Archive for the ‘Academic European Travels of 2011-2012’ Category

Friday, June 22nd- Monday, July 8, 2012

Upon arrival back in the states,  I was presented my new car (2010 Volvo C70 convertible in white), an iPhone 4, and many opportunities to shop.  I am spoiled.  Why?  I understand that my parents have gone a long time without the physical ability to present something to me, but at the same time, I have been viewing my entire 11-months in Europe as a gift, a HUGE blessing.

I do not require all of these expensive, material things.  However, I am still enjoying them…

For instance, it is because of my iPhone that I have been able to record all of my thoughts while driving, and now I have the time to transcribe them to you.

Just now, as I was driving on the freeway a truck was driving on the on ramp and gave me a little whistle. And I just started thinking back to Italy, when I got the same smirk.  It was never a form of flattery.

However, the honking here, there isn’t too much of it.  But it means something completely different: a cry out for worry, for help.  That something may or has already gone wrong.  I miss it just being a gesture, a welcome.

In my summer History of Modern Art class, during discussion on Viennese art, I hinted of my recent presence in Vienna, and no one seemed to really care.  It was strange to me.  I’ve been so used to other travelers telling me, encouraging me that I have accomplished so much.  And yet, my pride is not in the fact that I accomplished those things, but in the fact that I was in those places.  And I can’t seem to learn about those places on a screen, in a textbook, or from lecture.  I crave the in-person experience.  I have it in me to go back, a grand return.  I miss it.

I forgot about the homeless people.  As I was entering the freeway, there was a man holding a sign on the on-ramp corner.  He may have been a veteran, lost his home in escrow, or wasted away his money on drugs and is now in recovery.  Whatever it was, homelessness is different here.  I am used to homeless people having a gift: sharing their musical abilities or showing their need for amputation, their ailment.  Never necessarily asking for money, but encouraging you to give for what you see.

But here, it is their job.  Homeless people carrying signs here make more money than businessmen in some cases.  And that, I cannot support.  I will give food, but the money doesn’t go to the same place as it does in Europe or in the Middle East.  There it is to the talent or skill, they are really working for what you give.  I don’t feel that way here.  Here I fear supporting their drug or alcohol addiction.  And deny myself the ability to act as Scripture says is right.

Even the border crossings are different.  In Europe you are stopped only when entering into specific countries (i.e. Switzerland), but in California, as you drive north into Camp Pendleton, you may be stopped completely based off of a racial profile.  The goal is to stop illegal  immigration from Mexico, so they are trying to see if you may be smuggling any aliens.  But if they see you are caucasian, driving a nice car without any extra space in the vehicle they just wave you on by.  But without registration, or something like that, they stop and search.  The funny parts of America; it wasn’t even that bad in crossing from Jordan to Israel.

I remember driving around Israel, in proximity to the Dead Sea.  It is not necessarily a lonely dessert, but it is still: just sand dunes under a dark sky.  Driving through Camp Pendleton at 4am, it felt just like that.  The only place where you can’t see anything off the road.  It made me think, I remember America as a place that is independent from the rest of the world.  Although other country rely on our ability to give, our ability to aid in disaster, and to produce, and to adopt, it is different.  For me, now, I see America as this place with a facade.  Right now, Obama in the G8, has no influence, for no one cares for what he is able to provide.  A leader can’t be a leader without any followers.  It is the followers who define a leader. Right now it doesn’t seem like America has a leader.  However, with the rest of the world breaking, economically, it isn’t the worst timing for such a political disaster.   Italy, Spain, and Greece are even worse off.  However, I do want to consider the fact that I feel isolated in America.  We are isolated in America.  Not only does the United States almost cover the entire North America continent, but we share it with another country that is also very much independent.  Therefore, we are not tiny countries like the states, sharing borders with Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Czech Republic, and the rest of Europe.  Instead, we share borders with two countries.  And even then so, we reject Mexico, as we are controlling the border.

And I am left wondering: where is the relationship?  where is the trade? where is the respect and the knowledge of what goes on around us and how that influences our daily living?  I can’t even see that China has an economic influence in America. Yes, nearly everything we buy here is labeled, “made in China,” “made in Japan,” “made in India,” “made in Thailand,” or “made in Philippines,” but it stands the same.  You can’t identify the fact that America chooses these partnerships.  We don’t give credit.  We don’t allow for a true partnership,but a power-striving, influential gesture from the kindness of our dear ole’ hearts.  That America in my eyes.

I forgot that while you are driving in the morning, or just walking around waking up.  Sunrise doesn’t really exist here.  During June gloom it is gloomy all throughout the day in “Sunny California”.  But in the morning, there is a marine layer.  The ocean literally causes it to feel like you are driving through the rain in the morning: a think haze. But it remains only along the coast.  When you are driving inland, in San Bernardino or L.A., it is really foggy and then all the sudden the light appears. Within an instance, the sun rises above the ridges to your right and there is no more light to bare, it is all there.

The palm trees, they’re everywhere.  We even began disguising our antennas in plastic palm trees.  Right now I’m looking at one: a bunch of speaker-box looking things hidden in a fake palm tree.  Yup, we really care about image here.  We even use palm trees to make us look prettier, or at least, our location prettier.

Driving along i-5 to orange county, it smelled like rotten cheese.  Like the pre-sliced, packaged Gouda I purchased at a grocery store in Austria. Rotten, poor-quality Gouda.  It wasn’t until that moment that I remembered the distinct smell of dog food as you are driving on i-25 in Denver.

Even parking lots are strange to me.  Not only is their land marked for the storage of cars EVERYWHERE in America, but even our transportation routes look like parking structures.  Whereas in Europe, most cities are viewed on foot or by public transportation, here every single person is driving their own vehicle.  We even made a Carpool lane to applaud those who drive in twos.

The L.A. freeways remind me of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, where he described Venice through indirect imagery, I see freeway on-ramps tangled as a spider’s web, not a mess of freeway bridges.  Everyone is stopped, not moving an inch.  It is a multiple layered parking lot.  There I was taking trains, not worrying about time constraints in traffic or anything like it, and now, I sit in the worst of it: L.A. traffic hour–from 8am thru 1pm all the way to late evening.  It never seems to clear.

I am not used kids missing the toilet, to toilet seat covers, to people not honking out of impatience, to kids not having responsibility, I’m not used to hearing English everywhere.  It was so intriguing to hear an Australian accent come from an oriental family at Legoland.  Meeting people from Montreal and knowing that their French isn’t from France, but from French Canada.  The ability I have to identity people’s heritage, and the joy accents, new languages, and world travelers: families traveling together, these are the joys that make me appreciate my work at Legoland, but these are the things that continue to make me feel as if I do belong somewhere else, I know something from somewhere else.

I forgot about one-liners.  It has been a while since someone has tried to get my attention through a stupid little line.  A pick-up line, if you will.  I got used to the flattery, the truth, the depth of a conversation, or a particular eye look.  But it is definitely different.


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20 June 2012

“What did you do today?” my brother and his friends asked me as they enjoyed their time in the hot tub.  Although my brother Danny thought my day’s itinerary sounded like a bore, it was of the greatest caliber I could have hoped for.  See, I spent my day in reflection…finally.

It all started with a meeting about re-hire at Legoland, California.  I was dressed for a professional interview and all they cared for was my signature and drug test.  Is it prideful for me to think, know, and represent a girl with so much more potential even when I am working at a high-school, minimum-wage job?

After being reunited with the workforce, I chose to head towards the beach to complete my studies for Art History class.  However, I never made it that far.

On my way out the door, my father told me about the BevMo 5¢ sale.  I do not condone underage drinking in the sense of High School partying and college screwing around, however, my palate has been trained to enjoy a crisp, white wine with sea food or a smokey, red wine with red sauce pasta dishes, or any other Italian, French, or flavorful meal.  In the same way, I enjoy a Cider or wheat beer with Scottish, Irish, German, and Austrian delicacies.  It is how the people of those nationalities enjoy a meal, so why would I deny myself the full cultural experience?  For food is an avenue to great communication and joyous fellowship in these regions–far more than any American ideals.

Point is, as I started my engine, my mother ran out the front door: “Wait, how could you forget? You can’t buy alcohol…you are not 21!”

I have never nor do I ever plan on purchasing hard liquor, but really America? Really?  I have just been denied a recipe, the ability to enjoy a complete, enriched experience at the dinning table.  The law has just prohibited me to delight in a meal that connects me to what I have become while abroad.

So what do I do?

I walk into Whole Foods and instead of looking for my vegetarian ingredients, I first find the wine selection.  And lo and behold: Italy!  However, then I ran into the problem of cost.  Chianti Classico was a €3-7 bottle of wine; however, Whole Foods was selling it for $47.99 I believe.  For all of the bottles of Chianti Classico that I would buy in the next decade, I would save money and energy by taking a 10-year leave and living in Tuscany again.

I know that European taxes are higher than taxes in America, but when I walk up to the cash register at The Dollar Tree, I really expect four items to cost $4.00, not $4.31.  Or at Anthropology, my bill raised by a near $14.  OUTRAGEOUS! That would have been another item if I were in Europe.  I best not attend to a nice restaurant on my own either, since tipping is now a foreign concept–literally.

Since wine and food has not been the most welcoming of things during my time back in California, I was amazed by the friendliness of European-like clothes and roundabouts, and how they each aided the gaps in my heart.

And still, here I am, staring at the mounds of gifts, clothes, accessories, and home decorations that accumulated during my year abroad…staring, just staring. I can’t seem to use my hands to lift one pile and find a home for these amazing items.  Perhaps if they find a home here, that means so shall I..and I am not ready to say, “This is my home;” for this is nothing but temporary.

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15 May 2012

Today was an absurd kind of day, but it ended rightfully so.

As I walked back towards the university after making a rather small mistake, I found myself staring into the sun–straight into the center of the earth’s source of light.

Isn’t strange to think that so many people–6,840,507,003 billion people–live together in a ticking time bomb.  Since Adam and Eve, God’s heart for the broken has grown and his mercy has been spread throughout the lands.  However, earth remains dark, with a claim to fame as the place of sin.  The Western aim to a free world, not only progresses cultures from uprooting their traditions in Christ’s soil, but also brings us into a conflict: righteousness vs. pleasure.

Look into the light.  It is supposed to blind us, for the perplexity of how light travels is much more than any human can study, but to see, impossible.  However, it is in the moments of visual blindness that I recognized this evening: God allows us to see the world through His eyes when we look into His Light.  God Himself is the source of Light, so why would we turn our heads from Him?

No we are not perfect, nor can we be during our time on earth, but that does not mean we are not worth His grace.  So often we hear “I owe this to God” or “I do not deserve the love of God,” etc.  The truth is we do not, but being trapped in our imperfections only does us harm.

At one time, God made man perfect.  When the world became imperfect, God’s heart ached, and it was in His pain that He sent a Savior to live among the broken-hearted.  For God’s heart was also broken.  We are called to be in the image of Jesus.  And Jesus is our illustration of the Father’s character, therefore, it makes sense that in our brokenness we are closest to the Creator of life.

Point is, today as I looked into the sun, I glimpsed down and all I saw was brightness.  God’s light is our perfection, our perfect compass.  His direction is never faulty, and in His goodness everything is beautiful.  It was in those moments that I felt blind, blind to any wickedness.  I could no longer see the crushed coca-cola cups half buried in the dirt, or the cigarette buds streaming along the gutters.  Rather, I was with Him, safe, warm, still.  He shines through it all.

ImageAssisi, Italia: 6 November 2011


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12 May 2012

Being a student, I don’t often find the time to read for personal pleasure.  However, this weekend, my roommate gave me a book she hadn’t had the time to read.  Within the last 3 days–1 hour a day–I completed the 149 page devotional novel.  At times, I was puzzled, disgusted, grateful, inspired, and found myself questioning the state of my own heart for the Lord’s work.

This is my response to: The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Reverend Timothy Keller (2008):

The devotion-like novel is about Luke 15’s The Lost Son Parable, which Keller renames “The Two Lost Sons.”

Ch.5- The True Elder Brother
“The forgiveness is free and unconditional to the perpetrator, but is costly to you.  Mercy and forgiveness must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer.  If the wrong-doer has to do something to merit it, then it isn’t mercy, but forgiveness always comes at a cost to the one granting the forgiveness…The point of the parable is that forgiveness always involves a price–someone has to pay.  There was no way for the younger brother to return to the family unless the older brother bore the cost himself.  Our true elder brother paid our debt, on the cross, in our place” (93-95). Here we notice that the young, lost son has returned.  The father, who had already given away half his fortune to this son, immediately forgives his son, welcoming him home with his most valued robe and kisses.  However, at this time, the robe is technically the older son’s robe, since the remaining family fortune is his.  However, it was disrespectful of either brother to speak of the father’s inheritance until after his death.  But in the context of the parable, it is what both brothers value over their father’s life: wealth.  Jesus is telling the Pharisees that the older brother, in a complete selfishness, refused to join in recognizing his father’s son as his brother, and then also refused to join in celebrations.  Not only does he spit on his brother, but his father as well.  As the father is the lord of the house, and during a feast, shall not leave the party for any message.  The son’s refusal caused the father to leave the party, to beg for his older son to join.  Just as the father earlier left the house and ran after the young son.  The father brings us home. However, neither of these brothers help us recognize the path to his home, for they are wary of any importance exceeding immediate satisfaction.  Jesus then, in his time on earth, became a slave.  The same way the younger son thought he would return home.  Jesus became our elder brother, so that we are able to know the Father’s House.

Chapter 6- Redefining Hope
Throughout my life, I have dreamt of moving away from my parent’s house, perhaps to the East coast, since they lived on the west.  When it came time for college, I didn’t move to the opposite coast, but I did move east of the Rockies. Then, I decided that two years at the same school was too tiring and I needed change.  Now I am in my ninth month of European/Middle Eastern travels and studies.  Keller pinned me, when he said, “We are all exiles, always longing for home.  We are always traveling, never arriving.  The houses and families we actually inhabit are only inns along the way, but they aren’t home” (106).  For he considers that “the message of the Bible is that the human race is a band of exiles trying to come home (109).

Although I never considered this before, I didn’t hesitate one moment to accept this as a challenge.  Earlier in this book, Keller writes on how a person can be righteous and further from God than someone who has a long list of sins.  And in their righteousness, their pride blinds them, giving these older-brother types a false superiority over the people Jesus came to meet, save, and live eternity with. Jesus was an exile. “During his ministry he wandered, settling nowhere, and said: ‘ Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (Matthew 8:20).  He remained completely outside the social networks of political and economic power…Finally, at the end of his life, he was crucified outside the gate of the city, a powerful symbol of rejection by the community, of exile” (113).  Jesus too felt homeless.  But why? In Bethany, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus offered him a place to stay.  When it came time for the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples to seek a man carrying a barrel of water, follow him to a house, and ask the owner of the house which room was prepared for Jesus’ last meal. He was invited into people’s homes. He was followed.  He had influence, as his followers gave him opportunity time and time again.  But when it came to the end, Jesus was more alone than ever. His friends, even His Father seemed so far away. Homelessness. Does it keep us or bring us Home to our Father in Heaven?

It is when we find ourselves asking friends and co-workers for approval that we diminish the authority of God in our lives.  For it is the Father who can rightfully cover a thick, white sheet of encouragement over all we have done and will do, but He forgives, loves, cherishes, and recreates.  We are born again in Him, not in the words of others, who also live in this place that was not made for human life.

God created the Garden of Eden.  He did not plan for us to suffer illnesses, it was because we turned our backs on Him that we live this life searching, falling, breaking.  But it is when we see the light that His Home is no longer the prize to be won, but being home with Him is the ultimate reality to be sought.

Keller also speaks of the cause of our good deeds.  And the evidence of a life lived apart from God’s Glory.  One of the clues he suggests is a dry prayer life.  Since September 11, 2001, I have prayed for the families of victims and all those who were and are suffering due to similar attacks.  I pray for those who feel displaced to find refuge in the Father’s House.  However, today, after listening and considering humility and passion for loving God, himself, I looked at the clock 1 minute late.  I cannot recall this occurrence in the full 11 years.  Today, God chose today to scream at me: “Melanie, I am not in your calendar. There is no schedule we must follow.  I am your Spouse, your Friend, your Lover, your Lord.  I care to speak and hear from you always. Please let me in.” Lord, I want you.  Instead of the routine thought at night, tonight, I pray to my own heart.  For it is in me that I do not fully confide in the everlasting love that God has continuously offered you and I.  May we reconcile with all He has provided and in return not offer deeds of good work, but deeds of love, joy, and humility.  For He is in us all, we must admit and adore His presence.

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22 April 2012

Tonight I passed by a girl dressed in jeans and a fitted t-shirt.  She was on a  call, yet, we made eye-contact, and respectively nodded to one another.

Earlier, I was shocked when an Orthodox Jewish man approached me for help.  This has occurred twice this week.  Normally the men avoid any contact or communication with women whom they are not related to, or so it seems.  They remain untempted.

First impressions prove to influence our ability to greet strangers or even to connect in a business crowd.  But what is it that allows us to accept and appreciate someone without knowing them?

For me, I always considered a person’s sense of style to be an illustration of their identification–a painting demonstrates who a painter is, as does a person’s wardrobe.

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22 April 2012

If I don’t miss someone does that mean I don’t love them?

At times, especially during my travels, I find myself not thinking about those I have left behind. However, when I am alone and in a place of peace, praying to the Father, it is most often a different story.  Prayer is communicating with God about our personal needs but also for the people around us.

Anyways… when I find myself forgetting about people, I quickly consider the value I hold on our relationship. However, here I am living unlike I have ever done before.  I am intentional about embracing the culture I am within in a particular moment, and living accordingly.  Holding onto friends back home also carries the clutter of a life in the past.  For me, I’d rather consider the here and now, live life to its’ fullness, and love every moment of it.

When it comes time to healing, we tend to run home and commend those who care for who we are, entirely.  But if we don’t call home in times of celebration or even in our grey days, do we value someone less?

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22 April 2012

Today I visited Yad Vashem–“place and name”–in Jerusalem, Israel. It is the fifth Holocaust display I have visited during my lifetime (Washington D.C., Tolerance Museum in LA, Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, and Shoes on the Danube in Budapest).

Today, I listened to elder survivors of the war against humanity, tell their tales.  Mothers mentioned never having the courage to speak of their youth with their children.  Another mother spoke of her desire to kill her baby in the womb, so that she would never hear another baby’s cry as she did in the concentration camps.

However, I could not feel their pain. I couldn’t even when I tried.

It is said that Hitler gained reign and implemented a distinct belief that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death, and they deserve punishment.

During my hours in the museum this was my main concern:

Jesus Weeps Over Israel: “But as he came closer to Jerusalem, and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. ‘ How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way of peace.  But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.  Before long, your enemies will build ramparts against your walls, and encircle you and close in on you from every side.  They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you.   Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation'” (Luke:19:41-44). 

Although I often refer to this scripture as the explanation for the destruction of the Temple Mount, here it can explain the fate of the Jewish people.

“Jesus was a Jew”  is something my mother, who claims both affiliations during our travels, says way too often.

Yes mom, Jesus was a Jew, however, His life was the completion of the old testament and a continuation for people who desire a relationship with the Father in Heaven.  Jesus is the answer, the Way, the only Way.  And although He loves all people, it is only those who chose to follow, live for, and dedicate all they are and have to Christ who receive an Eternal Gift.  That is my belief.

Therefore, in the Scripture above, isn’t it clear enough that the punishment is not earthly cruelty but a finished life. It is not in man’s hands to rid off a group of people, rather, it is left to Judgment day as to who chose the right religious rituals–the right god to follow.

Without hesitation I know my God loves me, and I am to love all mankind as He loves.  I am made to be nothing less than who He is in me.

May our prejudices be abolished, may we live our lives according to our own beliefs, and concentrate on the here and now not the “what if’s,” “should of’s,” or “could have’s” of life.  There is too much out there for us to stay lost in our past troubles.

With all of this said, may we remember what our people have done–the good and the bad–may we make our own mistakes, learn our unique ways, but in it all, may we remain true to who we are as individuals living in peace.

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