Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Big Event

This morning, my university held the semiannual Big Event, a city-wide service project. The Fencing Club, of which I remained a member even in Salamanca (learning to stab people is a universal language, especially when your coach is a cool military guy with a motorcycle), needed the service hours, so at 10 AM we found ourselves at the local Farmer’s Market.

Our assignment: move furniture to create space in a huge shed containing calendars from 1960 and maps from 1930.

Secondary assignment: also move a huge amount of dust from 1930. Far, far away.

On this cold and misty morning, I remembered the days in Salamanca, where the dawn mist would clear by noon, leaving the sky a clear blue and the clouds a small flock of sheep following the sun. Brief mornings with Mari and Ricardo before class, afternoons with My Personal Francophone during siesta, and cocktails with my friends from Emory in the evenings.

Then I remembered that I didn’t have this place, in Salamanca. Mountains, valleys, the rich and varied legacy of local traditions. The Civil War history of Jackson and the quilts of the Underground Railroad. The chance to stop in for organic tea or ginger beer during the meeting of the German Club.

Maybe this is the best place for me to be, right now, I concluded. To learn to integrate both worlds.

Then, the wind blew, the piercing Shenandoah valley wind that cuts fingers and chaps lips from September to June, and ran right through my jacket.

Or, not, I thought. Then reentered the shed to hack away at some more dust.



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J’ai un reve americaine

It’s been a pretty challenging, and yet fulfilling semester. I’ve always believed that the purpose of college is not to be a trade school. It’s an educational experience which opens the mind and helps one interconnect concepts. The “bigger picture” emerges, encompassing the whole of human achievement: history, language, art, music, science, math.

Fate rewarded me with a metaphorical finger up its nose: eight papers since the end of spring break, in addition to extensive daily reading and writing. Ah, liberal arts degrees.

Things have steadily improved as I finish off assignments. The only thing better than finishing off one more paper, is the news I got last week.

“I have a surprise,” my Personal Francophone wrote me. “I’ll tell you on Skype later.”

“So,” I said, once we had connected over the Magical Webcams of Technology and Happiness, “what’s this surprise?”

“I bought them,” he said.

“You bought what?” I asked. I suspected, of course, but I was never that kid who unwrapped the Christmas gifts secretly and shamefully in the bottom of Mom’s closet on December 20.

“Plane tickets!” he exclaimed happily.

Cue fireworks. And brass bands. And throwers of flaming batons.

On the afternoon of June 19, I will be the happiest girl in the Universe.

The only thing is, how do I give him this?

I love this country. I am the quintessential believer in the American dream.

I believe in independence. In self-reliance. In earning one’s way.

I have been blessed enough to see more than half of our fifty states, and to understand and appreciate each of their different cultures and traditions. To envision how it all fits into the American whole. Who we are as a people. How we have emerged culturally, linguistically, socially, historically to where we are now. From small towns to huge sprawling metropolises, across the vast expanse of our nation, we are still one people, distinguished by our optimism and pride.

How do you give that to a non-American? Belgium has its own history of colonization and control, independence and evolution, which have made its people emerge into confidence and pride in their nation.

Belgians have fought their way into independence from France, from Holland, from Germany, and they are justly proud of these accomplishments, and patriotic with it. But at the same time, its citizens are willing to accept a large amount of government control and support which many Americans would disdain.

How does one open someone else to experience America? How can one really get across the idea of the original American dream: house, home, family and livelihood forged with the sweat of one’s brow and the work of one’s hands? How that has shaped our traditions, our national mindset. Who we are.

Any ideas?

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