What a summer! For the first time since I came to Hendrix, I spent all summer in the U.S. But don't think I was bored. I traveled through Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Hawaii and Alaska. Phew!
The trip through Texas was the culmination of a semester’s worth of preparation for the Odyssey project “Spanglish: A Linguistic Exploration of the Texas-Mexico Border.” My friend and fellow student Fatima drove with me all the way through Texas, to the very bottom tip. During our time in San Antonio and Brownsville, Texas, we conducted “participant observation” surveys of the way locals mixed Spanish and English to communicate. I loved it. I think it’s beautiful to hear my two favorite languages mixed together in such interesting ways. Fatima, on the other hand, hated it. Every Spanglish sentence she heard drove her crazy. When we would overhear a child start a sentence in Spanish and end using an English noun (e.g. Mama, pasame el fork.) I could sense her tensing up, wanting to lecture the mother to teach her son proper Spanish. The two-week trip ended all too soon, and I returned to…
St. Louis. It was the usual: home for two weeks or so to rest, relax, see my family and friends, and shop at H&M (my favorite store, which unfortunately does not exist in Arkansas yet). I turned 21 in June, so my twin sister and I celebrated by going out at midnight to one of the coolest new bars in St. Louis and feeling strikingly un-hip. On the actual night of our birthday we stayed in and had a few friends over. I didn’t drink at all, because I didn’t want to be hung over on my flight to ….
Hawaii. I ended up there thanks to a sizeable grant from the Hays committee (similar to an Odyssey grant, but only certain students are eligible to apply for them), which you may remember was originally allotted to pay for a study trip to India that was canceled in the wake of the attacks in Mumbai. My co-traveler and I then planned to use our grant to travel to Ireland this summer, but we couldn’t reconcile our schedules to find time to travel together. We ended up splitting the grant 50-50 and each pursuing projects that were more personally meaningful. I used mine to explore Hawaii and Alaska, the only two non-contiguous states.
Several sources inspired me to pursue this project. Having followed the presidential campaign closely, I was intrigued by the new importance the distant states played in national politics. I had never heard Hawaii or Alaska mentioned on the national news before, and suddenly there were constant references. Pundits’ remarks about Barack Obama’s “exotic” birthplace and Sarah Palin’s remarks about the “real America” caused me to reflect on the nature of American-ness. I realized that, as a Missourian who has lived exclusively in the suburbs, my understanding of American culture has been limited to white, middle-class, suburban, mid-western cultural norms. (Watching NYC Prep and The Real Housewives of New Jersey this summer -- and asking myself what planet those crazy people must live on -- hammered home that same point, albeit in a much less academic way.) So I went to the edges of my country in a search to find a different America.
I was also inspired by an 18-page research paper I wrote this spring for my U.S. Foreign Policy class, about the political relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico. I read dozens of articles for and against the addition of Puerto Rico as the 51st state of the Union, and I wanted to assess the way the most recent states had adjusted to statehood. Alaska’s 50th anniversary seemed like a great time to assess its achievements since statehood.
On a gut level, the most important effect the trip had to me was just to make these far-off states real to me. My trip through Europe two years ago, before I studied abroad in London, had the same effect: it gave me some concrete images, some personal experiences to attach to these places. It gave me a reason to remember where exactly the states are located -- do you really know how far away Hawaii is? and can you really conceive of how huge Alaska is? -- and to know what the capitals are and what their cultures are like.
I prepared for these two trips the way I would for a trip to a foreign country. I bought a guidebook for Hawaii, and two for Alaska. I traveled for nearly 20 hours to get to and from each place. I also had to re-calibrate my sense of price, especially in Alaska, because basics like fresh produce must be shipped looong distances and are therefore significantly more expensive in those states. (In order to feel less bad about how much money I was spending on food, I would sometimes pretend I was spending in a less valuable currency.) One of my most interesting experiences in Hawaii was spending an afternoon with a local in Honolulu, traveling around the city to find the best bargains on food. (The Don Quixote grocery has specials on meat, and you should never buy produce anywhere but Chinatown.)
In Alaska, my prize memories all involve hitchhiking. Believe me, I don’t have a death wish, but I did hitchhike in Alaska about 20 different times. I was assured by many locals that it is a totally acceptable means of transportation, whether across town or for long distances. I never waited more than three minutes for a ride. It also turned out to be a great way to meet Alaskans and find out their life stories for a few minutes while we rode along together. Interestingly, almost no one I met had been born in Alaska. They were from Minnesota, Kansas, Washington, Texas, New York, Germany, Colombia, etc. All had visited Alaska on vacation and felt called to stay there. It turns out there is a particularly Alaskan kind of person: hardy, community-oriented, libertarian, dog-loving, outdoorsy.
And then, of course, I spent two months in Arkansas. I spent lots of time working for the Communications office as usual, writing news releases and profiling cool Odyssey projects, like I did last summer. I also designed my own pseudo-internship with several other administrative offices at the College, such as the alumni, advancement, and admissions offices. I learned about the types of communications each department sends to its audience (e-mails, pamphlets, viewbooks, magazines, etc.), and studied the word choices the various departments used to describe the same topics (say, Odyssey) to different audiences (prospective students vs. alumni vs. foundations).
In my free time, I have been cooking up a storm. Let’s take this week as an example. Tonight I went to a bar-b-que at a friend’s house: beer and bratwursts. Tonight is the bi-weekly meeting of Dinner Party Club, a group of summer student workers who get together to eat good food and drink a glass of good wine. Tonight's theme is Asian food; last time we all cooked Eastern European fare. Then on Friday I’m hosting a potluck with some friends. On Saturday I’m making coconut lentil stew for myself and a freshman international student, who will be fresh off the plane from China that day. I’m really enjoying all the food and fellowship, because when time gets tight during the semester, cooking is the first thing I scratch off my list. (OK, actually, working out is. Which is why I’m also relishing my visits to the WAC this summer.)
I've also taken a spin around some of the fine drinking establishments of Conway, now that it's legal for me to do so. There are a smattering of options, from is the incredibly classy rooftop bar at Michaelangelo's, to the dark, smoky VFW. I'm a particular fan of Ruby Tuesdays, which offers $4 sangria and a ridiculously awesome salad bar. Now that I'm entering my final year at Hendrix, I'm really working to get out into the community and visit all the shops and restaurants that I've neglected the past three years, when I was too busy having fun on campus to ever bother leaving.