Floyd ’13 Enthusiastically Embraces Oxford

Riley Floyd ’13 – Greetings from Oxford!

I’ve just finished the fourth week of my study abroad experience at Oxford’s Lady Margaret Hall (LMH), and I can say without reservation that Oxford is one of my favorite places in the world! I’ve made some great friends here, and we’ve had a ton of fun — including the inevitable embarrassing moments as typical Americans abroad. What’s most captivating about the place is everyone’s story. Everyone I’ve met here has had some amazing life experiences, and the difference in their academic interests is fascinating too — from astrophysics to the Cold War — the options are endless.

LMH is a really friendly place. And it’s beautiful—complete with gardens and Georgian architecture. It’s a little removed from the City Centre, and it’s one of the newer colleges — founded in 1878. I say “new” because Oxford’s oldest building was constructed in 1049. It’s quite small too; there are only about 450 students here. But it gives you a great chance to get to know some of the British students — particularly if you take on a sport. And the tradition here is awesome. Formal, three-course dinners take place every Friday in the college’s dining hall — a wood-paneled hall with austere portraits of all of the College’s principals. And there’s quite a sense of hierarchy. The tutors and principal literally sit at a table on a higher plane than the students. But once you leave the hall, that hierarchy disappears; everyone here is really accessible.

And the town itself is great! There are so many pubs, restaurants, and historical sites that it will make your head spin. I’ve been here for four weeks, and I still haven’t seen everything. In fact, I only went into the Radcliffe Camera for the first time last weekend. The kebab carts are really good too — think of it like the Brit equivalent of late night Taco Bell runs in C-ville — which, by the way, the British are incredibly jealous that our fast food joints are open 24 hours. Everything here closes early; even pubs shut the doors at midnight.

Academically, Oxford provides a uniquely individualized setting. There are no “classes” — unless you’re a science student. Instead, there are tutorials. I meet once a week with my Modern Literature tutor and once every other week with my Jurisprudence tutor. For each meeting, I complete a reading list and write a 2500-3000 word essay on that week’s reading. And then we discuss the paper and the readings in tutorial. It’s tough. And the week is easily consumed with reading, writing, and preparing for tutorial. But the social aspects are great too.

I’ve started rowing crew, and it’s a ton of fun. It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite sports — and not just because of the crew dates (dinners and club nights where guys’ VIIIs pair with women’s VIIIs from other Oxford colleges). We’re gearing up for the Christ Church Regatta in 7th Week — a race for novices only. With weekly outings and gym sessions there’s plenty to keep me busy. And it gives me a needed break from all the reading.

I’ve heard people talk about their study abroad experience — the nervousness associated with being in a new place, the new people they met, the traveling they did, and the amazing memories they had. And I thought it was just hype.

But they were on to something. There’s something to be said for leaving everything you know and everything with which you are familiar behind and starting entirely from scratch. That’s exactly what studying abroad forces you to do — particularly at a place like Oxford. And I’m having the time of my life. I can’t explain why, really. I think it’s mainly due to the incredible variety of experiences you can have here. It forces you to look back on everything that brought you here and everything that’s yet to come. And that’s vastly rewarding. I’m exceptionally grateful to be able to have the experience. As great as Oxford is, I’ve also come to appreciate Wabash even more by being here. And I have to say thanks to everyone at the College and to my family for preparing me for this experience. I can’t believe it’s nearly over.

London Helps Wang ’13 Understand Cultural Differences

Bo Wang ’13 – I have been in London for about two months so far, and I pretty much enjoy my life here. I want to say thank you to Wabash that give me such a good chance to explore the education system in British.

Actually, my college, Queen Mary, University of London, runs quite differently compared with Wabash. First of all, I haven’t been assigned with any homework yet, which took me some time to get used to. I have two major courses and two distribution classes here, and one of them has a quiz or a unit test, nor do they have any homework to turn in. In Wabash, I am always doing my homework for most of my day, and there is quiz almost every week that I have to review my class notes every night in order to digest the knowledge in time. There is a boy living besides my room who is a local resident, and he told me that the fall semester could be divided into three small parts, and most of the British student only begin to study after the second part, which is around the Christmas.

They just concern with a “pass”, not the GPA in the U.S. I think their action and altitude then make sense because there is no exam or homework to push them to study in time. Besides, it is hard to catch your professor after lecture because they are always in a hurry to rush to the next classroom. And often their office hour is no more than two hours a week. In other time, their office door is always locked. None of those professors knew my name, and they don’t care. There is a lack of a communication of between the students and professors — the same problem that lies in those state universities in the U.S.
After education, I want to talk about my life in London. London is a great place for everything but study.

One of Bo’s night time shots of London.

I have to admit this three month is the most colorful time in my life. You can do whatever you want to do in this city. Maybe you want to argue that New York City is also a choice in this purpose, however, London is much safer. I often carry my tripod and my Nikon DSLR camera to walk on the streets at night. I love to spend my night time alone, only with my camera. I have explored most part of this city on foot, with hundreds of pictures taken. I love the historic feeling that this city gives to me. The buildings in central part of London are all of hundreds of years in age, and they are so beautiful and graceful. I sometimes even have a delusion that I was going back by the time machine when I hang around Oxford circus or Regent Street, surrounded by those old buildings.

The price level is very high, because of the exchange rate. I can often hear the other students from the states complain about the expensive price of the food and transportation fee. A cup of Ben Jerry’s is about five pounds. A day’s tube fare could be around ten pounds.

As an international student, I feel lucky to study both in the US and in the UK. I thus have a deeper understanding why Chinese young students prefer the US. Because US have a much competitive and stressful education system which can give the student more during their study, both mentally and physically. On the other hand, UK is a better place to travel and spend the holiday.

Griffin ’13 Elected Harlaxton Student Body President

Tyler Griffin ’13 – “You’ll be back with tears of defeat and then you will know that college is no place for you.” The bell rings and I throw my hoodie over my head and let the warm saltiness slip from the corner of my eyes. The rowdiness in the hallways seems to deafen as I precariously walk through my soon to be high school Alma Mater. Three weeks from graduation, eyes set on Wabash and my teacher whispers this into my ear. Some memories never seem to fade.

President Tyler Griffin and Vice President Jon Mondovics

Fast-forward to Monday September 5, 2011, “Congratulations Tyler Griffin you are the new Harlaxton College Student Body President.” In addition to booking trips to the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Ireland and Portugal like the rest of my fellow abroad students, I will be in charge of running Harlaxton’s student government.  Luckily, I will not be running this alone, but rather with fellow Wabash student, Michael Jon Mondovics ’13 who was elected Vice President.

Student government is a bit different in Grantham, England than at Wabash College. Funds are extremely limited and finding people to forgo trips to Ibiza in order to stay and help with a charity event isn’t easy. I have a small team of around 7 people who are in charge of overseeing philanthropy, pep rallies, talent shows and a host of other both recreational and educational events.

Yes, there will be times when I will be organizing capture the flag tournaments, instead of exploring the emerald fields of Ireland. Fear not though, not only is this professional development, it is directly beneficial to my success at Wabash. Tyler Griffin and Michael Jon Mondovics officially announce their candidacy for Student Body President and Vice President for Wabash College in Grantham England, next stop Crawfordville, Indiana. This experience will render some great strategies and tactics hopefully we can employ at Wabash if we were so fortunate to be elected.

My responsibilities have increased exponentially, but with that come greater rewards. I will create deeper relationships with students, learn more about my leadership abilities and find ways to better them. Freshmen Saturday is but a distant memory that continues to aid me in my journey into becoming a true Wabash man. “Sometimes we do things that are not necessarily better for you, but will inspire others into greatness.” President White’s words continue to echo even as I travel this “brave new world with such people in it.”

Steele in England for Summer on Rudolph Fund

Reggie Steele ’12 – Imagine going to class from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, where your performance skills are tested and elevated each day.  Imagine singing intensely for 4 consecutive hours, leaving rehearsal and going directly to learn choreography for 2 songs that you have learned the same strenuous morning.  Imagine acting out a musical that you have never seen with limited time and resources.  Imagine a “Southern Gentlemen” learning to sing with a British accent for many songs.  Thanks to the Kenneth Rudolph Scholarship and a supporting family, this imagination has become a reality.

I am currently in the Performing Arts Program at the University of Sunderland, where I am learning intense vocal performance, drama, musical theatre, and dance training from the best academic tutors in England.  The reason I chose the University of Sunderland’s Performing Arts Program is to discover if I had what it takes to become a Broadway Performer.  Thus far, I am learning more about my talents and ability to hold an audience attention.

On the very first day, my colleagues and I learned and performed a song during orientation.  This experience was a bit shocking because at “The Bash”, we rehearse for an entire semester before we have our end of the year concert. But if you know me well, you would know that I live to perform and I was excited to begin this challenge.

During my first week of performance, my dance academic tutor shared with me a harsh and brutal reality of Broadway. This reality is that a body cut takes place and if an audition-er do not fit the costume, he or she does not audition. My eyes opened and gazed for a very, very long time. As I asked her more questions about this reality, she then told me that two-thirds of the cast of the musical “Lion King” showing in London are Asian. It was shocking to her at first when she was told, but she later stated this is the real world, and the world of Broadway does not have time to make new costumes that cost nearly $500 each.  As I continue to face this reality, my vocal teacher told me that there are many roles that fit my body type, and I shouldn’t give up the faith.  The other thing that he told me was to be the best, and someone will take a chance on me.

So, what am I going to do now? I have chosen to be the best! In order to be the best, I believe that I must continue to have outstanding vocals, improve my acting skills and dance technique, and loose just a few pounds.  The steps that I will take my senior year to improve all of these skills are to continue my voice lessons with the best vocal instructor at Wabash, audition and perform in at least 1 play at Wabash and at least 1 musical at the Vanity Theater, continue dance at Dance by Deborah, and to stay focus and optimistic.

One quality that all of my academic tutors agreed that I have is “star potential.”  I have a quality to keep people interested, and I have the talent that makes people want to invest in.  They confirmed this quality after my interview with 107 Spark FM which could be heard with this link:

I cannot express how important it is to study abroad, and how it could really assist in career opportunities. This short program has been a stepping stone in my career path.  It has shown me what I can do in musical theater, and has given direction to ensure that I make the proper steps to success. I would like to thank once again the family of Kenneth Rudolph and my loving family for your financial and caring support through this journey.  When I return there will be a presentation with footage of my performances, and live songs, so watch for an email.  Although this program has given me the harsh realities, I am grateful.  I know what it takes and what I need to do to make my dreams a reality!

Moore Reflects on Time in Spain

Jacob Moore ’12 – On May 23rd I left my small hometown of Crawfordsville, IN to study in Valencia, Spain for a month.  I was accepted through the University of Virginia to study at their host sight, in Valencia.  This trip was definitely way out of my comfort zone, as I did not know a single person who would be accompanying me.  However, I would not change the experience for the world.  It has made me more confident in myself as a person, seeing a different culture alone, and making many memories along the way.

Growing up, I was the youngest in my family; I always had the back up of my siblings or parents.  Many people see high school as their “growing up stage” and lose their “support” system of family.  However, I had two older siblings already attending the high school, and thus I had support.  Next came college.

Heading to college, I chose Wabash College another small school of about 600, and once again the support continued during this major transition in life, as my brother attended Wabash, and the campus is a 15-minute drive from my house.

This trip, however, I was on my own for the first time! Arriving in Spain, I met my random host family, which turned out to be the best family here (in my opinion).  They are very similar to mine with 3 boys and 1 girl (the youngest, Jacobo, being 25, the eldest, Marino, 36 and with two more in the middle).  They took me in as a fourth brother and showed me the ropes of living in Spain.  The first week was a little rough getting accustomed to being on my own, but after being lost twice throughout the city and making friends everything turned out great.

However, this past weekend has been my best experience, yet.  I hopped on a bus and went to Barcelona for the Sonar Music Festival.  I met another Wabash student, Logan Falley, who is studying in Madrid, and we began touring the city.  If you don’t know Spain, this country NEVER sleeps.  The festival started at 11pm Friday and Saturday nights and did not end until 7am each morning.  This is how the “discotecas” work as well.  Everyone sleeps from roughly 5pm-9pm- a time which is called siesta- wake up to get prepared for the night, eat supper around 10PM at the earliest, and then hit up the bars.  From the bars they either go to clubs or discotecas.  The bars close at 3am, but that is when the Discotecas open up, and don’t close until 7am!  Anyway, back to Barcelona.

The Music Festival was in an “Undisclosed Warehouse” and we had to take a bus to arrive at this warehouse.  After arriving at the warehouse-I can’t explain the feelings for what happened in this warehouse, because there aren’t any words for those feelings! There were roughly 100,000 people amongst 5 different stages all blaring Techno/ Dubstep/ Electronic music.   If you have never heard techno music the best way to describe it is trancelike.  The lasers, bumps, black lights, and EVERYONE moving at the exact time sends a jive through the body only experienced at a Rave. The light shows were surreal, as were the people.  Yes, I had a wonderful time here, but it was on Sunday that made this weekend my favorite trip.

Barcelona is HUGE!  It’s the second largest city in Spain with a population over 1.5 million people. The architecture of the buildings is magnificent and once again words can’t explain.  Logan flew back to Madrid on Sunday morning at 7, but my bus didn’t leave until 7 that night.  Thus, I had all day to tour.  I checked out of my hostel at 11 am.  I circled various parts of the city on a map that I wanted to see and off I went!  My first stop was the Olympic Stadium that hosted the 1992 Olympic Games.  What I did not know was this road was heaven for a tourist, perfect! This area had various other attractions I did not plan on seeing but was glad that I did.

I walked through this beautiful garden of flowers that had blooms the size of my head, an ancient Greek Theatre, the National Museum of Art de Cataluña (MNAC), a park dedicated to the surrealist Juan Miró, and ate a very cultural lunch.  I normally would not have stopped at the two art museums, but I am taking an Art History course here, and have a newfound love for art. (Yes, the extended limbs, squiggly lines, and squares are art).  From here, I hopped on a metro and went up north to visit Camp Nu, which is the home stadium for FC Barcelona, one of Spain’s, and the world’s most famous soccer teams.

Sadly, I arrived 30 minutes too late, and could not walk inside the gate, as there were guards everywhere.  From Camp Nu, the stadium, I jumped on another metro directly east and visited Gaudi’s, Park Güell.  This is not your average park, as Gaudi is an unbelievable architect.  All the way up the mountain were various walls, bridges, and other structures built out of rock and plaster.  How they were able to accomplish this feat I am yet to know.   To finish my journey I headed south to Gaudi’s most famous structure, and one of the most famous buildings/ Catholic Church in the world…. La Sagrada Familia.  The building’s groundbreaking was in 1826, and the completion date is set for 2026, the centennial of Gaudi’s death.  I will try and explain, but once again, you will have to look at Google images to try and understand what I saw, but up close in person is breath-taking to say the least.   Sadly, once again I arrived too late and could not enter, but maybe the next trip to Europe I will be able to accomplish these tasks.    La Sagrada Familia is by far the biggest building I have laid eyes on, and there are various levels to it.  One side shows a group of angels peering out of the side the building, while right next to them is this cone like figure that makes as a window.  However, there is no glass, and people just walk out to peer down to the city approximately 13-15 stories up.  Crazy thing is, this ledge is only half way up the building.  Below I attached a picture of the “edificio” to give the building justice.

From here I had about 1.5 hours left so I began walking to the bus stop.  On the way I had time to reflect on my journey of the day, and the previous three weeks in Spain.  However, these thoughts were interrupted as I passed the bull-fighting stadium!  Finally in my favor (I was not too late), there was a bullfight that night and I was able to witness the protests that went along with it.  After a few tourist pictures and speaking with the peaceful protestor’s I continued my journey to the bus station.  Sadly, I could not miss the bus because it is a 5-hour trip back to Valencia.

Spain has taught me a lot, and I have become a better person because of it.  The people here are more than nice and are more than willing to help out.  I have been lost on a number of occasions, and luckily I was living close to a big church and stated:“Donde está la Mesquita” and with a simple point of the finger I’m was off on my way.  This trip also helped me become very independent person, and know I can travel alone to other countries and be just fine. If I can take the metro, bus, or walk without knowing anyone or knowing the area, I know that I can handle the turns and “closed” signs that will happen in my life journey.

Spain has not been all roses and chocolate though, which also helped me grow as a person, too.  I believe you have to see ugly/hate in order to see peace/love, and that has happened.  On a number of occasions I have hung out with people that are not the nicest in the world, which made me a better person in the end, and I can only thank God for putting me in these situations, as seeing those people not being polite has taught me that being kind and nice will get you further in the game of life.  One occasion I was enjoying a relaxing day at the beach doing some homework and I saw this frail young boy with an oxygen tank.  With him were two adults and what appeared to be his sister.  This had to be the boys first time at the Beach because the smile he had on his face was priceless. He would jog up to the water and just stop before getting wet.  Finally after a few minutes of prodding the young boy took his sisters (4-5 years old) hand and tiptoed into the water.  He splashed and played as much as he was able to.  These experiences are ones that will stick with me forever, and I am grateful I am able to live them.

I hope you liked my tour of Barcelona, and if you have any questions or would like to hear more stories you can always join “Wabash College Wrestling” Facebook page and I will be more than glad to respond!

NY Art Program Provides Intense Experience

Kristijonas Paltanavicius ’12 – This past semester has been one of the most intensive learning experiences in my life. I, as a theatre major, had done some work at the Vanity Theater, the Theater Department and professional theatres in Lithuania. All of that led me to do an internship with the New York Arts Program. The program gave me an opportunity to intern at The New Group Theatre located in the heart of New York City.

Read about Kris’ summer internship in Lithuania here.

The internship at The New Group gives me a better understanding of how a professional theatre in New York functions. When I first came to the city I had a chance to intern for the production called “Blood from a Stone.” Theatre and film stars such as Ethan Hawke, Natasha Lyonne and Daphne Rubin-Vega starred in the show. It was amazing to watch them prepare for every performance, assist with pre-setting the show and do scene change work during the performance. Working as a production assistant gave me an understanding how different parts of the professional crew worked to make each show a success.

Kris, far right, with actors in "Marie & Bruce"

From the very first day at The New Group, I was struck by the friendliness of the New York theatre people. I felt like ‘a part of the family’ from the very first day which made the learning experience even richer. Towards the end of the series of “Blood from a Stone” performances we started rehearsing a new show “Marie and Bruce.”

Marie and Bruce” officially opened on Monday and already got a great review in the New York Times. Wallace Shawn—the author of the play—is always at the theatre discussing different aspects of the staging of his masterpiece with the actors. It is very inspiring for me to be around the humble Mr. Shawn—an artist I admire so much—everyday and observing his work with actors and the director. Scott Elliott—the Tony-Award-winning director of “Marie and Bruce”—is extremely encouraging to me, as an aspiring theatre director. It means a lot to me to be able to see him work because I am very fond of his genius directorial choices.

Originally “Marie and Bruce” was a film in which Marie’s role was developed by Julianne Moore. In The New Group’s version of Wallace Shawn’s play, Marie’s part flourishes in the Academy-Award-winning Marisa Tomei’s hands. She is an extraordinary actress, and I feel extremely lucky to have an opportunity to observe her develop her character. The fact that all of these accomplished artists are very friendly with me makes it all even more special. Seeing so many acclaimed theatres professionals collaborate on “Marie and Bruce” gave me an immeasurable amount of knowledge in production and other aspects of the theatre business.

Honestly, this whole experience of being in New York feels a bit like a movie. The more time I spend here, the more I realize that it is the best place for a young artist to evolve, stay constantly inspired and achieve whatever goals he/she has. I feel like I belong in this city and have already forgotten that I am not from here originally. I am working very hard to develop professional and social networks and am involved in a number of projects.

The most important part of my semester in NYC is the lessons that I learnt about myself. I have had a chance to test my own abilities and find out about the facets of me that I was not aware of before. Most importantly, I am surrounded by people whom I look up to, and it is crucial when you are young and are trying to define the career path you want to follow. So far, I feel like I fit right into the city and am trying to make the best out of every day I spend in the ‘capital of everything’!

Transitioning from Vienna to German Countryside


Kris in Budapest

Kristofer Klondaris ’12 – My month of intensive language training in Vienna is over and my time spent in Austria has been far more eventful and far different than what I expected. I have, through a combination of chance and a curious disposition, been exposed to a huge variety of things that one should hope to experience while living abroad including art, architecture, langauge, food, ideas, modes of political/social thought, and so on.  

In only one month I’ve managed to eat gulasch in Budapest, drink Riesling in Slovenia, cruise along the Danube in the Wachau Valley, and, of course, sip on countless Grosse Brauners (a typical Viennese style of coffee) at most of the big-name Viennese coffee houses. (Well, they’re big-name to certain crowds; usually the artist, the tourist, or the aristocrat; and by aristocrat I mean the real-deal aristocrat: the fur-coat flashing elderly widow who pulls up to the cafe in her Rolls Royce for her afternoon coffee and cake.) And yes, the Viennese coffee is actually as good as everyone says – far better than the watered-down stuff we get in the states at any rate.

The Maribor River and town

In addition to indulging in the coffee, taking intensive German classes (between 3 and 6 hours every day), and seeing the sights in my free time, I’ve also become acquainted with a good mix of European students in my Studentheim (student residence). The students in my hallway, of which there was one from virtually every European country, were generally eager to get to know the only American on the floor.

There were a number of long nights spent in conversation about cultural values relating to everything from compulsory military service to the price of gasoline. This exchange of ideas was almost, if not more, valuable to me than simply observing the big tourist attractions. Of course, getting out to see an opera or bargaining in German at the Saturday morning flea market are valuable parts of a good study abroad expereince, but a deep cultural exchange between a small group of people is just important in my mind.

But, the relationships I’ve formed in Vienna have been cut short, as I’m now moving to Marburg, Germany to do a do a full-time semester at Phillips University. While my Wabash brothers are wrapping up their semester, I’m just about to get started with mine. At Marburg (a university town with a population of 80,000), I’ll essentially be living the life of a German college student by taking three full-time university classes, all taught in German. I’ll also be doing some language courses on the side to keep my grammar up to par.

Although seeing Vienna was a great experience, I’m looking forward to settling down in quiet Marburg for a more down-to-earth experience; an experience which will allow me to truly get to know the students and the local culture. I look forward to partaking in a similarly deep cultural exchange, but without the commotion and glamour that adorned Vienna. Vienna is truly a great city, but I’m leaving it now with a handful of great experiences, a much broader knowledge of the German language, and an increased yearning for the tranquility of the German countryside.

The Preppy New York

Yangnan Liu’12 – Being the hub of the fashion industry, New York is constantly changing its styles.  Chic New Yorkers represent the latest trends in fashion districts like SoHo and Fifth Ave. No one (at least in Manhattan) puts on sweatpants and a big college logo hoddie to go out. Most people are seriously well dressed and our convenient ‘Wabash casual dress code’ is certainly not acceptable in these trendy areas.  Thus, this leaves me another opportunity to discover the fashion attitude of New York City.

I am not a fashion expert and working in an advertising agency does not require me to dress creatively every day either.  For most of the time, I just put a clean and nicely pressed shirt for the top and wear my dark jeans or khaki pants with my favorite sneakers (yes, I am allowed to wear sneakers in the office and creative people can even put on their colorful flip-flops in the summer time).  My outfit clearly labels me ‘the College Intern’ and it becomes almost natural for my new colleagues to start a conversation with me by asking which school I go to. 

I noticed several little things that ad men are crazy about. Almost every male creative guy, ranging from graphic designer to chief creative officer, carries a Jack Spade messenger bag. This simply designed, mid-sized accessory usually signals which department the owner belongs to and further proves that even the most creative thinkers are sometimes keeping a simple mind. On another hand, Brand Planners always favor The North Face pack bag. Strategic planners are more concerned about the functionality and durability of a bag thus sports/school bags that include a lap-top layer and are able to handle heavy weight become very popular. (Well, their choice of the brand The North Face might also be due to the client-agency relationship of DDB Worldwide Global Network).

The scene of ad men dressing in suit and tie in the sixties show MAD MEN is no longer existing on Madison Avenue. Every day is ‘casual Friday’ here at DDB and sometimes even the CEO wears jeans to work.  I really enjoy the laid back working environment here but this does not mean people do not get busy. I would be lucky to get off at 5pm during the week and sometimes I have to work with other planners till 8pm (when compared with banking interns, I feel much better though).

It’s almost unreal that this semester will come to an end in less than a month. I feel like I have not seen the spring of New York yet! Hope the weather is going to constantly get nicer so that I could enjoy the city a little bit more during my last few weeks.

Opportunities ‘Running’ Around Europe

Kenny Farris ’12 – Some people look at the world around them and take a picture of it.  Others look at their world and want to build something: a large farm in the country, a castle on a hill, or a factory in the depths of the city.  Each view has its own purpose, and there’s no simple answer as to which action is more desirable.

Farris at Zadar Beach, Croatia

Through my nearly three months abroad, I’ve often looked at the world around me and thought about running.  Even though I’m away from Wabash for an entire semester, I am still a Wabash College Cross Country and Track & Field athlete.  My personal and team goals don’t fade away with a temporary change in location and being away from the team.

Fortunately for me, Harlaxton College has been a great place to train.  Set out in the countryside of England, I can run on country roads nearly void of traffic, a dirt towpath along a canal stretching 30-plus miles, or the mangled network of public footpaths through sheep pastures and small villages.  Harlaxton College lies in a valley between two ridges, and most of my routes take me over at least one of these ridges, if not both.

In foreign cities I search for parks and green space so I don’t have to run down crowded concrete streets for an hour.  In London I’ve twice run in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, using a four-mile perimeter loop as the base for my runs.  My hostel in Krakow, Poland, sat nearby a 2.5 loop around the old city and connected with a river footpath that extended six miles one way without street crossings.

Not every foreign city has good running, as often times cheap housing isn’t close to a large park or green space.  I found a canal footpath in Dublin, but it seemed to be a hangout for jesting alcoholics easily entertained by those wearing running shorts.  I couldn’t explore trails in Croatian woods near Zadar, as signs warned me of potentially active landmines.  Even so, slipping on my shoes on a Saturday morning often works well for a daily run, as tourists and locals normally don’t greet the morning sun and I’m not changing group travel plans.

A running/walking path along Grantham Canal

I’ve traveled three places specifically with running in mind.  In January I visited Iffley Road, the Oxford track where Roger Bannister became the first human to run the sub-4:00 mile.  There I saw not a tourist attraction but rather an active athletics club for the Oxford campuses, pleasing me that such a personal place of pilgrimage still retained its essence as a place to race fast.

I journeyed to Birmingham in February to watch a professional indoor track meet.  Meet participants placed five world-leading marks at the time, but the highlight of the meet was the finishing 5,000 meter men’s race, where Brit Mo Farah broke the European indoor record for the distance with the help of American and training partner Galen Rupp.  The two men provided little flash and remained stoic throughout the race, looking fit.  Simply put, they just ran fast.

March led me to Punta Umbria, Spain for the World Cross Country Championships.  I expected to see a race, spend maybe a little time in the beachside resort, and end by returning back by train to Seville for my return flight.  Through a chance meeting on Ryanair with a club manager in London, I found myself a free ride to the race and back while talking about Division II and III running (which very few Brits understand).  That string of luck would have satisfied me, but at the race I met members of the club, including the childhood coach of Charlotte Purdue, the top European female finisher in the women’s senior race, and briefly chatted with her as she warmed down draped in a Union Jack flag.  I discovered that 11 of the 24 British athletes competing in the race had connections to this club, named AFD, and I watched the race with parents, coaches, the manager, and other club runners.  I definitely could not have planned or expected such chance meetings with hospitable strangers!

With this and my solo training, I can’t wait to return to campus and begin training with the team again.  I feel renewed, refreshed, and more confident in my own ability to find the will within myself to race as fast as possible for Wabash College.

Experience in France has Profound Impact

“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.