Winter in Argentina by Justin Stanley

IMG_9701On December 26th I woke up a day after a good Christmas celebration with my family to leave for South America. My mother and brother dropped Rafael and me off at Levi’s house and from there, Rafael, Levi, and I drove to Dallas. We parked Levi’s car at the Dallas-Forth Worth Airport Hotel and took a shuttle to the airport where we met the rest of the gang – Scotty, Tony, and Ryan. After waiting a few hours for the plane we finally boarded and began our sixteen-day journey.

It was at the Dallas-Forth Worth Airport that my first feelings of being a foreigner manifested themselves. When we were standing in line to board the plane, the realization that I was about to spend a little over two weeks in a land of people that didn’t look, talk, or come from the same culture as me really sunk in. The flight attendants made the boarding announcements in Spanish, which I know very little of, the people in the line spoke Spanish and all looked different from me. Thank goodness we had Rafael as a translator, because I the trip would have been nearly impossible without his bilingual talents and the alienation I experienced would likely have been maddening.

Eventually our first flight landed in Mexico City where we spent a thirteen-hour layover sleeping in the airport. We then flew to Santiago, Chile and had our first sleep in an actual bed in over twenty-four hours. It was a nice night except for the fact that we got to the hostel around midnight and had to wake up at four in the morning to catch our bus to Mendoza. Also, Levi lost his phone that night after misplacing it in the cab from the airport to the hostel. The fact that he lost his phone was disheartening at first, but it eventually became a running joke throughout the trip and even Levi joined in the jokes. After arriving at the Santiago bus station and making friends with several stray dogs, we were finally on our way to Argentina. After about a five-hour bus ride through the Andes and fearing we would lose Rafael at the boarder, we made it to Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina.

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Mendoza was a very pretty city. However, due to the flat terrain of the city and the way the dense trees lined the streets, I almost felt claustrophobic in some areas. The first night in Mendoza was spent at the hostel. There we met many interesting visitors, some from Israel, Brazil, and the Ukraine. We mingled with them all night and learned a lot about life in their homelands. The next day we went horseback riding and afterwards ate some of the best steak we had ever had. At the horseback riding place I met an electrical engineering student named Raphael from Quebec. He told me of his optimism for renewable energy in the future and hoped the newly elected Donald Trump would aid in rather than hamper that process. Raphael really admired the work of Elon Musk and was glad to see Trump meeting with the visionary engineer.

In Patagonia we spent two full days in El Calafate and Bariloche. This was probably my favorite part of the trip because it’s where we did the most outdoorsy-type activities. We visited the Glacier Moreno where we saw huge chunks of ice fall off the glacier and make a sound upon impact with the water comparable to thunder. We hiked up a tall mountain in Bariloche and took a ski lift down, which was admittedly my favorite purchase of the whole trip. It was so peaceful. From Patagonia we went to Vina del Mar where we relaxed on the beach before returning to the USA.

The biggest thing I got out of this trip was an inspiration to learn Spanish. It was such an inconvenience not to be able to speak the language of the people in the countries we visited. Since the trip I have been learning a little more Spanish with the Duolingo app on my phone and watching Spanish cartoons with English subtitles on Netflix. The practice is helping, but I still have a long way to go before I become comfortable holding conversations in Spanish. I now have the deepest empathy for Spanish-speaking foreigners travelling in English speaking areas.
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Genius and the Mundane in Italy by Danielle Bridges

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​In the summer before my junior year, I lived in Florence, Italy for a month to learn about the Renaissance. I spent the weeks before leaving reading up on the places we would be visiting and practicing rudimentary Italian. I was prepared to see incredible works of art, exquisite architecture, and many historic sites. Italy did not disappoint. For four solid weeks, I got to do amazing things like climbing to the top of the Santa Maria del Fiore’s dome, touring the Vatican Museum, and visiting David’s Michelangelo. I experienced the delicate beauty of Bernini’s statues firsthand in Rome, then toured the Roman Forum and the Pantheon. In class, we learned about the genius of men like Brunelleschi, who finally figured out how to build the largest octagonal free-standing dome of his time. I walked the same streets as powerful people like Brunelleschi, Verrocchio, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Medici.

All of this was expected, but I also met genius that I didn’t expect during my time in Italy. As a vocal music education major, I wanted to attend as many (free) concerts as I could, but due to our heavy itinerary, I could only make it to two. The first concert, through wonderful, was fairly uneventful. I happened to see a poster for the second concert, featuring the Santa Barbara Choral Society, while I was walking back to my apartment one evening. The advertised repertoire list included work by some of my favorite composers, including Palestrina, Aaron Copland, and Morten Lauridsen. Lauridsen’s music, especially his piece “O Magnum Mysterium,” was the catalyst for my decision to become a music education major, so I knew I had to go. My roommate, Carolina, came with me, and we sat in the third row of the beautiful church called Santa Trinita. The front two rows were reserved and empty, but a few minutes after we sat down, Lauridsen himself walked in and sat directly in front of us! I got to meet the man who inspired me to pursue a career in music, ask him questions, and listen to the Santa Barbara choirs sing “O Magnum Mysterium” while he was in the room (pictured above). It was another incredible, unexpected encounter with genius during my summer abroad.

For all the genius I experienced in Italy, for all the heights of human achievement I saw and the beautiful music I heard, I also loved acquainting myself with the everyday, mundane aspects of Italian life. I lived in an Italian apartment without a clothes dryer or air conditioning. My roommates and I went shopping at an unbelievably crowded grocery store without knowing which brands we should buy, or even knowing what each can of food was. We spent a couple of weeks trying to find the best pizza place in Florence (if anyone is wondering, it’s called Divina Pizza. It’s a few blocks away from Santa Croce, has fantastically weird artisanal pizza, and the staff are some of the friendliest people we met while in Italy). We had to learn how to live in a foreign culture, which included adjusting to all kinds of rules that are different from America’s rules. For example, it is an absolute necessity to “validate” train tickets before using them by inserting them in a punch machine. If tickets aren’t validated, a huge fine could be incurred. Fruit must be weighed and labeled by a special machine in the grocery store before it can be bought. In our apartment, at least, there was a limit to how much electricity we could use at one time. If we used too much, it would shut off. These mundane oddities, and many more, made every day in Italy an adventure.

We packed four weeks with the best of many different places in Italy, from Rome all the way to Bolzano. I hiked in Cinque Terre, ate wiener schnitzel in the Alps, biked in Lucca, and walked the medieval streets of Siena. By the end of it all, I was exhausted. This is where the best part of the entire trip came: I went home with open eyes. It’s easy to get stuck in one way of living, forgetting all of the good and the bad that comes with it. That was certainly true of my life in America before I spent a month abroad. Living in Italy forced me to step outside my comfort zone, and I discovered how much my friends, family, and career mean to me. I came back with a greater appreciation for the genius of my home here and a newfound joy in the mundane parts of my life.

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Raise a Dog, Change a Life by Micaela Motzko

It was a windy, overcast Wednesday morning—but warm enough to wear short sleeves. I rode with my mom to the Little Rock airport, buzzing with excitement the entire drive. I had to skip my classes to make the trip, but I wasn’t even thinking about what I’d have to make up later. I was given his flight tracking number and I anxiously watched as the plane departed California and approached the Clinton National Airport. I was told his name beforehand, but nothing else—not even a picture. The plane landed and we made our way inside to get my “package.” I peered over the cargo loading zone to see a crate that looked empty, until suddenly, a sweet little puppy head popped up with wide, brown eyes. And that was the moment Gibson changed my life.

IMG_9200  I’m a volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), which is a nonprofit organization that provides highly trained companion dogs to people with disabilities. CCI raises and trains service, assistance, hearing, and facility dogs, each with their own role in a person’s life. I found CCI when I was seeking an opportunity to integrate working dogs into a thesis project, and I’m so glad that I did. I’ve seen firsthand the impact that a CCI dog can have on someone’s life and I’m proud to be a small part of this organization.
My job as a puppy raiser is to love, raise, train, and socialize Gibson so that he will have the best chance possible at becoming a service dog. The quality of my work will directly influence whether he’s able to change the life someone else. Besides the usual puppy care and potty training, I also trim his nails, brush his teeth, and clean his ears every week. I attend regular training sessions with a professional dog trainer, who helps me teach Gibson his 30 commands. I spend time each day reinforcing those commands so that they’re nearly perfect when he returns to CCI. I also take him on public outings to practice his behavior in various settings, which I would say is the most important part of my job.

IMG_9199Gibson is a little over a year old now and his outings are increasingly becoming a regular part of my life. I bring Gibson with me every chance that I get—to the grocery store, restaurants, classes, movie theaters, and even to the voting booth last week. People in public usually respond well and understand that he’s training, but of course I’ve had lots of staring, rude remarks, and even people turning me away from their business. However, he gets a little better each time I take him with me because he becomes more and more familiar with different situations. Sometimes we’ll stand up to leave from a restaurant and I’ll hear people say they didn’t even realize a dog was under our table—which is the biggest compliment somebody could give us, since it took a ton of work to get him to that point.

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Raising Gibson for my thesis project has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, but not without hard work. Because my “work” with Gibson is mostly fun, I forget how much time and energy I put into this project. I track the time I’ve spent using an app on my phone, and as of last week, I’ve spent a little over 815 hours on my thesis—and it continues to grow each day. However, I’ve been lucky that my role as puppy raiser doesn’t ever feel like real work.IMG_9204

Next August, I’ll return to California with Gibson to participate in his puppy graduation ceremony. From there, CCI analyzes his behavior in order to place him in the program that best fits his personality. Finally, they will pair Gibson with a person with a disability and they will complete formal training together, tailoring commands to the individual’s needs.

Although the thought of letting him go hurts deeply, knowing that he’ll have a positive impact on someone else’s life makes it worth the heartbreak. I love watching him grow up and seeing the progress for which we’ve both worked so hard. He’s unbelievably smart, patient, sweet, and playful—and I love him like my own. Gibson has brought so much joy and laughter in the short twelve months he’s been in my life; he’s the best kind of study break and it’s impossible to feel stressed when I’m around him. Even though he isn’t mine to keep, I’ll never forget the impact he’s had on my life—all this time I thought I was raising him to change someone else’s life and it turns out he’s changed mine along the way.

If you would like to keep up with our adventures, I post weekly on mydogismyhomework.tumblr.com.

Service and Safari in Tanzania by Laura Craig

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”Mambo!”
“Poa!”

I had the opportunity to spend a month volunteering through Projects Abroad and shooting a documentary in Arusha, Tanzania this summer as part of my thesis with the aid of a Travel Abroad Grant from the Honors College. While this wasn’t my first time abroad, it was my first trip to a developing country; I didn’t know what to expect.

One of the first things I learned was that Tanzanian people are very friendly. When walking around the city center or from my host family’s house to work (at the Kilimanjaro Film Institute), I would constantly be greeted by those I passed- from school children to adults. The most common greeting is, “Mambo.” There are several appropriate responses, but the most common one is “Poa!” I would say this at least five times on my short walk to work every morning.

Working at the Kilimanjaro Film Institute (KFI) was a priceless experience. At KFI, I did motion graphics work for their TV channel, Tazma TZ. I absolutely love motion graphics, so I was quite excited; however, we often lost power at work, and when we had no power, we couldn’t work on our computers or access the wireless Internet connection. I also had the opportunity to lead a workshop for some students on scriptwriting, and I trained some of the staff on using Adobe Photoshop and After Effects. I do not normally view myself as a leader, so this experience served as a growth opportunity for me personally. This, I feel, is characteristic of volunteering abroad. You go to use your skills to provide a service or educate those in the developing world (or simply in a different culture), but in the process you grow as a person and learn so much about yourself.

Besides working at KFI, I also worked with other Projects Abroad volunteers to paint the walls of the Juvenile Detention Center in Arusha. As part of filming my documentary, I had the opportunity to go along on a medical outreach and visit an orphanage as well. I will always cherish the friendships I made with the other volunteers from these experiences.

IMG_9138My time in Tanzania wasn’t all work and no play. On the weekends, I got to travel to the Hot Springs at Moshi and go on a safari to the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater with some of the friends I had made. Words cannot describe how beautiful Tanzania is. We swam in the hot springs for hours getting tickled by tiny fishes and fighting the current to explore secluded pools. I have never seen such crystal clear and azure water in my life. The next morning we drove to the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, where we hiked to the Ndoro waterfalls and visited the gate where hikers start to climb Kili.

IMG_9137I went on a three-day safari that started with a game drive in the Serengeti. The wildlife we saw was astounding- cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, lions, antelope, a leopard, hyenas, hippos, ostriches, buffalo, baboons, and zebras. We spent two nights camping while on safari- one in the Serengeti and one in the Ngorongoro Crater. I had never been tent camping before, but I absolutely loved seeing the stars so clearly without any light pollution from the city. Because we spent the night at the top of the Ngorongoro Crater, which was created through the collapse of a volcano, it was extremely cold. We bundled together, and I wore my Massai wrap around my shoulders everywhere I went.

IMG_9136I will never be the same person I was before I traveled to Tanzania. I have experienced a new culture, a new way of life, and new natural beauty that have opened my mind and expanded my worldview. If you’re ever given the opportunity, travel. Travel to places that scare you and excite you, because you will gain so much from those experiences. And if you get the chance, volunteer abroad, because it truly allows you to integrate into another culture and appreciate your own.

Science and Shakespeare by Maggie McNeary

IMG_8876In December of 2015, my longtime roommate Stephanie Dayer and I traveled to London, Paris, Florence, Venice, and Munich during Christmas break. Stephanie, who has since graduated and is now a student at UAMS, was a biology pre-med major, while I am a soon-to-be-graduating English major. I’ve been abroad several times, partially thanks to the Honors College, but this was Stephanie’s first venture across the Atlantic. When we were planning our trip, we knew we wanted it to be about learning, not just traveling. We decided that each of us would explore a little bit about the other’s discipline, which led us to the title of our self-planned trip: Science and Shakespeare.

Our mission was to absorb as much science, art, literature, and culture as we could in the cities we went to with the time that we had. In the process, we visited world-famous museums such as the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Louvre Museum in Paris, and the Uffizi and the Accademia in Florence. We also saw world-famous monuments and landmarks such as the Globe, the Eiffel Tower, the Ponte Vecchio, St. Mark’s Cathedral and Neuschwanstein Castle.

We didn’t spend all our time at museums and monuments; Stephanie and I ventured under the city of Paris when we entered the catacombs. Underneath the City of Light are miles of dark tunnels lined with skeletons. Our tour guide told us about how, when the cemeteries of Paris began to fill up, the city moved its dead to the quarry tunnels below. Seeing the catacombs was one of Stephanie’s favorite parts of the trip. She was fascinated by the architecture of the tunnels and the presence of the bones; she could even tell me the names of the particular bones I asked about while we were there. I enjoyed it, but I was definitely a bit queasy from looking at human skulls by the time we came back up to the surface.

Some of my favorite moments included strolling around Florence at Christmas, learning about Bavarian history while in Germany, and seeing the musical Mathilda as well as touring Stratford-upon-Avon while we were in England.

I already considered myself a Shakespeare enthusiast and a bit of an Anglophile before this trip, but after taking it I felt several steps closer to being a real Shakespeare scholar. As a biology student, Stephanie hadn’t had the chance to interact with much literature or theater while she was at school, so we spent as much time with my books as she did with her bones.

While at the British Library, we had the opportunity to view Shakespeare’s First Folio. We also toured Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon and a reproduction of the Globe Theatre. After touring the Globe, Stephanie and I attended a performance of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a recently built indoor theater used in winter instead of the Globe. (Joseph Marcell, best known for his role as Geoffrey the butler on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, played the title role – and he did a great job, as did the rest of the cast.)

We started and ended our time in Europe at an airport near London. On our last night, which happened to be New Year’s Eve, we had planned to celebrate the new year in style with native Londoners. After all, we had spent Christmas in Florence and had gone out into the city then. Instead, the two of us decided to hang out in our hotel room, exhausted from our trip. We listened to a few amateur fireworks being set off outside and watched the displays on the TV in our room. Staying in turned out to be the right decision; we had enjoyed our trip, but on the last night we let ourselves rest and got ready to come home.

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An Irish Perspective: Religion, War, and Politics in Ireland by Seth Wilson

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​Growing up in a Catholic family, I have always been fascinated with St. Patrick of Ireland. At a young age, I heard miraculous stories of Patrick banishing snakes from Ireland and passionately evangelizing Ireland to instate Christianity. As I grew older, I became exposed to the existing Catholic-Protestant tensions in Ireland even today. My menial knowledge of the conflict, however, whetted my appetite for understanding, so I paired up with two classmates, Justin Stanley and Rafael Castro, received a generous grant from the Honors College, and embarked on an adventure to find understanding. Little did I realize that I would return with something much greater than textbook comprehension.

​Ireland has a rich religious history that is generally divided into four periods: Neolithic religion, Paganism, Catholicism, and Protestantism. While each was interesting, Ireland post-Protestant Reformation captivated me most of all and taught me the paramount importance of context in all life experiences.

Through my travels, I learned that Irish religious tensions largely resulted due to English politics. Before the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church was not only the supreme religious authority, but also a political giant across Europe. Luther’s rebellion against Church authority inspired leaders worldwide to follow suit. King Henry VIII was the first to rule England without Catholic control, and his example foreshadowed the cruel anti-Catholic treatment that future Protestant leaders would use to crush Irish natives, who had deep Catholic roots.

In essence, conflict between the two religious groups resulted from their affiliation with certain political parties. At first glance, that was not apparent to me, but traveling to Ireland, speaking to the locals, and visiting museums helped me understand the true cause of present conditions in Ireland. However, assuming that conditions are truly how they seem at first glance often leads to a corrupted understanding.

When we visited Belfast, I was absolutely blown away by their religious history. “The Troubles,” a mob-like war between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, ended in 2007. During the peak of the war, four car bombs per day exploded throughout the city. We took a Black Taxi Tour around Belfast, and our guide explained the nature of “The Troubles” from his own account; he had several family members who were killed or incarcerated during the war. He admitted that despite the religious affiliation of the violent gangs, the war was not truly religious in nature, but political.

That evening in Belfast, rain splattered the streets, staining the concrete as the clouds continued to mourn for the families who lost loved ones during the violence. However, tension still filled the city; the wounds were still fresh. Gates swung shut at night, and “peace walls” completely segregated the two communities: Catholics on one side of the wall, Protestants on the other. Suddenly, I experienced something I never had while reading a history book: I felt the pain of the Irish people.

My time in Ireland is my favorite college memory; I traveled all around the country and saw some of the most brilliant phenomena in the world, such as the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway. I stood in the presence of Irish historical monuments. I grew in appreciation for the locals and people across the world. I cultivated powerful friendships with my classmates. I drank great beer. (The Guinness is better in Ireland, in case you were wondering.) Ultimately, however, I changed my perspective on traveling and learned firsthand that no textbook can adequately replace experiential learning. I am forever grateful to Honors for funding my trip. As the Irish would say, “Cheers!”

See Seth’s adventure in video here.

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I Can’t Help Falling in Love…by Luz Elena Arechiga

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As we walked through the souvenir shop in downtown Dublin, on our last day before heading home, a familiar song came on.  “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is typically associated with the feelings for another person, yet I found myself connecting to this song in relation to our travels and the cities we had visited. With every step, every click of the camera, every train ride, every hostel, we collected nostalgia through it all. Each city has unique charms, hidden spots, attractions, and all around culture that makes the city so easy to fall in love with.

Kayla, Danielle, and I visited eight cities in Western Europe this trip, and describing each of these wonderful cities and their impact in detail would surely fill a book. What follows is simply a taste of what this trip encompassed, a few excerpts from my travel journal…

Dublin—the first stop in our grand adventure and the last stop before heading back to our anxiously awaiting families. Dublin—home to boisterous, drunken, beer-loving Irishmen and women with their joyous and hearty laughs. It’s city where we knew not to expect the sun to shine; yet the weather somehow fits perfectly with the otherwise joyful mood of the city. We discovered that this city contains the best coffee shop in the world, La Pausa Caffe, which offers divine Nutella lattes. Dublin—where an abundance of beautiful, unique, and colorful doors abound.  Dublin—where the homeless wish you to be blessed and where Irish music litters the street with its merry tunes.

Richterswil, Switzerland—Everyone we have encountered here has proven to be kind, considerate, and accommodating. This was such a stark contrast from the disapproving glances we faced from the French in Paris. Switzerland was refreshing in that nature seemed untainted; breathing in the fresh crisp air was almost therapeutic. Switzerland’s beauty fosters appreciation and relaxation, and it is easy to gather why everyone here is so kind. I wish I could capture this natural beauty with every photograph, but looking down at my camera only brings disappointment that my friends back home will not be able to enjoy this scenery to the same extent.

Florence—Italy has felt like home since the minute I stepped foot here last year for my first experience traveling abroad. It is interesting to note how the layout of this city differs from those in the U.S and even most of the cities we visited. Italy is clearly a collectivist country rather than an individualistic one. This is obvious through the residential areas built so close together; some buildings even had ladders connecting one roof to another. This is a stark contrast to the “fences make good neighbors” mentality I grew up with.

Nice—The playgrounds here are infinitely cooler than any I have ever experienced in America. The one Danielle and I found was sea-themed, featuring a “SEA-saw” where children can sit in a dolphin or shark, a large wooden ship one can captain, and even a giant wooden whale skeleton one can explore! Coincidentally, a Euro 2016 game was occurring in Nice on the very day we were there, so we ran into several thousand fans, mostly entertaining drunken Irishmen coming to cheer on Northern Ireland.

Barcelona—there is magic here. La Fontana Magica de Montjuic translates to “The Magic Fountain.” It is without a doubt, absolutely magical. There is a road leading to the crowd circling the enormous foundation. Lining the lead up are dozens of small, miniature fountains, lit up with changing colors that match the beat of the music. For an hour and a half the changing colors and movements of the water beyond captivated us. Barcelona is home to artists in the form of flamenco dancers, whose fast feet and extravagant dresses draw and hold our attention.  Before we could blink, an hour had past without our noticing and it took a minute to get out of the trance-like state we had been in for the duration of the show.

—End of excerpts—

Independence. Creative problem solving. Overcoming obstacles. Good judgment. Teamwork. These are the perfect ingredients to a successful trip across the world where we were offered an opportunity for intellectual and emotional growth. Observing different cultural perspectives, attitudes, and behaviors ultimately affected the way I viewed the coalescence of human perspective. My enhanced awareness of opposing and “unusual” life attitudes leads to an overall increase in my ability to work well with others–an indispensable skill by any standard.

I learned more about life, friendship, and being a respectful citizen of the world as we ventured from country to country. This trip led to a deeper understanding of self-reliance and increased confidence that has helped me get closer to my full potential. Thank you, Honors College, for the opportunity to have such an amazing opportunity. I was able to grow in ways that are not possible in a classroom and for that, I am infinitely grateful.

Luz Elena

Irish Coffee, American Friends, & the Gift of Gab: A Spring Break in Ireland by Jamie Martin

IMG_8768When most people think of spring break, they see beaches, parties, and a bunch of friends taking their minds off of a crazy spring semester. However, when I thought about spring break this past year, I saw an opportunity for solo travel.

I’d traveled outside the country before, but never to go somewhere where I didn’t know anyone. This trip was special, because I was uniquely on my own. I didn’t have any friends going from Arkansas, nor did I know anyone who’d be there on the trip. It was just me and 43 strangers for a whole week. And it ended up being one of my favorite travel experiences yet. Read more in Jae’s blog post for the Odyssey Online. 

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Ireland: What the Water Gave Me by Tyler Karnes

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Late one winter night during 2013, my senior year of high school, I began writing a short story titled “What I Saw in the Water.” I stayed up until I saw the sun, as long as it took to finish that first draft. The story was intentionally vague; I didn’t specify a setting in order to create a timeless feel. I was pleased with the outcome, but my curiosity wouldn’t let me stop there. I kept going back to the story, long after the “final” draft, to tweak this or that. At some point, that vague element I was so proud of began to vanish — not from the writing itself, but for me. I got to know the characters who were merely mentioned but did not make an appearance. I knew the time period. I knew the characters’ pasts and futures. Perhaps most importantly, I knew the location: Ireland.

I do not remember making that conscious decision. I realized one day that I had been crafting the story as if it were taking place in Ireland, and suddenly no other setting was worthy. I did not know this short story would become part one out of three of a novel-in-progress called What I Gave the Water, or that that novel would become my thesis for the Honors College almost three years later. I certainly never imagined my dedication to this story and to these characters would ever actually take me to Ireland. And yet, earlier this summer, it did.

At the persistent urging of Adam Frank, my Oxford Tutorial professor, I applied for a Travel Abroad Grant (TAG) from the Schedler Honors College in the fall of 2015. I planned to go alone, I had a budget and a timeline, and I had a general idea of the main places I wanted to visit, but that was the extent of my concrete planning. I wanted flexibility and spontaneity, which was part of my reasoning to go alone. I had never been abroad before — admittedly, I had never even flown on a plane — so to do all of this alone without even knowing where I would sleep each night for a month was a bit terrifying.

The first twenty-four hours were exhausting and demanding. I remember thinking an embarrassing number of times that I had made a mistake. I did not think I had it in me. But I continued to surprise myself: I navigated airports, I unraveled the mystery that is Dublin’s public transportation, I found my first hostel without even having to backtrack! Small victories, perhaps, but victories nonetheless. From the outset, I recognized an independence in me — and dare I say it, an “extrovertedness” — that I had not before.

I stayed in hostels, always sharing a room with four, six, or eight beds. I was apprehensive about this, but it proved to be a wonderful decision. I met some of the coolest people I have ever encountered — friends from across the United States, from Canada, Germany, China, Australia, South Africa, Scotland. These people got me. They understood what was driving me. The majority of them were also solo travelers.

I started in Dublin, and then I rented a car (this meant driving on the wrong side of the roads, many of which were narrow and bumpy and quite stressful) to drive west across the country to Galway. From Galway I headed south to Doolin, then Killarney and Cork, before traveling across the southern coast of Ireland and back up to Dublin. While in Galway and again in Doolin, I took boat tours to the largest and smallest Aran Islands, Inishmore and Inisheer respectively. I walked atop the Cliffs of Moher and sailed along their bottom, so far below the top that the visitors above were not visible. I also visited Cape Clear Island and took a ferry to Fastnet Lighthouse, an off-shore lighthouse that is the southernmost point of Ireland. Once back in Dublin, I went on a tour to Northern Ireland to Belfast and certain geographic locations, like the Dark Hedges, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, and the Giant’s Causeway. Much of my time in cities was spent exploring museums or visiting places relevant to my novel, such as the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin or Gus O’Connor’s Pub in Doolin. I learned much more about the Easter Rising of 1916, the War of Independence, and the Civil War, during which my novel is set.

Near the end of the trip, I was reminded of a passage from my novel. One of the main characters, Atlas, takes a literal and figurative leap:

“Weeks to work up the nerve, weeks of standing on edge with toes in the dirt. Weeks of climbing atop the rocks at the far end of the lake, hidden from the manor-view behind a thicket of trees. Weeks of tossing rocks into the water and watching them plop and sink like dead weight. Weeks, before finally he threw himself in after the rocks. His fingernails dug into his palm around the stone in his pocket.

He had been certain he would drown, unsure if his heart pounding against his ribcage would give out first before the water could claim him. But neither had happened: his head broke the surface, he gulped for air and thrashed…and then stopped, floated with his head above the still water. He took deep, slow breaths and realized, I’m okay.”— from Part Two, What the Water Gave Me

When I thought of this passage, I realized my experience was pretty similar. In the months and weeks leading up to the trip, I was excited and anxious and terrified. Each day in Ireland was a new leap into the water. Each day driving on foreign roads. Each afternoon trying to find a hostel for the night. Each new city, each new person I met. They were all my own moments of throwing myself into the water, and I often thought I would buckle under the pressure. I was challenged in ways I never have been, but Ireland brought out a confidence and independence in me that I did not know I had.

Since returning to the US, I have been trying to hold on to this independence. I continue to push myself in new ways, whether that’s making a hard choice to let go of elements of my past, go after new things, or admit to myself and others what I really want from life. Traveling abroad taught me so much about my writing, Ireland, myself, and others. But most importantly, I think it taught me to take risks. I know now to take a deep breath, throw myself out of my comfort zone, panic momentarily, and then remind myself, I’m okay.

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Sleepless in Shanghai (And Other Chinese Cities): My Summer of Study and Travel on the Other Side of the Globe by Audrey Bauman

audrey with class

HOUSTON, TX—As I board a plane bound for Tokyo, where I’ll catch another one to China, I can feel my stomach slowly disintegrating. I haven’t even left the states yet, and I’m already in an unfamiliar situation. Rather than splitting passengers into numbered boarding groups, the Japanese airline is boarding first class, then business class, and then economy class all in one huge crowd behind the gate. I’m surrounded by foreign voices, and all too conscious that this is the farthest I’ll have ever traveled (to Shanghai, for a summer program), the longest I’ll ever have been abroad (almost two months, taken all together), and the first time I’ll have traveled by myself. I swallow, I sweat…and then I board.

My Honors-funded summer journey took me from Hong Kong to Shanghai to Beijing and Guangzhou—and then back to Hong Kong—all over the course of eight weeks. The longest time spent in any one place was the five weeks in Shanghai, where I attended East China Normal University through a UCA summer program and studied Chinese for four hours every weekday morning. After spending two nights in Hong Kong with my grandmother, flying to Shanghai on a Sunday, and settling in for one whole evening, I joined the rest of my UCA program-mates on Monday morning for the most sobering language placement test of my Chinese-learning history. (Note: Jet lag stemming from a thirteen hour time difference does not a good testing mentality make.) After the test, we got to choose between a harder class and an easier one, because for all the other ECNU international students, this was the tail end of their semester abroad. Our time there was merely a blip.

Once we picked a class, the Chinese-learning head honcho, Maggie He, took us straight to our classrooms. And we began.

To say I felt stupid, and scared, and way out of my depth would be an understatement. With six years of Chinese study (four in high school, two in college), I thought I would be okay. Oh, past Audrey. How foolish you were. After an hour and a half of sitting in a classroom full of nodding heads while the teacher talked so fast and used so many new words I understood practically nothing, I had to meet with the teacher to touch base. She said something, and I stared at her. She paused, and then said in English, “If it’s too hard, you can move to another class.”

For most of that first week, I thought about giving up—who was I to think I could do well in a city where every place I passed was an unfamiliar one, as was almost every word I heard? But I realized I would hate myself even more if I did give up, so I stayed. I fell into a weekday morning routine of MW Speaking, TTH Reading and Writing, and Listening on Fridays—rinse and repeat for five weeks. I found out my classmates were international students from all over, and friendly ones to boot. I was smacked in the face by the sheer amount of new characters and sounds and smells. I also had the novelty of free afternoons where I could explore the city.

Believe it or not, in Shanghai everything is in Chinese. (Shocking!) I had to order food in Chinese, decipher instructions in Chinese, and tell the hotel restaurant ladies my room number in Chinese. The greatest consolation was that my UCA program-mates were as lost as I was. The seven of us figured out how ECNU’s cafeteria worked together, rode the subway together, and even went to Hangzhou together on a weekend trip we organized ourselves. We waffled over where to eat dinner every night, and often that place turned out to be KFC. (Before you scoff—the KFC menu in China was both tastier and cheaper than in the U.S., so it was well worth it. Can you get KFC squid in ‘Merica? Didn’t think so.) We fumbled our way through Shanghai together, ferreting out the best places to walk around (People’s Square) and the best places not to study (the too-quiet library and the nearby park, where a bird pooped on my head). We ate street food together and hung out our clothes to dry. There were mix-ups with train tickets, and delicious soy sauce chicken was eaten. My Chinese improved tremendously, both through the classes and through sheer exposure. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences in the world when my program at ECNU finished and I could understand almost everything my teacher said. Part of why I came was for my Chinese minor credit, but I began to regret my stay in Shanghai was so short. “What if I came back for a semester?” I wondered, and tabled the idea for later.

Of course, Shanghai wasn’t the whole trip. There was also seeing my grandmother again for the first time in seven years and the Hong Kong visit after Shanghai, where I experienced a world of crazy expensive stores and crazy delicious food. There was Beijing, where everything was just huge. Huge! No matter how many pictures you see of the Great Wall, there’s nothing like the moment when your tour bus turns a corner on a mountain road and you see the wall sprawled across the slopes. There was the on-a-Chinese-guided-tour experience itself, where half the tour was spent at factories buying silk and Chinese traditional medicine—or at restaurants. There was Guangzhou, where I saw my uncle, aunt, cousin, and the family home built by one of my great-great-grandfathers. There was going through immigration so many freaking times the process became boring, even though the first time I encountered the immigration line in Hong Kong I nearly cried because I was so scared. There was so much in China, and by the end I had nearly forgotten what America felt like.

I don’t want to oversell my experience. It was often crowded, it was always scorching hot, there were numerous mishaps, and most of the time I felt like the stupidest person on earth. But I also experienced living in a city for the first time ever, saw the historical sites of one of the oldest lasting civilizations in the world, made new friends, saw old family, and learned a lot of Chinese. I realized how enormous the world is and how the piece of it I occupy is tiny in comparison. I gained confidence in my ability to solve problems by myself, without my parents there to figure it out for me. I gained confidence in my ability to adapt.

Also, the food wasn’t half-bad.

All of this—a full, crazy two months six thousand miles away—because of UCA Honors and the TAG the college provided. I remember filling out that TAG application and not knowing what to expect, what kind of memories I would return with. After the fact, I can say definitively that they were lifelong ones. And I can’t thank Honors enough.

audrey long