Europe

Meeting the famous Spike Lee in Italy

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Written by Mayowa Laniran, Foster undergraduate

Today was a very interesting day to say the least. Spike Lee, one of the greatest American filmmakers visited our university today to talk about cinema and sports. But those topics only lasted a little while, as many of the Italian students began asking questions about the issue of police violence against blacks in America. High profile cases of Mike Brown and Eric Garner were revolving around the world news, and Spike Lee used this platform as a forum to discuss the issues. After showing the moving video of Garner’s death, many Italian students wanted to know how they could help speak up and raise awareness about the issue. It was a cool event showing that students from all around the world wanted to invest their time to fight racism. Eventually the conversation turned to discussing racism that exists in Italy and all over Europe. Afterwards, I got the opportunity to speak with Spike for a few minutes and had to snap a picture for the record.

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Parting Words

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Written by Bonnie Beam, Foster undergraduate

Who knew that small, quirky Pamplona would forever hold a special place in my heart? I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad at the University of Navarra in the Fall of 2014. During my time in Spain, I was amazed at how much I don’t know and the capacity I have to learn if I humbly allow others to teach me what they know. A huge part of this realization came about in my living situation in Pamplona. Early on I decided I wanted to live with locals of the city, knowing that my Spanish was bound to improve much more than if I were to live with people who spoke my native language. This was by far the best decision I made! It was awesome to learn about UNAV, Pamplona and Spain at large through their eyes. They were very eager to help me improve my Spanish, correct my embarrassing mistakes (like referring to God as sexy instead of good – it’s “Dios ES bueno” not “está” in case you were wondering) and teach me all those idiomatic expressions.

Another “must” is going on all the trips with the international students, arranged by the international student office at UNAV! It is the best way to get connected with your fellow exchange students and experience Northern Spain. Our trip to Asturias was by far my favorite- a weekend full of repelling down waterfalls, kayaking, cave-exploring, mountain-climbing. What more could you want?! As a side note, the international student office and the student ambassadors were extremely helpful during my time at UNAV and were always more than willing to answer questions about the school, registering for classes, and give their suggestions for things to do/see in Pamplona and the surrounding cities!

Some other cool experiences I had were tutoring two Spanish kids in English (there is a large demand for English-speaking tutors so look into it if you’re interested in hanging out with kids a few hours a week and earning a little extra money), getting involved with an evangelical church in the area and getting to know more college-aged Spainards that way and playing badminton every week at the polideportivo (UNAV has a variety of sports for which they offer free group lessons every week) and learning how to play pádel with my roommates.

I had a wonderful experience at UNAV! Was it challenging? Very. Awkward? You bet. Eye-opening? Most definitely. Fun? Of course! Worth it? Totally. Whenever you place yourself into a new environment with a completely different culture, language and set of norms, you can expect to grow. But only to the degree that you allow. So if I could give you one piece of advice, it would be to allow yourself to grow A LOT! Attend the conferences, go on awesome adventures with the International Office, serve in some capacity at Navarra, talk with the locals, go to your professors’ office hours, live with Spainards, do things you wouldn’t normally do when your back in the comfort of your home country!

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Hanging out on the beach of Southern France with my roommates. France is only about 2 hours away- you must go!

A Matter of Perspective

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Written by Bonnie Beam, Foster undergraduate

“How’s Spain?!” seems to be a common question these days. As I try to give an honest answer, it seems that quite contradictory phrases most accurately describe my experience thus far. It’s both exhausting and relaxing, challenging yet simple and by far one of the hardest and easiest times of my life.

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Why are these simultaneously possible? Because everything is a matter of perspective.

Por ejemplo…

(1) The fast-track American lifestyle, with maxed out schedules, work-oriented mindsets and the rarity of sit-down meals with loved ones is no where to be found. For the Spanish, living life to its fullest is not about how much money they can accumulate in the bank rather how much time they can spend with loved ones; whether that be making a meal together, going for a walk or grabbing drinks.

One of the things I love most is the priority the Spanish culture places on eating together “en casa” (at home). Nearly everyone goes home for lunch and all the shops close down. Proof of this? My university cafeteria consists of 6, 4-person tables… That’s right, 6 tables for an enrollment size of 11,000! You can imagine how alone I felt when I had to pack a lunch and eat at school one day due to my class schedule.

As many of you know, I live with three girls from Spain. Every day, we all come home for both lunch and dinner to prepare and eat a meal together. Each meal, from start to finish, usually lasts about 2 hours. And not once have I thought that my time would be better spent elsewhere. I absolutely love having the ability to be completely present with those around me; not feeling guilty for missing another function or failing to check off a task on my to-do list because the reality is, here in Spain, the only place you should be is at home, eating with your friends and family.

It’s disheartening to realize that this routine is impossible for most back in the states, where most of our schedules only allow for a 45 minute coffee break, if that. This last week has been a refreshing reminder that our energy should be devoted primarily to people, not to electronics, money or everything that encompasses “achieving the American dream.” In America, the typical Spanish lifestyle might be labeled as unproductive or lazy but to the Spaniards, Americans have their priorities all wrong. Once again, it’s a matter of perspective.

(2) A little visual to help you understand what happened…

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Yes, I was pooped on. While walking down the street with some of my friends from Peru, a bird decided to give me a surprise. Needless to say, I was shocked, mortified and a bit disgusted. But I was soon forced to look at the situation from a different perspective my Peruvian friends quickly explained that in their culture, getting pooped on is good luck. Who knew?! And thus, another realization that everything is a matter of perspective.

A few other things you might like to know…

  1. Dinner is eaten between 9:30-11:30pm. More often, the latter.
  2. I walk everywhere. All day, every day. Yesterday alone, I spent two hours walking to school and back.
  3. Yet, no one carries water bottles. The other day, an older couple in the elevator poked fun at me for carrying a water bottle around.

Ciao!

Among The Cattle and Caves

Friday, January 9th, 2015

Written by Bonnie Beam, Foster undergraduate

This past weekend I took a trip with 40 other international students at UNAV to Asturias, located in northern, central Spain. From mountains, to cathedrals, to rivers, to sleepy, cobblestone towns, the Asturias province has it all! Lush with vegetation and bursting with cattle, the area perfectly captures the un-rushed life here in Spain.

After a nearly 6 hour bus ride, our guides decided to take advantage of all the energy we had stored up on the bus and us through Los Picos de Europa, a range of mountains 12 miles off the coast of Spain (a very rare combination). Fun fact: Los Picos also contain some of the world’s deepest caves! I’ll talk about our cave exploring later on :)

It was hard not to feel like I was back home, exploring the mountainous beauty of Washington.  The one big difference? We wandered amongst hundreds and hundreds of cattle roaming free! They were so close, I could even take selfies with them.

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But the coolest part of being up there was getting to meet Maria, a woman who has lived up there her entire life, in the hut pictured below. She makes excellent cheese from the cattle nearby in her humble abode. Despite what we would perceive as “lack” of basic commodities, she was one of the most joy-filled people I’ve ever met. It was one of the many reminders on this trip that joy and happiness are not the product of material wealth.

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Aside from exploring Los Picos, we also spent our weekend kayaking, cave-exploring and repelling off of waterfalls. To make things extra exciting, while we secured in metal harnesses, swimming and jumping off the waterfalls, a huge thunder, lightning and rain storm moved in. Definitely freaky but so much fun (and something I would never do on my own initiative!).

Each night, we would head back up into the mountains where we stayed in a modest bunk-house, which brought me back to my summer camp days when I was younger. Since I don’t live with other international students, it was great to talk the night away with students from all over the world!

All in all, a great weekend of discovery, friendship, adventures and learning!

Understanding Germany

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Written by Jonathan Bannick, Foster undergraduate

I returned to the US with tremendous respect for the German people and a deep admiration for the country. While Germans are culturally quite similar to Americans, I believe that there are many things that we can learn from the German people. Specifically, I want to discuss the concept of national identity.

Over the summer while I was preparing to study abroad, Germany won the World Cup. I watched this historical event with excitement. I anticipated that when I arrived in Germany there would still be signs of celebration. I expected to see people wearing Jerseys and flags flying throughout the cities. What I found upon arriving was quite different. German flags were virtually absent from every city that I traveled to and citizens were almost reluctant to bring up the topic. Over time, this seemingly paradoxical phenomenon began to make more sense.

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My first clue emerged in a conversation that I had with another German student. I asked him whether he was bothered when Americans and other foreigners attempt to speak German. He responded that instead of being frustrated, he was flattered. He went on to explain that even as a German living in the 21st century, he still feels a tremendous amount of guilt for his national identity.

Upon more research, it becomes very clear why many German citizens would be cautious about showing national pride. Every student is required to visit a concentration camp at least once throughout their education. The capital city of Berlin is filled with reminders of the struggles of many people at the hands of German rulers. The cautiousness to display pride in the national soccer team is deeply rooted in the history of the country.

The main point of this message is not to be self-critical. Rather, the point of this lesson is to acknowledge that we all must learn from our past. While there are few events in history quite as horrific as those that occurred in Germany during WWII, every country must reconcile with the fact that there are dark times that occurred in previous generations. I walked away from this experience with a tremendous amount of respect for the German people because they seek to fully understand the events of the past rather than to ignore them. I believe that all countries could learn greatly from this example.

My passion for the country developed even further as I traveled more within it. Many Americans would be surprised to know that Germany is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe. The culture is extremely rich and there is so much to learn in every city. I feel very lucky for the time that I spent in Germany and I look forward to the next time that I return.

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Traveling throughout Europe

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Written by Jonathan Bannick, Foster undergraduate

One of the best parts about living in Mannheim was the accessibility of other cities throughout Europe. Germany is centrally located on the continent and well connected to many different places. Through a variety of planes, trains, cars and buses, I was able to see 10 different countries and create memories that will last a lifetime.

My journey to Germany passed through London initially. My parents and I spent three days here and we all felt that we could have spent a year. This sprawling metropolis is packed with history on every street. I had the opportunity to visit the city a second time when I went again in November. Both times, I loved the city and learned a tremendous amount.

Of all the countries in Europe, Mannheim was extremely close to France. After just a three hour train ride, I found myself exploring Paris. While I had been to the city six years prior, I fell in love with the grand boulevards and the path along the river. From Paris I was also able to travel north to visit Normandy.

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Mannheim also stood relatively close to Switzerland. On one weekend I was able to travel south to the Swiss capital of Bern and spend the day exploring the city. From Bern, I was also able to make it deeper into the country to a small town called Interlaken. The peaks of this small town offered some of the most beautiful views in all of Europe.

Mannheim was also just a short plane ride away from the Frankfurt Airport. This airport allowed me to go to the cliffs of Ireland, the islands of Stockholm, the Beaches of Barcelona and the bridges through Prague. From Prague I was also able to take a train further to Budapest.

Traveling proved to be one of the best parts of my time abroad. I feel very privileged for the opportunities that I had and I also believe that this experience has created a passion for travel that will last a lifetime.

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Traveling In Germany

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Written by Jonathan Bannick, Foster undergraduate

In addition to traveling to other countries, living in Mannheim allowed me to travel to many different cities throughout Germany. Below I have highlighted the different trips that I took.

I first arrived in Germany with my parents in the middle of August. We started our journey in Munich and from there we saw several of the surrounding areas. Bavaria is one of the most famous regions in Europe because of all that it has to offer. The city of Munich is vibrant and full of culture. To the south, countless mountains offer breathtaking views and extraordinary castles. Also the region is very close in proximity to Austria and we were able to take a day trip to Salzburg. From Bavaria we were able to travel North through Germany along the Romantic Road. Our final destination that day was a town called Rothenburg. The small village is surrounded by a medieval wall and feels historic and magical. From Rothenburg we traveled north to visit the city of Siegburg where my grandfather had been nearly 70 years before as he fought to liberate a German town. From Siegburg we traveled south into the Rhine Valley region. Here we spend two nights in Bacharach. Like Rothenburg, this small town felt magical and full of old world charm. Bacharach remains one of my favorite cities in Germany. By the time we made it to Bacharach, we were relatively close to Mannheim, where I would eventually end up. We took several days to make our way through Frankfurt and to get moved into Mannheim. By the end of August, I was ready to begin my time at the University.

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My next opportunity to explore Germany came in the middle of September when my friends and I traveled north to Berlin. This German capital city is filled with history and culture. I only had several days here but I felt that I could have spent months simply exploring.

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At the end of September, I had the opportunity to return to Munich for the legendary Oktoberfest. I traveled with a group of students from my university and we were able to spend several days exploring the city and the festival. Our first day there, September 26th, happened to be my birthday. This was the perfect place to celebrate.

Nearly 30 years ago, my uncle also studied in Germany and his experiences were part of my inspiration to participate in the exchange in Mannheim. At the end of October, he was able to visit me in Mannheim and we traveled throughout southwestern Germany. Along the way we saw many beautiful cities including Freiburg and Tübingen. Additionally we visited a small town outside of Stuttgart called Aidlingen. For the first time I was able to meet my German relatives that lived here. We had a great time sharing stories and looking at the family tree.

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Exploring My Roots Abroad

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Written by Charlie Kay, Foster undergraduate

I chose to study in Prague for a lot of reasons, but the main one was to explore my roots in the Czech Republic. My grandfather was born and raised in Brno, the second biggest city in the country. His mother was Christian, his father was Jewish, and when the Nazis rose to power in the neighboring Germany, his parents were wise to get him and his sister out of Europe before the War started. My grandfather left his country for the US in 1938 when he was 17, and he never returned home. The Jewish side of the family was then almost completely wiped out during the Holocaust. Of the 20 descendants of my grandfather and his sister, only 3 of them had visited the Czech Republic before.

I made it my mission to explore the areas where my ancestors lived and learn more about them. After 4 months of living in this amazing country, I have a much clearer picture of my family and what they lived through. I visited the Terezin concentration camp, where Czech prisoners of the Holocaust were held until transferred to Auschwitz or other much worse camps. My great-grandfather and a few more of our relatives lived there for 18 months before they were sent to their deaths. It was incredibly powerful to be in a place where your ancestors spent the last year and a half of their lives in fear and terrible conditions. I also happen to live 5 minutes away from the house where my great grandmother lived in Prague during the War while she tried to help out all of the family members who were detained in Terezin.

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The best part of my adventures, though, was when my mom and two aunts flew out to visit and we travelled to Brno. Walking the same streets he did all those years ago was incredible, and it made me feel so much more connected to him. We saw the location of my great grandfather’s textile store, which at some point turned into a McDonalds. And best of all, we met my great aunt’s best friend from when she was a little girl. Her name is Liddy, she is 95, and she still lives by herself. We found her in an apartment she has lived in her entire life, and we sat and talked with her for two hours, and learned so much more about our family, her family, and how life was during the communist era in the Czech Republic.

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Studying abroad was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I’m so happy I got to explore my roots. In just a week,I’ll be back home in the States, but part of me will never leave Prague.

Soccer: The International Language

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Written by Charlie Kay, Foster undergraduate

One of my favorite parts about European culture is the fanatical devotion to football, or what we Americans call “soccer”. I’ve been playing soccer in some fashion since I was four years old. I love everything about the sport. But living in America presents a few problems to get my soccer fix on a weekly basis. Not everyone plays the sport, even fewer follow the leagues, and most of the soccer available to us is not top shelf.

But across the pond, it is an integral part of everyday life. Not a day goes by here without playing or watching a match. It is awesome. More importantly, it has allowed me to connect with so many more people. I currently play for two different recreational soccer teams, one intramural team with exchange students from my dorm, and one other team full of Czech guys that my Czech buddy is on. I’ve been playing with people from Brazil, Hong Kong, Spain, Turkey, Canada and a lot of other European countries, but we all speak the same language when we start kicking the ball around. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, what kind of life you have; if you can play, you can play. It’s really been amazing to see how it all works.

By far my favorite experience of this experience has been going to a soccer game. It wasn’t just any soccer game, however. It was El Clásico, Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, the biggest game in all of club soccer. This is the most heated rivalry in all of sports, bigger than UW vs. Oregon or Wazzu and bigger than Red Sox and the Yankees. The tickets were ridiculously expensive, but I would have paid anything to witness a live match between these two teams. One of my best friends from home is a casual Real fan, and as fan of Barcelona, I knew we had to experience it together. So we bought tickets, headed to Madrid for a weekend, and watched one of the best sporting events in the world. Real Madrid ended up winning 3-1, but Barcelona scored in the first 3 minutes and the place was dead silent. The atmosphere was unlike anything I had ever seen, and I highly doubt I will ever experience something like that again.

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Birthday Celebrations Abroad

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Written by Tara Stamaris, Foster undergraduate

Last weekend was my birthday and to celebrate a group of us from the international program decided to go to Budapest, Hungary!! It was so much fun and the city is absolutely beautiful. I thought I would be sad on my birthday, being away from home and all, but that trip really made me realize how many wonderful friends I have made here. They did everything they could to make sure the weekend was special and it made me realize the friends I have made will be friends for life. We are all in this crazy experience together and I am really glad I have such wonderful people to share these memories with. This is a picture of us on Castle Hill!

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