The day after our graduation from Ursuline Academy
was the first day of the rest of our lives.
Where in the world did we go?
Ursuline Academy Alumnae are leaders, scholars, performers, athletes, travelers and, most importantly, women who serve others. Many of you have traveled far and wide on these adventures, but we love when you come home and tell us what you have been up to!
Clare Gunshenan ’10, a junior at Grinnell College, is spending the 2012 fall semester studying abroad in southern France. While exploring Aix-en-Provence one day Clare found this chapel and couldn’t believe her eyes. She was so excited and proceeded to tell her host mom all about Ursuline Academy. Ursuline Academy, as Clare discovered, is not simply confined to Dedham, MA. There are over 30 Ursuline schools and colleges in the United States of America alone. Ursuline education also stretches worldwide to Austria, Barbados, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, and South Africa.
On January 2, 2010, I found myself at Raleigh-Durham International airport about ready to board a plane that would cross the Atlantic Ocean and eventually land at London’s Heathrow Airport. I remember looking around easily picking out the Elon students who were going on the trip due to the way they were dressed and all made up, yet I had never met any of them. Although I felt nervous inside, and could feel butterflies swarming around in the pit of my stomach, I realized that this would be the first of many obstacles in this journey abroad, and it was a rather small one. The coursework that we would be doing in London was quite unique and required stepping out of my comfort zone. With the goal in mind of understanding an exceptionally multicultural city, our task was to investigate and research the immigrant communities through meeting, interviewing, and photographingdifferent people who live in the areas. My small group of four was assigned to Mile End, a part of East London that is inhabited largely by Bengalis as well as Jamaicans, South Africans, and Chinese among other ethnicities, races, and religions.
In an area where you see women in headscarves and long skirts, men with long beards and turbans, and people of all ethnicities, I certainly stood out with my pale skin, blond hair, and colorful clothes. I noticed this, and so did the locals. One day, my partner, Courtney, and I were walking down the street and noticed two Muslim girls close to the bus stop that is across the street from the Mile End tube station. They saw instantly that we were out of place. After introducing ourselves to these two girls, Aisha and Nura, they instantly asked us why we were in this neighborhood as they quickly viewed us as innocent in the manner we walked up to them. The girls explained that there are gangs and violence, topics we had heard much about before venturing into the area. Nura said they were “fake gangs,” really just groups of boys who think they are tough. Aisha reluctantly accepted this explanation. We later learned that Aisha’s hesitance had a certain truth to it. Mile End is known for being a tough area of East London, particularly as a place to grow up. Several gangs, divided up by territory, exist in the area. Although most youth living in Mile End would agree that they wish the violence did not exist, it still continues. The gangs have new members everyday, and fights continues to occur on a daily basis. It is not rare to see police officers at the local schools breaking up physical disagreements or to notice gang markings around the school indicated by the first part of the postal code such as E3.
Although this description makes Mile End to seem grim and bare, there is a silver lining. Certain organizations and individuals work to better the community, and in turn, provide hope for the youth that lives in Mile End. During my fieldwork, I met four individuals who make it their job to reach out to the Mile End community, particularly the youth. Nick and Kerry Coke of the Salvation Army as well as Henk and Gabi from the East London Tabernacle Baptist Church provide opportunities for Mile End’s youth todo grow and prosper as confident, well-rounded individuals of London’s society. I was able to go to a school, St. Paul’s Way Community School, and talk to middle school aged girls.I also met and spoke with boys between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one at a youth club run by the ELT Baptist Church. These boys were all part of a gang, E3, which signifies the area they call home. In both cases, most of them were Bengali, and as a result, Muslim. By speaking with the Cokes about their children’s experiences, the girls from St. Paul’s Community School, and the boys from the ELT Baptist Church’s youth club, it was apparent that the integration of cultures, different life experiences, yet most importantly the care and outreach shown by the Cokes, Henk, and Gabi makes a positive difference in their attitudes.
Although I loved the experience of taking photos and finding my way around the vibrant city of London, it was the opportunity to speak and learn form others that I truly cherish. Who knew a year ago, amidst the dreaded senior finals at Ursuline, that I would be talking with and learning from with Muslim gang members a continent away? And where will I be next year? I am looking forward to finding out and to the process that will bring me there.
My friend Courtney and I are standing in front of a statue of Queen Victoria. In the background is Kensington Palace.
Standing in front of the gate of Kensington Palace
This photograph, taken on January 15, 2010, captures Gabi, a young Romanian woman with a fourteen year old Bengali girl, Hasina at St. Paul’s Way Community School in Shelmerdine Close, London. Gabi came to London a couple years ago with her husband to study. She also works with the ELT Baptist Church sponsoring youth clubs, including a girls’ club that meets every Friday at Hasina’s school during lunch time. Gabi describes her work with the girls at St. Paul’s as encouragement to be strong women and also to spread the good news of Jesus. Under Gabi’s kind guidance and care, the girls are able to have a break from the school day and learn more about each other as well as other ways of thinking. The interaction between Gabi and Hasina shows a deep bond and appreciation for one another.
This photograph, taken on January 19, 2010, captures the Salvation Army officers, Nick and Kerry Coke with their two children, Penny and Henry at their home in Stepney Green, London. The couple moved to the area, which is considered the inner city, from a rather wealthy section of London six years ago when they were asked to start a new branch of the Salvation Army in Stepney and Mile End. Although the Salvation Army had originated in the area; it had sort of disappeared; and it was up to the Cokes to do something with the “fresh sheet of paper” they were given. With the goal in mind to help “transform” the community, one of a complex “ethnic makeup,” the Cokes wholeheartedly work and live in the area. Their children, Henry and Penny, are just involved in the community as their parents. They attend state school and participate in the outreach organizations their parents run such as the children’s club. Through this photograph, I wanted to portray a family of much love, joy, and understanding that permeates any situation.
It’s last period. Focus is waning and my thoughts start to wander away from irregular Spanish verbs. Just then a former student of Senora Brandt walks into the classroom. Students returning to visit her was common, a testament to how wonderful she is. After a hug and excited greetings in Spanish, Senora asks her to share experiences about language courses in college as well as her travels. I was blown away by how well she spoke and the fact that she spent her entire previous semester in a Spanish speaking country! That’s when I knew I needed to go abroad. I needed to learn the language I had developed such affection for.
Fast forward a couple years, I’m currently a junior at St. Michael’s College in Vermont. The jet lag just wore off a couple days ago and I’m still getting used to my life back in the States. I spent the past four months studying in Salamanca, Spain. “How was it?” has become the question I loathe. Not because I don’t appreciate people’s genuine interest, but how does one string together a couple of words that fully encompasses the dream I’ve been living in?
Salamanca is a city full of ancient beauty. From the Plaza Mayor, cobblestone allies, to more cathedrals than you can count, a simple walk to class is like a history lesson. About 3 hours from Madrid, La Universidad de Salamanca has been taking in students from all over the world since it opened its doors in the 13th century. All of my classes, culture, grammar, film, and translation, were in Spanish. Home for my peers ranged from the United States to Japan, Ireland, Holland, and England. It was thrilling being able to communicate with people I would have never had the opportunity to speak with had I not known Spanish.
Whether I was at home with my host family or in a bar with some locals, I was constantly speaking Spanish. Salamanca’s small city life provided a great atmosphere to enhance my language skills. I lived with a mother and father who had two older children and two young grandsons. My mother cooked every meal, lunch being at 2:30pm and dinner anywhere from 9-10:30pm, a schedule that took some getting used to. One of my favorite memories is when my parents took my housemate and me to their “pueblo”, their hometown where they grew up and were married. I was pleasantly surprised to see how they opened their home and lives to us, welcoming us with open arms. I was never a boarder to them, but rather another daughter in their family.
Fortunately, during my stay in Spain I was able to travel. I watched flamenco dancing in a cave in Grenada, drank my first Guinness in a pub in Dublin, swam on the other side of the Atlantic in Portugal, cheered at a Real Madrid soccer game, saw Picasso’s early works in Barcelona, and went to mass at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Not only did I see and experience things that I still can’t believe actually happened, I met the most incredible people. They were there for one the biggest emotional growth spurts of my life. We became extremely close going on excursions and exploring the city together. I consider them to be some of my best friends. Thanks to the internet and cell phones I talk to them almost every day.
It’s hard to process everything that occurred in the past 4 months. So many experiences packed into such a short while. I was walking on streets older than my country! I have very fond memories of my time abroad and ache to return as soon as possible. This step, getting out there and seeing the world, has planted a seed that will blossom into many more adventures.
Me at the famous windmills of Don Quijote in Consuegra, Spain.
My friend Kaylee and I at the aqueducts in Segovia, Spain.
I spent the fall semester of my junior year of college in Florence, Italy. Italy was somewhere I had always wanted to visit, and my college essay actually focused on my desire to travel there. Living in Florence for four months was an experience I would not trade for anything.
Two of my good friends from college also went to Florence. In total there were 65 Marist students enrolled at Scuola Lorenzo de’Medici in Florence, as well as students from UNC and NYU. I lived in an apartment near Santa Croce with seven other girls. Our apartment was on the top floor of our building, and we were lucky enough to have a roof deck. We had amazing views of Santa Croce, the Duomo, and the city from the roof. We learned what it was like to deal with problems on our own, and with a language barrier. With occasionally blowing out our power at any given hour of the day or night (think eight girls using laptops, hair dryers, straighteners, chargers…), our landlord was on speed dial.
At one particularly rainy point in October, I think I had one clean, dry pair of underwear and five socks. I had my clothes out on the line drying, since nowhere in Europe seemed to have dryers, but the persistent rain was keeping my clothes a soggy mess. Our heat wasn’t being turned on until November, so I turned the air conditioner up to 27 degrees C in an attempt to dry the clothes. It’s interesting what one will come up with when resources are limited.
We shopped for groceries at a supermarket near school, but we lived 20 minutes away, so we never bought too much. There was a big market, the mercato centrale, close to school as well. One floor of the market was stocked with fresh meat, fish, and pasta, and the upstairs had bountiful fresh fruits and vegetables. We cooked most of our meals at our apartment, but we also sometimes went out to dinner. The food was incredible; I had the best pizza, among other things, I have ever had!
For the first week we were in Florence, we took Italian for 4.5 hours a day, with a lecture about Italian culture some mornings. This was to help us learn the basics of the Italian language and culture. Besides Italian, our other classes were in English. I took Italian, pairing food and wine, history and sociology of the Italian mafia, and social psychology.
I really enjoyed the classes I took in Florence. The food and wine class and the mafia class were my favorites. My pairing food and wine course was great. Every week we made a few recipes and tried different wines with them. Two of my favorite dishes were pasta alla Norma, pasta with fried eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, onion, basil, and pappa al pomodoro, a bread and tomato soup. History and sociology of the Italian mafia was a very interesting class. My friends and I thought that our teacher knew a little too much about the mafia to just be a regular Italian citizen. We learned about the Sicilian mafia, which was interesting and scary. For some reason, we weren’t able to fit a visit to Palermo into our weekend travels…
My friends and I traveled to many European cities on the weekends. It was fairly easy to travel from Florence, with the train and buses close by and the airport a short ride away. We took a trip with school to Cinque Terre, and another to the French Riviera; went to Dublin, London, and Paris for our fall break; Barcelona for a long weekend; Rome; Frankfurt and Mainz; the Amalfi coast; and other cities in Italy. It was amazing to see different parts of Europe. Having the opportunity to see things firsthand that I learned about in school (and many things I remembered from Ursuline!) was incredible. The experiences I had abroad were truly life changing. Traveling abroad, even for a few weeks, is something I think everyone should take advantage of if given the chance.
My friend Briana and me, taken at the top of the Duomo overlooking Florence.
In Cinque Terre, Italy
In Cinque Terre with my friends Kristina and Briana
Hi! My name is Gina Viscariello. I graduated from Ursuline in 2007 and am currently a Junior at the University of Rhode Island majoring in French and Political Science. While at Ursuline, I had a great interest in French, and I still remember my classes with Dr. Radwan, and eating baguettes in the tea room for French club. When I got to college, the choice was obvious- I was going to major in French. Last semester, with only two more French classes left to complete my major, I knew what I should do with those two classes: take them in France! This past summer, I spent six weeks studying in the south of France in a town called Aix-en-Provence. It was a life-changing experience for me, and I will take it with me for the rest of my life.
I chose to live in Aix because I wanted to be fully immersed in the French culture. The French people who live in the south of France are very traditional, and live in quaint little towns with cobblestone streets, and historical ruins surrounding them. The area was just beautiful, and I got to live in a city without the hustle and bustle of Paris. Aix is three hours from Paris, but only about an hour from Marseille, which is a beautiful port city located right on the Mediterranean Ocean. While in France I was able to see and experience things that I never thought I would. I lived with a host family, who spoke only French. For six weeks of my life, the only English that I heard was when I was out with my new classmates. I was able to speak to shopkeepers, talk to my host family, and play games and watch movies with their two children as easy as if I was speaking English. That was the most amazing thing for me, to learn that I was able to live without a problem in a country that did not speak my native language.
On top of that, I got to see the sights of southern France. I visited the famous lavender fields, swam in the Mediterranean Ocean and I stood at the arrival line of the Tour de France in Brignoles. Those are the experiences that stood out the most for me, but there are so many more. During my six weeks, I was able to travel to Italy for five days; I went to Cinque Terre and stayed in a bed and bath run by an older Italian couple who did not speak any English. That was an experience! I also travelled to Paris for one night, and I loved it; but it could not compare to the town that I was living in, and I couldn’t wait to return “home” to my host family in Aix after that weekend.
My experience ended on July 28th, when I returned home to the United States. That was bittersweet for me because I could not wait to return home to my family, but I knew I would miss the new friends I had made (the French and the American ones), and I would have to return to speaking English. Even now, I still hesitate to answer questions sometimes because my immediate reaction is to answer in French. This experience opened up my eyes to the rich cultures of the rest of the world, and taught me a lot about myself. I was capable of much more than I thought I was, and it is a great feeling to have accomplished a dream I have had since I started taking French in seventh grade at Ursuline. I always said I would go to France, and I did; and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything because it has given me a new outlook on life, and a new awareness of how truly diverse our world is. I encourage everybody to travel abroad, and regardless of where you travel to, I can promise you will come home having learned a whole lot about yourself. I love to talk about my time in France, so if anybody has any questions or just wants to know more about my experience, feel free to send me an e-mail.
Me and one of my new friends standing in the Lavender fields of Southern France
I finally got to see the Eiffel Tower!
Me standing at the arrival line of the Tour De France.
Italy Trip- Gina holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa