Over the winter break, I got to explore Toulouse. A vibrantly colorful city that was bursting with character.
The smell of violets pervaded every rue from the numerous shops and markets dedicated in its honor. Public squares and parks sprinkled throughout the city provided pockets of oasis from the whir of cars. Buildings of all different shades of pink being completely transformed by the time of day. And finally the sound of harps and violins filled public places.
It’s been almost one week since I arrived in Heidelberg. There is so much to say about my time here already, but I’ll get to that in a later post. Suffice it to say, Heidelberg is lovely and I’m looking forwards to starting classes next week. In the meantime, while I collect my thoughts for a more thorough summary of my initial thoughts on Heidelberg, here is a description of one of my favorite spots in the city. I had to write it for a class, but it gives a glimpse of where I’ve gone to walk, jog, eat meals, and journal.
Topic: The Use of Public Spaces in my Host Culture
This is farther west of the main part of the park – I had to stop jogging to take it because I just love the trees!
“In the one week that I have lived in Heidelberg, the place I have most often frequented is the Neckarwiese. This is a park that sits on the bank of the Neckar river and extends outward as a biking and walking trail through the whole city. The Neckar divides the city in half, which makes it almost impossible to spend an entire day in the city and not find yourself on the Neckarwiese. At the main part of the park, there is a long grassy bank, separate biking and walking paths, a fountain, picnic tables, and benches. As it extends north and south, it becomes a narrow path encased by trees with a steep grassy bank leading to the river.
“As I’ve already mentioned, the path along the river is frequently used for commuters going from A to B. It is also nearly always frequented with joggers and people walking their dogs, like any park in the US. Unlike the US, the German locals will seek out this place intentionally to spend their spare time on lunchbreaks, after work, and on the weekends. During lunchtime, there are many people spread out along the river eating their lunch and soaking up the sunshine. After work, groups of people walk along the trail and catch up on each other’s days. The most popular time to be at the park, however, is on Sundays. I’m convinced that some people get up in the morning to go for a walk and don’t come home until it’s time for dinner. In Germany, almost every store is closed on Sundays and the people go out to “be in nature.” Young and old wind up along the bank of the Neckar.
“Admittedly, it is one of the first nice weeks of weather Heidelberg has had since winter. And I’ve never lived next to a river to compare. Still, the Neckarwiese really is one of the hubs of activity in the city. From what I’ve read of German culture, this is pretty typical of German culture and their love of nature. A local German told me, “we have a saying here: There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.” I love that the locals, regardless of age or walk of life, seem to enjoy the beauty of the river and scenery around them and have made it a part of their daily routines. I have yet to see anyone along the Neckar glued to their phone, and only a
Sunset on the Neckar!
handful with their phone even in sight. It seems to me that nature provides an escape from the daily grind. This is one aspect of German culture that I can’t wait to add to my daily routine!”
And just to emphasize how much I love this spot, I choose to spent the evening of my birthday outside on the Neckar enjoying a special birthday treat!
I also ordered this using only German – though the clerk laughed at my pronunciation!
Compared to the United States, England is very small. I am frequently amazed by the number of historical sites that lie less than an hour away. The country is so densely packed compared to midwestern states. Anyone who has driven between Norman and Dallas or between Dallas and Austin can confirm the open stretches of fields and farmland. I cannot drive down the highway here without passing a town that has existed for centuries every thirty minutes. I might be exaggerating slightly, but as someone who goes to school in a state that has only existed for about a century, it is mind-boggling.
Curiously, most local students have not seen much of the British Isles, much less mainland Europe. Some travel to see football matches, commute to school, or visit family, but it does not seem common to go on day trips, or even weekend trips, to other cities only a few hours away. I am intrigued by this perception of distance so very different from my own.
This difference is just as interesting when reversed. Since the U.S. is so large, students want to know where exactly I live. Of course, this often leads to slight difficulties, since most people here are not familiar with Oklahoma. I cannot blame them since I am wholly unfamiliar with the internal geography of other countries. At one point I was explaining that Oklahoma is slightly left of Tennessee, which led them to believe it was next to California. Given how much of U.S. life is broadcast around the world in the form of news, movies, literature, and music, it is interesting to see which small distinctions are still unknown.
In my short time here, I have explored Sheffield and small parts of London, Manchester, and Leeds. Despite the modern buildings and business that have accumulated over the years, they still retain a beautiful charm of history. Plaques and neon lights are scattered in front of glass facades and ancient stonework. Even on my university campus, sleek, modern buildings with geometric designs stand next to ones that could reasonably pass for an unprotected castle. Given the many similarities between the U.S. and the U.K., I have struggled to explain to other students why I find the U.K. so interesting. I think this juxtaposition of old and new plays a major role.
Let’s talk about the sheer volume and surprising recreation of parks in France. There are food, rides, playgrounds, grass areas to sunbathe or picnic, and people at all times of the day to populate the parks.
The parks in France is just one of several examples of the widespread importance placed on simply enjoying nature. Parks can provide an oasis amid the incessant nature of the city. As a newcomer to France, I’ve been to the park almost every day, as it is the perfect place to talk with friends, relax, eat, and are gems in new cities.
Maybe this newfound discovery comes from the normalcy of the hassle of getting to parks. Where parks are not a part of the daily routine, but instead a place to hike occasionally. One aspect of life I’ve truly enjoyed here is the return to parks in daily life. If I cannot be by the sea, then the beauty of nature’s green can suffice.
It has now been about a month since I arrived in England and I cannot believe the time has passed so quickly. Since neither my hometown nor Sheffield are home to a major international airport, I spent almost forty hours traveling from my front door in the U.S. to my new home in the U.K. Although I ran into a few difficulties during my travel, everything since has been smooth and simple. I stressed about switching into the classes I needed but the add/drop period here is three weeks so I had plenty of time to sort everything out.
I am staying in university accommodation, in a single room with a communal bathroom. I am on a meal plan, which is very nice, and I have access to a small kitchenette on my floor as well. It is amazing compared to the towers at OU, although I have been told this is terrible compared to Australian dorms. My floor has only international students, about twelve in all. I have met more international students in the past month than students from the U.K. because we all came here alone, or with one other student, and are trying to make new friends.
My classes are very different from classes at OU. I spend a lot less time in class and there is a greater emphasis on individual study outside the classroom. Rather than the professor teaching you all the information you need to know, he or she simply points you in the right direct and then you are expected to research and learn the material yourself. So far, I quite enjoy this method of learning. I feel more connected with the subject and I tend to dive deeper into the material than I would otherwise. In order to make time for this independent study, classes rarely assign graded homework. Most of my grade is based on the final and one or two other assignments that are due at some point in the semester. I am nervous about the lack of feedback throughout the semester so I will be checking in with my professors throughout the semester in office hours to make sure I am on track with the material.
Overall, this first month has been amazing. People in Sheffield are more reserved than in Norman but their friendliness still reminds me of southern hospitality. The university is large and well-organized, boasting all of the resources I have needed and then some. My housing and flatmates are great. The city itself has every sort of store and restaurant and park that I have wanted. Most importantly, my classes have been captivating and I am in love with this style of learning. I feel at home and I am looking forward to what new adventures the coming months will bring.
Last Friday, I finally arrived in Europe after a very long plane flight from Arizona. Since then, I have set foot in three different countries (counting the airport in Belgium) and am on my way to the fourth – Germany! So much has happened since I left home last week and, though I know I’m going to forget many of the details in hindsight, I’m going to try to document as much as I can.
I landed in Barcelona, Spain on Friday and took a bus to the old tourist part of the city. Since I was so tired of sitting and didn’t want to purchase a metro ticket, I decided to walk the 20 min with my big suitcase to the youth hostel. Lugging a heavy bag through cobblestone streets isn’t especially convenient, but I am so glad I did! I got to see so much of the beautiful architecture, interesting people, little shops that make up Barcelona. After getting a little turned around, I finally arrived at the hostel and met up with the directors of the program I was attending just in time to make dinner.
For a little background, I traveled to Spain to attend the weekend Global Leaders Internship Launch retreat, which is for student leaders in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship who are studying abroad in Europe for the semester. The purpose of the Launch is to introduce the students to one another and help them to use their time abroad well in a Christian context. It really was well worth the trip and helped me to feel more comfortable exploring a new place on my own. That’s not to mention how much I enjoyed the people I met in the program and the city in general!
It was a wonderful trip and we spent the time seeing the city in between GLI sessions. Some of the highlights were the Gaudi architecture –especially the Sagrada Familia cathedral, which was spectacular. We also spent a morning observing the “living gallery” of Barcelona and roamed the Gothic Quarter, open air market, beach, old chapels, restaurants, and encountered many street artists along the way. When we took the subway, a few street performers with an accordion stepped into the train and played Despacito for the duration of our ride. And then on the way to a cathedral, we found an opera singer standing in the street. I loved every moment of the experience!
Spain seems to have such a different schedule of time. It wasn’t uncommon for restaurants serving dinner to open their doors around 8 pm. And in the meantime, everyone sits at outdoor cafes eating tapas, which are a little bit like hors d’oeuvres. In the mornings, we often ate fresh bread and coffee. One of the best moments of the trip for me was ordering my coffee and croissant all in Spanish.
Based on my observations, it seems there are two things that make Barcelona unique. One is the political tension as a part of Catalonia. It wasn’t uncommon to see the Catalan flag and banners calling for independence to be hanging out of windows. The locals speak Catalan, street signs are primarily in Catalan, and many of the historic buildings are from Catalonian royalty and government. The other unique part of Barcelona is the presence of Gaudi’s unique architectural style. Most of Gaudi’s work resides in the city, and evidence of his style was everywhere. There was so much more to see and do that we could possibly fit into one weekend; I hope someday I can come back, learn more about Gaudi, see the finished Sagrada Familia, and learn more about this beautiful place.
A section of Alison Bailey’s and Chris Cuomo’s Feminist Philosophy Reader, “Race and Racism”, introduces race into feminist philosophy. They present the undeniable intersection that race and gender can have on a person, specifically addressing how feminism has been exclusionary in the past towards women of color. The introduction acknowledges the lack of women of color in the field of feminist philosophy and how the whole field seems “white-centered”. Adrienne Rich created the term, “white solipsism” for the societal tendency in the United States and around the globe, “to think, imagine and speak as if whiteness described the world” (Bailey & Cuomo, 2008, p. 262). Later, Elizabeth V. Spelman highlights the difference that Rich closely defines: white solipsism is not synonymous with racism in the world of feminist thought, but instead refers to how people are “not [able to] see nonwhite experience or existence as precious or significant, unless in spasmodic, impotent guilt-reflexes” (Spelman, 2008, p. 277), which is detrimental in itself. The readings for this week focus on the importance of the insection of race and gender in feminist thought.
The introduction asserts that Spelman’s article “addresses a crucial flaw in white feminist thinking: the idea that race, gender, and class are conceptually separable units that can be pulled apart and reconnect like the beads of a pop-bead necklace” (p. 262). when in reality, women of color must live with their race, gender, and class simultaneously. They are unable to pick and choose identities to leave behind at the door of feminist philosophy.
Elizabeth V. Spelman unpacks the “white solipsism” that exists in feminist thought, by exposing the different solipsistic arguments to be false in order to advance feminist thought to be more intersectional on issues of race and gender in Gender and Race: The Ampersand Problem in Feminist Thought. In five different parts, she picks apart the assertions of feminist thinkers from past and modern times, appealing to logos in order to do so. In the first part, Spelman points out how feminist writers have erased the existence of black women in their thoughts on sexism and racism and condemns this act. The second part consists of making the distinction that racism exists even when white people exist outside of racist behavior. Writers attempt to make the point that racism is a weaker ism than sexism because sexism is “more central to the positive self-concept of man” (p. 269). The third part asserts that sexism and racism are not stackable in oppression, that intersectional oppression is more complex than simple addition. Part four argues for the importance of a positive self-image and understanding of the body as a part of feminism. The last part extends this understanding of the body to include race. Separating the body from the woman or the blackness of Africa-American attempts to separate an essential part of being that is not possible and is unethical. And Spelman concludes that the connection between racism and sexism is interlocking, and feminism needs to acknowledge this in order to progress forward to address sexist oppression in an equitable manner.
In all honesty, reading Spelman’s article made me really upset with the feminist writers that she wrote about. I enjoyed reading the logical and powerful way she disputed and dismantled their ideas, but even just knowing that people believe that ism’s need to be ranked or that feminism is more fundamental than racism made me feel angry. As a woman of color, it sounded to me as if those thinkers were excluding me from feminism. I saw their beliefs as belittling the intersection of oppression that women of color face. “Fundamentality” of sexism sounded like an excuse to not confront racism before sexism was addressed, which leads to a huge problem when that definition caters to only white women.
My favorite idea expressed in Spelman’s article is, “As Barbara Smith has remarked, the effect of multiple oppression ‘is not merely arithmetic'” (p. 270). On the first day of class, the word that I used to describe feminism was intersectional. Though that was already my perception of feminism from the beginning, I am still learning about intersectionality theory and what that truly means. I believe that this quote simplistically describes how complex experiences are due to the intersection of oppressed identities.
Listen… I usually consider myself a pretty modest person, but I just HAVE to share. Today, one of my coworkers at the hospital told me that my Spanish is “better than some of the interns they have had before.” So basically, I’m not the worst. Which is honestly the best news I’ve heard all day.
This weekend, my friends and I went on our first weekend trip outside of Spain and it was our best trip thus far! We flew into a town outside Brussels, Charleroi, as it was much cheaper than flying into Brussels. We got in around midnight and out Airbnb host agreed to pick us up from the airport. After an hour-long struggle to get out of the airport (very confusing signage with no English translations!!), we finally found him. He drove us very quickly and slightly recklessly to his house where we would stay for the night. He also drove us to the train station the next morning, just as quickly and just as recklessly. It was an experience to say the least.
We hopped on a train and made it to Brussels in no time. Our first task was to figure out where our Airbnb was. The owner was out of town, so they had left the key at a local eatery. We went to the restaurant and they gave us the key in a golden envelope. It was kind of like getting the next clue in a scavenger hunt or something. We joked that we were “in a video game” or “on a mission” for the rest of the trip.
After situating our stuff in our Airbnb, we decided to go back to the restaurant where we retrieved the key for lunch. It was a cute little place with about three menu items in addition to a “plate of the day.” I had the fish of the day, and it was delicious. It was a welcome deviation from the traditional Spanish food that I have grown accustomed to eating.
After lunch, we headed towards the city center. We stopped at several small thrift shops as well as the Manekken Pis. After arriving, we discovered that the main attractions in Brussels are the abundant chocolate, waffle, and fry shops. We hopped around and tried a bunch of different chocolates. I also had my first real Belgian waffle (it was incredible). After the waffle, we decided that we better try some fries as well. We got “Andalouse” sauce. I have no idea why it is called that – I’m pretty sure it would have been too spicy for anyone in Andalucía.
After our fries, we went to a bar called Delirium. Delirium is a “village,” or a multi-building, multi-level bar. We tried several beers before heading to dinner at a traditional Belgian restaurant. We shared mussels as an appetizer and I had seafood pasta as my entree. It was lovely! After dinner, we returned to Delirium to try some more beers. Anyone starting to see a trend? We even came out with a few favorites!
The following day, we slept in a little before going to brunch at a restaurant called Peck 47. I had a savory leek waffle for breakfast, and it was delicious. After lunch, we decided to take the metro to the Atomium, which is about forty-five minutes away from the city center. Naturally, I had to get another waffle while we were there (I think I had five over the course of the weekend). The rest of the day was pretty chill. We shopped around, sampled some chocolates, got more fries, and tried a Belgian beer flight at another bar. We also had dinner at a lovely little Italian place.
Overall, Brussels was filled with fries, waffles, beer, and chocolate (I case you hadn’t noticed). I really enjoyed this weekend and being able to get out of the traditional Spanish cuisine and customs. I hope to return to Brussels and the nearby city, Bruges, to explore more very soon!
Last weekend I took a trip to Granada for a weekend, and words cannot describe how happy I am to have visited this charming city full of history. We always talk about Granada and the Alhambra in our Spanish classes, so it was especially rewarding to be able to visit the city myself. The highlight of the trip for me was not actually visiting the Alhambra itself (although it was spectacular) but rather the picnic I enjoyed with friends on top the San Nicolás lookout point. We visited the city’s market to buy fresh fruit, bread, and cheese, and then took a short trek up the old city of Albaicín where we sat and ate lunch with the Alhambra and Sierra Nevada mountain range in the background. Later that night, we went on a guided tour of the city where we enjoyed the sunset from yet another lookout point in the city. Granada with its snow-capped mountains is so completely different from Oklahoma, so the views of the city kept taking my breath away.
On Sunday, we went on a guided tour of the Alhambra, and even after three hours, we still didn’t get to see all of its gardens and palaces. It is a place that I know I want to return to in the future because one visit is not enough to take in all that it has to offer. I was enchanted by the Arabic calligraphy, the careful architecture of the palace, and the combination of Islamic and Christian history.
More adventures await me soon! I have a weekend trip planned to Barcelona that’s just around the corner.