January 28, 2014
Fourteen students recorded countless memories from the 13 days spent abroad as part of “Travel Writing Across Europe,” one of more than a dozen off-campus Jan Term opportunities.
This one took McDaniel students from Normandy to Paris and Vienna to Budapest, a journey that covered over 10,000 miles and multiple modes of transportation- almost 1,500 miles not counting the flights from and to America.
While traveling by plane, train, bus, metro, taxi and foot, they experienced and wrote about the blending of old and new in the art museums, churches, catacombs – and even a farm – that filled their itinerary.
After reading published travel writers and trying her own hand at it, junior Katelynn Deibel proposed her own definition of travel writing.
“In travel writing, the author often undergoes a dynamic journey in which he/she explores a place in great detail: its landscape, weather, natives, culture, etc. And, perhaps more importantly, it is a personal experience that involves placing oneself into the new surroundings and reflecting upon this in the text,” wrote the Biology major from Havre de Grace, Md.
Study tour leader Josh Ambrose – Prof A, as he is called by his students – would agree, especially with the latter half of this idea.
“Places are often the means for the subject to learn about themselves. You don’t have to be an expert on the place,” said Ambrose, director of the Writing Center. He notes that travel writing is one of the oldest features of literature, giving examples like the Book of Exodus, Homer’s “The Odyssey” and the ancient “Epic of Gilgamesh.”
More importantly, writing is an act of recording memory and processing it, said Ambrose. Self-reflection was one of his goals for the class, along with experiencing cultural differences, gaining a sense of history, learning how Americans are perceived elsewhere and even simply getting out of the country.
This rang true for Maggie Myers, who had never before left the States.
“This Jan Term definitely forced me outside of my comfort zone, but in a good way. It has helped me become more independent and confident, which will benefit every aspect of my life – future and now,” she said.
Myers, a sophomore from Finksburg, Md., hopes to return to Budapest for a semester after spending time with the students of McDaniel Europe.
Read excerpts from the students’ travel journals below:
Erin Giles ’15, Communication
I like to be prepared: ready, confident, in the know. As a tourist, I already feel like I’m not confident, and I’m definitely not in the know, but at the very least, I am ready. Ready to learn, ready to observe, and ready to try new foods and experiences. I’m already expecting to frustrate the natives and embarrass myself, but it can only help me become stronger, right?
As I write this, I already feel guilty. In the security line at Dulles only a few hours ago, a family with a baby and stroller were going as slow as molasses and creating a logjam in the line. They were taking (what I deemed to be) an excessive amount of time getting their passports out and answering questions from the guards. I thought, “Come on, how easy is this process? Why is this taking so long? They should know how to do this.” When they started speaking a foreign language, my heart dropped. I imagined myself holding up a line in Paris or Budapest, not knowing certain processes or how to answer the questions from authorities. Was I going to be that family from the airport during the next 13 days?
Being a tourist means being out of place. Whether your clothes don’t seem to follow the area’s fashions or you’re language is different, tourists stand out. Results of “touristy” interactions can range from impatience and frustration to fascination and awe. I have a feeling that I will likely experience each of this within the next two weeks.
More than any other attribute, I think that it is crucial for a tourist to have positivity. If I, as a tourist, am truly interested and show that I care about the new country, I can only hope that the natives will respect my attitude so that conversations can happen smoothly!
***Post-trip afterthoughts: I was so comforted by the interactions I had with the natives of the countries we visited. Especially in restaurants, I really do think that they appreciated my attempts at simple French, German, and Hungarian phrases. Likewise, I was relieved that the waiters and waitresses tried to speak English to us as well. Leave it to food to unite different nationalities and languages!
Sarah Hull ’15, English
Photo by Katelynn Deibel.
We shuffled around one another awkwardly, trying to collect bulletins and candles for the impending service without making too much of a spectacle. A nun assured us of something in French- that she was going to bring more candles, perhaps?
14 college students bundled in winter coats, hats, and scarves took to the long benches flanking the front half of the immense abbey. If there was talking, we did so in muted whispers; every sound seemed to echo and bounce between the tall stone walls. I sat by a thick pillar to the right of the center walkway. The organ and its player stood against the far right wall, hidden in a corner from the rest of the sanctuary.
I shivered and stuffed my scarf into the neck of my bright coat. My eyes darted back and forth across the room: from the icons set into the walls to the golden props lay around the altar, from the stained-glass windows to the vaulted ceilings high above. I tried to soak in every detail with earnest interest.
I had no idea what to expect as the mass started. I’d only been to one Catholic ceremony before: a funeral. This was a special service, too, from what I understood: the Epiphany service of the Three Magi. “EPIPHANIE DI SEIGEUR: En la personne des troid mages, que tous les peuples adorent le Createur de l’univers,” the yellow bulletin assured me.
Voices suddenly rose to the ceiling and I peered between the shoulders of the small crowd in front of me to catch a glimpse of the chanting notes’ source. A robed priest stood at a podium. Pointed arches towered behind him, dwarfing the man as he raised his voice in blessings to God that we couldn’t understand. The priest’s prayers were a call to which the nuns gave their replies in angelic harmony. High notes filled the abbey air, and the holy words stretched out from the altar to fill the vast hall as palpably as incense.
A priest swinging a gold ball on a chain made his way up the center aisle as the shivering congregation passed a flame from one dripping white candlestick to the next. Gray smoke billowed from the pendulum, hypnotizing us with puffs of sharp, pungent perfume. Another puff escaped from the priest’s open lips as he sauntered by– more smoke? No, warm moisture hit the frigid air and joined the rising smoke as he murmured devotions.
I rubbed my numb hands together and craned my neck to study the kneeling nuns on the cold stone floor. They wore simple blue dresses, thick socks, and brown shoes ranging from sneakers to Birkenstocks. On their knees before the cross, the holy women resemble mounds of pillows. Their white capes and habits created folds as soft as the elder nuns’ wrinkles.
The rising heat from the worshipers’ candles made my vision of the altar waver, giving the mass a surreal quality. It was like looking through clear, rippling waters. Hands pointed toward the sky in prayer shuddered. My attention wavered a bit as well until the nun paraded slowly toward the crowd during what I assumed was a passing of the peace.
An aged nun took my hand. As she hand with those on the benches before me, she looked into my eyes and, with a smile, cooed a blessing. I smiled in return, unsure of how to reply, and enjoyed the warmth of her hand as it seeped into my skin. Her touch made my fingers warmer than they’d been in hours.
This woman was on her hands and knees on the cold floor before God, I marveled as I left the cavernous abbey. The wind whipped around us as we descended the many stairs of the mount, blown across the water surrounding. I didn’t pay much attention, though, as I was still thinking of the nuns’ thin dresses and habits. What kept them so warm? Even after we climbed into the bus, I stared at my bus and felt something inward thaw.
Maggie Myers ’17, Undecided
The class is guided through Vienna by McDaniel Europe professor Gabi Szigethy. Photo by Josh Ambrose.
It always seems like you remember the firsts and the lasts most clearly. The middle memories sort of get lost in the mix of it all. When I came back home from this trip everyone asked me how it went.
I was so eager to share my stories. How were Paris and Normandy? “So beautiful! I could have spent forever there. Budapest? “The students from the McDaniel campus were so much fun! I didn’t want to leave!” And Vienna? “It was really cool!” Cool? Vienna was so much more than that! It had just gotten lost in the blur of the other places that I almost forgot how amazing it really was.
I loved Vienna. At first, I was a little skeptical. When we arrived the city was dark and gloomy. The fog was so thick that you couldn’t even see the top of the buildings. Though the architecture was still beautiful in it’s mix of new and old, it was nothing like Paris. The streets were dirtier and if I didn’t know any better, I could have sworn we took a wrong turn. Hearing so many good things about the city, I was optimistic that this wasn’t a true first impression. The next day I woke up and I was right. The city was nothing like I had seen the night before. The sun was shining and (besides my immense lack of sleep due to a certain someone’s endless snoring) I knew it was going to be a day full of fun adventures. I cannot tell you how many times during the trip that I had to pinch myself and remind myself that I was not dreaming.
Our day started with a visit to three different cathedrals. For lunch we got to walk around the city on our own (groups of three) a little bit. That’s when I got to explore the famous Vienna Naschmarkt and ate a delicious Russian cuisine–borscht and brown bread. I was so surprised at how many different cultures and people there were from other countries selling things in the market. After lunch we walked to a famous art museum near the market and got to see some modern art. Best of all, we saw work by Gustav Klimt! We got to see the Habsburg crypt and their winter palace, too.
I didn’t think the day could have gotten any better! I was completely wrong! After our visit with the Habsburgs we stopped in a “little” cafe and got some coffee. Just when I thought we were done for the night, we had one more stop to go…the Vienna Opera House to see The Marriage of Figaro. We actually got to see a real opera–my first opera! The whole thing was indescribable. Looking back, that day in Vienna was definitely at the top of my list of favorite days on the trip, and to think, I almost dismissed it with a simple one word description.
Lauren Murray ’14, English and Spanish
(left to right) Maggie Myers, Federica of McDaniel Europe, Lauren Murray, and Sarah Hull grab lunch at Pompeii in Budapest.
While we walked to McDaniel Europe in Budapest, Hungary, it was impossible not to notice the difference between our home campus and this new place that we were connecting with. The beautiful city, the old building, the international students and professors – I was thinking that it had to be incredibly different going to school here than it was at our own little campus in Westminster.
However, as we got to know the students and the professors over our few days in Budapest, these differences started to disappear. Although the students came from all over the world and most had traveled extensively in Europe, we were still able to bond quickly over our McDaniel College education, from our similar interests in journalism and working with the school paper to fulfilling the EPE credit that everyone dreads.
As a few of the students showed us around town, they talked about what their life is like in Budapest. Aside from the city life that we all wish we had in Westminster, the students talked about writing their personal statements for grad school, going to the gym, dating, and of course President Casey’s notorious speeches at school events.
Although this is going to sound incredibly cheesy, I realized that we all are McDaniel, just like our little pins say. No matter what country we come from or where we have been, we are all pursuing our degrees in political science, English, history, among others. It was fun to talk with the students and share our experiences at the different campuses, but when it came down to it, we were all a lot more similar than I was expecting.