Planning for an Uncertain Future


Hello on another Sunday morning from the Fog and Flame,

Technically, it is a few minutes after noon, but I have been here for a couple of hours working on things to prepare for the coming week and my classes; it seems to be my weekly pattern (including listening to Pandora – I know some say I should switch to Spotify, but I am a creature of habit – and I am listening to various Broadway show soundtracks). Amazing how much I have learned about Broadway since coming to Bloomsburg. I am fortunate to have worked with the BU Business LLC for that last 6 years; it has exposed me to many things I did not know. Continuing with the idea of where have four decades gone, growing up, this was the day we had a vacation from school because it was Lincoln’s birthday. It was also my Great-aunt Martha Hannestad’s birthday. She was born in Norway and immigrated to this country as a young girl. She was born in 1877. She turned 100 the day my elder brother was buried, and I remember her saying she should have been the one to be leaving the world instead of a 26 year old father of three. What I know looking back at this time was it was my first real “adult” lesson in realizing or accepting an uncertain future. I did not realize that at the time. As noted in my previous post, I was merely overwhelmed and angry at God.

What I know now, and I am well aware of this simple reality for all of us, I was born with an uncertain future. Undoubtedly, we all have an element of this, but being born weighing 17 ounces and only 26 weeks of gestation in the mid 1950s created another level to this human unpredictability. After 5 1/2 hours of surgery in 2004, the surgeon noted that I had probably been born with Crohn’s Disease rather than having developed it later in life. This was because of symptoms that I had a propensity for as a child. At the time, and I remember some of these painful incidences well, I merely lived through them not realizing (nor did my parents) there was something much more sinister amiss. I am trying to remember a time in my life when I was asymptomatic for Crohn’s and perhaps in my early 20s and when I was first at Dana. Now, however, since fighting this disease in conscious way (circa 1984), I do not really remember having a “normal life” in terms of my health. Some of you who know me in more completely personal manner are probably smiling and questioning any normalcy in my life. Fair enough. For some time the larger question for me has been simple enough. What are the consequences of this abnormal birth weight or gestation? What are the long-term consequences of nine abdominal surgeries and the removal of significant portions of an intestinal tract? Too often (myself included), we see this digestive tract as simply a tube that takes in food, processes it, and expels what is unneeded. It is so much more complex. It is a fundamental part of our immune system.  The surface area of the digestive tract is estimated to be about 32 square meters, or about half a badminton court. With such a large exposure (more than three times larger than the exposed area of our skin), these immune components function to prevent pathogens from entering the blood and lymph circulatory systems.  Fundamental components of this protection are provided by the intestinal mucosal barrier, which is composed of physical, biochemical, and immune elements elaborated by the intestinal mucosa. Microorganisms also are kept at bay by an extensive immune system comprising the gut-associated-lymphoid tissue (GALT) (I owe this previous couple sentences to Wikipedia). After doing more reading, it is not surprising to me, I seem to susceptible to every damn germ that comes my way. This now partial digestive system is fighting the best it can, but between its precarious beginning and what has happened since, I am pretty blessed to do as well as I have. Things were uncertain from the outset, much more parlous than I ever knew. What is much more staggering to realize is how resilient the body is and how my particular body has managed in spite of this malady than I could have ever imagined. While it seems that most of us understand the importance of hydration, what happens when your body does not know how to manage hydration because the main component in hydration no longer exists? The conversation with the gastroenterologist this past week was telling. No real surprises, but facing the reality of the consequences means coming to terms with that uncertain reality once again. Most of the time, I do not focus upon it, but some of the long-term reality and its affects on my daily life have made that more difficult.

What I know most importantly is I have been blessed to live the life I have. I have been so fortunate to meet tremendously talented and good people. I have been able to learn so much about the world in which we live. I have been able to sit at the feet of amazing professors from undergraduate school through a doctoral degree. I have been blessed by phenomenal students in my classes. I have been favored by the presence of terrifically caring people (thinking of so many wonderful people at Comforts of Home); I have been able to travel and meet exceptional people from California to New York, from Texas to the Canadian border. From 1980 to now, I have been fortunate enough to travel to Europe, including East Germany in 1985, more times than I might have ever imagined. Those journeys have always changed my life, from language acquisition to an appreciation for this world in which we live. From food to simple customs, each time there has been a transmogrification from a sheltered NW Iowa boy I once was to someone who has learned things beyond my wildest imagination. As I have noted in many of my earlier posts, the upbringing I had in Sioux City was a typical childhood for someone in the 1960s. We thought life was about playing in the yard, riding our bicycles, coming home when the streetlights came on, going to school and church daily and weekly. And so it was. In spite of things I have written in the past, I was fortunate to grow up in the world I did. I see that as I ponder a world today where so many people in this country are unsure of today, let alone a future. It hurts me as that white person that the country I call home seems so afraid of those who do not look like me or believe in the same God as I do. This is not the world or country in which I believed I was raised. There have been times during the past couple years where I am afraid to read the news, fearing what the newest craziness might be lurking on the daily headlines, but I do not think I am alone in this concern. While it would certainly be easy to point fingers in the current atmosphere, I do not want to do so. As most unmistakably know, I have a certain political bent,  but it is more complex than many might realize. My niece, whom I adore, stated it quite well today. She voted in the past election because she is not a conservative Republican and note, I leave that to interpretation. Fiscally I am more conservative than many might think, and while I am more socially liberal than my fiscal-nature, I might not be as liberal as everyone might assume by my academic profession. What does that mean? It is another example of how I have never been able to be easily compartmentalized. It is because I ponder and try to think beyond the obvious. I do fall into the easily categorized at moments, but that is generally when I am overly frustrated and write or speak before I think as carefully as I should. Sucks to be human at moments.

The next weeks will hopefully allow me some more certainly. While I thought I had every imaginable test done to my altered GI tract, there is the possibility of a new one, encapsulated cartography. What is this you ask? It is actually swallowing a camera and allowing it to take pictures (or is it movies) of my entire (or partial) gastroenterological system. I am not sure this will happen because it is dependent of the endoscopy and ileoscopy that is scheduled soon. I read an article in Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology titled “Crohns (sic) Cartography: Mapping Disease Patterns and Trajectories Using the Lémann Index; Are We Finding our Way?” If you are so inclined you are welcome to read it. If you find it a bit much, it is using a camera to see what sort of patterns they might discover after my three-plus fight with Crohn’s  after examining my insides. It seems like science fiction on one level, but it is actual medical care in this 21st century. That is the thing. If I had been like this even a few decades earlier, most likely I would not be composing a blog in my 60s. The intestinal issues are both at the crux of my concern, but on another level, the easiest to manage. I have been managing the consequences of Crohn’s as an intestinal companion for over 30 years. It is the next level of symptoms that seem to be more problematic (as well as increasing the morbidity). Up to now dehydration has been a inconvenience, but now it has added to the uncertainty that has been another companion. Ostomy moments are one thing to manage. Headaches that create a lack of hearing, an absence of sight, and a complete lost of equilibrium are an entirely different issue, and both a figurative and literal severe pain. Hearing that the consequence of this dehydration are now apparent in my brain matter serves as yet another disconcerting consequence. One of the things I have been able to do, at least until now, is merely live with the consequences and see them as a part of my life to manage. These latest revelations put me in a different place, but, honestly, I am not sure what that place is. That is new for me. It creates an uncertainty I am not sure how to manage, but it is something I have to manage. It is another hurdle to jump. It is something that scares me a bit. I do not remember being scared when I first went into surgery in 1986 for the beginning of this surgical journey that has had 9 major chapters (and numerous footnotes). I remember my Great-aunt Helen telling me I was very brave in 1991 as I laid in a hospital in Scottsdale, AZ. I did not feel brave. I merely felt that I wanted to somehow live a better life than I was. At this point, I am not sure the goal is that much different. I merely want to know the best way to manage this lasting and unwanted companion. Ultimately, the future is uncertain, but that is not any different from anyone else. We are all uncertain and more or less unprepared for tomorrow,  because for the most part, we have less control that we might believe. That is the giftedness of life. It is more unpredictable than we might think. When people complain of boredom, I find myself asking where they live? I have never really been bored and I do not anticipate that will happen anytime soon. However, it is time to get back to the task at hand: grading, writing, commenting, and living this amazing life I have.

Thanks for reading as always.

Dr. Martin

Where has 40 years gone?


Hello from Fog and Flame,

While many feel there is a let down after the holidays, and there is some truth to that reality. However, the first part of February is, for me, a time of memories and events which have shaped my life in more ways than I am readily aware. The subconscious consequence of that February during my first foray into college has affected me and my outlook in more ways than my surface demeanor generally reveals. The second historical event of early February (and in fact his entire life) actually occurred before I was born, and had I not gone to Dana College and read the book, Letters and Papers from Prison, I would not be cognizant of the 4th of February 1906 and its significance, both for Germany, but more importantly perhaps for our present circumstances here in America. I need to write an actual editorial to the Press Enterprise in response to something published yesterday, but that will come. There is a lot on my plate today, but as is often the case, I need to organize my brain before I can proceed with the day’s tasks: grading, bills, responding to students’ needs (and yes that is the plural form), and getting the CDT ready for the coming week. I spent about 8 1/2 hours or more yesterday reading and commenting on others blogs, but some additional work is necessary today for I have completed that task.

It is early afternoon and many people are getting amped up for the Super Bowl. I am not even sure I am going to watch it, even for the commercials. I would be much better served just doing the work I need to do. If the Packers were playing, I must admit, I would be all over it.  Nonetheless, they did not quite make it, in spite of a rather ridiculous season. I am reminded when I had one of my graduate school officemates over to watch Super Bowl XXXI between the Patriots and the Packers. That was the year Desmond Howard ran back a kick off for a touchdown. There was also the first year I lived here in Bloomsburg, the Packers won the Super Bowl then too and I was in the middle of Steelers territory. Since then there have been near misses, but it is what it is. Ultimately, it is a game that creates a lot of hype and continues to be a cultural phenomena selling a lot of food and beer, and now demands $5,000.000.00 for a 30 second commercial spot. I wonder if that money might be spent more judiciously elsewhere? Again, I am sounding old, but that is becoming more the norm than the exception. The reality of age is front and center in a number of ways, be it in the morning mirror, in a conversation with my PCP this past week, or in the fact that I have scheduled-appointments with three different specialists in the next two weeks. Fortunately, since I came back from Poland, I have somehow been more focused and productive than I have been for some time. I am trying to figure out ways to “ratchet” that up to an even higher level. There is an interesting term: ratchet. It means something quite different today, no diva intended here. Language always fascinates me . . . it is dynamic and entertaining.

Part of my aging focus is remembering this week four decades ago. I had gone away to Ames, Iowa to be a student at Iowa State University and I was not managing that task very well. I had little direction, and, in spite of time in the Marine Corps, little discipline as I wandered aimlessly around that beautiful campus. I lived in the Towers, but did not really like the dorms. I had some seriously-partying-floor-mates and with them I was easily swayed, another example of my lack of direction. While the fall quarter had gone semi-reasonably, the Winter quarter was not off to a great start and when I got back after Christmas, my life was soon to get more complex. I had been foolish in how I responded to a breakup with the first girl I had actually ever dated. Her name was Barb and I was quite amazed by her. The fact that she was my pastor’s daughter, and the sister of my best friend, certainly did not help matters when I mishandled our demise. As such, I was already an emotional mess and decided that it was easy to simply assuage my broken heart through a bottle, a bong, or a blunt, or all of the above. Not a good plan. Within a week or so of returning to Ames, I received a phone call that my older brother had been seriously injured in a rather freak accident sustained while working as an electrician on a simple building project. The consequence was a massive brain hemorrhage and he had lapsed into a coma. My father, in his typical manner, encouraged me to continue with my studies and they would check in with me regularly and offer updates as needed. To be honest, I do not remember how I took that news beyond a rather sort of feeling sorry for myself instead of considering how it affected his wife and three small children. Consequently, I was now even more aimless and I chose to do nothing. I did not go to class, I did not ask for help, I merely drank and smoked more. Foolishness was not in short supply. The short story of what could be quite an entry was I finally went home on the 10th of February to see my brother for the first time. It was the end of the semester and finals were the next week.

As I got to the hospital that night, there was nothing that could have prepared me for what confronted me in that ICU cubicle. My brother was merely a shell of the person I had known. Between being totally assist-controlled and vented, his eyes had been taped shut to keep them from drying out. He had an enormous dent on the right side of his head where they had removed his skull to manage the swelling and he was down to less than 100 pounds left on his six foot frame. My sister-in-law, Carolyn, only 25 years old, was there, and that evening, I had gone to the hospital with my mother. In the five weeks my family had held vigil at his bed, my father, through tiredness and stress, had actually fallen asleep and sideswiped a guard rail on the highway, so they were down to one vehicle. What I realized was in my absence, they had tried valiantly to manage a terrible situation. In that room as I tried to make sense of the sight before me, I held my brother’s hand and spoke to him, hoping he might hear my inadequate and rambling attempts to tell him that he mattered and that I loved him. Yet, shortly after my first arrival that evening, he began to seizure from the complications of his injuries. We were ushered out of his space and they began to work with him attempting to manage those seizures. As we waited in a room for families, I called my father, who had stayed home because of a cold. I told him he needed to come to the hospital (about a 20 minute drive) and he noted he was leaving immediately. A few minutes later a doctor, one of the many attending at that point, joined us in that room as I held my sister-in-law’s hand. He spoke of complications and battles. There was little emotion, but some empathy in his words. Within a few minutes one of the nurses came into the room and they merely looked at each other. At that point, he turned to us and said simply, “I am sorry; we lost him.” I felt overwhelmed and helpless. I felt guilty and worthless. I had do nothing over that five weeks, and it seemed likely that my brother had waited until I showed up to leave this world. I looked out the window as my eyes welled up in tears and said in a voice above a whisper, but perhaps not as a shout, “FUCK!!” I had prayed in those weeks that he might be spared for a wife and children, and all I could see in my selfishness was an unanswered prayer. By the time my father arrived that night, my brother, Bob, had passed away. Again, in his wise manner, as his eyes filled with tears, he sniffed, and said softly, “It is better this way.” He was right, even though I did not want to accept that in the moment. I had to call my pastor that night, the same pastor whose daughter I had broken up with poorly. I had been banished from their house because of my previously mentioned foolish behavior. What I remember about that is Pastor Fred was an amazing pastor, and as the somewhat surrogate father he had become, he managed that side also. I still remember elements of that sermon, and he would eventually one day preach at my own ordination. Over the next couple of days, things are still a blur. I remember reaching out to another girl that I knew and I recollect that she actually went to the funeral home with me the first time I would see him in a casket. I remember needing to touch his hand to feel the coldness, the lack of body temperature, to believe I was not in the middle of a nightmare. I remember being at Carolyn’s house the next day with my Grandmother Louise, who is my hero to this day. That next day I walked out onto the porch experiencing a pretty warm day for a February in Iowa. I stood on the porch and cried. My Grandma held me like she had when I was small. Somehow, I felt safe in spite of myself.

From that time 40 years ago until today, my sister-in-law and I are still in contact and she is more like a sister than anything to me. She and I have both been through a lot, but we have maintained that appreciation for each other. She helped me when I struggled mightily that next year. The grandmother mentioned above would pass away only 7 months later and that was even more devastating to me. I had left Ames and was out of school. I was back home bartending and partying pretty much non-stop. Events that could have caused me a life of trouble were not far from my door. I would wander more, but Carolyn stood by and supported me and loved me, even in the midst of my stupidity. Ironically, in one major aspect I ended up ahead of her, completing my doctoral degree. She eventually did the same and I was able to help her, giving back as she had given to me. Those three young children are now middle aged adults themselves and growing up without their father has had consequences. I see that in ways perhaps they themselves do not. Yet, all three of them are very different; each intelligent and capable, but quite varied when it comes to how they manage their lives. All successful in many ways. Distance as well as my somewhat itinerate lifestyle has not allowed me to be as close as I should have been, but I do believe (or at least hope) they know I am proud of each of them and I love them. Fortunately, one of them has kept me in the loop quite well and for that I am grateful. I have often wondered how things might have been different if that tragic end to my brother’s life had not occurred. One can play hypothetical games and doing such is probably not that beneficial, but he would be retirement age now. I wonder what he would think of this world? He was an excellent mathematician and his two sons have that quality. He was an outstanding musician and I think all of the three children have that. Of course, Carolyn is an outstanding musician also. That is how the two of them met. He was a product of the late sixties and I think he might have been a life-long rebel or perhaps he would have finally settled down and followed our father’s footsteps of being the family person. It is fun to imagine. While he might have been bald, if he had hair yet, I can imagine it in a pony-tail. What I do hope is, wherever and however he might see this, is that he knows that I admired and looked up to him more than he ever knew.

The second thing I  noted in my intro was my college reading, and what eventually became a dissertation, on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. For those of you unfamiliar with him. He was a German Lutheran pastor involved in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. In fact, shortly before the camp was liberated, he was hanged in Flossenbürg in April of 1945 because of his involvement in that plot. Bonhoeffer strongly believed the church had the obligation to speak out against the discrimination and abuse of power that was happening in Germany in the 1930s. When referring to the church as the spoke that had to stop the turning of the wheels as Germany embraced the propaganda of the Nazis. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer wrote, “Christianity has adjusted itself much too easily to the worship of power. It should give much more offence, more shock to the world, than it is doing. Christianity should take a much more definite stand for the weak than to consider the potential moral right of the strong” (emphasis in original). When he noted the issue of the Jewish question, which of course is what the Nazis would call the Final Solution, Bonhoeffer wrote, “A state that threatens the proclamation of the Christian message negates itself. There are thus three possibilities for action that the church can take vis-à-vis the state: first, … questioning the state as to the legitimate state character of its actions, that is, making the state responsible for what it does. Second, is service to the victims of the state’s actions (again, emphasis in original). The church has an unconditional obligation toward the victims of any societal order, even if they do not belong to the Christian community. “Let us work for the good of all.” (Gal 6:10) These are both ways in which the church, in its freedom, conducts itself in the interest of a free state. In times when the laws are changing, the church may under no circumstances neglect either of these duties. The third possibility is not just to bind up the wounds of the victims beneath the wheel but to fall [ourselves] within the spokes of the wheel itself. Such an action would be direct political action on the part of the church. Bonhoeffer calls on us within the church to speak out strongly and to act powerfully against injustice, discrimination or executive orders when they create too little or too much law. Bonhoeffer’s call to action is relevant and important in this time. Seems I need to reread some of what I have read in the past. So much more I could write, but I will stop for now and leave you some thoughts about Herr Pfarrer Bonhoeffer.

To my nieces and nephews and to Carolyn, I am thinking of you this week, and I love you all. To the rest of you, thank you for reading.

Uncle Mike as you call me, Michael as I prefer.

Back to Normal . . . or . . .

Scan 679Hello on a Sunday afternoon from my office,

I am not sure where the first week of classes went, but what I do know is that it has been terrifically busy. I was speaking with one of the students on the trip to Europe during the break and we agreed that we are divided in our psyches on whether we would rather be there or here. It is certainly true that I miss Krakow and the City Center and the pastries and some of the other things we did not have here, but I am glad to be back and doing what I normally do . . . and it certainly did not slow down over the break. In fact, I came back to a number of things that have my head sort of whirling. We returned and it was almost midnight before I got into bed that evening. The next morning I was up at 7:00 and on the road shortly thereafter to drive back to Menomonie and visit my friend, former-colleague and terrific mentor, Dan Riordan. He is not your normal every-day person, though he would state just the opposite. He is an educator, an innovator, a photographer of quite some renown,  a loyal mentor of almost 15 years for me, and I am sure much longer for others, and a wonderfully personable and enjoyable man. He is a faithful husband, father, and grandfather, and the accolades could continue and I would not be overstating the situation. The two hour visit I had with him was wonderful and something I will cherish for many years. The picture above is what I looked like in my first teaching position when I was at Suomi College (now Finlandia Unviersity).

After a whirlwind trip, and being in Menomonie for less than 26 hours, the trip back East was brutal because of dense fog almost the entire trip. Once it got dark on Saturday night, there was no reprieve until I was almost in Bloomsburg at noon on Sunday. I spend a great deal of time on campus this past week, which is not uncommon for the first chaotic week back to classes, but I have also spent more than 10 hours this weekend also in my office. It has been productive though. I have a meeting yet tonight and more things I need to accomplish yet today, so I will be haunting Bakeless for more hours yet today. However, it is wonderfully silent and in the solitude, I am being quite productive. There are a number of critical things to manage in the next 24-48 hours, but that is nothing new. I just need to saltand up and face them all and do what needs to be done. This is again the case where my kindness has created difficulties and my hesitancy to push back has only created a more substantive difficulty for myself. I am going to probably have to make a couple of hard choices, but that is the consequence of my being kind or generous. I am learning, but that learning has been slow and painful. Perhaps a positive outcome will be actually learning to change my behavior, but that too requires a change, and that change goes against my sort of basic life philosophy.

School is already moving toward the end of the second week, and somehow every semester seems busier and more hectic than the one before. I am not sure if it is because I am getting older or it is honestly more demanding. This week I have been at school more than 12 hours a day and working almost non-stop and I am not caught up. I write this in spite of fewer students (in total number) and even scaling back some of the assignments. By the end of the week, I will have met with 10 students for specific appointments (and this is not counting those who dropped by without appointments during office hours), have attended 4 meetings that are not every-weekly scheduled, and will have finished commenting and grading 60 blogs. None of this notes that this is some life outside the campus to which some attention must be given. This is the part of my life that gets short-shriftef too often. It gets some attention only when absolutely required, before something more mind boggling happens. There are moments, and these thoughts happen regularly, where I wonder how people have spouses, kids, families and all the rest. I seem to barely handle work let alone much else. It is during those moments that retirement does not sound so ridiculous to me. So again, I am forced to ponder if it is merely old age. In grad school I was a full-time student, a full-time grad student and I managed a restaurant . . . and I got it all done and did not seem nearly as overwhelmed as I currently do. Then I remember I am only “contracted” to 17 hours a week, obligated to be “before another,” so why am I feeling stretched. Grrrrrrrrrr.

During this past week, the system, and more specifically the Chancellor announced that everything is on the table when it comes to determining how the system will move forward to make itself more fiscally viable. They did ask for 61 million dollars in additional appropriations, but even with that, which is not guaranteed to come to pass, we are not quite to the level the state provided the system 7 years ago. Yes, that sentence is correct. Our previous governor gutted the system to the tune of 90 million dollars his first year in office and never put an additional dollar into the system the remainder of his term. The consequences are still rippling through. The cost to students, their families, and those who work for the system have made up that gap and still are. Let me say that I understand there must be accountability for money given and spent, and a blank check is not what is needed, but austerity funding when it comes to education has consequences that are compounded for decades. From those who can come to school to issues of retention. From those who are willing to be hired to those who will stay for a lifetime of service to the system and state; and from what kind of educated population the Commonwealth will have and how they will view the importance of higher education and the salaries they will demand to the taxes they will pay. This is the dilemma through the country, and I have made a conscious decision to leave the national political situation out of this blog post. Unfortunately that is our circus and he is our monkey. That is pretty political and telling enough a statement for the moment.

Yesterday, after meeting with another group of the students from Poland, it seems that being part of that excursion continues to pay dividends in that it exposes both the department and the program to students who are really considering the importance of what they have learned. That is always a good thing. Perhaps the normal in all of this posting, besides the system being unchanged and a Chancellor that seems bent on running education as a business, and again, I understand there is a financial aspect to all of this, and being two weeks in and feeling four weeks behind, the normal is four days have past and I did not get this finished. I was back at the doctor to follow up on tests done before Poland. Along with results, it was determined I have pneumonia and so I am on antibiotics and some other things to combat this. I am still somewhat stunned that I managed to stay healthy while everyone else was getting ill, and within a few days of returning to the states, my immune system is not happy. We’ll make it through this as usual. It is also a bit frustrating in that I have had the pneumonia shot, which I thought was supposed to keep this from happening. Guess nothing is foolproof, and I know this, but dang!! It is now Saturday and I did not get his posted, but in an attempt to do so, I will finish up and probably start a new blog that will take on some of the thoughts that seem to be swirling in my head. Last evening, I had dinner at the house with Mykola (aka: Sw. Polyuha) and Anastasia. It was delightful and the chance to merely sit, eat dinner in a leisurely manner and chat about the trip was both enjoyable and insightful. It is like everything. We barely finish something and we are looking a year ahead. That is how far things need to be planned. There is always something on the horizon and the norm is living both in the future and the moment simultaneously. I think that might be one of the most important learning things as we get older. How is it we manage where we are, but realize the planning for the next week, month or year is necessary?

Well, I am in my office and planning to get work done for the day. It is a normal weekend: catch up and prepare for the next week. While many are considering their plans for Super Bowl parties this weekend, I am not really interested. Part of that is a Packer thing, but part of it is my own disdain for the money we are willing to spend there for salaries, tickets, stadiums, and all the rest, when there are many more terribly significant things going unnoticed.

Thanks as always for reading,

Dr. Martin

Reflections on Learning in our 24/7 Classroom

Hello late in the evening from Kraków,

As we finished the last day of actual classes today, students scattered to the winds to have dinner and manage their last evening before their convocation at Jagiellonian University’s hallowed halls tomorrow. They will actually occupy a building and room (for a couple of amazing hours) that Copernicus sat in as a student. The comments on the three classes have been varied, but that is similar to what occurs in Centennial, Hardline, or Bakeless. The past three weeks have been sitting in the presence of international prestige and while there have been moments of cold as we walked the streets of Kazimierz, confusion as they tried to understand the plot or thoughts behind The Mighty Angel or The Piano Teacher, or wrapping their minds around the complexity of the Jewish question in Europe for the last 1,000 years, learning, as it always does, occurred sometimes when least expected. At dinner tonight with two students, they reflected on the fact that they learned as much outside the classrooms as in, but that the outside learning was profound in ways they did not anticipate. More will be said about that. Traveling to four countries with four currencies and four languages creates opportunities for learning about others, but more importantly, often more about oneself.

I have been fortunate enough to travel outside the country a number of times in the last few years and, in spite of my increasingly growing elder stature, it seems I learn more each time. Some have asked me how I have fallen in love with Poland (and mostly Kraków) as I have and it is a complicated answer. I am amazed by the beauty and history of this city. I am comforted by the sense of coming back and knowing something about the city as well as specifics about the City Center. I am pleased by how genuine and kind the Polish people are and how polite and accommodating they are day in and day out. For me, this time I have worked to begin tackling the Polish language in a more systematic and complete way. It has been a learning experience as  attempting to be able to use any other language is, but for me the most difficult part of Polish is pronunciation. In spite of the truism that you pronounce exactly what you see, the combinations of letters (mostly consonants) and the consonants and vowels with diacritic markings still has my mind somewhat boggled. I have, however, made more progress than I hoped, mostly giving credit to my tutor, Weronika. This evening at dinner and again sitting in Garbarska, I have asked students what their most significant learning moment was. It is not something they easily answer, and, in fact, often they have already realized just how consequential these three weeks have been in changing their perspective on a number of things. Michael Sowash, an honors student majoring in about everything, or so it seems, noted that this trip has pushed him to rethink most everything about himself and the world. Travel has a way of doing that, particularly when you are confronted 24/7 with another culture. It seems one of the most important learning issues has been the need to be able to communicate in another language (or two). The realization that many people their age are bi/trilingual has not gone unnoticed, and that is a very important and thoughtful reality check.

A second realization for some of the other students is that they have been pushed to learn in areas outside their own Bloomsburg expertise, and in a different manner. There is not so much memorization-regurgitation here. The need to think and reflect in a critical way and to conduct some careful analysis (on the films for instance) has many of the students stumped. Students, whom I know to be strong students at Bloom, have asked questions that seem like the simple “give-me-a-recipe” sort of request, which is not something I would expect, but it illustrates the difference from what they have grown comfortable with in their own classes. The second class on Central/Eastern European Film, Literature, and Culture has been an eye-opener for students in a variety of ways. Film studies in Poland are very different because the nature of the films and the industry is not what students are used to in our Hollywood culture. There is no set of film actors who make tons of money on the next big blockbuster film. As noted in a previous post, there is a sort of dark and morbid realism in cinema here. There is no amazing musical score or stunning cinematography. There is no Robert Redford narrating the role of a traditional family like what he did in A River Runs Through It. There is again the issue of language in that with one or two exceptions, students are dependent on subtitles, and many of the subtleties are thereby overlooked or unapparent. This will make analysis a bit more difficult, but it forces students to be more critical and analytical to come up with a reasonable paper. There is also the issue of understanding research and what is expected when the two people from whom you are learning are considered to be one of the best in their field (and that is globally). It is a bit intimidating, but both professors are kind beyond words if a student asked for help and provides a strong and thoughtful effort. It was my hope to finish this yet tonight, but students stopped by the little room here on second floor Garbarska to  consider the trip and it is in my asking questions of them, I am able to write this entry. For the night, however, as it is 12:59 a.m., I am going to try to get a bit of sleep before I get up to work on Polish again and then work through the day. By this time tomorrow night, most of the group will be down to hours before they head to an airport. Amazing what has been learned in our 24/7 classroom thus far. More will happen again tomorrow. Why? Because it is Poland and students are away from home and have been for the better part of a month. One said today, While I am sad to leave Poland, and I really wish I could stay, I am really to be home. Then, they added, but it will never be the same.

Good morning after about 6 hours of sleep. I will admit my body wanted more sleep, but there is so much to accomplish today. The need to be up and going over-ruled the desire to continue pushing the snooze. Today’s agenda includes: having breakfast with Dr. Polyuha at Bydgoska, which is about a half hour walk from here, working on my Polish before today’s tutoring, attending convocation with our students, getting business cards out to a couple of people to whom I promised such, being tutored one last time while I am here in Kraków, having dinner with Maciej, our film professor, arranging some important details before I get to JFK, and being ready mentally and physically for a really long day tomorrow. Returning to the learning that has occurred over the past 24 days, the most interesting thing about these journeys is the greatest learning moments will be realized long after the wheels of a plane have touched down, long after souvenirs or gifts have been bestowed on family members or friends, and perhaps years later when an event brings a specific memory of Budapest, Wien, Praha, or Krakowie seems to be conjured up at that moment. I know this is true because it is 36 years since I first traveled on a similar trip as a sophomore in college. Speaking with students in the two days since their journey to Auschwitz, some have noted that being there is an experience that can be compared to no other on a trip filled with experiential learning that is unexpected. To even move one’s feet across the same hallowed ground as one student noted was overwhelming. All attempts to understand the complexity of the little town of Oświęcim and how it became more well known as Auschwitz has a long history. The intersection of the German and Polish people precedes the macabre site of the death camp by centuries. That is another learning point for students. Realizing the length of history that underpins this area, particularly when compared to their typical American mindset, is something that takes some careful thought.

Today will be an interesting day because most students will begin to disengage from their 24/7 classroom, but they will be a sort of limbo state trying to process what they have lived for the last three-plus weeks. There will be a desire to experience everything possible in the next 24 hours and yet the desire to get back to what is familiar, from their own bed to a breakfast they understand (that is the one meal many of them struggle with the most, which is interesting to me because most of them are never up for breakfast at school). Leaving everything behind is not really possible because there are final papers to write and submit, which are due at the end of the month. Next Monday, with the commencement of spring semester, their lives will be back to some kind of normal, but the people they are is much different than the group of people who gathered at JFK on the 26th of December. I want to personally thank Drs. Orla-Bukowska and Stroiński for their unfailing willingness to work with our students. I want to thank Dr. Ewa Nowakowska, the program coordinator, who is gracious beyond words, and Mikolaj Borkowski, who has so ably assisted us for the last two years.  It is not often that your class takes you to a city called Nowa Huta, which was designed by Jozef Stalin to be the ultimate communist city, nor is it often that your group picture is on a Soviet T-37 tank. Well, learning will occur and processing of that learning is just beginning, but until the next entry . . .

Do widzenia and thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

A Conscious Decision or the Consequence of Many

Dzień Dobry from my little room in Garbarska,

It has been a productive day and a day where I decided to focus on my own work rather than the needs of the group. That is not always an easy thing for me to do, but it is something I should learn to do more often, or at least more effectively. One of the syllabi for the Spring is completed and the course shell for the course will be done yet today. The specific act of solitude today is also something that is relatively new for me. While I have noted for some time that I have learned to appreciate, perhaps even crave, my alone time, there are moments I ponder the consequence of it also. Over the past few days, as those on Facebook can attest, I have posted a couple of scanned photos from my earlier (and some have reminded me “much earlier,” – thanks Michele Meier) lives. I note lives because I am often questioned about how I have done so many different things. I guess I have not really considered it all that different, but rather a sort of a continuum. There is always the need to be looking at or preparing for what is ahead and simultaneously we are reminded of our past and connected to what has made us who we are.

The past couple days I have begun to take stock of what matters most to me, what it is I most value, but also to ponder those things that might have been. I am not sure if it is a growing old thing or if it is wondering at times how it is I am where I am (well I do not it is some of that because I am certainly not where I expected to be, but I do not say that in a regretting or lamenting manner). If I were to address the things that are most surprising to me, the first is this solitariness that characterizes me personally. It is more than merely being single, it is a matter of wondering at times where I belong or where I fit. I have always been, and certainly more than most realized, including myself, the lonely-in-the-middle-of-the-crowd person. I have fit in many places, but often felt like I fit in no where. Generally, it is not something that bothers me, at least, when I am not thinking of it, but there are times like now when I wonder what might happen to me, and for whom that might be an issue. This is certainly not a call for pity or others to tell me I am valuable, so please do not worry. One of the things I have been able to do in three score and one years is understand my strengths and weaknesses, and be pretty comfortable with who and where I am. I guess this is more a pondering of what if something different might have occurred.

If you have read this blog with any consistency, you are probably aware that I get in these rather pensive moods, where I need to figure it out, even when, perhaps, there is nothing to figure out. I can see Melissa staring at me now and then shaking her head. It is that melancholy underpinning that seems to be part of my make up. While I did not get married until later, even then, what I know now is perhaps I was not ready to be married, but is one ever?? What would it mean that you are ready? What I know now is that my first marriage to Susan was done because I thought it was the next reasonable thing to do. That is not her fault in any way, it is mine own. I do believe perhaps the happiest time of being married to her was when we were first in Omaha Village and actually pretty broke, but we depended on each other and I think we believed things were as they were supposed to be. Yet, what I know is the summer before the wedding my CPE unit had raised serious doubts for me in if I could ever be a good husband or father. Perhaps I should have postponed and thought more. There was also my own struggle to understand what it meant to love someone in such a way. I know what I often told couples as a pastor, that the love they had the day of the wedding, which seemed so amazingly complete, was not nearly enough to see them through the remainder of their lives. It is something that has to mature, be tested, and endure. I can say that, but can I do it? I am not sure I learned how, but then again, it is by example or is it from something inside of you? Yet, there was, as many know, a second marriage to Theresa, and if I ever believed I was in love with someone, it was her. She pushed me away more than once, but I returned on both ends of that marriage. Many, to this day, call me a bit deluded for staying involved as long as I did, but then again, I am at fault for a number of things in the failure of that marriage.

Yet, significant time has passed since being involved in either situation. In fact, from the time that I left almost 17 years. In my blogs I have noted that sense of did I expect to be here at this point in my life, and the answer is a pretty unequivocal “no.” Yet, what did I expect, or do we have the right to expect anything? I want to offer a shout out to a few people who give me hope. My undergraduate classmates, Keith and Kathy, Paul and Lisa, Scott and TC, Mark and Kay, they have all made it, so to speak. I know there have been health issues and significant things that I am sure have tested them, but they provide a sense of hope for me. I admire each and everyone of them. I am not sure how I would even begin to think of being married to someone at this point. I did spend significant time here in Pennsylvania with someone I have known for 30 years now. She is a wonderful and beautiful person, but both the distance and commitments seemed to be hurdles larger than we could manage. I wonder if I was perhaps meant to be a single person. Certainly the last decade and a half has taught me how to be on my own and manage it. Certainly a job that consumes me (and I am always astounded by my colleagues who manage families and the academy) does not seem to offer much option to take on something else, and yet there are times I believe it would probably create a better sense of balance than I currently have.

Perhaps it is really a combination of circumstances, inability, limitations, and a lack of knowledge or skill. There are two or three people in my life that have so totally amazed me, and that somewhat complete astonishment has continued over the decades; the four person fits that category, but I have already confessed that failure. One goes back to early in my life, one from when I was in college and one after being gainfully employed. In each case, I can imagine the proverbial growing old with them, but such an imaginary journey is not a reasonable expectation for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, none of them live in Pennsylvania. I also think there is an issue of imagining the person as you remember them versus what might be their present reality. There is only one case where I believe I have a reasonable understanding of the other, but there is still an issue of distance and the need for someone to make a significant change, or that one occurred. All of those things would be hanging on to a dream, and that is certainly not reasonable. I wonder if sometimes, my baring my inner most fears causes others a sense of fear or vulnerability. For me, I do not feel vulnerable, it is freeing to ponder and wonder all of this through my fingers. What it seems to me is that as I have entered this decade, one that I am not completely sure in a more profound manner I might not finish, I find myself reflecting more on the what ifs of my life. I have noted if I could go back to school, doing it over, I would probably go into linguistics and cultural studies (focusing on languages). That is not something I grew up ever imagining. I was never encouraged to know another language or consider life outside of Iowa. There are times my Midwestern heritage still stands strong and I miss the friendly nature of those who I grew up or where I lived in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. It has been too long since I have made my way back to Sioux City. I did make it to about an hour away late last March. I want, desperately, to get back there, perhaps at the end of the academic year and before summer school.

I also have noted the significance of having a very different understanding of what seems important, even paramount, to me and how that differs from earlier in my life. I have learned that I am more of a walking oxymoron that I have perhaps realized. While I am profoundly patriotic, I am more globally influenced and enamored than I was ever aware. While I love to travel and learn, I am wishing, even as I sit here in Poland, once again learning phenomenal things, I would be more content at this moment sitting in my house. I want to learn more and more and keep working, but there are moments, where I wish I could merely retire and relax. I wonder if all people my age wonder some of this. Perhaps I am not as far out there as I sometimes think. Well  . . . so how do I answer my question. I am sure that where I am is a consequence of a decision, or a couple of major ones. It is also the consequence of things that were, and are, part of my flawed humanity. It is my humanity and its flaws that still stupefy me at times. I wish I could manage all the flaws, which seems contradictory of me saying I am comfortable with my weaknesses. What it says is I understand the some of the reasons for the flaws, but I wish I understood them more completely. Perhaps it would be possible to change some of those things, but for the time being, it simply is.

It is now late evening and I am about to sign off, but I had the most wonderful dinner this evening with Robert and Katazyna. I am very blessed to have them here in Kraków when I come here. It was wonderful to see the progress made since two years ago and it was wonderful merely to catch up and spend time. I am looking forward to seeing them again. In the meanwhile, I will continue to ponder and wonder some of my what ifs and merely keep on. As that is what we do.

Thank you for reading.

Michael, the solitary one.

 Questioning the Question


Good early afternoon from Costa (the coffee shop with wi-fi and good things to eat, and in close proximity to our accommodations),

The morning was a traveling classroom and lecture and visit to the Galicia Jewish Museum. It was, again, a second time for me to visit this museum and listen to the lecture of  Jakub (Kuba) Nowakowski’s informative and moving lecture on the history of the Jewish Resistance in Kraków, and his stories about the young people who decided stranding up against the Nazi occupation, in spite of the overwhelming likelihood they would be killed, was better than merely being treated in the subhuman manner the Nazi’s characteristically used. Alexander, her main partner-in-crime, Clarissa Hoke, a nursing student as well as an honors student, and I went to dinner at a Georgian Restaurant and spoke about the Jewish question, which is the underpinning of one of our classes. It is typical for all, but perhaps more so for students because they are farther and farther away from the actual time of the Holocaust, to ask how is it that the Final Solution regarding the Jews could be implemented by a country of such cultural heritage and the people did not ask more questions? How it is German peoples, from whom or where we get some of our most amazing biology, chemistry, music, art, literature be convinced that a certain group of people, with a particular religion, were the root of all of their problems? How could they with such an intellectual or educational background be almost duped into believing that the removal and killing of six million people was the answer to their hyper-inflation, their national identity, their struggles from being blamed for the First World War? For most of us, there is little logical about that.

However, is there ever logic that creates a foundation when a group of people regardless their religion, race, or gender is used to decide their fate? Throughout the class, the question that is again pushed to the forefront is what happens with the minority of a society seems to run amok of the expectations of the majority? Dr. Orla-Bukowska continually pushes students to consider this fundamental principle in the lectures, be it in class or as we are on what I will refer to as her walking lectures. Yesterday (the 11th as I am writing this now on the morning of the 12th), we took the tram to Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter of Kraków. The history of this quarter goes back to the 13th century, when Kazimierz, the Great decided to provide a space the Jewish population in Kraków. This is no minor thing when the Jewish people were already being banished from a large part of the Mediterranean basin for a couple of centuries. What continues to astound every one of us who learns about the Jewish plight of a two millennia is how this group of people is scapegoated time and time again because their religious practices that made them both more hygienic and more literate. Of course, what is most relatable to many of the students is that Schindler’s List, the seven time Academy Award winning film, was actually filmed in the streets and in some of the places we were walking. Again, it seems imperative to ask the question, how can such an amazingly advanced society like Germany make the decisions to not only discriminate, but systematically exterminate (kill) an entire group of people based on their faith? What happens when those who are in a position of power, either elected or appointed, are allowed to make statements that deride or affect an entire group, race, or gender? This is not something that should be simply ignored. What happens when that person or a particular party is allowed to legislate in a manner that deride or discriminate against said group, race, religion or gender? Again, if we have elected that person we are societally responsible for what happens.

As we have listened to lectures and watched movies, we have been confronted with our own stereotypic views and attitudes. This is a good thing to learn. When lecturing, I tell my classes, the use of all stereotypes is negative. Furthermore, the practice of employing labels for those different from myself, or the propensity to do such, creates a division that limits or devalues that other person or group. Even if we see the other group as better or more capable. It seems this is what happened in the case of the Jewish people throughout Europe from as early as the 11th century. In terms of movies, students are struggling with this class a bit because the style and subject of movies here in Central Europe are so different that what we are used to watching in America. They are not slick and necessary as glitzy or amusing; they are much more realistic in their portrayal of everyday life, and when considering life in an Eastern-bloc country post WWII and under Soviet rule was a very different time. Then there is the issue of watching a movie that seems very dark and difficult in another language with subtitles. There is something very good in all of this because it compels us to think, to ask questions, to ponder the nature of the movie and to ask what it is we might learn. Art is not the same in all places, and art is a reflection of the culture that has created it. It is very interesting to me how we might go about analyzing a particular film for their final paper, which is what is required. Yesterday in class, you could begin to see some of the concern as they tried to wrap their heads around how to take on such an assignment. Indeed, there were questions on the question.

During the last two days, conversations asking what has been the most significant or important learning moment up to this point has provided a number of enlightening answers. Not surprisingly students have noted just the scope of history and how it is so profoundly different from what they know. There is an enormous difference between something that is “old” from the 1790s and something that is “old” from the 1405. There is something different about almost everything they see or experience from breakfast to walking up the sidewalk. There are questions about the “why of something” most every moment of the day. Why do they just pull up on the sidewalk with their cars? Why do people actually wait for the walk sign to turn green? Why do we not drink the tap water here and why do so many people drink sparkling water (water with gas)? How much is that exchange rate? 4.2 to 1 or 25 to 1 or 292 to 1, mathematics and calculating becomes a required skill. Some students have taken time during free time to manage going out an exploring on their own, be it an extra day in Prague or a day trip to Warsaw. Some have found their ways to little places to eat and to sample local cuisine. Even those experiences create questions. As we returned from Prague after the 6th of January, the Christmas Market and the hordes of people have gone, while there is still a presence on the town square, it is nothing like what they experienced during the New Years celebration. One of the things many students have commented on is what it might be like to come back in the summer. I too believe it would be beautiful.

It is interesting to see how the personality of each group is different. This is the third year I have been around some of the students and the difference in both numbers as well as the difference in composition creates for new experiences. That is perhaps the most interesting thing for me. It is in the sitting and speaking in small groups that you actually get to understand how the students are learning and something about what they are learning. I always remember my first trip as a sophomore when I am conversing with them. I am still amazed at what Dr. John Nielsen did on a yearly basis by himself. He did not have another professor with him. There are three of us here this time and, at least speaking for myself, there are still times I feel stretched. What is a classroom? We are in a classroom that is older than any room I have ever been in, at least to do more than walk through. Is a classroom a place of desks, a projector, and now a computer? The inclusive classroom here has names like Dom Profesorski, Bydgoska, utica Garbarska, City Centre, ulica Golębia, Prague, Budapest, and Vienna. The professors are certainly the known ones, but also the people students interact on a daily basis from the clerk at Rossmans to the vendor at the Christmas Market. This year’s group has a number of personalities and there is a wonderful eclectic collective disposition. That is also part of the learning. How do you manage a small space in a foreign land with a person who reacts to the stresses of everything being different, everything being a question? For the first time in their lives, at least for most of them, they are “the other.” In spite of the fact that most of them do not know or realize it, that is the case. That is part of the learning that goes on behind the scenes. It is the thing that many might not realize for years. The reality of this trip, of this class, is that learning occurs 24/7. It is transformative. That is the beauty of it. No one can leave here unchanged. Questions will come to light and they will be pondered. Sometimes they will be pushed to the background, but they will reappear at another time and another place.

Tomorrow students will board the bus for a trip to one of the places for me that has been most life-changing. They will go to Auschwitz, the death camp of all Nazi death camps. Fortunately, it will be a bit warmer than it has been much of the trip, but I know that both times I have been there, it was the coldest day of the entire journey. If that is the case tomorrow, it will be beyond brutal. I think last Wednesday was that day for me this year, at least I hope it was. As I am writing now, we have made it into yet another day. It is the 13th and about midmorning. Students have the morning off because they had two classes on Wednesday. As such it has been a bit quiet here, but I do not mind that solitude. Again, as I have noted in the past, I have learned to appreciate my alone-time. It offers a respite and the ability to reflect. That is rejuvenating for me . . .  I know those earlier in my life would be shocked. Two years ago, after my first trip to Auschwitz, I could not get beyond the idea of evil that had occurred and how that was something that had occurred in a country with such a civilized and cultural history. Those ideas or questions still confound me. It will be interesting to see what their responses are when I see some of them later Saturday night. In the meanwhile, I am working on Polish and working on the possibility of affiliating and working with people in the multimedia area here at Jagiellonian. I am hoping to hear more over the weekend. When I am not doing that, I will be continuing to work on my Polish language tutoring and my own work for second semester that will be upon me before I know it. The picture is of me when I was a student at Dana College. I ran across it recently, it is quite resembles what I looked like when I came to Europe as a student with Dr. Nielsen.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

Do Prahy a zpět (To Prague and Back)

Good chilly morning from back in Kraków,

Since last writing, the itinerate Bloomsburg students and professors traveled by bus to the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague (Praha), and early this morning returned to Kraków. It was the coldest it has been for any of the 5 years (around -5F) and this morning in Kraków it is about -22C, which is about -8 on the Fahrenheit scale. That is quite cold for here. At breakfast this morning, our breakfast person, who was in his mid 20s, said this was the coldest winter of his life. While we know to bundle up in the cold, that process is very different when you are walking around a city center for 6 hours or so. It also has a different effect when you have been traveling on a bus for about 11 hours and you got up in the morning after a nap of about 3 hours or so. Yesterday as Dr. Polyhua and I were going to visit the Charles Bridge Museum, I got a senior discount on admission, so I am now officially able to note the importance of needing my sleep.

We left Kraków on Thursday night about 7:00 p.m. on the bus Prague-bound. It is amazing how many game of 20 questions can be played between various groups of students on an 11 hour bus ride. After a quicker-than-most-wanted turnaround, we were up and out to visit the castle complex in Prague, where there is a metro and a subway, the exchange of money and a pretty tight schedule did not allow for availing ourselves to those options and so after a quick breakfast this past Friday morning, we forest-marched our way across part of Prague to meet our tour guide at Prague Castle (parts of it built as early as the 9th century) for a tour. We toured the castle, which had stricter than usual security because the President was on the grounds, managed to get across the bridge in spite of the swarms of people, toured various parts of the city, including the Jewish section . The picture gracing this posting is the Prague Castle taken from the market square at sundown. The temperature was not as chilly as this morning, but it was certainly cold. Twice we made a small detour to spend a bit more time inside; however, in spite of a few with sniffles and some a bit worse, it is a hearty bunch and we walked up and down the steep hills of Prague learning the complex and eventful history of this capital city of the very center of Europe. While in the past the tours have occurred over two days, this year our tours were back to back after a break for lunch because sunrise of Friday begins the Sabbath and most of the sites we would have visited the second day would have been closed. The good and the “less-than” for some tired a chilly explorers was Friday was long, but Saturday would be a more free day for small group discovery.

Prague is a beautiful city, but it certainly caters to tourists and we happened to be there on Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas, so the market square was still bustling on Friday with all of the things you could imagine, as well as a couple of surprises like three wisemen and real camels. In case you are unaware, which is not the case for many students, the Czech Republic is known for its beer, and particularly a pilsner, but between tours a quick lunch just outside the main square with 8 of us offered the possibility to sample both amazing food and beer. Spicy goulash with potato pancakes and a Kasteel Rouge (a cherry flavored beer that was not as fruity as a Lambić) was amazing. The fruit is hearty and flavorful, and while it might seem a bit heavy, managing to walk over 11 miles and up more than 20 flights of stairs burned off more calories than consumed, or at least my legs and the holes in my belt seem to indicate such a result. Experiencing the culture of the different places never grows tired, and as you listen to the dates of when things were established, you cannot help but be awed. When guides speak of things more recent, they are speaking about 3-5 centuries old; often when they speak of the old part of things, it is possible that it is as much as millennia since it was first started.

Students are amazed by both the ability of most people to speak two or three languages as they are by the differences from country to country, which are in close proximity. That is what, of course in part, creates both the likelihood and necessity of being multi-lingual, but it also begins the process of understanding why students from Europe, who might study at Bloomsburg University, have a much more astute worldly view. As humans, in spite of our ability to see beyond ourselves, the hectic pace of living seems too often to close us off to the astounding opportunities for growth that cross our paths. Speaking with students, listening to their conversations, and watching their faces, taking trips like this, and many of the others offered by the Study Abroad Office, make it impossible for us to not be changed by the immersion of learning which occurs on a 24/7 basis. As noted in an earlier post, from street signs to conversations, from transportation to food, everything you take for granted on a daily basis as you walk from your dorm to the commons, from classroom to town, while attending school at Bloomsburg is called into question because you are mandated to rethink it all. That is the gift of taking the chance and traveling for a January term or summer session.

This particular program, however, carries 7 credits, 6 of which come, as previously noted, from the second oldest university in Europe. The time spent on those credits is significant, and, for instance, before leaving on Friday paper outlines were returned, with comments from Dr. Orla-Bukowska about their proposals. Another round of consideration with one of the three of their Bloomsburg professors, and students were given their outlines back as we sat in a rest-stop on the Czech and Polish boarder. The classroom is not merely four walls, the classroom is daily living and the experiences crammed into each 24 hour period. Managing things like colds, sniffles, or even worse than what seems to be a common cold sometimes means a person takes a day off and sleeps to regain their energy and there has been some of that, particularly over the last couple of days. Again, those events are not uncommon because the days seems to blend together and the temptation to stay up and experience every minute of the day is hard to ignore. The consequence for many, even when we do go to bed at a reasonable time, is the days blend together. I have had to think more than once, and ask myself thoughtfully, what day is it?

One of the things an individual traveling abroad will quickly learn is to make sure you are ready for the unexpected. Because we had a bit more free time yesterday, and because of the cold, the decision was made to return to Kraków a couple of hours earlier than the original itinerary had noted. This was to help a couple of those who were still trying to shake whatever bug was thumping them to get a bit more sleep back in our dorms in Poland. Things were proceeding nicely, including even a rest stop at a McDonalds (I do not think I have ever seen so many Big Macs and French fries in one place and I am guilty of ordering both also – a first in all my times in Europe), and with about an hour to go and getting ready to go through a toll gate, a car attempted to pull into the lane occupied by our bus. In fact, this vehicle tried it numerous times. Finally, the occupants of the car came up with some hair-brained idea they could push the bus out of the way with their little Volvo. Needless to say, the plan was misconceived and after their mirror hit the bus, they pulled in front of the bus and the father in the vehicle got rather animated in his responses to the driver (and anyone else who might care to listen). Long story, short: for the next two and a half hours after wreckers, Policija, watching the SD card that buses have loaded for just such things, and a very angry family in a Volvo, in spite of their own stupidity, we were finally on our way. Our bus driver, Marek, was calm, collected and professional the entire time. It is the second year he has driven for us. 40 students actually cheered him as he was finally able to take us on our way. However, so much for getting back earlier than our proposed itinerary. By the time we were back in either Bdygoska or Dom Professorski, it was almost 1:30 a.m. As these trips and even my own first journey to Europe as a sophomore in college has taught, on any study abroad trip is it is impossible to plan for every contingency. So today is a free day, at least as far as scheduled events. Some will sleep a bit more; some will work on their papers and their reaction papers that are due for both classes, and some will visit places in Kraków like Schindler’s Factory, which is now a museum. I will work on my Polish language lessons, and syllabi and BOLT for my next semester classes, all of which are coming much too soon.

Thank you for reading and Do widzenia,

Dr. Martin