Salamanca is Like Mini United Nations

Jon O’Donnell ’10 -Slightly more than two months have passed since I first arrived in Spain. It’s not often articulated that to leave everything behind to live in a different culture for several months is a substantial challenge, but without a doubt I can say that my off-campus experience has been very formative. While my first four semesters at Wabash certainly taught me how to think and I’ve filled my head with all of the physical constants that exist in the Sciences, I had not grown much socially and culturally. Salamanca, Spain, where I am studying abroad currently is like a mini-UN consisting of students. 

No joke: I have met one student from EVERY country in Western Europe and many from Eastern Europe, as well as someone from nearly all the SE Asian countries, all around Latin America, and Australia.  My best friends here are from England, Switzerland, Germany, and Australia.  I keep in touch with a girl from Tehran, Iran, who is currently studying in Madrid.  While there are loads of Americans studying abroad here (Salamanca is THE place to study if you desire traditional Castilian Spanish), I intentionally try to avoid as many as I can in order to prevent the trap of falling back into a “comfort zone.” 

It is nearly impossible to describe the impact that this cornucopia of nationalities has had on my worldview, but I have learned that we don’t live in an “Americo-centric” world, though America is an important, powerful presence in every other country.  I, as an American, have tremendous responsibility to live well and correctly.  I hope I can carry this lesson into my adulthood and practice it wisely.

Besides being exposed to many differing worldviews and cultures, I have traveled plenty.  I was fortunate enough to work out one trip to Northern Spain with my friend and classmate Forrest Craig (Wabash ’10), who is currently studying in Segovia, Spain.  We traveled from Salamanca to the País Vasco and Cantabria (two regions in the north of Spain).  San Sebastián is perhaps the most beautifully located city I have ever experienced; Bilbao’s amazing Guggenheim Museum dazzled me with its modern art showcase and sinuous architecture; Santander’s beaches provided a welcome respite; and Santillana del Mar’s Altamira Caves display some of the oldest known paintings on earth, about which I had learned just the week before in my Spanish Art History class.  

I also visited Rob Harvey and Dan Metz (both Wabash ’10) previously for a week in Rome, where they are studying; they graciously shared their apartment with me. I have plans to meet up with Mark Thomas (Wabash ’10), who is studying in Toledo, in Madrid in early December.

My Spanish language speaking skills have come a looooong way.  I can understand everything that is said when one is talking directly to me, and my own conversing abilities continue to improve exponentially.  I have several friends from other countries (notably Germany and Japan) with whom I only speak in Spanish, although English would be more comfortable even for them.  The fact that we both are working hard to better our Spanish only works as a snowball effect, so that it becomes easier to speak Spanish the more we practice it together. 

Although it is difficult to avoid the occasional homesickness, I am so blessed to be having the truly international experience that is found in Salamanca.  I have made friends from all over, friendships deep enough where a quick message in the future will setup a place to crash for some period of time in Europe, Asia, or Australia.  Priceless.

In Photos: Upper right, A view of the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca at night. Center left, Forrest Craig and I above La Concha bay in San Sebastián, Spain. Lower right, a view of the Patio de Escuelas Menores that is located just outside my classroom window at the University of Salamanca.

Being Immersed in Italian Life

David Haggard ’10 – My experience in Rome has truly been a blessing.  Studying aboard in Italy has enriched and enhanced my study of religion. I feel like I am completely immersed in the Catholic culture of Italy, whether it be having my Baroque art class in St. Peter’s Basilica or the Borghese Gallery or going to daily mass with Dominican Nuns my study of religion constantly surrounds me.

One of my favorite stories so far in my travels has happened to me at the beginning of the Studying Abroad. I was on my way to Mass to a Church that Professor David Kubiak recommended and of course I got completely lost. So after hour and half and missing Mass, I hopped on the first random bus.  I then precede to strike up a conversation with the man next to me.  He sees that I am holding my Roman Missal and tells me that he is in fact a Byzantine Priest.  He then invites to Mass with him.  Little did I know that the Church where he Presides also houses La Bocca della Verità (The Mouth of Truth).  Legend has it that any liar who sticks his hand in the large marble mouth of the face will have it immediately bitten off.  La Bocca was made famous in the 1953 film Roman Holiday which stars Audrey Hepburn. So anyways the Mass was amazing (the east has amazing liturgy) and the Priest took me out for Coffee afterwards. It was also the first time in my life where I was surrounded by non-english speakers.  Talk about being immersed.


I have spent most of my travel time visiting small Italian towns and villages.  My favorite town has been Alghero in Sardinia (a town on one of the islands outside of Italy).  The seafood was amazing, I had chargrilled octopus for the first time.  Alghero was also a great place to practice my Italian since none of the natives knew any English.  The people were nice and the beaches were perfect. I had a great time.



Volunteering at the Hermitage has its benefits

Aaron Bonar ’10 – Sure, one can freely roam one of the greatest museums in the world and see  priceless masterpieces, or get into shows like “Swan Lake” for free, but nothing beats the discounted pizza at the Hermitage Cafe. I mean, what Wabash Man doesn’t love cheap food?

Now, what was I supposed to talk about? Oh yes, culture, excursions and all that. I guess I can mention those things too.

Our group excursion to Velikiy Novgorod, the oldest city in modern Russia, provided a great picture of Russia’s rich history. Founded over a millennium ago, it began as a democratic republic, electing its prince from a large field of nobles. This democratic reign came to an end when Ivan III, Grand Duke of Moscow, united all of the Russian lands under his authoritarian grip. On the city’s one thousandth birthday in 1862, the Russian Millennium Monument was dedicated to honor Russia’s accomplishments. From the founding of Kievian Rus to the victory over Napoleon and beyond, the monument features famous Russian artists, religious leaders, and Tsars who made important contributions to Russia’s culture and national power. Surrounded by its own kremlin, Velikiy Novgorod is an often overlooked treasure chest of Russian culture and history.

On September 20, my group traveled to Peter and Paul Fortress, one of the most famous structures in St. Petersburg. Instantly recognizable by the high, golden tower of Peter and Paul Cathedral, the fortress was the first structure built in the city. Tsar Peter I himself took part in the construction. While the fortress contains many historical sites and museums, one of the most interesting structures in the Peter and Paul Cathedral, the resting place of every Tsar since Peter I. Even Nicholas II, the last emperor, is buried here alongside his family. Standing in the main hall surrounded by the bones of history is quite an experience. The panorama of the city seen from the fortress walls is beautiful at sunset.

Pavlovsk, a beautiful palace built in the classical style, was our next destination. Situated in the middle of a seemingly endless park filled with woodlands and rolling hills, the palace contained priceless paintings and personal artifacts of the late Tsar. While it was beautiful, I have to admit that I still find the Winter Palace to be more beautiful.

On Friday October 10th, the group departed for Moscow on an overnight train for our semester break. While the excursion was supposed to last three days, I had different plans. My parents flew in for the break, and we left together on Sunday for Saratov, a city in southern Russia, to visit some Russian students who had come to Wabash during my freshman year. It was great to see them, and I hope I have an opportunity to visit them again.

Over the past few weeks, I have continued to explore St. Petersburg. The group as a whole has settled in, and many consider St. Petersburg their second home. Personally, I can tell that my Russian has improved by leaps and bounds, and Veronika, the former Wabash Russian intern whom I met in Moscow, agrees. I only hope that the approaching months will be as good as the first. 

In Photos: Top right: A sunset view of Peter and Paul Fortress. Center left, Aaron in front of the circus in Saratov, the first circus in Russia. Below, the seat of government – the Kremlin.


Exploring Cities Around Toledo

Mark Thomas ’10 – After finishing up my third week in Spain, I can definitely say that I am having a fantastic time living, learning, and traveling here.  Also, I have quickly learned how easy it is to pick up drinking coffee in Europe, especially for someone who used to hate the taste.  Currently I am drinking only one cup a day, but who knows what the future will hold.

The first week of classes consisted of traveling around my host city of Toledo.  The historic and antiquated city of Toledo is drastically different from any city in the United States.  Even though it has a smaller population than my home town of Muncie, Indiana, the city sits upon a hill guarded by old stone walls and fortifications. Early on in my stay, the school took my fellow students and me on a tour of the city.  The highlight was when we drove up onto the neighboring mountain and took pictures of the city.  Toledo has so many unique aspects and sites to see, but even though I live here, I haven’t had the time to discover them all.

After the second week of classes, a couple of friends from school and me traveled south to the city of Granada.  There we were able to visit Granada’s main attraction, Alhambra.  Underlined by its artistic quality and grand size, the site is most famous for being the last Moorish stronghold in Spain before Christians from the north seized it.  Even though we were at the location quite early in the morning, we had to wait four hours to get into the palace area of Alhambra, which turned out to not be a problem.  The actual area around the palace was so large with its gardens, museums, and forts that we spent nearly five hours exploring the whole site.  Granada was also exceptional because of its cheap and quick kebab stands.  For around 3 euro, one can become quite stuffed, or allow half of it to fall onto the ground. 

The latest and definitely most entertaining trip I have taken during my stay in Spain was Barcelona.  The city of Barcelona is definitely one of the most fascinating cities I have ever visited.  The architecture, highlighted by famous Gaudi structures, displays a mixture of French, Spanish, and Mediterranean influence.  The only city in the United States similar to Barcelona would be New Orleans.  Also, in all of the large cities in Spain one would not see dozens of skyscrapers and cranes for construction. Instead one would observe a vast amount of original structures, many over hundreds of years old. 

My favorite and perhaps most interesting part of the Barcelona visit was having the opportunity to attend a FC Barcelona soccer match.  Though, this was no usual soccer match. This was a Barcelona vs. Espanyol derby.  Both teams reside in the city, but have totally different fan bases.  The majority of FC Barcelona fans are separatists, wanting to secede from Spain, while the Espanyol fans are said to be nationalists.  This created conflict that I was not expecting to see.  During the game the visiting fans of FC Barcelona starting hurling lit flares and bottles of unknown substances onto the stands were the supporters of Espanyol resided.  These acts created an uprising from many Espanyol fans which was quickly followed by riot police surrounding the Barcelona fans until the end of the game.  So with all of these visits I would definitely say that I have been able to experience much of Spain  . . .  and more.               

Schultz ’10 Finds Language Challenging

Mark Schultz ’10 – My study abroad experience in Germany began three weeks ago when I landed in Frankfurt. Since then, the program has kept us busy with study trips and grammar classes. On Monday, we have to take the DSH test which partially determines what classes we can take. All of those little details within the German language that I always skimmed over are starting to come back to get me.

The first weekend we traveled to Wertheim and Würzburg along the Romantic Road. Würzburg is famous for the Residenz, which is a large palace built in the baroque architecture style. We were given a couple hours of free time to wander around and visit a number of other historical sites in the city. Last weekend we traveled by bus to Bavaria, Switzerland and Lichtenstein. In Bavaria, we saw one of the most famous European castles, Neuschwanstein. We have seen a number of castles in the few weeks here, but this one clearly beats them all. Unfortunately it was raining for most of the trip, but a number of people in the group managed to pass the time with a few beverages.

I am looking forward to entering the classes at the Üniversität in Heidelberg, mostly because it means being done with four hours of grammar classes every morning. The program also offers numerous opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities and even find a part time internship. On top of that, it’s a nice change of pace to actually have girls in class.

Next weekend is Heidelberger Herbst, which is basically Heidelberg’s version of Oktoberfest. The next weekend is the Volksfest in Stuttgart, so I should be keeping busy for a little while. A few fraternity brothers are planning on visiting for those events, so hopefully that works out as planned.

In photos: Upper left, Schultz at Neuschwanstein. Lower right, Heidelberg’s famous castle overlooking the city.

A Road Trip to Germany for Beethoven

While many of my peers that are studying abroad this semester are finally getting settled into their new environment and gearing up for classes, I have taken somewhat of a different route. I’ve already had my first round of finals and am on fall break as I write this in mid-September! Not to fear, though, my classes will be starting up again and won’t slow down for the rest of my time in Vienna, Austria.

For fall break, I have decided to take an academic break. By that I mean take a break from my normal classes and do some major research on Ludwig van Beethoven for a lecture/presentation that I am planning in conjunction with a junior piano recital for next semester under the guidance of my piano instructor, the unceasingly amazing Cheryl Everett (just as an FYI, Cheryl has held performances in Vienna. Appreciate that the next time you hear her play “Old Wabash”).

Although my official research began in Vienna, as Beethoven lived most of his life in the city, I would be remiss if I did not visit his hometown, Bonn, Germany while being abroad. It was about a 10-hour train ride, but worth every second of it. I have been able to visit numerous memorial sites dedicated to Beethoven. It worked out that I am in Bonn during Beethovenfest! Not quite like Germany’s other “fest”…Some people are very serious about the music of Beethoven, and others just kind of check it out. Unfortunately for me, however, the events being held during my time in Bonn had sold out before my arrival.

The first location I went to was the actual birth house of Beethoven. Dean Rater’s new office, if it were split into two levels with a small attic above it, would be very comparable to the size of the original Beethoven house. It was quite small for a family, but the Beethoven Society has made adjustments to the structure of the house and adjoining houses, combining them to make a nice sized museum. In the museum, I was able to see many original items from Beethoven’s era including instruments (pianos, violins, violas, cellos, flutes, clarinets, bassoons), documents (personal letters, official *original* scores of music, conversation books, announcements/advertisements), furniture (writing desks and busts) and other mementos such as a lock of Beethoven’s hair from right after he died, pictures (paintings) of his closest friends, and his infamous hearing devices due to his hearing loss.

At the completion of my tour of the house and museum, I spoke briefly with the faculty and once they found out the reason for my trip to Bonn, they invited me to visit their private library to share their resources on Beethoven with me. I ended up staying for a few hours just reading and jotting things down. It eventually came time to close and they invited me to come back for as long as I would be in Bonn.

I discovered on my second day of research the table I was working from is a table from the 18th century. It had belonged to one of Beethoven’s close musician friends (I unfortunately didn’t catch the name) and it is believed by the Beethoven Society that the “Quartet Table” was used numerous times by Beethoven and his friends for composing and playing music, as at each side of the table the setting could be converted into a music stand, perfect for string quartets.

I’m already excited about my presentation, but I am more looking forward to the continued research while I am abroad.

Italians Have a Slower-Paced Lifestyle

Nathan Schrader ’10 – So needless to say these last two weeks have been an adventure. The excitement of arriving, the homesickness, the amazing breathtaking views of Roman buildings … it’s a giant blur. It’s quite an adjustment from Wabash, which is why I wonder what I’m doing here at the moment. The 30 minute commute to school, cooking my own meals, dealing with the euro and money, the 3-1 girl to guy ratio, and NO BASEBALL. Or any fields for that matter. I was ecstatic when I found a baseball field the other day about 15 minute ride from the apartment You just don’t know what you got until it’s gone.

Otherwise, seeing Dan Metz and Rob Harvey at Campo di Fiori (the American social scene in Rome) was a blast. David Haggard too. Other fun stuff includes seeing all the monuments, visiting quaint little Todi (a relief from the hustle bustle of Rome), and eating a 12-course meal at a restaurant in the hills.

And two things with Italian culture – they definitely don’t work out hard – it’s more of a social thing, and the value of family and enjoying the simple things amazes me. There are so many people chilling on the Spanish steps or at St. Peter’s. It makes me realize Americans could slow it down a bit.

Well that’s all I have for now, keep you posted. Pics are of the Wabash guys at Campo di Fiori in Rome and of me and an overlook of the city.

Exploring Madrid While Settling In

Mark Thomas ’10 – With much thanks to Wabash, I have been given the opportunity to do what many juniors at Wabash this year are doing, studying abroad. After my arrival in Madrid, Spain, I met up with my orientation coordinator, who then proceeded to place me in a taxi en route to my hotel. There I slept for about five hours trying to drop my bad case of jet lag. 

First suggestion, don’t watch the extra movies on the plane, simply go to sleep after dinner is served. Later that day, my orientation group and I traveled around Madrid, viewing all the monuments and architecture the city had to offer. Even though I am studying in ancient Toledo, Madrid was a great introduction to the country and culture of Spain. 

One of my main goals while in Spain is to blend in as much with the locals as possible. Obviously, wearing a San Diego, California, shirt the first day there was not the best way of achieving this.

To my delight, the food is fantastic here. Every plate that I have received so far has been filled with various types of ham. Spaniards love there pork, and to honest, so do I. One difference that I have found while abroad is that many of the streets in Spain are not used for cars but rather for people to walk. Almost everyone in Spain walks in order to get from here to there. Also, Harley Davidson motorcycles are huge in Spain. Every taxi driver I spoke with asked me if I drove a Harley back home, which could be a huge misconception that Spaniards have. If so that would be an awesome misconception to have.

On my second day in Madrid, my group and I visited one of Spain’s architectural masterpieces, “El Palacio Real.” The Palacio is definitely the most beautiful and extravagant building I have ever had the pleasure to observe. One special concept was that almost all the ceilings in the rooms of the palace have been decorated by famous painters from various time periods. Also, many rooms in the Palacio had no real practical purpose other than to look beautiful, in which they were successful. One thing I found out about the Palacio that surprised me was that most of the architecture and paintings were done by Italians and not Spaniards. Unfortunately, they did not allow me to take photos inside the Palacio, but I definitely took a few shots outside from the plaza.

So now I am working on two of my major goals while in Spain, passing all my classes taught totally in Spanish and finding tickets to as many soccer games as possible. Hopefully next blog I will be writing you all with a passing grade and pictures from me at a Real Madrid game.

Great Start Exploring St. Petersburg

Aaron Bonar ’10 – St. Petersburg, Russia - Winston Churchill once said, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Nowhere is this more apparent than St. Petersburg, which is simultaneously the “Capital of the Tsars,” the “Birthplace of the Revolution,” and modern Russia’s cultural capital. A city with hundreds of museums, it is the best place to study Russian history and culture, as well as one of the most beautiful cities on the planet.

After arriving in the city, our group’s first major excursion took us to several sites in St. Petersburg. We stopped at Smolny Cathedral and the bridge linking St. Peter and Paul Fortress to the mainland. Smolny Cathedral is one place that I personally had not heard of, but I’m glad we visited it. It is a beautiful, sky-blue monastery that now serves as a concert hall. Another impressive site, in terms of historical significance, was the battleship Aurora – its cannon fired the first shot of the Russian Revolution.

Two days later, we traveled to the Hermitage, which is partially housed in the Winter Palace of the Tsars. One of the largest museums in the world, it would take one person giving one minute to each piece over nine years to get through each exhibit. I decided I would sign up to volunteer at the museum, and I’m hoping to hear from the Director of the Hermitage soon.

We also started our Russian classes during our first week, which were very interesting. I tested into the highest group, which means that two out of three of my classes are virtually immersion courses – English is spoken as little as possible. Although I thought I would have a great amount of trouble in these classes (I’ve only had one and one half years of Russian), I feel I’m adjusting quite well. I’m understanding more by the day.

On Friday, September 5, our group took a jazz boat cruise on the Neva River. We stayed on until late in the evening, which gave us the great experience of viewing St. Petersburg by night. The entire city is lit up; the bridges put on light shows as the huge fountain dances to traditional Russian music. To top it all off, each night the city shoots off fireworks for the people to enjoy. No matter what each member of our group thought of St. Petersburg beforehand, everyone fell in love with the city that night.

Today, September 6, we took another group excursion to Peterhof, the summer residence of the Tsars. A humongous complex, it is known for its many fountains and cascades. The Grand Cascade is especially beautiful; it is a seven level cascade with a golden statue dedicated to Russia’s victory over Sweden in the 1700s. St. Samson, representing Russia, is defeating a lion, the royal symbol of Sweden, in a rather dramatic fashion. The small palace “Mon Pleasure,” taken from the French language, was the favorite palace of Peter the Great, and it still houses many of his possessions. Peterhof is a beautiful reminder of the proud imperial history of Russia, and would cause the typical vision of Russia as a poorly maintained, gray nation to crumble.

Although this is not my first time traveling to Russia, I must admit that I have found a new enchantment with St. Petersburg. The contrast of imperial grandeur against Soviet architecture provides a charm that one is unlikely to find anywhere else in the world. If St. Petersburg truly is an enigma, I hope I will come close to solving it during my time here.

In photos: Top right, Aaron on the Neva River with St. Petersburg in the background. Center left,  The Grand Cascade at Peterhof. Lower right, The Ambassador Stairs in the Winter Palace, used as a reception area during imperial times, now serves as a main entrance to the Hermitage.

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