Switzerland

Switzerland is everything that the rest of the world is not. Clean, organized, cheerful, well-educated, modern but still holding on to history. It is gorgeous. Even the little bit I got to see of Switzerland made it obvious why the rest of the world comes here to solve their problems.

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We somehow got the hookup in this town outside Lausanne, in someone’s vacation home — the whole thing was floor to ceiling windows with the spectacular view of Lake Geneva greeting us with our morning coffee. We took a day to explore Lausanne, and one to explore Geneva.

The only flaw in Switzerland is how expensive absolutely everything is. If you ever get the chance to go, I absolutely recommend it: however, go grocery shopping. Eating out, even eating fondue, is overrated. We bought enough bread and brie to feed a small army and ate that for the entire weekend. It was fabulous. We took trains all over and got to see the Olympic Museum and the Red Cross Museum, both of which were interactive and fascinating.

The Olympic museum walked us through the history and origins of the ancient and the modern Olympics, as well as giving information about the preparation required for each. Everyone from the athletes to the administrators put in a monumental amount of effort to make each Olympics a success, and when you get to look at the climate of the Olympics against the backdrop of world affairs, you see something that can chart the history of the world through sports. Incredible.

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The Red Cross museum featured humanitarian crises from natural disasters to internal displacement of peoples. It managed to be both very detailed and still convey information from dozens of sources all around the world. Everyone should go. It was a very short weekend, but we crammed a lot of living in.

 

 

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Education Abroad

This is a post I’ve wanted to write for several weeks now. It’s been an interesting few months here in Italy, and I absolutely adore Europe – I would do it a thousand times over. But when people ask me how study abroad is going, I can’t wholeheartedly say that it is all incredible.

When people describe Europe to you, they never fail to talk about how beautiful it is: there’s everything from snowy peaks to rolling green hills to dramatic cliffs ending in bright blue beaches. They describe the shopping, the tucked-away trattorias, the incredible wines and buttery pastries. When I told people I was going to study abroad, I got a thousand glittering recommendations and reviews. I didn’t get a single account of the millions of people sitting outside of train stations with nowhere to go. Nobody mentioned the slums you drive through for miles on your way into Naples. No one talked about the fact that when you sit outside one of those beautiful cafes in Rome, someone will approach you selling tissues or friendship bracelets or umbrellas. I was never told to appreciate the fact that I can present my passport, that traveling for me never means dodging the authorities. No one complaining on the flight over realized that I paid a few grand to sit in an uncomfortable plane seat for 10 hours, instead handing over my life savings to sit below decks in a hastily repossessed fisherman’s boat, shivering, caked in someone else’s vomit, and praying that we’d make it to the other side. Nobody seemed to have any idea about these people, like they didn’t exist. Or at least they didn’t notice.

I want you to notice. I want this to be a quick education on the hundreds of people flooding Italy’s shores every day. Because when I got here, I had no idea. I wasn’t expecting it. It made me uncomfortable to tell people selling things on the tourist streets no thank you. I cringed when I had to interact with them and I wondered why they couldn’t just leave me alone, not make me feel so guilty. It seems to me like even the Europeans don’t understand why they’re here, or how they arrived, or where they want to go. So I promise to keep my emotional rhetoric in check from now on and offer you a lesson on the refugees that just keep coming, that are a part of Europe, that you will certainly meet if you come here.

So, who is coming?

Afghans, who for the most part have been in Pakistan in refugee camps for the last two generations, fleeing conflict at home. Pakistan is not home, and they are not welcome there. Pakistanis are leaving anyway, because of the astonishing levels of violence; not to mention the overpopulation and poverty.

Syrians, if you have paid attention to the news at all, who are leaving whole cities at a time to escape the three-way civil war in their homeland. These are generally the only people who fit the UN description of “refugee”, making them incredibly lucky, but more on that later.

In East Africa, Somalia’s massive civil wars powered by clan-based militias left the country in mass starvation. Rape and murder are part of everyday life. In Eritrea, of which we know practically nothing except from refugees themselves, the war of independence from Ethiopia gave way to the leadership of a dictator. The only way to leave your house is to be a student in school, or to be a military conscript. Absolutely everyone is forced into unpaid military service work, although there is no war; therefore, the conscripts are essentially state slaves.

From West Africa: Gambia, Mali, Senegal, Cote D’Ivoire, Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso. As for why they are coming, it varies: there are no jobs, death is rampant, Nigerian parents sometimes sell their children to human traffickers, disease riddles everything, AIDS is unstoppable, rape is used as an ethnic cleansing tool… and just straight poverty motivates many. When I worked with Yaya, from Senegal, who looked about 18 or 20 (although he told me 28), he told me a bit about his journey in immaculate (and very very fast) French. From what I could put together, I believe he is one of few who survived the shipwrecks in the Mediterranean in 2014 (if you research the movement of refugees, you will find this summer as the one that their numbers doubled and thousands died in a series of fatal sinkings). I asked him if he knew how dangerous his journey would be, to which he laughed and told me of course he knew. Shocked, I asked, “And why on earth would you leave if you knew?” He stopped laughing, and for a moment was quiet. “And why would I stay?”

And this is the reason they will simply keep coming, no matter how long the EU wants to pretend they won’t or that they aren’t here. They come despite knowing what the journey has in store.

There are two main routes to Europe at this point in time. From Libya to Italy, and from Turkey to Greece. In case your sense of geography is as bad as mine, here’s a map.

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Those landing in Greece are more likely to be Syrians or other Middle Easterners (southern Asians to be perfectly correct). By the time they reach Izmir or other port towns in Turkey, they have likely trekked several hundred miles in buses, crammed in the back of smuggler’s trucks, and on foot. They have crossed through dozens of borders, likely in secret or at night. Most are not allowed into Turkey without papers and must be smuggled in, or wait in camps outside the border to petition for entry. Once in Turkey, they tend not to linger. Clothing stores in Izmir have mostly been transformed into lifejacket stores. Smugglers for the sea passage are not difficult to find, and their prices are high: there is beachfront property to be used and its owners to be paid; government officials to be kept quiet, and fuel supplies to be purchased. These supplies are almost never enough for the people crammed onto inflatable dinghies to reach their destinations; once the boats reach international waters, they are instructed to place an SOS call. Maritime law dictates that passing ships must rescue drowning ones; but the limited patrol program in place by the EU is not enough to help every boat crossing. And often, because they are patrol and border control boats (not search and rescue) they are close to the border (obviously) and to reach the marooned boats takes too long. This is how boats sink.

Those landing in Italy likely came from Libya. Libya’s government is completely collapsed and smuggling gangs and militias run the coast. Before reaching Libya, though, most people have to cross the Sahara desert.

In case you forgot how eternally big the Sahara desert is (I did) here’s a map.

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It is 9.4 million square kilometers in area. Agadez, a city in Niger that is on the border of the Sahara, receives most of the Subsaharan immigrants. Why go out of your way to get to Niger when you can just cut across, I wondered? Well, because literally no one can cross the Sahara desert except for the people that have mostly spent their lives learning the dunes inside and out. Any given moment, a sandstorm can transform the way the desert looks. There is no road. Getting lost in the Sahara is certain death by thirst. Most people argue the Sahara is more dangerous than crossing the sea. Truthfully, we will never know if it is or not; we have no idea how many thousands of people have died in the Sahara on their way to Tripoli. Once in Libya, if it is reached, dodging the civil war is its own hell; once you find a smuggler to take you across, you wait to be snuck out of compounds called “mazraa” (mostly just places of torture and rape for vulnerable migrants waiting). Then, refugees are loaded on an inflatable dinghy meant for 30 people or on a wooden fishing sloop meant for maybe 60-75. Usually, they hold anywhere from 3 to 5 times their capacity. The same process happens here, but for far longer and usually in much more dangerous waters. Most smugglers appoint a captain from among the refugees to hold the rudder steady, in order to avoid losing one of his own men. This, naturally, leads to being lost or stranded; if inflatable dinghies spring a leak, they sink in minutes; and capsizing is easy when there are 300 people on a boat in a storm.

Once they arrive, they are registered by the state. If they do not have documents, they are required to apply for asylum. This system is very slow and inefficient, and usually people are not granted visas for work or given refugee status (unless they are Syrians). Most people wait in camps all across Italy and Greece for months or years on end. They cannot work without documents, and so relying on charities or aid associations is the only other option. This is why many peddle little things on the streets. Although the aid workers valiantly take in hundreds of refugees and work them through the legal process, the best they can do is usually less than 5 euros a day for living money.

Yaya and Fanny laughed at the bracelets on my wrists from my conversations with as many refugees as I can talk to (many speak perfect English and far better Italian than I will ever be capable of). At this point, I simply can’t settle to say no thank you and turn someone away. They asked me who gave the bracelets to me and Fanny told me that they have gone from having no work in Africa to having no work here. They told me they would have loved to go to America, but without papers here any country under EU jurisdiction will simply send them back to Italy, where they applied for asylum. No country wants to take a share.

There is so much more to say, but mainly I just want people to notice. If you finished this, I salute you. It is much easier to turn away and return to your life. It’s what I want to do most of the time people approach me at lunch. I don’t want to notice them, I don’t want to feel guilty, and I certainly don’t want to be faced with the fact that there isn’t much I can do. But I can notice, and I can give what I have, and I can petition for safer and legal routes of passage around the world to take in those who no longer have a home. Europe has a long way to go, and the States could and should certainly do more. In the meantime, my heart is heavy here. As much as I love study abroad, I am constantly faced with something I now notice. We have to remember that generosity is not a vice, but indifference is. Something I saw the other day read, “If you are more fortunate than others, build a longer table, not a bigger fence.”

I’ll be finished for now; but know that this is something I am passionate about. I welcome any theories, suggestions or questions!

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Yaya and I post Big Event in Arezzo (We planted an herb garden in a school courtyard. Any time I wanted to sit down, he would pick up another trash bag and fill it with weeds. He did absolutely all of the work and told me to stop whining about it being hot.)

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Austria deserves its own post

Midterms start this week, so naturally I’m writing this instead of making study guides for Italian history. I know it’s been a solid three weeks since the last time I documented my trips, so I’m going to throw Salzburg up quickly and people can get a feel for all the magic I’ve gotten to see.

I just got off the phone with my mom, during which said call I bawled my eyes out until Cara heard me and came to give me a hug (on this subject, I’m not sure if I go to school or if we all just kind of live together and hang out. The main form of faculty-student communication is GroupMe). It’s easy to get overwhelmed here, by all the bad things but especially by all the good things and sometimes I just cry.

One of those moments was during our Mozart and Vivaldi symphony in the Mirabell Palace in Salzburg. I wish I could convey in words how beautiful it was. I haven’t stopped listening to classical music since. I suppose the best I can say is that if you ever get a chance to hear an orchestra play, always, always, always go. I’ve never forgiven my parents for not putting me in violin lessons. I didn’t take my camera into the palace because a) you’re not allowed and b) as if that ever stopped me before, I couldn’t figure out a way to snap photos incognito when my tickets were in the fourth row. But anyway, here’s a photo of the Marble Hall that in no way does the place justice. It was two hours of bliss, and we all geeked out about classical music for hours afterwards.

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Afterwards, we headed to a traditional Austrian restaurant to try schnitzel. I have two groundbreaking things to say about schnitzel.

  1. You actually cannot order schnitzel with noodles. I know, I was heartbroken too. The Austrians simply do not do noodles. They serve schnitzel with roasted potatoes. The Sound of Music used noodles because it sounds more melodic. Don’t believe me? Try singing “schnitzel with potatoes.” Yeah, that’s what I thought.
  2. Schnitzel is literally just a giant chicken nugget. It tastes like one, it looks like one. Don’t get your hopes up about schnitzel. (Do, however, get your hopes up about strudel. It’s incredible.)

Speaking of schnitzel and its various ties to the Sound of Music, now we’ll get to the root of the trip: yes, we went for the Sound of Music tour; no, I am not ashamed. We actually got to see a lot more than I thought we would, although it was spread out much more than I figured – you don’t realize how much of the movie was filmed on a set and how much movement was required between scenes. For example, the front of the Von Trapp house and the interior were filmed in a different mansion than the scenes involving the back of the house. We were taken up to the lake country to see the areas where the panoramic scenes were filmed – on the day of our tour, it was snowing and gray, with blustery wind (typical of Austrian winters). It was stunning, with the lakes glittering and iced over and snow blowing over the trees. But it was also really damn cold.

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Anyway, our adorable tour guide Rosa Maria let us listen to the movie soundtrack the entire four hours. The poor woman does this every day for a living. Unsurprisingly, the Austrians are not fans of the Sound of Music.

On day two, the sun came out in Salzburg and gave us a little slice of heaven. Somehow managing to be a bustling modern city in the middle of a traditional Old Town, Salzburg is truly something – hundreds of people hiking up and down the foothills of the closest mountain range for walks through castle ruins, teenagers and the elderly perched on the cliffs above the city drinking hot mulled wine and enjoying the sunshine, street violinists enchanting the tourists on foot and in horse drawn carriages. Photos don’t do it justice, but I’ll attach them anyways.

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We took our night train home, which was an experience in and of itself. The way home, we at least had an idea of what it was going to be like, but I’d be lying if I told you that our time on the night trains weren’t absolutely disturbing. Something that will likely become a theme in my writing if you decide to keep up with my disjointed ramblings will be on the question of forced migration and refugeeism. I’m in a class on the current state of Europe’s migration crisis, which has really raised my awareness of the issue; but more than anything, it is the endless numbers of obviously struggling refuges that I encounter on a daily basis here that have drawn me to their suffering. Perhaps it is because they are so obvious in Europe, sticking out far more than they would in the states with its considerable diversity; or perhaps it is the arms-length distance every European puts between himself and the Nigerian selling umbrellas or friendship bracelets, that draws my attention to them.

I have learned about the difficulty of their journeys. I have learned about the dangers of human trafficking, of beatings and imprisonment, of soul-crushing boredom, of endless waiting for legal authorization, of poor sanitary conditions and loneliness and inability to speak the language and lack of sympathy from citizens. But I have also learned about their homelands: and truly, they are not leaving just to make everyone else’s life more difficult, which seems to be a common misconception of those of us lucky enough to be legal everywhere we go. They leave only because their homes are un-liveable, their governments crumbling, their neighborhoods violent, their children hungry.

I wrote a post about the night train on Facebook (probably an unwise decision, as I have trouble filtering my opinions):

“On my train from Austria this weekend, I had three different Europeans bring up the subject of Donald Trump’s presidency to me.
One was hesitant to ask me, afraid to offend me. One outright attacked me, assuming that each American had voted the same as the electoral college. And finally, an older man asked me what my generation thought of our country’s chosen leader and his blatant intolerance (those were his exact words).
Each European, whose memory of facism is much clearer and more recent than our own, shook their heads at our country’s current situation.
I listened to a pair of German teenagers who told us that four Pakistani refugees were pulled from their train car in the night for not having appropriate papers at the Austrian border.
I observed the troops and the military border police walking in and out of various train stations and shining flashlights in our cars in the middle of the night.
I never once had my passport checked. I never once had my status questioned. When the border patrol shone their lights in our car, they didn’t even open the door. I am so, so thankful for the fact that I am an American today and every day and for the safeties – privileges – it affords me.
But today, I read that the Trump administration wants to repeal DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) that allows children whose parents migrated from other countries to the states to apply for work permits and defer deportation for two years (I know, the time difference makes me slow to the news). My heart sank. Because I’m studying refugeeism here in Europe and I know the heartbreak it brings and I cannot imagine being pulled off a train in the middle of the night and sent back to a place that I can no longer call home. And it makes me sick to think that our country, the place of endless opportunity, is turning away those who have none. It makes the rest of the world sick, apparently, too.” 

I’m not sure if this entire post made sense or followed any logical order, but whatever. My main takeaway from these past few weeks was a startling, deep gratitude for everything I have and everything I have been able to see. And even when I worry and my heart breaks and I call my mom crying, she reminds me of 1 Thessalonians 5: 16 -18 and that “the best defense for worry is continual communication with [our Father], seasoned with thanksgiving.”

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Catch up part three + four

Weekend 3:  Siena + San Gimigniano

We spent the whole day calling San Gimigniano “San Jimmy John’s” or “San Chimichanga”, if that tells you how good our Italian is getting after all this time. Or how much we miss Mexican food. Which is a lot.

Siena was gorgeous, in a completely different way from San Gimigniano. Similar to the other big cities we visited in Italy so far, Siena is a hodgepodge of centuries’ worth of architecture, and when the sun came out, it was dazzling. Honestly. It was really bright. We saw some more churches in Siena – you’d think we’d get sick of seeing churches, but we don’t. They’re all beautiful, and very different, but there’s so much to describe I don’t even want to get started. Reference Florence.

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San Gimigniano was my favorite part though. The place was two hours from Arezzo, deep in the heart of Tuscany, and looked pretty much just like a green screen. It was amazing. It looked exactly like what you think of when you think of Italy – green, rolling hills, the trees that look like bushes on a stick, orange farms and vineyards everywhere, steep, windy and narrow streets lined with enotecas and gelaterias. And a giant well that actually never pumped out water, the fascists just put it there in the thirties.

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Weekend 4: Cortona

Well, Cortona, but mostly home. Even world travelers have to sleep, you guys. But anyway, my roommate Sally and I took an afternoon trip to Cortona, about thirty minutes from where we live. Sally is the most pure soul I’ve ever known, with the ability to make even the most ordinary things sound beautiful. She also can booty dance like nobody’s business. It’s always the quiet ones.

We basically got to Cortona with every intention of exploring the city. But the city is on a massive hill, see, so when we got there we decided we wanted to climb up a little bit and get a good view. Every time we would make it up a little ways and saw how close it looked like we were to the top, we would keep going – it went along like this for almost three hours. But man, was it worth it. When we got to the top, we found the real gem of the region: Cattedrale de Santa Margherita. She’s the patron saint of the city, and it turns out that most of the townspeople climbed the mountain for years to pray every day and to attend mass on Sundays. It was beautiful. Perfectly restored paintings and frescoes covered every inch of the walls. The ceiling was painted like a glittering night sky, and a statue of Madonna, looking every bit angelic, stood in the center of the cathedral with dozens of lit candles at her feet. When we walked in, the organist was practicing – magic.

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Then we sat on the very tippy top of the hill for almost two hours. The birds were singing, the sun was setting, and everything looked like it had gotten covered in gold fairy dust or something. My descriptions are getting more ridiculous as the night goes on, but it’s late here, okay. It really did look fairy-dust-ish. Anyway, if you get the chance to randomly hike somewhere, just do it. It’s always worth it. Honestly, if you get the chance to do anything out of the ordinary for you, you should always do it. That’s been the moral of my trip so far. Just do stuff – straying from the itinerary is hard for me, but I’ve been so glad I did every time.

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I promise to be better about this, and hopefully with more photos each time – but if you’ve actually made it to read this whole thing I’m impressed and you’re probably just my mom. Hi, mom. I miss you.

A doppo, Emily

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Catch up part two

Weekend 2: Verona 

Verona, the city of loooooooove! Shakespeare’s telling of the story of Romeo and Juliet (they were real, and they lived in Verona, and yes most of that stuff happened) made this city famous. We went a few weeks before Valentine’s day, and the place was nuts. Libby is a huge sucker for this stuff – there was endless angsty teenage graffiti sharpied on the historical walls and letters to Juliet stuck between the stones. Some were even glued to the door with pieces of chewing gum. There must have been a few thousand letters in the wall that day.

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We saw some of the most beautiful views from yet another place we almost passed over. The city is also famous for its Roman theatre, which is still in great shape for its age (ha). The theatre itself is super cool – you can see the stones worn down from the feet of thousands of people walking up and down it, and you can really see the shape of the thing – can really picture what might have happened there. But the coolest part was the museum. Set up on the hill, the museum overlooks most of the city and is full of most of its history. We saw room after room after room of restored and recovered sculpture, art, and ancient artifacts. And then this.

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Libby videoed me the whole time. She’s fabulous. Watch it here to get a good feel for the weekend because I’m running out of words and I have like three weekends left to describe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4Kp0OpXu2c

Also, I ate the best ham of my life in Verona. That was the main attraction. I have dreams about the stuff.

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Catching up part One

I really, truly, honestly meant to get around to writing down things about Italy before now. But here we are a month and a half in and I haven’t written anything yet except a few notes about good places to eat in Florence (there are tons).

I’ll try to sum up all of my weekends really quick then, except for Austria which needs its own post, and maybe I’ll be better from now on (but probably not).

Weekend 1: Florence, or if you’re an Italian, Firenze

The first three friends I made in Italy I made at the airport in Philadelphia on the way here. We had a six hour layover and we were mostly freaking out about moving away from everyone we know and the fact that you have to pay for water in Europe. You bond over things like that. Anyway, the three of us decided that on our first free weekend we would hop over to Florence for a night and see if we could get a feel for Italy on our own.

Ryan is a human GPS, honestly, it’s bizarre; he looked at the map for five minutes and for the rest of the weekend knew exactly where we were. Emily and I spend way too much time together here, we’re known as the Terrible Twins by our Italian professor mainly because we sit together and it confuses the hell out of her to call on one of us and both of us answer. Trace is the single funniest person I’ve met and is absolutely unafraid to make fun of himself. We called him Buzzcut Bandcamp Backbrace Trace the whole weekend (say that ten times fast) because he told us about high school. We learned about each other over endless glasses of wine – or in Ryan’s case, beer – at our favorite spot, Bevo Vino. It was the cutest little aperitivi bar that we went to twice in one weekend. It was that fabulous. We made friends with a waitress who told us about the best hidden places in Italy to visit and eat.

We hiked to the top of Piazza San Michaelangelo to find the most beautiful views of a Florence sunset. The rest of the world had the same idea – we were surrounded on all sides by locals and tourists alike, listening to someone singing acoustic versions of popular nineties songs in English. It was nostalgic and brand new and magical all at the same time.

But honestly, absolutely nothing will top the magic of seeing the Florence Duomo for the first time. It was the first thing we really saw in the city. We had just stepped off the train and meandered through the streets for a while heading towards the river when we started to hear music – violins. And as we turned the corner, following the music, we saw this. This enormous, intricate, imposing white marble cathedral. It’s the tallest building in the city by far – at the time of its construction, it was illegal to build something taller than the duomo of the city. Damn incredible.

We ate at a couple of trattorias hidden away from the city center, mostly full of groups of older Italians. That’s how you know you’re eating the good stuff. When you walk in and you don’t hear any English – you’ve hit the jackpot. We shopped, and by shopped I mean we stared in the windows of Dior, Valentino, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and the infinite gold shops lining the Ponte Vecchio. Our second day was full of gelato (gelato for every meal!! Florence is the birthplace of it, after all). We visited the outdoor leather markets and the food markets; those are some of my absolute favorite things to do here in Europe. They’re amazing. They’re noisy and smelly and bright and overwhelming and absolutely so cool. You can find the most incredible things there, and people are always talking to you. Mostly cause they want to sell you things, but also because they’re absolutely the centers of culture and tradition here.

Without a doubt, however, my absolute most favorite part of Florence was the Basilica Santa Croce. It’s bizarre, because we almost walked right by it. We walked up to the piazza it was set in, assumed it was just another church, and were on our way to find more gelato when a couple of Americans stepped out and stopped us. They told us we couldn’t miss it, and we didn’t have anything better to do, so we went.

I think I walked in and just cried.

The place is full of frescoes by the world’s greatest Renaissance artists. If those aren’t enough to fascinate you for hours, there are the tombs – the most famous people in the Italian world are buried here. Machiavelli. Galileo. Dante Aligheri. Marsupini. And Michaelangelo himself. The sculpture and the stained glass and the recovered Great Works depicting the life of Christ paired with being painfully Catholic – I was insufferable there, truly. I think we stayed for three hours. We saw Giorgio Vasari’s Last Supper and Giotto’s Bardi frescoes, but my favorite was a painting, recovered and replaced in its rightful home after Nazi occupation, of Doubting Thomas. The Lord is there and it’s powerful. He practically reaches out to you through the art. It is surreal and reassuring and gorgeous and an incredible reminder of the history of a faith, the history of a faithful God, that stretches back to the ends of the human memory.

Go to Basilica Santa Croce and then tell me you’re not religious.

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Austrian Night Trains

On my train from Austria this weekend, I had three different Europeans bring up the subject of Donald Trump’s presidency to me.
One was hesitant to ask me, afraid to offend me. One outright attacked me, assuming that each American had voted the same as the electoral college. And finally, an older man asked me what my generation thought of our country’s chosen leader and his blatant intolerance (those were his exact words).
Each European, whose memory of facism is much clearer and more recent than our own, shook their heads at our country’s current situation.
I listened to a pair of German teenagers who told us that four Pakistani refugees were pulled from their train car in the night for not having appropriate papers at the Austrian border.
I observed the troops and the military border police walking in and out of various train stations and shining flashlights in our cars in the middle of the night.
I never once had my passport checked. I never once had my status questioned. When the border patrol shone their lights in our car, they didn’t even open the door. I am so, so thankful for the fact that I am an American today and every day and for the safeties it affords me.
But today, I read that the Trump administration wants to repeal DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) that allows children whose parents migrated from other countries to the states to apply for work permits and defer deportation for two years (I know, the time difference makes me slow to the news). My heart sank. Because I’m studying refugeeism here in Europe and I know the heartbreak it brings and I cannot imagine being pulled off a train in the middle of the night and sent back to a place that I can no longer call home. And it makes me sick to think that our country, the place of endless opportunity, is turning away those who have none. It makes the rest of the world sick, apparently, too.

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Berlin Attack

As the year 2016 comes to a close, I was greeted with yet another ISIS attack on the front page of the newspaper this morning. In a year I truly thought could get no worse, the German government acknowledged this as one of its most deadly attacks in years.
If you’re seeking information on the attack itself, look elsewhere: this post is simply a lament of all the violence that I have witnessed in my lifetime.
I’ve been to far too many funerals for a 20 year old.
Not only did the headline of today’s paper include the death of 12 German citizens, it detailed the findings of a beheaded and castrated young man discovered recently. It glossed over the tragedy in Aleppo. I cannot even bring myself to watch the videos of the people still trapped in the city, waiting to be taken away to areas of insurgent control. And now this. The suspect was denied entry into Germany and who faced deportation: this alone is cause for sadness, that people seeking asylum are often turned away in many countries due to the rising suspicion and unrest. That the retaliation caused the death of a dozen innocent people.
That violence is perpetuated here. That we cannot even know, or even scratch the surface of all the dark and disgusting things that lurk around humanity; that the headline citing the Berlin attack wasn’t even that big.

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The State of the Globe

Recently, Scott Pruitt was chosen as the nominee heading up the EPA. I hope anyone reading this can grasp the ridiculousness of this choice, but hey, since Donald Trump says climate change isn’t real, then it obviously isn’t real people. He is the president-elect, after all, and don’t they know everything?

Apparently not. Reading the news this morning, I saw a piece written on the retreat of the polar bears from the coasts of Alaska to a further inland village called Katovik. Thousands of people will come to see them – up to 80 bears lurking around the town at a time – perhaps unaware of the real reason they are there. The bears are seeking refuge in Katovik, as the receding sea ice in the Arctic is what normally houses them and helps them hunt for sea lions. In November, the levels of the sea ice in the Arctic was the lowest it’s ever been, and it’s no secret that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe. It’s idiotic to pretend that the presence of the polar bears amongst people is not a glaring warning sign about the state of the globe. That the normally reclusive species is now present on land, eating whale carcass wastes and seeming to get smaller and smaller as a whole, is a clear indicator that things are not right in our environment. And although it is the whole world that needs to make a change towards protecting our climate (and our polar bears), it is our country that stands out as one particularly unable to do what is necessary to preserve the earth.

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Education in Oklahoma

Among all the presidential crap was a State Question on education that did not pass. The education bill for Oklahoma was one that I supported initially until I did more research. I’m sickened by the state of Oklahoma’s public school funding and the fact that we will continue to lose great teachers and underpay those that stay; that our aid programs are suffering and that our quality of education is the worst in the nation. However, only 39% of that money would have gone to public schools and teacher salary. The rest would have gone towards higher education and overhead. I’m glad it didn’t pass – our teachers and education system deserve MORE than what that bill had to offer. Had it passed this time, that would have been the end of improvement for our schools. Hopefully something better is in store, because the fact that we are bringing up the next generation without the benefit that a great public education brings is deplorable. Despite the fact that our president, whom I respect and admire immensely, was the figurehead for the bill, I stand by the fact that this education bill would not have been what was best for our state and for the kids. Education is the means by which we will break the poverty cycle, teach kids about their similarities and differences, create curiosity, and empower them to do big things. Let’s do more for schools.

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