Indiana University Overseas Study

Archive for the ‘Field work’ Category

Sachsenhausen: Past and Present

Sarah Monnier - Berlin, Germany

I am three weeks into my course looking at what is remembered and what is forgotten in Berlin’s history. In our short time here we have gone on numerous excursions as a class to visit sites that reflect this theme.

In our second week we had our longest and most intimidating journey, a visit to a concentration camp. This past semester I took a class on the history of the Holocaust as part of my history degree, so I knew the logistics of what happened. I knew that Sachsenhausen was a concentration camp just outside of Berlin. I knew it held prisoners for a variety of qualities categorized as criminal offenses by the Third Reich, from political beliefs and sexual orientation to being Jewish, Sinti, or Roma. I just didn’t know what to expect when seeing the camp in person.

Guard tower

The main guard tower for Sachsenhausen is at the center of a spoke-like arrangement of barracks. Built in 1936, the camp was meant to serve as the ideal model for later camps to follow.

To get to the camp we took an hour-long ride on the S-Bahn followed by a 10-minute bus ride through a picturesque town. Upon arrival we were met with a large map of the camp emphasizing the enormity of Sachsenhausen.

The camp was meant to be the ideal model for all camps that would follow. Our guide explained the semi-circular set up of the camp. One main guard tower above the entrance was able to control the entire camp with one machine gun because the barracks fanned out like bicycle spokes from its base. A curved track paved with uneven stones separated the barracks from the tower. Prisoners were forced to carry weights while testing shoes for the German army, trekking back and forth across the track until collapsing from exhaustion.

guard tower and fenceline

The outer perimeter of the camp is bordered by a combination of barbed wire, electric fences and a cement wall. The “neutral zone” served as a death strip, for anyone who crossed its threshold or was forced to cross into it was shot immediately.

Throughout the visit we were faced with the cruelty and suffering that was commonplace at the camp, from torture devices, gallows, and crowded bunks, to the crematorium. Some of us felt numb and uneasy, whispering to each other as we navigated the camp on our own.

In contrast to the raw leftovers of history we witnessed, were the intrusions of the current day. There were hundreds of other visitors to the camp that day, many with handheld, brick-like walkie-talkies that explained the history of the camp in whatever language was needed. There were some who snapped selfies in front of the gates near the sign that read “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” – work sets you free. The experience left me feeling disconnected from what that site was.

labor camp entrance

The entrance to many labor camps of the Third Reich bore the same slogan “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” – works sets you free. The saying was increasingly insidious, as most prisoners would be “freed” only through death after exhaustion from forced labor.

Our visit to Sachsenhausen served as another example of how Germany handles its darkest period in history. During the war, the scenic town was still where it is today, right next to the camp. German civilians could not have ignored the enormous structure located down the street from their own homes. They would have witnessed the new prisoners arriving at the local train station and seen the smoke stacks as no one made a return trip. Similarly, the camp remains as prominent as it was as a reminder and warning to all of us today. If we allow ourselves to forget, then we are enabling the conditions of fear and hate that emboldened the Third Reich to take hold once more.

Sarah Monnier - exploring the history and memory of Berlin

New Insights

paddack_holly.jpg

Warning: most of this blog is me nerding out about how neat Planet Earth is.

A few weeks ago at a market in Sydney, I had a heart-to-heart conversation with a vendor at one of the booths about the Great Barrier Reef and the implications of climate change on humanity. We talked about the threats that our ecosystems are facing, and just how big of a role these reefs and oceans play in Australia’s economy and in the world.

Thinking about that conversation afterwards, it was one that I would never think of having back in Indiana. Being born and raised in landlocked Indiana, I never spent time around the ocean. It was never a major focus in any of my classes, let alone being talked about around the dinner table or at random markets. Yet, it’s such a common thing for Australians to talk about conserving their oceans and reefs and the threats among them.

For that reason, living next to an ocean and a place with such incredible wildlife has completely expanded my horizons of thinking about water, Earth, and everything that’s inhabiting it. In Indiana, I’ve studied aspects of biology that are equally important, but different nonetheless (IU, I still love and appreciate you!).

Over Easter, I took a trip to see the Great Barrier Reef first hand after I had been hearing all of this talk about it, and it turned out to be the most remarkable experience I’ve ever been blessed to have. I had never been snorkeling, let along scuba diving, and doing so blew me out of the water (quite literally). I felt like I was put in a scene straight out of Finding Nemo—bright corals, giant clams, schools of fish around my head, and even a shark that swam beneath me. While the reef in itself left me speechless, I also saw part of the reef that looked like it hadn’t fared so well. I saw fields of white, bleached coral in the distance, completely vacant of life that had once inhabited it. In these moments, it was easy to see the implications of climate change and how devastating it truly can be. Once I had seen something so lifeless that once had so much beauty, it was impossible for me to not feel passionate about the conservation of it.

snorkeling

Once in a lifetime experience at the Great Barrier Reef.

The great thing about this experience and passion has been that I keep learning more and more about it in my classes. Something about the Great Barrier Reef gets brought up just about every other class because of how intertwined it is with all of biology. I’ve been able to study the biodiversity of molluscs in class, and the next week actually measure this diversity on the beach for ourselves. We’ve gone out on a boat to collect samples of plankton in the ocean to study them even further. Definitely different experiences than biology labs in Indiana!

Australia beach

Studying mollusc diversity on this beach

So, a piece of advice for prospective study abroad students: go somewhere that will actually be beneficial to your major in ways that your home university cannot. I know studying abroad usually appeals because it seems like you’re going on a 6 month vacation (and you’re not completely wrong), but it is also an opportunity to completely reignite your passions or discover passions that you never knew you had. I have always been passionate about wildlife and the environment (a big reason why I’m studying biology), but being here has struck a different chord in me. It’s a new aspect that I would have never gotten in Indiana, as much as I love and miss it. As students, it is so necessary to keep learning through experiences and exploring, not only from textbooks and lecture slides. While that may not mean visiting the Great Barrier Reef for everyone, it could also mean going to see a landmark or exploring a new city. We live in an incredible world!

cliffs overlooking the ocean

Exploring the coasts of Australia

Hollay Paddack - exploring the ecological diversity in Australia

The ‘Study’ Part of Study Abroad

Sarah Whaley

Views of Australia shared by friends back home tend to consist of sea and sun. Not studying. Nor did mine prior to the start of classes at University of Adelaide. I have to admit the studying part of study abroad is still not sitting well with me. When I could be surfing instead, why would I want to sit inside and open a book?

However, reality reminds me studying at Uni is the only reason they gave me a visa to get into the country. So I figure now I am halfway through the semester, I may as well embrace it.

Selfie in front of trees.

Looking far more prepared than the first day.

Studying in Australia is quite different from studying in the U.S. For starters, undergraduate degree programs here are typically three years long instead of four and taking gap years between high school and university is not uncommon. That means some of the freshers (freshmen) arriving on campus spent the past year or two backpacking Europe or being a ski instructor in Japan. Also, many students at Uni live at home and commute to classes, which is less common in the U.S. for a state university. Otherwise, students live with friends or in residential colleges (separate campuses housing around 150 to 250 students from various universities).

The living conditions of students contribute to the confusing Aussie terminology surrounding education. Back home we often use the terms school, college, and university interchangeably. Here each means something distinct. School strictly refers to kindergarten through 12th year. So when I unconsciously let a phrase like “my school back home…” or “school work” slip, I get strange looks. Saying “my college back home” is greeted with similar looks, as college strictly refers to a residential college. Only university (almost always shortened to uni) refers to university, and hence phrases such as “I’m headed to uni” and “uni work” are commonplace.

After nailing down the education lingo, I found adjusting to other major differences at uni easy, even enjoyable. First, taking only 12 credit hours worth of classes a semester as opposed to the 16 or 17 I am used to at IU has been a welcome relief. Four classes are certainly more manageable than five or six. Also, the lack of busy work has been amazing. Most courses in Australia are assessed entirely on the outcome of three or four assignments as opposed to weekly submissions. That said, the lack of padding to your grade when facing major papers or exams can be an added stressor. One missed or botched assignment (especially if you have an unforgiving professor) will lead to failing the course. It is also more difficult to dedicate time to studying for uni when you don’t have a graded assignment to turn in, though that’s exactly what Australian professors expect you to do. It’s more difficult to get away with turning in a major assignment you finished the night before. If you’re lucky you’ll pass, but you won’t get distinction or high distinction (meaning you’ll receive a 50 to 64 percent, but no higher). Professors expect to see you’ve put in time reading other books related to the topic and doing practice exercises outside of class.

Though the assessment structure in Australia sounds intimidating, I’ve found it easy to adjust to in comparison to the little things I never expected could throw me off. For instance, I brought over old folders and journals from the U.S. to use for classes here to avoid extra costs, only to find out the paper is the wrong size. Like the British, the Aussies use A4 paper. Which in U.S. measurements is just off enough to make a difference at 8.27 by 11.69 inches. Luckily, the printer at St Mark’s always reminds me when I’ve forgotten to change documents to A4 paper by refusing to print. Other inconveniences such as not knowing how to format different types of papers, or how to reference in Harvard style had me almost in tears during a busy assessment week. But once I got over my embarrassment and asked the questions I needed to, my professors and Aussie friends were understanding and curious to learn more about the differences in American formatting rather than impatient with my ignorance of theirs. My friend Glen even proofread one of my papers to correct my poor American spelling (they don’t understand our use of “z”s in “colonisation,” our lack of “u”s in “colour,” or even why we call a “.” a “period” instead of a “full stop”).

All in all, I think I lucked out taking arts and humanities electives while abroad. I’m used to writing papers, which are most of my assignments (here my engineering friends cringe). The class topics are fascinating to me: Indigenous Studies of Australian Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders; Anthropology of Emotion, Mind, and Person; Electronic Writing; Introduction to Linguistics. Indigenous Studies is easily my favorite class, as my professor is enthusiastic and I would have never had a chance to take such a course back home. I love doing the readings about Aboriginal Dreamings and find myself looking for evidence of institutions paying respect to Aboriginal people everywhere. Anthropology is providing me a new and challenging way of looking at the world divided not into binaries such as black and white or Eastern and Western, but into small and specific cultures, times, and places. My professor for Electronic Writing is the most accommodating and friendly of all of my professors, taking time after class to get to know me and answer my questions about the differences in Aussie class structure and formatting.

South Australian Museum

A trip to the South Australian Museum for Indigenous Studies fieldwork.

Linguistics, which I thought would be a breeze, is killing me. (My use of the phrase “killing me” being an interesting linguistic phenomenon itself.) Not only is enough information packed into each week of the course that it could be its own course, but the professors are generally unhelpful. Every time I ask a question I get looked at like I’m only trying to get a good grade (which I would like as well, I suppose, but really I just want to know what I am doing) and I’m given an even more ambiguous answer than before. And now we’re learning phonetic transcription and the International Phonetic Alphabet, I’m more aware than ever of my status as a foreigner. After mid-semester break I will be facing an in-class transcription exercise spoken in – guess what – an Aussie accent. Which, though I’m now mostly adjusted to, I do not hear in my own head when I repeat auditory input back to myself. Did you know the Aussie pronunciations of “merry,” “marry,” and “Mary” are written differently in IPA? According to my American pronunciation, they should be the same.

Though adjusting to certain classes and differences while studying in Australia has been a challenge, I suppose I wouldn’t change that part of my experience even if I could. After all, the goal of studying abroad is to push one’s limits and learn to live in another culture – not to conform it to your previous expectations of the world. Even your expectations of yourself have to change. At home I’d pass with flying colors. Here I might just pass. BUT I also learned how to introduce myself in Kaurna (the local Adelaide Aboriginal language), read about fire-walking for a class, created a new blog called Found Objects of Adelaide, and got to explain the definition of a “Hoosier” to hysterically laughing Aussies. Cool as, mate.

View all posts by Sarah

Preschoolers are People Too

Ashli Hendricks

I have Hermione-Granger-like sweat for structure.

It might stem from the eternal frustration I felt growing up in Germany where my parents would mill through Oktoberfest for three hours on the off chance they’d snag a beer. Or on aimless ambles through golf courses across Ireland when I’d ask through gritted teeth just where we were going and my parents would respond they didn’t know.

To me, there was no bigger annoyance than proceeding without procedure.

Being in Denmark, I’ve wondered how rigid discipline has helped and hindered me as an Army brat. My life was a blend of my dad’s stern enforcement of “Yes, sirs” and “No, ma’ams,” and then utter free-for-all when he was deployed. It was a perplexing blend of strict adherence to rules, shredding them, and then sticking the pieces back together on his returns.

My first full day in Copenhagen, everyone who attended orientation was let loose on an “Amazing Race” scavenger hunt of Danish landmarks with whoever was sitting nearest to them. We were given a map and a list and no instruction as to how to work transportation systems.

Throughout both sessions, my classes lacked “structure,” with projects, dates, and times subject to change on a whim. Discussions were guided by our own questions and observations, not a bulleted agenda of material.

Denmark mandated flexibility with both compliance and complete apathy.

As I learned more about its education system in Children with Special Needs, my first class session, it became clear why.

I visited a Danish playground where a guide explained the concept of children playing for their own sake and not shouting “look at me, look at me” to their parents for some sense of approval or reward. She chided the American need for being seen and recognized.

In every preschool I visited, there were tiny people roaming around the giant overlap of parks, completely unguided and well hidden by huge hedges. These kids have privacy. There is an implicit trust and respect for children to be their own keepers. Or even beekeepers. There was a beehive well within their range, and it wasn’t even the most “dangerous” possibility. There were kids climbing to the top of a basketball hoop or clinging to the triangular roof of a small hut. There were boys swinging long wooden boards at each other and rocking back and forth on scraps of plastic bigger than themselves. Those areas were designed to look like nature, but they looked like junkyards or lumber mills. And there were maybe one or two adults somewhere in the vicinity.

My classmates whispered so many utterances of “Oh no!” that the Kool-Aid guy could have burst through at any moment.

But the kids were so imaginative and comfortable, completely free from having the rules of their army games dictated by an adult’s idea of safety or fun. They weren’t little Tasmanian devils tearing through life, just little people entitled to their own rights and ownership of what interests them. They weren’t preparing for adulthood, they were there for themselves, developing their senses of who that might be without the restrictions of “not supposed to.” The child makes their own assessment about who they are, what they want, and what they’re capable of, on no real schedule but theirs.

If they felt like seeing a giraffe that day, they piled onto a train with their teachers to the zoo without weeks of pre-planned permission forms.

Danes believe a kid deserves a bigger decision than sock color or which direction their sandwich slice is angled.

These heathens leave their babies to nap in carriages on the porch while they’re inside. In the winter, even. From infancy, independence is prized, and I realized for the land of the free, America sure seemed finicky in its youth’s freedoms. There’s no anal retention in Danish parenting or pedagogy and it was evident in the four-year-olds confidence with knives and scissors (real ones) and competence in using power tools and fire pits as “toys” that there’s no real danger in that.

Their only secret in being able to do something well is never being told they couldn’t.

View all posts by Ashli

The Do’s and Don’ts of Wimbledon

NatalieS

“We have an intern position for you at Wimbledon!” read the email I received late this summer. My first reaction was to question whether it was the real Wimbledon—the world-renowned tennis tournament? Really? Wimbledon wanted me?

I had completed my internship application for IES Abroad only a few months earlier. As a journalism major, I simply hoped for a position relative to the field that would give me valuable new experience. Never in my craziest imaginings did I expect Wimbledon.

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Covered in Mud

feustel_ingrid

There was a moment this past week when I was pretty sure I was going to die. Well, not really die, but be really uncomfortable and embarrassed, and also maybe lose one of my favorite pairs of shoes.

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Back in B-Town

ostaszewksti_sarah

Japan is fourteen hours ahead of America in time.  After an eleven hour flight from Narita Airport, Tokyo, Melissa and I arrived at Chicago O’Hare three hours before the time we left the ground in Japan on that same date.

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