Sunday, January 19, 2014

Post-Adventure Report

Daniel Pieratt
Eichstatt, Germany

I suppose I might be slightly over-due for a blog post. So, here I am.

I just am now getting back to classes after the Christmas holiday, and still, I am also recovering from my travels across Poland and the Czech Republic. PLUS: I actually have more pictures this time, but those will come a little later.

So, I had quite the trek through two beautiful countries during gorgeous weather. The only trade off to this wind of good fortune was the stark language barrier. Luckily, it wasn't always such a hurdle, and at times, I had people to translate for me.

I started my journey the days before Christmas, which I spent in a tiny Bavarian village called Schweinespoint. My hosts were a family of a former exchange student at MC. They were very gracious and generous. They made me feel very welcome, and they fed me very well. (No pics. Sorry, I forgot my camera for this stretch.)

On the 26th of December I was bound for my first stop, Warsaw, which is a 16-hour series of overnight train rides from Germany. (I found out that there is no easy way into Poland.) I arrived early in the morning of the 27th. At that time, I met my friend, Kamil, who lives just outside the city and with whom I was staying. Also, he acted as my translator in times of need.

(Important note before I continue: in Poland and the Czech Republic, it is taboo to speak German. Though a good number of people speak it, a foreigner should not speak it to someone else unless asked. Thus, I only spoke German once throughout this whole trek.)

So, Kamil and I saw most of the sights and monuments and museums that Warsaw had to offer for the two days I spent there. Now, I will let the pictures do the talking:

Statue of Nicolaus Copernicus near Downtown Warsaw

Monument to the Jewish Uprising of April-May 1943. This is in front of the almost-completed Warsaw Judaism Museum

 Here is the Royal Palace Square complete with a Christmas tree and an elevated statue of Zygmunt III, who moved the capital from Krakow to Warsaw in 1596.

Here you can see Zygmunt from a different angle and from later that afternoon. As you can see, he is holding a very large cross. As you cannot see, he is also holding a very impressive curved saber in the other hand.

This is another palace in Warsaw, the name of which is currently escaping me. AND, my Google searches for that information are also failing me. 

Also from the same grounds from the currently-nameless palace above. This Angel, a symbol of Justice, is present in many of the royal sites throughout the city.

So that is a brief overview of the highlights of my trip to Warsaw. Spending time with Kamil, who is working on his Masters in history, we naturally went to many history-oriented sites within the city. And trust me, there is no shortage of those. I learned so much about this Central European gem from it's early history, to its importance during the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and beyond. As is to be expected, there are so many museums and monuments devoted to the second World War. I now know so much more about Poland and its people's role in that unfortunate time in human history. Let me take this chance to implore you read more about that. I do not feel I can do it justice through this medium.

My next stop was Krakow. It was only a day trip, but it is also a beautiful and richly historical city:

The architecture here caught my attention. This is near the main Market Square

To be honest, I never found out what exactly this building is. (Day trip = not a lot of time). It's beautiful, though.

The Cathedral on the Market Square

The Wawel Castle

The best kid's activity ever outside the castle. They got to put on armor and everything. I was jealous. 

Another Cathedral in Krakow. The name escapes me.... again. 

Old Synagogue Izaaka in the Jewish Quarter

Also from the Jewish Quarter

So, my next stop in Poland was Oswiecim, or as most people know it, Auschwitz. I toured the concentration camp, and I did not take any pictures for personal reasons. I am still processing all I saw there. If you happen to run into me once I am back on campus, you can ask me about what I have seen. It is something I would be more comfortable discussing in person; anything I can write on here will do it no justice. That being said, I do believe this: if you have a chance to see Auschwitz, I implore you to do so. It is a dark, deeply sad place, but it serves as a reminder of one of the most heinous crimes in human history, which we cannot allow happen again.

From there, I left for Prague, Czech Republic, which was nowhere near as easy as I thought it would be. Getting out of Poland is even harder than getting in. At this moment, I realized that I am at the mercy of the kindnesses of strangers. Luckily, that kindness was found in a nice, young woman by the name of Barbara. 

I met Barbara next to the third train track. I asked her in Polish if she spoke English, which luckily for me, she did, fluently. As fate would have it, we were both going the same direction: the polar opposite end of the Czech Republic from where I wanted go (I didn't know this at the time). Apparently, that is the only way to get to Prague from Oswiecim no matter what the internet or Polish National Railway has to say about it. So, Barbara and her dog, Yodna, were my guides through the last leg of Poland and the first of Czech. She translated what the train workers said for me, and she even drew me a map for after we would have to depart. I cannot express how glad I am that I met her. Random events such as do truly make for good stories and open the door for interesting learning experiences. 

Barbara and I made it to the border town of  Cesky Tesin, where Barbara lives and teaches. We wished each other the best until the next life and parted ways a block away from the first train station. I then followed the map she made for me to the other train station, where I could catch a train to Prague. I found out what time my train was going to leave, and I determined that I had about an hour to find something to eat. It was dinner time, after all. So, I went to a little café across the street. 

I walk into the café, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready for some chow. I then looked up at the menu board, which, naturally, was in Czech. That in itself was not a problem. I know some basic vocabulary words in Czech, enough to survive a vacation. But this was no ordinary Czech. Oh no, dear Internet Reader, this was in cursive, but not just any cursive. This was the most affectatious and decorative cursive I have ever seen used on Latin script, complete with decorative accent marks. 

I study Hebrew, which uses an ancient alphabet system, AND I can read Rashi script. But looking at this menu made me feel not only illiterate, but also made me question slightly what time period I was in. (Those of you who know what Rashi script is are laughing hilariously right now. Those of you who aren't, Google it.)

I ended up playing Numbered Menu Item Roulette. Since I had no idea what any of the menu items were, I just held up six fingers and said, "this" in Czech. That's right, I was so disoriented at that moment that I forgot how to say "six." (It's "šest," by the way. Pretty much the same word, really.)

After a few intense moments of waiting, my food, which looked like schnitzel and fries as it approached, arrived. Turns out I ordered a brick of fried cheese and fries, which was AWESOME! And the beer I had along with it was also scrumptious. So, I was a happy camper, and I then skedaddled onto the station in order to skiddly-bop on to Prague. 

I got on the train, and 5 hours I was in Prague. I learned that night that I was A LOT farther from Prague than originally estimated. I'll show you the map:

---------x = Daniel's Initial Geographical Approximation
---------x = Daniel's Discovery 2 Days Later Upon Examining A Map

I finally got to my hotel outside of Prague around midnight, and I then promptly went to bed. The next day, I started my 5-day adventure by myself through the city. I was supposed to meet up with my friend Šarka, but she got sick. So here are another set of photos that express what I did better than my poorly executed attempts at humor:

St.Charles Bridge:

Probably my favorite single spot in Prague. It is decorated with a bunch of statues like these. Musicians line up along the bridge and play, artists and artisans sell their work, and one can see both Old and New Towns from here.

It also bolsters a beautiful view at night.

Museum of Communism:

I couldn't take any pictures inside the museum, but I sure took a picture of the poster! 

Jewish Quarter- Josefov: My favorite part of Prague. I went to the Jewish Museum, which consists of artifacts and memorials distributed throughout all the historic synagogues in the city.

The Spanish Synagogue. It is absolutely gorgeous.

The Old-New Synagogue (Altneuschul). Its name comes from the fact that it was built over the Old synagogue, and it was then new, and it is now the oldest again. I'm not kidding. That is how it got its name. History is fun. Also, the Golem is supposed to live in the attic.
Jewish Town Hall, complete with Hebrew Clock

Hebrew inscription on the Old-New Synagogue

Maisel Synagogue, which is also super-beautiful. 

Old Town:

Prague's Famous Astronomical Clock... it's pretty much just an ornamental timepiece. 

New Town:

I didn't tour the Prague TV Tower, but the manager of my hotel told me that this was built by the communist regime to protect Czechoslovakia from "Imperialism." In other words, it's an old spy tower. 

And one final shot from my last night in town:

Well, that's about the extent of my holiday. I took a bus from Prague to Nürnberg on my last day, and then I went back to Eichstätt. Nothing too exciting to report about that.

So, now I am wrapping up my semester abroad. It's a strange feeling. I know I've been here a few months, but it just feels like a few ago, I was dealing with massive amounts of bureaucracy and paperwork to get into classes and be able to legally stay in my apartment here. Now, I'm doing the exact same thing, but for exit, not entrance. That's right, kids: The German government and its satellite components need paperwork for EVERYTHING. Thus, I have that to do on top of final projects, papers, and test. Fun stuff!

I will keep you updated on my progress with such things, Internet Reader. So, until next time, don't do anything I wouldn't do, and do some good reading. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

8 January 2014: A walkabout

Today, we took a small walk in the community near our hotel. Seeing the small area behind the stalls and kiosks we view from the inside of our tour us was incredible. We heard our first greeting of "obruni" from a group of children, and still even coming into unfamiliar territory we were not met with any unkindness. We were walking into this other world following uniformed school children home into tin roofed huts with dirt floors. I started taking pictures of stalls as we rounded the corner but I realized that these are people's homes. Women were in 'open' spaces between stalls pounding fufu and doing laundry. Outside also there were stock animals: turkeys, chickens, and goats. This was also the first time I've noticed people with animals as pets (I assume). Seeing this slice of everyday life was important because it highlighted the similarities between life in Accra and like in Knoxville. Children go to school and come home from busses, they do their chores, their parents wait for them and greet them with a snack; everywhere there is business and purpose. As we walked on the street I noticed how there is almost a stream, a method to walking along the pathway, which winds through traffic, over gutters, past and around stalls and roadside plants. From other cities, even American ones, there is such a difference in the attitude of the vendors. They are not pushy, although they might greet you, all the spaces look welcoming. I saw one kiosk made out of a converted port-a-potty within which a young man was selling cell phone minutes. In this space where need is great and resources are scarce, nothing is wasted.
After the walk we attended a lecture on the environmental situation in Ghana. Having just experienced a city street I was certain what the focus would be--clean water. The sewer/gutter ditches are filled with a gray muck of human waste and rubbish stewing with stink in the sun. The smell hits you from underneath without warning as you are passing through the street. The slum we saw from quite a distance on our first day made clear the level of the issues surrounding environmental degradation. If that much corruption is visible how much is there occurring that we cannot see? Our lecture yesterday answered that question clearly and honestly. The professor who spoke to us was incredibly knowledgeable and obviously affective in his pursuit of the cause to make Ghana healthful in a sustainable way. How hard it must be to watch one's country rot from the inside out. When your space, your home, had been a dumping ground for centuries, when your people have never been educated to the level where they contain the intellectual tools to protect themselves from what is unseen--be it microbial or consequential--how do you move forward? How do you change a national mentality fast enough to prevent more harm? Can a habitat rehabilitate itself from such a point? It is difficult for us, as Americans who have lived in a shell, to comprehend the level of these issues facing Ghana. Even if the government was willing to help, even if they pumped money to use in the communities, created forward thinking programs, it would be up to the people to initiate change. Our lecturer made a point to this effect saying that when companies come into the villages and bore wells for clean drinking water, the people still drink and use polluted water because they don't like the taste of the groundwater and they can't use it for washing.
Also, it was mentioned that when some people are infected with NTD's they don't seek treatment from available medical sources (nationalized healthcare) because they feel that the affliction is from spirits and it must be endured. The belief in and respect for natural and supernatural spirits is an ancient and integral constituent of African life and culture, our first lecturer spoke to this when he outlined religious and non-religious methods of encouragement/enforcement of moral behavior. Animism is African. As much as the majority of Westerners believe in the Christian mythology and its structures and lessons are incorporated into promoted and acceptable public Behavior norms so spirits and Animist principles are in African society and moral traditions. Changing the mentality of Africans with regards to environmental issues should not seek to remove these religospiritual templates and world views. But is this possible? A subsequent question to ask is, how much have these templates already been edited by 'Western' influence? It is outstanding to me, this complexity. With all that we have been presented in our lectures it amazes me how the country is able to function at the level it does with so many layers acting simultaneously. Having written that I feel kind of stubborn, but in all seriousness when one begins to consider what all is going on, what challenges have passed recently in Ghanaian history, it amazes. America could not survive what Ghana is currently enduring--we would split into camps and fight each other to death within the first year. I am glad we have had the chance to hear these scholars at the center. All of these people have been instrumental in their respective fields. Their knowledge is experiential as well as academic and it brings quality that most students in the US don't experience (we, at MC, being among the lucky ones). Seeing the life around us, it is refreshing to know that avenues of mobility do exist here, that it is not impossible to become moved by an issue, called into a certain exploit and to have your points respected, accepted, and shared if presented with confidence.

6 January 2014: An unfinished legacy

Nkrumah's mausoleum was weird and fascinating. The most important--or I should say impact-full--tidbit I learned there was that Nkrumah came from  humble beginnings. Seeing the photos of his hometown really higlights where this man's mentality came from. More so than that I think it shows that he believed we are all people--deep down we have simple desires which can be easily achieved through communication and cooperation. The place from which Nkrumah came primed him to accept  the ideas he received abroad and allowed him the clarity and the determination to translate it home. In short, a rich man could not have thought this way. Experiencing the mausoleum was important because it reveals just how formative this man was to Ghanaian national identity. Our tour guide spoke unlike any other tour leader I had ever experienced--he has a deep, personal connection with Nkrumah and his legacy. So much so it almost takes away a lot out of the good work Nkrumah did by mentioning him in a near demi-god light. In America, our guide would have been dismissed as a fanatic--he wasn't just doing his job, he was drinking the kool-aid--but in Ghana our cultural distance allows us to accept him and listen to what he had to share. Aside from the oddness the attitude of our tour guide represents the historical perspective of what I assume to be that of many Ghanaian: Kwame Nkrumah got it right. Also, my son was born on the same day he was sworn in- 50 years later.
The lecture from Dr. Antwi-Danso was outstanding. I could have listened to him for three straight hours. For me, everything he had to say was important because understanding Ghana's political economy is essential to understanding Ghana's national identity. One thing that was mentioned early on echoed a saying the tour guide mentioned meaning "learn from the past but don't repeat it." Dr. Antwi-Danso said we must move forward and to do so we should ask "how do we deal with what has happened, not why did it happen." This sentiment reflects the mentality in the excerpts from  
Nkrumah we read for today. Nkrumah in his introduction explains his purpose in these terms. He is most clearly trying to pull his fledgling nation out of a cleverly laid trap by telling his people to move forward: " and when we attempt to deal with them in ways which, having regard to all endeavor to maintain the internal unity upon which our viability and progress depend, we are misrepresented to the outside world to the point of distraction. If that outside world refuses us it's sympathy and understanding, we have at least the right to ask it to leave us alone to work out our destiny in ways that seems most apposite to our circumstances and means, human and material as well. In any event, we are determined to overcome the disruptive forces set against us and to forge, in Africa a Ghanaian nation that will stand our as a shining example before the rest of the world of the Africa's ability to manage his own affairs." Dr. Antwi-Danso's lecture illustrated how Nkrumah attempted to give the African's this ability, how he attempted to free the Africans from the intellectual corner the Europeans had painted them into. How stark driving around Accra is, because the inevitable that Nkrumah envisioned is all over; Ghana is living it.  Dr. Antwi-Danso explained how this happened in rapid and excited detail. The city is trying to move forward but is all over held back. It is like a giant beast, capable of rousing an inner store of energy, held captive by millions of tiny ropes. Seeing the markets filled to the brim with life, teeming with expectation and necessity, spending so much time in a cycle of poverty created not only by forces unseen but also oblivious to their plight, is heartbreaking. This exact situation is what Nkrumah foresaw--the Ghanaian people again enslaved by foreign powers through consumables, ideals, ethnic separations and educational setbacks. Did the Sodom and Gommorah slum exist while Nkrumah was president? 
Apart from this, today was exceptional for me. Our guide from The Aya Center, Niitette, is so knowledgeable and fun and I feel privileged to be getting this personal view of the city from him. The market where we exchanged money was, as Hartman describes, a "terrible beauty." This is the perfect term to convey how I felt at the sight of it. It was unbelievable. The smells when we stepped off the 
bus pushed my nostril cells to their limit. I don't think they have ever had to process so much information at once, which was probably a good thing because nothing was too overpowering. I can only imagine what it is like in the summer... It was such a moment stepping into this world, feeling like such an outsider yet being met with smiles from everyone. All cities are dangerous--no matter where one finds oneself--but everyone I have encountered has been kind and welcoming, even if they have not spoken they have never been outright rude or even looked at me with disdain. In the arts market after the mausoleum I had a marvelous time. I noticed that most of the merchants had Anglo names and I wonder how common that is. When we drove into the market, I knew I was going to be overcome by the pretties, plus I was nervous about bartering for the first time but honestly these people seemed well-intentioned. I waste money at home on so much that I don't need-- if I overpaid here then hopefully I am helping someone directly. At home when I shop I usually feed cash into a machine, but today, I learned how to play a jimbe--taught by the craftsmen themselves--and was welcomed to Ghana by a circle of smiling drummers, dancing children and a fe curious birds. Also I ate fried goat. It was crispy and delicious although the skin was too thick to chew (I am sure I was doing it wrong). The meat reminded me of carnitas only less greasy. It was the most flavorful dark meat I've ever tasted. Thanks, Chez Afrique.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Northern Ireland in a week

Catelyn Hutcherson
Celtic Connections Program

The time we've spent in Northern Ireland has been intriguing and informative. Through our friends from the  Orange Lodge we have learned many things about the troubles that plagued the country for three decades. The devastation is  still apparent not physically, but through the memories of those who were affected by it firsthand. Many lives were lost in the violence, something the people have not, and will not easily forget.
Belfast differs from London in that it reminds me more of an American city, such as New York. It's nonetheless been an unforgettable cultural experience to visit the local shops and pubs as well as interact with local people.

Sunday we visited the Ulster-American museum, which was as enjoyable as it was informative. Te park consists of a an inside and outside exhibit. The outside park was the highlight of the visit and it was made up of rebuilt houses that Ulster-Scots actually lived in after and before immigrating  to America. The buildings were made from the same bricks, but we're moved to the new location. In several houses and shops workers were available to tell us how the people lived, and some were able to give information on  the exact people who occupied them.

Monday and Tuesday were spent in the company of members of the Orange Lodge . We visited their hall, as well as visited a traditional drum maker and violinist. We also attended an Orange Lodge meeting, and watched traditional dancing. The time with them really brought  insight into the troubles, and we visited a memorial garden to the families of those who were affected by the violence. The Orange Lodge very graciously provided food and transportation for us, and we were given a great deal of information on the lodge and their mission.

Wednesday we were taken  to the Titanic museum and then a tour of the city. The titanic museum was on par with the Ulster-American museum. It was so much fun for all of us, and we were able to see the actual hard where the ship was built. I don't think any of us had ever seen anything like it, it was interactive and so much fun. The city tour was just as informative and we were shown it on a double decker bus. We were shown how political differences

From Bangkok to Phuket and Back Again (The Travels of an Inexperienced Adventurer)

Greetings family, friends, and the rest of the known world:

I have now officially finished my first week in Thailand and not one single word in the entire expanses of the English language could describe everything that has happened to me.

I have gone from soaring miles above the Earth in total and complete ecstasy to falling face first into mud 1,000 times over [NOTE: this may be extreme exaggerations].

But honestly, this whole week has been a whirlwind of absolute insanity.

Due to the INTENSE WINTER STORM OF WINTER '14, my flights were delayed for an entire day, so I didn't get into Bangkok until 8 hours before my orientation, so that was a bit nerve racking. But orientation was a lot of fun. I met a lot of cool people.

I mean, everyone is in the same place as you are and for someone who is just as terribly shy as I am it's easy to reach out to people.

The next day, the school sponsored a trip to The Grand Palace. What an incredible place. Several temples spread out over this compound with the Grand Palace in the middle. They actually let us inside the Grand Palace which is an incredible honor because the general public is typically not allowed inside. We went into the banquet hall where the Thai King has had dinner with both Bill Clinton and the Queen of England.

And as we were walking around, someone mentioned going to Phuket for the weekend because our classes had gotten postponed until Thursday.

This is when the insanity began.

So 8 of us total decided to go. We all got plane tickets for about 3,000 Baht round trip (100 bucks!) and left Saturday morning.

Saturday morning was coincidentally my 21st birthday......

So we got to Patong beach by around 2 in the afternoon. Now Patong during the day is very much your typical tourist beach. Overpriced shirts and decent food. Patong at night, however, is absolutely and unforgivably unruly. Imagine Las Vegas on steroids. So as night hit we.. [INSERT INAPPROPRIATE 21ST BIRTHDAY DETAILS HERE]......

The next day, we slowly and reluctantly got up and caught a ferry down to Kao Phi Phi.

Kao Phi Phi is an incredible island. There are no roads anywhere on the island, so the streets are narrowed and frequented by carts and bikes and noisy European backpackers. Really cool place though, filled with fantastic food and little hole in the wall stores. That night we found a hostel for 10 bucks and crashed.

The next morning we got up early and booked a long-tail boat snorkeling tour for 10 more dollars (I love this place) and got to experience a small island off of Phi Phi.

However, this is when stuff started to go downhill...

I don't know what illness I came down with but it gives the Flu a run for its money.

But I chugged through it and got on another ferry back to Phuket Town where we met up with our fabulous, over-the-top Thai friend Fame who took us to a great local place to eat (we all tried Chicken Feet) and took us to some markets and then eventually a low key beach on the other side of the island.

Now, I thought the flu was bad...until I woke up with some sort of stomach virus the next morning that is still kind of laying me up right now.

BUT besides all of the stuff I've gone through, this has been really cool so far. I'm starting to get a little homesick and out of wack, but it's all a part of it.

But to finish off my first true blog post in Thailand, there are 5 things Tyler has learned in one week in Bangkok:

1) ALWAYS take Kleenex or tissues with you. Most bathrooms don't have toilet paper.

2) Most people don't really speak English here....and that makes things like opening a bank account and securing an apartment REALLY REALLY difficult.

3) Taking a ferry down the river might be the most inexpensive and satisfying mode of transportation.

4) Sex tourism is much darker and disgusting than you could ever imagine.

5) I miss everyone beyond comprehension.

Until my next installment....

Korp khun krap! Lah Gorn!

Monday, January 13, 2014

5 January 2014: Africa is alive

Kelly Wright
Service & Study in West Africa Program, Ghana

When I woke up this morning, I opened the blind on the airplane at the perfect moment. I saw Africa stretched out beneath us as we were approaching the coastline. I watched a thin brown line extend off into the horizon-this is awe-ful; I am overwhelmed. As we fly over I cannot take my eyes off the land, which is smoothed out it meet the lapping waves. A new world. I can see the patchwork earth--brown, cream, tan, vermillion-- all connected, slowly building into dirt roads, villages, and snaking rivers. This is Africa. I am here.
As we began our descent into Accra, gliding out of the clouds, I saw green. Grass, large trees, rolling hills--this is not the same desert appearance as before--the land itself is filled with possibility. The first thing anyone notices is the heat as we take our first steps in Africa. This heat is, however, different from the sweltering southern stick we are used to, nor is it knock-the-wind-out-of-you Arizona dry heat. This heat is oven-like, not in an overpowering way, but with a nurturing sense. I was wrapped in it, encouraged by this heat which pressed in softly, all around at once, to continue baking- to take myself from dough to bread. As I remember it now I realize this nurturing element is everywhere-Africa feels like a mother.
From what I've read of the novel so far, I did not expect the people of Ghana to be so welcoming. Admittedly, our interactions with everyday citizens has been limited-but all the people we have seen have been so kind. As we left the airport and walked to our bus, a sweet gentleman came up to two guys from our group and asked where they were from, bidding them welcome. He told them Ghana was happy to have them here and not to hesitate asking for help from people and then he disappeared into the crowd.
Having travelled internationally before, I did not find myself as overwhelmed by the many men "chancing" on the street as the rest of my companions. I knew to expect it and had studied how to politely refuse. I was, however, surprised at the employees of the airport asking as well. That was new to me because usually that practice is for those who are not interacting with you by working in some official capacity at that moment. I think the experience of the crowd was a little too much for some, but it is a good thing for everyone to see. I remember that feeling when I first experienced it in Italy. I learned a lot from it.
So much of what I saw as we drove around Accra (a tiny bit) today was familiar. People walking, talking, texting, working, shopping--waiting for friends or trying to get to work--these people are living "normal" lives. There is also quite a commercial presence in the city as well. Billboards and placards advertising concerts, cars, hair care products, cell phones, gasoline (petrol), line the streets speaking to the "middle class" consumers all around us. This being the capital city one can only assume that it contains some of the more affluent citizens, living, working, and loving next to the poorest of citizens doing the same. Everywhere this spectrum is visible. Half-completed high rise hotels stand gleaming next to a piles of rubble housing small fires, prostitutes share the sidewalk with women and girls carrying parcels on their heads, guards protect ATMs, men set up stalls along the roadside selling coconuts, carved wood, fresh tilapia, a car filled with mattresses and barbed wire boast affiliation with the United Methodist church. All this in a few miles drive through Accra. This city is alive and modern, and it appears to be in a constant state of betterment--a crucible of possibility.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Belfast: A Whole New World

Savannah Wilburn
Celtic Connections Program

     Yesterday the group all traveled to Belfast (all on the same flight for those interested). We got to our hotel, unwound and unpacked, and then went to dinner together at Robinson's. It was delicious and I think we would all recommend it to anyone who stops in the area! Afterwards, part of the group went to karaoke and then we called it a night.

     Today, however, was a day full of learning. We went to the Ulster American Folk Park which is similar to the Museum of Appalachia back home. The park focuses on Irish emigration to the sates and features many historical buildings either built on site or brought over and rebuilt. There was even a house from Sumner County, Tennessee that was brought over brick by brick. There was even a bit of a love story attached to this home. The story is about a man who came to the New World in order to make more money. He had to leave his wife in Ireland, but he assured her he would come back for her. He eventually established ground in Tennessee and returned to Ireland for his wife and their son. The family then built the house I just mentioned. The group was also given a chance to dress up in clothing from that time period, including Dr. Threadgill. I wish I could post a picture because it was a sight to see! We then wondered through and educated ourselves on (most of) our ancestors's journeys over to the New World.

     After the museum, we were all exhausted and decided to lay low in the hotel. We're off to learn even more tomorrow morning!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Castles if you like.

Savannah Wilburn
Celtic Connections

   Sadly, today is our last day in Wales. There is both good and bad news that go along with this though. The good news is that we spent our last day looking at beautiful English and Welsh castles. The sad news is that we had to say goodbye (or are about to say goodbye) to Catherine, Barry and Steve who aided us on our trip. These 3 individuals were such assets to us on this journey that I cannot imagine it without them. They will all certainly be missed!
      The castle tours aided by these 3 were superb! Their help learning about these castles, and how to get there, certainly made a huge difference in how much we all enjoyed our trip. Both of the castles we saw today are nearly indescribable. One of them was more simple in looks but had the most spectacular view. It was certainly worth the hike up to it! The other, the English one, was actually meant to be a palace. It was amazing to learn about who lived and worked there as well as to learn about the military tactics used back then.
     Now we are all off to pack up for our journey to Belfast tomorrow! Hopefully this journey won't be as difficult as the first..

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wrexham: The Real World Downton Abbey

Savannah Wilburn
Celtic Connections

     On our second day in Wrexham we ventured out to a stately home called Erddig, which was opened just for us. We were often told to think of Downton Abbey when we thought of what a stately home was so I'll offer the same advice to you all. The home was owned and passed down through the York family who believed strongly in keeping things that belonged to their ancestors. Because of this, the house has gone through very few changes since the 1700's. This allowed us all to see just how glamorous furnishings and decorations were then. We were also told stories about how the York family treated their servants much better than others at that time. The family often had them photographed or painted and kept records on them which allowed everyone to know what it was truly like to be a servant at that time.

     After the trip to the home we went to the city of Llangollen where we met Knoxville poet, and now Welsh citizen, Suzanne Iuppa. Mrs. Iuppa took us out to see the ruins of a destroyed Abbey and accompanied us to a local aquaduct.  At the aquaduct many students faced their fear of heights and walked along the industrial milestone. Coming from someone who didn't have the courage to do so, it was quite impressive!

     We are all now looking forward to our free day tomorrow!

Monday, January 6, 2014

And Here We Are...

by Tyler Jones
Thammasat University, Thailand

The eve of my departure...

I'm actually a little late on the whole leaving thing. Thanks to the Winter Storm Crisis of 2014 my flight through Chicago got cancelled, so I am now leaving Knoxville tomorrow morning at 5:45. Then off to D.C., Japan, and Bangkok!

Since I'm arriving a day late, I will be missing the optional housing tour, but Thammasat has set me up with a "Thai Buddy." Her name is Pin and she has promised me that she'll take me anywhere I need to go, so thankfully she'll take me around the city and help me find an apartment.

With 12 hours and counting, I am feeling a multitude of drastically differing emotions. I'm excited. I'm nervous. I'm nauseous. I'm ecstatic. And I can't stop pacing the length of my house.

I have been in a really weird place for about 2 weeks now. I have been ready and packed for 2 weeks now, so I've had nothing to do but wait.

I've been in some sort of limbo.

And now that I really am on a countdown, it's even weirder! I am having a really hard time coming to terms with the fact that I'm leaving so many friends and family behind. The comfort of their presence is beginning to elude me and that's really frightening.

But I know it's all a part of the process and I'm trying to embrace it the best I can, but it's really hard.

Nothing left now, but to leave.

Best of luck to all my OVS people.


Minding the Gap

 Savannah Wilburn
Celtic Connections

    Hello all! So far so good from the wonderful city of Wrexham in Wales! However, I think everyone would be interested to hear the nearly tragic about how we actually got here given the terrible weather back home.

     The night before we were scheduled to leave, we were all gearing up to take our plane ride to Newark, New Jersey we were all notified that our flights had been cancelled. Our professors worked diligently for almost 24 hours trying to get our flights rescheduled. Even when they finally thought they had succeeded, there were still some bumps along the road.  Three students out of our group flights were never actually rebooked, and they ended up going with the original plan and went to Newark... alone. The rest of us were split into groups and flew to meet Dr. Schmied in Houston, Texas. However, Dr. Threadgill 's flights ended up getting delayed so many times that he wasn't able to join us in London until the night before we left.  It took a few days but we are all together and going strong now!

     Although getting to London was a challenging, the positives far outweigh the negatives. The city of London is absolutely wonderful! There are endless things to do here. Despite jet lag and the bit of sickness we were battling, we all hit the ground running... and we never stopped running. We lost a full day in London so we did as much as we could possibly fit into our two days there to make up for it. While London was wonderful,  it's safe to say that we were all looking forward to the travel day to Wrexham!