Archive for April, 2014

Spring Break

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

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After taking 2 weeks off of travel, Sabrina and I were so happy to have our parents come over to Italy and spend spring break with us!!! It felt like so long since I’d seen them. We spent the first day showing them around Milan and where we live. The next day we set off to see Cinque Terre, where we spent the next 4 or 5 days exlploring the colorful seaside towns of Monterosso, Levanto, Manarola, Vernazza, and Riomaggiore. We spent two days hiking between towns…the first between Levanto and Monterossa, and the second between Monterossa and Vernazza. I had a great time with them. I felt like a lot of the weight of traveling by yourself/with Sabrina, had been lifted. And it was great to finally have some good company too:) Sabrina and I didnt really make any friends since being here, unfortunately, and I dont know why…but it was so awesome to have some one else to talk to:D lol haha

The second half of the vacation we spend on Lago di Garda. My parents had seen my pictures of this area from earlier in our study abroad trip, and wanted to spend some time here. We ended up sending the rest of the trip at this location because of the good weather. We spent this part of the trip walking around the lake and town, biking, and sightseeing other towns on the lake. I really had a great time…and when it came down to say goodbye yesterday, i didnt keep my cool. Let’s just say i had to skip my first class because my eyes and face were so swollen from crying i looked horrible…and i was not in the mood to act out my role in our play.

I really have loved studying abroad, but i’ve found it so hard being this far from my family and friends. Even now, after 3 months, i often feel very lonely…and when i see cool places i wish these people were here with me. I  feel like sometimes im quite ready to go home…IMG_2391 IMG_2460 IMG_2501

The Fifteenth Week!

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Social

One of my friends had her birthday earlier this week. One of her friends arranged for all of us to record messages to her about this semester in Cork with her and made it into a movie for her, and then we had a surprise party for her. It actually was a surprise, no slip ups by anyone. My family tried to throw a surprise party for my dad a few years ago, and I totally ruined it on the way back to the house after keeping him occupied for an hour while people arrived. This was so much better since she had no clue until she came into the kitchen and saw us all with a cake. We all had good craic (Irish word for fun). I’m going to miss all these people when I go home so much.

group at UCC

Coursework

Finals! I honestly wish I could just take this last final now so I can officially be done with classes and relax because this long wait (of almost 5 weeks) between the last class and the exam is torturous. I’d rather be done than have this extra time to worry about it.

The studying is going surprisingly well, but that could be because there is actually time between class and finals, which I know I was just complaining about but I just think it’s a bit too much time in between. At home I could potentially have my last class Friday and have a final for that same class the following Monday. Doesn’t give much opportunity to study and absorb any material. If it was up to me (which obviously it isn’t) I’d give a full reading week. Just one week where there are no classes or tests or due dates, just reserved for studying and finishing papers.

In any case, I’ve made decent progress so I should be all good to go for my strategic marketing final on Thursday. Think positive marketing thoughts that day to give me some extra luck!

This and That

Short post this week as not much happened and I didn’t go anywhere. Relaxing week for the most part, not much happened because of the impending finals (and most people have more than the one I have) plus recovery from spring break adventures, plus it’s the end of the semester and funding is at pitiful levels.

A girl from UMW has messaged me, asking questions about Cork, UCC and living in Ireland because she will be spending the fall semester here at UCC. It was so nice to be able to share some things with her; I remember how nervous I was coming over, and how excited I was. I wish I could be starting all over again back here next fall.

I caught up with all my friends who were spread all over Europe for spring break, which was excellent. Movie night, and hot chocolate night, and hanging out in the city drinking more hot chocolate and eating O’Flynn’s.

I’ve been reading these two books by Irish authors my mom brought to me, that my grandfather actually purchased when he was in Cork in the late 70s. I’m going to miss all this extra time for reading once I’m back in the real world.


Petersberg, Easter, Classes, and Birthdays, Oh My!

Monday, April 28th, 2014

A lot has happened over the past week, and all of the highlights will be covered!

First up, Petersberg.

Last Saturday I took a walk up to Zitadelle Petersberg, a landmark in Erfurt, with amazing views above the city. To view photos, click here. I chose a perfect day to go. Frühlingsfest was happening on Domplatz on this day, so there is a fair in some of the pictures! This would be an awesome place to have a picnic on a warm, sunny summer day. It was clear blue skies while at Petersberg, and as soon as I made it back to Donaustrasse, it started to thunder, and downpour rain. Perfect timing!

Petersberg has a lot of history related to it, but I’m not all that familiar with it, so I will not ramble on about any fun facts. Here are two different links that are about Petersberg if you would like to learn more about it.  Link 1  Link 2

Next up, Easter:

Being 4,000 miles away, and 6 hours ahead of my family, I didn’t want to spend Easter alone, especially since everywhere was closed. I wanted to invite some of the other exchange students over for dinner. I started to compile a list of people to send a Facebook message to, but after inventorying my food, I decided that I didn’t have enough to feed everyone I wanted to invite. So my list dwindled dramatically. :( It was a wonderful small gathering, with only five of us in my humble little abode. We had pasta, rice, and a few other sides. Erik brought a bottle of wine for us to share, but I did not have a bottle opener (it was a cork top). So, Valentin found a somewhat messy way to open the red wine… We won’t go into details, but let’s just say we had to wipe down part of the kitchen after it was opened. ;)

Classes started on Tuesday, since Easter Monday is a holiday here. When I signed up for classes, they were in two-hour blocks (i.e. 8-10, 10-12, 12-14,14-16, etc.). Wednesdays I have three classes in a row, so naturally, I thought I would not have time for lunch on those days. I was under the impression that I would be in class, with maybe 10 minute breaks in between, for 6 hours straight. Tuesday I arrived to my 8am class about 10 minutes early, not really knowing what to expect being in a foreign country and all. I was shocked when the instructor did not show up until 8:15. Apparently, the unspoken rule of classes is that they start at :15 and end at :45, unless your instructor says otherwise. So instead of 10 minutes between classes, like at UMW, I have 30 minutes between back-to-back classes. Classes also only meet once per week, instead of two or three times, like UMW. I could get used to this…

This past weekend was also my 20th birthday weekend. Other international students are shocked when I tell them that I’m only 20 – I have discovered that Anneka and I are some of the youngest exchange students. I had a blast celebrating with my new friends. I had a party Saturday night and everyone came over – there was about 15 or so people in one tiny room! Apparently in German culture, it’s bad luck to wish someone happy birthday before their actual day. So as soon as that clock struck midnight, everyone burst out singing to me!

On Sunday, my actual birthday, Hang, my tutor came over in the afternoon and brought a bouquet of white tulips and homemade muffins! We were planning to go into the city and go to a cafe, but it thunderstormed all morning and early afternoon. Hang thought that the cafes might be closed because of the weather, so we had cappuccino and just watched it storm instead. The thunder was so loud that it shook the windows.. It was really intense! Later, I went over to Anneka’s and had dinner with her and her flatmate, Katie. After dinner, the three of us, along with their other flatmate Lourdes, watched Die Eiskönigin. (For those that don’t know, that’s Frozen, but the German version.) Overall, I had an awesome and unforgettable 20th birthday, and I’m glad that I got to spend it with new friends from around the world.

Discovering Vesuvio

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Throughout the Archaeology course that I’m taking this semester, our professor, Ilaria Tartiglia, has said the word “vesuvius” more times than I can or care to count.  When people think about the Vesuvius erupting, they think about the enormous, catastrophic event of 79 A.D. that destroyed Pompeii, along with the lesser known city of Herculaneum.  However, the Vesuvio is still an active volcano, having erupted most recently in 1944.

Standing in front of the crater of the Vesuvio

Standing in front of the crater of the Vesuvio

First some preliminary information about Vesuvio:

  • The part of the volcano that is nowadays referred to as “Vesuvio” or “Vesuvius” is actually one of two mountains.  The other part, called the “Somma” is shorter and was created during an explosive eruption at some point during history that permanently altered the shape of volcano.
  • Between Vesuvio and Somma there is a valley that is full of different types of minerals that resulted from the different eruptions and the materials released.
  • At the moment, the crater of Vesuvio is completely obstructed, allowing massive amounts of pressure to build.  This means that the next eruption will be a large-scale, catastrophic event.
  • Luckily, volcanologists believe that they can predict the next eruptions at least  6 months prior to the event, which should give surrounding cities time to evacuate.  Vesuvio is constantly monitored for seismic activity and any gasses released.
  • Pompeii being hit by the eruption of 79 A.D. was a total fluke.  The air currents generally push the eruption in the opposite direction, but on the day of the eruption the conditions were such that Pompeii got the full force of the first wave of the eruption.
The view of the clouds from the top.

The view of the clouds from the top.

Seeing Vesuvio up close was truly an unbelievable experience, especially after an entire semester learning about the volcano.  We were lucky enough to hike the “hell valley” between Vesuvio and Somma, and explore the way in which the shape of the volcano changed during the years.  The hell valley was untouched by the 1944 eruption, and therefore has many trees and plants growing.  The parts of the valley that were affected by that eruption have only pioneer species, such as lichon, that prepare the environment for other plants and animals to inhabit the area.

The Hell valley, with shrubbery and outcroppings of solidified lava.

The Hell valley, with shrubbery and outcroppings of solidified lava.

After our tour of the hell valley, we headed to our main destination: the summit of Vesuvio.  After stopping for a much-needed water break, we steeled ourselves for the walk ahead and began to climb the enormous peak.  The path up to the crater is quite steep, but the views along the way are beautiful.  We happened to go to the Vesuvio on a rather cloudy day, against the advice of many people.  In my opinion, however, it only made it all the more amazing.  We were literally walking into the clouds as they billowed across the Somma.  The air was cold, but oddly sticky and humid.

The path to the top!

The path to the top!

Halfway there!

Halfway there!

 

Panting and out of breath, we reached the peak and were rewarded with indescribable views of the enormous crater.  It was beautiful, yes, but the most amazing part was knowing that somewhere beneath that magma plug, beneath our very feet, pressure was growing.  As we stood there in the clouds, Vesuvio was already preparing for its next eruption.

The crater of the Vesuvio

The crater of the Vesuvio

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The Fourteenth Week (Family Visit!)

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Family visit to Ireland!

Unfortunately I don’t have many pictures to post, we took all the good shots with my dad’s nicer camera (rather than my phone) and he has all the pictures.

Cork
My parents and brother came to see me on their spring break. We met up in Cork Sunday afternoon and spent almost two days just wandering the city. I took them to a few of my favorite places to eat and shop (English Market, Gino’s), I showed the around the UCC campus. We went into the church on campus (my first time being inside) and it was beautiful. The floor was this huge mosaic stretching all the way down the aisle. One of my friends from UMW had to make a mosaic, I think about 18 inches in diameter and she was telling me how long it took her to create so I can’t even imagine completing a whole church floor. Anyway, I showed them my apartment and it was so wonderful seeing them after over three months. They got a little apartment about five minutes from the City Center which made it easy to explore. I’m still impressed by their lack of jetlag; it took me at least two weeks to sleep through the night after I got here. They rented a car and my dad did an excellent job driving as my mom navigated us through the week. Only one U-turns most days which we all considered successful.

wpid-20140415_104053.jpgthe waterfall outside the hotel in Cork

Cobh
Tuesday morning, after several delayed attempts to leave Cork, we headed to Cobh where there is a great museum about the port there. This was the site the majority of the emigrants would leave Ireland, it was the last stop for the Titanic and several convicts ships headed to Australia all left from this harbor. We were only here briefly, just for lunch and the museum but it looked like a great town to explore for an afternoon or two.

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Blarney Castle
From Cobh we headed straight to Blarney Castle, because my brother was the only one of us who had not kissed the stone yet and he should be in on the “gift of eloquence” the weather was beautiful (much nicer than when I went in February). After we did the castle, my mother and I skipped kissing the stone, we wandered through the poison garden, filled with various poisonous plants with varying degrees of deadliness. I’m still not entirely sure why rosemary was included because I put that on chicken…frequently. Again, we did not spend too much time here as we had reservations at the Holiday Inn in Killarney.

Killarney
Killarney is beautiful, such a cute town to visit (and I expect to live in). We got a recommendation for dinner and ordered the American Pizza, just throwing ourselves into the stereotype. What is on an American pizza? Three kinds of meat and extra cheese. I’d be offended if it wasn’t delicious and my favorite kind of pizza. We were based in Killarney, but spent most of the two days in the area driving around and exploring the Dingle Peninsula.

The Conor Path
This part of the drive consisted of some crazy windy roads. The road is carved out of a Cliffside and is technically two ways, but should a second car come one of them has to reverse into a ditch off the side of the road spaced every hundred yards or so to pass by one another. Not my idea of a relaxing drive, but the view was beautiful and my dad did an awesome job keeping us safe and in one piece.

Cliffs of Moher

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The hurricane I was in on Inch Beach in February was nothing to the wind we experienced on the Cliffs of Moher. Thankfully I had a bag of winter clothes packed in the trunk to be sent home with my family which at least gave my mother and I some options for extra layering (scarves, gloves, a winter coat) to pile on top of our clothes. The Cliffs are out in the middle of mostly nowhere but if you are ever in the area, or not in the area I don’t care, you should make it a goal to go. The walk up is quick and painless and the view is absolutely breathtaking. If time, or the weather, permitted I would have loved to do the walk along the edges which the sign said takes an hour or two. As it was we were only there about forty-five minutes which was too little time for my taste. Unfortunately it was foggy so we couldn’t see much of the islands off in the distance, but the cliffs were spectacular regardless. We walked to two of the ‘viewing platforms’ to get different angles of the cliffs and the gorgeous ocean waves, and then we were too cold and had to leave.

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Galway
We stayed at an adorable bed & breakfast, the first Irish bed & breakfast I’ve stayed in during my time here. The house was right on the water. We did not have nearly enough time in Galway, just dinner Thursday night and breakfast Friday morning before we were back in the road

wpid-20140417_134121.jpgWe saw these adorable ponies at some castle along the way, I don’t remember the name

Dublin
The trip ended on a bit of a bummer, it didn’t occur to me to find out if museums (or pubs) would be open on Good Friday. For anyone planning on traveling to Ireland during the Easter season in the future, they’re not. We only had one afternoon in Dublin and all the museums were closed, except the Book of Kells but that had 100+ people in line so we didn’t bother trying to get in. on the upside, it was a relaxing end to the trip. It was absurdly sunny so we wandered through Graften St. and watched street musicians and then strolled through a park (I didn’t see any name) which was just exploding with all these brightly colored tulips. So the end of the trip wasn’t as much of a bummer as I thought when we found out all of our planned activities were closed.


Final Week of Prep Course!

Monday, April 21st, 2014

The second week of April was our third and final week of the preparatory course and meetings. During that week, Lourdes and Laura both were in Italy visiting their former roommate Fede, so I had the whole flat to myself. 

On Monday, we had a meeting about understanding and learning about all of the cultures here at University. We talked about German stereotypes and what “culture” means to us. Everyone immediately considered punctuality as the main German stereotype. We eventually finished the meeting and went our separate ways to eat lunch. Since it was a girl’s birthday in our exchange group, we went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant “Roma” that evening. There was a total of 17 people who showed up to celebrate Jill’s birthday. It was nice to see how close each of us had actually become. The service at the restaurant was wonderful, for the server gave us all a free round of drinks and dessert. Because I had been cooking pasta as my main meal for the last three weeks, I decided to order pizza. It was fairly cheap and decent, and I had enough leftovers to eat it for both lunch and dinner the next day. I tried Jill’s gnocchi, and while it was good, I didn’t think that it was the best I’ve ever had. All-in-all, it was a really good night, and it was really nice to be able to bond with so many of my classmates. 

On Wednesday, we were supposed to meet to get a visa, but the appointment time was changed to April 30th. Therefore, I got to sleep in a little bit and just spend my day participating in the prep course. 

Valentin, an exchange student from Argentina, had a birthday as well, so we all met after class and had a picnic. He made us traditional Argentinian tea, Mate, and we played charades.

Afterwards, Nora and I went back to my dorm in Plauener Weg and talked for three hours before she went back to eat dinner. During that time, an exchange student from Russia, Dima, came over and asked to borrow sugar and butter so that he could make pancakes. When he brought back my supplies, he brought me a few of the pancakes he made, so I had breakfast for the next day. They were really good, but I found them more like crepes than what I would consider a pancake. 

It got hard for me that week to motivate myself to cook since it was only me. I also found myself doing dishes less since I didn’t have anyone depending on me keep them clean. I missed my roommates even though I had only been away from them for a few days. I missed talking to Lourdes about my, usually uneventful, day.

That week really showed how close the exchange students have grown as a group and how great the semester will be with all of us together. It also gave me a chance to spend more time with them since I got lonely without my roommates. 

Sicilia

Monday, April 21st, 2014
view from castle

view from castle

Greek amphitheater

Greek amphitheater

Isola Bella

Isola Bella

 

view from Gambino vineyard

view from Gambino vineyard

Suzy walking around isola bella

Suzy and I on crater

Suzy and I on crater

Sicily!!!

 

On Thursday, Suzy and I caught a 6.30 flight from Bergamo to Catania, Sicily. When we arrived at the airport, we made our way to the taxi/bus area and caught a bus to Taormina! During the ride, we checked out the countryside, which was sooooo pretty. The island is composed of rolling green hills, almost Hawaiian ‘rippled’, which are covered by olive trees and desert shrubs. From the road we could see the beautiful coastline to our right and Mt. Etna, Sicily’s volcano, to our left. When we reached Taormina, we checked into our hostel, and then headed to the beach.

 

 

Taormina is situated on a cliff overlooking a small island…. Isola Bella, so getting down to the beach is a bit of a hassle…that is if you re cheap like us and don’t feel like paying 3 euros to get the cable car down. So about 400 stairs later, we arrived at the rocky beach near Isola Bella. We were able to walk over to the island because there’s a thin sand bar linking Bella to the beach. However, waves from both sides come crashing between, so it’s almost impossible not to get wet when it’s high tide. We explored the little island and then went back into town where we then made our way up to the castle….400 stairs later…lol we made it to the top! The views from the castle were sooooo spectacular! You easily see Etna and Catania from here. After hiking down from the castle, we checked out the old town! The town is very small, but it’s sooooo ‘Italian” and beautiful. The streets are narrow with little terraces overlooking the alley ways. We bought some groceries and headed back to the hostel.

 

 

The next day, we went up with a small group to Etna! We all piled into the jeep and drove for about 1 and a half on winding roads with beautiful scenery and the occasional man on horseback. When we got to the base of the craters, we got out of the car and hiked around several of them. Our tour guide was very informative about the geographical and geological nature of the volcano, and also the island itself. He told us that the Sicilian flag, which is Medusa with three legs coming out from her head, was actually associated with Mt.Etna. Medusa represented the volcano because it turned everything into stone…and the legs represented the three corners of the island. He also talked about the rich soil around the volcano, which allowed for excellent farming of all different kinds of plants, including apple trees, vineyards, olive trees, hazelnut trees, almond trees, etc. The closer you are to the volcano, the better the soil, but higher the risk of natural destruction.

 

 

After hiking around the craters for awhile, we went to Gambino Vineyard. (Not associated with Maffia family in States…i asked lol)Here they fed us and also let us all try several different Sicilian wines. My favorite was this red wine they they grew at their vineyard, which tasted nothing like red wines I’ve had before. It had a nice, light flavor. Once we finished eating and drinking, we took a ride to the latest lava field. You could literally see the end point of the lava flow. The tour guide told us that people would come up the mountain to the slow moving lava and cook food on sticks over the hot molten rock. People would have a small festival around the lava flow, bringing there coolers and picnic lunches and watch the lava move down hill. Lastly, we went to a lava cave and explored inside for a while. The cave was produced from when the lava melted the earth beneath it, causing a hole in the ground…then the earth from either side of the hole eventually came together to form an underground cave. The cave ground was the hardened lava river that had cooled after it ceased moving. Many years ago, the cave was actually used by the villagers to store ice. They would bring snow into the cave during the winter, and by summer, the snow would have condensed into ice. The villagers would then bring the ice from the cave down the mountain to put their fish in.

 

 

The next morning we went to the Greek amphitheater, which was originally constructed in 200 BC. It is situated on the tallest hill in Taormina, which allowed for amazing views of the island. Also, several of the pillars have been knocked down over the years, so you can easily see the volcano and the surrounding hills between the remaining ones. After, we went down to the beach and swam in the cold water around Isola Bella. It was about 60 degrees, but it was well worth it! The water was soooo clear, you could see all these sea urchins, fish, and beautiful rocks. I noticed though that the water was especially salty. I guess that’s how the Mederterranian Sea is? After swimming, we warmed up in the sun for awhile before heading into town and listening to some music in the piazza. The performers sang ‘Amore’, which is probably the most stereotypical Italian song I can think of haha. We shopped around for a little until it got dark outside. We headed over the piazza again and saw the red glowing lava from Etna…. that was beyond cool! The next morning we caught a flight back to Mi-lame-o. Lol haha ;P

 

Appointments Galore

Monday, April 21st, 2014

My second week of the prep course gradually got easier and easier. However, throughout the week, us exchange students had several appointments to attend for one reason or another. 

Our first appointment was for non-European students to purchase German health insurance. All would have been well if not for the fact that every American already had some sort of insurance previously provided to them. For instance, Nora, Jordan, and I each had purchased insurance from Mary Washington, but we were told it was better to get the German insurance since our coverage information was not clear. We emailed the study abroad office at UMW and eventually got it all figured out so that our original insurance is enough to cover us for our time here. 

In order to prepare for my next appointment, I needed a passport photo since I had forgotten mine at home. I met up with my tutor, Lukas, on Monday to set up my German bank account and get passport photos. We went to Deutsche Bank and ended up meeting with someone who spoke English so that I could fully understand everything about my account. Afterwords, we walked to a photo shop and both got passport photos since he needed them as well in order to come to Mary Washington in the fall. I was surprised by how many photos I was given for such a cheap price. We parted ways so that he could continue working on his paper he was writing and so that I could begin getting all of my paperwork together for the next appointment.

The next day, I brought all of my paperwork to the international office where I filled out my foreigner information so that I can later get a visa. Nothing eventful really happened there since all we did was make copies to save for an appointment for another day in the future. That afternoon, Lourdes and I went to a Steve Mccurry photography exhibit in the art hall in downtown Erfurt. 

Throughout the week, we learned more about the process of registering for courses and opportunities to speak and practice German offered to us around the Erfurt community. 

The registration process is much more difficult than I had ever imagined, and I now feel guilty to have ever complained about registering for classes at Mary Washington. Basically, you must pick your classes you want to take and register for them before they begin. However, if you want to receive any credit for them, then you must book the class after it has begun and visit your adviser provided to you so that he or she can sign it and give you the allotted credit points for the semester. After that meeting, I went back to pick my courses and just used trial and error, for the most part, to actually figure out what courses I wanted to take and where to find them. 

Nora and I met up that afternoon and went to the park outside of the Dubliner since we had recently discovered that there were trampolines.

Sadly, after those pictures, my camera decided to not work, but did Nora took some pictures of me jumping on a trampoline for the first time.

My weekend ended up as pretty average. I just went to the Dubliner (the Irish pub) with other exchange students on Saturday. There, karaoke was sung again and this times a few people had enough courage to actually choose songs and sing them with the microphone. It was comforting to know that I’ve become pretty close with all of the people there and that we were able to go out and just have fun with each other. On Sunday, it was a beautiful day, so my roommate Lourdes and I went to a nearby park and read. To my wonderful surprise, the park had hammocks right in the sun.  

Lourdes on her phone before reading her German book she brought with her. I sadly forgot my book, so I ended up studying for our test in the prep course and just enjoying the wonderful weather. 

I was starting to get used to life and studying in Germany, and I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with Lourdes. 

Experiential Learning

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

You know, my understanding of the whole “experiential learning requirement” is that it’s supposed to be about learning about life in some way.  You can get it from doing an internship.  You can doing it from studying abroad.  You take the experience you learn from doing something in the, “real world,” and apply it to your life in some way that you couldn’t see from just going to class.  But I kind of think the whole institution is a joke.  We’re all going to learn about the world in our own time.  There’s no reason to require us to take some stupid class, or work for some asshole, or go to some random country, just to get it done.

I think my girlfriend is going to dump me.  And I must be honest, the terms of this blog requirement are rather vague.  I have to talk about whatever I experience here.  Well, I’m experiencing that the girl I’ve been dating since before she left for Ireland is about 2 weeks from leaving Ireland, and wants to leave me.  We made it over the gap.  We both made it to Europe, and were happy until last week.  And I didn’t do anything wrong.  She’s just found time for everyone else other than me.  What else can that mean?

Experiential learning…  That’s a little redundant, isn’t it?  Isn’t ALL learning experiential?  I mean unless you’re still deluded enough to believe that “rationalism” is the real, functioning, way that the human brain works, you’ll realize all learning is empirical.  So why make it required?  Tabula Rasa.  I mean Jesus, John Locke figured it out about almost 400 years ago, why are people still contriving to find it otherwise?  And it’s not even though he was the first to think of the human mind that way.

The liberal arts education is a joke.  Why did I even go to UMW?  Well, because it was either Rutgers University, or TCNJ, both of which were essentially high school round 2, and I really wasn’t about that life.  Plus, I hate meeting people.  I really do.  I find it absolutely abhorrent.  That’s what I’ve hated most being here.  I got into both Rutger’s and TCNJ, by the way.

They say a liberal arts education prepares you for life.  I think that’s false.  I think most people would agree that’s false.  What prepares you for life, is life.  Not learning about how Amoeba reproduce, or about how Hegel was far more of a deist than a Christian, despite what many older interpretations may consider him, or how Stephen Crane was a naturalist, not a realist, a slight, but important distinction.

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

-Stephen Crane

I’ve always been an absurdist.  Albert Camus started the tradition, in case you didn’t know.  It’s the belief that ultimately, life is absurd, in that any attempts for human knowledge to attempt to make sense of it will ultimately fail, since we do not have the capacity to understand life on a fundamental level.  If there is a point to life, we’ll never know for sure, so why care?  That’s what I believe.  And I’m proud, that even if I’m wrong, I promise you right here and now, that I didn’t even look up that definition as I wrote it.  Even if I’m wrong, that’s what I believe.  But I digress.  As Camus said, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”  The rock drops from all our hands at some point.  I’d imagine Stephen Crane would find that philosophy rather enticing, even if he didn’t believe it entirely.  Naturalism is hardly a stones throw from absurdism.  One’s more of a nihilism, and one’s a sort of existentialism.  All that really differs is the meaning to life.  I guess that’s a big one, though.

Bob died recently.  He was my friend.  A good friend.  I won’t pretend we were the best of friends, but he always was able to make me happy, and I always looked forward to his company.  That’s a rare quality, in anyone, really.  And I say that sincerely.  I feel like people say stuff like that because someone’s dead and they feel they should, but Bob really was one of the best men I knew.  He was smart.  I was in One Note with him.  It’s funny, I remember Ian once called him, “The Sage of One Note.”  He was nice.  I never ever was angry at him.  Everyone knows how easily they’re offended.  To never offend me, someone that’s easier to offend than a damn bear, is a damn accomplishment.  I’m sad he’s gone.  I was supposed to live in his apartment next year, after he graduated in the spring.  I don’t want to anymore.  I’m not a superstitious man, but I don’t want to live in a place where your friend has died.  Everyone lost a lot when Bob passed.  He was one of the few people that truly deserved to be remembered, even if he didn’t DO anything to be remembered by.  He was just a kind soul that made everyone happy.  That has always been a rare quality.

I’ve been watching Game of Thrones lately.  As such, I feel as though I’ve gained a bit of a penchant for being dramatic.  But this is what experiential learning means to me: it means going to a country to learn a language you don’t speak, to have your girlfriend dump you, and your friend die, and come back alive, and eventually find the courage to be happy just the same.

I’m past the point of “culture shock.”  I know I’m not unhappy because of GERMANY.  But my life has gone to Hell in a hand basket since I’ve been here.  Well, Jesus.  This is a BLOG about LIFE.  Professor Rotter, if you truly find my post offensive, I will deter from doing anything like this in the future.  All you need do is let me know.  But I haven’t been this unhappy since my grandmother died my Junior year.  Granted, I’m a kid of no small privilege.  But still.

So I ask you: what is the point of an experiential learning requirement if you don’t talk about your EXPERIENCES?  And forgive me, I’m hardly being sarcastic at you, but more the whole institution.  This has been on my mind the past few days.  It’s been eating away at me.  I have to say something.  I hope you understand.

My friend told me this once: everyone is the center of their own Universe.  Ain’t it the truth, though?

 

Buona Pasqua a Tutti

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

Pasqua is upon us and with it comes a whole slew of traditions and cultural norms that are far different than those that I’m used to.  In America, Easter has transformed from a sacred holiday celebrating the resurrection of Christ to a day of chocolate and eggs and the giant bunny who hides them.  Don’t get me wrong–I love the Easter that I know and love.  I love a hollow milk chocolate Easter bunny and Cadburry eggs.  In fact, it doesn’t really feel like Easter without these comforts from home.  In Italy, however, the religious tradition remains strongly in  the way in which Pasqua is celebrated.

Standing on the main street in Sorrento in the chilly 3 a.m. air, I hear a solemn song begin to waft from the side street a few meters away.  Around the corner comes a full band, solemnly marching in time to their music.  They slowly pass by within inches of the crowd on either side, and goosebumps run up my arms.  I know that this is only the beginning.

The band continues down the street, and around the corner come hooded figures, dressed in white, carrying torches on long gilded poles.  I finally understand what the Italians have been talking about: the hoods cover the face, save for the eyes, and are pointed at the top, just like the KKK.  It occurs to me how sad it is that I cannot look at this procession, so holy and solemn, without feeling uncomfortable.

Photo Credit: Morgan McCaskill

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

The figures pass by, shuffling their feet as they follow one another down the long stretch of street.  Behind them come more, one after another. Many are holding items that hold religious significance.  Some, such as the crown of thorns, I understand.  Others, such as the rooster, I do not.  The music fades away as the band disappears into the night air and their is an eerie silence, broken only by the footsteps of hundreds of hooded individuals.

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Someone laughs.  I’m immediately angry.  I may not be Catholic, or even highly religious, but even I know that this is an important, sacred moment.  It should be treated with respect.

The mass of people seems to never end.  I wonder where they’re coming from; are they lined up down the side street? Are they coming from the main cathedral?  Men with crosses slung across their shoulders, men with incense that burns my nose; men with books and flags and men with lanterns, endless men with lanterns.  The glow from the fire in these lanterns illuminates the eyes of these men, visible through the holes cut in their hoods.

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Then the children come, all dressed in white.  They follow a hooded adult, clustered together and holding baskets of flowers. I wonder if they’re confused.  I wonder if they’re scared.  After them comes the choir, chanting a haunting recitation.  I don’t understand it fully; perhaps it’s latin.

The last men fall into line from around the corner and follow the enormous procession down the street lined with sleepy-eyed people.  As the last man passes, the lookers-on are suddenly in motion, crossing the street and heading home.  I look down at my watch.  It’s 3:30 a.m.

This type of procession happens the Thursday before Easter at 9 p.m., the next morning at 3 a.m., and the following evening at 9 p.m. again.  The first procession is a mixture of both black and white, the 3 a.m. one is all white, and the Friday procession is all black.  This procession is a part of the Easter celebration that all Italians expect.

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Pasqua also means food, as with any holiday in Italy.  People eat massive lunches in the early afternoon and exchange enormous chocolate eggs.  There is, of course, Catholic mass.  The day after Pasqua is also a holiday, called Pasquetta.  As it’s been explained to me, Pasquetta is a day for families to take a picnic to the beach or to the mountains and enjoy each other’s company.

Seeing such an important holiday through the culture of another country was something that I’m so glad to have been able to experience.  So while I didn’t get to have my Easter bunny, I got to see another interpretation of a major holiday, which seems like a pretty good trade-off to me.

Buona Pasqua a tutti, e anche una buona Pasquetta!