Archive for August, 2016

The Chicago Experience

Posted: August 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

For undergrad, I went to a smaller, Christian-affiliated university in the Chicago suburbs, and all students had to take a handful of religion courses as part of our general education requirement. My senior year, I took a course in religious artwork to fulfill my final religion course. I was an art minor, so the topic sounded interesting, and I knew and liked the professor from a previous course. It was a good fit.

Mostly, we read our textbook, had discussions, and viewed examples of art that were projected onto a screen. The class was informative and enjoyable, and the professor was still very nice and knowledgeable. However, twelve years later, I have retained very little of the information. The fifteen weeks of classes seem to blur together as one, with no particular lesson or detail sticking out.

Contrarily, at the end of the semester, my professor asked us to meet him on Saturday in Chicago so we could visit various churches and cathedrals to examine them from an architectural and artistic perspective.

Twelve years later, I remember everything about that day.

For suburban kids, which is an appropriate description for all of us in that class, visiting the city was a rare event. Growing up, the city was only 35-40 minutes from home, and yet I would only be downtown once or twice per year, and always for some big event like the circus as a kid, or Bulls games when I got older. Even then, we’d drive in to our specific destination, attend the event, and then flee back to the suburbs as soon as it was over. Never was there any attempt to wander and experience the city. Everyone else I knew who grew up in the suburbs had, generally, the same experience. The city and suburbs, though separated by only a few miles, are two different worlds.

So, having the class meet at the Fourth Presbyterian Church, directly across the street from the John Hancock Center on Michigan Ave., was a different experience for all of us in class, and it took us outside of our comfort zones in a good way.

4th Pres

Fourth Presbyterian Church

I still remember specific details about all of the locations. Our first stop was Fourth Presbyterian, with the wooden angels flanking the nave. At St. James, we took in the rose window. At Holy Name, we got a “behind the scenes tour” to see papal garments. I reference that day whenever I am near any of those spots, much to the delight (or annoyance) of anyone with me at the moment.

Being able to go out into the world and experience the subject matter, rather than just talk about it inside a classroom, made all the difference. I interacted with the material, I retained the information, and I had an experience I will always remember. The stuff inside the classroom: a forgettable blur.

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The inside of Holy Name Cathedral.

After the class tour ended, I did something that seemed so wild to me at the time: I found my way to Wrigleyville, got a cheap ticket from a scalper, and went to a Cubs game. It was so much fun, and it just added to the day of memorable experiences in Chicago.

At Robert Morris University, all of the professors – myself included – try to get our classes out into the city as much as possible, as it is part of “The Chicago Experience” that we want to promote at RMU, but also because it’s just good teaching. We are so lucky to have our main campus right downtown. That trip I took in undergrad required all kinds of planning and coordination, and we had to do it on a weekend. Now, I could take my classes at RMU on the same trip with a quick walk or by hopping on the El, all during our regular class period.

Having such easy access to the city is not only a great academic experience, but it’s great life experience as well. When our classes head into the city, hopefully students learn the day’s academic lesson, but perhaps more importantly, they will be exposed to people, culture, and ideas they would have otherwise missed were they stuck in a classroom looking at PowerPoint slides or listening to a lecture.

For students who are from the suburbs and beyond, it’s exciting to welcome them to the buffet of awesome opportunities in Chicago. For students who are from Chicago, I never doubt that there is plenty more for them to explore and learn about in their hometown.

Since that undergrad course, I’ve spent so much time in the city, even aside from all the hours working at RMU’s downtown campus. I feel like I know the city fairly well, and yet I know I have experienced only a tiny fraction of what it has to offer. I want to keep exploring, and I like trying to pass that desire to explore on to my classes. I only have them in class for ten weeks, but they can venture out and learn from the world around them for the rest of their lives.

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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I recently returned from a truly terrific trip to Spain.

As is sometimes the case, I hadn’t really expected to go on a trip to Spain. Travel opportunities present themselves in rather interesting ways. Margo and I went on one other somewhat spontaneous trip to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest eleven years ago, so we knew each other to be compatible travel partners. She wanted to go to Europe to celebrate a big birthday, and generously brought me along, in no small way helping heal my recently disappointed heart.

There is nothing quite like getting away to find your way back to who you truly are.

My older sister Margo and I spent twelve days exploring a spectacular slice of Spain, from Madrid northeast to Barcelona and southeast along the Mediterranean coast to Valencia.

The highlights of our trip were as eclectic as the country. We enjoyed art and architecture, culture and community, food and drink.

Here, in no particular order, is my “Top Ten” Spain List

Cable Car to Montserrat

Riding in a cable car was a new experience, which is enough to make it special, but the views of the surrounding mountains were also memorable.

Flamenco Dance Performance in Madrid

flamenco

The most apt response to seeing the phenomenal flamenco performance at Café de Chinitas is that it is worth crossing an ocean to see the artists perform: simply breathtaking!

Paseo in Madrid

The tradition of evening strolls is pleasing as both spectator and participant. On the second night in Madrid, I followed the crowd across a street and stumbled upon the park at Plaza De Espana, complete with sparkling fountains, kissing couples, happy families, and enthusiastic street artists. Oftentimes during my travels, I find myself feeling completely at home in some far-flung part of the world, imagining another life I might have led, if only. .

Mercat de San Miguel in Madridcava

Here, my sister fell in with the Saturday night rituals of Madrilenos, inspecting the delicious foods on display, and finding our way to the bar for a fantastic glass of cava.

Tapas, cervezas, and sangria: oh, my!

Much of our travel itinerary included sampling as much local fare as possible via tapas crawls, really just day-long bar crawls, of which I was happily aware. My favorite discoveries included boquerones, fresh anchovies pickled in vinegar and served with olive oil, bread, and garlic. I shall attempt to make them at home and see how well I can recreate the delicious taste of salt and sea in this delightful dish. Tapas are just an excuse to sit and have a drink, so we concocted as many excuses as possible and had a great time!

While I’ll never be able to remember all of the bars where we stopped for a quick rest, a cold drink, and a salty snack, El Rincon, connected to the train station in Montserrat, appeared like a mirage in the afternoon heat, offering glasses of iced sangria while we waited 30 minutes for the next train back to Madrid.

A great view and a friendly waiter at a bar in Segovia

bar

Our day trip to Segovia ended with a steady walk downhill, with a perfectly-timed stop at an inviting sidewalk café and bar. The view of the surrounding countryside, the cozy tables, the shady umbrella—it was all delightful.

Our bartender immediately noticed our family resemblance and asked me while pointing to Margo, “Tu Hermana?”

“Si,” I replied, and our conversation rolled well from there.

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Swimming in the Mediterranean off the coast of Valencia

I mean, c’mon. The sea is a lovely place to be.

Paella in Valencia

We tried the seafood paella at La Pepica, one of Hemingway’s old haunts. He was so effusive of his praise of restaurants that some clearly survive off just the rumor of his passing through. The next night I got the paella Valenciana at El Coso, prepared with rabbit and chicken, and, honestly, it was even better than the seafood version. I shall endeavor to make a decent paella sometime soon for my Urban Family.

Barri Gotic in Barcelona

For goodness sake, when you go to Barcelona, go here immediately and wander into the charming squares and have a drink under the archways and listen to local gypsy musicians sing and play.

The Magic Fountains on Montjuic

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Selected to cap off our trip and happily scheduled for our last night in Spain, the Magic Fountains are an incredible show, with music and colored lights and seemingly at least 20,000 spectators. My sister and I grabbed a table and ordered beer after beer until the show began at 9:00pm. We stayed long enough to see the colors and hear the songs, until we were both happy, and tired, and drunk.

The world is home to all of us, with all its natural and man-made wonders. We must enjoy them, and each other, while we can.

One of the truly humbling—and crucially important—aspects of international travel is the necessity of communicating in a language other than our own. I stumbled through my weak Spanglish, occasionally slipped into terrible French, and often resorted to reusing important two-word refrains, “muchas gracias” and “lo siento” being the most suitable.

Traveling allows us to see the world differently, and understand how unique and wonderful every individual is. We all have our own histories and neighborhoods and experiences that shape who we are and what we become. As we venture far from home, we come to know ourselves better, recognize in fresh faces new friends.

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On a more somber note, the tragedy in Nice, France, occurred while I was abroad. My first awareness of the event happened via Facebook. My friend, Vicky “checked in as safe” as she and her husband and young son live in Nice. I met Vicky in Nice in 1999, on my first international trip to stay with our mutual friend, Leah, who was in France teaching English at the time. I’m glad I could learn that Vicky was safe without having to wait and worry, but how dreadful that such technology is necessary. The tragic loss is just one of countless losses, the result of ideology that seeks to see only irresolvable differences between people, rather than shared humanity. Travel does the opposite.

Across the world, I have encountered countless friendly strangers, willing to help me find me way when I was lost. We can and must continue to celebrate ourselves and invite others to join our celebrations. The only way forward, onward, will always be together.

The world is vast, but travel can help develop an open mind and a loving heart. No matter how different we may seem, we are all one human family.