Goodbye Austria

In less than 48 hours, I will be in a new country (Croatia) and have had said final goodbyes to some of the most amazing people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.

After nearly a year abroad, my time in Austria is coming quickly to an end. I have spent months making not just acquaintances but sisters, brothers and life-altering friendships. Everyone that I have come into contact here has had an impact on me; after thousands of conversations with people that do not share the same nationality, life history and perspective on the world, my own outlook on life has been challenged and sometimes changed.

I have not even left and I am already beginning to brainstorm my return to Europe. I have sisters that I MUST see again from England, Portugal and Croatia. And once here, it will not be hard to attempt to visit more of these wonderful people across the continent. Time to work on getting a job! If all of my friends are planning on being in Paris for New Years, I’d better start saving up now!!

I have experienced some of the most fun, loud, and insane Lady Gaga –loving Italians one could ever find. I have realized that the French really aren’t all that bad—some are really quite wonderful!  I have bonded with the most patriotic Croatians I could ever find. Their intelligence, their history growing up in a country torn by warfare, their lust for life and their friendliness has impressed me greatly. I am very fortunate to have the chance to visit their country (and beautiful beaches J). Americans abroad were of course easy to bond with, but the ones I have met here are some of the coolest guys you could find in or outside of the country. I have met so many nationalities that I would be impossible to list and to expound upon their amazing-ness.

One morning, whilst suffering from a severe headache induced by dehydration of the brain (which is strange… I had drank so much the night before J), I had misspoke and stated that,  “…this Erasmus (Study abroad) experience is a bit shallow.” That was a lie. I had referred to the excessive fun-having and a bit worn-out after a wonderful night, but it was still a lie. I have had conversations about politics, culture, humor, the future, our pasts, science, history, and shared life experiences during these nights. I now greatly regret having said that amongst my closest friends.

I have lived in this family of friends for so long, it will be a strange experience being alone and travelling home to the real world. Of course I have my friends back home, but these relationships were built under different circumstances in which we had all temporarily left our lives, families, friends, and culture and had bonded through all the hardships, the home-sickness, the great times having fun, the traveling through Europe, and all the other once-in-a-lifetime experiences that we had shared together. There is an end to everything, but even when the tears are flowing and the last hugs are had, no goodbye can take away these experiences.

Tuesday will be one of the hardest days of my life. Harder than any test I have worked for, any mountain climb or run, heck, even harder for me than when I had to move because of the Army when I was younger. Of course it will be no funeral… but never again will all of these people be in one place at one time, but as everyone is telling me, “Never say never”. I will have friends from England to New Zealand that I will have to visit, but as I have learned, the stress and costs of travel is totally worth the destination.

Finals Time (for WU)

Its finals time back home at Washburn  University. All of my friends have been busy with late night studying (as well as chatting, facebooking, and often just avoiding actual studying) at the Mabee Library. I do miss the Mabee Library at Washburn, it had recently installed boards in which we could write with dry-erase markers which was quite nice to use while practicing conjugating German verbs.

It is not yet time for finals in Austria. Instead, I have spent the day jogging in the scenic region around the Uni, and had my first day of the “Interkulterelles Pratikum,” which includes groups of one Finnish, one Austrian and one “other” student. The other student is just any other exchange student from another country. My first meet and greet went very well, we were placed randomly together, and somehow I had to pull the topic… a bit unfortunately I chose Immigration-Emigration-Mobilitaet.  It will be an interesting topic to compare between our three countries, but it would have been much more fun to choose Kulinarium (Culinary Culture you could say) and bake and cook instead of research lol. But, it will still be good to spend extra time speaking German (which is very necessary for the presentation).

I had earlier joined the English Theater group at Klagenfurt University. We had organized to do the play, “Noises Off.” It was nice to meet other students outside of the Erasmus/Joint Studies group of students, but unfortunately (after I had already memorized all my lines as Lloyd the director) we decided to cancel the play. Due to the chaos that was the set (two levels, about a million necessary doors) and the dependence of the script on this necessary set, we decided not to perform. Instead we are working on finding sketches to perform for some performance/open mic nights.

I am currently still deciding when to go home. After originally deciding on the 4th of July, I have been now blessed with the opportunity to visit Lisbon, Portugal as well as Madeira, the island off the coast. It will be great to experience some of the Iberian peninsula!

Easter break was fabulous. So far my favorite “region” of Europe is  Central. Budapest, Krakow and Prague are my top favorites. They beat Rome, Dublin, Paris, etc for me. I went with a small group with one American guy and my Portuguese friend, and we basically ate and drank our way through central Europe. The culinary dishes were great, no complaints at all. I have began to contemplate possibly doing  a masters in Krakow… but we shall see.

I wish everyone back home the best of luck with finals!

Goin’ East

Quick Update:

I am about to leave for Budapest, Hungary here in a few minutes. We are currently in our own little “Spring Break/Easter Break” and decided to travel eastwards. First Stop: Budapest for 4ish days, then up to Krakow in Poland for 3, then back down to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.

I’m pretty excited. Budapest should be beautiful and fingers crossed that the weather is nice!

My WU Experience: Study Abroad

Study Abroad Austria (previously written and just now being published– ignore some of the present tense usage)

On this note, I would like to mention that I have just sent an email to a professor of the Political Science department stating that I am, “…studying in Europe,” when the reality is that I am sitting in France, drinking too much wine and about to go to the pool after spending the day seeing some of the most prominent painters’ works of art in the Musee de Orsay and the Louvre. Maybe “indulging in Europe” would be a more honest statement…

After a bit of rest from my busy summer in a high energy position in Freedom School, I shipped off on September 10th to begin a study abroad year in Klagenfurt, Austria. With no return ticket home to the states yet, I am unsure when this European adventure ends. But, having spent the morning looking at the new courses for the Fall 2011 semester, I am excited to get back and start working hard again… and closer to graduation!

My WU Experience: Alternative Spring Break

Alternative Spring Break: March 2009

I can’t remember how I found out about the alternative Spring Break trip to Lafayette, Louisiana my freshman year, but I did, and I am better for it. I traveled in a caravan of caravans down 16 hours to the deep south with a group of strangers, and managed to meet some interesting, dedicated and warm-hearted volunteers during the process. Washburn has a program called the “transformational experience”, and one of the programs is dedicated to volunteering. This program worked for Habitat for Humanity and I spent the days painting inside houses and nights in a gymnasium full of cots and tired college students. We visited Avery Island where the famous Tabasco Plant resides and met true VISTA students working yearlong on various volunteer projects across the country… It’s about the equivalent to a domestic Peace Corps

 While roller painting the future bedroom of possibly some family previously effected by the hurricanes in the south, I asked open ended questions to these strangers and learned so much. I found that the very tall, Jamaican, ex-WU basketball player had a fear of frogs. Frogs of all things!! I discussed a fellow students Vietnamese family history and his goals of going to med school. I spent time with a future sorority sister and learned of her battle against cancer. It was actually after this experience, and seeing so many Kappa Alpha Theta sisters volunteering with this group that I decided that the KATs were the sorority for me, and soon after I returned I was initiated and became a Theta.

My WU Experience: CDF Freedom School

CDF Freedom School:

While CDF Freedom School is not strictly accessible only through Washburn, I was able to find the information about this program through WU campus and the VISTA office (check this place out if you haven’t already). Founded during the Freedom Summer/Civil Rights movement (1964), this organization worked to bring education to African Americans in the south. Today this program can be found across the nation during the summer. I volunteered through the VISTA program in Topeka during the summer of 2010.

This program is really awe inspiring. It offers a culturally diverse reading list for its scholars, and works towards a positive atmosphere for the children. Every morning bright and early, I, along with my fellow interns, would stand out front singing/yelling/cheering the “Good Morning” cheer to all the scholars as they walked in. The program has cheers that encourage spelling and changes lyrics of popular songs (which often have negative lyrics originally) into cheers about how great reading and education is.

There are two phrases from this program I still like: Harambee, which means “come together” in Kiswahili, and “ashay” which means “let it be” in Kiswahili.

While I say that this is an amazing program, do not believe that all was easy and fun. The most powerful part of this experience was definitely the challenges I faced. For the first time I was in charge of my own classroom (I had a group of 6 year old boys, often with 6-10 in the room). This was definitely no walk in the park. I had boys with learning disabilities with below standard reading comprehension, I had some with attention problems, and I had some that had a terrible time of behaving. But even my greatest challenge was also the best reader in the class and had the sweetest of hearts. Some of these children are from single parent families; one had a father in jail, others with a bit of a disadvantage in learning speeds. But all were beautiful souls and all had so much potential. While there were a few problems on the local organizational part, and there were a bit too much challenges put forth that I had not quite been trained to handle, over all the experience was challenging but positive.

I went to national training in Knoxville, Tennessee and met some of the most interesting, intellectual and creative students of my generation. It was a new experience to be a minority, and I think there was almost more cultural shock that I had with people from my own nation. There was so much to learn from the immersion into the African American culture, especially with the huge number of Student Leader Interns from Louisiana. Terms for soda were different, in the Midwest we call it “pop”, the southerners called it “a cold drink”. I made friends with a group of strangers that encouraged me to climb to the top of a rock wall for the first time in my life. I heard original poetery both in the form of pre-prepared as well as off the cuff. I watched sororities and fraternities show off their stepping skills.

 I served as a Student Leader Intern for the Antioch Family Life Center in Topeka, Kansas from early June with National training through the end of July.

They would like to host a CDF Freedom School in Topeka,Kansas again this year, and are looking for interested Student Leader Interns to step up to the challenge, if you are interested just contact me!

My WU Experience: Clyde Hill Internship

I will be posting a few posts about things that Washburn has helped me find/experience.

To begin with, my Clyde Hill Internship:

Through the Political Science department, I was able to work during the 2010 legislative session starting in January in Minority Leader Paul Davis’s office under his communications director. I went in three days a week and attended various committee meetings and wrote up briefs on these meetings for the newsletter that would be sent out the democrats of the Kansas State House of Representatives. I received plenty of credit for this work as well as a scholarship. I learned that anything with the word “budget” in the title of the meeting or discussion would be yawn-inducing, but I also began to perfect the look of faint interest under extremely confusing and often boring circumstances. I pranced along the halls of the state capital in “grown up clothes” and it was a fantastic experience. I poke fun at the experience a bit, because honestly, the political world is a bit ridiculous. Even in Kansas, this society of powerful movers and shakers resembled a high school with some of the petty dramas and sneakiness of “warring factions”. Tales of one party organizing meetings and purposely not inviting members of the other honestly surprised me.

I was extremely lucky with my placement. The representative whose office I worked in was a fantastic, intelligent and politically very similarly oriented to me. The communications director had graduated from Washburn a few years before me, and was naturally a bit overworked. But, she seemed to honestly love her job, and it was inspiring. It was a rough season to be in politics… no money to speak of and having to cut even more. I was able to see the smoking ban pass as well as constituents fight to have taxes raised in order to avoid more detrimental cuts to education.

Fantastic experience overall… and it was all due to the Washburn Political Science department and a push from my favorite professor (that taught German of all things).