Bennett ’14: Experience Intricacies of Rome

Sam Bennett ’14 – The 35 of us visited Ostia last Tuesday, an ancient port-city located where the Mediterranean Sea and the River Tiber are joined. Field trips like this one take place on most Tuesdays and Thursdays, and, in accordance with Murphy and his legal tendencies, lately it has been raining heavily on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In Ostia, the trend continued. As we traversed from Ancient Roman apartment complexes to spacious market places and administrative buildings, thick droplets in what I suppose must have been river-effect showers accompanied us throughout most of our journey. Just prior to the day being half completed, we visited the House of the Painted Vaults.

Inside, the floors were mosaic, there was a room with the Muses featured—each in her own private, painted niche—and there was a pigeon trapped in the courtyard. You see, Ostia was a very important locale in antiquity. When the Romans needed to trade with those cultures which developed across the Mediterranean, Ostia’s position was convenient for the transport of grain, olive oil, and most importantly, wine (many ancient water sources were impure, and the fermented and alcoholic nectar was almost always safer to drink such that soldiers even carried a pouch of it with them into battle). Often neglected in relation to volcanically-preserved Pompeii, Ostia maintains serious historical and archaeological significance. The sites of ancient dwelling places, resort-like apartment complexes, and lavish marketplaces have been under close examination since the early 19th century and, like most areas of archaeological interest, still undergo rigorous study today. Since many of these ancient objects of intrigue are still standing (thanks to a small bit of reconstruction), preventative measures against damage have been taken. Courtyards, in particular, have been covered over with a mesh-wire netting to keep the birds out. However—in the House of the Painted Vaults—there was a pigeon trapped in the courtyard.

She flew in somehow; perhaps she crept beneath a weakness in the netting over the open ceiling. In vain, the pigeon threw herself against the mesh-wire over and over again. As the 35 of us filled the courtyard, she stopped and hid in a crevice of brick and stucco and plaster. And she made me think about myself.

Trapped beneath an invisible ceiling, the last few years of my life have been in preparation for such a Roman journey—and now that I have arrived, what exactly have I learned? What exactly have I encountered? Everything slips back into normality sooner or later and whatever coming-of-age I both expected and condemned to result from this semester abroad hasn’t come to light, leaving me both bewildered and comfortable. It never happened, like the movies and books said it would, and thank God, for I’m not usually inclined to surround myself with clichés. But at the same time, I do not understand how something so wildly different as the Italian manner of life could quickly become so normal. And regarding my studies—I’m still inspired by the literature, the poetry of Lucan, the ancient romances of Chariton—but we’re approaching a certain flat line here. This supposed “classical education” has taught us nothing about the ancient world and has turned into a process of mere fact-gathering. Archaeology could change that, but only incidentally and as a result of its necessary immersion within history and philology and (worthwhile) speculation. But as modernists, we are supposedly learning about antiquity and, even then, subsequently at a distance from antiquity; we are failing to seriously engage with antiquity.

Please don’t read this as a condemnation of the program I’m studying within — rather, read it as a condemnation of the entire field of Classics as we approach it. ICCS has provided me with an abundant font of resources and information—information necessary to any hope for further engagement. But the whole of it — as it spans from the roads of Crawfordsville, Indiana to this street in Rome, just west of the Tiber, up the Tambourine Staircase, at 19 Via A. Algardi, in Room 20 on the first floor of the Centro — leaves us studious characters like pigeons in a net-covered courtyard: at first, we ached to creep in; next, we became aware of our environment; then, we wanted to fly back out to take a better look at where we had situated ourselves, only to find the exit blocked off. And now, we have to work from the inside-out, so to speak, carrying the burdens of scholarship in our backpacks. Who could be so foolish as to complain about the shortcomings of academia when he is surrounded by some of the greatest monuments with which man has ever adorned his cities? Yes, who indeed?

I don’t complain because I have nothing better to do. I complain because there is something better that can be done.

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Kia Ora from New Zealand!

John Decker ’14 – I have been living in Auckland, New Zealand for about two months now, and my time here has gone by quickly. Classes didn’t begin here until March 5, so I’ve only just gotten back into the swing of classes. Venturing to New Zealand has been my first travel experience outside of the United States, and the country is absolutely gorgeous.

Decker and Kiwi friend at the summit of Mt. Doom

A group of my friends and I went to Tangariro National Park the week before classes started and hiked the Alpine Circuit. The three day hike was filled with beautiful scenery that included mountains, desert-like areas, and lush forests. One minute we’d be trudging uphill towards the summit of Mt. Ngauruhoe (the mountain used in Lord of the Rings as “Mt. Doom”), and the next minute, we’d be overlooking lakes scattered across the top of the mountain.  Once we reached the top of Mt. Doom, we were standing above the clouds and could see several mountain ranges distantly scattered throughout the horizon.

Culturally, New Zealand is not much different than the United States. Auckland is a very cosmopolitan city, with influences from Asia, the United States, and Europe. Just like any other big city, there is always something to do in Auckland. Whether it’s attending a professional rugby match in Eden Park, having a drink by the harbor, or going to a concert, the possibilities are really endless. The pace in New Zealand is a bit slower than the United States. New Zealanders, called Kiwis, are very courteous and friendly. Professors (called lecturers here) are very laid-back with the assignment deadlines and are very inclined to help out any students. I found this surprising for a university with 40,000 students!

Crystal Lakes

Auckland also has a perfect climate. I have arrived at the end of the New Zealand summer, and we’re currently entering the fall. As a Hoosier, I think of fall as a season with temperatures ranging from 45 to 65 degrees. Well, in New Zealand, the temperatures regularly reach 80 degrees and generally only get down to about 60 degrees. The weather here is ideal for those who have a zest for the outdoors. Spreads near my living unit are parks, rugby/cricket pitches, and plenty of jogging trails.

I’ve been doing my best to get the full New Zealand experience. I have been playing for Grammar Carlton Rugby Football Club, a strong men’s rugby club affiliated with the Auckland Rugby Football Union. I take a bus to practice every Tuesday and Thursday and games are usually played on Saturdays. I have been playing with the Under 21 side for the team.  It’s an interesting experience because I am the only North American on the 120 man club. There are ruggers from Fiji, Tonga, China, Northern Ireland, Holland, Australia, South Africa, and England, just to name a few. Sometimes there are some language barriers (even between us English speakers!), but we’re all there for the same reason: to play rugby.

Over Easter Break, I’ll be in Hamilton, New Zealand, staying with one of my Kiwi friends. Over mid-semester break, a big group of us are flying to the South Island to do some hiking and check out all that the South Island has to offer. After about a week of exploring, we’ll fly out of Christchurch (a major city that was devastated by earthquakes in 2008).

This has been a great experience thus far. To current/future Wabash students: I hope you take the opportunity to study abroad. Studying abroad has always been a big goal of mine, and it has exceeded my expectations.

Wabash Always Fights!

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Turnbeaugh ’14: Oxford Best for Studying Creative Writing

Chet Turnbeaugh ’14 – There are few better places in the world to study Creative Writing and Analytic Philosophy than the University of Oxford. Simply strolling down the High Street is enough to fill one with a renewed sense of wonder and inspiration.  When in Oxford, it seems like anything is possible.  If London is the world in a city, then Oxford is the world in a school.  Consisting of 38 unique colleges, the University becomes eclectically broken into a congregate of Hogwartsian type institutions, each with their own cozy personality. My college suited me well, St. Catherine’s College.  Built in the 1960’s, it is highly modern looking and considered by some to be an abysmal architectural failure. Still, some optimists, myself included, hold that the yellow walls of St. Catherine’s dining hall and the Americanesque dormitories help give Oxford fresh form.

Sometimes in life you need a castle—most of Oxford’s colleges look like castles. I, on the other hand, needed a chance to get away and get a fresh perspective on my life, my goals, and the reality of what is doable in this lifetime, and where some of my dreams will have to be cut short. The chance to sit and talk with leading researchers, PhD students, and other intellectual eccentrics was absolutely fascinating.  Half the time I expected either Lewis Carrol’s Alice, or Tolkien’s Frodo, to pop out from behind the dreamy sandstone spires and strike up a conversation with me.  While very magical, nothing of the sort occurred during my stay in England. I did get a chance to meet new friends, eat pounds and pounds worth of traditional English dish, enjoy snapping my fingers to jazz on George Street, and discuss poetry at St. Catherine’s.

After term concluded, I was able to travel to Paris, Barcelona, Rome, and Glastonbury, England.  Prior to studying abroad, my worldview was small and my self-view was stuck in the way of me seeing the bigger picture.  Standing atop a stone tower in Barcelona, overlooking the entire city, a mesmerizing light drew my eye.  Hundreds of meters above us was another, even larger hill, with a magnificent church perched like a twinkling star on top.  At the top of every mountain lies a higher peak somewhere beyond in the distance. Now, with my world a bit bigger, and my self a bit lighter, I’m ready for the next peak.

I had many conceptions of what I would do and whom I would be when I got to Oxford, but after being there for a while I realized that there is no right way to be an Oxford man, so long as he is his own man.  I recall having a similar realization about what it means to be a Wabash man early in my freshman year; this Wabash spirit has never left me. Being on my own was an experience that I have always wanted, but never been able to have until now. I am truly grateful to have been given this brilliant opportunity!

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Preparing for Final Exams in Switzerland

Beecher, center, with friends

Keaton E. Becher ’13 – Well that time of the semester that all students just love (*note lots of sarcasm) has arrived here in Fribourg. Yes, I am referring to the time that requires long nights, lots of coffee, and surround-sound yodeling music as I begin to prepare for my final examinations. A matter of fact, as soon as I finish this, it is back to the books as I have two finals already tomorrow.

It is with great joy to know that another semester is about behind me. I have definitely been tested and tried in many ways — culturally, physically, and of course, in regards to my language, academically; culturally because despite coming from an area with a deep Swiss heritage, the customs and nuances vary greatly in Switzerland compared to Indiana; in a physical sense, the terrain of Switzerland is drastically different from back home — you go up one hill, reach a “flat” spot, only to realize that you are standing at the start of an incline up another hill!

My Grandma told me recently in an email that she believes I won’t walk right for a couple days once I return to Indiana as I will have to adjust to what it feels like to walk on flat land again.

Finally, academically, my language has been stretched exponentially. In the past month, I have had to give two presentations — one being in German and the other being in French. I can say though, it truly is a great feeling when you realize that you think and dream in another language other than your mother tongue. On top of my presentations, as I enter into my exams, both my written and oral language will be tested as I do everything from analyzing German poetry to explaining the different historical stages in western Europe following the fall of National Socialism.

The amazing daily views of Switzerland.

My exams will span out over this week as well as the first week in June; however, before I got underway with finals preparations, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Redding and his group of Wallies in Marburg, Germany last weekend. It was great being able to catch up with the group and it was exciting to see such a large group of underclassmen that have such an enthusiasm for the German language and culture. I hope that my time with them served as an encouragement as they continue on their academic and linguistic journey.

This will probably be the last time I write to all of you as a student at the Université de Fribourg but I have enjoyed sharing my experiences through blogging as well as the many stories I will be able to share once I return to campus in August. Please keep your eyes open though in the next 4 weeks as I will be starting my internship in Burgdorf, Switzerland (thanks to the generosity of the Dill Grant) before I return back to the States at the end of June. As always, your prayers are greatly appreciated as I complete my exams and wrap up my semester here in Switzerland, as well as my internship that will be starting in a short two weeks.

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Becher ’13: The Rigors of Bi(Tri)lingualism

Keathon Becher '13

 

Keaton Becher ’13 – (Fribourg, Switzerland) – I’m really not even sure where I should begin. I have been here in Europe for my off-campus study since December 30th. After spending New Year’s Eve with previous Wabash Language Assistant, Tanja Schoenrock, I took the long haul from northern Germany to the small city of Schwäbisch-Hall in the south, a hot spot for Wabash Men before they embark on university classes. I spent the whole month of January at a Goethe-Institute, working to polish up my German a little bit more and I can confidently say, that the instruction I received their helped me immensely into my transition into the mountains of Switzerlan

Yes, Keaton on the Alphorn

Before my classes in Switzerland started then, I participated in a 2-week French language practicum at my university. The shining quality that makes studying in Fribourg so unique is that the city lies right on the border where the German-speaking and French-speaking sides of Switzerland comes together—offering an unbelievable opportunity to be in a bilingual environment; however, in reality, I would even suggest that I live in a trilingual environment. Not only am I surrounded by German and French, but I also am living with a host family, where although they speak German, a dialect of Swiss German, known as Senslerdeutsch is the norm at home. Switzerland is really a fascinatingly complicated country in multiple facets, but specifically, in the realm of communication. Recognizing 4 national languages, there is also within these 4 languages well over 100 different dialects. I can simply go one more train stop over from where I live, and suddenly everyone is speaking Berndeutsch. Mind you, this is only about 5 minutes from where I live!

What is even more mind blowing though is that Switzerland and all of her Cantons continue to run like clockwork (cliché intended). As you can imagine, all the different languages and dialects really keeps me on my toes and the first few weeks were pretty stressful, especially after not speaking any French for well over a month. But Wabash has prepared me well for German & French the past two and half years, and my hometown community has given me a good ear for Swiss German (Adams County is home to- more or less- the only Swiss Old Order Amish Community in the world, many being neighbors and close friends of mine).

Switzerland's natural beauty.

What has truly been a test though are my actual university classes. Coming here, I felt that German-wise, I would have problems more with content than the language itself and the opposite problem with my French. Yet, once again, Wabash and its professors have gone above and beyond at arming me with the tools for success. That’s not to say that I understand every single word that is discussed in class; however, the total immersion atmosphere provides me with an exceptional opportunity to be improving my grasp and comprehension of the language, while at the same time, providing me with outside knowledge in the realms of German poetry, Swiss perspectives of WWII, and the differences between written and spoken French.

Indeed, many practical and cultural aspects are also gained purely through interaction with regular matriculated Swiss students. Normally it is so that they have an interest in me and my life just as much as I do of theirs! In the same regard, much is gleaned from my host parents as well—whether it be discussing politics and religion at dinner or making “butter zopf” and “rösti” with my host Mom, I am absorbing so much information and knowledge. In short, all is off to a good start and I look forward to sharing with the Wabash community, friends, and family about my experiences abroad. As always, your prayers are greatly appreciated as I continue the rest of my journey here in Switzerland and during my travels.

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Evans ’13 Growing with Each New French Experience

Edward Evans ’13 – The train stops in Montpellier.  The lost foreigner leaves the station with incorrect MapQuest directions in hand.  With no confidence in his French comprehension, he walks up and down the same streets without asking anyone for directions. After three hours of bewilderment, he hobbles to the right hotel. This is where I began, constantly lost, confused, and incapable of talking to people.

Ed exiting the Pont do Gard.

For the first couple of weeks, the Minnesota program arranged an intensive grammar course to help students find a French groove and to determine our level of the language. My grammar was decent; however, it was apparent that my speaking and comprehension were well-below average. The advisors suggested that I follow an easier Language Studies track as opposed to the Integrated Studies one. (Honestly, I don’t blame them; I was struggling and among the least-experienced in the program.) Wanting to get an authentic French experience and being a little stubborn, I threw myself to the wolves, registering for courses in which I would be among French students.

In the beginning, I had major doubts. The French lectures were killing me. My notes entailed random, unrelated words that I managed to recognize. Later, I would go to the library and try to draw some relation between them. This was extremely inefficient and tiring. My brain felt like a whooping cushion. Each week, however, I have noticed that my notes are more cohesive. Now, I can actually ask questions regarding the subject matter after class. Most importantly, I am no longer eyeing my teachers with this bizarre mixture of confusion and malice. I attribute this lingual enhancement to multiple reasons, one of which is my host family. My host mom is from French Guiana, and she used to be a teacher. She has been EXTREMELY patient when talking to me and has been great in providing tips to improve my French and to speak properly. My host brother, who averages 100 words a second, keeps me balanced with his slang. I don’t think I would be scholastically successful here without them. Host family: Highly recommended.

Aside from school (which I could go on forever about), I have truly immersed myself into the culture. I have noticed great differences between France and the US. The school system, politics, and even the mentalities towards everyday living are just different, not necessarily better or worse. Furthermore, I have a greater appreciation for history. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a chemistry and math nerd. I love it. However, I also realize how easy it is to be consumed by the sciences. When you walk along the ramparts of Carcassonne or across the Pont du Gard, an aqueduct built twenty centuries ago, you have no other choice but to appreciate the incredible ingenuity of the Romans. It’s unbelievable.

An evolution has occurred. Come mid-December, a Frenchman will return to his native country. He will go to the very same train station around which he was completely lost less than four months ago. He will high-five security and will hold a conversation with a woman about the upcoming presidential election and her dislike for Nicholas Sarkozy. He will return to the US with new perspectives, new insight, and a new appreciation for what he is going back to. With a little more than a month left, I already deem this study abroad experience a complete success. Thank you, Wabash.

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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.

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