Theatre and Justice by Adrienne Thompson

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One could say this class was pretty ambitious, using art as a tool for justice and community problem-solving. We started the class by going through different theatre and justice models, such as El Teatro Campesino, the Black Arts Movement, the Living Newspapers, and Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, playing various games and activities that build trust, focus, creativity, and critical thinking. Our end goal was always to engage in community issues through art and theatre. We also developed programs or events we could implement in our own communities. For us, the students in the class, we were to transform ourselves from students and participates to teachers and leaders in our workshops.

Theatre and justice isn’t all about flash mobs and performance art at the steps of the capital; it can be much more livable and community oriented endeavor. As part of the Ozark Living Newspaper, our class took that to heart as we developed our workshop material. We chose to do a series of workshops with individuals currently participating in the Faulkner County juvenile probation program. Our overall goal was to build trust between the kids that we were working with and help them feel more comfortable with discussing the issues that they face personally and that they see in the community, while promoting the importance of theatre and other performance arts.

In our workshops, we would start with some warm-ups, then do a focus activity, process, and repeat. The processing was the most important part. It gave us, the students and leaders, as well as the court kids a chance to think critically about our communities, their issues, and our opinions as affected by our experiences. Our work culminated in an Improv Show on April 27th, where donations were collected to benefit the probation program. We raised over $100. Some of our workshop participates were in the audience and even showed their new improv skills during the show.

In Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed model, there are, first, spectators and actors. The actors start a performance around a social issue, then pause and ask the spectators what they would do differently. A spectator would take the place of an actor, effectively doing three things: engaging in the issue directly, transforming into a “spect-actor”, and practicing for real action and change. Our workshop participants became spect-actors, practicing the steps to real change.

When I first learned, we would be working with youth adults going through the juvenile probation program, I was excited and scared. Not for my safety but for their participation. I was worried they would not understand or want to engage, so, at the first workshop, I was very surprised to see them participating and enjoying themselves. Every workshop since, they showed new creativity, ideas, and progressiveness. I was doubting how much they could enjoy and grow from the activities, but once they were through the series, I could plainly see how art and theatre could affect a group of people positively. Through our work, they can now do the same in their own communities.

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Pizza with Patriots Service Learning Project by Jessica Woods

 

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Few know that UCA has a long military history, but take a walk on campus and you will soon see how UCA has chosen to honor their fallen. Oak trees lining the sidewalks serve as living reminders of those World War II veterans and alumni of UCA who came before us and made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. Additionally, the school has erected war memorials outside McAlister Hall that lists and honors all fallen veterans who were alumni of the university, and a wiki memorial page has been created to provide more information for these veterans. Yet even after all the work that has been put in to remember these servicemen and women, many students walk by these memorials without recognizing their significance.

This semester in Donna’s Core II class, we focused on what we can do as students to raise awareness and support for these memorials and the veterans who are part of our community on campus. We split into three groups: an event group tasked with organizing an event to support UCA veterans, a communications group to spread the word about these memorials, and a research group that focused on sharing the stories of these veterans by creating web pages for them by expanding the memorial wiki page.

The event group’s work culminated in a gathering called “Pizza with Patriots.” Students were able to connect with veterans in their community as they shared how the time they spent in the military has shaped them. Furthermore, Pizza with Patriots provided for the release of information about a scholarship opportunity starting next fall. The communications group worked to establish a $300 essay contest challenging contestants to research and write about the veterans in which these memorials are dedicated. In doing so, they created a legacy to increase awareness about the memorials on UCA’s campus. Lastly, the research group conducted genealogy research to find photos and information to help bring the names of the men and women etched on the war memorials to life. We were able to expand the UCA War Memorial web page to include information about virtually every single fallen veteran honored on the war memorial.

I was a part of something this semester that has created a lasting impact on my community. The work my class did has brought people together and shared stories that deserve to be heard. Be looking for more information about the essay contest next semester, and if you want to learn more about the stories of these fallen heroes please visit the UCA War Memorial web page at https://honors.uca.edu/memorial/index.php/Main_Page

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Hark for Haiti by Elle Johnson

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What can you get for $1? A Snickers bar? Maybe at Wal-Mart, but definitely not at the Kum & Go. What if I told you that with just $1 you could supply deworming medication to a child in Haiti for six months? Or twenty-five days of public health education for a student? Or a tree could be planted and cared for by Haitian student? Or a day of education and instruction for approximately 30 students? All of those ways to spend $1 make a Snickers seem pretty… unsatisfying.

Hopefully right now, you’re smirking at my witty Snickers slogan reference, and ready to hear more about Haiti. In Doug Corbitt’s Core II class, we have thoroughly discussed the reality of life in Haiti. The country has very little access to clean drinking water, the government is corrupt and laws are not justly enforced, and there is a widening societal gap as the poor become poorer and the rich elite continue to prey upon them. Our class wrote our research term papers over institutions that we think need to go through a reform in Haiti. Learning about the past and present of Haiti and the everyday struggles that Haitians endure ignited a passion in our class to help Haiti and it was the spark that kept us powering through our service learning project.

“Hark for Haiti” was a benefit concert that we hosted to raise donations to the non-profit organization, Hope for Haiti. Hope for Haiti’s mission statement is “We work to improve the quality of life for the Haitian people, particularly children.” To help support this mission, we spent several class meetings brainstorming ideas for our event and delegating tasks to ensure that Hark for Haiti would be a success. To bring in more funds, we decided to host a silent auction that ran parallel with the concert. Local businesses, restaurants, and individuals donated items to be auctioned off. The UCA Choir and many members of the music department, both staff and students, agreed to be a part of the concert. The performers were magnificent and a couple original pieces were composed for the event. Hark for Haiti turned out better than any of us had expected.

Freshmen college students, for the most part, have very little event planning experience. Hark for Haiti was an intimidating idea at first and even leading up to the event, a variety of fears hung in the air. Learning to trust and rely on others to complete tasks was hard; however, none of us could have accomplished this alone. We all had to contribute to the group’s goals and be in sync with each other to keep the ball rolling. There were many doubts and concerns as we moved through the planning process, but Saturday, April 8th turned out to be a great day. Hark for Haiti raised $522.70 for the Hope for Haiti foundation and was a great time for everyone involved.

2017 Dragonfly BioBlitz by Alexis Bibbs

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When I learned that my Junior Seminar classmates and I were to participate in a service learning project that involved both camping and the collection of dragonfly larvae, I have to say I was a little apprehensive. After all, I am not a biology major, I have little knowledge of ecology, and I am definitely not a camper. While the majority of my classmates buzzed with excitement and wondered what all adventures our weekend trip to the Steel Creek Research Station at Buffalo National River would entail, I asked myself “Can I do this?” I questioned not only my ability to spend the night outdoors but whether or not I would actually be able to contribute to the success of the project we were working on. Despite my worries, I chose to go on the trip after receiving encouragement from classmates and family.

​As we made the two and a half hour drive up to Ponca, I told myself “You’ve got this.” When we arrived at the Research Station, almost all of my worries about the camping aspect of the trip were calmed. We were not, in fact, going to be “roughing it” in the forest. Steel Creek Research Station turned out to be an adorable stone house where we were to prepare meals and hold class. Outside an NPS tent was already pitched on top of a raised wooden pallet with clean cots arranged inside. Together, we made a dinner of sautéed vegetables and ramen noodles and our host for the weekend, Ranger Faron Usery, brought us the most delicious beans and cornbread.

After our meal, we all gathered in the living room turned classroom of the house to learn about the project and prepare for the following day of collecting dragonfly larvae. Cameron Cheri, a University of Arkansas graduate student studying biology and member of the Conservation Corps, explained to us the purpose of the research and taught us how to identify different species of larvae. The fancy tent and yummy food had calmed my nerves, but learning that I was going to be scooping dragonfly larvae out of an old mill pond brought those same feelings of nervousness right back up. As my classmates looked with enthusiasm and anticipation at the different species of dragonflies and damselflies, the same question creeped back into my mind, “Can I do this?”
​The next morning we packed our daypacks and split into teams. Each team was to collect larvae from a different section of Boxley Mill Pond, the site of our collection.

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Within each team, there were to be two people collecting larvae out of canoes and the rest of the group was to collect larvae from the banks. I tried to force my way into one of the canoes, yet somehow ended up the one member in chest waders. With my new gear on, my group and I made our way to our marshy section of the pond. Armed with borrowed work boots and a noble sense of bravery, I sank myself knee deep into the mud and began scooping up little dragonfly and damselfly larvae up from the banks.

I never thought I would say this, but being knee deep in the mud while pulling bugs out of a pond was actually one of the most interesting and fun things I have done in my Honors experience thus far. I loved the challenge of finding the perfect place on the bank to scoop up samples and I was having fun catching tadpoles, fish, and anything but the larvae I was supposed to be collecting. When we took our samples back to the researchers, we used tweezers to help pick the larvae out of all the mud we had scooped up.

By the end of the day, we were all able to identify little dragonflies and damselflies with little help from the rsearchers. Together, our class must have collected dozens and dozens of larvae. Cameron with even informed us at the end of the day that our class had collected two species he had never before seen in the pond. It was the greatest feeling to know that we had helped work on a project that not only helped the researchers but the National Park Service and the rangers at Buffalo National River as well. Although I came into the project with feelings of apprehension, I left with a new confidence in my ability to go outside of my comfort zone and participate in new activities.

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London Christmas Lights and More by Diana Morales

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In December of 2016, I traveled to Italy and London, spending roughly a week in each country. I spent the entire day after my last final packing for what I believed would be an unforgettable experience. The very next day, I departed from Fort Smith, AR, and was on my way to Italy. Italy brought back joyful memories while offering new and exciting experiences.

Once I arrived in Rome, I promptly made my way to Vatican City to get a ticket from the Swiss Guards to the Papal Audience that would be held at the Paul VI Audience Hall. By the time I got to the Bronze Doors to attain a ticket, the sun had set leaving St. Peter’s Square illuminated by the beautiful large Christmas tree at the center. The morning of the General Audience I watched for two hours as the Audience Hall filled with people from all over the world carrying flags and singing a variety of songs. Listening to Pope Francis address the audience with the charisma I have frequently seen through his televised speeches was beautiful to say the least. As if getting to see Pope Francis was not enough on its own, everyone in the audience was informed that Pope Francis’ birthday was the following Saturday and close to the end of the event, a large portion of the crowd began singing Las Mañanitas (a Spanish birthday song). There are truly no words to describe that breathtaking moment. While this was absolutely one of the highlights of my experience in Italy, there was a multitude of other sights to see.

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I spent a week visiting some of the most beautiful overlooks Italy had to offer: from Janiculum hill, a hill with a view of central Rome, to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica Dome from which there is a stunning view of all of St. Peter’s Square. I also had a chance to visit the typically more touristic attractions such as the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Piazza del Popolo. While in Florence, I was even treated to an unexpected show called F-Light Firenze in which the city videomapped several masterpieces from Van Gogh, Caravaggio, Raphael, Andy Warhol, and other artists onto the world-famous Ponte Vecchio. Florence never disappoints, and neither does the gelato.

From there, my adventures continued in London. If I had to name one thing I loved the most about London, it would absolutely be how stunning the city looked covered in Christmas lights for the holiday season. I walked down Carnaby Street enjoying the “You Say You Want A Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970” light exhibition and continued on to the magical light display throughout Oxford Street.

A day trip to Salisbury, about an hour away from London, was just enough time to visit Stonehenge, a prehistoric landmark, and the surrounding town. Unfortunately, The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour was booked full for the next few months while I was there, so my only option of doing something Harry Potter related was visiting the Platform 9 ¾ shop at King’s Cross Station. While there, a young man took the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend in front of the trolley replica available for pictures and the station promptly erupted into cheers for the happy couple. What better way to end a wonderful trip than by going to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, a magical festivity that has an open-air ice rink, a circus, rides, a Christmas market, and food from all over the world. Walking around Hyde Park and watching as everyone had a very winter wonderful night out was an unforgettable experience. Overall, you could say I was more than impressed with London’s Christmas light exhibitions.

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Civil Discourse in D.C. What (Not) to Do by Keely Smith

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On January 7, 2017, I left Arkansas to travel to Washington, D.C. My experience with The Washington Center’s Presidential Inauguration Seminar was invaluable to me. During my two week stay, I fell in love with our nation’s capital, gained incredible political insight, and formed some friendships along the way. As a Political Science major, I had high expectations and even higher hopes, and the city did not disappoint. The focus was to learn ways to elevate, and maintain civility in, political discourse within the context of the peaceful transition of presidential power, and with every new experience, that goal was being met.

Each morning would begin with lectures covering various aspects of our contemporary political climate, from Michael Eric Dyson discussing race relations to Frank Sesno giving advice on how to ask the right questions and spark change. These speakers also broadened my knowledge of U.S. relations with the Middle East, potential national security threats, environmental issues, the budgeting process, and so much more. It was exciting receiving so much valuable information directly from the experts in their respective disciplines, as was doing so surrounded by hundreds of other students who were equally as interested as I was, and perhaps even more so.

In the afternoon, the students would split off into their assigned small groups for discussion. These conversations would sometimes cover recent site visits, but they often related to the lectures from that morning. It provided a platform for each of us to share with our peers what we found meaningful. My favorite day of discussion followed the lectures on race and equity. One of the speakers made note of how, in the wake of tragedies like mass shootings, people of color have an inclination to almost immediately fear that the perpetrator falls into their same minority group. In small group that afternoon, we had what I thought to be a productive conversation regarding privilege, and the subsequent invisibility of traits like race to those who fall within the majority.

As part of the seminar curriculum, we also participated in daily site visits, either before or after the small group discussions. What made that aspect of the program so unique and constructive was the opportunity to bring earlier lectures and conversations into context by further discussing them in places where those ideas are actually applicable. Some of the site visits I attended included the Henry Stimson Center, which dealt with U.S. defense spending, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where we attended a panel on relations between the United States and China and its future under the Trump administration, the Brazilian Embassy, the Holocaust Museum, the U.S. Capitol, and meetings with Representative French Hill and Senator Tom Cotton’s foreign policy advisor. The ability to engage in discourse in these different environments provided both a great lesson in civility and definite personal satisfaction.

Finally, on January 20, it was Inauguration Day. Those of us who managed to get tickets to the swearing in ceremony had to wake up and head to Capitol Hill rather early in order to secure an adequate viewing position. My biggest takeaway from being at this inaugural ceremony was how not to be civil. At any given moment, hundreds of thousands of people were yelling and booing at the sight of whomever they viewed as their political adversary. On the first day of the seminar, filmmaker Julie Winokur emphasized the importance of listening in conversations, as opposed to merely waiting for the other person to stop talking, and that has stuck with me. Chanting foul and derogatory things at the opposition is not the path to creating, and maintaining, civility. Rather, engaged listening and tactful language create a path to elevated discourse, and in divisive times, consciously doing these things is more important than ever.

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The Great Iberian Siesta by Alex Tatem

IMG_9770  If you go out to the narrow roads, passageways, and alleys that make up a Spanish town between 2 and 5 in the afternoon, you will find the normally crowded streets ghostly empty. You can find a few people scattered in bars enjoying tapas and a midday drink, but most people go home to spend the break with their families.

On my way to class in the morning, I can stop at a coffee shop for a café con leche and tortilla and there are still people drinking coffee before work with friends or reading the newspaper. My classes start at 9:30 in the morning, but the professor doesn’t arrive until a quarter ’til. The culture is much more relaxed and the mornings start late. You won’t find very many people out of their houses during the 8:00 hour.

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A typical workday for the Spanish begins at 9:30 or 10:00. There is a break for siesta from 2 until 5. The midday siesta is important to many workers because most stores in Spain are really small. Often, only one person works in a store during the day, so their only break is during siesta. Even schools have a midday break. Children go to class at 9:00 am with a break at 2. They go back to school at 4 until 6. Most schools have an option that allows children to stay at school and eat lunch during the break, but it often costs money and can be expensive. After siesta, the worker returns to his job and arrives home at 8:30 or 9 in the evening. For this reason, dinner is usually served between 10 and 11. It is not unusual to see children running around the town with their parents at midnight on a school night. Spanish people typically have family time after dinner and go to bed around 1 or 2 am.

An alternative to eating dinner at home is going out for tapas. Tapas are small snacks that you receive for free when you order a drink. When you go into a bar, you can order a beer, wine, or grape juice, pay less than 2 euros, and receive free food. In some bars, there are a list of tapas to choose from, but other bars may just have one tapa. A group of friends or a family can eat dinner by going to two or three bars and eating tapas. Typical tapas include potatoes, chips and ham, calamari sandwiches, and morcilla.

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Every Wednesday and Saturday from 8:00 until 2, you can find a flea market among the streets downtown and a farmers market in Plaza Mayor. The open air market is a popular source for fruits, vegetables, spices, cheeses, and meats. The plaza quickly fills with locals, and it is easy to strike up a conversation with the customers and vendors. The market was my favorite place to practice Spanish outside of class. There are three or four cheese vendors, but I always went to the same one. There was always a long line at his cheese truck, but no line at the other cheese stands. While in line, he would pass out samples to every kind of cheese that he had. My favorite kind of cheese is aged goat cheese. After buying cheese, he would encourage you to drink wine from the botello de vino hanging from the awning. It is a canteen pouch made out of leather, designed to keep the wine cooled all day. To drink from it, you hold it at arms length slightly above eye level and press on both sides of it with both hands. You open your mouth wide, and a stream of wine will leave the small hole in the top of the canteen. You just have to aim for your mouth and hope for the best — don’t wear white!

When you walk down the streets with a Spanish person, expect to stop often. In Spain, the cities are old and are designed to walk through. However, a ten minute walk can easily turn into a twenty minute one if you are walking with a local because the Spanish will stop to make small talk with people they know on the street. They greet each other with a kiss on each cheek and chat for a few minutes. No one is in a rush to arrive to their destination. For this reason, expect your Spanish friend to be at least ten minutes late to any plans you make.

Spain has a very social and laid-back culture. The workday schedule is designed to spend most of the day with friends and family. Even the weekly shopping is a social situation. Families are really close and most people visit their grandparents at least every other weekend. The elderly are taken care of and highly respected. The relaxed and leisurely lifestyle in Spain contributes to the stress-free labor force and keeps families strong. In Spain, happiness and relationships are prioritized higher than working and making money. The great Iberian siesta encompasses this mindset and encourages rest and revitalization in the middle of every day.

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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.