A Summation

WR-chase

By Chase Harpole

“It was great!” is the most overused and least descriptive approach to ever answer the question: “How was your trip?” On one of my final days in Morocco, the group of Americans I was with were sitting in our apartment reminiscing about all that we had just experienced, the unbelievable sights, the embarrassingly kind and generous people, and the wonderfully different culture.

“You know,” I said, “no matter how detailed we get, no matter how long we speak or write for, no one will understand the exact nature of what we just experienced together. No one will be able to feel the gravity of what we have just experienced besides the people in this very room.”

Silence descended on the large, unequivocally Moroccan living room as the reality of this set in. How can we describe to our family members what it was like to walk the Saharan dunes at two in the morning? How can we relate the joy of breaking a day of fasting with dates and chebakia? Or the constant struggle to communicate prices and barter in an economy that thrives on the barter system? They can’t. And even if we meet a thousand people who have been to Morocco, visited all the same cities, saw the same sites, and ate the same food, they still will not truly understand the experience that my group had together because these moments were only shared among us and they are unique in a way that an outsider can never understand. It’s not exclusionary; it’s private and internal. My Moroccan experience has manifested itself into my very heart and mind in a way that has become truly inseparable from my own self-concept, and to attempt to explain that is the equivalent of explaining to a stranger my entire identity.

Thus, I am left with “it was great.” What a horrible way to characterize my experience. I am disgusted with myself as the words leave my mouth, but what choice do I have? I have to trivialize my very identity, lower it to the equivalency of a meal at a nice restaurant, a local play or a well-plotted book. “It was great” reduces my trip to Morocco to something that can be compartmentalized and rated. Yet, it transcends such nominal measures.

A study abroad demands more than a single word answer or even a short blog article; it demands your attention. I write this for students because we have such a narrow window of opportunity. The passage of another month of classes perpetually shocks us and I must constantly pinch myself as a reminder that, “this is my third year of college”. We try to take life by the horns, but more often than not, we end up just letting it pass. We concern ourselves with the next assignment, the next paper, the next weekend, the next football game, and so on until before we know it we are dumped on the curb of the real world. For me, traveling to Morocco was my attempt to buck the rapid cycle that had been my college experience thus far. Aimlessness beleaguered my every action, and I felt that I was losing myself in the shuffle of the vast ocean of humanity.

Morocco was my break. My chance to take a deep breath and find the direction I wanted to take my life in. I rested for a bit. Breathed for a bit. And found what I was looking for. All of this was in the form of a boy—really, a young man—I met while I was interning for the Center for the Protection of Children. His name is Walid, and he gave my life meaning, a burning passion that it had been desperately lacking. His story touched me, and his plight ignited me, and now I find myself performing the most profound work I have ever attempted to take on. My goal is to provide for him the funds necessary to continue his education and see him through his college career. I could not be any more challenged or happy.

How then do I surmise this? This isn’t an “experience” in the typical sense of the word. When people ask about your trip abroad, they want to know what you saw, what you ate, even what you spoke. They don’t want to hear about your entire life, but that must be what you give them because that is what you got out of your study abroad. And thus, you are left with the only option available to you: It was great!

 

I realize this article was a bit light on the actual details of my experience, but if you are interested in learning more about the project that came out of my trip please check out the project’s blog Feeding Walid or the donations site I have started to try and raise funds for Walid available here.

Bienvenidos a Chile, Cachai?

Valparaíso, Chile

Valparaíso, Chile

By Jared Allard

The city of Valparaíso is disorder—a profound confusion. The city raised itself out of the sea and haphazardly launched itself into its great cerros that jet up from the shore. Its streets betray you at every turn. You could walk an eternity through the curving streets and find yourself exactly where you began. The stairs lead to nowhere. Alleyways are entrances to mazes. The ascensores defy gravity. It is city of color and street art, but neither the words nor the murals provide a map. The hills are mountains in disguised. Climb and climb, but you will never see the top. The bumpy metro trains and buses surely must be operated by eight-armed drivers. A street vendor yells out to you, a group of pinguino students laughs behind you as they waddle down the street, a street dog is your constant companion. The noise and the masses and patchwork design all culminate in what one can only consider bohemian charm. Often, I found myself standing at one of the Valparaíso’s miradores overlooking the harbor and the shining sea. I knew I would miss this place but it hadn’t really sunk in yet. I’d whistle to a stray dog and walk home.

I learned the city’s name comes from the colonial era when the immigrants in Santiago, Chile’s great capitol, heard tales of a city of paradise on the sea. “Va al paraíso” became a common phrase, and, eventually, the people combined the words shortening it to Valparaíso. And now it’s often shortened to simply Valpo. It was a center for trade, government, and education. My university, La pontificia universidad católica de Valparaíso, was located there, and I lived in the neighboring city of Viña del Mar. It is a place with a more modern design, a resort town known for its music festival, flower clock, hotels, casino, and summer beaches. Both of these cities became my home. I walked their streets and learned some of their secrets.

But when I first arrived in Santiago in February, all that was a mystery to me—an unimaginable future reality. I remember boarding the plane in Atlanta not knowing exactly what to expect, only being sure that in nine hours I would be on another continent. So when the plane landed and we were released onto Chilean soil, it was an overwhelming feeling. Adventure was in the air as the Americans slowly gathered together at the baggage claim: “are you studying abroad?’ and “ISA Chile, right?” When all the bags were collected, we headed through customs—the first source of social anxiety. The customs agents spoke to us in Spanish so we were forced to explain, in Spanish, that we were no smuggling plant products into the country (a significant problem in Chile). On the other side of customs, we were greeted by my program director. In Chile, and in many parts of Latin America, the customary greeting is some form of kissing on the cheek, which is not the case in the US. In Chile, males and females and typically all females exchange a kiss on the cheek when greeting each other. This being said, I was not expecting the director of my program to kiss each of us on the cheek (and there were 52 of us!), but she did.

Standing in the airport in Santiago, I began to learn so much about the US as well. Yes, being abroad is about experiencing another culture and learning about a foreign country. However, travelling with people as diverse and interesting as the people in my program enlightened me to the fact that the US is a big place. At that point, little did I know how close I would get with these people and just how many adventures we would be involved with together.

We spent four crazy days and three nights in Santiago: touring, sightseeing and becoming educated on the Chilean culture and life. Then it was time to take the hour and a half bus ride to our new homes Viña or Valpo, and it was time to become part of a new family. This was the moment everyone had been talking about—one that we each had our concerns about. Just who were these people that were going to care for us? The landscape between Santiago and Viña provided a distraction from the emotions I was feeling. It was dry and arid and mountains lined the road. When everything turned greener and our bus crested one last hill, we saw the awe-inspiring sight of the city in the hills and a glimmering view of the vast Pacific Ocean.

Finally, the bus stopped and the director herded us into a room, and one by one they called us through the doorway. When it was my turn, my host mom came scurrying to get me. She was a complete stranger at that time, but she still hugged me and would not let me carry my suitcase. She was surprised by how much I could understand her Spanish, which made me wonder how it would have gone if I didn’t understand her at all. We piled into a car and headed to my new home. One of my favorite quotes of hers from the whole trip was something she said to me that day, translated to: “This car ride is like the birthing process. When we get to the house, I will have given birth to you as one of my sons.” From that moment on, I was her son.

I met the rest of the family. Viviana was my host mom, Encarnación was her mom, Gonzalo and Paulo were two of her five biological children, Mikey was an American living with them, and together we were a family. There would be later additions like Maite, a Chilean girl from La Serena who came to Viña for school, and Aaron, another guy from my program who moved into our house after some unforeseen circumstances. I never imagined the relationships I would build with these complete strangers. Staying up late talking and joking with my host brothers, spending an untold amount of time talking with my host mom about a myriad of strange topics, talking about the latest episode of the teleserie with the grandma, all became parts of my daily reality. I soon learned our house was a petri dish for languages, which lead to a mix of multi-lingual puns and the white tiles in the kitchen being covered in marker as messages in multiple different languages were written all over the walls.

I also had time to explore the rest of the country. We went to Pucón on the edge of Patagonia were I went whitewater rafting for the first time and solidified the bonds with my friends from the program. I have one particular memory of about 20 of us sitting in our cabin watching Titanic in Spanish. A month later, three friends and I trekked to Patagonia to the Nation Park of Torres del Paine. Here I saw sights that post cards could not do justice. I remember hiking between the mountains and feeling dwarfed by the natural beauty. We were guided by a park ranger Luis who we were very grateful to have met. He helped us see everything we wanted and more. We spent five, sunny days hiking and camping in the park, which for Patagonia is unusual. This was a cosmic trade-off, however, for when I trekked to Atacama—the driest desert in the world, supposedly. It rained twice, snowed, and sand stormed for two days. Even though much of the trip was spent inside the hostel, I can say I saw the Atacama Desert covered in 4cm of snow—something unseen for over 100 years.

When I wasn’t travelling the country or spending time with my host family, I was most likely in class. Chilean university is different from that in the US. To start with, the grading scale is on a 1-7 ranking. Secondly, you declare a career, not a major, and upon graduation you will be considered qualified for that career. A third difference is that they do cancel classes more often than we do in the US. Class was cancelled once because of a big earthquake in the north. We spent a night under tsunami warning, and many fled to higher ground. Even though no tsunami arrived, the universities were conscientious that many students had not been at home all night.

In April, a massive forest fire entered Valpo and ran through the upper sectors of the hills damaging thousands of homes and displacing many. The response was unbelievable. Everyday citizens went to the hills to clean the rubble. University organizers ended up cancelling class because they knew the majority of students were going to skip classes to help volunteer. My host university became a hub for volunteerism and food and clothing collection. I myself worked several days in different locations in the hills, clearing the rubble and passing out food, water, and other necessities. I’ll never forget standing atop a hill and looking down at the burnt and collapsed buildings below. But what will really stand out in my mind is the lines of volunteers hiking up carrying Chilean flags and supplies.

These are the things I miss now that I am back in the US: mountains, ocean and beaches, ships in the harbor, brightly painted buildings, street dogs, Chilean Spanish, kisses on the cheek, earthquakes, Chilean family and friends, friends from my program and everything that cannot be expressed in words alone. To conclude, I remember a museum that was near my school. It was an old, immobile train justly called “El tren más lento del mundo.” It was a museum that houses items washed up on the beach. Thinking back to it now, I connect with that place in a way. I feel like I washed up on the shore of Chile. I had no real direction; I had just arrived. But I found a place, a home, people to care for me, and truly unbelievable friends. I hope that one day soon I will be able to find myself in Chile. Yes, my body took a 9-hour plane ride home, but I know my heart is riding the World’s Slowest Train back to the US.

From Slavery to Freedom: One Woman’s Mission in the Philippines

Passion

By Rachel Ball

Passion is contagious, and one passionate person can change the world. Brianna Rapp, a 2014 graduate of the University of Kentucky, is one of those people pursuing her world-changing dream. In January, she will embark on a one-year mission to the Philippines as an intern with a Christian nonprofit organization called International Justice Mission. Her work will give her the opportunity to rescue women from the horrors of sex trafficking.

When asked how she discovered her passion for rescuing sex-trafficking victims, Brianna replied, “I have always had a heart for women, merely because of the common theme we as women struggle with…to feel loved, to be enough, and to be accepted in today’s ever so changing society with unattainable standards to meet.” She continued to explain that during her sophomore year of college, she attended a conference called Passion where she learned about the issue of sex slavery across the world today. Passion annually unites thousands of Christian students across the United States to hear teachings from prominent leaders. After her experience there, she knew she would pursue fighting sex trafficking and freeing women. “I knew without a doubt this was God’s calling on my life.”

According to humantrafficking.org the Philippines holds a large number of traffickers who work hand-in-hand with organized crime groups to illegally manipulate and recruit victims. The traffickers often advertise themselves as government workers or employment agency representatives. Victims are then left vulnerable to “forced labor, debt bondage, and commercial sexual exploitation.” Though prostitution is illegal, the Philippines are still a major site for sex tourism, particularly for children. Humantrafficking.org reports that “highly visible business establishments” in the Philippines sexually exploit victims on a daily basis to meet the demands of sex tourism. Brianna explained, “Many families will even sell their own daughters in order to provide for themselves and other children. Many girls grow up believing this is what they were born to do, that being a sex slave is their purpose here on earth.”

International Justice Mission is a U.S. non-profit organization whose purpose is to fight against global human rights abuse. They battle human trafficking, forced labor slavery, illegal detention, police brutality, and illegal land seizure. IJM is a Christian organization, but they defend and protect individuals regardless of their religious affiliation. Brianna underwent a competitive interview process to become part of the IJM team. But her hard work resulted in good news: “They concluded I would be the best fit as a communications intern in their Manila, Philippines office fighting sex trafficking…I will be responsible for aiding IJM in identifying and developing stories to help shine a light on the sexual trafficking occurring within this region. I will also be volunteering with a local organization visiting clubs and brothels to help rescue women and encourage them to come to local safe house to seek freedom from their captors.”

When I asked Brianna why she was willing to sacrifice her time, comfort in the United States, and funds for this cause, her answer was nothing less than gratitude to be chosen for such a mission: “I feel like I am not sacrificing anything compared to the lives these women are forced to live day in and day out. I want to bring my girls home! Help give them hope, love, and life that the Lord has brought me! I not only want to see them gain freedom, but justice against their captors as well.”

Brianna is an encouraging example of a person willing to take action to change the world for good forever.

 

If you would like to donate to Brianna Rapp through International Justice Mission you can give online at IJM.org under the “Interns and Fellows Support Form” link.

The Unexpected Shock of Germany

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany

By Jonesha Sowell

Before leaving America for Germany, I was warned of the phenomena known as ‘culture shock’. To me, this ailment only afflicted those who were unwilling to step outside of their comfort zone. I had thought that to experience ‘culture shock’ meant that a person was intolerant of others and their customs. I assumed that this person would be someone who would be too stuck up to enjoy local festivals and flee markets, too introverted to meet new people, and too picky to try new foods. I thought a person who endured ‘culture shock’ would literally be in shock and would be distressed and frightened from the moment they left America. Being a very open minded person, I naturally assumed that I was innately immune to this condition. However, I was wrong. After tackling the fatigue of jet lag and the anxiety of being ill dressed for the erratic and unpredictable weather, I was soon confronted with the illness of hunger. I did not struggle with this condition due to lack of funds or shortage of food; on the contrary, there was always an unlimited supply of authentic German, Turkish, or Italian food. Hunger became a problem due to my inability to adjust to a new culture’s food. I soon grew tired of the Turkish lamb dish called Doner kebab, and despite the delicious-looking hotdogs and bratwursts, I seldom bought them. This was due to the fact that they were not placed on hotdog buns or sliced bread, but instead accompanied with small, hard rolls. Buffalo wings and vegetables were not served with ranch, French fries were topped with mayo, and if ketchup was present, it tasted like an unfamiliar paste. Furthermore, the smaller portion sizes left me, at times, wanting more. That is when I realized it happened: I had fallen ill to ‘culture shock’. Due to my inability to rapidly adjust to a new culture, I was not making the most of this life-changing opportunity. I was not experiencing Germany to the fullest.

Experiencing Germany does not mean I have to like everything or do everything everyone else in my program is doing. Experiencing Germany means that every day I am actively creating memories that I will remember for the rest of my life. Experiencing Germany means that I will try new foods until I find something that I absolutely love. It means that I will meet new people and ask questions at every chance I get. More importantly, experiencing Germany means I will listen and follow the customs and routines of Germans. I will eat larger breakfasts and lunches, since in Europe, they tend to be the larger and more fulfilling meals of the day; I will dress in layers and carry an umbrella, since most Germans use this method to prepare for the constantly changing weather; but better yet, I will experience Germany to the best of my abilities. As a slight germaphobe, I will ensure that I carry hand sanitizer with me so that eating from street vendors or riding the subway will not bother me. I will go to public viewings of the World Cup and cheer as loud as a native German. I will experience the German night life but will do so without compromising my beliefs or staying later than I am comfortable with. I will be more independent and not need to travel with all twenty people in my program. I will experience Germany to the fullest and to the best of my abilities.

A Global Education: Tips & Tricks

Segovia, Spain

Segovia, Spain

By Stella Achenjang

I had dreamt of studying abroad since my high school years. I love studying and I love learning, so what better way to combine the two? This past summer, my dream finally came true when I hopped on a plane, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and landed in España, or as the English speakers say, Spain. My experience there was phenomenal and life changing. How, you might ask? I took and passed two three-credit hour courses in Spanish, traveled around and outside of Spain, AND I think I even matured a little. All it took was a little courage and four weeks out of my summer! I loved being in Spain because the culture there is so much more different than what we experience in the US. It is very laid-back, welcoming, rich, and beautiful. It’s no wonder Spaniards are among the top five happiest people in the world. If I got to wake up with beauty surrounding me from all angles, I would be pretty happy myself—and I was during those four weeks. As I learned inside and out of the classroom, there were a few tricks and tips I picked up, all of which were essential to my absorbing and taking advantage of this very short, yet worthwhile study abroad experience. Here are a few to keep in mind as YOU plan your own trip!

Pre-Departure:

  1. Before you leave the US, learn about where you are going. What are some of their customs? Cultural taboos? Favorite foods? Etc.
  2. Go to your bank and order money in the country’s currency you will be visiting. Do this at least three weeks before you leave because some banks do not always have the currency on hand.
  3. Do not bring millions of American money with you. No matter where you go, you will easily be spotted as an American and will quickly become a target for pick-pockets. Also not all places have currency exchange shops around. Use your debit card to withdraw money as needed. Be sure to tell your bank you are going overseas.
  4. Beware; credit cards are not as popular overseas as they are in the US. Cash is the normal mode of payment.
  5. Make a doctor’s appointment at least a month before you leave. Make sure your vaccinations are up to date and you are aware of any medical problems you might encounter while overseas.
  6. PACK LIGHTLY!! When returning, you will want to bring back the entire country…and then some!
  7. Stay with a host family if that is an option!! You won’t regret it.

While Abroad:

  1. Plan, Plan, Plan!!! If you did your research, you should know what places you want to explore and where to get the best pastries.
  2. Do not be a tourist. YES, you want to visit all the monuments and such but go when the locals go. Look online for student deals or when museums are free to the public. Also, DITCH the backpack!! Opt for a messenger bag or tote instead.
  3. Explore the city you live in. Get to know your surroundings. Buy a map then GET LOST. That is the best way to stumble upon cool little coffee shops, boutiques or crazy beautiful scenery. Also, travel in pairs until you get comfortable with your surroundings.
  4. Buy a local phone/SIM card. Wi-Fi is AWESOME, but is not always available or FREE. Having a local number saves you a lot of time and is GREAT to have in emergencies.
  5. DIVE RIGHT IN!!! Start doing things locals do right when you step off the plane. People watch and assimilate! You will enjoy your experience a lot more!!!
  6. Meet locals!! This is probably one of the hardest things to do being American and with all the stigmas, but it is possible. Show them that you are interested in their culture and want to learn about how they live. If you are going for language purposes, ESPECIALLY speak the language. They love to see you trying.
  7. Speaking of the stigma, DO NOT be loud and obnoxious, especially on the metro.

Upon Returning to the US:

  1. Stay connected. Keep in touch with all your friends you made abroad and also your host family (if you had one).
  2. Start planning your next trip abroad, and take OTHERS with you!!!
  3. Find ways to continue practicing the language or culture. Share your experience with any and every one willing to listen.

Minding the Gap: From UK to the UK

London, England

London, England

By Danielle Middleton

It had been a very long day; my feet ached from the hours of walking, my phone battery depleted from the endless selfies, and my stomach was audibly growling from hunger. Just as I was about throw my hand up in exasperation, I heard those three magnificent words: mind the gap. The moment was magical; it was as if Harry Potter had uttered the words himself. Without hesitation, I climbed onto the train, mindful of the gap between the platform and train. I took a seat, breathed a sigh of relief, and silently congratulated myself on surviving the first day of my study abroad experience.

I would hear those same words nearly a hundred times in the coming weeks as I explored every crevice London had to offer. Not only did the words become routine, but they soon took on a new meaning. I like to think that mind the gap served as the theme of my experience. Each and every day, I found myself challenged in new and exciting ways to mind the cultural gaps I encountered as I settled in for a stay in the world’s most diverse city.

While I may have only purchased a ticket to London, I felt as though I had been granted a passport to the world. Nothing could illustrate this feeling better than my experiences in the eclectic markets offered in London. During one visit to my favorite market, Camden, I recall eating the most delicious Indian food while simultaneously perusing market stalls filled with colorful sarongs and masks from every corner of the world. Even more impressive, I did this to the tune of a punk rock medley, which was indicative of Camden’s role in the birth of the genre.

I have found that London not only serves as an intersection of cultures, but also for that of the past and present. While abroad, I had the opportunity to marvel at buildings such as the Tower of London that have withstood the test of centuries, attended a performance of Julius Caesar at the Globe Theater, and perfect my Abbey Road walk. I observed much history and tradition, but was also made aware of London’s present and future through the communication course I completed abroad.

The course, which focused on global communication, included several business site visits, ranging from big businesses like Coca Cola and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to Cockpit Arts, a small startup company. Although differing in size and services offered, each company thrived because of its commitment to international relationships. For instance, from a small studio within Cockpits Arts, a hat maker crafted products that would be dispersed across the globe. Similarly, companies like the BBC and Coca Cola owe their present success and future growth to partnerships that offer their companies a presence in over 200 countries worldwide.

Summarizing my study abroad experience in one article would be as difficult a task as receiving more than two ice cubes in your drink at any London restaurant; nearly impossible. For your sake, I will condense it to the following phrase: Doctor Who drinks Coca-Cola. In other words, this experience has taught me that while people may not always share the same language, clothes, or favorite snack, some things like a Coca Cola or episode of Doctor Who are universal.

Cheers!

A New Perspective on the World

Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China

By Kymbur Berrow

Some of the most common destinations to study abroad are places like Paris, France: “The City of Light”; Berlin, Germany: “The Grey City”; Cape Town, South Africa: “The Mother City”; and Sydney, Australia: “The Harbour City”. All of these destinations encompass a different experience, but no matter where you travel, there are similarities that connect us all. I did not get to travel to one of these common destinations. Instead, I decided to step out of the box and go against the norm. I traveled to Shanghai, China “Paris of the East” and it was better than any of my expectations!

After the first day in Shanghai, I was confused about all the stares and surprised looks I received. Instantly, I felt like an outsider, but I didn’t know why. I later learned that very few African-Americans are seen in China. The stares and awkward looks were actually out of interest and not disrespect. The Chinese people I met were so nice and friendly; in fact, so many people wanted to know my name and take pictures with me. I completely misread the situation because I was used to the American idea that being labeled as “different” carried a negative connotation. From then on, it became an honor to talk and share information about my ethnicity.

The best parts of my time in Shanghai were just getting a chance to walk around the city. I realized how blessed I was to be born as an American citizen. I already had the upper hand compared to my friends living in China. As Americans, we watch the news and read the newspaper about international affairs and suddenly feel like it has nothing to do with us on this side of the world. We put up a wall and separate ‘them’ from ‘us’, but what really makes us that much different? That is a question that frequently crossed my mind.

It took me traveling over 7000 miles across the world to truly find my passions in life. I gained confidence in myself and my goals grew to new heights. I returned to America with a refueled desire to be successful. In a place so different from what I considered normal, I was able to do a self-evaluation of what was next in my life journey. I no longer had any second guesses in my decision to go into a career in anthropology. I love to study and learn about different cultures and my study abroad experience went hand in hand with my career decision. In my journal, where I was supposed to be keeping track of all my new and exciting experiences, I began a collection of notes on the similarities and differences between Chinese culture and my own. I found myself constantly jotting down notes and trying to make connections.

As I conclude, I want to make one thing clear to my readers: be great in everything you do. When you work hard and stay persistent, success will follow. My new favorite quote I learned in China is, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” My first study abroad experience was life changing and I now have a revised perspective of the world. I want to travel and learn so much more. I hope this article inspires you to try new things and to never be afraid to be different!

 

Falling in Love in the City of Love

Paris, France

Paris, France

By Alexis Asamoah

They say everyone falls in love with Paris. In fact, everyone has heard the good and bad stereotypes about the renowned city: the French people are rude, fashionable, and smoke too much; the croissants are the best in the world; the landmarks are magnificent; PDA is widespread; the city is dirty; but are all these things really true? I will say that the croissants are indeed, superb. They were crispy, buttery, fresh, and a delight to eat each week, but I did not fall in love with the city as quickly as I had thought.

When I stepped off the plane after an eight-hour flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, I was jet-lagged and ready for a good, long shower. I spent that first day mainly walking around the area near the dorm where I was staying. It was not the best impression of the city. My tiredness coupled with my growing hunger did not quell my growing irritability and inability to find food. There were so many restaurants, but nothing I wanted to eat. It was also difficult trying to speak French with the workers I encountered at the dorm and in the restaurants. I felt like my brain was going haywire just trying to comprehend everything, while simultaneously trying to form sentences amid the jumble of French words swirling inside my head.

The most anticlimactic experience during my trip was to the Eiffel Tower. Known throughout the world and a high-touristy area, I thought I would fall in love when I saw its structure, in awe of its great height. While sitting in the gardens in front of the Tower amongst French couples, adolescents, and families with children, I realized that it wasn’t the eminent aspects of Paris that I appreciated, but the little things. I enjoyed going to the farmers market and interacting with the various vendors, running in the mornings in the Luxembourg Garden, discovering little cafes and bistros, going to mass at a couple churches, and riding the metro. Don’t get me wrong; Paris is a beautiful city with incredible cuisine and full of impressive architecture, but the culture and the people are what have made the largest impact on me. Being immersed in a culture with some of the most joyful, friendly people who were understanding and patient when you stumbled over words in an attempt to communicate without sounding like a naive American was refreshing. It was like nothing I had ever experienced.

During the last week of my study abroad experience, I went back to the Eiffel Tower, but this time to go to the very top. I went with a group from my program and as we were making our way up in the elevator, stopping at a couple different levels before nearing the top, I began to realize that I had fallen in love with the city during my five weeks. Ruminating over the memories I had made on the trip, I knew that the entire process of adjusting to a new city, challenging myself to speak the language, interacting with the locals, and savoring the cuisine would be what I would miss the most. I fell in love with Paris for all the hidden treasures one could only learn from living there and immersing oneself in the French lifestyle. Hopefully, I will get a chance to visit my dear city in the near future, reliving the sentiments I once had in a place that is now to me a second home.

“Better Together” Mentality Withstands Scottish Independence Referendum

A procession of "Yes" voters in Edinburgh, Scotland. from The Boston Globe

A procession of “Yes” voters in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The Boston Globe

By Emma McGregor

The referendum for Scottish independence that occurred on September 18 was an event that, at first glance, did not hit close to home for many American students. I, however, highly anticipated the verdict of whether or not Scotland would break ties with the United Kingdom. My father emigrated from Aberdeen, Scotland at the age of 25, so I have been surrounded by Scottish culture for my entire life. I grew up listening to Scottish folk music on weekend mornings, attending Highland Games, traveling to Scotland to visit my relatives, performing with a Scottish Highland Dance group, and attending events sponsored by the Cincinnati Caledonian Society, a Scottish cultural organization in which my dad—and now I—play an active role.

If there is one thing that I have learned from participating in all of these activities, it is that my family is not alone in our pride for “Bonnie Scotland.” There are over a hundred members of the Cincinnati Caledonian Society, not to mention countless other societies of the same nature operating across North America. Members of these organizations are people of Scottish descent who celebrate their heritage by attending events such as St. Andrew’s Day Balls (held in November in honor of Scotland’s patron saint) and Robbie Burns Day suppers (held to commemorate the poet laureate of Scotland). Members range from immigrants “fresh off the boat” from Scotland to native Ohioans and Kentuckians whose Scottish ancestry must be traced across multiple generations. What sparks such intense patriotism in people who can claim only loose ties to Scotland? Apparently, it is something that is just in their blood.

For many people, the question of Scottish pride evokes thoughts of the movie Braveheart, Hollywood’s take on Scottish Wars of Independence that occurred in the 13th century. Though it is glamorized in typical movie fashion, Braveheart did effectively convey the fact that freedom—particularly from the English crown—is an issue that has affected Scots for centuries. Scotland’s existence as an independent kingdom is rooted in a blend of Gaelic and English speaking cultures. By the 11th century, political and economic influences had led to a relationship between Scottish and English monarchs that would continue for centuries to come. Though Scotland remained independent during this time, its history is riddled with numerous battles and a complex interconnectedness with the English crown. In 1707, Scotland disbanded its Parliament and Great Britain was formed. Disputes regarding who had the rightful claim to the British throne led to uprisings during this period, most notably the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, which was influenced by the Celtic clans of Scotland. Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, led this revolt, which culminated in his army being defeated at the Battle of Culloden after marching toward the British Capital. The threat posed by this rebellion led to a systematic eradication of Celtic influences, including a ban on the kilt. The ban was eventually lifted and harmony restored; nevertheless, the Jacobean Rebellion still serves as a representation of Scottish nationalism. In fact, one of the most beloved dances that I perform with my Highland Dance group is based on the lift of the ban on kilts. The dance is called the Seann Triubhas (pronounced “shawn trews,” meaning “Old Trousers” in Gaelic). It includes movements that imitate people kicking off trousers, and it ends with a change in tempo and a sudden switch to less rigid, more fling-like movements that are meant to represent the freedom that comes with wearing the kilt.

Clearly, Scots have always felt a strong connection to their Celtic roots, which distinguish them from other parts of Britain. Pride in this distinctive culture has been a major influence on the Scottish National party, led by Alex Salmond. This party, at the head of the Yes campaign, cited its oil reserves, neglect from the British government, unfair taxes, and the weakening of its manufacturing industry as some of the reasons for separating from Great Britain. These arguments, along with a no-holds-barred mentality were able to sway many young Scots. According to an article in The Boston Globe, “disillusioned working-class voters” also got behind the Yes campaign, hoping to take a chance on an idea that has been talked about for years but never approached with such vigor.

In the end, the split between camps was a close call, with about 54% voting No and 46% voting Yes. Ultimately, opponents of independence won out with their argument that Britain is “Better Together.” What the Yes campaign promoted, after all, was independence with a continued reliance on British currency and the necessity of complicated negotiations with Great Britain. Scotland would be in a vulnerable economic state, dependent upon its oil industry, which does not hold much promise for long-term profitability. Furthermore, Scottish independence would have posed a threat not only to the reputation of the United Kingdom as a secure global power with a relatively strong economic system, but also to the European Union and the world at large. Scottish independence might have encouraged other nationalist movements to follow suit, and conflict would ensue.

The decision to remain a part of the United Kingdom came after months of debate. For some it was a relief, confirmation that Scotland would continue to prosper under a strong economic and political system. For others, it was a disappointment, a missed chance to break free from Great Britain and take complete ownership of Scotland’s unique culture and capabilities. Many people expect that the issue will resurface before long. Whatever the case, one thing is certain: Scots around the world will remain proud of their culture. After all, there is more to this small nation than bagpipes and kilts; it is home to innovative, hardworking, and loyal people who have and will continue to make significant contributions to our global community.