Reflections on Japan – May Term 2007

by Benjamin M. Brown ‘10

(At Kegon Fall – left to right, first row, sitting – Ben Brown ’10, David Bowen ’09 Second row, crouching – Andrew Wolfe ’08, Wes Julian ’08, Richard Shelby ’08, Cory Cutler ’08, Warren Beth ’09 Third row, standing – Clay Behl ’08, John Rothgeb ’08, Anson Bird ’08, Christian L’Heureux ’08, Alex Modny ’08, Matthew Dubroff, Eric Dinmore)

On a particularly dark night in May, twelve students embarked on a journey from Hampden-Sydney to the Land of the Rising Sun.  With Professors Eric Dinmore and Matthew Dubroff leading this procession through Japan, a land of dragons, samurai heritage, and timeless tradition, the group departed from America and landed a day later at Kansai Airport. We arrived with high expectations and anticipation of the sites to be seen.

From the airport in Osaka our journey began in Kyoto, a city where old ways meet the innovation of the present. The beauty and spiritual depth of Japan was revealed through encounters with the Golden and Silver Pavilions, ornate shrines, inspiring temples, and the many art forms that a person can spend a lifetime mastering.  One almost felt as if he were dreaming when wandering through the culture that defines traditional Japan.  Yet, everyone was reawakened periodically by the harsh reality that this trip was also an academic program, and reading, studying, and presentations broke the rhythm of an otherwise ebon flow.  This responsibility to maintain academic awareness amidst so many awe-inspiring wonders and unbelievable opportunities in fact exemplifies the concept of giri-ninjo, or duty versus desire, a theme expressed in traditional Japanese arts.

Not forgetting that the traditional side of Japan coexists with a contemporary hustle and bustle that stops only when halted by a red crosswalk signal, the group conversed with locals and explored the restaurants and nightlife with wide eyes and a true Hampden-Sydney curiosity. This was especially true in Tokyo, where the present actually moves toward a wondrous and ever-evolving future.  If ever there were a place that could be called a futuristic metropolis, Tokyo is that place.  Few have ever witnessed such awareness of fashion, technology, and activity as the group came upon while in the city.  In fact, by the time of the yakatabune harbor cruise and dinner that marked the end of the group’s visit to Japan, each member, including the professors, could call claim to a very personal superlative accompanied by a memorable trinket and story to tell.

From start to finish, there were many firsts on this journey.  For some, this trip meant their first ride on an airplane, train, or subway.  For others, it was an indulgence in new cuisines and countless new drinks from the many vending machines that lined the streets.  For yet others, it was their first time simply reflecting internally and documenting their evolution as they reevaluated themselves throughout the journey.  And further still, some took the true cultural plunge, from accidentally buying traditional undergarments, to singing uninhibited karaoke, to sumo wrestling in the subway, to getting lost on purpose simply to find themselves.  But whatever the memory, the consensus in our culturally enlightened group is undoubtedly that this journey through Japan was unforgettable.

Mt. Fuji from the air: photgraph takem by Richard Shelby

Study Abroad 2003-2004

During the 2003-2004 academic year, 72 Hampden-Sydney students studied abroad in 11 different countries. The length of study ran from a full academic year to May Term courses and ranged from Europe to Central America to Australia and New Zealand.

On September 2, many of the participants gathered in the Parents & Friends Lounge and several shared stories of their adventures.

G. W. Zuban ’06 of Chesterfield, VA, studied at University of St. Andrews, Scotland, for the Spring Semester 2004.
G.W. chose St. Andrews because of its solid academic reputation and it because is substantially larger than Hampden-Sydney College but not in an urban environment. Early on, he could not find a building where one of his classes was held and stopped another student and asked directions; it turned out to be Prince William, who gave him directions.

Full Story…

Forrest Smith ’06 of Farmville, VA, spent the academic year at University of Glasgow.
He arrived the end of August. Forrest called it a “surreal experience.” “I always wanted to go to Scotland, and I threw myself into the culture. First, I tried haggis. It is a brilliant dish; I loved it. With haggis and a pint of Guinness you can’t go wrong. The people of Scotland are warm and friendly; if you ask directions, they don’t just give you directions they take you there.”
“The university experience was like independent study. Professors are very approachable but you are largely on your own. There is much reading. The routine is paper, project, exam, and go home.”
The rugged terrain is just as it would have been 400 or 500 years ago. This was the Scotland I went to see, and I was not disappointed. I traveled to Loch Ness and Loch Lomond and took 3- or 4-hour hikes on trails up the mountains. Scotland is so very green.

Jordan Gaul ’05, of West Chester, PA, spent the academic year at St. Catherines College, Oxford University, England.
“At Oxford there were no tests, study was entirely independent, lectures were optional, but evaluations were intense and individualized. It was the most thorough and rewarding system I have ever had the opportunity to study under.”

Full Story…


Mathew Anderson ’06 of Staunton, VA, spent his junior year in Paris on the Sweet Briar College Program.
“It was the best decision I have made thus far; of the 95 in the program, 10 were men.”
“We began with a month in Tours and then moved to Paris, where I lived with a host family and attended the Sorbonne. The Sorbonne is extremely different form Hampden-Sydney – huge classes, little support – a different experience.”
“Sweet Briar was great about side trips. We went to Monet’s Garden a Giverny and the American Cemetery at Normandy. I spent Christmas in Brussels. All the guys in the program decided to go to Sweden, and we found a 19 Euro plane fare to Stockholm. Several of us took a 16-day spring-break trip to Morocco including riding camels across the Sahara for two days. It was a phenomenal trip, so very different from anything I had ever seen. The skies and colors of Morocco are beyond belief.”
“Paris is a gift. It is all the sparkle and all the life you could hope for. Last year was the best year ever.”

Joseph Yarborough ’06, of Golf Shores, AL, spent the spring semester at James Cook University in Cairnes, Australia. He took courses in management, psychology, and aboriginal culture.
“I went with Mike Vassar (’06 of Midlothian, VA). Our study abroad conditions were that it was warm and everybody spoke English, and we found the right place.”
“In Australia what you learn above the surface is nothing to what you can learn under the water; diving with a whale is like being with a dinosaur.
We took a 3,000-mile 16-day road trip from Cairnes to Sidney. Up in the rain forests, there are trees that take a hundred years to grow. On the beaches the views are breathtaking. There are gorges with waterfalls that shake the earth. At Barron Bay are the prettiest sunsets you will ever see.”
“It was great experience. Anyone who gets a chance to study abound, just go for it.”

Monti Mercer ’06 of Fairfax, VA, took the May Term course in tropical biology in Costa Rica.

Full Story…

Daniel Gordon ’05 of Burke, VA, studied abroad in Grenoble, France, for two months last summer as part of the requirements for his French major.
“Grenoble is not a tourist town and most foreigners there are students. It is well located and I visited Paris, Verdun, Normandy, Dijon, and Monaco.”
“It was an experience everyone should have. I hope to return to spend a year.”

May Term 2004 in Costa Rica

By Monti Mercer ’06Dr. M. Carolina Y?er, Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology, parted from her family for two and half weeks to take eleven Hampden-Sydney men to Costa Rica for tropical biology research.  We were able to perform studies on plants and animals found at three biological stations located around the country, each with its own tropical forest genre.  The stations are run by the Organizations for Tropical Studies (OTS), a non-profit consortium that focuses on undergraduate and graduate level education in tropical biology.


Six days were spent on campus preparing for all the research that would be performed in Costa Rica.  It was decided that we would break up into five research groups to conduct the experiments at each station.  We got up early Sunday morning to catch our flight out of Richmond at 7:30 AM, only to have a seven hour layover in Miami.  After we explored either the beach or the airport to pass the time, we finally turned back our watches two hours and walked off the plane into the Costa Rican capital, San Jose.  We all made it through customs with no problems and were greeted outside the airport by a mass of the native people taking pictures and shouting, “Need Taxi?”  A bus soon carried us away into the heart of San Jose where we would spend one night at hotel la Amistad (Friendship) before going to the first biological station, Palo Verde.
During the four hour bus ride to the first station, the change in vegetation became evident.  Palo Verde is a dry forest located in the northern section of Costa Rica on the pacific coast.  Driving up to the main gates, a collection of dragon flies and iguanas were present to greet us.  Settling at this station for four nights, we were provided with three rooms containing two sets of bunk beds per room, a fan, and our own bathrooms with no hot water.  We were also given mosquito nets that fortunately weren’t of much need.  Besides having to check the beds for scorpions every night, the annoying insects that seemed to be immune to DEET, and the long hot afternoons, we were able to make Palo Verde home for the given time.  The five research groups spent the days hiking the different trials in order to obtain information on our topics.  On the second day we took a boat ride down a river that dumps into the Pacific.  A large variety of wild life can be spotted if you have a good eye.  The river is crocodile infested; one of the guys was able to touch one from the boat.  Three guys and Professor Yaber were able to sample raw shrimp sprinkled with fresh lime juice, caught by the boatman in the middle of the ride.  The last day was spent writing papers and we gave presentations of the research that night.  To take a break from research before going to the next research station, we found ourselves on another four hour trip to the beaches of Manuel Antonio, still on the Pacific side.  It began to rain a few hours after our arrival.  We had already agreed to spend this night together as a group, and the rain didn?t spoil that adventure.  The next morning the guys met with Dr. Y?er to go to the beach inside the National Park.  To our entertainment, as if the beach itself wasn’t enough, the guys watched a Squirrel Monkey climb down out of a tree, steal a package of Oreo cookies off a young lady’s towel, climb back up the tree, and enjoy the creme center.  Guess he never heard of the Honor Code.  After basking in the sun all morning, the group returned to the bus for yet another four hour drive.
The Wilson Botanical Garden at Las Cruces is located in the south, about twenty miles north of the border with Panama. Four nights were spent here with spectacular accommodations for researchers.  We had rooms for two with wooden floors and blinds, a balcony overseeing part of the forest, a bathroom with hot water, and a phone.  Although, Las Cruces has the best accommodations out of the three stations, it was the most difficult to gather research topics.  Since it is a botanical garden, most of its wild life is comprised of various plants and birds.  There is division in the group over which station had better food, La Cruces or Palo Verde.  La Cruces has more international style food compared to the typical Costa Rican food served in Palo Verde but it can be hard to please some international travelers especially when every Costa Rican meal contains beans and rice.  We all enjoyed La Cruces and would not have been in a hurry to leave except the next stop was at a volcano.

The nine hour bus ride north to the active Arenal Volcano turned out to be a great experience for those who could stay up.  As the group got closer and closer to the volcano, we became surrounded by overcast and there was no change once we arrived at our destination.  The school had already arranged for an elaborate candle light dinner, so we became indulged with that believing we wouldn’t see the volcano erupt.  After dinner, a little before midnight, seven of us were relaxing in the Jacuzzi and celebrating one of the guy?s twentieth birthday, when we glimpsed a break in the clouds revealing fireworks shooting out of the mouth of Arenal into the empty black sky for a teasing five minutes.

We all watched Arenal in the morning light with hopes of seeing something red as we headed towards the last station in La Selva.  Being in a tropical rainforest, La Selva is full of more species of plants and animals than Las Cruces and Palo Verde combined.  The lab equipment available at this station was the best of the three stations; each group made efforts to use and learn about the different types of equipment.  The best research projects were performed here and were comprised of the following subjects: Leaf-cutter Ants, Bullet Ants, Fig Wasp, and Helliconiae plants.  The food and living accommodations were least liked here out of the three stations and it rained a lot, but the students still enjoyed their stay.  To celebrate the end of all of our research, the group played ultimate Frisbee and took their last hike through the tropical jungle together.

The Last day in Costa Rica was spent in San Jose.  It was comforting to return back to our starting place, la Amistad.  Most of the guys made use of time trying to see everything in the city before it was time to head towards the airport.  We learned a lot from this trip, from increasing our own biological knowledge, to experiencing Costa Rican culture and customs.  The guys began to discuss and really to respect true family values witnessed here.  We were all ready to go home and share our experiences with friends and family.  Thanks to Dr. Y?er and Hampden-Sydney we did it together in the brotherhood, and some of our experiences will never be forgotten.

My Big Fat Greek May Term

By Jonathan Miyashiro ’06It’s our last day in Greece, and I’m about to be arrested right here on the Acropolis.


“Give me the cassette or I’ll call the police,” said an irate curator.

How did I ever get into this mess?

The May Term Greece group left Richmond on May 12, oddly enough encountering Professors Dubroff and Kagan, headed off on a skiing trip.  After an exhausting flight to New York and then to Athens, we met up with Dr. Arieti, who had gone ahead to get our affairs in order.  Our group consisted of Dr. Roger Barrus, his wife Diane, Dr. James Arieti, and (back row, left to right) Christian Davidson ’05, Brandon Chiesa ’05, Stephen Abbitt ’06, Austin Stracke ’03, John Axsom ’05, me, and Blake Tucker ’04.  Front Row (left to right) Lex Rickenbaker ’05,  Evan Osborn ’06, Rusty Foster ’04,  J. B. Billings ’05, Clint Askins ’06, Diego Almeida ’06.  Ty Blount ’05, Cam Bowdren ’05, and Yousef Jabri ’04 were also part of the group as was Professor Bronwyn O’Grady who was along for the ride.

We began with a tour of Athens, visiting the usual sites such as the Agora and the Acropolis. That is most of us did.  Steven Abbitt fell ill and had to be taken to the hospital.  Along for the ride were Dr. Barrus and John Axsom. The hospital itself was an experience, more akin to a Felliniesque madhouse than a medical ward.  While waiting at the hospital, John Axsom saw one patient with a slash across his throat get into a fight with a nurse.

As for the rest of us, we explored the city on our own before having class. Our classes generally met in the evenings.  For Dr. Arieti’s “Humanism in Antiquity” class, we read Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, a good summation of ancient philosophical thought. For “Classical Political Philosophy,” taught by Dr. Barrus, we read Plato’s Republic, the book that preserved the philosophical tradition in the western world.

During our stay in Athens, our group took a one-day excursion to Aegina, a lovely little island a few miles out to sea and home of the oldest, and perhaps the most charming, Doric temple. From Athens we took an overnight ferry to Crete.  There we toured ancient Minoan ruins at Knossos and Phaistos, remnants of Europe?s oldest civilization.  One of the highlights of our trip was the 11-mile hike down Samaria Gorge.  From the mountains of Crete’s southern coast we trekked through one of Europe’s most beautiful trails to a small beachside town at the mouth of the river.

From Crete we took a ferry to Santorini, an exceedingly beautiful ring-shaped island.  Thought to be the site of the lost city of Atlantis, Santorini now boasts picturesque towns and black sand beaches.

Our next stop was Mykonos, one of the hottest party spots in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, we arrived before the summer vacation season began and the island served us only as a jumping off point to the nearby island of Delos.  Delos was one of the most sacred sites in ancient Greece.  During the fifth century it served as the treasury for the Delian League, an alliance of Greek cities that soon became the Athenian Empire.  We stayed on Mykonos just long enough for Clint Askins and Austin Stracke to rent and subsequently wreck two mopeds.

Returning to the mainland, we visited such notable sites as the temple of Poseidon at Sounion and Marathon, where the Athenians defeated a force of Persian invaders, thus saving western civilization.  After stopping at Eretria and Chalkis, ancient rivals in the first panhellinic war, we moved on to Delphi.  Delphi, located at the navel of the world, was the home of the most famous oracle in ancient Greece.  At the site of the Pythian Games we held a footrace between J. B. Billings and Bill Taylor, which ended in a tie.  The Pythian games were one of the most important sporting events in ancient Greece, aside from the Olympics.

At Olympia we had our own version of the Olympics right on the field where the ancient Greeks would have competed.  Diego Almeida emerged victorious in the long awaited footrace against Dr. Arieti.

One of the biggest highlights of the trip occurred at Mycenae, the home of King Agamemnon. Brandon Chiesa, Clint Askins, and myself ventured into a pitch-black, 99-step cistern (entrance at left) with nothing but a cigarette lighter to guide our path.  As another group of tourists left, we crept deeper into the tunnel, searching for the bottom, where water is collected.  A loud splash followed.

“I found it,” exclaimed a soaked Chiesa.

 Other highlights included the theater of Epidaurus (right), the most impressive and well preserved in Greece, and the canal at the isthmus of Corinth.

On our last day, a few of us went back to the Acropolis to say farewell and take a few last minute photos. The trouble began when a student, who wished to go unnamed, tried to take some photos in front of the Parthenon with a stuffed animal.  This, as we later found out, is forbidden.  Several curators yelled at us and tried to confiscate the offending animal.  Then one of them noticed that I had John Axsom’s video camera.

“Give me the cassette or I’ll call the police,” he said.

Unwilling to give up someone else’s video memories, I refused.  After some strained negotiations, we ended up with a compromise: the footage of the incident would be taped over.  With the situation diffused, we decided we’d better leave before infuriating more touchy Athenians.  Despite the sour farewell, we left with fond memories of one of the greatest experiences of our lives.

H-SC Students Conclude an Unforgettable Experience in Spain

by Wesley R. Sholtes ’05

From May 17 to June 21, 2003, Assistant Professor of Modern Languages Dieudonne Afatsawo, Lecturer in Modern Languages Keith Sprouse, and fifteen Hampden-Sydney students spent an arduous, but highly enjoyable, May Term Study Abroad program in Alcala de Henares, Spain.


The program, which combined the teaching styles of native Spanish-speaking professors with those of Afatsawo and Sprouse, included three hours of class each morning and several excursion trips.  In order to maximize their immersion into the language and culture of Spain, students also stayed with host families who only spoke Spanish.  

 Among the noteworthy cities and sites that the group visited were Madrid, Sevilla, Avila, El Escorial, El Valle de los Ca?dos, Toledo, all renowned for their historical and cultural relevance to Spain.  Students spent time gawking at cathedrals, castles, an aqueduct, huge stone walls, a huge monument to Franco, and famous paintings and artwork in the Museum Prado and the Reina de Sofia.  The excursions usually involved walking long distances and carrying bocadillos for lunch, all the while sweating profusely under the fierce Spanish sun.

Tony Quitiquit (far right in picture above), a sophomore from Emporia, VA, participating in the 201-202 class taught by Sprouse, offers his comments about the quality of the program from an academic standpoint.  “I learned more in five weeks than I would [have learned] in two semesters,” says Quitiquit.  “I would have liked it a little more relaxed.”   Quitiquit says that some nights he was unable to go out of his house because he had to study in order to get a decent grade.  “May term is just as much about experiencing the country,” he asserts.

The 303-485 class, on the other hand, viewed their work load as relatively light in comparison, although the class itself was far from easy. The upper level class attended several lectures in Madrid, gave daily oral presentation analyzing a news article or television show, and wrote several papers. Despite these challenges, advanced students generally had time to enjoy Spain and improve their Spanish through constant exposure to locals.

Such exposure often took place off the beaten path of tourists, especially with regard to the nightlife in Alcal? de Henares.  Many students spent time in bars and discotheques that, on weekends, are open as late as 8:00 in the morning. As one might gather, a few students spent practically the whole night partying before going to class or to their excursion.

In a couple of instances, such habits caused disharmony with the professors. Yet despite a couple of foolish incidents, many found themselves more mature after a month of freedom in a foreign county.  According to Quitiquit, “There was a lot of [growing up] on the trip.”

Quitiquit believes that the friendships he made with both the native Spaniards and American students studying in Alcala made his trip to Spain worthwhile. “I can come back to Spain and have a home.”  Students made good friends with Spaniards and with a number of Latin Americans visiting Spain to work or study.  Some were from Mexico, Argentina, and Chile.

However, because many American students were studying at the nearby University of Alcala de Henares, Hampden-Sydney students found it all too easy to hang out with them and to speak English.  Hampden-Sydney students made friendships with other students from Alabama, North Carolina, Ohio, Arizona, California, and other states.

Favorite pastimes for students included eating tapas and hanging out in the Plaza de Cervantes, a familiar gathering place for the Spanish people in which it is the custom to sit down and socialize for several hours.  In fact, Spanish people never visit each other’s houses for social purposes; rather, they go out to a plaza or park to pass the time of day or night.  As a result, couples kissing or embracing on benches in public is a familiar sight.

The typical family in Spain does not spend much time working while at home. After meals, the primary activity is watching television; they only have a few channels. The food is simple but served in large quantities, especially at lunch, which is the biggest meal by a long shot. After the main meal, which is eaten no earlier than two in the afternoon but usually later, the Spanish people take a siesta until about 5 or 5:30.  Our students would usually spend this time with their host families before going out again around six.  Supper was served around nine or later.

During the four-day vacation set aside by the program for traveling, a majority of the students elected to take a trip to the beaches of Mallorca, a large island off the east coast of Spain in the Mediterranean.  While staying at a four-star hotel designed for vacationing families, students cooked meals for themselves in their rooms and got sunburned on the beach.  Quitiquit thoroughly enjoyed “sitting under straw huts, eating pineapple, and looking out at the clear, blue water.” A few students also took the opportunity to go snorkeling nearby.

Toward the end of the trip, a few students went to a bullfight.  At the bullfight, matadors alternated and killed five bulls altogether, while a sixth lived to see another day. The matadors demonstrated an impressive display of hand-eye coordination and strength.  Excitingly, the last bull charged at and succeeded in knocking over a well-armored horse and its rider, whose purpose for the bullfight was to weaken the charging bull by stabbing the bull in the neck using a long pole with a sharp prong on the end.

Other students went shopping in Madrid on occasion and visited the swimming pool when it opened toward the end of the trip.  One student even went to another beach with a female bartender from Mr. Donkey, perhaps the most popular bar among the students because of its adaptation of the American concept of happy hour.  Still others played soccer in the park from time to time.

When all was said and done, everyone was ready to go home when the time came.  However, when they look back on their experiences, they will never forget them.  Nor will I. I highly recommend the program to anyone looking to get six credits in Spanish and enjoy a foreign country to the maximum.

Costa Rica: anything but “plain and simple”

by J. Devin Watson ’06Dr. Maria C. Yaber recently took twelve Hampden-Sydney men to Costa Rica for a tropical biology class.  We studied the various plants and animals found in three tropical forests located throughout the country, spending a total of sixteen days in Costa Rica.  All of our research was conducted at three biological stations run by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), which also offers several graduate and undergraduate classes at the three stations.


After a week of preparation at Hampden-Sydney, we left early on the morning of May 25 from Raleigh-Durham Airport.  After a quick one-hour layover in Miami, we boarded the plane that would take us to San Jose.  Going through customs in San Jose was tedious, but we were excited to be in a different country; for some of us, it was our first time leaving the States. We spent the afternoon of our first day exploring San Jose and finding a place to eat.  Since the airlines have ceased serving food, we were all famished.  We met that night at the Grand Hotel and Casino of Costa Rica and enjoyed an upscale, authentic Costa Rican meal.

The next day we departed slightly later than planned due to some minor thefts and endured a four-hour bus ride to our first research station, Palo Verde.  Palo Verde is a dry tropical forest located in the northern pacific coast.  We spent a total of five days there.  Confronted by numerous clouds of mosquitoes and several inches of rain, the group was unsure how we were going to conduct all of our experiments.  Despite the afternoon showers and the droves of mosquitoes, we managed to conduct plenty of field experiments, gathering enough data for six group papers.  Fortunately, the food at Palo Verde was exceptionally good, which kept up the group’s morale that was tested by the clouds of mosquitoes.  We were able to convince Dr. Yaber to let us spend one of our five days allotted at Palo Verde on the beach at La Playa de Ocotal, a small beach with black volcanic sand, lots of fish, and a nice restaurant/bar. We spent the day swimming, throwing Frisbee, and marveling at the beautiful sights.

We left Palo Verde on Saturday, May 30, to travel to the Wilson Botanical Gardens at Las Cruces biological station, also run by the OTS.  We endured a grueling 11-hour bus ride all the way from the northern pacific coast to the southwestern part of the country, about 20 miles from Panama.  There we conducted research projects on subjects ranging from epiphytic interactions on palm and deciduous trees to the amounts of insect larvae found in Helliconiae plants.  We hiked the various trails around the station and some of us even went swimming in the Java River.  Rodo Quir?, the head biologist at Las Cruces, gave us a lecture on the current projects aimed at restoring the nearby pastures to secondary tropical rain forests.  We thoroughly enjoyed the spacious accommodations, the reprieve from the mosquitoes, as well as the great food.  We were all disappointed to leave.

After four days at Las Cruces, we left for La Selva, a tropical rain forest biological station in the Caribbean lowlands.  This would be our last research station and also the place where we would have to collect the most data and report more detailed findings.  La Selva contains fifty-six species of snakes, seven of them being poisonous, meaning we had to be careful where we stepped.  Two of the three groups studied the behavior of leaf-cutter ants, while others studied the golden-orb spiders and granddaddy long legs.  We were relieved once our presentations and papers were finished and were ready to go back to San Jose to buy souvenirs for our families and friends.

We enjoyed our experiences in Costa Rica and would highly recommend the class to future students, especially to students interested in ecology and environmental science or those who simply enjoy hiking and studying exotic animals.

May Term in France

by Joe Webb ’03
Photos by Professor Bob Blackman 

From May 26 to June 13, fourteen HSC students, including myself, spent May Term in Paris with Professors Joan E. McRae, Ray Kleinlein of Davidson College (husband of Professor McRae), and Bob Blackman. The purpose of this May Term experience was to learn that the French really do not despise Americans, only the rude ones. With that in mind, everyone got the chance to learn about French culture, history, and art. 


The culture part, which was taught by our fearless leader, Dr. Joan E. McRae, was a means to experience the ways of the French. We were encouraged to use as much French as we possibly knew in our dealings with the locals in places like the train station, the cafes, and the post office. The French really appreciated our effort, and they provided us with the best possible hospitality, and we enjoyed our stay. We experienced some of the fine French wines and foods that cannot be purchased in the United States. We also got a good understanding of French labor unions and their willingness to go on strike to press their demands. While we were in Paris, the metro workers exercised that right to strike, which resulted in the trains not running as often.

From Professor Ray Kleinlein, we viewed and came to understand some of the best of the art in which the French take a great deal of pride. We saw some of the principal works of Monet, Inges, and David at Versailles, the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Pompedieu, and other great museums. It was clear that when major events changed the political, social, or cultural life of their hexagon-shaped nation, French artists had something to say about it in their art. 

 As for the history, Dr. Bob Blackman shared his knowledge of France from the Revolution of 1789 to the 1960s. To complement our readings, we visited many historical sites including Omaha Beach in Normandy. France has a number of fascinating and controversial historical figures such as the Bourbon Kings, Napolean Bonaparte, and Charles de Gaulle.

Overall, May Term in Paris was a huge success. On behalf of the students who participated, I would personally like to thank Professors McRae, Kleinlein, and Blackman for their patience and efforts to make the experience an outstanding one. From this experience, I personally learned that the French can and always will be friends of the United States as long as we speak and walk softly within the realms of their great nation. After all, let’s not forget that they helped us to become a nation free of British rule.

Spain Anyone?

by Thomas O. Robbins ’04In his famous work La España Invisible, Azorín writes about the richness of Spain in all aspects of its composition from history to geography to culture. He emphasizes that there is a spiritual atmosphere. The students participating in the 2002 May Term Spanish Immersion Program can corroborate Azorín’s argument. The program was, to say the least, an intense immersion program.


Twenty-four students traveled to Alcadá de Henares with Professor Dieudonne Afatsawo and Professor Jana DeJong.

Students were placed with families who introduced them to various aspects of Spanish culture. The use of host families is not a new concept to the city of Alcalá de Henares. The custom of host families is closely tied to the Universidad de Alcalá and has been going on since the 14th Century. In general, these families did not speak any English, so students learned very quickly how to communicate. Families taught students essential terminology about household items. For example, meals were an excellent opportunity to teach students various types of food. In addition, host families were available for help with any matter like directions, recommendations of tours, etc.

The family offered a look at cultural differences in family life, but our classes offered a view of academic and educational standards in Spain. Participants could choose Intermediate Language Skills or Culture and Contemporary Issues in Spanish Society. However, one should not be misled. Each set of classes was very challenging. Each weekday, classes met for four hours of instruction followed by homework. The classes are normally taught over the course of a year, so the same amount of information was condensed into four weeks of instruction. Moreover, active participation in the classroom discussion was  required. Debates and discussion topics were supplemented with trips to local historical sites. While the Culture Class (303) was discussing Spanish architecture, the class would take field trips to nearby cathedrals or other structures to determine the style and influence the structure might have had. The local cathedral was a mixture of Roman columns with Visigoth detail. In the Contemporary Issues class, we regularly traveled to Madrid for press conferences, roundtable discussions, and scholarly presentations. Similarly, the entire group would go on excursions during the week and weekends. These trips would be to a destination relatively far from Madrid. Excursions included cities such as Avila, Segovia, and Toledo. These adventures augmented classroom activities from the past week. Excursions had a formal tour followed by leisure time for independent exploration.

On the other hand, the group truly adhered to the Hampden-Sydney adage of “work hard, play hard.” The social life offerings in a city like Alcalá were quite different from those of Farmville. One popular hangout was the Plaza de Cervantes, the town’s center, named for the famous author of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes. The Plaza featured open-air bars and restaurants, cafes, and shopping venues. The bars are an integral part of the social life of Spain. Weekend nights were reserved for time at bars and at midnight a migration to a discotheque of your choice. Personally, I found the Coliseum Disco to be quite lively. My host family found it odd that I returned home at 2 A.M. They told me that the average college student stayed out at the clubs until 5 A.M.!

While bars might, arguably, be the most popular forum for discourse, I found my host family’s patio to be a common place of communication. My family was very close. Every meal forwarded the opportunity for questions to be answered. Siesta was also a convenient time to talk or relax from a hard day’s work. Siesta is a period to time, usually an hour or two after lunch, used to relax; however, this is not the end of the day. Work and school commenced again after the siesta.

The Program illuminated another particularly important facet: group dynamics. There was a clearly noticeable change in the group between the times we departed from Dulles Airport (DC) until our return voyage from Spain. Leisure time was sparse, but the group seemed to find something enjoyable to do. While bars and the Plaza were popular hangouts, many students opted to spend free time exploring the various Spains. My first trip was hiking in a nearby city called Cercedilla. Cercedilla is well-known in Spain for its hiking trails and rich natural environment. The train ride offered a glimpse of the diverse biogeography that quickly changed from a desert-like plain to green agricultural fields to a lush mountain valley.

(left to right) Hunter Burnette ’05, Thom Robbins ’04, Joshua Thurston ’03, Meade Stone ’04 in Valencia

 Yet, the most memorable trip would have to be Valencia. A group of four Hampden-Sydney guys embarked on a trip to see the Mediterranean Sea. However, our trip began with a series of problems. First, we missed our train, so we had to regroup and develop another plan. Every door seemed to shut in our faces. We did not despair. Finally, we, with much frustration, decided to spend only one day at the beach and depart very early the following morning. That day we learned a lot about the varying strengths of each person in the group. Traveling with friends in a foreign country really has a profound effect on individuals to work together. Other students took trips to places like Mundaka and Cordoba.

Although traveling presented a perfect opportunity to bond with new friends, camaraderie was also seen through every aspect of the trip. Students were always helping one another study for a coming examination or explaining the difference between future and conditional conjugations. Perhaps the single thing that I will remember most will be the time spent with friends, be it through studying, discussing a multitude of issues ranging from religion to Spanish societal issues, or sharing stories about pastimes with host families.

Azorín would be delighted with the merits of the program. It truly captured the essence of the various Spains. Students left with only two desires: sleep and additional time in Spain.

At Casa de la Americas, Madrid
(kneeling in front)
Matthew Anderson ’05, Zack Hunt ’03

(standing left to right)
Wesley Lawson ’04, Joshua Thurston ’03, Jesse Joyce ’03,  Matthew Friedman ’03,  Michael Roberts ’05,  Derek Barker ’03,  Thom Robbins ’04, Adrian Allen ’04, and Seth Jenkins ’02

An incredible experience

On September 6, many of the nearly 60 Hampden-Sydney students who had engaged in international study during the past year gathered to talk about their experiences.

Most frequently used expressions: “I would go back in a heart beat,” “It was good for me,” “I made great friends,” “It made me appreciate Hampden-Sydney.” Consensus: the food was so, so; it rains a great deal in the British Isles, much beer and wine was consumed; we learned a lot, and it was an incredible experience.

For Hampden-Sydney students who grew up in small towns, one of the greatest adjustments was to city life. During a metro strike in Paris, David Price ’02 from Collinsville, VA, who was with the Sweet Briar Program, had to walk two and half hours to class. “Really, once you get to understand how the French think and what their ideas are and what their customs are, they are very nice people, and I made numerous friends.”

For Edward Finnerty ’02 from Charleston, SC, Dublin was a challenge. Good public transportation is nonexistent, “everyday something happened, but you just had to laugh.” Despite the municipal shortcomings, Teddy, who studied psychology at Trinity College, asserts that in Dublin, “every night was a brand new experience; it was really fun. Anybody our age should definitely go there…just to witness the madness.”

Logan Wanamaker ’02 spent a year in Granada. He stayed with a host family for the first semester. “It was a little overwhelming when they picked me up and drove me into the city; I am from a small town [Durango, CO] and had never lived in a city.” Second semester, Logan lived in an apartment downtown with two young Italian women and two young Spanish women, which was “a big switch from Hampden-Sydney. First semester I got in a rut and I was hanging out with Americans and going out with Americans but once I moved in with my other roommates, my Spanish really took off.” He spent free days on the beach at la Costa del Sol and on weekends went skiing in the Sierra Nevada. “I brought my skis over and made great friends up at the ski resort, so I had buddies that I got to go skiing with. To have something that you really enjoy to share with someone from another country was really special to me.” He traveled all over Spain, to southern Portugal, Morocco, into the Sahara by camel to Marrakech, to Majorca, and through the Basque country. “Now when I look at a map of Spain I know what every town looks like and all the history behind it. It was an incredible experience.”

McKay Johnson ’02 from Atlanta, GA, studied international business at the University of Victoria in Wellington, New Zealand. He traveled all over New Zealand, which is “absolutely beautiful, very green, mountains everywhere.” The New Zealanders call hiking tramping, and McKay did plenty of tramping. The study was initiative based. There were no textbooks; it was up to you how much you learned, and people there study “real hard.” The New Zealanders are “absolutely great people, friendly, real nice.” He encountered the indigenous Moari culture that, although poorly treated in the beginning, the New Zealanders did not try to exterminate them as was done to the indigenous populations in the United States and Australia. Today, the two cultures live well together. McKay visited Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Burma. “It is incredible [in Burma] to see the struggle that is going on for human rights.” He spent a month in China traveling from Hong Kong to Beijing meeting local people. “It was an incredible experience. The government is screwed up, but I cannot tell you how nice the people are and how beautiful the country is.”

Bert Drummond ’02 from Hampton, VA, participated in the Antioch College Program in Germany, Poland, Hungary, and the United Kingdom. There were 11 students in the program with a 23-year old Polish leader: according to Bert, “she is beautiful with a moving personality.” The program centered on an independent research project based on interviews and experiences. “Our professor, Manfred McDowell, is a brilliant man and an atheist, which contrasted to me as a Christian, and one of my majors is religion. My independent study had to do with the theory of secularization in terms of Europe. I had to be extremely objective and use nothing but facts and data in writing. It was really challenging for me and healthy. Poland and Hungary are extraordinary places with extraordinary people. Hungary has a large Romanian population who, believe it or not, are more discriminated against than African-Americans in the United States. In the Polish villages, people are under such [economic] duress. They are in a completely different situation than we are; yet, we had so much in common when we talked to each other. I lived with a Jewish family in Budapest; Jewish life in Europe, especially Central Europe, is an whole different world.”

“We stayed in London for a month. We went from Poland where people are warm, compassionate, and friendly to London where everyone is not so warm, compassionate, and friendly. England is an extremely secular society. I think I saw the sun for maybe two consecutive hours on one day, but you get used to it after awhile. It was so fun, so fun.”

Six Hampden-Sydney students participated in the Virginia Program at Oxford and studied at St. Anne’s College. According to Kerr Ramsay of Raleigh, NC, dormitory life was less than luxurious, “the shower was the size of a toilet,” but “the library you study in was founded by James I, I think about the time of Jamestown. In the upper reading rooms you can see where Charles I had his government during the English Civil War and there is a place where you can still see the burn marks where Bloody Mary [Mary Tudor] burned Protestants at the stake.”

Andrew Walshe ’02, from Herndon, VA, spent a year at the London School of Economics. “It was more work than I thought it would be, but it was a good experience.” The school was filled with a very diverse group of people and “absolutely brilliant” people. “I was just hanging on for dear life at the beginning, but, by the end of it, I was doing OK, and everything worked out really well. We had amazing lecturers. It was tremendous. After lectures, you go to class with graduate students; every graduate assistant I had was from a different country: England, Germany, Italy, Greece, and Holland. On all, it was good experience and a good time. Living in London was tremendous.”

Andy Yarborough ’02, Gulf Shores, AL, studied for a semester at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, a small, about 3000, university on the northeast coast. He lived in student lodge with students from all over world. “The land is unbelievable: it is nearly impossible to be bored: you can draw so much enjoyment from the land.” In his indigenous studies courses, Andy learned that the treatment of Aborigines was comparable to that of Native Americans, and race relations in Australia are still delicate. He went out into different aboriginal communities and befriended a head of a clan who took him out into the bush, interpreted aboriginal rock art, and to ancient initiation sites. “I was lucky to be able to go and to get in with the people I did. I saw places where land is still totally pristine and untouched by civilization, a far cry from anything that I have seen in the States.”