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Archives for November 2019

Chase Burnham: Université Catholique de l’Ouest in Angers, France

This summer I had the opportunity to study abroad in Angers, France. For four weeks I studied French language, culture, and history at the Université Catholique de l’Ouest. Each day I took classes in language and grammar, oral expression, and culture and history of the Anjou and surrounding regions as well as France as a whole. Each class involved projects and exams to test my abilities in expression and comprehension.

In addition to classes, each week, the university had a set of excursions and activities in which the students could participate. Because of the excursions, I was able to travel all over the northwestern portion of France. I attended the Puy du Fou in Vendée (a theatrical performance detailing French history from the medieval period through World War II), I visited the cathedral of Mont Saint Michel and the beachside fort and city of Saint-Malo in the Bretagne and Normandie regions, I explored several castles of the Loire Valley including Château de Chambord and Château de Chenonceau, and I was able to visit the World War II Museum of Caen, Omaha Beach, and the nearby American Cemetery in Normandie. The activities were more focused on Angers, itself. The activities included a boat ride down the Loire River to see the local flora and fauna, a demonstration by a master chocolatier at one of the most highly regarded chocolateries in the region, and a tour of the Cointreau Museum and brewery. One of my main motivations for the trip was to experience French culture, and the excursions and activities allowed me to experience much more than I may have been able to do alone.

I was lucky enough to be able to have more experiences like the activities outside of the university. I made some great friends while there, and we did several of our own activities. We visited the Château d’Angers, a magnificent castle originally built in the 9th century, and now it is home to the Apocalypse Tapestry. Near the castle is the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which houses some of the most magnificent works of French art, including a sculpture gallery by Angers native David d’Angers. Just outside of Angers is Terra Botanica, an odd combination of an amusement park with a botanical garden. The gardens are gorgeous, and there are nearly 300,000 different species of plants. We were also lucky enough to be in Angers during Tempo Rives, a free music festival that is held every Tuesday and Thursday during July. The concerts are held on the banks of the Maine River and feature musicians native to France; many are also from the Anjou region.

One of my favorite aspects of my travels is also the most basic. For a month, I was able to live somewhere where I was forced to speak French. Many people in Angers do speak English, but the majority do not, forcing me to speak and practice my abilities. It’s also great being able to stay somewhere where I hear the language spoken. Up until this summer, I had not had the opportunity to speak at length with native French speakers, and I adored every second I was able to do so. Towards the end of the month, I was more confident in my French than ever, and I spoke it more openly in public. Once, I was approached by an American tourist who, after overhearing me speak, asked me, in French, if I spoke English to give him directions. While I’m not fluent yet, my French has greatly improved, and I have more confidence to speak than ever before, and that was my main motivation for wanting to study abroad. I can’t thank the Honors College enough for giving me this amazing opportunity.

Jacob Holland: Summer Production Intern at Red Curtain Theatre

Theatre Through Interdisciplinarity: An Artistic Vision

This August I was fortunate enough to be awarded a TAG grant to work as an intern for my local theatre. Red Curtain Theatre has become a family of mine, a network of individuals I will keep along my journey forever thanks to this opportunity. I was asked to assistant direct a musical, Once on This Island, and build the set design for the major summer production, Singin’ in the Rain. With hundreds of audience members every performance, it was touching to see how audiences connected to my decisions as an artist: whether that be the direction I provided young actors, or the construction techniques I used to build the set.
This experience did have its challenges. First, I assistant-directed a children’s show. I do not think anyone can adequately be prepared for the craziness that ensues a kids’ production. Nonetheless, I had a blast bonding with children exploring the theatre and artistic outlets that I had come to love. There is something truly radiant about children exploring the theatre and creating bonds with one another that will last a lifetime. I got to work with and coach students one on one to hone their acting skills. I truly used my skills and knowledge to live beyond myself, and help craft so many young scholars who viewed theatre not as merely a place to perform, but a place to convey a call to action for the audience.
The musical I assisted with was very successfully. In fact, many of the kids ended up “loving Mr. Jacob!” A few weeks later, the theatre asked me to direct my own musical this spring, which I accepted. (I cannot yet say what show I was asked to direct). It was clear that this position was a natural fit for me after this internship opportunity.
The next show I worked on this summer was Singin’ in the Rain. Not only was I in the show as a dancer, but I constructed the set. Anyone who has been in a show before knows that the set is one of the hardest and most vital tasks in a show: especially a show where rain has to be simulated on stage. I learned so many technical skills that I will need to know as a director. From making spreadsheets for sign in to using a hot knife to apply bricking to foam flats, I stepped outside of my own comfort zone. I really engaged in self-authorship, creating my own set design as well as my own summer story in these musicals.
My favorite part of the summer internship was watching the set come alive on stage. Hanging all of the pieces, painting them to look perfect, and applying hot knife technique to create texture that created a realistic image of the city were very difficult tasks. However, when the performers took foot on the stage I had created, hearing their gasps was the most rewarding part of the experience. Hanging 20 foot foam pieces from the batons of the theatre, I never imagined that I would get to design, construct, and create an image so beautiful.

Blake Mitchell: Science, Society, and Service-Learning in Rwanda

As I walk down the bustling city streets of Kigali, I am coming face to face with individuals who twenty-five years ago held a machete in their hands hacking their neighbors to death. I am shaking the same hands that were once dripping with innocent blood. I have really wrestled with this conundrum. Were people seeking refuge in this very room? Was someone standing outside my very door, machete in hand, waiting for their next victim? Everywhere I look I am plagued with the thoughts that not too long ago someone was likely viciously murdered in this very spot. The amount of forgiveness each Rwandan has had to display to one another is hard for me to fathom. I really do not know if I could summon up so much forgiveness. I’m sure hurt and anger still remain in the hearts of many Rwandans, but the forgiveness is there. It may be sometimes clouded by other emotions that come with grief, but it is there.

In partnership with UCA Study Abroad, I spent a month of my summer in Rwanda learning about issues such as the colonial creation of race, modernity, material culture, literature, environmentalism and society, and the 1994 Rwandan genocide. I participated in projects that addressed quality education, environmental conservation, and social entrepreneurship.

Visiting the Rwandan 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi memorials was personally one of the most impactful and emotional events of the entire trip. The harrowing images seen at these memorials will forever be engrained in my memory. It is hard to define the emotions I felt: sadness, anger, remorse. This was worse than the scariest horror film you’ve seen. Seeing the countless number of caskets stuffed full of an even greater countless number of women, men, and children murdered was utterly gut-wrenching. Many of these skeletons remain unidentified, leaving countless of surviving family members still searching. Yet thanks to science, many victims have been identified. Our readings and discussions focused on how science can be used to bring social justice. Clea Koff, a forensic anthropologist who worked to unearth evidence in Rwanda, authored a book that details her experiences. She highlights how bones can talk. The bones tell a story that has furthered our understanding of the 1994 genocide and the grueling inner workings of the genocide. Science – most importantly raw data and evidence – can speak volumes. In the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, the use of forensic science brought forth justice for those murdered in the genocide.

Most of the people I encountered and interacted with while in Rwanda have been affected by the genocide in some way. Each Rwandan has a unique story about their experiences, both past and present, with the genocide. Our group was lucky to have the opportunity to speak with Manzi Gaudence Uwera, a survivor of the genocide. Manzi’s entire family was slaughtered in the genocide leaving her as the lone survivor. As the story unfolded she fidgeted with the silver chain necklace around her neck, stumbling over her words, while we stared back with tear-filled eyes. Manzi brought a message of forgiveness and reconciliation. The most evocative part of her story was when she told us how her brother and sister “were begging [to their killers] for forgiveness of something they didn’t even know.” As I was hearing her tell her story I was burdened with one question: how could you ever forgive anyone who murdered your family? Fortunately, the use of science helped bring justice to Manzi as she recently found her brother and sister in 2017. Her grieving process is still ongoing but her attempt at forgiveness and reconciliation is evident.

The larger theme that we often discussed was the connection between genocide and dehumanization. This concept of dehumanization was reoccurring in many of our experiences. The act of dehumanization was fundamental for the genocide. Our readings and discussions revealed how dehumanization is the key aspect of all genocides. At each genocide memorial we saw the haunting effects of dehumanization and how dehumanization is fabricated. Colonization promotes and normalizes dehumanization which often results in tragedies such as genocides.

The detrimental effects of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi still taint Rwanda. People are still searching for their loved ones; still waiting for that moment when they can begin to heal. Young adults are still struggling to redefine their self-definition without their mom and dad. Communities are still working so diligently to rebuild what was demolished during the genocide. It is an ongoing process defined by the terms of unity and reconciliation. But the silver lining of it all is that through and through the people are always smiling – such happy people.