly see the reason of using of both Chinese string instruments and popular western instruments.

Although I am not a music student and barely listen to classic or non-mainstream music, this part of my life in New York Arts Program brightened my every-day busy life, giving me the opportunity to appreciate some other aspects of art and the most original and most passionate music. I even started searching for some of the artists and want to know more about this form of music.

The Daily Challenges of Pervuian Culture

Jake Brandewie ‘12 – In my travels this semester, I have discovered when telling people in South America that you are from Indiana there are two common reactions.  Most people shoot you a blank stare and ask if that is close LA or New York.  A select few, however, spark up like a kid on Christmas morning and say broken English “AH, I know Indiana…INDIANA JONES!” 

Jake at the edge of Iguazu Falls in Argentina

This comical association between Harrison Ford movies and my home state is a constant reminder that I am outside my comfort zone in all phases of my life here in Cuzco, Peru.  While abroad I have experienced differences such as the language barrier, greetings of kisses on the cheek instead of handshakes, different meal times etc. etc.  Daily, I wake up knowing that there will be moments when my Spanish speaking ability will dip below a preschool level trying to convey a response to a simple question.  Yet, learning how to adapt to these uncomfortable, frustrating moments has been an important lesson in my abroad experience so far.  

When encountering these unfamiliar situations, the word that I prefer to implement that has the appropriate positive spirit is adventure.  For two weeks before the start of my program in Peru, I was able to slot some adventure while backpacking across Argentina and Uruguay.  The first highlight from the trek was traveling to the Iguazú Falls, which rest between the borders of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil.  The falls were enormous, over 200 hundred individual falls across nearly 2 miles of terrain.  The next was seeing the march of the “Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo,” which was a political protest of elderly women who had a grandkids disappear during the reign of the oppressive military government in Argentina. Witnessing this political protest at the presidential building in Buenos Aires was an awesome experience.  However, the main reason I have mentioned it in my blog is to prove to Dr. Gomez that I was at least coherent some of the time in class last semester despite my subpar display of language proficiency. 

Now that my program has started in Cuzco, Peru, I have started to really immerse myself into my city.  Cusco is a place that is incredibly diverse and rich in culture, considering that its population is less than half the size of Indianapolis.  The city of Cuzco possesses an interesting mix of indigenous tradition (it is the former capital of the Incan Empire), Spanish colonial culture (the former center of the Spanish colonial empire), and international influence (major tourist hotspot due to its closeness to the ruins of Machu Picchu).  This three way melting pot offers me a blend of Incan and Spanish history to absorb and a vibrant nightlife, where you can meet peers that have traveled to Cuzco from literally all over the world. All in all, I am ecstatic for the future adventures that are ahead of me in Peru and cannot wait to experience everything my abroad experience has to offer.

Auschwitz – A Sobering Experience Hard to Prepare For

Farris at an unloading area at Birkenau

Kenny Farris ’12 - It’s been five and a half weeks since I arrived in England, and in just a short time I’ve seen and experienced so much different to Wabash and the United States.  I’ve slept in the airport waiting on a Ryan Air flights, walked among the throngs of people traveling the London Underground, and listened to Scots speak very highly of the English.  I’ve processed as much as I can, but there are just some memories and experiences that stick out more than others.

Visiting Auschwitz on my recent trip to Poland stands out.

Auschwitz is paired with many other local camps, the largest of which is Birkenau, connected by railroads to each other and almost all of Europe.  Its location among the thick pines of remote southern Poland away from most Allied bombers made Auschwitz, Birkenau, and the other surrounding camps ideal for gathering Polish political prisoners, Soviet prisoners, and ultimately millions of Jews, Gypsies, and others into a concentrated area.

Birkenau’s 45-minute tour gave tangible vision and specific details to what I viewed as the Holocaust.  I could see proof of the Nazi’s own acknowledgment of their own heinousness in the scores of brick chimneys that serve as the only standing landmarks for barracks buildings burnt to the ground before the camp’s liberation.  Historians had constructed model replicas of the barracks buildings and took my tour group through them. I saw the one stone row extending down the middle of the 30 yard barracks with about 50 holes that served as a bathroom for 20,000 prisoners for two ten-minute periods a day.  In another stood triple bunks in rows that were the housing for up to 1,000 prisoners.  I had prepared for this vision, and I was able to control my emotions fairly well.

I’ve been told that it is the unknown that can truly move you.  It seeps inside of you, and the natural reactions that are suppressed begin to appear.

The Door to crematorium at Auschwitz

Auschwitz’s tour again gave both tangible vision and specific details to the Holocaust.  However, since I hadn’t imagined or prepared for the stories told on the tour, the shock of the atrocities overwhelmed me.  I learned the Holocaust was not only mass genocide but mass thievery as well.  Millions of shoes and suitcases, thousands of gold teeth, pieces of jewelry, and even human hair were taken from deported inmates and stored in camp warehouses (which the inmates called “Canada”) to be sent to Germany.

These were individuals, Poles, Czechs, Jews, Gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war, whom I could see through their names on their suitcases a glimpse into a life abruptly altered and ended by the Nazis.  There were so many individuals here, people who wore multi-colored shoes and carried suitcases with their name, birthday, and address marked on its side.  1.3 million of those individuals became numbers of dead counted throughout the camps, and many more lives were affected.

The last stop on the Auschwitz tour took us through one of the real gas chambers and crematorium rooms where many of these individuals died.  After hearing their stories, I couldn’t help but well up inside, thinking of the sad fate the victims faced and how fortunate I was to be able to visit this site, learn their stories, and live with a better appreciation of what I have.

Learning Ways of Life in India

Andrew Kunze, far left, with host brothers and father at an Indian wedding.

Andrew Kunze ’12 - I’ve been in Jaipur for just over two weeks now, and things have been great. Right now it is the season of weddings in India. They schedule the weddings on the most auspicious days according to astrology. Most of the weddings (I’m told about 90 percent) are for arranged-marriages. In total, the wedding ceremonies take about seven days – several days of preparation followed by the wedding day, and then two receptions (one in the bride’s home-town and one in the groom’s).

The actual wedding day is a pretty big deal. The groom rides around town on a white horse, following an Indian marching band, a herd of dancers, and a group of men who carry heavy, intricate light-fixtures. As the groom gets closer and closer to the wedding site, they announce his arrival by setting off increasingly impressive fireworks. When he reaches the wedding-site, the bride is lifted up an a colorful chair/throne and has her own, smaller parade to the groom. I’ve been to two weddings so far, and I’m invited to another.

I’m living with a family that has two sons, who are 17 and 15. They’re a lot of fun. They’ve taught me how Indian teenagers celebrate Valentine’s Day. There are several, increasingly romantic mini-holidays leading up to February 14: Teddy-Bear Day, Chocolate Day, Hug Day, and Kiss Day. But if any of the boys have been sub-par valentines, girls are allowed to express their disapproval on February 15, which is Slap Day.

A little fun at India's most recognizable landmark - the Taj Mahal

My host-family brothers have also taught me how to play cricket (I don’t even play baseball, so you can imagine how terrible I am). The Cricket World Cup is starting soon, and India is the host country this year. Team India just beat Australia in an exhibition match, so everyone here is very excited.

Traffic here is chaos. The lines on the road are more suggestions than requirements. There are two types of rickshaws here – auto and cycle. Cycle-Rickshaws are big tricycles with a bench for three on the back. Most of the time, I use auto-rickshaws to get around town. Auto-rickshaws are tiny, three-wheeled, open-air cars that cost about 100 Rupees (about $2) to get across town. Though giving directions is difficult, even if you speak Hindi, because most of the roads don’t have names; you have to know neighborhood names and local landmarks in order to get anywhere.

Cows do whatever they want here. Traffic stops for cows.

“Welcome to England; you’ll fit right in”

Whitby Abbey

Donovan Bisbee ’12 – The walled city of York in the United Kingdom has a vibrant history which includes Roman occupation, Viking conquest and rule, the War of the Roses, and much more.  Upon arriving at the rail station in late January, I was immediately struck by the historic nature of York.  My five minute taxi ride to the University passed by an art museum, a theatre, and several pubs. 

I have just finished my second week of classes and third week overall at York St. John University, and I find that it takes a bit of time to adjust to such a new and exciting locale. My first week here was spent getting to know the layout of the city and registering for classes. There are nearly 100 international students studying at YSJ this semester, and the international office here has organized different trips and teas (which I am quickly learning are a central part of English social life) for those of us here on an exchange. 

At the end of our orientation week we journeyed to Whitby, a small town on the northeastern coast, and spent the better part of a day exploring and appreciating it. Whitby is, among other things, the home of Captain Cook, (whom you’ll recall discovered Australia) the setting of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and home of Caedmon (arguably the first known poet of Old English).  Whitby also boasts the spectacular ruins of Whitby Abbey, originally erected in the 7th century.  A stop at one of the multiple chipperies completed the experience. 

Craig O'Connor and me on the walls of York with the York Minster in the background

After that, it was back to York to prepare for classes.  I’m taking two theatre classes and one class on American literature.  Being a foreigner is an extremely interesting experience (for me this is one of the first extended stays out of the U.S.)  Craig O’Connor, who is also studying abroad in the U.K., and I have observed that you can dress as if you’re British, act as if you’re British, and even develop an affinity for baked beans as a breakfast food; however, as soon as you open your mouth, and say more than three words, it’s obvious to any Brit that you’re American. 

In my American Literature class I became the de facto resource on American culture and society as soon as people found out that I was from the U.S.  I’m thoroughly enjoying my time abroad, and I look forward to traveling around the U.K and Europe. So far I’ve really only been to London, Whitby, York, and Grantham; however, I have plans to visit Cambridge, Canterbury, Edinburgh, and other places within the next few months. If I had longer weekends, I’d be tempted to try to walk from the site of the Tabard Inn in Southwark to Canterbury.  Unfortunately, I have neither the time nor the tales to pursue such a project. I’m already appreciative of the incredible opportunity this semester will provide, and I look forward to the adventure ahead.

Live in the Commercials

Yangnan (Paul) Liu ‘12 – The biggest advantage of living in New York City to learn marketing is that you are constantly immersed in this energetic business environment every day. The agency I work for sits in the busiest and most advertised area surrounded by fancy and luxurious designer stores. The everyday ten-minute commute from subway station to the building becomes an inspiring visual experience of high fashion ad campaigns.

A female and male model, at right, in nothing but their underwear!

One of the most interesting (and most rewarded) marketing campaigns I have seen so far on Fifth Avenue is Hollister Co.’s in-store modeling idea. This huge flagship store is designed with strong essence of Southern California. The door of the store is built with multiple giant TV screens projecting live beach scenes from California. The beach, wave and sunshine shown in this snowy and windy city make a strong illusion for New Yorkers. This intelligent idea successfully attracts countless consumers getting into the door. More interestingly, in the store, there are numerous couples of good looking California styled, perfectly tanned models randomly standing everywhere. These girls and guys in beachwear are exactly like those models in Hollister’s ad campaigns. They are laid back and saying “What’s Up” to incoming shoppers. I was amazed when I first get into the store but suddenly felt embarrassed because I was totally not expecting to see so many barely-dressed models in such a cold cold weather (or I just got used to living in the mid-west and totally forgot beach and sunshine). Anyway, this apparently turned out extremely successful. So many bare-hand customers walked out with several shopping bags and smile. Can’t you consider this a smart idea?

While I am so inspired by these exiting things happening around me, my client at DDB is Quilted Northern and Angel Soft bathroom tissues. I have never imaged I could work so closely to the household product category that I did not even care before. Branding these simple daily household goods involves tons of behavioral studies and economic analysis and you would not believe how much time and money those advertisers spent on of consumer packaged products, regarding positioning on the shelf, color choice of the package and customer reviews etc. So next time when you shop for groceries, pay close attention to the little details that trigger you to choose their brand, because those do not just happen by chance.

The City that Has It All

Yangnan Liu ’11 – While most of other Wabash juniors are technically studying abroad, I consider myself taking this semester outside of the typical land of “United States.” New York City itself is a multi-cultural community that combines interesting elements from every part of the world. Different part of the city features different people and their lifestyle. One could totally have a leisurely European afternoon with a cup of Italian coffee after shopping at the city’s most stylish area SOHO and then walk down to east village and have authentic Korean barbecue and Japanese sushi. I am so impressed by the mixed New York City culture.

I spent most of my Sunday afternoons in Chinatown.  Not only because it has probably the cheapest daily groceries and the amazingly authentic Chinese food, Chinatown is also celebrating the 2011 Chinese New Year this weekend. Although the buildings remind me nothing like today’s modern China, the atmosphere, kids’ happy faces along with the traditional dancing lions on street made me feel like I am back home. This was the first time I felt so close to my homeland since I came to the States. It was also the first time I saw so many different people from other part of the world celebrating China’s traditional holiday.

New York City is like a little global village. You travel around the world as you walk across each street. I am glad I chose to stay in the States and enjoy foreign customs while not worrying travelling too far. This experience will definitively inspire me and expand my global horizon.

Trevino is Studying in Small German City

Michael Trevino ’11 – After many hours of travel, a full week of tutelage, and countless delicious meals I finally have a moment to myself to sit back and recollect. I arrived last week in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany to begin my month-long intensive German course at the Goethe Institute. One of the reasons I choose my particular study abroad program was the opportunity to come to a traditional German town and brush up my grammar under the guidance of some of the best language instructors in world. Needless to say it’s been difficult, albeit very rewarding.

Although Schwäbisch Hall is a relatively small German town, there are people from all over the world studying here. It is not unusual to have classmates from Turkey, Romania, Indonesia, or even places as far away as Brazil and Peru. Despite all this diversity, I have been taking the time to soak up the traditional German culture with my classmates. Everything in this city has a story behind it, and the houses and churches themselves are beautiful. Although many might not consider it on par with the standard tourist fare in Europe such as the Eiffel tower or the Vatican, it certainly has a charm of its own.

For the next few weeks before I transfer to Vienna, the only major travel plans I have is visiting some of the bigger cities in the area. Frankfurt and Stuttgart will surely prove to be interesting in their own regard, but I certainly have yet to be bored here. There are always new people to meet, new food to try (contrary to popular belief, German food is not all meat and potatoes), and plenty more to learn. In less than a month, I will hopefully be writing from Vienna. If it is anything like Schwäbisch Hall, I think I will be in for a treat.