Student Adventures Around The World

Jonathan, world traveler

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Jonathan, a junior majoring in psychology, will branch out from his hometown of San Antonio this summer (2007). He'll spend the month of May in New Mexico at the SMU-in-Taos program. In July, he'll take classes at Oxford University as part of the SMU-in-Oxford program.

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July 9, 2007

TOUCHING DOWN IN THE U.K.
Well, it's been a while, and I apologize firstly for not having posted at all while I was in San Antonio ... I didn't really do a whole lot, aside from hanging out with friends, tubing down the Guadalupe River (a San Antonio favorite activity) and working out a lot.

Anyway, this week has been absolutely CRAZY, especially since it has been my first week in Europe - ever!  The plane ride took a while to take off because DFW was so congested, and the flight was a LOT longer than I've ever experienced (my longer flight previously was San Antonio to San Francisco), but I managed through it with some Nyquil and herbal sleep aids.   

As soon as we got here, we went to visit a local sandwich shop to grab a quick bite before orientation, etc.  And of course, we couldn't resist heading out to a few of the local pubs that night - in fact, we visited a place called "The Eagle & Child," which is where J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings trilogy) and C.S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia) used to go to debate philosophy, religion, etc.   It was extremely interesting to be in a pub packed with so much history.   Even though we were all exhausted from the jetlag, we knew the only way to fend it off was to stay up, so we enjoyed ourselves until the late hour of 9:30 PM...not quite what time I'm used to going to bed, but I really couldn't stay awake any longer.  On the way back, we stopped at a "kebab" van, which are very popular here in Oxford at night.  Kebabs, as they sell them in the UK, is essentially like a Greek "gyro" that they often sell in food courts at malls.  Nevertheless, I still crashed very early, relative to what I'm accustomed to.

Sunday was a recovery day on many different levels, but needless to say we all made it up for the walking city tour of Oxford, hosted by a friendly and very witty local named Patricia, who informed us of how steeped in history Oxford truly is.  Although it was not the first renowned university in Europe (as was University of Paris), it soon after U of P came to prominence and has been so ever since, recently having been ranked the #1 public university in the world.  A couple hours after that, we had our official convocation, which was solemn but intriguing nonetheless, after which we dined extravagantly in the traditional dining hall that can only be described by analogy to Hogwarts.  After all, the Harry Potter movies are filmed on the Oxford campus, and even though I'm not really interested in the series, I can tell by people's descriptions that it truly is everything that has been detailed to me.  After that, most of us went back to our rooms to make the finishing touches on our papers for our tutorials and prepare all the materials for lecture class.   I didn't end up completing mine until roughly 3 AM, but it was well worth it to make sure it was as well written as I could make it.

GETTING USED TO THE OXFORD STYLE...
Monday was our first day of class, and it was interesting getting acclimated to the way that things were going to run.   We have class from 8:45 - 10:15 AM Monday - Thursday, then a 30-minute break for morning tea, and then either another hour of class (on typical days) or what's called "Oxford CORE," which occurs before we go on major program trips and allows the professors to explain the relevance and importance of the places we are visiting.   I can definitely appreciate the 30-minute break in the middle of class, because although it is extremely exciting to be in Oxford, class is still class, and 3 hours of it at once is a little difficult to handle at one time.   The tutorial will definitely prove to be an eye-opening experience, for although it is a traditional style here in the UK, it is definitely a departure from conventional teaching methodology in the US.  Mondays serve as a forum for explanation of the tutorial topic for that week as an entire class, whereas Tuesdays are when we break off into small groups to have more personalized discussions about the topic and our papers.

Tuesday we had class, and afterward we participated in our small group tutorial, which went well.   Each of us will have to read our papers aloud at some point, and I opted not to go quite yet so that I could get a feel for his expectations.  Also, at night we had what's called a "High Table" lecture and dinner.   The lecture is presented by a renowned guest of SMU-in-Oxford, and on Tuesday it was Oxford fellow Leslie Mitchell, who was very witty and very informative about the goings-on within the university and University College, where we are staying, which is affectionately known as "Univ".   The dinner is similar to the dinner we had after convocation, in which we dine to very well-prepared, gourmet meals and must dress formally.  The dinner follows the lecture, and both are quite the experience and apparently deeply engrained in the SMU-in-Oxford program, which was started over 20 years ago.

Wednesday was the 4th of July, and it was extremely weird not being in my home country to celebrate it.  I guess the Brits are cognizant of the holiday, however, and a lot of places attracted us into their pubs and restaurants by putting up some kind of decoration recognizing our independence, such as a flag or colored streamers.  Our group of friends decided on Maxwell's for dinner, which is American food - at expensive British prices - but nevertheless American food.   Most of us got Philly cheesesteaks, and a couple people got real beef burgers.   It was nice to celebrate with something familiar, since being here is anything but.

Thursday was our first Oxford CORE session, which focused on the places in London we would be visiting on Friday - the British Museum and the Tower of London, as well as a riverboat dinner cruise.   At night we had another High Table lecture, this time by the editor-in-chief of the world-renowned weekly publication, The Economist.   Considering my lecture course is focusing on the history of diplomacy in Europe, his lecture was very relevant and therefore enthralling to those of us in the corresponding class, and the dinner - Chicken Kiev - was delicious.   We all decided to go out as one big group that night, heading down to a bar recommended by one of the program assistants that attends Oxford during the course of the regular school year.

LONDON AT LAST
Seeing London for the first time was bittersweet - of course, it has numerous well known monuments alongside a great deal of history; however, it is a big city, and especially coming in from the outskirts, it was at first hard to overcome that feeling of being in just another big city.   Once we got to the British Museum, the feeling quickly subsided - especially when we ventured to see the real Rosetta Stone, explore ancient cultural artifacts dating back thousands of year, and see several mummies up close.   The Tower of London wasn't quite as interesting, but seeing the Crown Jewels was definitely something on my list of things to do before I die, so it was nice to go ahead and check that off now.   As well, we got to view some of the torture chambers used by some of the more notably oppressive monarchs in England's history.   We boarded the riverboat around 6, and cruised up and down the Thames until about 10 or 10:30.   We didn't get back to Oxford until about 1:45, after which I quickly crashed...but not for long.

FINALLY IN ENGLAND, BUT ALREADY OFF TO AMSTERDAM
I woke up Saturday at 3 AM to pack my bags and get onto "The Airline" shuttle, which goes directly from Oxford to Heathrow and Gatwick airports.   We were headed to AMSTERDAM!   

Since my flight was leaving at 6:25 AM, and the earliest available was a 4 AM shuttle, my friend Missy and I (the only two who ended up going) knew we had to catch that one ... but we were exhausted.   We nearly missed the shuttle, had I not been able to speak Spanish to a girl from Barcelona who directed me to the proper bus stop - and once we finally got to the airport, the security line was absurdly long, and I only made my plane flight by about 10 minutes.  Nevertheless, when I arrived in Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, I definitely breathed a long sigh of relief, but I knew that we still had challenges ahead of us, with neither of us having been to Amsterdam previously and also not knowing a single word of the Dutch language.   

When we finally figured out the complex metro system and arrived in the center of town, we spent a little bit of time exploring the layout of the city and headed to a place I had heard rave reviews about, called the "Pancake Bakery."  In the Netherlands, they have a specialty called pannekoeken (pancakes), which differ from US pancakes in that they have some sort of meat, cheese, sauce, etc.   The "international pancakes" offer everything from lamb and pesto to smoked salmon and mozzarella, depending on what style you order - and they are absolutely AMAZING.  They may sound a little weird, but you don't need to be very adventurous to enjoy them.   

After our meal, we saw that the line to get in the Anne Frank house was ridiculous, so we checked into our hostel.   Known as the Flying Pig Downtown, the hostel was in a prime location, only about a 5 minute walk from the central rail station and within walking distance of most of the major sites in Amsterdam.   The atmosphere was everything we could have asked for, and definitely catered to students, which was appreciated.   Missy and my room was a shared, mixed-gender 6 bed-room, which we coincidentally shared with 4 other Americans from California near Missy's hometown, all college students as well.   Reasoning that our lack of sleep was going to diminish our experience, we quickly crashed and set our alarms for 3 hours later.

After we woke up, we ventured to a nearby cafe for some Dutch coffee and a snack of another Netherlands' favorite, called broodjes.   I found that they make these differently depending on where you go, but the first kind that we got was a sandwich-like pastry with sausage in the middle.   After our culinary refill, we decided to cash in the voucher for a free canal cruise, which was included when we had originally bought our "I Amsterdam" cards at the airport.   We tried desperately to find the place, but I will mention that Amsterdam is a very complicated city - and the fact that all canals and corner shops essentially look the same did not help our situation.

 By the time we had reached the place, it had closed, but they directed us to another site that offered the cruises from the Amsterdam cards, and we hopped on that just before the sun was setting.   Amsterdam truly is a unique city, as it is very similar to Venice but also very different in its canal system.   The canals are used almost entirely for tours and also for residences - there are houseboats lining almost every canal bank, truly a site to see.   Nevertheless, in our searches we ran across the two museums we knew we wanted to visit on Sunday, the Rijksmuseum, which holds many masterpieces from all over Europe (including an extensive collection of Netherlands-born Rembrandt) and the Van Gogh Museum, which has an extensive collection of his works that shows his evolution artistically.   After returning from the cruise, we were still exhausted, so we took another nap, then grabbed some dinner and drinks at a nearby, very popular restaurant known as "The Grasshopper", and then called it a night pretty early by our standards - 12:30.

MANY MUSEUMS
We got up bright and early on Sunday well rested and ready to conquer the part of Amsterdam that we hadn't gotten to the day before.   To avoid the lines, we first visited the Anne Frank house, which was near to our hostel.   It was a sobering reminder of what even the most innocent children had to endure at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust.   I still can't imagine what life must have been like for Otto Frank, the lone survivor of the Frank family from the Holocaust, knowing that everyone that he had loved and cared about, including his closest friends with which he had been hiding for several years, had all been killed.   Truly, truly unforgettable.

We then headed to the Museumplein, where they have a vast number of museums that commemorate everything from artistic masterpieces to tapestries to pornography.   Needless to say, we stayed on the safe (and much less sketchy) side by sticking with the art museums.   The Rijksmuseum was phenomenal...I don't usually get moved by art, but a lot of the art in that museum are not only stunning but also tell the story of the Netherlands.  After oo-ing and ah-ing for about an hour, we went to the nearby Van Gogh museum.  In its highly contemporary and modern design, it took us about 15 minutes to figure out where the entrance to the place was (apparently NOT on the highly contemporary and modern part of the building, but across the street), but once we were in we were definitely fascinated.   It is incredible to think that prior to his "dabbling" in art for the rest of his life, he had had no prior training in painting, drawing, etc.   As well, the museum prominently featured one of my favorite quotes of all time - "I am constantly doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it".   In the end, though, I was somewhat unimpressed by the exposition, as it did not have any of his most famous works, which apparently are all featured in New York.  

 Our last tour was of the Heineken Brewery near the Museumplein, which was a lighthearted and fun experience for certain, although it wasn't really anything new if you knew anything about how beer is brewed.   They did send us off with a free gift (included in the admission price) so all was well.  As a final sight to see in Amsterdam, we treaded into the seedy "Red Light District", as we wanted to see what all the fuss was about, but nonetheless during the day to avoid the shady characters that surely traveled there at night.

A SLOW RETURN...
Well, we went to the metro station around 2 hours before our flights were to leave, which we thought would allow us enough time to get to the airport.   Apparently, though, there wasn't a route on the metro to the airport, or so we were told by the officer on the platform.   It is interesting to note that it was the metro that we had taken from the airport to the central rail station, but tacking it up to anti-American sentiments as an attempt to misdirect us, we did as he said, paying for the much more expensive train ticket.   We still could not find exactly where to go, but somehow we came across a group of Spanish women, probably in their mid-40s, and again I used my Spanish skills to determine that they, too, were headed to the airport.   We got to the airport after a long conversation with the women, and realized that we had little time to make our flights - until about 15 minutes before it was scheduled to leave, when they informed us of a 1 hour delay due to late takeoff at Heathrow from congestion.   After catching the last shuttle back to Oxford, we made it back at about midnight, with a mound of work still to do.   But I can honestly say that I have never before felt so self-reliant and I have never before felt like I could fit so many activities into a 36-hour period.

I'll be sure to let you know how week 2 goes - this coming weekend, it's off to Paris!   Arrevoire!

May 28, 2007

ALL GOOD THINGS...
I Yep, I guess it's just that time.   Today we finished our final exam, and I'm not gonna lie, this place is like a ghost town.   I think there's a grand total of like 6 of us left, because even though the Taos information packet told us that departure time was 10 AM on Tuesday, everybody went ahead and booked their flights for Monday.   Guess I didn't get the memo.

The past few days have been relatively uneventful, with exceptions.   Wednesday we went to Santa Fe to go see an actual case in front of the Supreme Court of New Mexico (on appeal, so it wasn't as intense as predicted), which was definitely an eye-opening experience.   Afterward we got to spend some time soaking in the culture, had lunch at some nice Mexican food place right off the plaza, and then walked around until it was time to roll out.

Thursday we went with Professor Stanley's Latino Politics class to meet the mayor of Taos.   That was a very...interesting event.   I guess when you are the mayor of a town as small as Taos, things just work a little different, but since I'm involved in Student Senate, I couldn't help thinking that his voter turnout of less than 2000 in a town of 6500 was extremely similar to a Student Body election...and the politics worked about the same, too, with the only real exception being that those people receive a salary for their service.   He answered a lot of our questions by talking about his personal business, at one point noting that one of the biggest things he wanted to change about Taos is his getting a new Hummer for himself.   I have to give him credit though, because he won the election by 20 votes, and I know from experience that that must mean a lot to him, and I'm sure he does a lot for the Taos community (that he must have failed to mention in our meeting with him).   Additionally, we were appreciative that he could at least take the time out of his schedule to meet with a group of college students.

"School's Out For...May Term Taos 2007"
Friday was our last day of class, and it was definitely a long time in the makiing.   I truly loved our class, but you can only handle the type of pacing we were moving at for so long before we just started to wear out on learning about law.   Unfortunately, due to the death of her step-father, Professor Kincaid had to leave Taos for the remainder of our stay so that she could take care of everything, since the event was obviously something very personal and very tragic for her.   In her absence, though, we battoned down the hatches and studied hard for that exam on Saturday, with a few stragglers heading to the river (I chose the former).   Also, due to rain earlier in the week, we had to play two games on Saturday, both of which we won due to forfeit of the other team (since most of the people on the other teams had gone to the river and forgotten about the games).   Other than that, there isn't much to say about Sunday.

"How to Prepare for a Final Exam"
Sunday was a great time, and much needed in the midst of all the studying.   The wellness class, as our final event, headed to the Ojo Caliente Spa & Resort about an hour and half away from the Taos campus.   I think almost all of us got the 50-minute massage, paid for by the program, with a few people bumping up their end of the deal by chipping in some of their own money and getting facials, salt exfoliation rubs, etc.   Needless to say, we soaked in the mineral pools and mud baths from about 10 AM to around 4 PM, doing nothing but laying out, catching some sun, and enjoying each others' company.   Not bad for the day before our final exam.

And that brings me to today.   We had 2 hours to complete our exam, with 30 minutes for printing, revising, etc.   The exam started at 8 AM, and I had my paper turned in by 10:17, though most were literally just clicking print at 10:29.   I'd say it wasn't too bad of an exam, since it was open-note, but it involved a ton of thinking and mind-stretching, while simultaneously checking the clock every few minutes to make sure we were on pace.   After talking with most people, it seemed like everyone thought it was pretty moderate, considering we really had no clue what to expect for the final, with so much information having been covered.   After the exam, my buddy Jack and I cruised down the main road that goes in front of campus just to take in one last breath of that fresh mountain air before heading back to civilization...with the exception that I would be staying another night.   It was a little bittersweet seeing everybody go - I know that I get to stay here for one last night, one more time to look up at the stars without any light pollution, and then wake up tomorrow and see the sun rising over the tree- and snow-covered mountains, but at the same time it's definitely kinda sad to see everybody else that I've gotten so close to headed back home.   I guess I'll be the last of the gang to go.

"The Experience, in a Nutshell"
Well that about wraps up my Taos trip.   Tomorrow morning, I'm getting on a shuttle at 10:30 AM that will take me from Taos to Albuquerque, where I will be leaving straight to San Antonio on a 3:00 PM flight.   I'm extremely excited to go back, since it's been almost 6 full months since I've been able to sleep in my own bed and hang out with all of my friends from home.   But I can tell you this, I will never, ever forget my experiences that I've had in Taos.   There is a magic here that you really can't experience on the main campus, a subtle magic that only comes with being completely immersed in the beauty of nature itself.   

The mountains, the rivers, the bonfires, the plaza, the World Cup cafe, the long van trips, the lack of cell phone reception, the 15 minute hike just to check your email or go to class, the super-intense volleyball games, the interesting "cheese omelettes" on Tuesdays, watching the "Lost" finale in the dining hall on a projector, watching Shrek 3 and the third Pirates of the Carribbean without ever having seen the first two installments, doing nature stuff with Bryan, Christi, and Colby, chillin in the casita with Brian, Ross, Kendall (the honorary 12th roomate), Scott, Pat, Edwin, Blake, and whoever else felt like strolling in, watching the Spurs beat the Suns at the ridiculously expensive Anaconda Bar, stepping in snow for the very first time, checking lots of activities off my list of things to do in my life, having to sit at the front of the restaurant at Shadows Bar because I wasn't 21 (I was the DD), eating at Mike's that one morning with the crew, good times with our rafting guide Jake (raft guide by summer, ski bum by winter), making smores with the RAs, making trouble at the other bonfires, getting rained out (extremely) on our biking trip, finding out all the countries Colby has visited in her lifetime, getting owned for being late to night class once, those ice cream cookie sandwiches, envying Matt and Chet for never having class (officially), eating popcorn and watching Mr. & Mrs. Smith after a bonfire with Edwin and Blake, being in the hardest class in Taos, having the coolest professor in Taos, the late night study session with the whole crew the night before our midterm was due, having to buy a fleece in the middle of May, Italian Soda, meeting TONS of new people, becoming better friends with the people I knew before, and being able to see every star in the sky without even trying.

Taos has truly been the experience of a lifetime, but now it's back to the real world.   Just to think...in only one month, I'll be having the next experience of a lifetime, my first trip to Europe (Oxford).   I'll probably post once or twice about how things are going in San Antonio just to keep you updated, but until then, hope you're enjoying your summer!

May 23, 2007

Santa Fe, Snow-Shoeing, and More
I promised in my last post that I would let you know about my mountain biking trip. Basically, it didn't really end up happening. We all made it out there fine, and the company from which we were renting our bikes made it out there, too, all the rentals in tow. The problem was, within 10 seconds of us pulling up to the parking lot, it started to rain. Granted, rain isn't really that bad. But within 10 minutes, it was pouring. Lightning strikes were hitting within 500 yards of us on the other side of the gorge, and after a couple of those, Christi (our wellness instructor), as well as the bike company, decided that it was just a little too dangerous to risk it. We called it off and called it a day.

On Sunday, Professor Kincaid hosted a movie night of sorts in her apartment, where we watched A Civil Action. Naturally, it was a good fit since we had been studying torts, environmental law, and court procedure . . . plus, she sweetened the deal by having two Baskin-Robbins ice cream cakes half way through the movie. That night, we had a ton of reading to do for Monday's class...

Monday was probably the most full day of material I've had here in Taos so far (other than today...I'll get to that in a second). We had what became 7 full hours of class, separated by a 1 1/2 hour break in between the morning and afternoon sessions. Apparently, in the "on-campus" version of the course, the law of contracts takes several weeks...we cranked it out in one full day, but it definitely felt like several weeks. When we got out at 4 PM, people were shocked that we had actually been in class that long...but we're intense like that. Plus, it gave us just enough time to go to the volleyball court to have our first practice session.

Super-Competitive Volleyball
In Taos, there is always this super-competitive volleyball tournament, in which all the different classes form teams. I guess the Law & Tax class has a history of winning. Well sure enough, we pulled it off and won our first game. I was elected "t-shirt chair" by the class and we actually pulled together a uniform for the game, which was actually pretty intimidating to see a team so well organized, prepared, and intense. We have another game tomorrow, which we will (knock on wood) hopefully pull off, although I don't have many doubts.

Today has been single-handedly the most intense day I have had thus far in Taos. I woke up, as usual, at 7 AM, ate breakfast, and my day didn't stop until about 8 PM. We had class for four hours in the morning, and then immediately I ran (along with classmates Brian and Kendall) back to our casitas, changed, and headed back to the computer lab to get ready for a hike.

Snow-Shoeing to Williams Lake
This time, we were headed to Williams Lake, which is at about 11,000 feet elevation and about halfway up (trail-wise) the way to Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in New Mexico. It's right in the middle of the world-renowned Taos Ski Valley, which is gorgeous. The craziest thing about it was that, because of the elevation and the climate of Taos, there was still an incredible amount of snow on the mountain, so we rented snow shoes. The hike was one of the most challenging I have ever participated in in my life, but it was definitely well worth it. As I had mentioned in my previous post, I'm not really used to the whole "snow" concept, but literally, everywhere we walked was snow. It took us about 3 hours to finally reach Williams Lake, and I remember that when we did, there were these other huge peaks along the same ridge as Wheeler Peak, and when the sun was shining on them, it was absolutely astonishing – like no other. Plus, there was this huge, open meadow completely covered in snow right before the lake, and basically everything about the hike was incredible, to say the least. I told Christi, the instructor, that it was probably the most physically intense thing (aside from training for sports) that I have ever done in my entire life, and I truly believe that. If you ever have an opportunity to snow-shoe hike to Williams Lake and/or Wheeler Peak, I could not more strongly recommend it for the adventurous and those willing to really challenge themselves, because the end result is much more than worth it.

Tomorrow morning, around 7:15 AM, we head for Santa Fe to watch an actual court case regarding a lot of the stuff we have been learning about, which will be very exciting. Plus, we have another volleyball game that I'll let you know about. Take care till then.

May 19, 2007

UP'S AND...NOT SO UP'S
Well, needless to say that things have been pretty hectic since my last post. Before I get around to the stressful stuff, I'll talk about the stuff that really makes it worth it to be studying here in Taos.

On Tuesday, after Monday's fly-fishing clinic, we headed out to Cimarron to go fly-fishing with some local guides who were very good at the trade. I really don't know how you land a job like that...I mean, they fish for a living, but not commercially...they just go onto the rivers, chill, and watch a bunch of novices fish, while giving them some advice and untangling their line off the reeds every now and then. Is there a major for that? Any way, it was a pretty fun trip.

Suiting up with waders
It took us like an hour to get out there, but the thing is, it was pouring the whole way, not to mention that the road was seriously the windiest road I have ever experienced . . . basically, guaranteed motion sickness. Once we got there, though, we suited up with waders and got into groups of two and headed out to various parts of the streams in the valley and went for it. Fly-fishing takes a while to get accustomed to, but once you get the hang of it, it really, truly is sooo relaxing. Nevertheless, I spent literally like my first hour and a half casting my line and either doing it completely wrong to the point that I scared the fish away or got it ridiculously tangled in the shrubbery along the river. It always seemed like the whole tangling thing would only happen once the guide was at least 500 feet away from me, but after dealing with that, it became a lot of fun. The only problem that I can say about it is that it was colder than I have ever experienced in my life...not only were we standing knee deep in a river that consisted mostly of snow melt from the mountains, but it was still pouring down rain once we got out there, and the temperature (honestly) was about 45 degrees. I'm pretty sure my hands are still warming up from that whole thing as we speak.

At the end of the day, I did land one fish, probably about 7 inches, and hooked like 3 others (including a 14-incher) that ended up getting away before I could take a snapshot. Once we got back into town, we headed to THE local pizza establishment, called Taos Pizza Outback and no joke gorged ourselves on pizza. It was a fulfilling ending to a cold, nonetheless relaxing day.

Enjoying each other's company
Wednesday was a good day because by the time the day was done, I had watched my hometown San Antonio Spurs get a one-game leg up on the Phoenix Suns. We went to the El Monte hotel, which hasa trendy bar and restaurant called The Anaconda Bar, named for its unique ceiling decor. I'd say a good 90% of the SMU-in-Taos kids made it out to watch the game and enjoy each other's company. That's something I'm really liking about this whole experience...with every day that passes, it really seems like the whole group is really bonding, not just the groups that came together. It's been really fun that way, everybody kind of letting go of any stereotypes they may have had at SMU and just embracing the Taos atmosphere. More on group solidarity in a second...

Thursday was relatively uneventful...until about 5 p.m. We were given our midterms for our Law & Tax class, which was a take-home assignment for collaboration in groups of 3 - 4. It seems like the whole take-home thing would make it at least a little bit easier, but not even close. That's where the group solidarity thing comes in . . . because we were allowed to compare analysis notes for the assignment, my group of three (which also included Jack and Edwin, both juniors) worked with another group of four (including Alison, Emily, Kendall, and Brian, all juniors except for the oldie Kendall) and it was seriously one of the most intense study sessions I've ever been a part of, but we all really helped each other out and we came out alive on the other side. I spent from about 7:00 p.m. to roughly 5:00 a.m. with that group of people, and I definitely owe them a shout out for stickin' it out and gettin' it done. Much love. We did get our 15 page analysis of the 6 case problems completed by the requisite 11 a.m. Friday morning, and after that, I pretty much crashed.

Playing in the snow
That brings me to today. After a nice two hour nap, which was interrupted several times by cleaning ladies and slamming doors, I went on one of the Wellness hikes to a place called Italliano's Trail inside of a canyon in the Carson National Forest. The hike didn't take too long, considering we only went uphill for about an hour and a half, but it was still an incredible workout, since it was at about 10,000 feet elevation. Plus, once we got to the top, I got to have my first experience with playing in snow...the only real snow I had seen before today was when it snowed in Dallas last December, and apparently, according to all the seasoned snow experts here at Taos, "that wasn't even close to counting" as seeing snow.

After we noticed some mountain lion tracks in the snow, we decided that it was time to call it a day and we headed back to campus. A bunch of people went to watch the Spurs v. Suns game at Anaconda, but I (having been extremely sleep deprived) decided to stay in and go to a movie with Christi, my Wellness instructor, and my friend Colby. I had never seen one of the Shrek movies before, but I must admit that it was actually very well done and had a lot of subtleties that kids in the theater surely couldn't have picked up on, plus the graphics were legit.

Well I guess that pretty much catches you up to what I've been up to for the past week...it's had its up's, and it has DEFINITELY had it's not so up's (I can't call anything out here a down). Fortunately, though, I made it through and now I get to a enjoy a class-free weekend until our Sunday night class movie night at Professor Kincaid's casita. Plus, I'm going mountain biking along the Rio Grande Gorge at 1:15 tomorrow, so I'll be sure to let you know how that goes...apparently it's not going to be all that hard, but 4 hours of biking sounds a little intense. I guess I'll just have to see!

May 14, 2007

Well, I guess this is my first post since I've been in Taos, and I could not be happier about where I am...the Fort Burgwin campus is really not a campus at all. So it has classrooms, and so we are taking classes, but there is seriously an indescribable quality about this place that is completely separate from any kind of academic environment. We are completely secluded up in the mountains right outside Taos village (probably a 10 minute drive to go into the town of I believe 6,500 permanent residents), and I think all of us here are really enjoying the whole nature experience to the fullest.

We had our first class on Saturday for what's called Law & Tax (LT 3335), and to be honest, I think it's really going to be interesting, despite the huge amount of information we have to cover in a very short period of time. Plus, since I'm planning on going to Law School anyway, it's really fun to start learning about this stuff now. It's like 3.5 hours per day, 6 days a week, but since we're done by noon, we have plenty of time to enjoy the outdoors, head into town, or sleep (since most of us aren't quite used to the 7 AM breakfast time). Plus, Professor Kincaid is extremely knowledgeable about the topic, having previously been a practicing litigator, and she is truly enthused about teaching the class, which makes sticking through each session a pleasure.

White Water Rafting
Yesterday, we had our first Wellness experience - we went White Water Rafting through the Rio Grande Gorge, and it was truly an incredible experience. I had never been rafting before, but nevertheless the rest of the people on the raft (other Wellness students) had so our guide had us do some really exhilarating maneuvers. One of the things was called "surfing" - essentially, in an area where water is rapidly recirculation, there is a "sweet spot" where the boat actually stays in place on top of the recirculation and, if the current is strong enough, actually starts to suck the boat under the water (which is actually fun, despite how it sounds). I think that taking the Mountain Sports Wellness class is absolutely one of the best decisions I made...not only does it give me something to do with our downtime, but it allows us to experience the Taos environment in a way completely unlike any other. Today (in 2 hours actually) I will be taking a fly-fishing clinic, and tomorrow at 1 PM (after class) we'll be heading to Cimarron for the rest of the day to actually put what we learned into action. We have two hikes and a mountain biking session on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (respectively), so there's still a lot to look forward to.

I don't know exactly what my schedule is going to be, but I'll try to get another post in sometime before my midterm on Thursday (when you only take class for 2.5 weeks, the midterm comes up quickly) and after my fly-fishing expedition.

Introduction

At the moment I am battening down the hatches in preparation for finals, but fortunately on Friday I'm off to Taos...which I am extremely excited about. At the moment I'm going to be taking the LT 3335 course (all business majors know what I'm talking about), along with the Mountain Sports wellness course. The latter is scheduled to include a white water rafting trip, a fly fishing clinic and expedition, mountain biking around the Rio Grande Gorge, hikes around the Taos landscape, and an all-expense paid trip to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs for some much needed R&R...who said summer school has to be intense?

June is going to be my decompression month. Basically, I'm going to utilize that to do as little as humanly possible - considering my schedule over the course of the year (15 hours of classes plus a combined total of 30 - 35 hours of extracurricular activities, organizations, etc.), that will also be much needed. It's not often that I actually get to take a break, as evidenced by the rest of my summer schedule, so don't expect to see a whole lot of J. Lane until I show up to the airport to go to Europe.

That brings me to my next big adventure of the summer - I'll be headed off to the SMU-in-Oxford campus to do some more studying. However, from what I've heard about Oxford and Europe as a whole, it should be quite an experience. Trips planned so far:

  • First weekend to Amsterdam for some spontaneous exploration of the Dutch country.
  • The second weekend to Paris for Bastille Day (French Independence Day...it's like going to DC on July 4th, European style).
  • The third weekend to Barcelona for some site seeing around the city and some definite language immersion (do they have an English/Catalan dialect dictionary?).
  • The last weekend in England is really up for grabs, although I'm going to see what I can do to maybe piggyback on the SMU-in-London's trip to Greece...talk about history, I'm pretty sure Greece was building things superstructures centuries before the US was even a twinkle in our forefathers eyes.

Not to mention that, yes, I will be taking classes in between...specifically, Diplomacy in Europe from Napoleon to the European Union (that's the conventional, 3 hours lecture class), along with Julius Caesar and Roman Britain (taught in the traditional Oxford tutorial method - which will be a cultural experience in and of itself). In short, my first trip to Europe (yes, there are people that can get all the way to college and not have traveled trans-Atlantic) will undoubtedly be an experience for the record books.

Since I just got elected as the Chief of Staff of the Student Senate, I'll be headed back to campus a little bit early this year so that I can help the rest of the Executive Committee (Student Body Officers & Student Senate Officers) plan out the direction for next year's Senate. It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it...who better than an overworked, under-rested, double booked overachiever to take it on head first? Just kidding...there will be five equally as overworked, under-rested, double booked overachievers right next to me every step of the way.