Ireland: What the Water Gave Me by Tyler Karnes


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.



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


A Look into a Spanish Doctor’s Life: Medicine, Tapas, and Siestas by Sawyer Hickey


I left the Houston airport on a Wednesday with two friends, Nicole and Pristine, headed for Madrid. After one connection, a 3-hour layover turned to 7 due to “a sensor malfunction,” and a 10-hour plane ride, we were finally in Madrid to experience not only the public healthcare system in Spain, but also the Spanish lifestyle. That night we went to Madrid, ate the traditional Paella, and absorbed every snitbit of Spanish culture we could absorb. After riding the subway back to the hotel, my friends and I prepared ourselves to go to our city where we would be shadowing, Talavera de la Reina. After an hour and a half bus ride we finally made it, we met our site coordinators, David and Sabella, and went up to our rooms to conk out for a few hours.
The next day we started in the hospital and my first rotation was cardiology. I was able to watch several procedures including an esophageal sonogram and an electric shock therapy in order to fix an irregular heartbeat problem. While working in the cardiology department I realized how different the public system in Spain is from the private system in the U.S. While shadowing my internal medicine doctor the second week of my internship, I realized doctors in Spain spend much more time with their patients and have a lower patients-to-doctor ratio than the U.S. On a normal day one doctor had 8-10 patients while in the U.S. a doctor doing rounds would have upwards of 20. Although both of these systems worked, I realized that many of the patients in Spain had much more time with their doctors and had a more personal relationship. I believe this personal relationship was vital in the Spanish community in order to establish the trust between doctors and patients, while in the U.S. it is not as vital. During my third week at the hospital I shadowed orthopedic surgery and saw several knee replacements, carpal tunnel repair surgeries, and even a hand realignment surgery. One thing I found interesting is that the hospital in Talavera had very limited resources and didn’t have simple equipment or as new of equipment as hospitals in America.
While in Spain, we also went to Salamanca, Toledo, and Las Lagunas de Ruidera. In Salamanca, I was able to experience one of the oldest cathedrals in Spain, being over 700 years old and having experienced damage from a major earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal, over 200 miles away. Huge cracks in the walls exemplified the age of the building and the damage from the earthquake. After leaving the cathedrals we went to the University of Salamanca, one of the most prestigious universities in Spain and one of the oldest in the world. Walking through the university with classrooms dating back to 1600 gave a sense of knowledge and learning about what happened while students sat in the scorching heat listening to professors. The trayed ceilings gave a sense of the Muslim culture that was in Spain before they were pushed off the peninsula.
After this first excursion Nicole, Pristine, and I started to become good friends with two of the other people in our group Leah, from Florida, and Christian, from California. We all began to hang out outside of our hospital and began to explore Talavera. We got several weird looks with Leah and I being extremely white and Pristine, Nicole, and Christian having darker skin tones, but I think every person in Talavera knew we were “los estudiantes Americanos,” the American students. Although I expected for some people to be very rude to us, since a lot of Spaniards do not like Americans, it turned out that most everyone accepted us and even taught us all about their culture through tapas, siestas, and staying at the dinner table for hours talking about random nonsense.
My favorite memory is when our group went to the salsa/bachata “discoteca.” Whenever we walked in everyone looked at us like we were a group of crazy Americans that didn’t know what they had gotten themselves into. Although I am terrible at dancing, Pristine and Christian, both coming from Latino heritage, taught me and the other people in my group how to bachata and salsa. At the end of the night all of the older Spanish people in the discoteca were coming over to dance with us, especially Pristine and Christian, since they were the best dancers in our group. Then, they all laughed as we danced together, looked dumb, and sang to the music.
Another great moment is when we all went to Madrid and had to find an AirBnb, all while having no data, connecting to public Wi-Fi, and then scrambling, laughing, and running down subway tunnels with our loaded backpacks in order to catch our trains. Although there were many good times in Talavera there were a couple of tense ones as well; such as the time I got mad at Nicole and Pristine for getting off the bus at the wrong stop and then me feeling bad for yelling at them. After our shadowing experience was over we all sat quietly on the train to Madrid, reminiscing on the good times we had over the last three weeks. The next morning we sat in the airport terminal, I really thought about turning around and staying another week, and then got on the plane, unready to come back to the U.S. Throughout this experience the culture of Spain and their healthcare system helped me to look inward on myself, who I want to be, as well as help to change things about my own life.


Italy: More Than Just the Boot by Whitney Meyer

​Every time you visit a new city it leaves an impression, sometimes the impression is immediate and obvious while other times ambiguous. However, before we get to the story we first have to back track to November of 2015, the moment that set the story in motion. I was applying for a TAG grant from the Norbert O. Schedler’s Honors College to be a study abroad student and temporary resident of Florence, Italy. Ever since I was little I’d heard stories of Europe and it’s beauty from my dad, a native of Germany, but they were just thirty-year-old stories. So I bit the bullet and applied for a grant to travel to the continent of my heritage.
Now fast forward to June 2016. With a suitcase 1 pound under the weight limit and a backpack full of travel necessities, chiefly my passport and snacks, I was boarding my 1st international flight. After about a day and half of travel I was finally across the pond! Within the first few days of living in Florence I quickly surmised that the stories I grew up on were true, but at the same time it wasn’t the same Europe my father had left behind more than thirty years ago. I found myself in a historical city bustling with new construction, renovation, world-renowned museums, and top of the line stores. Florence was a melting pot of old world art and history with touches of modern advancement inside the cobble lined streets.
​Our weekdays leisurely consisted of “class” in the morning, lunch at Panini Toscani, and the afternoon spent wandering the city. Eventually we’d find our way to a supermarket to purchase fresh produce and vegetables for dinner. But the real thrill and adventure of being in Italy happened on the weekends. The most memorable and striking adventure happened my first weekend in Italy.
On our first Friday in Italy our gaggle of 25 students and 3 professors marched into the Santa Maria Novella train terminal. Initially I thought I had stepped backed into the international airport we landed in at Amsterdam. Italians, or at least people who understood the layout of the train station and departure board, were zipping past as Brooke (my roommate and confidante during the trip) and I made sure our backpacks weren’t pick pocketed. Police were canvasing all over the station with the recent attacks of Belgium and France still fresh on everyone’s mind. In addition to the Polizia, there were the stubble-chinned men, who we nicknamed “our best friends”, of the Italian army carrying semi-automatic rifles with triggers at the ready. While taking in all these cultural differences I felt our herd begin moving. I quickly grabbed my pack and sprinted to the platform as the buzzer was ringing for the train doors to shut.
​Three and a half hours and one connecting train later we were pulling into the Dolomites, or the Italian Alps as some call them. It was one of those picturesque scenes out of a movie, ya know the one where everyone crowds the windows to see the view? That was us, 25 American students with noses to the glass oohing and aweing at the snow capped peaks as we pulled into the station in the city of Bolzano. However, stepping off the train I was questioning if I was still in Italy or if we’d magically crossed into Austria or Germany. We had left the colors and style of Tuscany behind and were greeted by alpine culture, crisp mountain air, and the sound of German.
​You might be asking well that doesn’t seem too adventurous, and you could be right depending on your definition of adventure. But the true “adventurous” part of the trip came the next day as we took buses and cable cars up into the Dolomites. Most of us followed the professors’ lead and went on a two-hour (straight out of the sound of music) hike. Yet somewhere between the two cable cars and bus stop back into town Brooke (my roommate/confidante), Alex (Brooke’s boyfriend), and myself lost the herd. Okay so maybe it wasn’t magic that we lost the herd, but a stop at a restroom seemed appropriate before a 30-45 minute ride back into town. Imagine our shock when we walked down from the lodge toward the bus stop to see no one from our group. Our first thought was, “oh we must have beat them here.” We quickly realized as we all got texts from our roommates asking if we made the bus that this was most definitely not the scenario which was occurring.
​So there we stood, and while none of us would admit it to the other we all had some small twinge of fear down in our gut. We tried to read the bus schedule that was conveniently written in German, a language we had not prepared to decipher and Google Translate offered little help. From guestimation it seemed the next bus would arrive in about 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes came and went, and even though several buses drove past none of them were bound for Bolzano. So there we sat, each with 3.50 euro ready for fare evaluating our options. We knew the buses stopped running around 7:00 p.m. so we hatched a plan: catch any bus that was heading down hill regardless of destination. Around 6:30 a bus was coming down the hill. The driver pulled over and opened his doors, and in our best Italian we asked, “Bolzano autostazione?” We were answered with a firm “Bozen.” Bozen? What the heck was Bozen? Given our circumstance, arguing was not in our favor so we paid our fair and walked to the back of the bus praying that we had made a halfway intelligent decision.
​As the bus rolled down the hill we began seeing some of the same towns we had passed that morning. A definite sign of comfort, but we still had no idea if we’d picked the right bus. The bus started rolling into what looked like the edges of Bolzano, but our stroke of luck was confirmed when we saw out the window our hostel! I jumped up and rang for a stop, I’m sure the driver was surprised that this crazy American knew where she was going. After confirming our arrival with the professors, Alex, Brooke, and I went out for celebratory kebabs.
​While this is one of many adventures I had in Italy, it seems the most telling. Similar to the class environment I’ve experienced at the Norbert O. Schedler Honors College: I was presented with a problem or issue, I had tools and resources to attack the problem, and ultimately I came to a solution or deeper understanding. Forcing myself outside of what was comfortable allowed me to become a more culturally diverse global citizen. Italia taught me many things like how San Giovanni Battista day is the Florentine Memorial day, or that the Renaissance was shaped by the ninja turtles: Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo. Yet the most important thing I learned from Italia was to enjoy the journey. It may be long or short, difficult or easy, but it usually only happens once so enjoy the ride.