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Katie Ironside

A Thousand Beginnings

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

At this moment I am sitting on the floor of my living room back home, seeking relief from the humidity and heat in the gentle breeze of a nearby fan. I am trying to write this final blog, my last published account of what I experienced and learned during two months studying in Europe, and finding it rather difficult to put my jumbled thoughts into words. Slightly out of frustration, I tell my mother that this blog has had ‘a thousand beginnings’— then I pause. The name seems fitting, and I roll with it.

This past Europe trip was an amazing opportunity to delve into the culture and history of what was once the very heart of the Western world. Seeing the artwork of Renaissance greats like Michelangelo and Raphael, listening to the music of Franz Liszt, solemnly passing through war sites and memorials— it was all the beginning of a new and richer understanding of both mind and spirit.

Also, in the midst of this whirlwind European tour I was given a glimpse of what could be: of different cultures and worlds that I might choose to call home in years to come. In this realization that I could really live in Europe, another beginning is made.

What else began on this trip? My appreciation for art, a renewed sorrow for the state of North American culture, a new appreciation for quiet time and personal space—catalyzed by those two months abroad. And at the same time I have also begun to understand the great value of my home in Ontario and of the family and friends who shape me there, as well as the influence in my life of small-town St. Stephen. Certainly I had considered why I love these places before, but not until now did I realize how deeply I have been molded by them—just as I have been molded by the different peoples and lifestyles I witnessed in Europe.

Beginnings, renewals, great changes and small—an experience of learning and of transition.

That is what Europe gave me; a thousand beginnings.

Gracias.Merci.Grati.Danke-Thanks.

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

It’s been a while since I wrote that last blog, and so much has happened since then that I could barely hope to account for it all. I have seen a vast amount of art, some which has truly moved me and some which I have simply had to pass by. I’ve tread the streets of Venice and Paris and have breathed in the fresh air of the Alps. I have also witnessed vestiges of the horrors that our species can inflict on each other at the Dachau concentration camp and in the mines and trenches of Vimy and Ypres.

And I would love to talk to you about all of these experiences next time we meet.

For now, though, I am more inclined to write about my experiences with the people who have made this time in Europe most memorable. What a great blessing it has been to get to know my classmates and leaders better through conversations, funny moments, shared museum fatigue, and academic growth. Even though we don’t always get along, it has been a great journey.

Besides these, I have also enjoyed the brief interactions with strangers along the way. Like sharing a bit of our culture with two Portuguese women in Italy over a bowl of homemade stew, or talking about literature with a German student name Axel on a train ride through Switzerland. And how fantastic was it to meet fellow Canadians working at Vimy Ridge, learning the history and importance of the battles that took place there from our nations’ perspective? Or just a few days ago, when we were able to share sandwiches with three hungry-looking men as we sat on the grass outside of a Belgian church; though they may have been drunk and were playful in the acceptance of the food, the sincere ‘thank you’ as we left spoke of the measure of good that had just been done.

It’s moments like these– people like these– that make travelling a real blessing. I think that if I were to focus only on the art, architecture and history of each place we have visited, I would be missing out on the most important experiences. Perhaps that is why I don’t know how to write well enough about those parts of the trip… though they have been important, they haven’t made my time in Europe what it is. People, relationships are key. And I think I’ve seen each country all the better by seeing it through the eyes of those I have met along the way. To each of these: thank you.

Taste and See

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

Traveling well has proved to be harder than it seems.

Perhaps it doesn’t help that, in all the places we have visited so far, there have been a distressing number of ‘typical’ tourists who often value a quick snapshot over the experience of the moment itself. Two and a half weeks into this trip, I am already finding the need to exhort great energy in my attempt to experience Europe in a tangible and lasting way.

Learning to separate myself from the rushed touristic mentality has probably been the biggest challenge for me so far. How to appreciate a work of art, or the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum with intentional integrity. How to see ‘The David’ as beautiful, not simply because Michelangelo made it or because it is a world-renowned piece of art– but rather because I allow it to touch me personally.

Some of my favourite pieces and sights so far have been those that the general public does not generally hear about in textbooks or travel guides.

The humble voices of a Spanish boys’ choir.

A Florentine plaster of a woman in mourning.

A depiction of Mary Magdalene from the Vatican, with eyes sore and red from crying at the death of her Saviour.

Having a conversation with the woman begging outside of a French basilica.

These things, these moments that you don’t see in travel guides because they are not substantial enough to be mentioned. These are the things that move me. By seeking them out, I am doing what I can to be more than a tourist passing through, striving instead to ‘taste and see’ the beauty and depth of  what is around  me.

And I shall foot it

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

Since the close of SSU’s Winter semester, my life has been consumed with saying farewell to friends, beginning (and completing) a plethora of Europe assignments, and tripling the size of my forearms by scraping paint from the exterior of an old New Brunswick home.

Yes, things have been fairly busy around these parts, and despite all the ‘hoopla’ that has surrounded the preparation for these next two months abroad, I realize that I have not yet had a real opportunity to consider how I feel about what lies ahead. I’m not sure whether I am filled with sheer delight at the thought of spending two months in Europe, or whether that feeling in my gut is just anxiety and hesitation.

And, in the short space of this blog, I have still not been able to figure it out. However, if the words won’t come to me, then perhaps the words of another might do better. I finish this meager entry with a poem by Carl Sandburg which, I think, speaks fairly well to that inexpressible feeling that dances through my spirit on the eve of this new adventure.

?The Road and the End

I shall foot it
Down the roadway in the dusk,

Where shapes of hunger wander
And the fugitives of pain go by.

I shall foot it
In the silence of the morning,
See the night slur into dawn,
Hear the slow great winds arise
Where tall trees flank the way
And shoulder toward the sky.

The broken boulders by the road
Shall not commemorate my ruin.
Regret shall be the gravel under foot.
I shall watch for
Slim birds swift of wing
That go where wind and ranks of thunder

Drive the wild processionals of rain.

The dust of the travelled road
Shall touch my hands and face

The Postscript

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It’s been two and a half weeks now since our return to Canada after a long, but amazing, couple months abroad. There are times when I can hardly believe that I am no longer in Asia, and other times that I can hardly believe I was even there at all. In the span of seven weeks, my understanding of the world was challenged, my relationship with God reformed, my relationships with others deepened, and my memory-box of experiences filled to overflowing. I have learned so much about the peoples and cultures of Southeast Asia, but I have also learned a lot about myself. I always find that God does that- you know, teaching you something about yourself that you had never considered before, all-the-while you were expecting to learn something completely different. He’s sneaky like that.

Putting into words how I feel at this moment might prove difficult—mostly because I still am not sure myself—but I think I could be bold enough to make the blanket statement that my time in Asia has stretched me and enlightened me in more ways than one. I look forward to seeing how I will continue to grow and learn as the things I experienced really begin to sink in; however long that may take.

So, here’s to adventures with friends, old and new, and being brave enough to let myself learn in ways I would never have believed imaginable.

Beyond Four Walls

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It seems almost unbelievable that in less than two weeks, our team will be in St. Stephen once again, revelling (or resenting) the cold Canadian climate. I myself can hardly believe that our trip is almost over, that our time in South-East Asia is truly at an end. As I sit down to write this blog, I find that I am at a complete loss for words. Not that I don’t have anything to talk about- I would be a pitiable creature indeed if I had nothing to say about my experience on the other side of the world. Rather, I find that I am unable to sum up in just a few paragraphs all the amazing things that I have experienced and learned.

I feel as though I could talk for ages about the people I have met, how we have interacted, the way they live in their country- and how they are not so different from myself.

I could attempt to describe to you the ancient architecture from the North of the Philippines to the Lanna region of Thailand, and how each nation we have visited has astounded me with their ruins, their colonial churches, and their breathtaking landscapes.

What else? I could try to relay the inside jokes, the awkward moments, the ‘what happens in Asia, stays in Asia’ memories. Laughter has been a pretty important part of this trip.

And I could, if I had the chance, share with you the interesting facts and insights from our lectures, from each nation’s history to those things that hit closer to home. What I have been taught about the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand has not only expanded my academic reservoir, but has also challenged my perception of  the world as a whole.

The way I think, it seems, has once again been remolded.

The Greatest Revelation So Far

By | Uncategorized | One Comment

It’s been nearly 3 weeks now since the day we pulled away from Park Hall, heading out on our South-East Asian adventure. Our time in the Philippines over, and our Malaysian experience near its end, I find myself in awe of how quickly this trip is passing by.

I have seen a number of new and exciting landscapes, from the Malaysian mountains to the sandy beaches of the Philippines, and have visited many unique and interesting places along the way. We have seen museums, old churches, a rubber and ginger  farm, and even the mausoleum of the Philippines’ ex-president, Marcos (ask me about that one when I get home).

Along with my classmates and leaders, I have learned so much about the history, the politics and the culture of two amazing countries so far. We have also tried a lot of new and exotic food, including Halo-Halo, rambutan, pig’s intestines (surprisingly tasty), and ube (yam) ice cream. Oh, and let’s not forget the steady supply of rice, in all its forms.

Most importantly, though, I’ve met many amazing people, both in my homestays and the other folks with whom I’ve interacted to date. I know that relationships have been created which will last for years to come. In getting to know the people of the Philippines, I was struck by their capacity for hospitality. Never before have I experienced such a warm invitation to befriend and ‘befamily’ a group of complete strangers. And yet, such was the case with my Filipino homestay family. So too in Malaysia, I have met people who couldn’t be more eager to share their culture, their traditions and their way of life with a group of crazy young students from North America. And I expect that a similar experience awaits us in Thailand as well.

In all of this, I am reminded of the verse when Christ calls us to love our neighbours as ourselves. The people I have interacted with so far have really made an effort to do just that- and beyond. Not only have these new friends and families opened their homes to us, but they have also opened their hearts.

When I return to Canada at the end of the trip, I hope that I will do my best to show a similar love to everyone I encounter- whether it’s my family, friends, or complete strangers. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, it’s that every person has the potential to become someone special in my life- it’s just up to me to get out there and meet them.

The Point Of It All-Katie Ironside

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Study the Classics. Travel the World. Worship the One.

   When I first applied to SSU in the fall of 2006, that motto called to me, a beacon of what my life would become in the following four years. After three amazing semesters of both spiritual and academic growth, I feel that I have a comfortable—and yet not inactive—understanding of how ‘studying the Classics’ and ‘worshiping the One’ play such an important part in my experience of SSU. As for traveling the world, you could say that I’m a seasoned expert. Since 2004 I have been to four different continents (including North America), having spent time in Zambia, Romania, and Papua New Guinea with friends and family from home. With all this experience behind me, you’d be justified in believing that I’m more than prepared for the fast-approaching study abroad term in South-East Asia.   

And yet, I just can’t seem to rid myself of this nagging feeling of anticipation and—to put it bluntly—fear. Fear of the unknown, of making too many cultural faux-pas, of long flights and bus rides, and of a nation that is so unlike my own. Part of me thinks that maybe that which I am most afraid of is the fact that I will not return to Canada the same person that I was when I left. Not that it’s a bad thing to grow—like I said before, SSU has been a place of amazing personal development for me since the moment I first walked through the door—but I also know that change does not come without sacrifice. I am going to have to leave a part of me behind, and that is what scares me the most.

Don’t get me wrong— I’m still really excited to experience South-East Asia with my classmates and professors, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn about the history, religion and culture of that part of the world. Right now, though, I just need to be open about the fact that I am nervous. Despite the anxieties that are battling it out in my mind, though, there is still a peace within me that comes from knowing the most reassuring truth of all:

God knows what He’s doing. He knows what I’m going to learn and how I’m going to grow in Asia. Most importantly, God knows that the Katie Ironside who returns to Canada at the end of March will not be the same as she was when she left. And, though I may try my hardest to deny it, I think that is the exact reason why He’s sending me there in the first place.