My 2012 In Review

After a long and thoughtful walk through Fullersburg Woods I have had a chance to reflect on all the events of this past year; and what better time to reflect than the present? I’m astounded at how much has happened in one year, and hope I can give an accurate summary of it all.

January 1st, 2012 found me waking up long before sunrise in my dorm room at the University of Leicester in England. Together with my college friend Erica, we headed to the airport to catch our flight to Dublin, to spend some time in beautiful Ireland and Northern Ireland. From the illuminated manuscripts of the Book of Kells, to a traditional Irish music pub crawl, and finally the stormy coast at the Giant’s Causeway, my visit to Ireland was a memorable one.

Looking goofy at the Giant's Causeway - very windy and rainy

Looking goofy at the Giant’s Causeway – very windy and rainy

But schoolwork was always calling me back to Leicester, and much of January was spent in class or at the library. But I had more international travel to look forward to: a weekend in Madrid, Spain spent exploring the streets with another college friend, Jackie. Less than a week later I was off to Berlin, Germany to visit the many astounding museums, Prussian palaces, the Berlin Wall, and a concentration camp covered in snow. It was an icy cold, but edifying experience in German history.

Brrrrr! is all I can say – at the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

February and March were stressful, writing essays, choosing a dissertation topic, and applying for a museum internship. Spring Break could not come soon enough, and yet there were still diversions to pass the time; Queen Elizabeth II came to Leicester, plus a visit to the enigmatic Stonehenge, and hiking in the British countryside. The beginning of April marked the beginning of Spring Break, and a chest infection kept me stuck in my room. I hunkered down and began work on my dissertation, waiting for my parents to arrive for their 10 day visit. I enjoyed showing them the best of Leicester, and we explored Oxford, London, and stunning Blenheim Palace together, and celebrating my birthday in style.

May and June were devoted to reading, researching, interviewing and writing my dissertation, which filled most of my days. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration was a good chance to get away and go camping in Wales with friends, and Sean came all the way from Chicago to visit England for a few days, and even sat in on my Bollywood dance class. Entering into July, it seemed as though time was speeding up, and my dissertation deadline was looming. Before finishing my time at University, I saw the Olympic torch and held it for myself, made a wee trip up to Glasgow, Scotland, and had a farewell night out with my Bollywood dance class in true Bollywood style!

Getting my turn at holding the Olympic Torch!

At the end of July, I turned in my final dissertation and packed up and moved south to Exeter, to start my internship at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. It was the best museum I could have worked at, with the most entertaining staff, lots of tea and cake, and a giraffe for a mascot. Exeter was beautiful, and I spent my weekends exploring the area, hiking in the rolling hills, and visiting the birthplace of crime writer Agatha Christie. There was time for another camping trip when friends from Leicester came down for a weekend and we piled in the car for the coast. Mom and Dad even made it to Exeter for a weekend, and helped me pack up some of my things for my impending return home. Soon enough the internship was over, and I had to say farewell again.

In mid September my brother got engaged, and soon after he came to meet me in London and we spent a few busy days there before catching a flight to Italy, and spending a few days with my friends Anna and Enrico in Verona. From there it was on into the Dolomite Mountains, then back towards Milan, with a breath-taking train journey through the Alps to boot! Completely exhausted, we returned home to Chicago at the very end of September.

Verona - city of spectacular views! And my former home

Verona – city of spectacular views! And my former home

The first thing I did was visit my grandparents, and family, and much of October was spent reconnecting with old friends. I soon started a holiday job working at a department store, and in my spare time I worked on a very ambitious scrapbook project. Mid November I was hired on as an intern at a children’s museum, working in their office twice a week. Better yet, I received news that I had passed my Masters course with ‘distinction’, and my dissertation got high marks. Unfortunately, my busy schedule prevented me from spending Thanksgiving Day with my relatives in Indiana, but my Grandma Smith and I kept each other company that day. Also unfortunate, our beloved dog Shadow died just a few days before Christmas, but friends and relatives have been a support as we adjust to him being gone.

Catching up with Grandma and Grandpa on Christmas Day

Now, a few days away from the New Year, I can reflect on everything that has happened this year. This little summary serves as much an update as a reminder for myself, and I look forward to attending my graduation ceremonies in Leicester next month, and several important weddings next year. Bring on 2013!

Culture, History, Museums

Hello all,

It appears that I have gotten a little behind! The past few weeks have been quite full, as you’ll figure out. When I last wrote, classes were about to start again, and we’ve covered all kinds of very practical things about taking care of objects in museums. We even visited an off-site museum storage facility in Birmingham, where the curators led us around and said ‘don’t touch the spears, they still have poison on them’, and ‘don’t touch the stuffed animals, they still have arsenic on them’! I just turned in my essay last week on how to borrow an object from an overseas museum. How exciting!

"Look at all these stuffed birds covered with arsenic!"

As classes were winding down prior to the essay deadline, I took the opportunity to travel to Madrid, Spain, to visit a college friend. Jackie has been teaching in a Spanish school for about 2 years now and is ready to return to Chicago in a few months, so I saw an opportunity to visit her that I couldn’t pass up! She showed me the best Madrid has to offer, including visiting the famous Prado Museum, hot chocolate and churros, sitting out on a rooftop terrace, relaxing in beautiful Retiro Park, and an amazing Flamenco dance show! That’s a lot for one weekend! Two days later I turned my essay in early, and then was ready to head off on another adventure.

Flamenco show in Madrid! Amazing!

I left for Berlin on February 1st and had plans to stay with a CouchSurfer my first 2 nights. Andre was an enjoyable host, and the type of person that wants to be a student forever (it helps that German students do not pay for university). He showed me his neighbourhood and university, but the strangest thing was probably going to see an American movie at the cinema, Brad Pitt’s baseball movie Moneyball! Andre knows more about American film than I do, but I know more about baseball. We parted ways on Friday and I went to meet up with Jackie, who was coming for the weekend to travel with me. Now we could get to the really tourist-y stuff!

My CouchSurfing host Andre, with me at the Pergamon Museum

First off, the temperatures in Berlin were awful, sometimes single digits (Fahrenheit). It was painfully cold! Regardless, we visited the palace city of Potsdam, took a walking tour around central Berlin, toured the forced labour concentration camp Sachsenhausen, and saw a slew of museums, memorials and historic sites during our visit. This is a city just reeling with history! Among my top moments, I mentioned that visiting the concentration camp in sub-zero temperatures made me appreciate what working outside in flimsy prison garments might feel like. And seeing Nazi architecture still in use, and Communist monuments impressed upon me how much has happened in the last 50 years alone.

The Brandenburg Gate at night, gateway between east and west

Then and now

Alas, the cold was too much for me, and I came back to Leicester on the 6th. I’m still processing everything I’ve seen and learned, but I’m ready for the remainder of the semester as well, and having the opportunity to create our own exhibit, give a dissertation proposal, and select a UK museum for our 8-week work placement this summer. There’s a lot still to do.