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Archives for October 2016

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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