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Experience in France has Profound Impact

Crosscurrents:
“Dans tous les pays du monde, quand on n’est pas Français, on est étranger.”
“In every country of the world, when you’re not French, you’re a stranger.”
Joseph Arthur de Gobineau

Brian Kested ’12 – Before I left New York for Montpellier, France, I promised myself that every time I spoke to friends and family, I would tell them how I was honestly feeling, share my struggles as well as my triumphs, and never sugarcoat anything.  I still aim to keep that promise.

A street photo in Saint-Jean de Védas (a "suburb" of Montpellier and where I am living with my host family)

I arrived in Montpellier on a beautiful January afternoon; I bemoaned my decision to wear long pants and a jacket.  Shortly thereafter, I met my host family: two parents and five children ranging in age from 18 to 28.  They have been nothing but patient and encouraging since the day they accepted me into their home.  As I began to speak with them more and more, usually at the dinner table, I became correspondingly aware of how inadequate my French was.  (When I speak French, my mouth often moves faster than my mind and I toss all knowledge of tenses and subject-verb agreement out the window and replace it with an uninhibited and chaotic explanation of myself or my life in the United States.)

My family usually understands what I’m saying, and I have learned that they are really quite good at acting things out when I don’t understand what they’re saying.  I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in studying abroad to at least consider staying with a host family; it has been the highlight of my stay in France and I am always learning new things about French culture and how people live.  Every night I enjoy a delicious French dinner and engage in warm conversation.

Despite the warmth of living with a French family, everything in Montpellier quickly became a challenge.  I have been constantly approached by people asking me questions about this-and-that and of course rarely can I determine what they’re saying much less provide an adequate response.  I am learning that conversational and colloquial French are much different than formal French.  This disconnect is frustrating because, often, if someone tweaked their wordage a bit I would have understood exactly what they were saying.  But, alas, no such luck.

School, of course, deserves a blog entry of its own, but I’ll try to be brief.  In the Montpellier program, there are two academic tracks: Language and Culture, and Integrated.  I opted for the latter which meant that I would take classes with native French students in subjects that interested me.  I am taking Literature of Madness, Beginning Italian, French Grammar, French Phonetics, and Epistemology and Forms of Rationality.  Needless to say, these classes are a constant struggle and are indeed testing both my french and my knowledge of the subject matter in question.  However, it was when I received my first grade, an A on my philosophy dissertation, that the tides began to turn for me.  I became instilled with a previously-nonexistent self confidence; what seemed impossible became a sudden reality and that thrilled me.

At the beach in the outskirts of Montpellier

My encounter with french life and culture in Montpellier has indeed changed my life.  I have no doubt that I will continue to evolve, mentally and emotionally.  When I first arrived in Montpellier, I was mystified; how could I possibly assimilate into a culture so different than my own?  When, though, after two months of mental turmoil, my mind expanded to encompass this challenging experience, I began to view myself, and my actions, differently.  What I know now is that anger and resentment can isolate you.  It can change you and mold you into something you’re not.  The only positive result the anger I’ve been feeling, therefore, is who I have become.  Thankfully, I woke up one day and realized that I wasn’t afraid to take the journey, and I know that the truth is, at best, a partially told story.

Things are beginning to look up in southern France.  It’s been an interesting journey through many not-so-easily navigable crosscurrents and I can’t begin to think of another experience that could have affected me as much as the immersion into another culture.

I sincerely thank those who have made this experience possible, and will be sure to write again soon.

Really Intense French Lessons while in Montpellier

Steven Rowe ’12 – I have been studying abroad in Montpellier, France for a little over two months now and my experience has been incredible. True, the 16 hours of French every week at the Institute for Foreigners can become a little tedious, but all of the exceptional experiences I’ve had have unquestionably changed my life for the better. This change could also be due to the Mediterranean weather. Either way, this has been a fascinating experience and I still have two months left in this city. 

Rowe, at right, with Daniel Lesch '12

Montpellier is basically a college town, but that means plenty of culture, good food, good wine, and good company. Due to the fact that I am enrolled at the Institute for Foreigners, I do not have much of an opportunity to interact with very many French people besides my teachers and the occasional waitress; however, I have been able to meet people from across the world in my multi-cultured classes.

Montpellier also has a way of surprising you. When the weather is warm I like to go downtown, sit at a café, and watch the people go by as I half listen to whatever words I can grab from the conversation of the people sitting next to me. Another place I like to go is to the botanical gardens. The garden is situated nearby the copy of the Arc de Triomphe, which is a short walk from the city center. Although it is surrounded by shops and cafés, and the occasional motorcycle disturbs the silence, it is easy to forget that you are in the eighth largest city in France. 

Thanks to the extensive rail system I have been able to do a lot of traveling on weekends and over the first one week break. When Barcelona is only a three hour train ride away, it is hard to say no. I have also been able to go to Amsterdam for the weekend and plan to go back again during our second break, because it was so phenomenal. My first break consisted of going to Barcelona to meet up with friends with whom I was going to Morocco with for the weekend. After my weekend in Africa, my path took me from cold weather to arctic conditions. Moving from Paris to Stockholm to Oslo added a whole new perspective on my study abroad experience. 

France has been good to me thus far, and yes, the moules frites, are extraordinary, but I know that when I get back home I am going to have a proper cheeseburger with the works.

Appreciating the Economics, Science of Whiskey

Nick Smith ’12 – The main attraction last week was a tour of a Scotland distillery. I am flabbergasted with the economics and science behind whiskey distilling. Distilling takes approximately 48 hours, but the actual whiskey takes twelve plus years to age in cask. This means distilleries are planning and producing for sales twelve years down the road. Seems to me that there is a fair amount of guess work being used.

I have learned many things about the whiskey business since I have been here.

  • The name scotch is reserved only for scotch whiskeys produced in Scotland. The scotch must distilled and aged in Scotland.
  • Scotch is simply a subset of the whiskey family.
  • Twelve year old Scotch means the youngest type of Scotch in the whiskey is twelve years old.
  • Many of the distilleries use American Oak cask because barrels are cheap to acquire. American law requires that bourbon be aged in new oak barrels. Therefore, the used barrels are worthless to bourbon makers.
  • Whiskey gets it flavoring from the wood and not the actual distilling.
  • American Oak, European Oak, and Sherry Cask are used to impart unique flavors.
  • American oak is famous for its vanilla taste and aroma.

I learned so much by visiting the distillery. The whole business really fascinates me. My chemistry minor served me well in understanding the chemical changes happening.

My experience at the whiskey distillery was amazing. I learned so much about the art and science of distilling whiskey. The final part of the tour was a whiskey tasting. After observing process of whiskey production, I had new found appreciation for the dram I was given. I savored the taste and the aromas all the more as I put the glass to my lips.

Fraternity Brothers Show Up For Nice Surprise

Yangnan (Paul) Liu’ 12 – It was totally a surprise when I received a text message from one of my fraternity brothers inviting me to come and hangout with the rest of the FIJI group in midtown Manhattan in the middle of the night. I never thought many of us could meet in New York City and I really miss everyone back at Wabash. (Spring break was Mar. 7-11)

The place we were about to meet was at a famous ‘Rice and Chicken’ street-food stand on fifth avenue.  Upon getting ready for the next day’s work and finished my mid-term journal, I left my apartment walking straightly to the place. I recognized all of their faces far away from the food stand and hugged each one of them. No one seemed changed and all of us were extremely excited to see each other. After finishing the unbelievably delicious Rice and Chicken bowl, seven of us including Paul Buescher, John Bogucki , Chet Riddle, Brian David, Dolton Boyer and Sumit Kovoor walked down to Times Square. I felt I never left the house when I heard funny stories back in the house and the nasty snow storm visiting campus.  

We took a photo in the busiest intersection of the world. It was absolutely amazing to see seven of us in the picture in Times Square. Who knows when will be the next time a bunch of us can meet in Times Square.

The next day, Brian David, who grew up in New York area took us to the best Chinese dumpling place in China Town. Having been a frequent visitor to China Town and a food lover, I felt shamed for not even knowing this place called Joe’s Shanghai.  It took us a while to find this restaurant and their signature pork dumpling was freshly prepared and juicy. In the United States, Chinese food is categorized into Americanized and Authentic. Among Authentic, there are various cuisines such as the Spicy Sichuan and Sweet Canton. The dumpling place is an authentic Shanghai cuisine restaurant and I recommended both Chet and Dolton to try some of their famous Loumen (stir-fried Chinese noodle) and Yangzhou Fried Rice.

We walked around China Town and Little Italy a little bit after our dinner. For the first-time visitors, some of them said this was the very cultural tour and they were very into this hybrid culture center.

Although I do not have a long spring break, I was really happy to see my brothers for two days and got to hangout with them in the city. Some of them will study abroad when I get back in my senior year. I am sure I will miss them and I believe they will have as much fun as I have in another city.

Interesting to Live Politics, Scandal in France

Pete Robbins ’12 - The weather is finally warming up in Paris, so the black of overcoats is no longer the only color on the sidewalks.  Although it was still great, Paris was surprisingly somber in the winter. 

Now, however, the sun is out almost every day and it has hardly rained in a few weeks.  Even better, in one of my classes, the professor had to go to Abu Dhabi for three weeks, so I’ve been able to take that much more advantage.

By now I’ve seen most of the big tourist sites and museums, although of course there’s always something left to see.  What’s been especially interesting is the amount of diplomatic and political crises that have been going on since I arrived in January.

One French minister had to resign from her post after saying that the French government supported Ben Ali’s dictatorship in January (and it was revealed that she had flown in his private jet on numerous occasions).  President Sarkozy is nearing the end of his term and it’s almost certain that he won’t be re-elected.  The Japanese tsunami/overall disaster has spurred a serious nuclear energy debate in France, which receives 80% of its power from nuclear energy.

Also, this year is supposed to be some kind of special year between Mexico and France (I guess it was called the year of Mexico here).  It’s kind of a weird concept, but anyway the celebration of all things Mexican has been tempered by the fact that Mexico is holding (and I think has sentenced) a French woman to prison for kidnapping, and the French think she didn’t do it.  So Sarkozy said something to the effect of, “The year of Mexico can no longer be the same.”

And! former president Jacques Chirac is currently charged with serious allegations of embezzlement/fraud from when he was president in the 1990s.   However, most people agree that while he’s probably guilty, he’ll never be tried, and some newspapers are now saying that he’s too old and senile and that everyone should just forget about it.  Basically, imagine if Clinton’s scandal had been appealed and delayed for 15 years.  Would we really still care?

So all that stuff has been very interesting, but the wine and the cheese and the bread are all the same, so everyone is able to cope and carry on normally with their lives.

Absorbing Culture; Playing ‘Holi’

Andrew Kunze ’12 – This past weekend in Jaipur was easily the best yet; it was Holi, the Hindu festival of colors. Holi celebrates the victory of good over evil in a Hindu story about an evil king, Hiranyakasipu. He became very powerful and wanted everyone to worship him as a god. Everyone obliged except for Hiranyakasipu’s son, Prehelad. So Hiranyakasipu asked his sister to kill Prehelad; her name was Holika (hence Holi). She had a special blessing that no fire could burn her. She took Prehelad in her lap an sat in a fire. The great god Vishnu was watching all of this from heaven and was displeased, so he switched the blessing. Thus Holi burned, Prehelad survived, and good triumphed.

Hindus (and Indians of all religions) celebrate this victory over a two-day festival, the first night of which always comes on the full moon. On the first day people “burn Holi.” Neighborhoods come together and build huge piles of wood and kindling, with one larger log in the middle (this log represents Prehelad). They decorate the piles with color-powder, kites, and puja strings (red and yellow thread). At exactly 6:47 pm everyone gathers around as they light the fire. Just before it is consumed, someone pulls the big log, representing Prehelad out of the fire. Thus Prehelad is saved, and Holika is burned.

Also on the first day of Holi, Jaipur hosts an elephant beauty contest. All of the local elephant-trainers paint their massive pets from trunk to toe, resulting in some of the most colorful two-ton beasts you’ve ever seen.

On the second day people “play Holi.” To play Holi, you cover your friends and family in colored-powder and spray them with colored-water. Playing Holi in this way may not be directly related to the story of Holika and Prehelad, but Hindus will say that they play it just as Lord Krishna used to play with the Gopis (Krishna’s female followers).

When you wake up the morning of Holi, it feels like Christmas, only better. Everyone wants to be the first to color their friends. My friends and I first played with the kids in our neighborhood (sometimes using mud when we ran out of color). Then, one of the many free-roaming marching-bands stopped by our hotel and played for a while. We played with our teaching staff and amongst ourselves for the rest of the morning.

For the first hour, or so, of playing Holi, everyone becomes increasingly bright. Your face, hair, and entire body become a highlighter patchwork of pink, blue, yellow, and green. Then, once people start playing with the water guns and balloons, it all starts to run together. All the different colored powders merge together into darker purples and browns. Looking fairly gross, we slept off the afternoon. It was a very happy Holi.

Art and Becoming a Walker!

The MoMA Fantasy

Yangnan (Paul) Liu ‘12 - As an Art major, I understand the huge difference between paintings reprinted on our textbook and the actual work. Since I came to New York, I have been dreaming to visit Museum of Modern Art also famously known as “MoMA” to see some of my favorite artworks in person.

Sitting five minutes’ walk from my workplace, I have anxiously awaited my first Friday afternoon to go and check it out. The museum is free to public on Fridays from 4pm-8pm. This becomes a valuable opportunity for Contemporary Art fans like me to experience the stunning masterpieces after a long week’s work.

Despite the confusing building structure inside, I was really impressed and surprised with every collection the museum owns, especially when Van Gogh’s legendary “Starry Night” was displayed just one foot from where I stood.  I suddenly could not breath but looking The collection of abstract expressionism represents some of the most well-known and valuable paintings and sculptures that frequently appeared on our Art textbooks. 

Next to “Starry Night”, I found my favorite “Les Demoiselles D’Avignon” by Pablo Picasso. I was amazed by the actual enormous scale and beautiful color of the paining. It was so flat when I glanced at it far away yet it became dramatically dimensional when I walked towards it. The longer I stared at the painting, the more I got myself into the strange-look women with their monster-like faces. Looking at this work closely, I can almost feel the braveness of the artist that took him to breakthrough limits of traditions and redefine the beauty and purity in the art world. Everything I learned and discussed in class suddenly made sense and now I appreciated the work even more.

Walking into a different gallery, I was amazed again by one very familiar work “Vir Heroicus Sublimis” by Barnett Newman. On our textbook, this overly simplified painting looked like another crazy artist’s monotonous invention of a new style. Faced with this huge bright, orange-red canvas with only one single line casually painted on the right end, I immediately became speechless. One may disregard the artist’s pioneering vision in this piece, however he cannot deny the unique visual stimulation that brings the viewer’s inner emotions and enables people to completely lose themselves in their deep thinking. I sit in front of the painting for a long time and went back again afterwards.

With its precious art collection, MoMA has become a frequent place I visit in the city. I am inspired not only by their new exhibitions, but also by their permanent collections. They give me new thoughts and reflections every time I visit.  

The New York Walker

Yangnan (Paul) Liu ‘12 – I was really surprised that things were so spread out in Crawfordsville when I first came to Wabash. I was not able to go anywhere without a car, not even a fast-food restaurant. There was no public transportation whatsoever. Fortunately I could always ask my fraternity brothers at FIJI for rides. Here at New York City, everything is located within a walkable distance like the city I come from and it is way more interesting to walk than take subway or a taxi to nearby places. I found myself in love with the walking lifestyle.

I take the subway in the morning only because I have to rush to work but when I get off in the afternoon with more spare time, I just walk back to the apartment.  It’s not a long walk but I tend not to take the same route every time in order to explore different parts of the city. When it gets dark, I intentionally go through the major commercial intersection – Times Square to see the giant screens repeatedly displaying ads of thousands of brands. Standing there makes me feel that I am in the center of the world. The seasonal window decorations of department store like Saks Fifth Avenue also draw my attention. One has to be so talented to build such eye-catching window settings while incorporating the unique essence of one specific fashion brand into the consistent ongoing element of the department store. This effective marketing tool represents the top fashion trend and design. It inspires me of the fashion that gets into business.

Walking down on Broadway is also fun. Famous Musicals I only heard from TVs are now opening to me respectively. Although the tickets are ridiculously expensive for some popular musicals and plays, some of us in this program have already planned to see one of the hottest plays “How to Succeed in Business without really trying”.

And of course, walking additionally saves me some dollars for transpiration but I got more valuable time to actually discover the city and see the people. I will continue to walk and more inspirations are yet to come.

Reese ’12: Life is Good in Wales

Joe on the Menai Suspension Bridge, down the straight is the Irish Sea.

Joe Reese ’12

- In early January I left Indianapolis on my journey to London.  I arrived in London and made my way to the Thistle City Barbican Hotel.  First I met my roommate.  He was from Dennison.  Then my orientation program with Arcadia began.  There were five students from The States, including me, that would be studying with Arcadia in Bangor, Wales.  We spent the next week touring London and learning about what was to come.  After London the five of us traveled to Chester, England where we stayed with host families and toured the small historic town.  We then spent a day touring Liverpool before making our way to Bangor, Wales. 

Bangor has been great.  I am taking three film classes, two are comparable to Wabash Art credits, and the other is comparable to a theater credit.  I have joined the rowing team, the canoeing club, the mountain walking club, and the Christian’s union.  Through Arcadia I have managed to take guided trips to Scotland and York.  I will be taking another trip to Scotland soon with the Arcadia book club to have lunch with an author and visit places in the novel. 

My recent trip to York was great.  I was able to stay an extra day from the Arcadia trip, which allowed me to meet-up with my Kappa Sigma brother, Donovan Bisbee.  He hosted me for the night and then took me on a tour of York, complete with a tour of the York Brewery.  It is the only brewery operating within the city walls.  I enjoy seeing other Americans on the different trips that I take, as well as at Bangor University.  For many of my fellow abroad students, this is their first time out of the U.S.  This is only my second time, and this duration is much longer than the last. 

Reese, in blue sweatshirt center-left, with members of the walking club atop a bountain overlooking Bangor, Wales.

At Bangor University, we have 29, spring semester, Americans.  Five in my program: two from Dennison, one from, Arcadia, one from Hamilton, and myself; one from a University in Maine; and 23 from Central College in Iowa.  Unlike the Arcadia program that I am with, the Iowa students all go to Central College.  Also, Bangor is not the only abroad University that Central College sends students.  This prompted me to look at the college’s website.  There I found that Central College is a private, liberal arts college, like Wabash.  I also noticed that Central boasts about sending fifty percent of its students on the college’s study abroad programs.  I wish Wabash could send that many students abroad. 

There are plenty of good Wabash men that are turned away from studying abroad every year, due to lack of funding.   I am glad to see Wabash professors offering more immersion trip classes, to help with this problem, but while this is great, it is not nearly the same.  Alumni, please continue to contribute what you can, and keep praying for more funding.  More of us deserve the wonderful opportunity that I have been given.

The Daily Struggle Between Spanish and English Tough

Garrett Bonk ’12 – Since day one of living in Spain I’ve noticed a number of things that no text book could have ever prepare me for.  Probably the biggest noticeable difference was Spain’s various linguistic styles of speaking Spanish.  Unlike the Latin American countries that speak Spanish, letters like “c” and “z” within Spanish words are pronounced with a “th” sound more or less, making every Spaniard sound like they have a wicked lisp.  Additionally, “h” and  “j” are pronounced as if you have something caught in your throat. 

And if these pronunciation issues do not pose a challenge, it is even harder to understand Spanish when traveling to different regions.  For example, I recently visited Seville in the southern region of Spain, and found it very difficult to communicate because it is normal for the southern Spanish dialect to not pronounce the letters “r”, “d”, or “s”.

Needless to say, the language barrier has been, as mi amigo Jake Brandewie wrote earlier, an adventure.  It has been exciting to observe my growth from simply the basic knowledge of the Spanish language to a more advanced understanding of the language.  Classes at the Fundacion de Ortega y Gasset have been very rewarding in helping me become accustomed to the language and customs.  I have even struck a deal with one of the staff members to help him get physically stronger if he helps me improve my conversational Spanish.  Thanks to my experiences in Spain, my Spanish vocabulary as well as grammar has improved exponentially.  Additionally, my pronunciation has evolved to adopt many of Spain’s linguistic patterns to avoid my past mispronunciations such as confusing words like “tapas” for “topless” and “Ibiza” with “pizza”.

Still, I feel as if many a times my mind is experiencing some form of schizophrenia between thinking in English and Spanish, which has allowed me to become accustomed to blank stares or expressions of confusion.  My life motto has been “Paso a paso” (step by step) as I conquer endeavors ranging from giving presentations and writing papers in Spanish to conversing with the locals and even flirting with the Spanish chicas.

Similar to understanding the language, accustoming to the Spanish culture and traditions has been a priceless experience.  Generally, the people of Spain are easy going and friendly.  I have found it common for the locals to be very accepting of foreigners, like myself, and quick to develop relationships.  For example, I have small job in Toledo helping the children of a family in Toledo understand the English language.  After only knowing this family for a matter of a couple weeks, I have a reputation known by even their extended members of the family as “The American” and have been invited to some family functions on the weekends.

The Spanish nightlife is just as interesting as it involves botellons (public drinking parks) and dance clubs where Spaniards don’t start partying till 2 AM and usually end their night (or morning) till 6 AM.  Spain also has a variety of festivals, or at least what seems like, every month.  For example, I just got done celebrating Carnival, which is similar to a mixture of Halloween and Mardi gras.  The culture also includes great tradition like siestas (a break in the afternoon work schedule) and tapas bars (bars that offer small dishes included with the drink).

Overall, my study abroad experience has been amazing.  I can’t thank Wabash enough for allowing me to have this experience.  It truly is priceless.  Still, Spain is no Wabash, and no matter how great Spain can be, it will never overtake my loyalty and love to dear old Wabash.  I hope everyone is enjoying their spring semester, and I look forward to hearing more about Wabash’s athletic, academic, and all around success this spring.