And Off We Go

I leave in 2 hours for London, where I will rendezvous with the rest of the Normandy Scholars. I packed my bags: one large luggage bag, one small duffel bag for carry-on, and my backpack full of books and my laptop. I brought my laptop so I can blog while I am abroad, and my father even lent me the family camera with which to capture my European travels. People asked me many times before today: “Are you excited?” and I would tell them “Not yet.” Excitement, at that point, could not penetrate the myriad of thoughts in my head. I worried about school work, errands to run, good-byes to deliver, and clothes to wash. I think that before right now, I had always obscured the upcoming trip by pushing some trivial thought up to my head, the attempts of my brain to calm myself. With excitement comes nervousness, and now I certainly am nervous. Many things can wrong while I travel, but no real reason to worry exists. At most, I will be gone for around a month, and my family joins me at the end of the month. I spend more time away from my family during college.

A feeling of gratitude overwhelms me, as I do not think I deserve this trip. Not that I did not work hard during the school year–I did–but that there is no way for me to earn such a trip. I won scholarship and saved money and plan to be frugal, but my trip certainly costs a lot of money. Besides that though, I think how lucky I am I get to do this. My parents never studied abroad, most of the world never will have an experience like mine, and many of my friends who are loads smarter than me do not have the time or money to do what I can. In so many ways, the trip blesses me and I do not deserve it. For that reason and others, I plan on squeezing as much out of it as I can.

As I told Katlin last night, I refuse to reflect upon my semester until after I return from this trip, seeing as how it and my semester interconnect. I will learn more about my 19 fellow Normans than I know about most of my other friends, seeing as how I have never traveled across a continent with many of my friends. Of course, I will see many beautiful sights, the highlights being: (London) St. John’s, Churchill’s War Museum, (Normandy) the beach, Normandy graveyards and museums, Monet’s Gardens, (Paris) restaurants, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arc d’Triumph, the Louvre, (Berlin) Brandenburg Gate, Concentration camps, Jewish memorials, the Reichstag, and the Berlin Wall.

The food I will get to eat also excites me! I decided to break vegetarianism slightly, as I do not want to miss out on several classics that I may never get to eat again. Some of the meats I promised myself I will eat: fish and chips, sausage in Germany, and some sort of fancy French meat. I will probably eat meat two times a week or so, I will not go overboard, but I decided that I would regret missing these opportunities more than I would be mad about eating a little meat. I will also try some of the alcohol, seeing as how the drinking age is 18 across Europe. I won’t drink much, as drinking is not something I do typically. However, the same rule applies to drink as with food: I do not want to miss out on these parts of the experience. I will drink Guinness and ale in Britain, wine in France, and beer in Germany. Not much, but something with dinner to give me a taste of the country. Especially in France, the food prospects make me giddy. I want to visit boulangeries, patisseries, fromageries, chocolate specialty stores, and definitely a farmers market. Going anywhere in the summer bodes well for vegetarians, as the produce will be abundant and in good quality. I will take pictures, have no fear.

So, the time arrives for me to leave as my mom waits to take me to the airport. My next post will most likely be live from London, unless I take a funny picture while traveling and decide it’s blog-worthy.


And Off We Go

Summer Time

If you’re reading this and in college, ha.

If you’re reading this and at work, haha.

If you’re reading this and doing anything other than enjoying your first day of summer, hahaha.

That’s right, ladies and germs, my summer break began this morning. I finished with classes Friday afternoon, but needed to write an essay due Sunday night, so I had not quite finished when classes stopped. I came home early Saturday morning with Michael and I rendezvoused with my whole family to do Stenberg stuff. My brother came home for a concert, so that explains why he too was in San Antonio. We went to the mall to buy me a suitcase for my upcoming travels to Europa. If you have not read my copious postings about Normandy Scholars, then I do not know who you are. I will boil the info down to what you need to know: hard semester studying World War II, now going to London, Normandy, Paris, and Berlin with my 20 classmates.


I do not leave for one week exactly as the program begins in London on the 8th. Many of my classmates arrive early in London or are visiting Scotland before the program starts, but as I will be staying after the program finishes, I arrive to London only the day before it starts. I therefore find myself with a week unlike one I have experienced: my friends are still in college, pre-finals week to be exact, and are in no mood to cavort, I must plan and pack for my month away, and yet I want to do a bunch of things before I leave.

I plan on driving to College Station to see my brother and my friends there before I leave, and also to attend a sorority dance with Katlin. I hope I will be able to see her, Daniel, Jessica, Daphnee, and Michael, but I only have one day, so it might not work. From Cstat I will drive to Austin and try to accomplish the usual “last days of school” stuff. I will sell or return my books, pack up my junk, say goodbye to my friends, and drive home. Hopefully I have a day or two to relax there, because I really want to eat at some restaurants there that I have never had a chance to visit. I have not had a car in Austin, so seeing Austin in my truck changes everything because it broadens my possibilities. Currently, I want to eat at Swift’s Attic, Foreign and Domestic, and the Barley Swine.

The break feels short to me despite the fact I have an entire week, and now traveling to Europe really seems to be hitting me. While I am on the continent I will take picture and blog as often as I can, so you can look forward to that if you’d like, but I imagine you’ll have plenty to do other the summer. If not, you’re more than welcome to visit World War II sites vicariously through me. While still here I have a few things to accomplish though: register for summer classes, buy some shorts and fix my watch, read some books not about war and death, and catch up on sleep. Grueling, I know.

I plan on writing a wrap-up of my semester in Normany Scholars, but not right now. I do not have enough perspective on it yet; I need more time to stew on what I learned life-lesson wise, not intellectually. A premature report would state that the semester was great, but perhaps I cannot write a comprehensive analysis remains impossible until I have done the traveling part of the program. I will keep you up to date, and I look forward to blogging more. Good to be back!

Summer Time

A Daily Texan Story a Friend Wrote about the Normandy Scholar Program

Normandy Scholar Program students focus on World War II, prepare to travel to Europe

A trip to Majdanek, a Nazi concentration camp in Poland, made a lasting impact on Plan II sophomore Daley Epstein. Two years later, Epstein distinctly remembers standing at the camp during a trip she took for March of the Living, an educational program that brings students from around the world to Poland to see the remnants of the Holocaust.

Because of her experience listening to Holocaust survivors tell her about the loss of life they witnessed first-hand while in Poland, Epstein, a former Daily Texan columnist, decided to apply to the Department of History’s Normandy Scholar Program on World War II. The program focuses on World War II curriculum, and Epstein hoped to expand her knowledge beyond her Jewish lens.

“My reoccurring theme with both World War II and the Holocaust itself is the more I know the less I understand,” Epstein said. “To this day, after traveling to Poland, I’m still baffled that the human race can sink so low.”

The 20 participating students spend the semester in courses focused on World War II and will travel to London, Normandy, Paris and Berlin with their professors from May 8 to 29.

The Normandy Scholar Program began in the fall of 1989 to test out the level of interest students and faculty had in learning the causes, conduct and consequences of World War II. The program has since evolved into a spring semester program with the opportunity to witness firsthand the lessons taught in the classroom in Europe.

“Whatever background you come into the program with, we all very quickly got on the same page,” said Josh Fuller, history and philosophy sophomore. “I don’t know if we’re experts now, but we definitely all know a lot.”

The program consists of five lecture classes with heavy discussion and writing components. Additionally, students are required to attend a three-hour film screening Monday nights and guest lectures on Wednesdays ranging from speakers including Holocaust survivors and World War II experts.

Each professor structures the class from the buildup of World War I through the conclusion of World War II, with students seated in “Normandy formation,” a horseshoe arrangement of desks to facilitate discussion.

“Being Jewish doesn’t help you understand World War II. I don’t want to say it was a hindrance, but it gave me a very isolated perspective of something far bigger than the Holocaust,” Epstein said. “My knowledge was focused on my lineage, so I never really understood what was going on in Japan or Russia.”

The students said that traveling abroad to the sites they read about for the past 14 weeks will solidify their knowledge and give them an opportunity to see what they have both heard and read. The five professors of the Normandy classes will travel with the students to Europe, teaching them from their own specialized area of expertise from “Hitler, Nazism and the Second World War” to a “France in Modern Times” class.

“It’s being in the same place where history took place that we’re all excited for,” Fuller said. “We’re not going to be tourists; we’re going to be amateur academics.”

The students think of the trip as a reward of sorts after the labor-intensive semester they complete this Friday.

“The semester is very challenging. There’s no off; it’s like we’re in grad school,” Fuller said.

Throughout the semester, students in the program read long excerpts from over 24 books, read an average of 800 pages every week and in many cases slept minimally as they strove to keep up with their papers. They took no tests, focusing instead on essays with a few quizzes.

Government sophomore Caroline Corcoran said she appreciated the opportunity to enjoy what they were learning, rather than always being tested. She developed her passion for understanding World War II after she received an American Girl doll in the fourth grade that embodied an American girl living in the U.S. during the 1940s.

She said that before the program, her knowledge of the war was limited to what was published in the U.S., which left her with less understanding of events outside of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the liberation of concentration camps.

“Learning about the war makes it so much more real. We’re slowly losing the survivors. It makes it more meaningful to hear from them,” Corcoran said.

As the semester winds down, the students have realized that after a combined 20 hours of in-class instruction, they still have much more to learn about the history behind World War II and reasons to promote continued education of world history.

“It gives you something to talk about with the generation that lived it,” Corcoran said. “No matter where they were in the world at the time. Learning about the past shows you’re still interested in what they did.”

A Daily Texan Story a Friend Wrote about the Normandy Scholar Program

A Quick Breath of Air

One of the quicker weeks I have ever experienced, if I do say so myself.

Normandy decided to finish with an atomic-bomb sized explosion, preferring to obliterate all of its members instead of calmly coasting to a finish. The workload for my last two weeks is greater than any other amount of work I have had to do in school, ever. They professors certainly have suspect planning though, because the previous two weeks have been relatively easy. My last month of school looks like two light weeks, followed by the two heaviest weeks of school in my life. The good news is I am almost finished with the first of these two hard weeks, and one week from today, I shall finish school.

Starting on Monday my workload was: a one page paper, a ten minute power point, three books to read, a five page document essay, a two page visual essay, a four page essay, a five page essay, three movies to watch, my final fifteen page paper, a quiz, and much too much reading centered on rape.

Not going to lie: the rape reading has been most unpleasant.

Did you know that when the Russians began fighting in Europe, and specifically Germany, estimates of the number of women  they raped range from 100,000 to 2,000,000? Not something most people talk about. A Soviet memorial in Berlin was defaced in 2010 with the words “The Tomb of the Unknown Rapist.”

You see, that is the real mess about World War II. It does not taper off; it finishes in the most disgusting fashion. The atomic bombs in Japan, fire-bombing in Hamburg and Dresden, thenincreased murder of European Jews, epidemic rape in Europe, internment of American minorities, and more unprovoked murder than you  can shake a stick at.

Almost 50 million people died in World War II. That’s not cool  at all.

More than half those losses come from the Soviet Union. Hail Stalin!

I have quite a bit of work still  ahead of me still, and do not ask me how that is. I have barely scraped the surface of the essays I have to write, but I am not as worried as I thought I would be. The fact that I still have another week before most of these things are due consoles me. I will have to work through this weekend, which is a shame because many of my good friends are coming into Austin this weekend, and my parents will join me for a Normandy Scholars brunch on Sunday. I am afraid I will not have the time to relish spending a few moments with my friends, but I know that it will be worth it.

Notable things going on this weekend that I might have to miss: 4/20 (jk…or am I?!?!), Reggae fest, Fight the World!, chilling with my parents, sleeping, respecting my body’s right to homeostasis, leisure, decency, self-respect, hygiene, going to the bathroom (adult diapers!), and thinking about things other than rape, dead children, and the Holocaust.

The good news is that I will be finished in seven days, I register for classes on Tuesday, I have a break between when I finish school and go to Europe (Sleep!), I will have accomplished something I consider impressive, Young Life all-city club!, and the Spurs’ good play of late.

Also more fun facts: the Soviet Union strapped bombs to dogs and trained them to run under German tanks and explode, Stalin funded research to create a super-soldier by inseminating human women with ape semen, margarine use in America doubles butter consumption, Russians stole watches more than anything when looting cities, we dropped the atomic bombs unnecessarily, the Warsaw uprising killed 230,000 Polish Jews (the largest single war atrocity of WWII; did you know?), Babi Yar?, Dresden only killed between 25,000 and 40,000 civilians–more died in Hamburg (thanks for nothing, Vonnegut!), and the Japanese experiments on POWs were more savage than the Nazis’

Whhheeeeewwwww I am tired. Sleep tonight, though!

Go Spurs!

Looking forward to being home for a week and seeing my parents this Sunday!

Rape is terrible!

Check out Edith Piaf “I Regret Nothing!”

Might see George Tharp this weekend, whhaattt?

Cacopardo is sulphur and sulphur is Cacopardo

A Quick Breath of Air

Life Life Life Life

I know I have not blogged in a long time, but I am not mad about that, and I hope you are not either. I have been busy lately with quite a few things, and it took the Easter weekend to give me time and perspective enough to conjure up a post.

I will wrap up quickly what is going on in my life.

First, school is almost over: I have three weeks left in the Normandy Program and then I ship off for London. This upcoming week will not be too hard, but I will need to start on some major essays and projects this week or I will be slaughtered in the final two weeks. The penultimate and ultimate weeks of Normandy are infamous among those in the program, and there really is not much I can do proactively to combat the onslaught, because professors do not give the essay prompts until the week the essay is due. Six essays in two weeks, but then I am finished. Or dead.

Secondly, I have been reactivating Young Life in my schedule by getting involved at a high school called Reagan. Reagan is an urban school much like Travis, except with several differences. For one, the team is much larger. My good friends Zach, Thersa, Sydney, and Jared are on the team, and so joining has been seamless. There is a lot of room for Young Life to grow there, and I hope I can bring some of the work ethic that I learned at Travis into play at Reagan.

I would be remiss if I did not mention my weekends, because they have been spectacular this entire school year. Last weekend my friend Aaron Schulze had scored a free hotel room at the Hyatt Resort in Bastrop, Texas, and so he invited me and Zach to spend the night there with him and take advantage of all the activities that the resort offered. We swam, campfired, met people, hottubbed, and talked and it was such a blessing for all of us.

This weekend I am back at home, blogging from my trusty family computer. My family is in the background, and I do not want to go back to school. I have spent the weekend eating mostly, and today the added bonus of sweets and soda has reentered my diet (#Easterproblems). I also hung out with a few of my good friends, but I have mostly spent my time with my family playing ping-pong or cooking. I also spent a substantial amount of time last night reading “The Hunger Games.”

Next weekend I have a team bonding event with my LLYC crew, so I will go with Sean and see Luke, Ashley, and others with whom I will be spending a large part of my summer. Following that weekend, I have only more weekend until school is finished for me. The weekend before that was Round-Up, before that was the Grand Canyon, and so on and so on. They have been great! Even my weeknights have been fun. On Thursday I went downtown as a date for a girl whom I had never met. What a night! I have even been to Normandy Scholar parties and let me tell you: what an experience.

The reason for the season is of the utmost importance though, and so I have to tell everyone Happy Easter. We went to church this morning and came home and have been eating, playing ping-pong, and watching tv, which is lazy in my mind, but also exactly what I wanted to do, so I have been a happy camper. Lent has been good to me: I have not touched soda or sweets, and for that I am proud. I totally failed at saying a daily Rosary; I think I stopped right before Spring Break. I have done quite well with the 40 day New Testament Plan, and I will probably finish it tomorrow. I also went to my first Reconciliation as a “card-carrying Catholic,” and I have been getting involved with my Catholic Bible Study more. I think I will be a FOCUS leader next year, which is a leadership position in the youth aspect of the University Catholic Church. I also applied to be the Director of the Gardening Committee at the CEC, so if I get both of those positions next year, in addition to being a Young Life leader again, I think the hole in my life that the Normandy Program will leave might just be filled.

Also, working on a new blog format. Holla.

Life Life Life Life

In a Norman Funk

I sat down to download “The Last Metro,” a movie that I have to watch for my “France in World War II” class, and I thought that while it loaded I would blog.

Then, I realized there is not much on mind that would be interesting to anyone. The reason I say that is because there is not much on my mind. Not to say that I am not in the midst of some game-changing life events, but because besides those anomalous events, I have been reduced to a Normandy Scholar without much to say.

I will cover the game-changing events briefly, so you get some perspective into my mind-set. First and foremost, I have to change YoungLife schools. There was a fiasco at Travis High School that altered the future of YoungLife there, and I am just one casualty of it. I chose to move to another school instead of quitting YoungLife altogether, but switching schools is harder than changing, in my opinion.

At the crux of it all, YoungLife helps kids grow their faith through our relationships with the students. The relationships are the most valuable thing in YoungLife, and now that I have to move, I am losing them. I am sad, very sad, but it is out of my hands. Abandoning the kids that I promised I would watch graduate sickens me. Kids at Travis need stability before all else, and here I am, just one more transient figure in their life. I promised them myself, and I could not even give them that.

Still, the fiasco at the school was in no way my fault, but the miasma that hangs over the school makes me question whether I would be effective at all if I continued there. So, I am leaving Travis and moving to another school. I do not know which one yet, but it will most likely still be East Austin, that is to say urban. I will happily inform you about future events.

The second game-changer in this last week was much more positive. I accepted a job offer at the Laity Lodge Youth Camp this summer as a cook, where I will work with five other cooks for five weeks to feed the campers and staff. I will work at the same time as my friends Sean Flack and Luke Harle, and that alone is exciting. I am also looking foward to testing the waters of cooking in a semi-professional manner. Lately I have been considering chefdom more, and the fact that I was offered a job–not as a counselor at the camp–but as a cook, encourages my desire. Plus, I will not be simply cleaning dishes or cutting vegetables, because a seperate crew takes care of that. My job is to work with the few other cooks to actually prepare three meals a day. A perk of the job is that I will have more free time than I would as a counselor, so I will be able to help with skits, practice banjo and write, hang out with my friends, interact with campers, and get paid for all of it.

The final game-changer, and something that is more indicative of my average life, is that school last week was a burner. Perhaps it was the hardest week of school I’ve had, at least in recent memory. I loved it though, and now it is over; but, between the sleep-depravity, the high of receiving a cooking job, and the low of losing Travis YoungLife I was tossed through an emotional ocean.

All of which brings me back to my first point: I do not have much to say anymore. Normandy has ground me to dust, despite the fact that I have managed time well. There is no way to avoid the work-load: there is no amount of time-management expertise that can deflect the hours I need to commit that I do not have. It has made me question my choice, because I feel that I am doing much less than I was doing last semester.

I changed a lot last semester, mostly because I had time to think and grow. I broke my jaw, and that evolved me as a person. I converted to Catholicism, and that certainly changed me outside and in. I solidified life-long friends in the process, and I cultivated my interests as a person. Last year at this time I had much more free-time to grow, whereas this year free-time is rare.

When I signed up for Normandy I knew it would limit what I could do during the semester, but I did not anticipate how much I would like being limited. I walked through West Campus this weekend thinking about how I spend my time. I am constantly at the library because there is no panacea to cure me of my assigned reading. My mood has darkened as I am bombarded by anecdotes, memoirs, pictures, and documents that tell stories about death, death, death. The morbid theme bludgeons me every day as I read about it, watch movies about it, takes notes about it, and have nightmares about it. Audrey warned me that Normandy is depressing but I thought it was because (sorry for being sexist) she was a girl. Girls are more emotionally acute(typically) than guys, and so they are more effected by things like this. I have found that it has affected me harshly too, and we are not even to the darkest parts.

I am a Normandy Scholar and not much else it seems. I am involved with Bible Studies and Environmental Awareness groups, and a few other activities, but my free time has been sacrificed. I like choosing to limit myself, but I have found that I do not like being unable to lift that limit. I enjoy placing austere Lenten limitations on myself, because it is a short period and it is voluntary; but NSP is not a short period and I underestimated it. I do not regret it, and obviously the best is still to come (the Maymester). I was prideful in my abilities and have been humbled, and that is such a good lesson. I enjoy knowing that I am in the midst of what may be my hardest semester ever and I am doing quite well by all outward appearences. I just cannot shake the gloom this program has brought: the time-committment, the macabre lessons, and the constant languor.

What do I have to talk about? World War II? Not YoungLife. Not a new club I’m trying, a new experiment I am undertaking, and certainly not free time downtown I am embracing. I have war on my mind, and a war in my mind. I am an automaton of facts and literary references that few people care about, and my relationships with others have suffered. On top of everything I am going through, my roomates are in the midst of their own struggles. Herculean struggles, with much greater emotional tolls than my battle. Yet I have been unable to be there for them because I have been all-consumed within myself. This semester has been hard for all of us–in fact Michael and I have discovered that we will probably look back on this year as the most depressing for us as a group. But it has been a pleasure to spend it with such fine people, and it pleases me daily to be tested as much as I am.

In a Norman Funk