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.
Halloween as a college student is a bit different from high school. No longer is it uncool to dress up in crazy costumes and go begging for candy; it’s practically Christmas for us. The opportunity to eat large amounts of sugar and show off your creative prowess is something few let pass. I’m one who doesn’t have large amounts of creativity, so my costume was a last-minute pirate getup courtesy of Et Cetera shop.
Bethel’s Halloween celebration is centered around two events-a dance and Trick-or-Treat off the street. The dance is typically held on the Saturday night closest to Halloween night and is the major costume event for students. Student Activities Council holds a costume contest for scariest, most creative, best group, and best pair costumes. The faculty judges determine winners and dole out prizes.
On the actual evening of All Hallow’s Eve, Bethel students have the opportunity to give out candy to area kids in a safe environment. I did this when I was a kid and always had a great time because it’s a lot of candy with not a very long walk in between doors. I remember being scared out of my mind in the hallways of the residence halls because they would turn all the lights off and put cobwebs up. It’s just as fun to give out candy because kids are incredibly creative and incredibly cute.
Now that Halloween is over everybody is thinking of the best costumes for next year already, even though they won’t start on them until October 30, 2013. It’s still a good sentiment.
This weekend was a very busy weekend for choir members on Bethel campus.
On Friday the Concert Choir was invited to sing a few songs at the Día de Los Muertos service at the Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. Being a Mennonite who grew up in a town with a majority being Mennonite it was a very good experience to be able to be a part of – in attendance and in singing.
So Halloween has come and gone, and it had its share of brilliant and not so brilliant costumes. I myself went as a damsel in distress while my roommate Carl Lehmann went as my knight in shinning armor. This my first drag experience, and I will say that it was an interesting one. A lot of our friends got a kick out of our costume, and Carl and I both couldn’t help but stop look and laugh at the ridiculousness that was our costume.
There were plenty of other amazing costumes at the Halloween Dance, though I am not sure I can remember most of them on account of my awful memory. But trust me, there were some real gems at that little costume party. A majority of my favorite costumes came Halloween night however, when the multitude of munchkins came to our door asking for delicious goodies. I was tempted to go buy lots of fruit, particularly raisins and prunes to hand out because I know that when I was a kid those were always the houses I liked the most. Alas, the multitudes of children received from us the simplest, yet oddly most satisfying of sugary treats; the infamous pixie sticks. Even some adults delighted in its raw and unadulterated sugary goodness, since you know, even adults like to be given candy every now and then too.
It is a gorgeous 70 degree day — almost too good to be true for Halloween to already be here! Every year on Halloween night Bethel participates in something called Trick or Treat Off the Street which lets families trick-or-treat here on Bethel’s campus. Every dorm room or mod can sign up and we get signs to post on our doors if we will participate in handing out candy to the kids who come to trick-or-treat. The past two years I have been a part of it and our mod is doing it again this year. I am quite sad though because I will not be around all evening due to a night class. Hopefully the rest of my modmates will get to enjoy all of the great kids and their costumes who come by though.
Over the weekend Bethel celebrated Halloween early with a Halloween Rave hosted in Mojos by SAC. After an hour of dancing and music and food there were contests for the best group, individual, couple, scariest, and crowd’s favorite costumes. There were some very creative ones — old men, board games (including Hi-Ho Cherry-O and Hungry Hungry Hippos), the couple from the movie UP, and the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz. My boyfriend and got an idea from one of the librarians to do Jack and the Beanstalk. We spent the afternoon scouring the Etcetera Shop downtown to make a beanstalk costume for him and Jack for me. We ended up getting 2nd place in the Best Couples Costume contest! We were happy with that.
I recently began thinking about times when I feel there is nothing to do at Bethel. However, I soon realized that this should be a rare occurrence considering all the activities and events that seem to be happening throughout the week. Honestly, if you were to look at the calendar on our website, there is usually an athletic event, concert, or student activity going on!
If your problem is that you don’t want to go alone, drag along a friend, or just be brave and go by yourself. You will be surprised at the friends you can make by attending. Not only will your friend base grow, but your knowledge about new sports, plays, or concerts will too. Maybe you simply never know when something is going on. The solution to this is really simple: pay attention to emails, ask around, check the online calendar, and some groups even post on Facebook and Twitter, so watch for those.
On September 3rd I arrived at the city of Barcelona with the program of Brethren Colleges Abroad and twenty one students from small Liberal Arts colleges from across the United States. Then, most of us felt unprepared for our study abroad experience, and some, including myself, were nervous about the idea of studying in Catalonia’s most prestigious university. As October comes to an end, I am now finally able to say that I feel like a real student at the University of Barcelona. I am comfortable attending classes, talking to my professors, commuting from one department to another and even spending time outside of the classroom with other university students. Yet attending a university in a foreign country can be challenging and requires fast adjusting to the oddities and complexities of university life outside of the US. In this blog post I would like to share with you what I have learned about Spanish higher education and offer you an inside view into the intricacies of attending the University of Barcelona.
This past Wednesday was “Service day” for Bethel’s campus. There were lots of opportunities and ways to get involved including cleaning up Sand Creek Trail, landscaping, painting and deep cleaning the Agape House. Some people also went to Et Cetera shop to help price and put out clothing, others went to an Elementary school and cleaned and helped teachers with odd jobs and some even got to interact with the children as well. The tennis team also had a “service” going on where those that were available could help clean out the tennis shed and tie down the tennis windscreens.
Unfortunately I was not able to participate in service day this year but Maria Day my Spanish professor reminded our Spanish class of something very important. One of her philosophical thoughts. That was that not only should we do service one day for service day, but that we should serve every day whether it be in a big or small way. She said that even something as simple as a smile or a hello can brighten someone’s day and can be a form of service.
I think that is a good reminder for me and for us all of the kind of mind set that we should have about service and about one of the goals for our lives, not only giving back to our community on “Service day” or through volunteer work if you participate in that as well, but giving back to the people who are in your life, to those who are in your life permanently or those who just pass through, to those who are important to you and those who you might not know as well, even a simple smile or caring about how they are doing can be just what someone needs to get through the day.
It’s hard to believe that I have been living here in Greece for almost six weeks and that I’m almost done with my third week of classes. Time moves strangely here, fast and slow at the same time. I have a feeling it’ll be time to say goodbye before I even know it.
One thing that is easy to countdown here are my classes. Unlike the U.S., my classes only meet once a week for three hours (with the exception of my Greek language class which meets twice a week for 90 minutes). Additionally, the university I’m attending is on a quarter system which means our term is only 10 weeks long, instead of the typical 15. Ten class periods. That’s all you get before the quarter is done and the last class session is when you take your final. Time flies in the Greek higher education system.
It’s definitely taking some time to get used to, but it has its advantages. Because we’re not restrained to one hour, we can do a significant amount of lecturing and discussion in the same class period. My school also has an online intranet user, so that we can have discussions on discussion boards online outside of class. Even though we don’t see each other multiple times a week, which I’ve found can definitely affect the relationship I have with my fellow students and professor, there seems to be a certain sense of focus in class that I find can be lacking in classes back home sometimes.
With such a small campus one might expect that on-campus employment would be rare, but many students find time to pick up hours for on-campus jobs. New students receive information about the long list of on-campus jobs during the summer or at the beginning of the year, and then the mad rush to claim the top-choice jobs begins. Some people can attain jobs like tutoring or grading through recommendations from professors. Science classes often hire lab aides as well. Read More