I know Thanksgiving was a week ago, but my fellow American students and I just had time to celebrate the holiday in the last couple of days. Although Thanksgiving is not a holiday that Greece celebrates (seeing as it’s an American holiday), they seem to understand the sentiment–being thankful for not only what has happened in the past but also the present, too. To celebrate, me and the 8 other students in the Greece study abroad program went over to our resident director’s apartment for dinner. To make us feel at home, our RD pulled out all the stops, cooking the traditional turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, gravy, and bread. She even managed to find cranberry sauce which is no small feat here! (It took us almost a month just to find super expensive maple syrup when we first got here. We only splurged once.) All of it was delicious and we were all reminded of our family Thanksgivings back home. For some of us, it was our first Thanksgiving away from home while for others being away from family wasn’t anything new. I’d been away from my family for Thanksgiving before, but being away from any kind of family, whether a friend’s or otherwise, still felt a little strange. Despite any homesickness that may have arose, we all made the best of the meal. There were happy dinner conversations, loud moments of laughter, and even a well-phrased, heartfelt prayer to start off the meal. After we were all stuffed, we just sat around talking and enjoying each others’ company. It almost felt like we were home. Although Greece doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving (which I knew going in because that would be just silly if I thought otherwise) and we did get our fill of Thanksgiving cheer and tradition, I couldn’t help but notice a number of similarities between Greece and the U.S. at this time of year. Around this time of year in the states, Christmas decorations start appearing, lights go up, it gets chillier and people start to look cozier and cozier as they bundle up. Well the same thing happens here too! The weekend leading up to Thanksgiving, there was an explosion of Christmas in the shopping areas here. Stores were working on their window displays, icicle lights hang from all the shop entrances, strands of evergreen branches laced with holly line the windows. The Christmas season arrived without us even realizing it. (It really did happen over night almost. One day, nothing. The next, Christmas was everywhere.)I am absolutely loving my time here (though it’s a little more stressful now that I have a number of papers to write), but with only a little over two weeks left, it’s hard not to imagine going home. You get so used to what it’s like wherever you are, that when it’s time for it to change, you have to force yourself to remember how things were. I’m thankful that I am studying abroad this semester because I get to go home during Christmas. I get to connect how it’s celebrated in Greece with how it’s done back home. I get to transition home during one of the happiest times of the year, though summer is a pretty good rival time period. I’m also hoping Bethel will get some snow before interterm in January because the campus is enchanting when it’s blanketed in snow. What better way to come back to my second home in the U.S.?Having my Greek Thanksgiving has made me realize just how thankful I am for this experience and that even though I must say goodbye soon, there is so much my two beautiful countries share in common and that if I miss one and feel it fading away, I need only look for the similarities.
Today was the last Convocation of the semester, which in the fall is always the Messiah sing. The tradition of gathering in Bethel College Mennonite Church for an hour of singing Handel’s Messiah with the community as the chorus goes back a quarter century. The music department supplies most of the work for this venture. The chamber orchestra and Karen Schlabaugh on the harpsichord supply the accompaniment, student conductors lead most of the pieces, and students perform the solos. It’s always fun to hear different people singing the solos, some of whom don’t frequently do solos in for events like this. I’ve had the privilege to play in the orchestra for this tradition the past two years and it has turned into one of my favorite parts of the holiday season. It’s a fantastic piece of music to play because we don’t play any of the really difficult parts and since everyone in the room is either conducting, singing or playing it’s very low pressure. In the midst of preparations for finals week, it’s a great way to let go for a little while and enjoy the holiday spirit.
Career Night is an event that is put on by the Student Alumni Association and Alumni Director Dave Linscheid. Members of SAA contact various Bethel alum, who agree to come and meet with students for a night and share about their jobs and where their path took them after Bethel. This year I think there were approximately 50 alum who agreed to come back. The event is set up in Memorial Hall. There are tables all around and alums each have a designated spot. Students sign in and get a map of all of alumni that are present and what their careers are. Students may pick and choose to talk to as many alumni as they desire; however, most people choose to only talk to people that are in the same career field as the one they are studying. There are alumni present from many different career areas such as forensic nurses, doctors, marketing specialists, news casters, teachers, dentists, lawyers, engineers, and many more.
As an incentive for coming, each student who has three signatures from alumni that they talked with gets their name put into a drawing for prizes such as Bethel merchandise and any sort of freebies that the alumni bring from their jobs. Often there are many shirts, umbrellas, mugs, and this year I even won an insulated tote/cooler. Pretty cool! There is always pizza and pop afterward too!
I love this night! It’s a lot of fun connecting with alumni who are in the same field as me. Since I will be graduating soon with an education degree, it was fun to get tips for my first year of teaching and things like that. I found Career Night to be well worth my time.
Thanksgiving break was a much needed “energy boost” to get me through these next couple weeks. I got to spend time and celebrate with my family, eat delicious home-cooked food and play with my dog who was ecstatic to have our whole family, my sister, myself and my parents finally all home at the same time for a few days.
However, Thanksgiving break is now over, leaving these last two weeks before Christmas break to be full of projects, studying and lots of coffee. As of now I feel pretty good about being able to get everything done and done well in these next two weeks but only time will tell.
There are some fun things happening within these last two weeks though that will be good breaks from all the studying. The first happens tomorrow! Tomorrow my Women’s Chorus class has the opportunity to go Christmas caroling to different places around Newton. I love singing and I love Christmas carols so that will be a lot of fun for me. Also, after the caroling our professor has invited us to his house for dinner which I am sure will be as delicious as it was last year!
Another event that is happening that will be a whole lot of fun is this Friday. This Friday is the “Winter Gala.” For those of you who do not know what that is, it is basically the “prom” of Bethel College. Everyone who chooses to attend (which it is free for all students so why wouldn’t you?) get to dress up, a lot of people wear old prom dresses that are in the back of our closets because we don’t have any use for them anymore. Then we attend a fancy dinner put on by the cafeteria and the professors are the servers! After the dinner there are horse carraige rides if you want to do that and then there is a dance. There is also not the pressure of a prom for the gala because you aren’t expected to have a date! If you would like to have a date then you can go with one but otherwise you just go with friends!
Although these next two weeks before Christmas break will be busy and stressful, I am excited for the fun activites and am ready and motivated to get everything done and to go home!
Let me start this off by saying that I am a VERY sentimental person. Little things mean so much to me. As a senior, I keep finding things that are on my “List of Lasts.” For example, “This is the last time I will do _______.” With each last comes much excitement as well as sadness.
Well, on Sunday afternoon, I had a “last” that was and will be very difficult for me. I sang in my last formal concert with the Bethel College Concert Choir. While one half of me is saying, “Woohoo! That means it’s almost time for student teaching!,” the other half of me is torn. Two and a half years ago, when I started singing with the choir, I had no clue how great of an impact this group would be for me. They’ve become a family to me and when I see them each day, I know I can always laugh with friends or get hugs on the rough days. They are a group of people that holds each other accountable. They are a gracious group that is so fun to travel with. But most importantly, they are a group that makes beautiful music together. The sounds that have been produced by this group are remarkable; sounds that give me chills or put tears in my eyes. Each day from 12:00-12:45 PM, I get to gather with these people and make this amazing music. While, my last concert is over, I still have one more week of rehearsal left with this group. However, I have no doubt that I will end up shedding some tears next Thursday, the day of the last rehearsal for me (and my two other friends who are student teaching). I will cry because of the profound impact that this group has had on my life and my college experience.
My time at Bethel would not have been complete without the Concert Choir. I love my big, musical family.
Over the last three weeks, I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to see two of my friends from Bethel who are also studying abroad this semester. At the beginning of the month, my friend Natalie, currently studying in Belgium, came to visit Athens (the above picture is us at the Parthenon) and just this past weekend I was able to travel to Barcelona, Spain and see my friend Nicole (who also writes for this blog). Although each visit was different, they came with a number of shared realizations. 1) Despite the fact that I’m having an amazing experience here, I do miss home and Bethel. Getting to see friends, regardless of how close to them you are or not, can be a welcome relief. Even just reminiscing about school for a half hour can do wonders for getting past any homesickness. 2) One of the things I wish I could change about my experience but cannot is the fact that I can’t share all of my adventures with the people I love firsthand. There are so many people I wish I could share my time abroad with and have them here with me and even getting to do that for just a little while with Natalie and Nicole was really nice. We can blog and post pictures and skype all we want, but there’s nothing quite like being around in first person. 3) As my return date to the U.S. looms ever nearer, the harder it is to imagine going back to daily life in the states, at home or at school. After being on my own in a different country, a concept that was overwhelming and foreign and hard to image when my journey first began, it’s even hard to image going back to my “normal”. But seeing my fellow Bethel friends who are studying abroad has reminded me, I’m not the only one who is having trouble picturing going home and that when I get back to school, I won’t be the only one trying to adjust back into a life that was so familiar and comfortable, but now sees a tad strange. 4) Places change you. When Natalie came to visit Athens, there were a number of strikes and demonstrations going on in the city because a new austerity deal was being reviewed in Parliament. (For those of you who don’t know what’s going on with Greece’s economy, this will give you a general overview of recent legislation and why it was needed: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/11/greek-austerity-budget-approved-by-parliament_n_2114890.html). While we were walking through the streets on our way to visit a popular neighborhood, we passed a number of buses that transport riot police and are often used to block streets during protests. She thought it was a little intense, while we barely noticed them. We’ve gotten so used to their presence everywhere that we barely process them anymore. Walking through a big protest doesn’t shake me anymore, it’s just a regular thing here, and I didn’t even realize that to some it’s scary and that I’d gotten so used to it. I realized places force you to adapt and even the strangest things can become common.5) What I found to be the most interesting, though, was how similar some of our experiences have been despite being in different countries. Nicole is currently studying in Barcelona, which is also in the midst of a financial crisis very similar to Greece’s. The people of Spain are very unhappy, just like the people of Greece, and austerity measures make citizens take to the street and strike more and more frequently. I’ve seen this so much in Greece that I wasn’t surprised to hear about it in Spain, nor did she see that surprised by Greece. It just sees like the typical thing to do nowadays. Actually, the fact that Americans rarely choose to exercise their right to protest seems odd to me now. Governmental discontent is a worldwide event and rarely are separate occurrences unrecognizable.I have loved getting to see some of my Bethel friends, but at the same time, it’s also helped me realize how much I’ve come to love the place I am and the people I’m with. There’s a bond I’ve formed with my Athens friends and the city itself that will exist for years to come, which I can’t say about many of my experiences before this semester.
During this Thanksgiving season, I’m thankful to have the opportunity to sing Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. Once a year for the past three years, the Bethel Concert Choir has been asked to join with WSO for a concert. It’s always a huge privilege and something I really enjoy! Out of the three years that I’ve been in the Concert Choir and had the opportunity to do this, “Carmina Burana” is by far my favorite piece that we have done.
There are twenty five movements in the piece. Probably my favorite thing about it is that there is SO much variation. Some of the movements are slower and more lullaby-like while others are quicker and you feel like you barely have enough time to spit out the foreign language text. There is a full orchestra that sounds absolutely remarkable. I can’t help but smile huge when I watch all of the bows moving up and down and a rapid pace, all in unison or when I hear the large fortissimo sound right before the cutoff at the end of a movement. Like most symphonic pieces, there are professional soloists that are brought in, but the thing that makes “Carmina” special is the fact that it also includes a children’s choir.
The Concert Choir has spent the last couple of weeks rehearsing notes and text in a foreign language, and trying to get the movements up to full speed. We’ve finally achieved it and boy, does it sound amazing! On Tuesday, we rehearsed with just the Wichita Symphony Orchestra Chorus, no orchestra. Tonight, we traveled back to Wichita for the final dress rehearsal with full orchestra, soloists, and children’s choir. Oh. my. word. I was in heaven. The overall sound was absolutely incredible. The Bethel choir will be singing in the Sunday afternoon performance, which I’m really looking forward to.
Finally, the thing that makes singing with WSO so fun is the fact that their conductor, Daniel Hege, is a Bethel College alum. Recently, he was the Music Director of the Syracuse Symphony Orchesta in New York, and in 2010, he began as the Music Director of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. He passion for music is so evident and it’s really fun to work with him, as he is also passionate about Bethel College and the music that we make here.
If you get a chance, you should look up “Carmina Burana” on youtube or somewhere. It’s a real treat and you’ll be glad that you did!
With the holiday season coming up I thought I would talk about the host family program and how host families can serve as an alternate place to go if you’re not able to go home. The program consists of single or married families who provide a home away from home, home-cooked meals, a place to go on weekends, and welcomes Bethel students to the community.
Students who sign up for the program fill out a survey and are then matched with a family that they feel comfortable with. Once a match is found the student and their family will meet the host family and start getting to know them.
While the host family program is primarily for out of state students, some Kansas residents such as myself have one. Although I live about an hour from BC, I joined the program to have a connection within the community and a place I could escape to if I ever needed to get away from campus.
My host family is very supportive of me playing basketball and they try to attend all the games they can. Not only do I have a fan base at games, but I also have the opportunity to meet new people. Through my host family I have made several new friends and have built a lasting relationship.
I am frequently invited over to have dinner and they encourage me to bring friends and we usually end up playing games while getting a free home-cooked meal. During the holidays many students are not able to travel home so a host family will sometimes offer to let them stay at their homes. This is an another added benefit of the program.
Not only is having a host familly nice because you build a relationship with them, but if they have other host students you get the chance to meet students you might not otherwise. I have made several friends with fellow students because we share the same host family.
Overall the program is a great service for students and a helpful way for them to make lasting connections within the surrounding community. Visit this link http://www.bethelks.edu/student-life/services/host-family-program if you are interested in joining the program or if you would like more information.
In this season of Thanksgiving I thought it appropriate to write a blog about the things that I am thankful for about Bethel. Thus I have titled my blog “A Thankful Heart is a Happy Heart” which comes from Veggie Tales and one of their songs called “The Thankfulness Song.” (If you are interested in seeing/hearing the scene with the song in it here it is!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhcI-HXicwY
I am thankful for the new cafeteria; it is leaps and bounds better than it was last year!
I am thankful for the tennis team and am excited to being our spring season together.
I am thankful for the choral groups I am a part of and the tremendous music we make together.
I am thankful there are study rooms in the library available when I need a place of peace and quiet to study.
I am thankful for Mojos and their tasty drinks and delicious cinnamon rolls!
I am thankful Bethel is such a nice campus, small enough to feel like a close-knit community.
I am thankful for my wonderful roommate Allie and the fun times we have together, even if it is trying to motivate each other to study.
I am thankful that Bethel is close to home so I can still see my immediate and extended family often (and come home for laundry and my mom’s delicious cooking!)
I am thankful that my sister Miranda attends Bethel and that we are a part of choir and tennis together.
I am thankful for the professors and their dedication to their students and their availability to help on an individual basis.
I am thankful for friendships that I have built on campus along with closer relationships within my mod.
I am thankful for the beautiful scenery on campus, especially with the new landscaping they have completed thus far.
And last but definitely not least, I am thankful for simply having the opportunity to attend Bethel College.
I am not known for talking politics, but as elections in Catalonia are on their way I have gotten an unexpected urge to share my political opinions. I suddenly came to the realization that politics is not a matter done behind closed doors, but rather one that involves and affects everyone. I no longer believe that politicians are faceless individuals, with names not worth remembering and whose paths I will never cross: they are real people. And just like real people, their actions have real consequences in everyday life and I can no longer pretend that I do not care about their political decisions. At the University of Barcelona I have been taking a class titled Political System of the European Union. The class is small and engaging and because of it I have found myself listening to other peoples’ opinions and beginning to finally wrap my head around the world of politics. It has been fascinating to learn in class about the European Union and to be able to reaffirm what I learn with real life experiences outside of the classroom. I am after all a temporary citizen of the EU and, being caught in the middle of a historical moment for the region of Catalonia, I feel it is my moral obligation to share an overview of the political situation of my place of residence.
For those unfamiliar with the region of Catalonia (also Cataluña or Catalunya), Catalonia is an autonomous community in Spain with four main provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona. Historically, Catalonia has at times been its own principality and has been considered a part of Spain since the Second Spanish Republic in 1931. In 1937, in the midst of the region’s first thoughts of independence from Spanish rule, Spain fell under Francisco Franco’s regime and Catalonia suffered from a period of repression where freedom of expression was censored and speaking Catalan (a mixture of Spanish and French) became illegal. It would take Francisco Franco’s death and forty years’ time for Catalan nationalism to show its political face in public again. Today, there has been a surge in political movements seeking independence with visible impacts on the regions’ main cities. Public universities ask to install Catalan as the official language for higher education and general strikes exhibit the citizens’ discontent with the Spanish government. Many families speak only in Catalan and a radical younger generation has begun to reject the “Spanish” label and express its disinterest in being a part of the European Union. On September 11th of the present year (Catalonia’s national day) more than a million and a half people manifested on the streets, waving proudly the Catalan flag and asking for a democratic independence from Spain. The manifestation resulted in the convocation of elections to be held on November 25th that will determine the percentage of Catalans who wish for the separation of Catalonia from the Spanish state.
The coming election will define a key moment in the road to independence for the Catalan people but there is still a level of uncertainty surrounding the outcomes of the possible results of the election. If the polls show that the vast majority of citizens desire to become a separate state, the leftists parties will gain political power that could lead to beneficial negotiations with the Spanish government. Yet the minute Catalonia becomes an independent state will be the minute it will loose its membership to the European Union and if Spain’s secession of the territory is not friendly there is always a possibility that any request from Catalonia to re-enter it could be vetoed. And yes, Catalan taxes would be better off fulfilling the needs of the region instead of being destined to support Spain’s poorest areas, but they would also have to cover the social necessities previously covered by the EU. If, on the other hand, the election results do not reflect the need for independence, the Spanish government will feel pressured to put out any remaining political manifestation seeking the separation from Spanish rule and will have to implement policies directed to the percentage of Catalans who fail to take on the Spanish identity. But what can the Madrid government do to unify two regions separated by different languages, levels of religiosity, state governments, distances, industries and cultures?
The next few months will be critical for the writing of Catalan and Spanish history and as a student from a Mennonite college I cannot help but feel inspired by the peaceful approach to independence by the Catalan people. If the Catalan effort for independence fails, then we should at least applaud its democratic take on an often times violent path. Maybe someday Catalonia can serve as a model for places like Quebec or Scotland and even change the social construct of placing the value of a state in the strength of its government and not the character of its people. Nations do not have to be homogeneous in the expression of their culture and ideas that do not reflect the righteousness of those in power do not have to become threats to authorities. The Spanish and the Catalans have coexisted successfully for decades and their example can teach us that identities should be built by that which is shared, not by that which separates us. People change through the natural course of their lives in the same way that identities tend to shift and there is only shame in forming new alliances if there is shame in discussing them openly with other people. A road to independence is a road that is conscious of the rights of others from beginning to end and is respectful of the weight that tradition tends to bring. May the Catalan effort keep true to its nature and may the Catalan message remain always peaceful.