The Travels, Pt. 1

A lot of stuff has changed for me in the last month; but most importantly, I’ve actually started exploring Europe – and I’ve loved every second of it. Europe is just undeniably cool, and there’s cool stuff everywhere. Since I can’t talk about everything I’ve seen in the last month, I’ll just hit some of the highpoints here: I’ve seen (depending on the ranking) the third and fifth largest cathedrals in the world (the Seville Cathedral and the Milan Cathedral, respectively). The Milan Duomo is awe-inspiring – it stands in the middle of a piazza – a monolithic testament to the power of hard work and dedication. I got to visit CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research), a potentially once-in-a-lifetime experience. The trip definitely brought my (not-so-inner) science nerd out – I can tell you that. That same weekend, I visited Bern, the capital of Switzerland and currently my favorite city in Europe. It’s just an amazing city – it’s surrounded by the Swiss Alps, it’s clean, has great views and great food; there’s nothing not to love (except for the price of drinks – I feel like I spent a whole paycheck on those). My favorite experience of my last month, however, has to be the moment I realized how amazing it was to travel. It hit me when I visited Pisa (this was prior to the other trips I’ve talked about); to see, and then actually walk to the top of, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to experience the baptistery and cathedral, was transformative. And now, just to close things out, some pictures of my experiences from the last month:

Objectively the best picture I’ve taken while in Europe
I’ve seen a lot of churches, and this one is still by far my favorite.
Getting to see this place was awesome — it’s just gargantuan.
I don’t know why I like this picture so much, but it’s one of my favorites from Pisa.

All the Small Things

It’s surprising, sometimes, to think back on just how important small things are in your life. This summer, when I was taking classes in Norman, one of those small things was eating at Qdoba, one, two, three times a week. Unsurprisingly, food remains a important (and arguably not so small) component of my daily life. There are some great sandwich shops in Arezzo, Dal Moro and Dietro le Quinte being the most noteworthy. The sandwiches are amazing, but there’s something else that’s even better: Gelato. I freely confess that I have become a bit of a gelato snob – there’s just something about it, especially at Sunflower here in Arezzo, that’s just amazing. I think I’d have to say it’s the best ice cream (and really it’s not ice cream – it’s gelato) that I’ve ever had.

Another small thing that I’ve really come to love is walking everywhere. I’ll grant you, sometimes it takes a while to get somewhere, but the very experience of walking is incredible. It’s calming and you experience so much more of the city that you’re in. I’ll miss not being able to walk everywhere when I get back to the states (although the climate will probably make me appreciate the benefits of having a bike or a car).

To finish off this post, being able to go to the gym is essential for me. It gives me a sense of security – the one thing that I’ve done consistently for the last six years of my life (excepting homework, which doesn’t really count), is helps me appreciate this whole experience even more. When I’m out here, I don’t feel like I’m a tourist in Arezzo, I actually feel like I belong. The gym is just one example of this – but it’s the clearest one in my mind.

Long story short here – I’ve really fallen in love with Arezzo. It’s an amazing city; it’s just the right size, not too big, not too small. There’s everything I could want: great food, a gym, and even great weather. It’s about as good as it gets.

The Cold War, As Seen By One Who Lived It

When we think of the Cold War today, we probably think of a few specific things: Russia and Russians (I envision them living in a cold wasteland); tense, high stakes events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis; the Iron Curtain/Eastern Bloc of Europe. Although these certainly highlight some of the key aspects of the Cold War, since it primarily concerned Russia and the influence of the Soviet Union, the Cold War involved much more. At an event hosted at the College of International Studies here at OU, Dr. John Fishel reflected on his experience as a soldier and academic during the Cold War. His primary focus was South America, and he covered tremendous amounts of ground during his one-hour lecture. Although I can’t recap everything that was said during his lecture, two things have stuck with me in the days following this event.

First, our world today, both at home and abroad, appears to function very differently than it did just 40-50 years ago. Obviously, the Internet and improved technology has had much to do with this, but this change extends further than just to individuals. Dr. Fishel noted during his lecture that when he was in the military (and this includes non-military agencies such as the CIA, FBI, etc.), the various branches of the military, such as the Air Force, Navy, and intelligence agencies rarely cooperated in coordinated operations. They each took care of their own business. He had the opportunity to work on one of the first collaborations between these various agencies. This collaborative effort began the trend of the various agencies and branches of the military coordinating their individual efforts while working towards common goals. This collaboration, in Dr. Fishel’s opinion, increased the efficacy of all agencies involved.

The second part of his lecture that struck me is his view of when the Cold War ended. Obviously, many would reference November 1989 when the Berlin wall was opened and Soviet influence in Eastern Europe was significantly reduced or eliminated. Instead, Dr. Fishel referenced August of 1992, a date I had never associated with the end of the Cold War. He referenced this day for a clear and moving reason. At this time, Dr. Fishel was a professor at an American institution, and for the first time, they received an exchange student from Russia. Not only was the student Russian, he was also a former Russian officer. In the eyes of Dr. Fishel, this showed conclusively that the tension and conflicts that defined the Cold War were finally resolved.

Before I attended this lecture, I confess that I thought of the Cold War as ancient history – long since resolved. However, after reflecting on his lecture, I realize that in modern times, we are not so very far removed from the Cold War. Beyond this, the influences of the Cold War are still felt today, whether in the collaboration of American defense agencies or in the tensions that are redeveloping between the West and Russia.

World Literature Today

World Literature Today is a publication that is based out of Monnet Hall at the University of Oklahoma. It is one of the longest running literary periodicals in the United States, and its founder, Dr. Roy Temple House, was endorsed for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1948. World Literature Today is a periodical that discusses literature across the world. However, the organization behind the periodical does much more extensive work. Every one to two years, World Literature Today hosts a Puterbaugh festival at the University of Oklahoma for Puterbaugh Fellow of the year. The Puterbaugh Fellow is generally an international author who has gathered acclaim throughout their career. The Puterbaugh festivals are funded by a donation from J. G. Puterbaugh, a philanthropist who loved poetry, and their goal is to celebrate great international authors. This event exposes students and faculty to some of the most influential authors from around the world. The winners of the prestigious award are often current or future Nobel laureates. World Literature Today also offers a variety of other opportunities for students of all ages, including opportunities to attend Puterbaugh and Neustadt festivals, gain experience editing and marketing the periodical, and taking World Literature Today classes. World Literature Today also hosts a book club, of which I am a member. This book club meets approximately once per month. Each month a different book by an international author is read and discussed at the meeting. This provides an amazing opportunity for undergraduate like myself to be exposed to literature from around the world.

The most recent novel read by the World Literature Today book club was The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, winner of the 2017 Puterbaugh prize. This is one of her more recent novels, published in 2014. The novel is a collection of four short stories, in which the protagonist dies differently in each story. The story insightfully examines the dramatic effects that can result from one small change in a person’s life. Stylistically, the novel is unique in several ways. First, between each short story, there is an intermission that investigates the changes that occurred because of the one small life change. And second, there are no names in the story. At times, it is nearly impossible to keep track of which character is which, who is the protagonist, and personality of any character. Although it’s challenging to ascertain why Ms. Erpenbeck made these choices, it seems to generalize this individual’s experience and make it more applicable to each reader. Perhaps because of these stylistic choices, I find myself contemplating the effect of one small change in my life. It has been an engaging book to read, and one that, without World Literature Today’s book club, I would not have had the opportunity to experience.

A Brief Introduction

Since I’ll be writing this blog for a while, I should probably briefly introduce myself. As can be easily inferred from my URL, my name is Noah Bridges. I’m from Clinton, Mississippi and I’m currently a freshman at OU. As this blog indicates, I’m interested in studying abroad. As much as I’d like to say that’s all you need to know about me, I should expand on these ideas and describe myself a little more. As far as my academic interests are concerned, I love math, and most things related to math. I’m currently majoring in industrial and systems engineering, with the intent to minor in math. Just to briefly discuss my hobbies, I enjoy reading all kinds of books, but especially science fiction, such as Frank Herbert’s Dune series, and classic literature from the 19th and 20th centuries. Besides reading, I’m also a big fan of napping, watching Netflix, and eating; all common loves of most college students. But my passion is CrossFit. I’ve done CrossFit for five years, since I was 14 years old, and I have been coaching at various gyms for almost two years. Currently I work at Koda CrossFit Norman, and I probably spend more time there than anywhere besides my dorm room.

However, since the primary purpose of this blog is to chronicle my journeys abroad, I’ll talk about why I want to study abroad. It all goes back to the summer of 2013, when a German student stayed with my family over the summer holidays. He wasn’t an exchange student exactly – my dad and his father worked together on some projects, and Konstantin wanted to visit the U.S. As a result, he ended up staying with us for the summer of 2013 and part of the summer of 2014. This was my first legitimate exposure to someone from another country, and it was a great experience. We had a great time, discovering a mutual love of great hamburgers (and food in general) and indulging in lazy afternoons by my grandparents’ pool, among many other fun activities. But more importantly, we traveled through large swaths of the country that I had never before seen, such as the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. Because of this incredible experience with Konstantin, it launched a desire to study abroad. This has remained to the present, and next fall my plan is to spend a semester in Italy, at OU’s campus in Arezzo. Hopefully, if circumstances work out, I’ll be able to visit Konstantin and his family while I’m in Europe.

The OU German Club

As a part of my requirements for the Global Engagement Fellowship Program, I decided to join the OU German Club, since I am currently learning German and am interested in studying abroad in Germany at some point during my time at OU. The German Club puts on a variety of events related to culture, politics, and life in Germany. One of these events is the weekly Stammtisch, where students and faculty meet at House 333 on Campus Corner in Norman to discuss ideas and current events. Additionally, my favorite event I attended this semester was the event where the OU German Club hosted Dr. Stefan Buchwald, an official in the German Information Department, a branch of the German Embassy in the United States. He discussed the immigration crisis of 2015-2016 as well as its effect in the 2017 German Election. It was an enlightening event, to actually have an individual who lived in Germany offer his insights into the events about which I had read a great deal. The German Club is an excellent resource for enhancing one’s learning of the German language, because it offers events in which one can actually speak the language with others as well as informational sessions, such as the event at which Dr. Buchwald presented. However, the German Club is not limited simply to cultural concerns. At an event I was unfortunately unable to attend, a student named Erik Flom presented, exclusively in German, on the work he had done in Griefswald, Germany at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics.

Beyond anything else, joining the OU German Club is an incredible chance to enhance your learning by immersing yourself in some aspects of German culture and connecting with other individuals who share your interest in German culture and studying the German language.