Austria

It’s one thing learning about something like the holocaust and nazis and concentration camps in a classroom, but it’s a totally different thing experiencing history where it actually occurred. While in Austria for choir tour, the group and I visited the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp and it was quite an experience.

For once, our whole group was completely silent. We all had our audio guides up to our ear and walked around each site as we heard the gruesome details of what actually occurred behind those brick walls. It’s scary to think about the thousands upon thousands of people that suffered at the very grounds we were walking upon.

One of the first places I made my way to was the rock quarry. After walking down almost 200 jagged steps, I made it down to the fields where prisoners would have to break up rocks so they could help build their own prison. Striped shirts with only a number sewed to it for identification purposes served as the uniform for the countless men who made the dreaded climb up the stairs with rocks upon their backs. Many of them were forced to wear wooden shoes instead of work boots. This caused them to form awful blisters and many people died trying to make it up and down those stairs. At the very top was a ledge where soldiers would tease prisoners and push them, yelling “Hope you can fly!” and other obscenities.

After that, I made my way into the camp. Upon first sight all you see are rows of cabins. From the outside the buildings look like cabins you’d see at a summer camp, but once inside the tiny bunks and dirty walls and shut up windows make your mind start to wander. People didn’t live comfortably. The prisons were overflowing with people so there would be 5-6 people to a bed at times. Showers were pretty much non-existent. They lived in their own filth. Disease spread like wild fire. They were underfed, overworked, and stripped of human dignity.

The final place I visited was the gas chambers. Talk about being speechless. All I could do was heavily sigh, cry, and shake my head. Prisoners thought they were finally getting a chance to shower and instead they were piled into rooms like pigs getting ready to go to the slaughterhouse. Gas was their poison as soldiers stood outside and watched through a peephole. A dissecting table lay in a isolated room for those prisoners marked with tattoos. Doctors were told to cut pieces of their skin off that were marked with interesting tattoos so that the skin could be made into various accessories for the soldiers. Crowns were yanked out of prisoner’s mouths. Once they were stripped of such they were horrendously killed.

Humans did all of that…to one another. Disgusting isn’t it? Humans are capable of such evil and the sad thing is that we still do the same things today. We ostracize one another because of the color of our skin or because of our social status or because of generations before us that have sowed feelings of hate deep in our souls. History shouldn’t be repeated, but as people we still haven’t fully learned our lesson. Though we may not put people in concentration camps, we still paralyze people with fear, we cripple people’s spirits, and we crush people’s dreams, when we don’t treat one another as equals.

Summertime = Mountains

For me, the summer is about to begin for real.  Until this point, I have been living at home and bound by few responsibilities, but this afternoon I drove four hours up to my summer home-away-from-home: Bonclarken.

Prior to going to Erskine, I had never heard of this wonderful little place up in the mountains.  Prior to working here, I had only visited twice, for the winter retreat that Erskine has organized for the past few years in January.  However, after working and living here all last summer, I have come to love Bonclarken dearly.

I work in the office up here, but there is a whole group of us – mostly college students – who stay every year for the summer and work.  There is a recreation staff (Rec), guest services, and some food service workers, and we all live in two little buildings.  Part of the great experience is living with the people you work with; this means that you really get to know them.  Granted, most of the student workers go to or graduated from Erskine, so we all kind of know each other to begin with, but then you just get to know them in a whole new way.

Sunset on the lake at Bonclarken last summer, after spending the afternoon reading... ah, summer.

Sunset on the lake at Bonclarken last summer, after spending the afternoon reading... ah, summer.

Because we have no commute time, most meals are provided, and we all live together, we do a lot of things with each other outside of work, as well.  There are always lots of movies, excursions, activities around Bonclarken, and I think the guys have even set up a video game room in their building this year!  Plus, because we are in the mountains I love to spend time outside, going for walks, hiking, reading on the lake, or even just going downtown and poking around the little shops – it is definitely a great place to spend the summer!

The work is good, the location is beautiful, the people are so nice, there is lots of fun to be had, and it is a community of Christians. . . the summer is starting for real tomorrow when I go in for my first day of work, and I am looking forward to another rewarding few months, making memories and enjoying it all.

O Light Everlasting

First night in Prague and we’ve already had quite the day as you can see from the previous pictures.

But the highlight of my day was hands down singing for a group of mentally disabled people staying at our hotel.

The Lord knows the exact time and place for ministry. He uses those special spontaneous moments to bless those around you and to bless yourselves. After dinner that first night, I was truly touched. The people we sang for had such a joy and love for people  and music. They sang along with us and even performed some of their own songs for us after we were through. The passion on their faces as they sang truly touched my heart. That is quality music –  when you get so lost in the words and you feel what the people performing the song are feeling. That is true ministry.

We all walked in ready to sing and minister to them and in turn I think they ended up showing us a thing or two about true, passionate, music ministry.

Prague

4, 449 miles across the Atlantic Ocean

+

9 hours 21 minutes on 2 different planes

=

1 opportunity to go on a European choir tour

I’ve only been here for a day, but this place is already blowing my mind. It may be the fact that there are gorgeous buildings everywhere around me. It may be the fact that the sausage here is actually cooked fresh and not processed. Or it very well may be the fact that I’m here with 26 other people from school that love to sing as much as I do.

Either way, I’d say this trip has already been, is still, and is going to be pretty awesome. Period.

I’m going to do my best to keep you guys posted on the highlights of the trip as the days go by, so be patient with me. Also, keep in mind that there is a 6 hour time difference. I’ll be 6 hours ahead of most of you guys.

Our first day went rather well. I met up with the rest of the group at the airport around 12:45pm (My mom and I ended up flying out a day earlier than the rest of the group since she works for the airlines). I got to meet our bus driver, Peter, and talk with him while I was waiting for the rest of the tour group to get here. When they finally arrived, they all looked so exhausted. ha. But as soon as we got all of our luggage onto the bus, we were off to Old Town, Prague.

Once there, we all just kind of ventured off and did our own thing. Wandering around the various street corners, getting hit on by human statues, and waiting for the clock to strike 3pm, were just a few of the many things I and several others did during our first day in Prague.

Needless to say, I ended up taking a ton of pictures. Instead of just rambling in this particular blog, I’m just gonna show you all parts of the day with pictures! Enjoy! =D

(pics coming tomorrow…i was having some technical difficulties…bear with me!)

The End of the Year…and Summer Begins

Wow. I can hardly believe that my sophomore year of college is over. This year has been one full of learning, growth, and an abundance of blessings. And now, strangely enough, I’m delighted to be at home. I say “strangely enough” because, although I dearly love my home and family in Columbia, I so enjoyed the experience of living at Erskine (my “second home”) this year that I rarely wanted to leave, even for a weekend. There were always fun events to attend, dear friendships to cultivate, and—of course, unfailingly—there was intellectually stimulating and challenging homework to complete. And I was generally loath to leave all of that behind in order to spend four hours driving…even if the driving allowed me to visit my family for the weekend.

I say all of that as a caveat to avoid giving the impression that I don’t absolutely love Erskine–because I do. Consequently, I could not possibly have anticipated, during the school year, how refreshing and wonderful this summer season would be. What am I loving about summer thus far? Spending with my amazing family and friends here in Columbia, relishing my mother’s incredible cuisine, fitting back into rhythm of family life, and being surrounded by books, to name a few. (Perhaps that last comment about books doesn’t make much sense, considering that I just spent eight months at an academic institution…but you see, as much as I appreciated the material I read for classes this year, there’s nothing like wandering through a house full of books of every sort, ranging from child-friendly fiction to medical dictionaries and rich works of theology. A library, of course, is a close approximation, but there’s nothing like a house full of books hand-picked by those clos
est to you.)

I’m also enjoying—and, in the interest of full disclosure, being quite challenged by—the new job I began this Monday at a nearby law firm, Sweeney, Wingate, & Barrow. I’m both excited about my job as a “runner” (which includes everything from making coffee to filing stacks of case documents) and rather overwhelmed. I’m excited because I love the atmosphere there and am thankful to be a part of such a welcoming, close-knit community (an apropos setting after spending a year at a school like Erskine!). At the same time, I’m coming to realize that diving into the working world after years of doing little aside from either studying or mission work (during the summer) is, well, tough.

I give you full liberty to laugh and call me a wimp for admitting this, but um, even a seven-hour work day leaves me exhausted. Yep. Of course, most new things are difficult at first, and any work becomes easier over time. Even so, working regularly causes me to realize with renewed fervor that, while I’m still a student, I don’t want to take for granted the precious freedom I have to spend my time largely as I choose! My tendency during the school year is to think I’m terribly busy…which is often true, but ultimately, only to the extent to which I allow myself to be busy. In other words, although managing one’s time as a student may be challenging at times, as I taste “real life” a bit, I’m realizing how extraordinary is the freedom one has as a student to spend time reading and exploring intellectually—a freedom which will become increasingly elusive after graduation. Which is why I’m hoping to become a professor and stay in school forever…Kidding. Wel
l, only a little. At any rate, the summer has begun well and will, I trust, be a refreshing time of growth and fellowship before I head off to Spain in the fall. Until then, adios mis amigos!

Sisters… and Friends

Coming back from Spain in the fall, it was strange enough to get used to America and little ol’ Due West again.  Although Erskine is near and dear to my heart, it changed while I was away and I changed even more, so putting the two back together again was not something that happened smoothly or overnight.  One of the biggest changes for me was having my little sister attending my college this year.

With my little sister, Christine, a couple of years ago.

Christine and I a couple of years ago.

Now that the semester is over, it is interesting to look back at how my relationship with my sister has changed this year.  Although I knew she was there in the fall, settling in as I did a couple of years ago, driving back with her and walking into my first class back – J-term, so there was only one class all month – and seeing her actually there was something that it took a while for me to get used to.

If you have ever gone to school with a sibling, you know that the dynamics can be… interesting, at times.  Christine and I also shared a room for most of our lives and we are quite different, in many respects, so we had plenty of sharing and compromise over the years.  I had gotten used to Erskine being where I lived and my family just.  However, unlike sharing disputes when we were little over important issues such as usage rights of the middle back seat during long car trips or whose Barbie that outfit belonged to, it’s nice to know that we are mature enough now to just talk things out and move on.

Although not every day is wonderful (because of course we still argue and get on each other’s nerves sometimes – we are sisters, after all), we are friends more now than we have ever been.  In fact, we are actually going to room together this summer, for the first time in a few years, and I am really not nervous about it – I am convinced that even when disagreements arise we will be able to handle them well and not kill each other.  Because, well, life is too short to stay peeved at your family all the time, and we are all imperfect.

Besides, the way I see it, you’re stuck with your family no matter what, so you might as well love them no matter what.

Making Adjustments

As the end of the school year approaches, most students find themselves dreading exams and saying “I just cant wait to go home.” Well, I found myself as one of “most” students this year as I dreaded my finals and could not wait for those boxes to be packed which is the official sign that school is over! However, I found that as I packed and waited for that day to leave, I had trouble deciding if I was going home…or leaving home.

College began a new chapter in my life two short years ago and I often seem to forget that. Erskine has become a home to me as I live there 9 months out of the year. Sadly, returning to my house feels temporary as I know I will ultimately return my things to Erskine. However, I embrace living at my house for the summer and seeing my family although it requires a few minor adjustments…some better than others.photo-2

1) Making my bed is no longer an option
2) Dinner is not prepared at 5:00pm
3) 10:00pm is considered “late”
4) Midnight trips o IHOP don’t exist
5) I can’t walk next door to see what my friends are up to
6) I don’t drop off my dishes for someone else

The most important adjustment to make, however, is growing up. Having just turned 20 years old, I am realizing more than ever how close I am to entering the real world. Independent adult life is right around the corner. Therefore, I plan to embrace my next two years in the safe zone at Erskine and prepare myself to enter a new stage of this crazy thing we call life.