Sunday, September 16, 2012

Here ye, Here ye: the Academics Cometh!

When you first arrive in a foreign country for a study abroad program, you tend to forget the key word: "study."  However, as attractive as traveling for traveling's sake is, I was relieved to finally have some regularity in my new life here through the onset of classes.  Before I delve into the rich nuances of the Spanish university system, I should probably provide some background information about the registration process, which was an adventure in itself.

About a month before I left for Spain, I had to submit what was called a "Learning Agreement" to USC.  This consisted of classes I would have taken at Whitworth and classes I hoped to take at Santiago de Compostela.  After obtaining the necessary signatures from Whitworth faculty (God bless Dr. Soden, Professor Peterson, and Sue Jackson), I submitted the learning agreement, so it was out of sight, out of mind . . . until this past week.  On Monday, I met with my academic coordinator in the History Department, Prof. Carmen Rodriguez González, who signed the agreement after I adjusted some of the classes on the list due to schedule conflicts.  I guess now would be the appropriate time to talk about scheduling, which was somewhat difficult for me.  Many a time, I simply could not figure out USC's website and the way it listed class schedules (it still confounds me to a certain extent: challenge accepted!)  Yet, I finally figured it out, and if I'm able to handle all the classes (i.e. if they're not taught in gallego or are simply ridiculous), then my current schedule gives me a four day week with no classes on Fridays.  Can I get a "Huzzah?"  Anyway, after many signatures, photocopies, borrowing of pens, and confused expressions, I turned in my documents to the registration office, and they're processing them as we speak.  Hopefully the processing ends soon, as I will not be able to access wireless internet until I receive credentials from the registrar's office.  Unfortunately, this has put a bit of a damper on Skyping with family and friends, but at least I can still remain in contact through the computer lab for the time being.

My three classes in la Facultad de Geografía e Historia do not begin until this Monday, so the only class I had this week was "Literatura Hispanoamericana hasta el siglo XIX."  It should discuss, in essence, the various literary works in the Americas from Columbus's encounter with the "New World" in 1492 up until the beginning of the 19th century.  The class size wasn't as large as I was expecting (maybe 30-35 students?), but there aren't enough desks for everyone, so one of the days I sat on the stairs.  No big deal, at least I'm enrolled in the course.  I'll admit firsthand that I was quite nervous going into the course for two reasons: 1) I didn't know if the class would be taught in castellano or gallego 2) I thought I would have NO idea what the professor was talking about if he had as thick an accent or spoke as rapidly as some people around here.  Luckily, my expectations of fear were not realized, and I was able to understand the majority of what he said, despite him speaking in a very soft voice.  That being said, I'm still trying to understand the Spanish university system since I've heard we're supposed to spend the whole semester basically preparing for the final exam and reading the material at our own pace.  One thing at a time. Hakuna Matata.  Poco a poco.

Now for some numbering since I'm being a windbag again:

1) I met with my ISEP academic coordinator on Monday as well, Profesora Susana Jiménez.  In my opinion, her personality consists of the enthusiasm of Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus bundled with the compassion and care of Mary Poppins.  In other words, she's AWESOME and really excited to help us with anything academic.

2)  While walking through the park with some of my international friends one evening, we passed some nuns taking a candlelight stroll, wearing full habits and rosaries.  They were absolutely delightful and greeted us with warm smiles and salutations, which I reciprocated as well.  After we passed them, I thought I heard someone in our group remark that he had expected the nuns to be very cold and ignore us.  This made me realize a few key things, so now we need some numbers within the numbers (Inception!).
       i. During the summer, I became quite enthralled with watching and listening to EWTN, the main U.S. Catholic television network, and Word on Fire, a series of YouTube videos by Father Robert Barron.  In one of his segments, Father Barron commented on Cardinal Timothy Dolan's approach to evangelization, with the first step being the expression of pure joy in living the Christian life.  These consecrated sisters to the Lord and His Church demonstrated this so clearly and beautifully!
       ii. If you identify yourself as a Christian person, you know that we're all called to evangelize, something which many, including myself, view as a daunting and often uncomfortable task.  However, my encounter with the nuns shows how the performance of simple actions as a result of God's grace can start to evangelize the culture anew.  In fact, it shouldn't be a huge surprise that ordinary people will be more receptive to a smile, hug, and sympathetic ear than a discourse on St. John's Apocalypse.  That being said, once this joy is experienced, people will WANT to know more and grow in the knowledge of the Lord and His Teachings.
       iii. At least in the United States, the media continually labels Christians as ignorant, intolerant, self-righteous, foolish, and the list goes on.  This could be, at least in part, due to the fact that certain people who seem to fit some of these stereotypes get the most time on the air.  Nevertheless, it's apparent that if we make mistakes as mistakes as Christians (which we certainly do since we're human), the media makes us wallow in our errors and never permits us to move on even after repentance.  How can we meet this challenge more effectively than we have?  Answer by living a life of love and joy that only God provides. This doesn't mean painting your life to be something it's not, as we will all suffer at some point.  Yet, suffering forces us to rely on God more, which is a comforting and joyful thought.  When you show people that Christianity is actually not a conglomeration of negative stereotypes, they will more than likely take your views on a moral, God-oriented society much more seriously and considerately.

Now, I know that was completely different than anything I've written before, but since this is a personal blog I think I have the liberty to share my personal thoughts on lots of issues as they arise.  For time's sake, I'll get off my soapbox.  Again, congratulations if you made it to the end of this monster, and thanks for reading!



  1. Ethan, you continue to be one of the greatest inspirations in my life. Keep continuing to be a light to this world and a vessel in sharing God's love with others. I love you very much and am praying for you!

  2. Great to get another update on your goings-on. I like numbering things too.
    1) I like your reflection that was inspired by the nuns and I totally agree with those first two steps. I struggle with the second part too, but I love that we are called to a life of joy and I try to live that.
    2) My neighbors were just in your neighborhood. I guess they did El Camino and just came back in the last couple of days. I'm kicking myself for not having y'all meet up. They would have loved it.
    3)I'm not sure how I feel about my handle being Teddy V. I don't think it bothers me enough to change it, though.