Photos by Sari Alshiekh
Dr. Michael Gross, Faculty Co-Advisor — World Wars/Holocaust Europe Study Abroad Trip
Because I was fortunate to have visited Amsterdam, Paris, Normandy and Dachau before this trip, the most memorable parts of the trip for me came from the new places or exhibits that I saw. In Amsterdam, I enjoyed seeing a special exhibit at the Stedelijk Museum on how the museum’s collection of valuable art was moved to a special bunker built in a sand dune to protect it from possible bombing during World War II. I was impressed at the incredible amount of planning and effort that went into the process of building and then moving the many pieces of artwork to the custom-made bunker.
In Belgium, from the Last Post Ceremony I’ll always remember the old French veteran (Henri Gevaert) who explained to us that he came to the ceremony in Ypres every year for the reunion of the “Para Commandos.” He pointed out a British veteran who had parachuted in the D-Day landings. At the end of the ceremony, he took a photo of our group, and then sent it to me the very next day. From the tour of the battlefields the next day, seeing cemetery after cemetery of the British war dead drove home how much loss of life there was in the “Great War.” Our guide explained that the British were buried on site due to government policy while the remains of soldiers of other nations were repatriated. Both the In Flanders Field Museum in Ypres and the History of the Great War Museum in Peronne (France) gave a great overview of World War I from the Belgian and French perspectives.
In Caen, France, the Memorial museum did a great job of linking the WWI and WWII parts of the trip with its exhibit that started with the failed peace of WWI and continued through WWII and beyond. An added benefit was encountering a young French university student in the train station. She explained in French that she was selling magazines that she had helped write as part of a competition in her university (she was a business student). It turns out she spoke perfect English, having lived in West Virginia for several years. She was kind enough to talk to us in English for a little while. Several of us bought copies of her magazines to help her team in their competition.
In Munich, seeing the building that housed Hitler’s former office and the places where he gave many speeches was interesting, but I particularly liked visiting the Monument to the White Rose Resistance Movement’s members in front of the Ludwig Maximilian University. Here, several courageous young university students spoke out against Hitler’s regime and were then arrested and beheaded. Their words are memorialized in the pavement in front of the university. Our guide asked one of our students to re-read part of the speech of one of the student resistance members. All in all this trip was a great way to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great War and the 70th anniversary of World War II.
by Abigail Dill, Buenos Aires Dance Project Study Abroad Participant
I was among a few select dance majors chosen for a study abroad trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I had the time of my life touring the city, taking dance classes, watching performances and rehearsals, and making new Argentinian friends. Everyone in Argentina was so welcoming and friendly!
I am so thankful to have had this amazing opportunity to experience a new part of the world and to learn about a new culture. The best part was that I was able to experience all of this with some of my closest friends. Some highlights from the trip were seeing Edgar Degas paintings in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, walking around the beautiful Cementerio de la Recoleta, touring the Colon Theatre, and taking dance classes at the Universidad Nacional de San Martin. My favorite memory was Tango dancing at a Milonga and watching a champion couple perform. The pair danced together so beautifully that it brought me to tears.
There were so many unforgettable memories made on this trip and I am so thankful that I was able to be a part of them. In the future I hope to continue to follow my desire to travel and experience the beautiful world around me.
by Amanda Earle, World Wars/Holocaust Europe Study Abroad Participant
Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to travel. Thanks to Georgian Court University I was finally able to experience Amsterdam, Ieper, Caen, Paris, and Munich. In Amsterdam, I visited the Anne Frank House, which had moved me to tears. Seeing the home that Anne had to hideout in during World War II was moving, because pictures do not do the home justice. I felt claustrophobic due to the small size of the rooms, yet I did not let that feeling overcome me because I had to keep in mind that Anne and the Frank family had to stay hidden in this small home for years. After Amsterdam, the group traveled to Ieper, Belgium.
In Ieper I learned about the multiple battles that took place in the town during World War I. It was astonishing to see how the town rebuilt itself, as I reflected on older photographs from directly after the war. After Ieper, we traveled to Caen, France where we visited the beaches of Normandy, more specifically, Omaha Beach. Recalling the Allie-Invasion during World War II, it was interesting to learn that the French use the beach as a summer resort place. Since there were so many lives lost on this beach, it is very mind-boggling to learn that the beach has not been turned into a memorial site.
In France, I was lucky enough to visit Paris for a day and a half. In Paris, I was able to visit the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Louve. I found it incredible that I was able to see in person France’s more prominent symbol: the Eiffel Tower. It was surreal! I was also able to walk under the Arc de Triomphe, which brought back memories of photographs that I had seen of Nazi soldiers driving underneath the arch, during their occupation of France in World War II. France was all it had been cracked up to be: it was beautiful.
Our last stop on this trip was to Munich, Germany. In Munich our tour guide was one of the most fun and energetic people I have ever met! We visited the BMW headquarters, which was dreamlike in itself, and we also visited prominent historical locations from World War II. We saw many memorial sites, where Jews and other victims of the Nazi Regime had been murdered. The most moving location in Germany that we had visited was Dachau, a concentration camp site. At Dachau, we were able to observe still-standing gas chambers, ovens, and living-quarters. This location, like the Anne Frank House, brought us all to tears. It was very difficult to walk through Dachau, because it felt so surreal and unbelievable. As we walked, I felt an awful haunted feeling, due to all of the energy that the site produces. It was a bitter way to end a wonderful trip, but it truly was one of the most educational experiences I have ever had. This trip was life-changing and I am extremely grateful for the experience.
by Samantha Torinese, Costa Rica Tropical Ecology Study Abroad Participant
Being in Costa Rica was one of the most interesting and life changing experiences I have ever had the pleasure of participating in. I had never been to another country before, and to visit one that is so different from our own was very eye opening. This trip helped me reflect on myself and my lifestyle, and also make a few new friends along the way.
One of my favorite parts was when we learned about the different tribes that lived and still live in Costa Rica. Their culture and religions are so different than our own and sometimes we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we forget that other people have very different ways of life than our own. Another part of this experience that taught me something was going zip lining for the very first time. As someone who is very afraid of heights, it took a lot of courage to be that high up in the mountains held up by a single wire. But I was flying through the clouds looking down on the forest though, all of my fears melted away. All I could think was of how beautiful the Earth was and how amazing life is and how much I would miss the Earth if it was gone.
It makes you open your eyes to what is really important in life and how essential the Earth is to all of us. When you really pay attention to the beauty of the Earth, you wonder how anyone could not see it in the first place.
by Gabrielle Tull, Costa Rica Tropical Ecology Study Abroad Participant
This international experience was really a life changer and an eye-opening experience. I did things I would have never imagined and exceeded my personal self expectations. I zip-lined over the rainforest, hiked a 5 mile trail with steep terrain and navigated the Sarapiqui River rapids on a raft. The greatest take away from Costa Rica was the generosity and care the local people had towards us and towards nature. Costa Rica is such a diverse country and they really care about protecting what is left of their beautiful country.
In Costa Rica, we visited three different rainforest regions. We were high in the beautiful cloud forest of Monteverde, near the base of Arenal volcano and in the lowland rainforest La Selva. It was a surreal and tranquil experience to be as high as the clouds. Being in Monteverde, breathing the fresh air and seeing the lush vegetation was so much better than simply looking at pictures of the place. Also, seeing the plant and animal interactions in action has helped enhance my learning of ecology. The most interesting interaction was the leaf cutter ants and the fungus they feed leaves to eat. The ants are such strong creatures and it was incredible to see the ants carrying leaves 5 times larger than them.
The locals had a phase they used often, pura vida. “Pura Vida” was literally translated to pure life but was used as a greeting and is a motto for the country. The concept of pura vida and living life to its fullest has stayed with me and has become a part my lifestyle. I will always have a little bit of Costa Rican lifestyle with me.
by Lesly Escobar, Costa Rica Tropical Ecology Study Abroad Participant
For the spring semester of my senior year at Georgian Court University, I was given the opportunity to go to one of my dream places, Costa Rica. As part of my Tropical Ecology class this semester, the lab portion of the class was conducted at Costa Rica. When I heard of this class I was immediately interested in going but I knew the extra cost for the class was not something I could afford at the time. Fortunately, I was told there was a scholarship I could apply for; and thankfully with the awarded scholarship my dream of visiting Costa Rica came true.
As a student enrolled in the Tropical Ecology class, I was required to conduct a group research study of group choice, in Costa Rica. My research partners Samantha Kuntz, and Meredith Hoffman, and I studied at Costa Rica, the floral color preference of pollinators. In Costa Rica we visited three different locations in which we did our studies: Monteverde, Arenal, and La Selva. In our study, we focused on pollinators and floral species. Our experiment was able to be conducted successfully in all three locations.
Before going to Costa Rica I never would’ve imagined how truly amazing Costa Rica is. The diversity of flower and animal species is breathtaking. I have learned about the ecosystems and vast biodiversity of species in my Ecology class this semester, but being able to go to Costa Rica and see its beauty in person, was the best experience I’ve had at this point in my life. I was able to experience zip lining through the Cloud Forest of Monteverde, climb up to the mountain top and touch clouds, and experience the overall magnificence of Costa Rica. I was also able to experience the relaxing volcanic hot springs of Arenal, white water raft in the rivers of Costa Rica,and be able to get closer to a group of amazing girls that I can consider my friends now.
Costa Rica for me, felt like home. I felt as that is where I belonged in my heart. Costa Rica reminds me very much of my families country El Salvador. In a way Costa Rica felt so close to home that it made me love the country even more. At La Selva, I felt as if that is where I belonged, in the jungle rain forests of Costa Rica. I am truly grateful I was able to experience the culture, diversity, and great country of Costa Rica. It is an unforgettable experience that I am always going to remember and reminisce of the amazingness of Costa Rica.
Thank you Georgian Court and its caring and loving staff, and donor that made more than one of my dreams come true by this trip.
by Mackenzie Morris, Buenos Aires Dance Project Study Abroad Participant
Prior to my experience in Argentina I had never traveled outside of the country. Needless to say I experienced quite the culture shock. Having read up on the culture of Argentina (specifically in the area of Buenos Aires) as well as reviewing customs and language differences learned in previous Spanish courses, I was prepared for many of the cultural changes such as greeting with a kiss on the cheek, the food differences, etc. I was ready to approach the cultural shift with an open mind. Even so, reading and researching a culture is very different than actually experiencing it first hand. I knew that the people of Argentina were relatively intimate but I had no idea to what extent. Not only were people more publicly affectionate but the physical space between people was closer, more proximate; personal space (which is typically highly valued in American society) did not seem to be an issue or even noticed at all, especially when on the road. As well, there seemed to be a more communal, sharing atmosphere in general.
On a more somber note, the disparity between wealth and poverty was quite distressing. We were warned that the political climate of the area was particularly unstable, fluctuation in monetary value was commonplace, and that we would experience begging and homelessness throughout the city. Despite knowing this prior, it was, as I mentioned before, distressing and frankly sad to see and experience first hand not only homeless adults, but young children as well. There were also a great deal of stray dogs and cats that would roam around as well. One other, slightly less disparaging aspect of this trip which shocked me greatly and that I was not prepared for was just how influenced by American culture they are. Many of the people we encountered could speak english and translate with ease and most restaurants had two menus, one in Spanish and one in english. Even more, almost all of the music we heard was the same as we would here in the U.S. and there was a plethora of McDonald’s, Starbucks, and ads for American companies and brands generally written in english. Even the people, specifically a group of dancers we met, know more about American politics than most of us in the group do.
Aside from the culture shock, I was also in complete awe over all of the beautiful art and architecture we saw. We first visited a church, Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar, which had the most beautiful and colorful displays and tiles inside. From there we visited La Recoleta Cemetery, one of the highlights of the trip due to its stunning, intricately detailed monuments. We also visited two museums, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and Palais de Glace. We were also fortunate enough to be invited to see many rehearsals and lighting/dance installations such as a ballet rehearsal being held in our directors old studio as well as sit in on a incredible rehearsal of one of her old student’s work (one of my favorite parts of the trip because most of the piece dealt with floor work which is an area of dance I enjoy most). The lighting/dance installations were also incredible: the first used computer software to project images of space with dancers seeming to defy gravity onto very unique surfaces; the second was a live performance which utilized lasers and light beams reflecting off of or through different surfaces such as hole drilled into construction paper, broken cd’s, and mirrors.
Walking through La Recoleta Cemetery
Towards the end of our stay in Buenos Aires, we were finally able to take some classes at the Universidad National de San Martin or UNSAM, under the direction of Oscar Ariaz. We took a Graham modern class the first day then ballet on the second while also participating in a choreography class and one of Oscar’s company’s rehearsals. Within the choreography class, taught by our director, we talked about our choreography projects and some of us (myself included) had the chance to teach parts of our choreography to the participating students. It was interesting and genuinely fun experience to see that, even through a language barrier, the students were able to pick up the choreography easily and even perform it at the end of the class. It was a wonderful experience to see my own choreography set on these students particularly because you could see their willingness to learn, explore, and play with the movement and the ideas behind it. I even had two girls approach me after class to tell me that they were very interested in my movement exploration and we ended up exchanging information, another highlight of the trip.
Sitting in on Oscar’s company rehearsal at UNSAM
We were also fortunate enough to sit and and eventually participate in Oscar’s company rehearsal, which was an inspiring experience. The company members were so dedicated, hard working, and passionate about their work and the movement set on them, often times repeating the same movement over and over until they could perform it almost like it was second nature and without prompt from the director. Not only were they amazing dancers but they were also gracious and welcoming, inviting us out to eat on our last night. The entire experience of dancing with them, seeing them perform, and then later talking with them (although it was difficult to get past the language barrier) I felt inspired and motivated to take what I had seen and gained from this experience and apply it not only to what is left of my academic career here at GCU but also to my future experiences, wherever they may be. I cannot express how grateful I am to have had this once in a lifetime opportunity and experience all that I did; I may have left a piece of myself in Argentina, but I have gained so much in return.
Our last night: Spent with some of the lovely dancers from UNSAM
An amazing mural in La Boca
by Gabrielle Vella, Buenos Aires Dance Project Study Abroad Participant
I never thought in my college career that I would have been asked to experience life in another country. When I was offered a scholarship to go to Argentina; I was shocked. It didn’t hit me until we were on a 10 and a half hour plane ride that I was up for the best experience of my life. It was then that I started to reflect on my college career and how it has led me to this opportunity; all of the struggles and battles became the most valuable moments for me because it was those moments that led to success, which was being offered to dance in Argentina. This experience taught me valuable life lessons, as well as opened my eyes to a much more important factor: dance is what I strive to do.
The most interesting part of the trip was developing ways to comprehend the language as well as communicate, since they speak Spanish. Luckily, I knew many of the basic terms and phrases to help me get by. It was a challenge when ordering food or purchasing souvenirs, to say the least. However, I tried my best in respect for their language and country, and I actually found myself very engaged with the culture when I did try to use the language. Their culture is very uplifting, not only are they very religious, they are motivated, appreciative, and spiritual. Tango is a form of dance that keeps their culture alive, since they express the true meaning of love and romanticism. It was amazing that these individuals would tango in the streets and play music, it made the city feel so alive and welcoming. The liveliness rubbed off on me and made me inspired and motivated, an overall extravagant feeling.
The most valuable part of the trip was attending UNSAM, or Universidad Nacional de San Martín, where I was able to take class, teach my choreography, and watch the professional company rehearse. The experience of taking class, in another language nonetheless, was unbelievable. The classes were so well executed and the students were knowledgeable and talented. I worked hard to pay attention to the movement as well as fully embody it, which was difficult yet motivating. My favorite class was the composition class where I was able to teach my choreography to the students. It was a difficult task, since many of them did not speak English, although I may add that quite a few did know it well enough to communicate briefly with me. I had a group of ten students, where I was able to teach them the beginning of my senior choreography since it incorporates partnering. I also taught them two other phrases from my work. I was absolutely astonished by these students; their interest to learn my choreography made me feel accomplished and welcomed. They would try their hardest to ask me questions about the quality, speed, and direction of the movement. I was able to break down the movement with one of the girls that performed my piece, so the students had a visual of what the movement should look like. I continuously showed the movement and the students followed along with full engagement. It made me want to work harder and made me feel very professional, as well as comfortable. At any given moment I would perform the movement with them and then they would ask me not to perform it with them to make sure they knew the material on their own. They never gave up and that gave me extreme amounts of appreciation and motivation.
Overall, I brought this work tactic back home with me. I always have the urge to dance, but now I see dance at another level. I continuously try to experiment with unknown movement so my body can inhibit the material. This process makes me work harder and dig in deep to truly find the motion and intent of the movement. I feel as though me teaching my work to the students actually taught me more than I ever expected. I never thought my level of dedication could increase so rapidly and make my love of dance stay alive.
Furthermore, watching the professional company of UNSAM was by far my favorite experience of the entire trip. Oscar Araiz is an absolute genius and his choreography never left a dull moment for the eyes to watch. These dancers were physically built so beautifully and it was shown through their dancing. The continuous engagement to the characters the pieces required was so intriguing and made the pieces that much more interesting to watch. They were extremely well rounded in technique, I never seen them make a mistake. They were always on the side fully embodying the movement of the next piece they were going to work on, they never stopped moving; and when they did not have a piece to work on next they were doing push ups or sit ups. I was so inspired. I could not help but to think I want to be them. Their drive was so contagious and it was then I realized again that I want to be part of a company like this. Their work ethic was at such a high level it was amazing to see the behind the scenes of a professional company. We were able to learn a short section of one of the pieces and dance it with the company dancers. They were so welcoming and helpful, I never seen them not smile. The littlest things stood out to me the most, and I could not help my jaw from hitting the floor with their knowledge and talent.
Here is a picture of the 16 company dancers performing one of Oscar’s pieces:
On the other hand, visiting the most exquisite sites of Buenos Aires taught me a lot about their culture, history, and art. I visited the Colón Theatre, The Pink House, La Boca, Palermo Viejo, La Recoleta Church and Cemetery, and many museums. I constantly felt inspired and motivated. That was my overall feeling of the trip; I cannot use those words enough. I was able to incorporate this experience to the art form of dance. I found a parallel between the locations and my major: that beauty and meaning can be expressed in many different ways. I found the culture fascinating, as well as the historical sites. One of my most favorite locations was La Recoleta Cemetery, where the tombs were “buried” above ground in these beautiful tiled, old mini buildings. It surprised me that their way of burial was so different compared to where we live. However, it was amazing how the structure of the cemetery was in relation to its age and meaning.
Here is an overhead view of La Recoleta Cemetery:
La Boca was another amazing site to see. It was like we saved the best for last since we went on the day we were flying back home. This was an area that many tourists attended- it was funny to hear so many people speaking English as opposed to Spanish. These beautiful buildings are painted bright colors and are historical sites where the immigrants used to live. There is a rich history that lies within this small village. However, there are many stores, restaurants, and markets outside. La Boca reminded me of a revamped version of Little Italy, but brighter. I gained more appreciation for Buenos Aries because of the long timeline of history and meaning; they never let their culture die and that is truly inspiring.
Here’s a picture of La Boca:
Overall, Argentina was the most motivating and inspiring time of my life. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity. I wish I could express how this has changed my outlook on many different things; there is a personal meaning that lies within me that is nearly unexplainable. I felt so alive, like I was living every moment to its greatest extent. I have always been a visual learner, so traveling was always in my interest. Yet, this trip I did not expect to have such a drastic, positive outcome. I really engaged in all of the activities and moments, and feel as though it could have not been any better…unless we had stayed longer!
by Rachel Kowal, Costa Rica Tropical Ecology Study Abroad Participant
There are many things I could say about Costa Rica. However I will pick a few experiences to talk about. I believe your experiences are what define you in life, and this experience has definitely altered how I look at the world. There was so much about the culture there that I didn’t know about, but I learned quickly. Especially at Monte Verde. This is where in my mind our group became like family. We opened up and explored into town, ate the food of the locals and just bonded. I became close with people I would have never otherwise. The culture there is so unlike our own that you sometimes need to take a step back and remember, this is no weird this is just different from what I’m used to. There were a lot of times I had to do that.
One of the things I will never forget was white water rafting. I am terrified of heights so I had a panic attack and couldn’t do the zip line. I however did do the rafting. This was so much fun and not as scary as I thought it was going to be. Although jumping off a cliff was still terrifying because of my fear of heights. But I did it, I jumped off the cliff into the slightly cold water and swam to the rafts and got in. This was the beginning of the long journey down the river. I think the thing I will remember the most about this is our raft guide, Daniel. He really made the trip what it was. He and the other raft guide Luis would try to knock each other’s rafts in. It was so funny when they would push someone into the water. Well until it’s you then it’s not as funny. I cannot wait to go white water rafting again. This experience taught me I can’t let my fears hold me back and I just need to take baby steps until I overcome them. Maybe next time I will go zip lining.
I think the thing that surprised me the most is how well they have protected their lands and not destroyed as much as we have for industry. Their country is beautiful because of all the biodiversity and nature. I have never seen so many bird species in my life, the amount of hummingbirds alone was incredible. This trip just makes me want to strive harder to protect what little nature we have left here in America. One day I will open my own rescue just like the owner of the Toucan Rescue did. I will do my part to conserve what we have left and educate people. I might not have baby sloths like she does to influence people but I do have a lot of gained knowledge from this experience and I have my passion to guide me.
I think this trip really told me that this is what I need to be doing with my life. Trying to make the world a better place for the nature that we still have remaining. I know that I will be able to use this experience for years to come in order to achieve my goals. However, none of this would have been possible without the help of my scholarship. So thank you to everyone who made it possible to have this wonderful experience. I will forever be grateful.
by Meredith Hoffman, Costa Rica Tropical Ecology Study Abroad Participant
As a student- athlete here at Georgian Court, there was always one thing I wanted to experience before I graduated college, and that was to study abroad. With the help and encouragement from fellow colleagues and passionate professors, my dream came true. I never knew if I would have the opportunity to travel abroad while being so busy with my academics and sports team. This Easter Break  I traveled to Costa Rica with fourteen colleagues and two professors to study Tropical Rainforest Ecology.
There were so many mixed emotions flowing through my body; from anxiety, stress, and of course, excitement! My brother traveled to Peru for six months while in college as a student-athlete as well, and hearing amazing stories about his experience and journey in a different country really pushed me to go through with this journey. I never dreamed that I would ever gain the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica to experience a new culture, new surroundings, new people, and new studies, and to finally share my memories and new experiences with my family and friends. Being able to have the roles reversed and share the amazing opportunity was absolutely amazing!
While in Costa Rica, my fellow colleagues and I were assigned a research project for our Tropical Ecology course. Samantha, Lesly, and I chose to study the different types of flowers and pollinators attracted to each flower species. Although the hard work and thought put into the research proposal was stressful, doing the research with Samantha and Lesly was amazing. One amazing experience I gained from this trip was the new knowledge and insight from different perspectives of my fellow classmates, especially these two young women.
Some say, “you don’t actually experience the beauty of nature until you are one with nature.” After hiking through several rain forests and walking over every suspension bridge, I believe that I have finally experienced the beauty of nature. Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but there is no other way to experience the beauty of nature than being apart of it. Traveling to three different parts of Costa Rica [Monte Verde, Arenal, and La Selva] has opened a new door in my future to travel and experience nature in other parts of the world.
Another unforgettable memory of this trip was flying over the canopies of the trees in the rain forest of Monte Verde and seeing the world from a different perspective, a perspective I never thought I would ever see the world from, zip lining in the clouds. There was apart of me that never felt so happy I was so high in the sky where I put all the problems away for a minute and just enjoyed the beauty of the world from on top!
I always have adrenaline running through my body while experiencing something new for the first time, but the adrenaline rushing through my body before zip lining was almost unbearable. That unbearable adrenaline rush was probably the first and last time such a feeling can be life changing! To say this opportunity to travel abroad and experience amazing places, people, culture and nature were life changing is probably an extreme understatement. Life moves too quickly and if an opportunity of a “lifetime” comes available, take that chance and run with it!
by Devan DeSilva, Costa Rica Tropical Ecology Study Abroad Participant
This Easter break I was blessed with the privilege of being able to travel to one of the most amazing places I have ever been to, Costa Rica. The main focus of this trip was to be able to help assist a group of researchers to study the pollinators on the plants of Costa Rica but it offered so much more. The first night we arrived we stayed at a cute little hotel called Hotel Bougainbillea where we were greeted with one of the horrifying spiders I have ever seen.
During the next 11 days myself and a group of 13 girls and 2 professors traveled to Monteverde, Arenal, La Selva and San Jose. These were some of the most exhausting days I have ever experienced in my whole entire life. We had an itinerary that was jam packed everyday. Every morning started a 6:30 with about 4 hours of research and then we usually went on some kind of adventure such as white water rafting, on boat rides to the volcano, a culture tour, hiking, zip lining over top of the jungle, go to cloud forest and many other things. The only free time that we did have was our nights which we mostly spent bonding as a group. The food was very different from what I am use to. Every meal consisted of a side of rice and beans and some kind of fish or meat dish. While we were in Monteverde the food was made homemade for us, they treated and fed us like family. I must admit though there was only one place that the food was not good but other than that, I would rather the food from Costa Rica over American food any day.
In between eating, researching and doing activities, we spend a lot of time traveling. During most of our travels to the next location it would take a few hours. We spent a ton of time on our bus it was basically our home. To be honest though I didn’t really mind. The sights were breath taking. The stops were always really cool that we would take also. We would stop for coffee or at fruit stands on the side of the road and experience Costa Rica in a not so touristy way.
The people we met on every adventure were all special in a way that is actually pretty hard to explain. Our bus driver didn’t speak much English but some how we all managed to have a significant bond with him. For instance, when my 3 roommates and I got locked out of our room in the middle of the night and he came to our rescue! Left us all in tears while saying goodbye. Our tour guide, Edwin, was amazing. The knowledge of Costa Rica whether it was about the jungle, plants, animals, culture, you name it he knew it. On top of being an open book, he was humble and shared with us about growing up on a farm with his brothers and other personal stories that we could relate to. My guide for white water rafting, Luis, was fantastic. By the time we met him it was day 11 and the group of us were getting slightly home sick and were a bit cranky. The least I can say is that by the end of that rafting trip we all couldn’t stop smiling. He was so energetic and enthusiastic about life and adventure. We all joked and told stories as we went down the river. Of course this was all in between the billions of times I was tossed into the water and everyone got a great laugh out of that too. Of course there were many other people we met but these three specifically will always have a place in my heart forever.
This trip not only taught me a lot about Costa Rica and its culture, food, and people, it taught me about the people who I actually go to school with everyday, the students and professors. I became very close with some of the girls who I wasn’t before this trip. The late night conversations about our similar life goals and the struggles that we have all been though to get to the spot we are in today were honestly the best thing that I experienced there. Defeating our fears of height, bridges, water, whatever it was, we did it as a group. We pushed each other to our limits and it was absolutely exhilarating. There were nights we would laugh until our stomachs hurt and other nights we would cry together. It has made me look forward to new chapters in my life with some of these ladies right by my side during them. If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Even the bad parts, looking back were some of the best parts.
by Jorge Rivera, GCU Business Major — Studying Abroad at Pablo de Olavide University, Seville, Spain
I am just writing to say hi and to tell you that everything is great here. Two weeks ago was my Spring Break and Grecia Gavira (GCU graduate student studying abroad at the University of Seville, Spain) and I got the opportunity to travel around Europe. It was amazing. I also went to Morocco last weekend. Sadly, in a month my program is over, but I can not complain. It’s been amazing!
by Nicole Hoagland — Costa Rica Tropical Ecology Study Abroad Participant
There was a lot to gain while on the Tropical Ecology trip to Costa Rica. From the beginning to the end God spoke to me the whole time assuring me that I was in the right place at the right time. I felt like there were some things he wanted to show me. This trip left me feeling more in tune with who I am and also a different outlook on life. The language barrier between the people of Costa Rica and myself was very evident, but the beautiful thing about it was that I created unforgettable relationships with them. This lead me to reflect on the quote, “A warm smile is a universal language we all speak” by William Arthur Ward. Nothing was phony about the love experienced on this journey.
On the trip I was most impressed with the metaphors that came to mind when studying the ecology. For instance, there was a species called the stranger fig. This tree would grow extremely high and sometimes block the other trees around it from getting sun light. At first it seemed a little weary, but the instructor explained that the tree puts out beautiful and tasty fruits for the other species around it to enjoy. The other species would then get rid of the seeds in a new location and increasing the odds of a newly developed strangler fig. This made me look at life in a reassuring way. In a world where being anti-social and bitter is starting to be the norm, it was reassuring to study this tree. This made me realize that putting out something beautiful into the world and letting others use it will increase my productivity. Putting out positive would attract others to me making them want a part of that happiness.
I thought it was beautiful to be able to gain a message out of something that may be overlooked often times. I think being in nature allows us to realize things that we do not always get to realize or see in action. Living in New Jersey, life can get busy, but Costa Rica allowed me to step away from all of the ruckus. The Costa Rican people seemed so much happier and their lives were simpler. In the beginning, the tour guide explained to us that they live by the term Pura Vida, meaning pure living. It was not until I saw all the locals screaming Pura Vida while cliff jumping into a beautiful river that I realize a people could be so in tune with who they are. This shocked me because that happiness is lacked in the area that I live in where video games and technology strip us from real life interactions.
Outside of the beautiful culture the Costa Rican’s care for the Earth was truly admirable. Almost every hotel we went to explained to throw all toilet paper in the garbage instead of flushing it down the toilet. It may sound like a TMI (too much information) topic, but that may be because American’s would rather have their water systems contaminated. The Costa Ricans only flush biodegradables keeping their water systems natural. More than it may have shocked me to do this, it showed me the extent as to what they will do to show their land that they appreciate it. This showed me that there are some people who actually believe life does not start and end with mankind and that the world is to be shared with many other species.
All in all, I received a great gift from this experience. I learned to look at the deeper picture behind everything. I learned to stay true to myself and maybe bring some of that happiness back to those around me. I want that happiness to be contagious and spread through the states again. This experience reminded me to always put out something beautiful despite what is going on around me. As I left the tour guides and in tears, I realized a smile is truly a language we all speak despite language barriers and that no one can get in the way of the lessons God wants us to gain.
by Dr. Robert Louden, Criminal Justice
Although I vacationed in Puerto Rico in 1967 and attended an academic conference in Canada in 1989, I did not really travel internationally until @ 23 years ago, at age 47. Following an active 21 year NYPD career I was working at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in NYC. The College President, Gerald W. Lynch, asked me to accompany him and a small group of colleagues on a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. This was a very exciting time to be in Russia. Just four months earlier, in December 1991, the Cold War ended, the Soviet Union (USSR) ceased to exist and fifteen separate countries came into being or re-asserted themselves. The purpose of our trip was to plan for an international academic conference to be held that June.
I will come back to the April and June 1992 trips, but first some additional information about my overall Global experiences. Although I did not leave the continental United States during my time with the NYPD, 1966-1987, I did benefit from multiple international experiences! Criminal Justice related professionals from throughout the world look forward to visiting NYC for its culture, tourism and law enforcement related experiences. Sometimes the briefings that I conducted or took part in were requested by a particular country; other times by the US Government: Department of State; Defense; Justice; FBI; CIA; Army CID; NCIS. And occasionally by the United Nations.
So, back to my first time. The April 1992 experience is especially memorable. Touring the beautiful and historically rich City of St. Petersburg in juxtaposition with the reality of the nature of the recently ended Cold War and viewing the stark nature of life for the average citizen of St. Petersburg when viewed against the privileged life of the powers that be! More about perks later. There was little stock on the food store shelves; automobile wind shield wiper blades were is such short supply that motorists removed them from their car when they parked overnight; trolley cars appeared to be of the vintage that one would view in an early 1950’s movie; university faculty had not been paid in months. Items that had been discussed long distance prior to our arrival that were slated to be free now had a dollar value attached. When asked why, the one word answer was capitalism. One quick memory the planning trip dealt with was around transportation for conference attendees from the hotel to the primary meeting location. The discussion with our Russian counterparts was something like this: we do not know if we can get sufficient buses; if we do get the busses, we do not know if we can get drivers; if we get drivers, we do not know if they will be sober! What had been anticipated as a put the finishing touches on the logistics of the conference plan was developing into a series of problem solving exercises, all through interpreters.
More next time!
by Bianca Valentini
Sudha Allit: Meditation for Life — Service Learning Essay
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing” (Henry Miller).
And then suddenly I was immersed into a different country that speaks a different language, about to teach yoga and meditation to a group of children who don’t understand where I came from and why my Spanish isn’t so great…
I have to be honest here, I never had expectations. I had hopes and a couple of visions of what I may experience, but for me there’s a difference between hopes and expectations. I feel like expecting things is always a trap; things are never as they seem. I went to Guatemala with an open and pure heart full of hopes and knowledge that anything can change and anything is possible. Guatemala is an amazing country but it isn’t the safest place and there was a lot to get used to for me, but that comes with any new space and place. What I found at Vida (life in Spanish) is not only my own heart, but a love for all of the hearts involved.
Asociacion de Vida is a very special school that takes care of the children in their city, San Miguel Duenas. It isn’t just a school. It is a program of educational and life tools that keep children craving life and wanting to come back. And they do. School is optional for the children, and they always come back. The most amazing thing is that they don’t turn anyone away. Special needs or not, everyone is in the same program sharing different experiences together. San Miguel Duenas is a very poor and under-privileged town and another thing that the school does is go into the homes of the children and assess their living situation and needs. Once they do this, they go into the home and provide space for proper living to accommodate the needs of each family. Vida is a safe place and a place of hope for those who don’t have much.
When I first walked in, my eyes filled with tears for the love and sadness I felt all at once. Sadness because these kids don’t have much, but happiness and love because they do have a love of life and that’s something many people in the States don’t have. They call it “sindrom de amor” (love syndrome) and they said I caught it early, within the first few seconds. They don’t have a cure and I don’t ever want or need one. My hopes never touched these feelings and what I thought I wanted to experience. This is something far bigger than all of us and it’s so amazing because it’s happening and it’s real and we are all doing it. I knew this work would be tough for me because my Spanish is not the best and it certainly was tough. It was frustrating because I wanted the children to experience a class full of adventure and wild animals and noises and music and fun and instead they had quieter animals and fun but were in a more tranquil environment of hearing me and mimicking me and each other. And the teachers were a great help for me; I am so thankful for them. This is especially powerful because there was a communication there that had to be so specific and challenging and it’s yoga. It’s all yoga and they got it, no matter what type of class it was.
Teaching yoga to children has never been more of a challenge and an honor to me. I thought I’d just teach and show students that they have access to a part of themselves that they may not have known existed. I didn’t think I’d show them that there’s something more for them or that they have access to the peace they need to stay off the streets. And I certainly didn’t think I’d never want to leave. It’s a beautiful thing. Most of us probably know the Jimi Hendrix quote “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” I don’t know how many of us have had the privilege to see such a powerful saying in action but I do know I have and wow. Anything is possible.
When I got to Guatemala, I knew a small amount of Spanish. I was shaking in my shoes trying to figure out how I was going to share yoga with children who don’t understand that I don’t speak their language. Children are interesting in that way, they only know what they have and only believe that exists, and for them it is true. For all of us, really. So, coming into a new space looking like I came from another planet (I saw about 5 other people with blonde hair the entire time I was there. Gringa doesn’t even begin to define what I was there. Ha-ha!) And attempting to teach this thing called yoga had me praying and meditating more times than I ever had. My classes in the U.S.A are full of music and stories and adventure and animals. In Guatemala, I just had to present in a basic way but still make it appealing. When I released my fear and allowed myself to come from the purest space in my heart, the classes just flowed and came out and were fun and became creative in their own way.
One example: The kids like their egos and find fun in knowing that they know the poses so I loved to shout out random poses and see that they knew them, and they did. It was fun to see them quickly change poses and laugh about it staring at me to call the next. I have found little ways and roads to take to make it interesting and keep it interesting. I went to Guatemala with lesson plans ready to translate and ideas ready to explode with potential. When I entered the school, I froze. There were 15+ kids in the first class and I forgot everything I wanted to do. I started in a huge circle and we shook all of our sillies out. I then had all of the children run into the center of the circle and yell “VIDA!”
We transitioned to the ground and stretched out. I demonstrated some animals and repeated time after time to breathe through our noses and out through our noses. Upon losing focus, given that it was a huge group, I would bang my hands on the ground and we would start a rainstorm which was followed by deep breathing. I always stressed the breath and to keep the attention, we moved from the ground to standing often. We danced and sung and squeezed our hands really tight to yell “NO!” and then opened our hands and yelled “SI!” They loved this, and loved to laugh. All of my lesson plans didn’t follow through completely because the energy each day was different so I mostly went with my intuition with what each child needed and what we could benefit from as a group.
Many of the classes were similar but different order and different games at the end. There were days when the kids were crazy and there were just too many, and there were days when we split them up into smaller groups and I would teach twice in one day. Each class ended with the children lying on their backs and looking at the sky, saying what animals and images they saw. They then closed their eyes and I would go around and swing their feet and press their third eye. They loved this and always giggled. The most amazing thing to me was that no matter how much crazy energy they had, they always quieted down for Savasana. For a couple of minutes every single day, the children were able to lie down and breathe without worrying. When we gently awoke from our brief meditations we would Om, then shake it out and play a game- Duck, Duck Goose and Indian Chief were always the favorites. After the game we would Namaste and class would be over.
After the first class, I had the privilege of explaining yoga in English and the director translated for me in Spanish. He explained to the children that it is difficult to try to teach to them with little language but with their full attention and help we could make it happen. We told the children that yoga is the unification of the mind, body, spirit, breath and heart. We explained how compassion and love and breathing are the most important things and that we can use all we learn in yoga, even if it is just breath, in any given situation- especially difficult ones. I always told the children they can even use the breath before and after a test or a class. Some other classes began with a ball that I would throw to each child and say “Como te sientes?” which means how do you feel? We would go around and set the tone for the class, and I always told them that it was okay for them to not feel good or happy but it is what we do with those feelings that matters. Sometimes after class I held an exercise where I played drum music and took one child at a time and had them close their eyes and breathe. After a couple of minutes I would ask them to tell me what they see. Almost always, the response was waterfalls, butterflies, animals, trees, the sky, or flying. I was fascinated and intrigued at how quickly the children fell into meditation and how quickly they created visuals without thoughts rolling through their heads. They absolutely loved to do this meditation and I loved to hold the space for them to do it.
I ended a couple of classes with a Metta meditation during Savasana. I spoke to the children telling them to close their eyes and feel their hearts, I continued to tell them to say to themselves one at a time “may I be happy, healthy, and safe.” Then we continued one at a time with each intention to all of the people in our lives. The people we love, those we are indifferent to, and those that bother us. They enjoyed this one as well. We sang songs and danced and they loved to do the “Sa, Ta, Na, Ma” meditation with their mudras. Each day was different and each day was intuitive. It wasn’t in my plan for it to be that way, but I felt more comfortable going with the flow rather than being concerned with what I didn’t get to. Of course, I stayed within the realm of what I wanted to accomplish but it was always random and usually worked out. We practiced on cardboard and that was enough. It was a whole new world of teaching and I am forever thankful for it. I would love to return and bring yoga mats with me one day!
I made a poster for the children and the school about the 8 limbs of yoga. My original plan was to have a class on each limb, but I found that explaining before each class what the limb was and then reminding the children again at the end of the class fit better. Yoga is so new to these children and I found that the more time I spent talking, the more they wanted to practice. I left the poster at the school with a hope that they would refer to it often. I explained to the children in the best way that I could to get them to understand each one. Some were really short and simple and others were more in depth. The picture below is what I created.
I have learned that although my Spanish has certainly improved, the language isn’t necessary to understand what is being presented. Love and laughter are the same in every language and that’s all we need. I have also learned that although I look different, I am the same. And I am welcomed and loved just the same as well. Like I said, love and laughter are the same in every language. This has been the hardest thing I’ve done thus far, but the most rewarding challenge. Because I didn’t give up and believed in the power of love, I found peace.
Teaching yoga and meditation is only as meaningful as I have presented it to be. If I came in with a sour face and no desire to teach, yoga would mean nothing. Because I came in with a smile and an excitement to share, yoga means fun and yoga means a lot to the kids. Every time they saw me, they would yell “YOGA!” I even had a class where I asked each child to be the teacher for a couple of poses. They did awesome. Because of the willingness and readiness to participate, and because of the laughter and the calm I see on their faces when they breathe, that’s all I need to know that it’s meaningful. They tell me I made a contribution they’ve never seen before. They say “Colocha (means curly– I have the curliest of heads) before you came, the children and us- we don’t know yoga- after, we know yoga. Thank you.” I feel like I shared what I know and what I feel and I am so thankful that what I have shared has resonated. I can only hope it sticks. I have created a poster which hangs in the school and taught the teachers how to continue to at least allow the children to use their breath in any moment, especially difficult ones. It is my vision that it stays with them. If it doesn’t, at least it did for a little while and that’s enough.
I have found a friend in each and every teacher and student and child in this program. I have found a lesson and I have found love and light from each being. The welcoming energy and revved up engines for their program and life and giving back is close to my own heart. I find a like mind in the mission here and even if I never see them again, I have forever friends. They don’t care so much about where I came from or that I don’t look like them. They just know there is work to be done and in the process friendship is made. There is extreme bonding in like minded people, extreme bonding in knowing our hearts are all connected and we share similar desires. There is extreme bond in having 15+ children hug and kiss you because they want to. Because they feel connected. I am thankful for them all because I am them and they are me.
I didn’t have goals. I had hopes going to Guatemala. I hoped to bring yoga and I hoped to touch some hearts and spread some light and love. Yoga has been brought to me, and my heart has been touched and I am full of the light and love of every single person I have come across. I’d say the tables have turned and I’m not the slightest bit upset about it. It’s all so bittersweet. I ate chocolate and bread and potatoes and rice and all of the things I am not used to, and allowing myself to do so has been liberating and sweet, oh so sweet. But without the bitter, the sweet isn’t as sweet and I’ve had to face some of my own bitter stuff that feels so sweet to let go of. I could have stayed in Guatemala for another year, and I hope to return, but for now I have enough memories to keep me warm through this winter and a lifetime of love to share with others.
GCU Armchair Traveler is an online blog of new poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction, short stories, essays, art and photography with a travel or global orientation. Our goal is to feature work that transports us.
GCU Armchair Traveler was created for Georgian Court University faculty, staff, students and alums who travel or dream of traveling. It’s our virtual “sit around the campfire”; a place where we can share our global experiences — the international encounters that have challenged us; the geography that has encouraged us to shift; and the surprising moments here or abroad that have helped shape who we are. It’s our hope that you will find a globally-minded community in Armchair Traveler.
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Submit work electronically to Jennifer Summerhays, Director of Global Education Programs email@example.com
by Danielle Acconzo
Photo 1: On the morning that we arrived, we headed to Notre Dame. The moment that I saw Notre Dame from the famous love lock bridge, tears streamed down my face in disbelief that I had arrived in Paris for this experience. When I walked in the breathtaking landmark of literature, I became immediately inspired that I was a part of something much bigger than I ever anticipated. The tears lasted through the entire cathedral as I became connected in a different way with each step and looked at life with different point of view.
Photo 2: This literary experience was the first time that I would travel with others that I did not know personally. Dr. Rader was a professor of mine, but the other five students, I only met once before traveling to another country with. Ernest Hemingway gave the wise advice, “Never go on trips with anyone that you do not love.” It was a first time for me to go on a trip, more of a journey, with people that I did not love, and Hemingway’s advice made me feel anxious. We visited Hemingway’s residence from 1921-1925, pictured here, and I fell in love. I fell in love with the experience, the journey, the landmarks, and the people. I admire every word that has come out of his mouth, but I disagree with this quote. On this trip, I found a journey with much to love.
Photo 3: On the streets of Paris, I found out a lot about myself and the type of person that I am and desire to become.
Photo 4: Dr. Rader was a professor of mine for the first time in 2008. Since then, she has become a mentor of mine in regards to our shared passion towards literature and careers in education. The literary experience of a lifetime was executed perfectly through her knowledge, affection, and inspiration of the literary backgrounds of Paris. No tour guide could have ever taken us on the journey that Dr. Rader took us on. I am forever appreciative that I was blessed with this opportunity.
Photo 5: Every literature lover needs to allow Paris to inspire their heart and their minds. The street vendors are filled with words and phrases that will impact your life.
Photo 6: “America is my country and Paris is my hometown,” stated Gertrude Stein. Paris is not my hometown like it was and is for Stein who rests at Pere Lachaise Cemetery. However, I had a connection to Paris that felt like the comfort of my home. Now, at home, I have a piece of this experience that will inspire my mind and resonate in my heart forever.
By Thomas P. Vincent
This trip marked my first ever travel abroad experience. Prior to this I had barely left New Jersey, only being on a plane one other time for a trip to Florida. I had reservations about being on a plane for seven hours, but the trip was severely outweighed by my overexcitement about visiting the “City of Light,” as well as a plethora of in-flight movies. I had never before dreamed that I would ever gain an opportunity such as this, but thanks to the hard work of certain parties in the Global Education Department, and the fervent persuasive dedication (stubbornness) of one Professor (full) to my participation in the trip, I was able to go. To say this trip was life changing is a paragon of understatement. How many times have you seen entire movies, shows, novels etcetera based off of the City of Light, or even one area of it? To be able to now view, and read, films, and novels and be able to see a place where I can say “I was there” is an experience that is transcendent.
Some of these “places” visited include, but are not limited to, Notre Dame de Paris, The Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, The Pantheon, Shakespeare & Company, and The Catacombs. I found out very early that my New Jersey jokester side was not overwhelmed by artistic passion, rather, it was facilitated by it! The charm of Paris put me in such a passionately ecstatic mood that I quickly turned each of its monuments into my own personal opportunities for fun. This applies to me turning the giant glass-pyramid entrance of the Louvre into a delivered pizza, whistling the x-files tune in The Catacombs for a particular member who was terrified of the “human wallpaper,” searching Van Gogh’s The Church at Auvers painting for the monster in the window featured in his Doctor Who episode and many more. The one moment, however, that will forever be with me occurred at The Pantheon, a mausoleum housing the most treasured National Heroes in France’s history. Upon entering I immediately went to the tombs to search for Victor Hugo’s burial place, one of my favorite authors, and possibly the most treasured novelist in France’s history. Once I arrived at the tomb I was overcome by the fact that I was looking at “The” Victor Hugo’s burial place. As a means of showing the immortalization of his famous Hunchback: Quasimodo, and for my own personal gratification, I stuffed my bag up the back of my hoodie and Hunchbacked. All participants laughed and I could feel Hugo’s ghost shaking his head with a “This is what my works have come to.”
This trip has provided me not with an opportunity to be a goof, but an opportunity to be myself on a field of experience that is truer than I have ever felt. Whether you are the serious artist, prankster, casual traveler, or what have you, Paris is a City of extremes. Georgian Court University gave me the chance to live on a dimension of extreme “selfness,” a magic which I can never forget.
By Alexandria Graziosi
Having never traveled outside of the country before, I expected my experiences on the GCU Paris trip to be unforgettable. The city itself was breathtaking and the landmarks we visited were nothing short of the descriptions that the modernist writers provided me with. However, what made the trip so memorable weren’t the places that I saw or even the food that I ate (although for me the food was pretty unforgettable), but it was the people with whom I traveled.
On the first day of our trip, we stopped by Shakespeare and Company, Sylvia Beach’s famous bookstore that also served as a gathering place for modernist writers like Pound and Hemingway, and Dr. Rader commented on how rare it is to be traveling with so many people who enjoy the same things. The seven of us all shared similar interests but we also appreciated each other’s specific interests. On the trip, each of us had at least one thing we wanted to do or see before we left. Places like Victor Hugo’s home, Notre Dame, and even the catacombs were all on our agendas (although I could have done without walking miles through tunnels made of human remains).
While most of the group wanted to see these things as well, being able to see somebody else soaking up the energy of the home of their favorite author or the places they’ve only seen in their books was truly amazing. For me visiting Gertrude Stein’s grave was one of the highlights of the trip. While the graveyard of Père Lachaise she was buried in was a point of interest for everyone, seeing Stein’s grave specifically was a moment for me that I will never forget. Being a longtime fan of Stein and her work, the act of visiting her grave for me felt as if I was stopping by to see an old friend. On our walk back from the cemetery, I was explaining this feeling to my two roommates on the trip. While I was a little nervous on how they would receive it, they both shared with me how equally excited they were to visit the grave and how cool it was that I walked away with that experience.
By Megan Kelly
From the beginning of the planning process, there were so many things about our trip to Paris to look forward to. The opportunities to experience a new culture, visit famous national landmarks, and incorporate our love of literature into a city rich in literary history were plaguing our mind for months before the trip. However, once there we realized that the places, activities, and experiences we were all looking forward to became infinitely better because of the people we were with.
On one of the first days of the trip, Dr. Rader turned to us and said, “It’s so great to be walking around with you guys. If I want to stop in a random book shop, you will all want to as well.” Over the course of the five days we spent in Paris, this sentiment was proven to be true in a number of different contexts. From the pre-determined activities to the ones that we picked up along the way, everyone involved was equally enthusiastic about everything we wanted to do.
The national landmarks that we visited, such as the le Tour Eiffel, l’Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame were magnificent for their sheer historical and cultural significance. Being able to experience the city from the top of each was purely breathtaking. But it was even more indescribable to be able to wander down a street past Ernest Hemmingway’s house or visit the graves of Gertrude Stein and Oscar Wilde. These experiences became so much more enriching because we were able to live them with people who appreciated them just as much.
Coming into the trip, I think everyone had one place or activity that they were looking forward to above the rest, for instance Ali was looking forward to Gertrude Stein’s house, while Tom wanted to see Victor Hugo’s. Personally, I was looking forward to visiting the catacombs, because of the rich history behind them and the influence they had over different writers such as Edgar Allen Poe. Once in the catacombs, it was easy to see how they have become so infamous in history, literature, and cinema alike. The sheer magnitude of the tunnels, the number of human bones, and the intricacy in which they were arranged was purely indescribable. While walking throughout the tunnels, you were instantly overcome with the realization that the remains of the humans surrounding you could have belonged to anyone and those people could have any story. This became ever too clear after seeing a skull that appeared to have a bullet hole going through its forehead.
Because of the nature of the individuals in our group, everyone really appreciated every aspect of it, not just the places they might have personally added to the itinerary. For me, the cohesion between the members of our group was the best part of the trip. We could have been able to see all of these different places on our own, or with people who weren’t interested, but instead we were able to share our excitement. And, we were able to wander into some pretty great bookshops along the way too.
By Caitlin Roman
Going to Paris with Dr. Rader and the rest of our little group was the most amazing experience. It was my very first trip outside of the country, and I was the first in my family to even get a passport. There are so many things about the trip that I can talk about; I could probably fill a book with all of my stories. When most people recount stories of their trips, they talk about the sites they visited or the food they ate, their favorite parts. One of my favorite things about the trip encapsulates all of that really, but it is not something people really mention when they talk about their trip. I’m talking about how we mainly got around the city- walking. We walked almost everywhere, and one day we covered about 16-18 miles just by walking. Walking gave us certain liberties that other modes of transportation, like the metro or a bus, would not. For one, when you are walking around a city, you are in the city, not underground like on the metro. You are allowed to walk down a street and stop to look at an interesting building because you are not confined to a certain route in an enclosed space like you are on a bus. In fact, this was how we stumbled upon some of the sites we did see. One day, we were walking over to the Right Bank to see la Madeleine and a few other sites when we found the house of 12th century writers Abelard and Heloise. We would never have seen that or learned about these two writers if we did not happen to walk past their residence that day. On that very same day, we were walking down one street and happened upon a candy store and bought some delicious French candy. Those are only two examples of our many accidental discoveries. When we returned to the U.S., Dr. Rader added everything that we did and saw to the itinerary she planned before the trip. The final document more than doubled in size! It was all because of our walking and discovering.
Besides all of the accidental discoveries, my favorite experience has to be climbing Notre Dame. That was our first stop after dropping our bags off at the hotel. When we first went to Notre Dame, I thought we would just be looking around inside and climbing a little ways up the cathedral. Dr. Rader had put in the itinerary that we would be climbing the tower, but in no way did I expect to be hanging out with the gargoyles on the almost tippy-top of the massive church. The view from the top of Notre Dame was incredible. The sky was a perfect blue, and you could really see for miles. Looking out over the city, it finally hit me that I am halfway across the world with some of my best friends. It did not seem like I was really in Paris until I saw the city stretched out before me. I was on an adventure of a lifetime and planned on enjoying every second of it, and I certainly did. Traveling to Paris was a truly remarkable experience, one that I hope to repeat many more times.
By Chloe Grady
As I sat in the waiting room of my allergist, I was immediately taken back to Paris when I heard a man greet the desk assistant with a joyful, “Bonjour Madame!” During our spring break, I went on the literary trip to Paris, France with Dr. Rader and five other students, who were complete strangers to me but soon became close friends. Those five nights spent in Paris were truly the best experience of my life. The fact that I was actually in Paris did not truly hit me until we went to the Madeleine, a large Greek-styled cathedral. I was taken back as I sat down in one of the seats of the church. I was speachless. I couldn’t believe that I was actually in Paris and exploring such a beautiful city.
I learned a lot while in Paris. I learned that I have a true love for traveling and exploring new places. Also, that I am independent when I travel and that I can lead others with my sense of direction. While traveling on the métros (Paris subways), I learned about my great sense of direction. I don’t know what came over me, but I found myself leading the group through the metros with some help from Dr. Rader. The metros were beautiful; they were public art with unique mosaique tile works and clean metro cars. While traveling on the metros, I really got to learn about the Parisians and their lifestyle in Paris. I saw the perfect women’s fashion, which I would take back to my life in America. I also saw how the men of Paris were always meticulously dressed, with dress shoes and blazers. I got to hear the French langauge in full action. Even though I did not know exactly what they were saying, it was still enjoyable to listen to such a beautiful language. The metros showed the daily life of Parisians that we as visitors didn’t always get to see. There were a few times while on the metro that I imagined myself traveling or even living in Paris. It was on the metro where I feel in love with the city of Paris and the thrill of traveling.
By Nicole Blazejewski, Steve Cancel, Amanda Earle, Ellen Fitzsimmons, Glisban Machado, Nicole Owenburg, and Allyson Talbot
March 30, 2015
Our fifth day on the World Wars and Holocaust tour began by traveling from Belgium to Caen, France, by coach bus. We stopped 3 hours into our bus ride at the Historial de la Grande Guerre Museum, in Perrone, France. This museum was the result of a collaboration of a prominent French, German, and American historian of World War I. This museum showcased different time periods throughout World War I. We started our tour in the Music and World War I exhibit. After our stop, we continued our bus trip to Normandy, France. We started our tour in the American cemetery (the location of the ending scene in the famous film Saving Private Ryan). During our tour, we heard stories about fallen soldiers from battles in Normandy. Some of the stories included Medal of Honor recipients, heroic soldiers, and even four woman who were buried in the cemetery. Next, we traveled to Omaha beach. We were surprised to learn Omaha beach is still a prominent vacation spot for many Europeans. After the Normandy beaches, we went to La Pointe Du Hoc. This was the location of many German bunkers. The tour ended and we traveled back to our hotel in Caen. We then went to a nearby restaurant for dinner where we ate traditional French cuisine.