Masks are required as the campus is at red status.

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.


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

​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.


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

Luz Elena 3

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. 


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.


Democrats, Delegates, and Cheesesteaks by Jesse Hufstedler


Sweat dribbled down my neck as my suitcase fell over and I stopped to check Google maps for the third time in five minutes. How was I supposed to know how to get to the University if the dot couldn’t keep up with me? Picking the forty pound green monstrosity that I called luggage up off the ground, I turned to Badria, a fellow Arkansan whom I had met on the train from the airport, and apologized for the wild goose chase Google maps and Apple seemed to be conspiring to take us on. “No worries” she said, for what would be the first in probably over a hundred attempts to reassure me over the coming two weeks.
​After the standard orientation type meetings that take place at the beginning of all such events, we were released to find our rooms and meet our roommates. Morgan Hall, a brand new modern dorm at Temple University in northern Philadelphia, mirrored Farris Hall at UCA remarkably well save two things: it was ten stories tall and had functioning stove tops in every suite.
​My suitemates and I, two reminiscent of Leonard and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory and one the near picture of an all-American hunk, laid out our opinions on Brexit, Bernie Sanders’ populism, campaign finance, and a host of other issues all before our suitcases had been unpacked. We broke for dinner, me meeting back up with Badria and her suitemates, my suitemates going and doing their own thing (a schedule which we would repeat for most of the next week).
​As lectures started on Monday the days of the week seemed to blur together. We heard from speakers as notable as the CEO of the DNCC (Democratic National Convention Committee) Leah Daughtry and former Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell. Mornings were reserved for speakers and then, in the afternoon, we broke into small groups for discussion — an academic structure very similar to that present in Honors at UCA. I soon fell into the familiar rhythm of work, play, sleep deprivation, and repeat. It was during this week that I visited such sites as the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Philadelphia’s famous South Street diner Ishkabibble’s known for its bag-staining cheesesteaks, and the National Constitution Center (where I got to pretend to be a Supreme Court justice and take a selfie with a bronze statue of Benjamin Franklin).
​Then, with my routine and friends firmly established, my world was realigned. The week of the convention arrived and it was like Philadelphia came alive (in a sort of manic I-made-my-coffee-with-Redbull kind of way). The streets of Center and Old cities, neighborhoods in Philadelphia where most of the touristy and cultural attractions are, became clogged with protesters, delegates, spectators, and journalists alike. Apart from the signs carried by protestors (my favorite of which said “You’ve Got to Fight for your Right to Third Party”) it was nearly impossible to distinguish who was who.
​I soon learned the value of the “credentials” which everyone was carrying when I attended my training session for the Access Control team. Access Control was an arm of the DNCC responsible for organization within the Wells Fargo Center itself. My job with Access Control was to stand in the vomitoriums (a word of Roman descent which refers to the hallways which connect the outer concourses of a stadium to the inside of the bowl), and insure that only those with proper credentials were allowed to sit in my area — this is how I got access to the color coded schematic of what credentials were given to who.
As a result, I was to identify people on the street based on the color of their credentials (I got two interviews with delegates on the subway because I knew what credential colors to look for when choosing my seat next to people).
In descending order of clearance (meaning the places in the stadium where certain people were allowed to be) were Delegates (red), Honored Guests (orange), Special Guests (teal), and Green (DNCC volunteers and the press, who had special sections reserved for them). The problem with this system was that more credentials were given out at the Honored and Special Guest levels than there were seats to accommodate them. Therefore, I spent most of my time fighting back what, during the speaking times of well-known individuals, could be referred to as an angry mob trying to get into the bowl to see and hear. Luckily, the bans on people standing in vomitoriums were lifted each night before the keynote speaker too the stage so I was able to hear the speeches of former President Clinton, President Obama, and Secretary Hillary Clinton even if I did miss some of those that I would have enjoyed hearing (I missed Joe Biden saying “mellarky!”).
One night I happened to be stationed in a vomitorium through which the press accessed one of their stands. The aforementioned Badria, whose fieldwork assignment was with CNN, came rushing through the door to the press stairway and said “Jesse! Elizabeth Warren is about to come right through here!” For those that might not know, Elizabeth Warren is a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts well known for her harsh criticism of Wall Street banking practices. As such, she is a progressive heroine and was a featured speaker on the first night of the Convention (not to mention her role as one of my favorite politicians, like, ever). In a momentary lapse of decorum, I let out a muffled squeak which got me yelled at by a couple of camera-men that I had banished from the vomitorium only minutes earlier for clogging the stairways. Badria was the designated person sent by CNN to ensure that Elizabeth Warren was not swarmed by fans on her way up and that I would actually let her up the stairs (big name people did not always have their credentials on them which led to a considerable amount of tension, one of my Access Control friends actually refused to let Leon Panetta, the former Director of the CIA, into a room he was over because he had not bothered to pick up his credential). The minutes ticked by, Badria and I standing breathlessly outside the vomitorium trying to contain our excitement, when she got a text from her boss saying that Warren was not coming. A complete fluke, it happened that one of our friends sent us a text at nearly the exact moment stating “Elizabeth Warren sighted running on the suite level!” Apparently something had come up that trumped an interview with CNN.
The Convention itself was well choreographed machine designed to give the party the opportunity to advertise their nominee, build party unity, and formally nominate their selection for President (though this last role is really a vestige of a time when primaries did not foretell who the nominee would be). A result of this, it seems that there is a certain amount of selective coverage that happens to the detriment of a conveyance of what actually goes on at the Convention. One of these such instances of seemingly selective coverage came to me upon my return home from Philadelphia.
I have discussed with several people the moment when Hillary Clinton formally accepted the Democratic nomination for President. In the hall Sanders supporters, who had been relatively quiet since Monday, suddenly sprang into action. Running around the concourses and breaking past the Access Control staff when possible to get into the bowl, they chanted slogans such as “Never Clinton!” and “Hill No!” This, apparently, did not make it into the coverage of the acceptance speech on any of the major networks. It begs the question whether the networks were giving some deference to the desire of the party to show itself as unified behind Clinton at that all important moment. Those causing a scene were the fringe element, but even still they were individuals that had somehow gained credentials, meaning that they had done something right.
My time at the DNC was not the solitary, gallivanting around Philadelphia time that I envisioned myself having, meeting important members of the press and delegates. It was hot, hard, stressful, and often crowded affair. It was one of the best weeks of my life. I made connections with people of my own age from all across the country with similar beliefs, hopes, and dreams as my own. As a Democrat from Arkansas that is not always easy to do. I am grateful that the opportunity to attend this event was afforded to me at this point in my academic career and not during my freshman, or even sophomore, years. The unwieldy scheduling, late nights, uncertain outcomes, and angry people that I encountered during this journey would not have been well-received by me at any previous time in my life (I struggled with them as it was). It is for this reason that I have garnered a new respect for the Honors College requirement that people receiving TAG/URGE moneys be at least sophomores. The mere life experience and age that I had going into this experience set me apart from some of the younger students that I met who had a much harder time coping with the ever shifting landscape that was our time at the DNC.


Travel-Sick: Being Homesick For A Place Other Than Your Home (student article for The Odyssey)


Honors College student, Jae Martin, shares how she developed her passion for travel in an article she published in The Odyssey Online. See full article here.