The GoGlobal Blog

Month: April 2011

The Catholic Connection

The Catholic Connection

Happy Easter! Since it’s Easter, I figured I’d write a blog about the history and my experience of Catholicism in Vietnam. I hope I’ll be able to write more about Cambodia and our Northern Excursion before the end of the trip. We’ll see with final exams approaching, but for now enjoy this little piece about Catholicism in Vietnam.

Coming to Vietnam I imagined large pagodas full of giant gold Buddhas, monks in saffron robes, and a society really imbued with Buddhism. I was seriously letting my experience from India and stories from Thailand inform my expectations more than I should have. When I got off the plane, I was met with something entirely different. My taxi driver had a statuette of the Virgin Mary on his dashboard (didn’t stop him from extorting a several dollar tip out of me as I groggily arrived in Saigon too tired to try and argue, I guess he could smell the fresh meat), and the first meal I had in Vietnam was a bowl of noodles under a large mother of pearl engraving of the last supper, flanked by a portrait of the laughing Jesus on the opposite wall and Jesus on a crucifix in the back of the room. Leaving the restaurant I brushed up against a Christmas tree lined with tinsel, and beginning to explore the city the first religious structure I came upon was the imposing Notre Dame Basilica Cathedral, a reminder of the French Colonial legacy with its huge pink bell towers and immense interior full of statues of saints and giant stained glass windows. I was to learn soon that Catholics make up a little more than twelve percent of the population of Vietnam, with a disproportionate amount living in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh city and a large portion of Vietnamese in foreign countries due to historical pressure in the region.

Jacob Ramsay in his section of the book Modernity and Re-Enchantment: Religion in Post-Revolutionary Vietnam, argues that Catholicism is just a much a Vietnamese religion because it is an imported religion just like Buddhism and Confucianism from China, its just that Catholicism had come a little later. According to some people Catholicism was an outside threat and shouldn’t have been adopted by so many Vietnamese. However if that logic were used, all of today’s Vietnamese would be animist ancestor worshippers without any Buddhist, Tao, or Confucian ideals because they were all imported from China or India. Now isn’t that a strange thought.

The first Catholic presence in Vietnam came from Spanish and Portuguese missionaries based in the nearby Philippines and East Timor. One of these Portuguese missionaries, Alexander de Rhodes, converted many people and also noticed a low literacy rate among the people. During that time basically only the elite had access to education and were able to learn Chinese characters, which were used to write Vietnamese at that point. Alexander knew that Chinese characters were too difficult for the masses to learn effectively, and so to improve literacy and enable people to read the Bible, he began creating a new script for the Vietnamese language. He used some of the underlying work used by Portuguese priests that came before him and using an adapted version of the Latin alphabet with diacritics and accent marks to display the use of tones in the language, Alexander created a language everyone could learn easily. The script is still used today and is called Quoc Ngu (National Language). Rhodes is still honored today, and a street in Saigon bears his name.

Over time, many Vietnamese converted to Catholicism thanks to successful missionary activity by the Jesuit order in the region. Whole communities embraced Catholicism, and that began to trouble some of the Ngyuen Emperors, who eventually expelled the missionaries and killed many Vietnamese Catholics who were believed to not be loyal to the state. This did not stop conversion however, as many Vietnamese of lower classes and even in the army came to Catholicism because of its egalitarian nature and as an escape from feudalism present at the time. Those killed became known as the Vietnamese martyrs, who are actually displayed at a side altar in Saigon’s Cathedral alongside the older European saints and angels. The majority of the martyrs were Vietnamese villagers along with a small contingent of Jesuit and Dominican missionaries. All of the martyrs, named and unknown were eventually beatified by Pope John Paul II before roaring crowds of happy Vietnamese.

Oppression against Catholics continued until the French came to power when Catholicism gained the upper hand with French patronage, and then later on in South Vietnam many people converted for political reasons because they thought it would land them better jobs or positions in the military. Just like the other religions, it survived the War… with some ‘alterations’.

I will say Catholicism is strong here. I imagine where life is tough, people need faith (why do you think Poland, Greece, and Cyprus have the highest church attendance ratings in Europe?) Driving to Da Lat for our day trip I saw multitudes of churches, and in front of these churches were poor barefoot farmers in rags. These men, women, and children stood on the outside of the churches because the insides were filled past capacity! When was the last time you saw people standing in crowds outside of church and at the side windows to hear the Gospel and receive Holy Communion? Those sights made me re-evaluate my devotion to Jesus.

Two more instances about Catholicism come from my own Catholic identity. I wear a crucifix on my neck, and twice on this trip people have noticed it and it has changed the dynamic of the moment. The first was when I met some of Nghiem’s father’s friend’s children. These two kids: Yaoman and Minh were the coolest kids. Yaoman had dimples that took up his entire face! Both of them wore small silver crosses and when they saw my crucifix they pointed at it and then at theirs, and then the large wooden crucifix they kept on the wall of their living room and gave me a thumbs up. Later when I was playing with the two kids their small grandmother hobbled over to me in her blue pajamas and showed me the cross on her neck and offered to take me to Mass. I would have agreed but I had to leave for Saigon, and so I had to decline.

Weeks later in Hanoi I was eating some fried fish and noodle on the street with Gabe, Alex, and Vien. An old woman nearby was serving tea out of her portable little stand (the flexible poles with two baskets on the ends which is ubiquitous to Vietnam and serves as transportation and a storefront when needed). She didn’t look very happy under her conical hat, but while giving us tea she noticed my crucifix and cracked a smile. She walked back to her little stall and returned to me with a Catholic prayer card. I’m not sure what exactly it says because it is in Vietnamese; however the man on the front of the card is definitely John the Baptist.

Later on in Hanoi I went to the huge Gothic Cathedral, St. Joseph’s to take a look around and say a few prayers. I was pleasantly surprised to find a stained glass window dedicated to very important and special saint to me, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the namesake of my school! The window pictured Ignatius writing a letter to other Jesuits. There were many other saints in the large windows and side altars. The stained glass illuminated the dark gothic interior beautifully. It was much more ornate than the Basilica in Saigon.

Saigon’s Basilica may be simpler on the inside, but its pink brick and tile exterior definitely trumps St. Joseph’s bleak grey stone. The Basilica also has a side alter dedicated to the Theotokos, a Byzantine Icon of the Virgin Mary that looks stunning in soft candle light. During Lent there were many services in the Basilica were people would sing songs and chant outside the church around a granite statue of Mary, styled as Our Lady of Peace, which was erected during the War era in the hope the country would find peace.

On Good Friday I fasted and for my one meal I went to the usual Pho restaurant asnd ordered my usual minus the beef. The woman taking the order looked surprised and said in English, “Are you Catholic?” I said yes and she smiled, “Very good. I am too.”

I went to Easter Mass at the Basilica and it was PACKED! People were standing in the courtyard it was so crowded. I didn’t get a seat, but stood next to the side alter for the Vietnamese martyrs. The pews were predominantly Vietnamese but there were many Americans, Europeans, Africans, and South Indians dressed up in fancy shalwar pyjama.

I really saw that our church is a Universal Catholic Church because of the diversity in the congregation. It was a very good experience. After Mass I went to my favorite German bakery and got some hot cross buns for all the Americans and our roommates. For dinner since there is no Easter ham or Friedmann Macn’cheese we all went to a fancy Sushi bar and sat on cushions in a private room with sliding bamboo doors and had delicious raw fish.

As for Cambodia, well… Catholicism was pretty much eradicated in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge era. Anything that wasn’t ‘Khmer’ was ‘erased’ and since Catholicism was seen as a western intrusion of Cambodian culture, most Catholics were killed. However, the Jesuits are still active and during our excursion to Cambodia we stopped by a Jesuit training center called Banteay Prieb, which is Khmer for ‘Sign of the Dove”. Banteay Prieb offers training certificates in five areas—mechanics, electronics, sewing, agriculture, and sculpture for people with disabilities. It was a very nice place and helped people who are marginalized in Southeast Asian societies find a home where they are accepted and learn skills to help them provide for themselves.

Catholicism is alive and well in Vietnam, and if anyone wants to say Christianity is just a ghost of Western colonization, think again the Vietnamese have successfully made Catholicism there own since the French departure with incense burners, joss sticks, services in Vietnamese, altars dedicated to the Vietnamese martyrs, churches built following traditional pagoda style architecture, and bronze Asian elephants flanking statues of saints. Elements of Vietnamese culture have blended with Catholicism to give it a regional flavor all it’s own, and it is beautiful indeed.

P.S. I had candy for the first time in 40 days. It was amazing!

Holy Week in the Capital of Catholicism

Holy Week in the Capital of Catholicism

Holy Week in the capital of Roman Catholicism, what more could you ask for?

I’ll spare you the details of the school week, it’s boring and because let’s be honest you don’t want to hear about it and I don’t want to write about it.

We’ll just skip to wednesday. Calcio playoffs. We had to play Purple again, we lost a heartbreaker 4-3. Never been on the losing side of an upset before. Oh well it was fun while it lasted; besides it wasn’t the main reason I was here.

Thursday. Holy Thursday. Signed up to go on a “Church Crawl” with Father Al and friends. It was a very quick day of classes, or I should say “class” as I just had Italian and since we are done learning new things we are just reviewing. Anywho, that evening a bunch of us headed downtown with Padre Al and ended up meeting some students from Duquesne University who are studying in Rome. Lit candles in hand we started on the crawl in Piazza del Popolo. The walk took us down Via del Corso and all the way to Piazza Navona. I sort of lost track of the number of Churches we went into and saw the Eucharist exposed for adoration. I believe the number to be around 8 or so. Dinner at yet another stellar restaurant followed. Of course, being near piazza navona we were also near Abbey Theatre Pub and Fridgidarium gelateria, a stop at both wrapped up the perfect evening. The only problem I had was that a number of the students, both from the JFRC and Duquesne, seemed to have a lack of respect for what we were doing. The point of a church crawl is not to go along and chit chat and get dinner at the end. Things like that have just been bothering me lately. I’m okay if you aren’t into the religious thing, I get that. But then don’t come on the crawl, you are missing the point then for those of us who want to get something out of it. Rant over.

Good Friday (by whose standards? Ha. Ha. Bad joke). Had to do a bit of grocery shopping as the BANE of our existence “Mensa” was/is closed for the weekend. This is a much needed break from that food let me tell you. Got quite a bit of food from our favorite supermarket Simply, but it only cost me about 22 euro. Two baguettes for a euro? I can dig it. After a lunch at Tullio’s pizza, I decided it was time for a nap. Later that evening people were meeting at the Gesu church to head over to the Colosseum for the Stations of the Cross lead by Pope Benedict XVI. However, I decided they were meeting too early for my liking. So then about 8pm Katie Mac, Christina and I sauntered on downtown. The stations didn’t begin until 9:15 so we got there with plenty of time. When we got to the Colosseum we found thousands of other people, but after some careful maneuvering and squeezing we got to a decent spot. We really could not see much of what was going on but we could see the Pope a bit. It was much too crowded and crazy for us, so we left at about station 5. It was too hard to hear anyway, and the only thing I picked up in Italian was that “Jesus falls the first time”…so my ear for the language is getting better, just in time to leave eh? Ugh.

(Holy) Saturday. Was another lazy morning/afternoon. I honestly have no real homework I need to be working on, aside from studying. All the class papers I had (one in every class, ugh) have all been turned in. So later in the PM, I traveled and walked around downtown with Annie and Alex. Highlights included the Trevi and Mercato Trionfale. We had plans to head to the Hard Rock Café for dinner but those kind of fell through, no matter because I had to rise early for Domenica Pasqua (Easter Sunday) Mass with the one, the only, Pope Benny.

BUONA PASQUA TUTTI (Happy Easter everyone!)

Yes, the day has arrived. Jesus is risen, he’s back ya’ll. Get knocked down, he gets right back up (after 3 days). That’s why I like the guy. So as I said I awoke at the crack of 6:30am for to leave at 7 (I need a half hour MAX to get ready…BOOM). Since it is a Sunday AND a holiday, we figured the buses would be running…never, so we walked. And Ryan is a damn fast walker, so we got down there in 20 minutes or so, record time. However gates to Piazza San Pietro did not open until 8:30. Thus, we waited, with a few thousand of our friends. Since our school had reserved tickets for us, we were among the lucky few to actually get seats. We were in the second section of seats, so still pretty far back from where the pope sat but he did drive in front of our section on the way to the front in his pope buggy. Mass was fairly quick for a bit hoopla in the square. It was mainly done in Latin and Italian, but the 2nd reading was actually in English, so hooray for that. But I know how mass goes enough to know what the Italian means in each section of the celebration. It was cloudy and raining in the morning but by the time mass started at 10:30a it became sunny, coincidence?

Getting out of the square/piazza after the mass was just as fun as getting in, and by fun I mean not fun. We were pushed by nuns, yes, NUNS. I have never seen/been around so many people before in my life, football games are less crazy. Anyway, we finally got out and got back to campus. It was such an incredible experience, once in a lifetime. I am glad I went, I really almost didn’t but as my alarm was going off I thought of Gramps. I knew he was excited I was going to be studying here, and unfortunately I don’t get to tell him all about the fun I have had. It was the thought of him that really told me I needed to be there.

Again, since Mensa is closed we are on our own. So a group of us gathered up picnic fixin’s and walked to the Monte Mario park and the Zodiac overlook. It was an afternoon of food, wine and movie quoting. Since we are all away from home, away from our families, we decided to dine together and it was a nice time together. Did I mention there was wine? I came here without a taste for the fermented grape drink, but after a while I came to love the stuff and now I can’t get enough. Oh dio! Am I turning into my parents? Eh, wouldn’t be the worst thing.

BUT EASTER IS NOT OVER YET MY FRIENDS. After returning to campus (and napping, that’s what wine does to you). A number of us were wondering what to do for dinner, so we called up the Hard Rock Café, since we still had a hankering after the plans fell through. As luck had it, they were open. Eight of us total hopped on the bus (which came right away, whaaat?) and then the Metro (which is great, but they only have two lines because there are too many damn ruins everywhere that they can’t have a decent subway system) Anyway, after walking through the doors we felt as if we were back in the US. Classic rock on the stereo and English being spoken all around. What else do you order at the Hard Rock besides a burger? A Milkshake. Yes I realize I will be home in less than two weeks. (Damn)…but I needed this pick me up to help get over the mixed feelings about the limited time I have left. It was a great night of more food, friends and laughter. Took about an hour to get the check, but that’s another story. A very eventful walk back to the bus followed dinner, we were all very full (and I am STILL full as I write this hours after eating). Again, it was great to eat with friends on a big holiday while being so far from home. It didn’t really feel a whole lot like Easter to me. I guess because I didn’t do anything of the things I usually do, like brunch with the family, find my Easter basket, things like that. Oh well, it’s always good to have new adventures and who knows, maybe new traditions.

So now I sit here, up late (no classes on Easter Monday). I can’t help but keep thinking about leaving so soon. I don’t want to think about it, but I know it’s coming so soon. I want to write about all my feelings, but I don’t think now is the time. I still have things to see and do, my time is not done just yet.

My Lai

My Lai

Saturday morning our last big trip of the semester began. We were to journey to the Central and Northern regions of Vietnam in order to learn more about the country and to compare the culture and linguistic differences between the regions outside of the south we had yet to experience. We were supposed to leave by 7 AM so by 6:30 I was up, packed, and ready to go. I had half an hour to spare so I decided I wanted to get a nice hearty breakfast before our big day of travelling. What did I get you ask? Well, the usual breakfast of Champions in Vietnam: Banh Mi Oplah! Banh Mi Oplah is a delicious breakfast sandwich comprised of fried eggs (I order 3 usually), cilantro, cucumber, pickled carrots and daikon, butter, soy sauce, hot sauce, diced up chili, and thin strips of chicken, fish, or Vietnamese mystery meat pate which I generally try to avoid for reasons you can guess. All of that is served on an individual fresh French baguette with the additional option of slathering on a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese and sprinkling on a dash of salt and pepper. All of this goes for approximately 75 cents, and I can buy an iced tea or tra da, at a nearby stall for about 5 cents, so I complete my breakfast for 80 cents. Beat that McDonalds!
As I sat with my delicious breakfast and my bags beside me at the cement table outside of our dorm, the others showed up one by one. First Vien appeared with our itinerary and then Gabe with his nicely trimmed beard he had touched up the night before.
We were all very excited, and adding to our already high excitement levels was the fact Rylan brought a sack of doughnuts to the guesthouse to wish us of on our Northern Excursion and say goodbye for two weeks as he was leaving soon for Canada as well. I had given up sweets for lent, but I made a minor concession and enjoyed two of the powdered doughnuts. WOW. They were some of the best doughnuts I’ve had for some time. Betsy, Alex, and Robb showed up a little later and we feasted on the doughnuts and lauded Rylan with praise before hopping in the Sprinter van and speeding off to the airport.
We arrived at the airport and sped through the check in process; that is until the woman at the counter forced us to check our bags even though they were well under 50 pounds. Robb and I protest for a few minutes until we realized the argument was hopeless so we relented and went on our way to the terminal. After watching Chinese Kung Fu movies for half an hour or so we boarded the plane after taking a minibus out to its open doors on a far-out stretch of the runway.
Our plane ride went without a hitch, save the fact Betsy threw candy at me again from across the aisle… anyway, after some sooth flying amongst the clouds over the ocean, we laded at chu ly Airport, formerly an airbase built and used by the Americans during the Vietnam War. The history was quite evident in the long cement tube hangers that stood empty at the end of the airfield. Our plane was the only operational airplane in the airport. It looked quite alone out on the tarmac as we walked toward the doors of the airport. Large sections of runway once used for fighter jets and the ubiquitous huey helicopters lay abandoned and covered in weeds. Far away toward the derelict hangers was a run down soviet era tupolev awaiting its fate, most likely scrap I would venture to guess.
After our bags appeared we met our guide for the next few days named Quyen and then piled in another Sprinter Mercedes van to see the My Lai Massacre Memorial.

My Lai is the site of a brutal massacre that took place during the Vietnam War, and was committed by wayward US troops against innocent civilians. A man named Lt. Calley led the troops into the village with a rousing speech inciting anger and feelings of revenge by talking about how many of their group had been killed horribly, including one of their favorite leaders only a day before to a booby-trap. All of the men were tired and scared of the illusive Viet Cong and very angry at the loss of their comrades. All those emotions proved great kindling for Calley’s speech, and a great fire ensued. A fire of hatred.
The small squad dropped in a rice field outside the village and had a orders to exterminate anything inside the village because it was a ‘free fie zone’ and any non-Viet Cong would have left to go to the village by this point of the day. The troops strolled in not to find Viet Cong as expected; but women, children, and old men. Some children approached the GIs with smiles on their faces because weeks before other GIs had visited the village and passed out candy. The smiles stopped when the soldiers began rounding up people from their homes and shoving them into the irrigation canals for the rice paddies. That was when the shooting began. M16s ripped apart people huddled in the ditches and those fleeing from the village in a panic. One, Herbert Carter, could not handle the brutality and shot himself in the foot in order to avoid the carnage destroying his conscience and be medivaced out of the situation. The troops moved from hut to hut dragging out everyone and shooting them in the mud. Girls were brutally raped and then executed. Grenades were thrown into the concrete bomb shelters obliterating anyone inside. The GIs threw whicker baskets on the homes and burnt them down. If people in the ditches whimpered or cried out, more rounds were repeatedly fired until there was silence. What is really disturbing is that a photographer, Ronald Haeberle, asked the troops at one point to stop “hold it” he said as a group of people were rounded up. He snapped the picture and as he turned away the guns roared and everyone fell dead.
A US helicopter on a reconnaissance mission nearby noticed the smoke and though that a battle must be raging and so the chopper went in to help. Major Thompson commanding the helicopter noticed a wounded civilian woman trying to escape. He threw a green smoke grenade near here and yelled out for a soldier named Medina to help the woman, assuming she was injured in the crossfire of the battle. However Medina responded by prodding the woman with his boot and then putting a bullet in her head. Mortified, Thompson realized this was not a battle, but a massacre.
Thinking quickly, he flew the helicopter between the advancing soldiers and the fleeing Vietnamese. He ordered his door gunners to open fire on any American who got closer or shot any civilians and the gunners gave warnings to the GIs on the ground. The helicopter doors were flung open and one of the crew, Glenn Andreotta and Lawrence Colburn, helped wounded and those who were hiding in one of the remaining bomb shelters not hit by a grenade onto Huey helicopters that were radioed in. With the remaining Vietnamese safe, the helicopter flew away from one of the worst atrocities committed by American soldiers.
Seeing the memorial was very heartbreaking. All of the burned houses were reconstructed in their ‘destroyed state’, and the dirt path of the village was replaced with concrete with the imprints of children’s feet, dog paw prints, bike treads, and the large indentations of American combat boots showing who was present that day. Walking from the outside memorial into the adjacent museum we were met with a large black marble memorial engraved with the names of the 500 victims. We saw pictures of the atrocity in actions taken by a war correspondent (which raises ethical questions of someone documenting this slaughter, and actually saying ‘stop’ not to halt the conflict, but trying to get a better angle of the people being killed. That is a barbarism beyond my understanding). There were life-size dummies of soldiers grabbing women by the hair, burning down houses, and shooting villages huddled together. Seeing life-sized representation of American soldiers, men with star spangled patches on their uniforms, committing such heinous deeds did not seem real to me, it couldn’t be real. The real sad truth is that it IS real and that really did happen. To finish our visit, we went into the basement of the memorial and watched a video called “The Horror of War” in which the narrator discusses what drives ordinary soldiers to such depravity. Lawyers and veterans were consulted, and comparisons to Haditha were made. In the end a veteran returns to the site and halfway apologizes/confronts his past. There is also a meeting of the veteran with a survivor. It was really intense. In the end it is concluded that war is Evil and people can be psychologically pushed to do things they normally do, but what the US soldiers did was illegal for any army and that the ‘following orders’ excuse did not apply and the troops should have been prosecuted. I thought the film was interesting, and when the credits rolled and Al Jazeera was responsible for the film, I was very very surprised.
As we were leaving our tour guide talked to a survivor who lived because she was just two years old at the time and several bodies had fallen over her so the bullets didn’t hit her. Driving away from the memorial I began thinking and reflecting about the site as well as articles Rylan had given us to read as well as some of my own experiences, especially with my friend Zofishan. Zofishan and I had talked about the War in Afghanistan and the war in Pakistan. It is eerie how similar Cambodia and Pakistan are when you look at the war in Vietnam and the war in Afghanistan. Cambodia was a side project for Vietnam, and Pakistan is the Aghanistan War’s side project. Americans never really supported a war in Cambodia, and I’m sure not many Americans today are aware of our involvement within Pakistan, would support it, and to say the honest truth I’m quite certain not many American teenagers could tell you which country was Afghanistan and which was Pakistan if I gave them an unlabeled contiguous map of the Middle East and South Asia.
War is a complicated thing. I used to think the Just War Theory could be used as a conscious Catholic to decide if a war was ethical. I think World War II was a good case of this, but in other cases I’m not so sure. Seeing the impact of war on a country changes your opinion about war. My opinion is still hazy as I try to work through all I’ve seen. However that is something big to contemplate and so instead for my next blog I’ll go with something lighter. Probably the next leg of the trip in Hoi An. Also I know I still have to do Cambodia and other trips. All will come eventually…

So I Met the Ambassador

So I Met the Ambassador

The US ambassador gave a lecture this morning at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) – which is basically like the Harvard of Oman. The lecture was about the Free Trade Agreement that Oman has with the USA.

The Free Trade Agreement is a big deal for Oman. During negotiations the US insisted that if an FTA were to be made then conditions in the Sultanate needed to be on par with America. As a result the FTA contains passages addressing issues like labor rights, intellectual property guidelines, telecommunications, and business ethics. So Oman had to pay a price for it. In exchange for open access to the biggest consumer market in the world, Oman now has support institutions which police copyright infringement, ensure good working conditions, and bust-up monopolies. Additionally, competition for local Omani businesses has increased now that big American business conglomerates are given national status.

So naturally the FTA has the potential to be a hot topic – which is why the ambassador’s lecture was a disappointment. He is a career diplomat, which essentially means unconditional support for US policies. Absolutely no criticism whatsoever. It was cool to see the ambassador and everything, but the content of his remarks was pretty much unusable.

The reason I’m writing about this is because during this part of my program I am working on the famed Independent Study Project (ISP) – one of the cornerstones of SIT’s model. I basically have a month of no classes during which I choose a topic of interest to me and write a thirty page paper about it. The catch is that most of the research for the ISP is done by the student. Since I chose to do my ISP on manufacturing and exports, I’m interviewing people at the Ministry of Commerce, the Chamber of Commerce, and a variety of companies down at the Rusayl Industrial Park. SIT is all about qualitative research, meaning research that isn’t just all numbers – stuff that can only be studied by actually being in the country. So I thought the ambassador was gonna be an awesome source – but, like I guess any good US representative would, he stayed comfortably on the “absolutely no negatives with this” side.

Lesson: government representatives are awful primary sources.

On another note – I met a professor at SQU who is from Cleveland – rock on!

The bus is always late, of course I am not going to buy a ticket.

The bus is always late, of course I am not going to buy a ticket.

Another week gone by, they are zooming along at a breakneck speed. Seems like just a week ago I was writing my last post…oh it was a week ago. My apologies again, but I feel like my posts are not going to be as frequent or all that interesting from here on out because I’m really going to try and concentrate not losing my mind over all this “holy hell I don’t have that much time left here” stuff.


I found out early last week that I got that marketing internship back in Appleton for the summer that I was hoping to get. It’s only part-time, meaning I am still going to be at Ace (Hardware) for a good chuck of time. But still, it’s very exciting to finally get some real world marketing internship before I graduate and have to, you know, get a REAL job. And I this will tell me if I really do indeed love marketing as much as I say I do. Trying to coordinate two possible summer jobs from Rome is no easy task let me tell you, but it can be done. Also, I’m applying for Supervisor at Phonathon for the fall, I really hope I get it. I feel like Phonathon is where I need to be right now, especially because I would not have been able to go to London had it not been for the Forza Alumni Scholarship. I want to help phonathon continue to grow and I want to show the world just now darn responsible I am and how well I can rise to take down any challenge.

Tuesday night, the JFRC had its semesterly and ever popular Talent Show. Originally I did not plan on attending, but soon I realized it would be the talk of campus for a while, and that there were some good acts so I decided to go. Aside from Improv (we were not able to assemble the Rome Improv Team in time) my talents are not numerous, or at least ones that could be performed in said ‘talent show’ on such sort notice. Anywho…it ended up be a great, and hilarious time. A number of people sang things, there was a stand up routine and a break dance. Now it wasn’t exactly the talk of campus as I expected but it was still a great time, and good way to take your mind off homework for a little while.

Wednesday brought the last regular season game of Calcio. Team Green, looking to rebound from a heartbreaking loss to Lime and head into the playoffs on a high note was taking on Purple. To start off we only had one sub because of some sick members (and one or two girls who have just stopped playing for whatever reason)…and then midway through we had no subs because of a skinned knee to one girl. However, Conor really stepped his game up…leading the scoring with 5 or 6 goals. Purple would not go away, as striker Andy (who played for Loyola’s team) netted 5 scores against myself. Did I have the best game, by all means no, I didn’t save a whole lot. Luckily the team had my back, and we won 8-6. Heading into the playoffs with the #2 seed, the target on our backs is pretty big. Hoping to have a good playoff run, mainly for all the bragging rights…but I also think the champions get a t-shirt, and who doesn’t love free t-shirts?

Thursday brought about the end to yet another ‘fun’ week of classes. You wouldn’t think 4 day weeks would be that hard, but with 3 one day a week classes, the work can really pile up. So when thursday comes around, you are glad you have a three day weekend. It was kind of a low key night, late in the evening Annie and I decided to go get crepes down in Piazza Balduina not too far from campus. However, evidently the crepe place closes at 9pm on weekdays, so that nixed that plan…instead we got pizza on the walk back. That was the end of the night, or so I thought. Nope, we got back and were about to start a movie when Ashley, Erica & Matt came in and said they were heading down to the local watering hole just for a little while. I thought, why not, better than sitting around. We ended up staying at the bar for a while…no topic was off the table, and it turned out to be a very fun night. Which then led me to sleep in quite late on friday morning.

Didn’t feel like doing a whole lot on friday, kind of wanted to take the day for myself as I needed to still pick up a final souvenir or two for various people. Naturally, I headed down to the near the Vatican as the best “Rome Souvenirs” are there. Sure its a bit touristy, but every now and then you gotta do that while living in a big tourist spot. It’s been getting steadily more busy around here with the arrival of Holy Week (starting today) and lasting until, well, mid-summer. It’s going to be crazy here until we leave, especially with the beatification of JP II on May 1st. As much as I’d love to see that, I can’t imagine what the Vatican will be like on that day, half of Poland is due to arrive for that. Might just stay up here on the hill or head to the sunday flea market. I still plan on seein’ old Pope Benny and 40,000 of my closest friends next sunday for Easter mass. Once in a lifetime stuff right there.

Saturday (yesterday) I signed up to do a little good for the environment. So myself, and a number of other J-Forcers headed to the Monte Mario Nature Reserve with Cindy (from the JFRC) and an Italian guide. We were taken on a guided hike through the park, whilst cleaning up garbage on the way. It is a very beautiful park on the hill and because of this, it lends great views of both “old” and “modern” Rome. The walk was very enjoyable and it was great to hang out with friends who share similar interests about the environment and stuff. The most laughable thing of the day was finding hundreds of “preservativi” wrappers in one section of the park, well, at least the italians are being safe about it. A lunch at ‘Il Chiodo Fisso” followed the hike. Perhaps it was the fact I was so hungry/tired from the walk, but that pizza was incredible, they are known for good pizza anyway but it was especially good that day. Suppli and fries for antipasti was also a nice touch. Oh did I mention the tiramisu for dessert? Heavenly. Upon walking back to campus we noticed the tree bed at the end of the driveway was very trashy and weedy, and since that was where we wanted to plant flowers we decided to do a little more for mother earth and clean that up. There was 15 of us so it went really quickly, and we frankly had fun doing it. Plus, the broom I was using looked like a quitich broom from Harry Potter, so of course I pretended I was flying.

A pretty low key afternoon followed, and a nap. But a trip down to Via del Corso for gelato at Giolitti was in order that night. I have discovered the worlds best combination. Biscotto Oreo, Caramello, & Zabaione (eggnog)…with the panna (cream) on top of course. Each bite (lick?) was out of this world and I was truly sad when I had eaten it all. The highlight was seeing a huge group of tourists come in after us, clearly they did not know how the ordering process works (pay at the register then head over to the counter and get your flavors) as they were all lining up in front of the gelato counter thus causing the line to go out the door. Matt and I considered for a moment helping them out and explaining how to do it…but we looked at each other, then said “nahhh, they have to learn.” It’s moments like this that again make me feel like a true Italian and not a tourist. I haven’t really felt like a tourist in a while, I like to try out my Italian on the locals and it ticks me off when I order or ask something in Italian and they respond in English. I’m trying to show them I’m not a “dumb American” but sometimes there is no pleasing these people.

So now today is Palm Sunday, kicking off Holy Week. I was planning on doing mass down at the Vatican but was so tired this morning I could not get out of bed, I’ll catch mass later tonight here on campus. It’s pretty great to be spending this week here in the capital of the Roman Catholic faith. Though I am surprised how many stores where open today, first off, it’s sunday but also a holy day. But in reality, Romans are not that serious in their faith. Hence, when Holy Week rolls around, pilgrims normally outnumber locals.

I’ve said this before but I have definitely changed in my seemingly short time here. I can’t exactly pinpoint how, but I know I am different. I’ll leave it up to you to decide just how I’ve changed….I just feel I now I have a different perspective of the world and my faith. Living in a totally different part of the world definitely has its adjustments, and I will probably have to readjust when I return home, wherever home now is for me. Time is running short for me here in Rome. If I thought leaving the States to come here was hard, leaving Rome to go back and leaving all the new friends I’ve made is going to be a hundred times harder. Sure most of them do go to Loyola with me, but a few don’t. Who knows when I’ll see them again, JFRC reunions perhaps, well thank goodness for Facebook at least.

Calling JFRC alumni for Phonathon really reaffirmed my decision to study abroad here for a semester. I heard so many great stories about how it was the best time of their life. I really couldn’t wrap my head around believing them at the time. But now that I’ve been here for so long, I know exactly what they mean. Some of them are twenty years removed from studying here, but they still think about it daily. I know I will be just like that. American food with taste differently, busses will actually run on time, and I won’t get robbed when it comes to exchanging money. But would I change a second of my time here?

You know the answer to that.

Those Other Cities (II)

Those Other Cities (II)


Dubai. Dubai, Dubai. Okay I gotta be frank here. I’m a city kind of guy. Muscat isn’t what I’d call a city, it’s more of a bunch of suburbs encircled by the same border. Getting around without a car is possible, but it is a p-a-i-n in the butt. There’s giant patches of desert throughout the city, and goats – goats and kids and dogs running around. Cats too.

Coming to Dubai I expected a similar set-up. Fancy pants buildings and malls, but not really urban. Boy was I wrong.

Dubai could be New York. Dubai could be Chicago. It has that same big city feel as places like that. It doesn’t yet have the culture as those cities, but – come on, the whole damn city isn’t even more than forty years old. Most of it isn’t more than ten. Dubai is an easy target. They think they’re all that, they build their own islands. But give ’em a break. They built the most beautiful metro system I’ve seen in just under two years. It’s arguably the most international city in the world. Arabic’ll get you nowhere in Dubai, you’d be better off trying English or Hindi – Tagalog even.

I’m confident that in twenty years or so this diverse mix’ll start producing some innovative and unique cultures and subcultures.

Oh by the way – last semester I had a good view of the Willis (yeah right, Sears) Tower from my St. Louis Hall window. I first saw the Burj Al-Khalifa from a comparable distance, and I can say – that thing is a monster. It is the tallest building I can even comprehend being built. It’s so much taller than anything in Chicago. It’s quite tall.

On a more negative note: The Emiratis, the ones I met at least, are kind of jerks. They pushed past foreigners in the malls so they could order their carrot juice, they were impatient, I got the vibe that they felt like they were more entitled to stuff in Dubai than the rest of us. Now that’s a sweeping generalization and I’m sure it’s not true for all Emiratis, but, first impressions are important. And for me, they dropped the ball.

Okay two down, one to go – next time Abu Dhabi.

…..actually….I’ll just do it now ’cause it isn’t too complex.

Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi: Take an older,more lived in city, add in equal parts Dubai and Doha. Mix it up, let sit. Add one (1) Ferarri World for garnish and, if you’d like, a big circle building. Boom. Abu Dhabi.

Little bit of this, little bit of that. That’s Abu Dhabi. It’s a nice city, and the bus is only one dirham (think about 30 cents). Not to mention it basically owns the rest of the Emirates. It’s the political capital, plus Abu Dhabi, the Emirate that is, takes up about 80% of the whole country.

So there’s the rest of the Gulf. Now back to Oman.

Costa Rica Catch Up

Costa Rica Catch Up

As the semester has continued I’ve found myself procrastinating a bit on my blog so I’ve decided to play catch-up and write about some of the highlights I’ve had during my time in Costa Rica in the past month.

*Naranjo, Zarcero, Sarchi field trip: On the day of my birthday my favorite Spanish professor, Sra. Marielos, took our Spanish class of about 13 students on a field trip to the interior of Costa Rica.  We went to 3 small towns each with cultural significance to the country.  Our first stop was a town called Zarcero which had beautiful botanical gardens filled with bushes shaped in intricate designs like dinosaurs, monsters and mazes.  Then after a muy rico lunch of fish, rice, beans, and veggies we got in the bus and went to a coffee plantation.  This is the second coffee plantation I’ve been to but this time was a bit more interesting because we walked all through the fields and saw the way the land was terraced and how the farmers hand picked the beans.  I also really enjoyed the tour because it was one of the plantations used for Starbucks coffee and it was great to know that this particular field was fair trade.  The workers, mostly Nicaraguan, are granted living accommodations, education for their children, a fair wage, and sufficient food.  The third location was called Sarchi, a small town that is known for having beautiful artisans, especially ones who paint ox carts.  We went to a market and saw some beautifully decorated carts and other goods for sale.

*Santa Teresa and Mal Pais: I visited these two towns two weekends in a row and found myself almost addicted to how tranquil and beautiful they are.  The towns reside on the West coast of the Nicoya Peninsula and their stunning beaches run right into each other.  The first weekend I was there was a weekend with a full moon and I went to an amazing Full Moon Party on the beach with my friend and some people we met at a hostel.  There was the biggest bonfire I’ve ever seen, great music and an hour long fire dancing show.  Dancers twirled, hoola-hooped, baton twirled, spun and caught fire continuously while standing in a circle on the beach.  It was one of the coolest dance performances I have ever seen, I was so blown away.  Also the full moon that night was the biggest Costa Rica had seen in 20 years and the entire beach and ocean glowed white.  The next weekend I came back and stayed with some Canadians I met on the ferry the first weekend.  I spent an afternoon practicing my surfing skills and laying on the beach.  That night we cooked at their place and I ate shark for the first time in my life followed by a fire on the beach!

*Ziplining in Monteverde:  This past weekend I traveled with USAC and the rest of the students to the Monteverde Cloud Forest.  Monteverde is a town high in the mountains of Costa Rica and its name truly defines the beauty as everything is green for miles.  It was very nice to have a weekend with everything paid for complete with great meals and a nice hotel!  We spent the first day hiking and on the look out for exotic animals, while the hike proved rewarding, no crazy creatures were found.  However, we did find a waterfall and got a great workout!  The next day we zip lined in the jungle.  It was really cool because this particular zip line is the longest in the world and has spectacular views! It was pretty cool to be able to zip line and fly at the same level or on top of the tallest trees!  After canopying on 13 lines we lined up to do the “tarzan swing” which works somewhat like a bungee jump.  It’s a jump off an elevated platform that lets you fly through the jungle and swing back and forth until losing momentum! Despite me general dislike to travel in large groups this weekend was a definite success!

Oh yeah – those OTHER cities.

Oh yeah – those OTHER cities.

This past week was my program’s big excursion. Over the course of eight days we visited Doha, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi. Each city was incredibly different than the others. I’ve been struggling to decide which one was my favorite – so I’ll reserve my judgement until later. But anyway – here’s the breakdown


After a short layover in Bahrain, we arrived in Doha. Doha is absolutely beautiful and the weather was perfect (Muscat was just hit with a wave of humidity so it was nice to get away from that). Doha is one of the richest cities in the world – as in, it probably is the richest. It’s basically a city-state, as 80% of the population lives there, and it has 15% of the world’s natural gas reserves. So yeah – big money.

A lot of people just found out about Qatar because of its successful bid for the 2022 World Cup – that’s fair – but Doha certainly hasn’t been resting.

Recently Qatar has been investing this money into benevolent institutions to try to create Doha’s image as an international, intellectual city. It’s very international by the way- only about 10% of the population is actually Qatari. But about the intellectual stuff – the news network Al-Jazeera is headquartered in Doha, and this is not happenstance. It was set up by the Emir in 1996 to serve as an Arabic language news agency devoted towards delivering un-censored news and opinion about Middle East politics. Since then it has become the worldwide network we know today.

We had the privilege to visit Al-Jazeera’s headquarters and meet the hosts, the people behind it, and everyone else that helps make a major news agency run.

In addition to Al-Jazeera, Doha also  features the brand new Education City, which hosts satellite campuses for prestigious American Universities like Northwestern, Georgetown, Carnegie-Melon, and Cornell. There are actually very few students that go to these schools (I think the Northwestern one has about 120 or so) but the amount of resources available to them is staggering. The Qatari government literally pours money on this campus in order to help its reputation. Plus all the schools there are there by invite only. Loyola can’t just set up a campus in Doha all willy-nilly. They have to be specifically requested to set up a campus. As appealing as the offer of an all expense paid campus in a beautiful country might be, some schools denied it. Try not to talk about it in front of Ohio State or Penn State.

If you look up Doha on Wikipedia, you’ll see that the main picture is a bunch of skyscrapers. That’s not downtown, it’s NEW Doha. The city is built around a C-shaped corniche. on the northern side there is a series of new skyscrapers being built. To most people, that might seem like the center of attention, but it’s actually not. Despite the buildings’ modern architecture and size, not much really happens there. It’s kind of like, “here’s the city, and there’s the thing that you think would be the city, but it’s not”

It was weird, the whole time I was there (and this was the same in Dubai and Abu Dhabi) I was constantly amazed at how – unimpressed, I guess – the residents of Doha were about the city’s progress. I talked to some students at Qatar University about it and they were kind of like “the skyscrapers? Oh yeah, yeah, they’re good, you know, it’s all good,” I guess it’s just because I am coming from America where our tallest building is from the 70s that I was so impressed about it all.

So that’s Doha. Next time it’ll be flashy-pants Dubai.

I’ve seen a cleaner pool at a motel.

I’ve seen a cleaner pool at a motel.

It’s been quite a great week if I do say so myself. The weather as been very great (with the exception of a random 15 minute hail storm on wednesday). So that just set the tone for this said great week.

Monday was actually kind of a buzz kill, full day of classes. But I did get to have one last dinner with the ‘rents before they left the next morning. So that in and of itself made the day better. Sad to see them go, it was great to have them here. Sheesh my dad was here for nearly a month! So kind of weird to not have him around but it’s also good to have my freedom back. One month left, gotta make it count!

Tuesday, clearly nothing earth-shattering happened because I cannot remember really much of anything that went on. I know I stayed up late for some reason, which was dumb because I woke up with a cold that morning (but now today, saturday, I’m back to normal, I was popping vitamins like it was my job…kicked this cold’s butt). I want to say I wrote my Theology paper on tuesday afternoon…Oh wait, tuesday was a really nice day, so I said “no thanks” to homework and yes to laying outside for 3 hours, as did most of us.

WEDNESDAY, if you know me at all you know what I’m about to talk about. That’s right, calcio. Other things happened Wednesday too, more laying outside in the sun and reading. As well as studying for an Italian quiz I had on thursday. But let’s get to the important stuff. Calcio. First off undefeated Lime was taking on one loss Red (we are 2nd in front of Red by virtue of goals for/against). Red decided to not help us out and went and lost to Lime. That just meant we had to take care of business in our game against Orange, and boy did we ever take care of business. Orange has had a rough season (no wins) and so we knew we didn’t have to go hard, but apparently we did. Jumped out to a 6-0 half time lead, at which point I requested to be pulled from goal and put into a field position, it was getting quite boring back there (I did make few easy saves). Not 2 minutes into the 2nd half, I am in front of Orange’s goal, I get a stellar pass from Connor and one time it with my left foot into the goal. Adding another goal near the end of the game I finished with 2. Final score was a shocking 10-1 (My replacement Joey ruined my bid for a clean sheet…haha but he was a sport for taking over and letting me play field). So this sets up a very TASTY match up for next week. Undefeated Lime vs. 2nd place Team Green (us)….a classic battle of titans…winner gets first place. It is onnnn. (I realize I talk about calcio a lot…but you gotta be here, it gets real fun and competitive)

Thursday, was another beautiful warm day (sensing a theme here?). Just had my one class as usual. Felt kind of blah due to my cold, but laying in the sun helped for sure. Side note: It was also my dad’s b-day. So hooray for that. That night a number of us just hung out, shared music and watched Black Swan. FREAKY MOVIE. Very dark and crazy. But I thought it was good.

Friday, I was planning on getting some shopping for gifts done BUT Roma atac (buses) had other plans, they decided to strike again. So hence, a few of us just decided to walk down to the Vatican for Burger King and gelato (bad i know, but I needed a burger). Afterward we laid out in piazza risorgimento and felt fat. Luckily it was after 5pm at that point so they buses were running again, but evidently some buses never stopped running? They do strikes all wrong here. Sooo because of this long day of walking around in the sun, I was hot and tired so we chilled around the J-Force for the evening. But not before getting food from the grocery for the picnic the next day. Which brings me to….

Saturday!! (today). Got up, not early, but at a reasonable hour and took the metro to Villa Borghese. For those of you who don’t know, its a big park, much like Central Park in New York. It’s got gardens, walking paths, bikes to rent…and a lot more vendors than in central park…can’t go two minutes without some guy trying to sell you roses. So we had our little picnic out in the sun, laid there for a while (I’m a little burnt now…but totally worth it). Now there is a zoo there as well, so I knew I had to hit that up. It was kind of pricey for a smaller sized zoo (12 euros) but it was a zoo nonetheless and I am a fan. Some of the animals kind of seemed sad or didn’t have a lot of energy, which you do not see in the US zoo’s. The pool that the white seal was in just looked like a pool at a crappy motel, leaves and crud on the surface, I felt bad. So perhaps they treat zoos differently over here, I mean it’s a whole different lifestyle, so why wouldn’t the zoo be different, just something to think about. After that, we walked down Via del Corso, i wanted to go to the Adidas store, but for some reason we did not find it, we realized later that we walked passed it, probably when we were complaining about the tourists on the sidewalk. Oh well, it’s probably for the best I didn’t spend money on sporting clothes…but I’ll probably go back tomorrow…they have cool stuff there. But seriously, it has been a great weekend…probably one of the best I’ve had since coming here. I can’t even accurately put it into words it was so good. I am just happy right now, that’s all I can say. (Despite the sunburn).

NOW, it’s off to go eat the cannoli I picked up on the way back to campus earlier…well I got two, so I will probably eat both, but we’ll see.

All that said, this week went pretty fast…and that’s kind of scary. I half want time to go fast so I will be home, I mean I won’t lie, I am missing a lot of stuff. But at the same time I am having a great time here, stellar even. So I half don’t want it to end. Oh life is tough eh?