Monday, December 12, 2016

'Twas the Week Before Finals - Ryan Mach '17

‘Twas the week before finals, when all through the school,
Not a student was stirring, not even the frat boys who think they’re so cool.
The papers were written with the finest of care,
In hopes that we would avoid that final semester scare.

The students were snuggled ‘neath blankets of wool
Filled to the brim with their studying aids, coffee and red bull
And freshmen in the ‘brary, and I in my exam
Had just amped up our brains for a long winter’s cram

When out on the quad there arose such a clatter,
That I sprung from my chair to see what was the matter
Away from that class I flew in a flash
For I was looking for any excuse to get out in a dash

The fog lying low to the ground
Helped muffle my footfalls til I made not a sound
When, what surprise I did see
But the fluff of fur that belongs to a puppy

For it was that time of year around here
When UNCC brought the pups to quell student’s fears
In walked their owner with a chuckle of glee
Delighted knowing he’d help prevent student’s C’s.

“Now Roger! Now Daphne!
Now Mojo and Lexi!
On Dash! On Delilah!
On Fido and Maxi!
To the back of the library,
To the lap of the students,
Now cuddle away! Cuddle away!
Cuddle away all!”

So shouted their owner with force,
And the dogs did love all, as they will of course
So up to the laps the puppies did fly
And now the sad students no longer did cry

‘Twas then that the students did double down on school,
For they had finally found their secret weapon, their tool
The love of the pups did bring them around
And now it was easy to do exams they found
And at the end of the week the owner did leave
But not before students took their exams and achieve
With school over for the semester and students going home
The pups were now free to go roam

As the owner was packing his truck to depart
Away from him one puppy did dart
And I picked him up and gave him back to his owner with ease
Then to me the owner said “Listen closely, if you’d please

‘Tis the season of exams and of stressing,
But if you could listen for just one final lesson,
For following this season of stress
There is one final thing you need to address

Remember that the holidays are about to begin,
A time to pig out and meet back with kin
So remember as you’re about to take flight
Good luck on finals to all, and to all a good night!”

Monday, December 5, 2016

Dance Marathon 2016 - by Sam Lee '20

It’s Friday, November 4th. 6:58 pm. UNC Charlotte students and their friends from Levine Children’s Hospital are lined up side by side, decked out in beads, tu-tus and other festive attire to represent their color group, preparing to dash up the steps of the Popp Martin Student Union to kick off one of the most exciting events of the year: Dance Marathon.
The weeks leading up to Dance Marathon are some of the busiest of the year for my fellow Levine Scholars, who are a force to be reckoned with on the Dance Marathon committees. They headed many of these committees from Catering and Entertainment to Morale and Family Relation. Hours of dedicated planning went into the events leading up to Dance Marathon that culminated in the longest, most fun night of the fall.
From nine in the morning, until five in the afternoon (just enough time for a very quick power nap before the event officially started), various scholars, joined by building services and other volunteers, gathered at the Union to put the final touches on decorations and other preparations. My job was to cover the stairs in streamers from top to bottom, and to help paint the signs for color rooms. Others helped with decorating the top level, blowing up balloons and hanging signs. Some members of the catering committee spent the day picking up food for the event.
After the legendary stair climb, we all entered into the main room, greeted by disco-like lights and the fun decorations from this morning. Everyone immediately began swaying and shaking to the music. One of the Miracle Kids took center stage in a group I was dancing with, twirling her wheelchair to the beat of the catchy pop music. We later learned that she loves to dress up as Disney princesses, and that for Dance Marathon she wore her very favorite dress: Elsa from Frozen’s blue dress.
Soon after seven, the mastermind behind the organization of Dance Marathon and sophomore Levine Scholar, Danielle, got up onto the stage and announced the official kickoff of the night. She also explained that periodically throughout the night we would be able to hear the stories of some of the Miracle Families that had experience with Levine Children’s Hospital and sometimes, even see the amazing children speak themselves about their time at Levine and how they’ve grown up since.
The night began to fly by as the families told their stories between lessons from the Morale Committee on the official 2016 DM dance, many more songs, and plenty of opportunities to chow down on the delicious food. Each individual story was simultaneously inspirational, heartbreaking, and hopeful. Hearing about the hardships and challenges that the carefree children I had just been dancing with have already faced in their lives was tough, but seeing their bright faces when they got down with us to a group dance lifted my spirits. No matter what they’ve faced, these kids are strong and resilient.
As the final few families had the chance to tell their story, many of the kids started to get sleepy as the hours of dancing wore them out. Many of the Miracle Kids had to go home to get some rest through out the night. UNCC students stuck around for another seven hours, showing their respect for the families and their dedication to the cause. The rest of the night was filled with dancing games, drawings for prizes, tons of food, Zumba, and a DJ Battle. Students sustained themselves on cake pops, bagels, coffee, fried chicken, tacos and a variety of other food, all donated.
Finally, as the sun rose, those who made it through the entire night gathered in the main room for the big reveal. After awards for spectacular fundraising and a big drumroll, the leaders of Dance Marathon took the stage and raised the numbers one at a time. $50,858.52! The culmination of months of work and dedication from every participant, 2016 brought the most money raised in the history of Charlotte Dance Marathon. Everyone went home exhausted but proud of the spectacular work we had all done “for the kids.”

Monday, November 7, 2016

CoopStrong Homecoming Tailgate - By Addy Goff '17

Over the course of the last four years, UNC Charlotte has become my home away from home. The Levine Scholars Program has provided me with a support system resembling a family, with fellow scholars becoming more like siblings than classmates, and faculty members looking out for me both in and out of the classroom. Just like any family, the Levine community has demonstrated to me the importance of encouragement and lifting others up, especially during difficult times. When Jefferson Cooper, a best friend and a member of my cohort, shared that his father Nelson had been diagnosed with ALS, I knew that I could count on this Levine community to rally and show their support for the Coopers. 
Since the beginning of Jefferson’s time as a Levine Scholar, The Cooper family has been a constant presence and support within the program. Volunteering as panelists at Finalist weekend, making rounds at the annual Chancellor’s dinner, cheering on the Niners every fall with season football tickets—it is likely that most people have crossed paths with the Coopers at some point or another. It is safe to say that you can count on a fun sports conversation with Nelson or big hug from Mary Ann whenever the Coopers are around. Because the Cooper family is so special to the LSP, I quickly recognized that many scholars, faculty, and family members wanted to show their support and encouragement. I immediately starting thinking about ways that we could show our support on a programmatic level and decided that Homecoming Weekend served as the perfect time to bring everyone together. 

With help from the Levine office, I partnered with the Richardson family to host the “CoopStrong Homecoming Tailgate.” In addition to making event buttons that were sold at the event, we also launched a GoFundMe page during the weeks leading up to the tailgate. Of course no tailgate is complete without food, and Dr. Mike and Kelly definitely out-did themselves by preparing an entire Thanksgiving spread. The day was filled with so much happiness as of scholars, friends, and family members came together to give Nelson a hug and to show him how much he means to us. To my surprise, Mr. and Mrs. Levine even stopped by the tailgate. More than anything else, the success of the event proved to me just how strong the Levine community actually is. While this was the last time that I will attend a Homecoming Game as a student before graduating in the spring, I know that the Levine Scholars Program and UNC Charlotte will always exist as an extension of my own family. This year’s Homecoming Game showed me what it truly means to “come home.”

Monday, October 24, 2016

NOLS Reflection - By Noah Shaver '20

I never thought a Brazilian man named Felipe could change my life. I never thought I would actually look back at NOLS and say “I wish I could go back.” Then again, I never thought I would be crazy enough to go to Wyoming and spend twenty three days in the wilderness. NOLS completely changed my perspective on everything, it taught me to approach tasks with an open mind and to re-evaluate items in my life that were truly “needed.” The relationships built on trail at NOLS are relationships that can prevail through much more than those built while at a leadership conference in the air conditioning. If we can climb mountains, cook food, and live in the same tent together, what is there that we can’t do? 

I’m not going to lie, the first few days of NOLS were tough; I missed my home, I missed toilet paper, and, most of all, I missed my family. The first 5 days of the trip were definitely the least enjoyable for me. This period was increased in difficulty with the triple evacuation of Seth, Kaylyn, and Daiana; seeing them go was like losing members of a family. Re-starting our expedition after the unexpected evacuation was not easy, but I feel it honed our leadership skills by forcing us to uplift one another, to “carry on,” so to speak, and to value ISGE (independent student group expedition) more than before. The evacuations were a clear picture of how dependent we were on the instructors and the branch; we knew we had a long way to go until we were truly prepared for ISGE. When the time did come, I was voted designated leader by my peers to be the “instructor” for the remaining three days. The second day of this three day ISGE period was the most fun I had over the course of the entire expedition; there were no trails for miles. Part of the reason I was chosen as DL (designated leader) was due to my navigation skills using the GPS and maps, it was fun for me to be able to travel without trails and only utilize my brain. This second day of ISGE was perfect for this type of travel, we hiked off trail for nearly twelve hours! Day 22 left me with a clear reflection on what it meant to be successful as a Levine Scholar: utilize your brain, don’t let the trails of others misguide you on your journey to success. We were able to utilize our brains to blaze our own trail on day 22, and at the end of the day it was awesome to look back at the map and say “We just did that!”

NOLS is something I will never forget. When I say it changed my life I truly mean it; it changed the way I do all things throughout my daily routine. I can’t thank our instructors (Audrey, Jason, Felipe, and Kate) enough for all that they did for us to make sure we all returned home in one piece. Before we went on NOLS I wondered why Billy would ever want to do it every summer, but now I can see why: it’s the trip of a lifetime every year. Looking back on all that we accomplished in Wyoming, this semester doesn’t seem so difficult, it’s just another mountain. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Charlotte Immersion Tour - By Kaylyn Groth '20

     When the Levine Scholarship Program was established one requirement made between the University of North Carolina and the Levine Foundation, was that the freshman should be taken on a sort of tour, throughout Charlotte, to immerse them in the history and culture of the city.  This would be dubbed the Charlotte Immersion Tour.  This year, our class continued the tradition by going on a bus and walking tour of many areas of Charlotte, including places in and near uptown, and around campus and the University City area.  

     On our tour, we discovered all of the culture Charlotte has to offer—much that is hidden in plain sight.  It was an incredible and humbling experience to start your day knowing little about an area, especially being from out of state, then going home that afternoon with a whole new knowledge and appreciation of it.  We were very fortunate to be in the company of such an intelligent and fun historian as our guide for the day.  

     We started the tour exploring the east side of Charlotte.  We were told to look out for the "cultural landscape," meaning, how the landscape changes from location to location based on the demographics of the population living there.  We even stopped at an apartment complex that had a slave gravesite in the center of the complex.  That shocked me!  

     Visiting the Levine Museum of the New South was another very interesting part of our day, as we were able to see a lot of the history of how Charlotte has progressed from its establishment to the present.  With the museum being another part of the Levine family’s contribution to Charlotte, it is yet another example of how prevalent they are here and how we can carry that name with us to continue making a difference. 

     When then made it to the west side of Charlotte, exploring West Charlotte high school and the surrounding areas.  We learned a lot about segregation and bussing in Charlotte.  

     Although we really enjoyed the touring part of the immersion tour, I think it is safe to say that lunch at Mert’s was one of the best parts of all of our days.  With a menu full of southern comfort food that made it nearly impossible to choose between everything, we had an amazing meal and a fun experience.  Overall, it was a great introduction to a growing community full of culture.

Monday, September 26, 2016

My Brexit Experience - By Randy Staples '18

The European Union (EU) is one of a kind. Comprised of the strongest countries in Europe, monopolizing the oldest former empires in the West, this Union started from nothing more than a gathering of leaders to discuss coal and steel trading. From coal and steel a glut of history, influence, and wealth blossomed that the world has not seen on such a united scale. Europe in all its rich history has seen countless wars over territory, inheritance, and legacy. For the continent to put aside it’s tumultuous past and come together as a united front is nothing short of a miracle. It is hard to find another a functional supranational alliance in all of modern history that has enjoyed so much power.  Today, the EU is a collection of pooled resources, talent, and knowhow that was poised to be a major player on the world stage for decades to come. 


On June 23, 2016, Great Britain held an extremely rare nation-wide referendum that would determine whether they remained in the EU. The backdrop is that months earlier Prime Minister David Cameron conceded to allow for the vote in order to settle disputes and infighting within his Conservative Party, never thinking that the country would vote anything other than to remain committed to the ideals and strength of the EU. The day and the vote came and went, and with it went more than half a century of planning, innovation, history, wealth, cultural norms, borders, and established tradition that were hard fought to put in place. London voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, but the rest of the country voted to the contrary, and that was enough to tip the scales backwards in a time-travel exercise that landed Great Britain 23 years in the past.  A move that was initially - as we know now self-sacrificing on Cameron’s part - afforded as nothing more than a concession, a throwaway, became the biggest vote in the UK in over one hundred years. 

Great Britain has always been a hotbed for what is known as Euroscepticism, or distrust and animosity towards the EU. As one of the most powerful and influential countries in the Union, many in the country consider national interests far above the interests of Europe as a whole. Many tend to think domestically first, before, if ever, turning their heads to the happenings in other countries around the continent. Since its official inclusion in 1993, Britain has never looked kindly on the institution. With London being the exception, the country has long been a hotbed for xenophobia, which many think led to the unprecedented voter turnout. 

I had the pleasure of matriculating at the London School of Economics and interning with Resurgence (headed up by the spectacular Mark Harvey) over this past summer, and I was on the ground before, during, and after the vote. The atmosphere before was interesting. It was like nothing I’d seen in the US, really. There were various ‘Stay’ and ‘Leave’ campaigns with volunteers outside every tube stop, handing out stickers and literature, but other than that, no one seemed especially excited about this particular demonstration of the democratic process. Everyone, regardless of stance, seemed anxious at best and indifferent at worst.  Conversely, Americans are an interesting bunch when it comes to politics. We’re very excitable in many segments of the country.  Our excitement is typically fueled and/or extinguished by our differences like race, socioeconomic status, age, etc. In London, politics are enthralling, maybe even more so than in the States; primarily because of how the voting process is structured. That said, people never wanted to discuss it until after the vote. No one had any strong opinions until the results came out, and then - chaos. 

Voting took all day on the 23rd, and they were counted well into the night. Sometime in the early morning, British Summer Time (BST), the results were official. After the announcement the city came alive, as if someone had made the mistake of disturbing a sleeping lion. The British Pound plummeted by 10-15% and stock markets worldwide reacted accordingly. In a city where the majority of people treaded the line between apathy and ignorance, the news rumbled through the streets like a bull through a china shop. I was bombarded with the solicited and unsolicited opinions of my classmates and colleagues on the 24th. I was truly taken aback. In one fell swoop, palpable outrage and disbelief sprang up from every direction. As a visiting American with dollars in my bank account, the subsequent developments were financially beneficial; but as a supporter of global progress and democracy, I could not help but express my disappointment with the results. 

How could a country so storied, bemoaned, and hailed for its historic global relevance turn back decades of progress overnight? How could a cornerstone of the EU arbitrarily decide that the strength and power that comes with a united Europe just wasn’t for them anymore? It left my head spinning. If my head was spinning, the heads of the British citizens had long ago spun right off. Over the following weeks, I came across too many people who had declined to make it out to a voting station because the weather was bad. On the flip side, I also encountered indivi
At London School of Economics
duals who thought that voting leave meant leaving Europe as a continent. 

If the voting electorate is not educated when they go to the polls, it is impossible for democracy to fully function properly. Here in the US, if we are not engaged and active as informed citizens, we too could see democracy work in ways it isn’t ideally meant to. Many were wholly unfamiliar with the EU as an institution, and they were especially unfamiliar with the rights it afforded them in Europe, like free and easy passage in any EU member country or residency status in any of the 28 countries just with EU citizenship.

Taking the temperature of the city and of the country in the weeks and months following the decision proved difficult at best. On the surface, it seemed the populace had summarily slid back into the nonplussed attitude that I had seen previous to the shakeup, but under the surface, everyone was and is still boiling and it was always the trending topic of discussion in most places I frequented. Many are still trying to process the magnitude and meaning what occurred that day.  A myriad of anticipated and unintended consequences will be felt and realized for generations to come.  It’ll be interesting to watch it unfold as the ‘conscious uncoupling’ ensues.  Called Brexit, June 23rd, 2016, will be a day that will forever live in infamy.  I believe America could learn a few things.

Monday, March 28, 2016

¡Saludos desde Sevilla!

¡Saludos a todos desde Sevilla, España! (Greetings to everyone from Sevilla, Spain!) As the streets of Sevilla are filled to the brim with visitors from all over the world to view the beautiful processions of the Sevillan Semana Santa (Holy Week), it’s nice to take a break from the craziness and relay to y’all some of the remarkable experiences I’ve had in Spain and Europe thus far.

This semester abroad is my very first time in Europe and what an excitement it has been! I landed in Madrid near the end of January, then traveled with my wonderful ISA program friends to Toledo and Sevilla, where I met my incredible host family. I have a host mother, father and a 9 year-old host sister that are absolutely amazing (not to mention that my host mom is the best cook I know in Spain, check out my “Food” album on Facebook for more delicious info). At university I am attending, La Universidad Pablo de Olavide (UPO), I have very intelligent and entertaining professors and have been provided opportunities for Conversational ESL (which I love doing) and socializing events with local Spaniards. Through the UPO I’ve begun to take private flamenco guitar lessons from a professional instructor, that way I can bring some of Spain back with me for y’all to enjoy! Throughout my time in the city I’ve made lasting friendships with many locals, with whom I hang out on the weekends playing instruments, cards, shooting pool, going out to dinner or just conversing with each other. Culturally, I’ve also been able to experience a Sevilla Soccer Club match, become a part of my family’s Catholic church, dine with Spanish families and friends, buy a bullfighting ticket for Feria de Abril and worm my way through the “buyas” (enormous crowds) of people to see the images of Semana Santa.
Pumped for the Sevilla-Levante match!

Playing cards after shooting some pool in Sevilla

One of the images of Semana Santa parading through the streets, carried by 35 men called "costaleros" from underneath
Excited for the upcoming bullfight during Feria de Abril!
Outside of Sevilla, I have been fortunate to be able to travel, from Cádiz to Antequera; Lisbon, Portugal; Berlin, Germany; Copenhagen, Denmark; Malmö, Sweden; and most recently, the Saharan Desert in Morocco. A superb treat while in Berlin was being able to see two fellow Levine Scholars, Eileen and Austin, and be able to traverse the city as any scholarly trio would.
Having a wonderful time in Berlin with Eileen and Austin!
Last week, I spent six days in Morocco, three of which were spent in the Sahara Desert. The trip brought back the awe, adventure and excitement of the NOLS expedition I completed with my LSP cohort and allowed me to catch a glimpse of the third-world, with its barefoot children in trash-ridden streets, jobless masses and inadequate infrastructure. In spite of the negative aspects I observed, I also met some of the friendliest people I’ve encountered in my life, all while taking in the natural beauty and vastness of the country.

Riding through the Sahara with the best camel in the desert, Kalil Hamid
Enjoying the beautiful sunrises and endless sands of the Moroccan desert!
With two months down and two to go, there are so many more people to meet, places to see, experiences to have and lessons to learn! I am so grateful for the Levine Scholars Program and this amazing opportunity they have provided me, now it’s time to make the most of it! 

--Esteban Mendieta, Class of 2018

Friday, February 5, 2016

Finalists' Weekend: Senior and Freshman Perspectives

As Finalists' Weekend comes up, freshman Levine Scholars look forward to meeting Finalists' who are in the same shoes that they were in the previous year, sharing their NOLS and first-year experiences, and looking forward to all the program has to offer in their next three years. Meanwhile, the senior Levine Scholars reflect back on their four years at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and how much their lives have changed since they were seniors in high school interviewing at their own Finalists' Weekend. Regardless of how long ago (or not so long ago) a Scholar was a Finalist, Finalists' Weekend is a time of excitement and enthusiasm for all! In writing this post, I decided to ask a few of the current freshman and seniors about their experiences in the program, and what they are looking forward to in the future.

What are you looking forward to most about this year's Finalists' Weekend?
I am most looking forward to seeing the whole process from the other side, as I was a Finalist last year. It will be very interesting to be able to share my experience both as a Finalist and as a Levine Scholar with the incoming freshmen. One of the most memorable things about my Finalist Weekend was getting to know one of the seniors, Sarah Whitmire, really well and being able to make lasting connections with fellow Scholars that are still valuable even outside of the program, and I hope to find that within the incoming class. It is very exciting to know that twenty of these students will become part of this incredible program that helps us to leave our legacy everywhere from the University to countries all around the world.
-- Sydney Welch, Class of 2019

As a senior, it’s hard to believe that this is my last Finalists' Weekend. I still remember being the prospective student, nervous to be interacting with a lot of college kids who seemed to have their lives all figured out. Now, I’m one of those college kids, and I smile at my high-school self. Finalists' Weekend marks a time to reflect on my experience at UNC Charlotte as a Levine Scholar. Since that first Finalist weekend as seniors in high school, my class has endured the coldest summer in Alaska, traveled the globe, almost completed degrees in every school on campus, and most importantly, learned how to be ethical leaders in society. To reflect on the growth we have undergone is incredible—and that’s what I enjoy most. I love meeting the current seniors in high school who still have so much ahead of them, and I like to think about what they will learn in their four years as Levine Scholars. How will NOLS influence their class dynamic? Which countries will they travel to? Which careers will they choose? How are they going to leave their mark on our campus and in the community? Finalists' Weekend brings reflection—both on the past and on the future. 
--Christie Koehler, Class of 2016

What has been your biggest experience/memory with the Levine Scholars Program? 
My biggest memory would be watching my civic engagement grant project come together, knowing that I organized it from start to finish, with the support from LSP. My civic engagement project was creating a specific exercise program for homeless women that was shown in scientific literature to lower blood pressure. It was a research project as well, so I measured each participant's blood pressure on a weekly basis. I was there for about 3 months, and it was a surreal feeling to take a participant's blood pressure and see their face when they realized that it had gone down. One participant's BP was lowered so much that her physician lowered her dose of medication, which decreased the typical side effects that she was dealing with. I know before I came to UNC Charlotte, I wouldn't have had the courage, organizational skills, or strength to organize a project of that size. 
--Sarah Whitmire, Class of 2016

What do you look forward to most about your future with the Levine Scholars Program?
I am exceptionally excited to continue to develop lasting relationships with the scholars in my cohort as well as those in other classes. I really feel that I joined a huge loving family when I came to UNC Charlotte and I can not wait to see all the amazing things we will become involved in as the years progress. It is this point in the program that we are approaching an alumni group as large as those currently in the program and there are so many interesting ways this could be utilized and applied. We are still growing and have some kinks to work out, but being there through the growing pains and seeing the result of hard work and effort is the most rewarding part.  
--Lazar Trifunovic, Class of 2019

What do you think has changed the most about you since you were a Finalist?
Now that I am on the other side of Finalists' Weekend for the first time, I can look back and see how much I have changed in the past year. The thing that has changed most about me is due to a new-found recognition of the millions of different paths I could take through college. Though daunting, this is also comes with a freedom of feeling. I see now that I am free to do practically whatever I want to, whatever I am passionate about, in college and in life. 
–Eddie Angelbello, Class of 2019

How has the atmosphere of Finalists' Weekend changed since you were a Finalist?
What has changed the most about Levine Finalist Weekend since I was a Finalist is the presence of the current Scholars. Coming in as a Finalist for the third cohort, the roughly 50 Finalists easily outnumbered the two cohorts of Scholars; it was difficult for my cohort of Finalists to speak with current Scholars due to that imbalance. In my experience, speaking with current Scholars is a high priority every year for Finalists as they are trying to gauge what it would be like to be a member of the Program. Ever since the third and fourth cohorts of Scholars were selected, the subsequent Finalist Weekends have finally had the Scholars outnumber the Finalists. Comparing this to my Finalist Weekend, it is now much easier for a Finalist to find a Scholar with whom to converse. I think this has greatly benefited the Program by helping Finalists understand who we are as Scholars and what they can expect if they are selected as a Scholar. It also increases the transparency of the Program from the student’s point-of-view and allows the Finalists to get a better feel for what being a Scholar would be like, rather than just being told what to expect by the Program’s Administration and other Faculty members. It is that personal touch of including the Scholars in the Finalist Weekend, as well as having enough Scholars to interact with all of the Finalists, that I think brings the appeal of the Levine Scholars Program to levels with which other scholarship programs cannot compete." 
--Robby Lankford, Class of 2016

Finalists' Weekend is an event that the Levine Scholars look forward to every year as an opportunity to share their experiences at UNC Charlotte and around the world with prospective new scholars, as well as an opportunity to meet the Finalists' and hear what they hope to accomplish as part of the program. This year's Finalists' Program is just over a week away, and promises to be an exciting and memorable weekend for all involved.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Semester of Aix-cellence

Wow, where do I begin? Hmmm…. Well, I suppose I’ll start off by saying that Aix-en-Provence, France is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in the world. I’ve been back on American soil for just two days now and am still in awe that the last four months I lived were not just a dream, but were reality.

I arrived in France at the end of August, completely exhausted from the long journey and wondering to myself why I decided to spend a semester abroad where I was going to have to take my classes in a foreign language and learn to live off of baguettes and cheese. I can happily say that it did not take long until I had completely fallen in love with the language and the French cuisine. Each day, my comprehension and speaking skills improved while my pallet also augmented. As much as I missed peanut butter and milk shakes from Cook Out, I must say that I now miss the fresh fruit stands, the daily outdoor markets and the fresh Mediterranean fish more. Displaying thumb_20151003_093645_1024.jpg

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In France, if you want to get somewhere, you walk. I lived in an apartment with my host mom and housemate about a mile uphill (no exaggeration) from my university’s campus. I can now say that I have incredible calf muscles. In all seriousness though, I learned to love my time spent walking, exploring and getting plenty of fresh air. I can also say that the view from my apartment was completely worth the long trek!

Just outside of Aix-en-Provence is a 18km mountain ridge with a hike that leads to a prominent peak at 1011m/3317ft (seen from my apartment) known as Mont Sainte-Victoire. At the summit is a chapel and large cross that can be seen from miles away. I first did the hike with my brother who visited me over Fall break. I became so enthralled by the view that I proceeded to hike it another three times over the course of the semester.

November 13, 2015 came with a sudden shock. On the day of the attacks in Paris, I had just arrived in London for a long weekend with a few friends, but soon found out about the horrific events. Being in Europe during that time was almost surreal. Not only was the nation of France devastated, but all of Europe was thrown into confusion and dismay. However, the European Union took great strides to establish a sense of security and to bring hope.   

(National Gallery, London, photo taken the night after the Paris attacks)

Leaving France and saying goodbye to the close friends whom I made was very difficult. However, my transition back to the U.S. was made much easier, as I got to spend Christmas in Germany with one of my closest friends—an exchange student who became dear to my family during my junior year of high school. I stayed at her house with her family and experienced a real German Christmas, which, fun fact, is celebrated on Christmas Eve.

(Photo taken in Berlin, Brandenburg Gate)

The last four months have truly been an incredible journey. Flying back home and looking out into the vast distance, I thought of all of the experiences that I never could have imagined having, but that are now memories that I could never imagine living without. Vive la France! And God bless the U.S.A.!

Michelle Rudd, Class of 2018