Monday, July 29, 2013

Videos of Cuba II - Cuban Scenery | Cuba Journal

The following videos are shots that I took while driving. Some of the scenery was just absolutely stunning! Hope you enjoy! These were all taken on the way between Cienfuegos and Trinidad/Santa Clara.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

American Socialism and Farewells | A Journey to Scotland

Pedro and Daria with the flowers he bought her
This post details my activities on 23 July. Today was our final day in Dundee, unfortunately. We had a farewell dinner then had a night out at the DUSA. Even better, it was Skint Night (skint meaning broke)! So that means everything is cheap. Lucky for us Fulbrighters, we got coupons for free entry!

Please enjoy the photos from our dinner and night out. Just keep in mind that some of us had a bit too much wine to be taking decent pictures. It was all in good fun!

WWI & The Bolsheviks 

Today’s class was led by Dr. Billy Kenefick and we focused on the effects of the Russian Revolution and WWI. As the Great War developed, Scottish industry boomed. Supplies for wartime were much needed, allowing industry to expand. This actually led to a rise in self-confidence among working class Scots. Despite this boom in industry, Dundee lost more lives to the war than any other city in Britain; this is shocking to me considering the relative size of Dundee to a city like Glasgow or London. The war didn’t stop there in its destructive abilities; when men went off to war, it was not uncommon for landlords to evict single women from their homes. People were able to pay the rent, but they were simply being priced out. Self-confident workers eventually evolved into the conscription of women into factories, a stark change from positive feelings to negative practices. As the Russian Revolution came into focus, Scotland was on main stage. To my utter surprise, Scottish socialism was actually inspired by the Socialist party in the United States. Socialism tends to be a taboo subject in the USA, so it was very surprising to hear that we had an influence on modern Scottish political economy. John McClain, a Scottish revolutionary, gained notoriety among Lenin and his followers. McClain was targeted as a potential “red activist,” thus brining Scotland into Lenin’s lens of focus. In fact, 30 or more articles were published by Trotsky pertaining to McClain’s revolutionary potential.

Eilidh, Keren, Euan

Saying Goodbye and Happy Endings

Sadly, tonight was our last night in Dundee. We had a farewell dinner and then went out as a group to DUSA’s Skint Night. It was a really fantastic way to end our experience in Dundee. I was able to bond with my group mates as well as say goodbye to some of the Scottish friends I had made over the course of 2.5 weeks. I met one student named Rory; he was born and raised in a rougher part of Glasgow, and was attending summer school in hopes of gaining a spot at the University of Dundee. Fortunately, he was granted a spot for fall semester. Unbelievably, he is the first male from his high school to ever attend university. Rory’s determination and the University’s commitment to higher education really speaks to the Scottish desire to educate all citizens.
Chris and Daria

Danielle, Meghann, Euan

Chris, Jessica

Bronagh, Chris

Pedro, Daria

Pedro, Daria, Chris

Anna, Jessica, Chris, Meghan, Carolyn, Irma, Meghann, Pedro, Cole

Chris, Danielle

Meghan, Chris

Meghan, Pedro, Daria, Chris, Meghann

Meghann, Duncan (bartender friend!), Danielle, Chris

Irma, Meghan, Chris, Daria, Pedro, Carolyn, Meghann, Jessica, Cole, Anna

David, Chris, Lewis

Rory, Danielle, Meghann, Chris, Lewis, -, David, Sweeny??

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Day Off & Identity | A Journey to Scotland

The first entry is on my second day off, which was 21 July. The second post details a class session we had titled "The development of Scottish identity in history and literature," on 22 July. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures for you this time but hopefully it'll still be a good read. Feel free to leave a comment with a question or concern! 

A Day Off

Today was another free day for us. Like the first day off, I utilized the day to catch up with myself, get some much-needed sleep, do laundry, and work on my journals. The days off have really been life-savers for me. It gives us all a chance to take a breath and absorb everything that we have been experiencing. One thing I would like to reflect on, however, was a conversation I had with our group leader, Daria. When she returned from bringing several students back from Edinburgh, she and I walked around campus and talked for nearly two hours. As stated in a previous journal, part of this experience is getting to know the people you are having the experience with. Daria and I were able to share with each other some of the most painful things in our lives; furthermore, we were able to give and receive advice and insights from the other person. Experiences like these, though subtle and uneventful, truly have the longest lasting impact. With respect to privacy I won’t go into everything that the two of us discussed, but regardless of what was said it is certain that both of our identities are being shaped immensely by this experience. This trip would simply not be the same without the interactions between group members and leaders. My day off was definitely a day well spent.

Macbeth Revisited

The first portion of today’s class was a reexamination of the production of Macbeth that we watched. Dr. George discussed various facets of the play and Scottish literature that play into the greater ideas of Scottish identity. I did find a few notes quite interesting: firstly, we learned that Shakespeare’s plays reflected the monarchs. We can clearly see this in Macbeth as both of King James’ parents died. The violence and treason reflected in the production definitely have ties to James’ reality. Here we see a historical example of how literature mirrors Scottish culture and identity. Secondly, we learned that Macbeth was initially performed at the Black Friars, which were privately owned theaters. Due to the privately owned fact, ticket prices were much higher, effectively limiting the demographics that could view the play. The play was restricted to the elites and upper class. This raises the question of whether or not Shakespeare intentionally wrote the play for this audience. If so, what implications does this have on historical Scottish identity?

Historical Context

I found the second portion of class, which was a walkthrough of Scottish history by Dr. Annie Tindley, extremely engaging. We discussed the Jacobites and Dr. Tindley stated that she thinks that the primary reason that they were defeated was the lack of ability to agree on anything. This immediately got me thinking on modern Scotland; with the referendum for independence looming in the immanent future, I have to wonder whether or not the extreme divide in opinions will lead to trouble for Scotland. Though Scotland is utilizing the democratic process, such a large decision with such heated passions could certainly damage the Scottish identity, at least in my opinion. Yet another thing we learned that impacts Scottish identity was about the clearances; in particular, there was a strong contrast between the Lowland and Highland Clearances. The Highland Clearances left residents with much less and permanently displaced many families. I asked Dr. Tindley if you can still sense a divide between the north and the south – the answer was a definitive yes. History seems to prove a cultural divide that remains present today. Finally, Dr. Tindley asserted that Scots have a global perspective. This idea continues to be reinforced throughout the trip. Historically, Scots were more in tune with France and mainland Europe; in modern times, Scotland is home to a variety of immigrant groups, and with independence aspirations, must maintain positive relations with the EU. This global perspective certainly plays a role in Scottish identity. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Forensic Anthropology, Stirling Castle, River Views, and Macbeth | A Journey to Scotland

View of Stirling Castle
The following post details my activities from 18 July - 20 July. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures from the forensic anthropology section because we were not permitted to take them, but I have loads of photos from Stirling and Dunkeld! 

Death and Identity (With a Speedwell's at the End!)

Professor Sue Black and various graduate students helped us to explore the field of forensic anthropology. To begin, I find myself continually surprised with the Fulbright programme’s ability to connect nearly all of our lectures to either Scottish or personal identity. I assumed forensic anthropology to be filled with horribly boring and graphic science related material, but after listening to the lectures it quickly became apparent that the field is directly connected to identity. The job of a forensic anthropologist is to piece together countless bits of information in order to determine a personal identity. Ultimately, as Professor Black noted, they hope to give families of the deceased a level of closure by confirming identities of loved ones. Professor Caroline Wilkinson walked us through facial reconstruction techniques. It really is bewildering to see just how challenging it is to get an accurate reconstruction of a person’s face. Even if the forensic anthropologist knows hair color, skin color, jewelry worn, and hairstyle, the reconstruction of the face can come out completely off-base. This near impossibility certainly reinforces how the human identity is incredibly complex and intricate. Though I’m not much of a science person, these lectures did allow me to contemplate the uniqueness of all people. Furthermore, I gained a newfound appreciation for what these specialists do. It is easy to write them off as people who are obsessed with guts and gore; on the contrary, forensic anthropologists know human kind in perhaps one of the most intimate of ways. 

Acro-yoga at Stirling!
One of the PhD students did research on female-to-male transsexuals. His research in particular was fascinating. He is delving into a field of science that is still quite taboo in mainstream society. Additionally, his area of research directly links to conflicts of personal identity. He hopes that his research will allow those struggling with their gender identity to get a better idea of how their facial structure will look if they undergo any form of sex change surgery or subject themselves to hormone treatments. Once again, forensic anthropology is getting at the core of human identity. With this student’s research specifically, notions of transforming identity in order to become at ease comes into focus, which is a truly unique thing to study. 

Our other activity for today was a group outing to the Speedwell Edwardian Bar. The bar is a historical site as it was built over 100 years ago. Interestingly enough, the bar has only been owned by families; furthermore, the bar has no ties to a specific brewery, allowing the bar owner more freedom and financial freedom to select his/her products. It was a neat experience to peek into the inner workings of a bar. It was my first time seeing the cellar of such a place, and it was quite interesting.

Renovated Castles & Carsickness 

View from Stirling Castle
Today, we visited Stirling Castle; unfortunately, I was horribly car sick on the way over and missed about half of the visit. I missed out on Dr. Fiona Watson’s introductory history lesson, but fortunately I was able to get some of the information from my peers and while in the castle. However, my sickness really interfered with the day. One interesting thing that I picked up from the castle is the fact that it has been renovated. All of the previous castles that we’ve visited have been either completely in ruins or left in essentially the same state for at least 100 years. Stirling Castle had fresh coats of paint that, for me at least, took away from the castle itself. I was speaking with several other students and we all agreed that it was very bizarre to see the castle is it would be in the 21st century. Though I certainly can see the value in attempting to offer modern tourists a realistic experience in the castle, I think that by renovating it you lose some of the preserved history held in the walls. Perhaps it’s all just a feeling, but I think I prefer visiting castles as they were. Despite this renovation, I still managed to learn a bit about royalty, further reinforcing my personal views on the practice of monarchies. We were also going to travel to the Wallace Monument, but after a long day in the heat we decided to head back early. Furthermore, Dr. Watson pointed out that like many famous monuments, the history is butchered. Perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing that we missed out. 

River Gazing & Group Bonding

Daria's reaction to no more boats
for the day!
Today we were supposed to visit a variety of locations and have tours given by Dr. George; however, Dr. George was unable to make the trip so we had to alter our plans. We wound up traveling only to Dunkeld to view the cathedral and sit by the river. Though the primary focus of the UKSI is to become engaged with Scottish culture, I believe that the other vital component of the trip is interacting with the other students in the group. This was the first afternoon that the entire group spent together without any form of plan or agenda. We were able to talk among each other, practice yoga, and I even was able to get some life advice from our group leader, Daria. We did visit the Cathedral and I was excited to see that there was a prayer request written in Thai; it demonstrates the global presence of Scotland. The most important aspect of our Dunkeld visit, however, was growing stronger as a Fulbright group. Without one another this trip simply would not be the same. 

Personal note that was not in my Fulbright journal: I have to say that Dunkeld was one of my favorite destinations. We sat along the river in the most picturesque setting. The weather was absolutely beautiful  I watched as Pedro and Anna worked with Daria on acro-yoga and handstands. I watched as Pedro attempted handstand against a tree with Dunkeld Cathedral as the backdrop. This was not our first experience with yoga in a scenic location. Stirling Castle and Balmoral Castle, along with the beach at Broughty Ferry all served as on-the-spot yoga locations. I also spoke extensively with our group leader, Daria. We both opened up to each other quite a bit and I fully believe that we are learning a tremendous amount about each other and ourselves through the process. She has really had a fantastic influence on my trip. 

Jessica, Carolyn, Irma, Meghan

Macbeth Reflection 

Danielle, Irma, Carolyn
The following is the reflection I wrote on the live performance of Macbeth that we watched at the DCA: I would like to break my reflection into two parts: first, I’d like to reflect on the production; second, I’d like to reflect on the historical context of the play. To begin, I found it interesting that the play had no intermission. I learned later that none of Shakespeare’s works have intermissions. It occurred to me that the production of Hamlet that I saw back in the US was also devoid of intermissions. Personally, I find that the lack of break bakes the storyline more difficult to follow. It helps me to absorb the information in pieces. I found myself drifting off a bit without any break. Secondly, I was thoroughly impressed with the costumes and set. The lighting really added to the macabre feeling of the production. Furthermore, the usage of rain was phenomenal. One issue I have with theater is that I feel it is unrealistic; by adding actual rain, you transport the audience to the setting. Historically speaking, Macbeth reinforced for me the brute power of the king. The violence surrounding the rise to power demonstrates the desire to gain kingship. The authoritative form of governance seems to inspire bloody revolt, which can still be seen today in modern authoritative regimes. 

Thai in the prayer request book at Dunkeld Cathedral

Jessica, Carolyn, Irma, Meghan

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Heads of State, Parliament, and Royalty - Our First Day in Edinburgh | A Journey to Scotland

The following post covers our first outing to the Scottish capital of Edinburgh on 17 July. A note for all my American friends - Edinburgh is pronounced eh-din-bur-row, not eh-din-burg like we often assume! Enjoy!

Castles, Palaces, and Royalty

Today we traveled to Edinburgh. The day was slam packed with activies and it’s going to be challenging to sum it up briefly. We toured Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The palace tour began to reinforce one of my more negative views on Scottish culture; unfortunately, the notion of a monarchy and referring to someone as “her majesty” is pretty disgusting to me. I do not hold the existence of a monarchy against the people or nation of Scotland (or the people’s of any monarchy), yet I find myself confused as to why the Scottish castles are regarded as such wonderful pieces of Scottish history. From an architectural standpoint, I can fully understand the castles’ importance; however, I simply cannot find myself engaged in hearing the stories of past monarchs. I feel that monarchies are representations of the class divide between royal and “plebian.” I suppose each trip abroad will allow me to realize more of my own worldview, making even negative views valuable. 

Scottish Parliament and Budding Independence

We then visited Scottish parliament, which was truly fascinating. We were fortunate enough to meet an MSP, who ironically legislates on human trafficking. Human trafficking legislation has become a potential area of professional interest for me. It was great to see that the effort to stop sex slavery and forced labor is a global movement. I was also able to learn a bit about the electorate process, which is quite confusing. It seems that though democracy allows the people’s voices to be heard, creating a bureaucratic mess is almost inevitable. The process reminded me of American political procedures. Finally, it will be interesting to see how Scottish parliament evolves from working with solely devolved issues to national issues if Scottish independence is achieved. Speaking of independence, we met the equivalent of the Scottish ambassador to the US, who provided us with some insight on Scottish independence. The one bit that really stuck out to me was his response to Scottish hesitancy. He drew a comparison to the US; sure, some people were frightened of independence in 1776, but did that stop the US from becoming what it is today?

Meeting Alex Salmond, First Minister, MSP

Our final activity was truly honoring. We were given the wonderful opportunity of meeting the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, MSP. He was incredibly approachable and even had us sit in the seats of his cabinet members. He assigned us each an advisory role and then used the opportunity to explain the responsibilities of each cabinet member. It was a creative way to get us engaged in learning about Scottish government. The experience was a once in a lifetime one, and I am extremely grateful and flattered to have met the First Minister. 

Please check out photos of us with Alex Slamond, First Minister, on photographer Kenny Smith's webpage