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Lindsay McKay

Europe in Review

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

The Europe 2010 Travel Program ended weeks ago and as I write the final assignments for our courses, I cannot help but reminisce about the wonderful time that I had while I was there with my friends. I think back to the Friday spent exploring Barcelona and the evening of hanging out in Carcassonne. I remember the leather market in Florence and seeing the David for the first time. I recall staring at the beautiful mountains in Zell am See and exploring the streets of Dresden and Munich. I remember the moment that I saw Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows in Zurich and the mountains of Lauterbrunnen. The Eiffel Tower at night, the stars in the sky in Belgium and the absolutely wonderful city of London.

I won’t soon forget my time in Europe and the experiences that I had there, good and bad. This is what makes SSU’s programming so unique and valuable: the unique travel study programs. Thanks to SSU, I have been to both Asia and Europe, learning hands-on as I went. That is by far the best and most memorable way to learn, through experience. So, as I say goodbye to my SSU travel terms, I wait until the travel bug bites again and see where it takes me next and I am thankful that SSU has taught me how to travel well.


“In Flanders Fields”

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The very phrase, “in Flanders fields” brings to my mind every Remembrance Day ceremony that I have ever been to. Since having been in the Flanders region of Belgium, touring Vimy Ridge and seeing a Commonwealth cemetery, the famous 1915 poem by soldier John McCrae has been on my mind. In the past, I have struggled to understand the poem and I didn’t think much about it through elementary, middle and high school. I read it at Vimy the other day for the first time in probably about five years.

While on this trip and particularly in the last few days, I have been struggling to understand the effects of war on entire cities, regions and countries. Walking over the scarred, defaced, and uneven ground of Belgian farmland helped bring reality just a little closer to my experience. I began to wonder how I can honour the lives and sacrifices of soldiers without resorting to the violence of war. What does it mean for a 21st century pacifist to “take up the quarrel with the foe”? And what does the poem mean when it refers to “failing hands”? Perhaps the war itself was the failing part. I think that learning well is a step in the right direction. We can learn that violence is not the way to solve problems; rather, it is merely a way to create more.

I ended my last blog with a challenge and today I will do the same. Contemplate in what peaceful ways you too can take up the quarrel that brave men and women fought—and do fight—everyday.

Coffee to Go

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

At the beginning of the trip, I set several goals for myself. One of those goals was to be open to learning from the lifestyle and culture of Europeans. Little did I know that one of the ways I was going to learn was through doing one of my favourite things: ordering coffee, to go. Whenever I have ordered coffee to go during the trip, the baristas have used…unconventional containers as take away cups: two large fountain cups doubled up, less than a third full of coffee and in another situation, doubled up plastic cups with tin foil covering the top to avoid spilling. In the moment, I wondered why they didn’t have “proper” take away cups, upon reflection, I have reached a conclusion on the matter. Generally speaking, European culture has a slowness to daily life, hoping to be able to savour each moment. In other words, Europeans have an eat-in approach to daily life, so to speak. North America has a “to go” culture. We strive for takeout autonomy, drive-thru “cooking”, and microwaved “meals” dominate.

It seems that Europeans are on to something. Let me place a challenge to my North American friends: slow down, “eat in.” Savour life, conversations and relationships. After all, it’s better for the environment.


It’s simply…unbelievable

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

Tomorrow afternoon I am leaving for Europe. Tomorrow afternoon one of my dreams is coming true. That is simply…unbelievable. Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve been fascinated with Europe. I have always understood that my ethnic roots are planted in European soil. As I scramble to tie up loose ends before I leave, I am incredibly excited for the trip.

On an academic trip, there are many extra tasks that do belong in typical European vacations. I must read books, write papers, keep an academic journal, give presentations and hear lectures from staff and faculty. It would be easy to despise all of the hard work that I have already done and the hard work that I am about to do, but I do not despise either of those things. Traveling SSU-style demands something unusual of a traveler. In an academic community like this one, that is trying to expand its worldview in a such a way as to be true world citizens, is a unique experience and it asks of its travelers—its pilgrims—to be more than tourists.

As I prepare to leave, I am challenging myself to remember the things that I have learned through the pre-travel study period. I hope to approach this trip with an open heart and mind, without conclusions drawn about the European people or historical events. Rather, I hope that my classroom education can be enhanced and nuanced by my experience abroad. I must be open to letting my travel experiences change me, and change I must.

My Birkenstocks Won’t Let Me Forget

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Every once in a while, I have moments of intense forgetfulness. This forgetfulness that I speak of has to do with forgetting about the Asia trip. Perhaps forgetfulness is not the correct word choice because believe me, I will not soon forget this experience. Every once in a while, a memory appears in my mind’s eye and I realize that I have indeed been to Asia. Sometimes, I look down at my feet upon which one can often find my beloved Birkenstocks. My Birkenstocks are very good at helping me remember.

Now, you may be wondering how shoes can possibly help me remember anything. You see, I wore my Birkenstocks nearly everyday while in Asia; they were good to my feet. Unbeknownst to me when I packed them in my suitcase in preparation for the trip, they have become one of my principle reminders of my experiences. When I look at them, I remember the places that they have taken me. Places like Philippine church, Paoay Church built in the 16th century by slaves to the Spanish crown. They lead me past cows and stray cats to a small mosque in a Muslim village in the interior of East Malaysia. These reliable shoes steered me through the sacred grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok; and they help me remember.

Every religion has icons. Icons are meant to be vehicles through which people remember the significance of something such as religion in their lives. For Christians one such icon is the cross and for Buddhists the image of the Buddha. Similarly, in a desperate attempt not to forget the places that I have been and valuable lessons that I have learned, I rely on familiarity to bring remembrance. I suspect that as the days and weeks turn into months and years, as I slip my feet into my faithful Birkenstocks time and again, I will remember the places that they have taken me and the things that I learned in those places. That, my friends is how my Birkenstocks will be one of my favourite icons of my trip to Southeast Asia.

Tomorrow Becomes Today

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At the beginning of the trip, I struggled with various sicknesses. Being sick made it difficult to really enjoy myself while I was in the moment and at times I felt like I was never going to get better. How is that for melodramatic behaviour? All I wanted was to be better, it would be then that I could enjoy this trip, or at least that is what I told myself. Now that I can look back on the experiences I had while being sick, I did enjoy them and they were valuable. What is the lesson that I have learned through that? I have learned in a new, practical way how important it is to remember to live in the moment, roll with the punches and “seize the day.”

Now I find myself in a similar place. I look back and see that these last six weeks have been packed full of event after event, lecture after lecture, airplane after airplane, and airport after airport. All of the experiences have added up to a time that I will never forget.

I have enjoyed my time in Thailand immensely. Chiang Mai University was great and my homestay family was an incredible blessing. There are still a few days left that promise to be loaded with fun, new things. As we draw the trip to a close, many of us have grown quite tired and weary. Home is beginning to look very good. I would not mind being in that big yellow house on the hill, surrounded by well-missed friends. However, I want to experience the rest of this trip as fully and as present to the moment as possible. I need to remember lessons learned; to remember to live in the moment, roll with the punches and sieze the day. I have decided that the following will be my motto for the rest of the trip: Patience is a virtue; tenacity is purposeful; experience is invaluable. Before I know it, tomorrow will become today.

Point of Difference

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As I sat down to write this blog, a whole flurry of possible topics tumbled around in my head. The experiences so far on this trip, great and small, enjoyable and not have lent themselves to creating the Southeast Asia 2009 trip as seen through my eyes thus far. The problem is not analyzing and articulating these events objectively; but rather trying to come to an understanding of how these experiences are changing me.

So as I often do when I find myself being stretched by new circumstances, I look for something familiar to gain strength from. This situation is no different from others, I have found strength in God; not necessarily through reading my Bible, praying or worshiping, but through relationships. Many times, I do not set out to have a “spiritual” experience as it were, but it almost always happens, like my spiritual life is an animal out of my control. I suppose I should not be surprised by this, but I find that I am.

So I guess the thing that I have been reflecting on the most is that no matter how deep differences run through humanity, God is the constant. No matter how much I do not understand these differences, God is in them. I am thankful for the growth that this experience is causing in myself and the rest of the group. I am excited by the different person that I am becoming over the duration of this trip. As I continue on this trip I hope to be able to continue to celebrate difference and let it change me even more.

Stories Intertwined

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As of late, I have been fascinated with the idea of story. Perhaps this is why learning so fully captures my attention. As far as I can tell, you, my reader, and I, along with anyone that has ever been, is now and ever will be in this world are all a part of a gastronomically humongous story. Given the vast numbers of people involved in this story, it would be impossible to understand and know every facet of it. That is why, for now, I will try to understand bits and pieces of it through studying and learning. I will also attempt to understand the stories of my friends, and, for the first time, I wish to truly grasp my own story.

It is for those reasons that I have found that learning about Southeast Asia has truly effected me in such a way that I believe I am beginning to understand the global story in new ways. However, I am an experiential learner; to know someone’s story means to meet them in their context. If I want to know the story of a devout Thai Buddhist, I must meet one. If I want to understand the effects of colonialism on Malaysia, I must go there and ask questions. If I want to know why Filipinos are some of the most friendly people that I have ever met, I need to go and explore their country and their customs. All of this in order to understand a story.

I am excited to travel in close quarters with my SSU friends; undoubtedly, this will include learning much more than I have ever wanted to know about bodily systems and the like. However, the key here is that we will build relationship that will go beyond anything superficial, (high-stress, close-quartered situations will do that to you.) Together, this Southeast Asia 2009 group will share an experience that no other group has; together we will work through stress and shock; together we will write our story.

I also look at this trip to Asia as an opportunity to expand my personal story. I will be changed by what I learn in Asia. I will be changed by the stories of others. On this trip – in everyday life, really – the people around us help us to write our stories. So it is in this that I know that the stories of my friends and the friends that I have yet to make are intertwined in such a way that I have the privilege of having each of you help me write my story. For that, I say thank you.