Welcome to the Broncos Abroad blog page, where you can follow the adventures of Boise State faculty and staff members who will participate in education abroad programs this summer thanks to grants from the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC).
Faculty International Development Award (FIDA) recipients participate in summer 2018 language programs as students and upon their return assist with the promotion of education abroad across campus. FIDA award recipients give brown bag presentations about their experiences during International Education Week every fall. They also attend the annual study abroad fair (held in September) and meet with interested students about their experiences. Click on a name at left to follow a specific blogger.
Meet our Summer 2018 FIDA bloggers:
Session I FIDAs
Steph Cox has taught for the BSU English department since 1994. She teaches first-year writing, creative nonfiction, and foundational studies. Steph hopes this summer course in Lyon will invigorate her own writing practice, and she is grateful to the BSU Global Learning Opportunities for their generosity in supporting her adventure.
Meghan Holton is currently a Senior Enrollment Counselor in the Admissions office. She oversees the Bronco Ambassador program (volunteer student tour guides) and coordinates group campus visits. Meghan also oversees the customer service team in Admissions and recruits future Broncos from Colorado, Wyoming, and the Treasure Valley. Prior to beginning her role in Admissions in July 2017, she served as a Program Coordinator for Orientation and First Year Outreach in the New Student Programs office for about 3 years. Meghan relocated to Boise from Virginia after completing her M.Ed in Higher Education Administration at the College of William & Mary and her Bachelor’s of Science in Human Development at Virginia Tech.
Session II FIDAs
Ryan Brevik received a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from Western Washington University and a Master of Business Administration from Boise State University. Ryan has taught laboratory courses in general chemistry, health sciences chemistry, organic chemistry, and analytical chemistry for the past five years at Boise State University. Ryan works at TRIO Rising Scholars as the STEM Educational Specialist. In this role, he serves as an advisor and advocate for 180 first generation and limited income Boise State students. Ryan is excited to expose TRIO and STEM students to global opportunities and encourage them to study abroad while they pursue their educational goals. In San Sebastian, Ryan is looking forward to pintxos, surfing, and immersing himself in the Basque culture.
Monica Hubbard is an Assistant Professor in Boise State University’s School of Public Service. Dr. Hubbard comes to Boise State University from Oregon State University where she completed her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. At Boise State University Dr. Hubbard teaches courses on Environmental Politics, Water Policy and Governance, Public Policy Processes, Policy Analysis, and the Public Policy and Administration’s Capstone. Dr. Hubbard’s research interests and foci are in the fields of environmental policy; natural resource management; land use transition; and emerging water contaminants. Her M.S. research examined the fate, transport and policy implications of emerging contaminants, specifically pharmaceutical drugs. The doctoral research assessed Oregonians’ level of knowledge and risk perception concerning Oregon’s water resources. Prior to graduate school Dr. Hubbard was an energy and environmental policy analyst focusing on corporate environmental accounting, compliance, and greenhouse gas accounting. Dr. Hubbard holds a Bachelors of Science, Masters of Science in Water Resources, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Science.
Meet our Summer 2017 FIDA bloggers:
Summer session I
Cheryl Oestreicher, San Sebastian, Spain
Dr. Cheryl Oestreicher has an M.L.I.S. from Dominican University (College of St. Catherine) and Ph.D. in Modern History and Literature from Drew University. Her dissertation is titled “The Quest for Happiness: An Analysis of Joshua Loth Liebman’s Peace of Mind.” She came to Albertsons Library at Boise State University in 2012 as the Head of Special Collections and Archives/Assistant Professor. Before coming to Boise State, she was a project archivist at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History in Atlanta, Georgia. There she managed the arrangement and description of the Andrew J. Young Papers, the Jean Childs Young Papers, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Atlanta Branch Records, and the Center for Democratic Renewal Records.
Summer session II
Tom Hillard, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Dr. Tom J. Hillard is an Associate Professor of English at Boise State University, where he teaches courses on early American literature, environmental literary studies, Western American literature, and the literary Gothic. Dr. Hillard joined the English Department in 2007, after earning his Ph.D. in English from the University of Arizona, an M.A. in Literature and the Environment from the University of Nevada, Reno, and a B.A. in English from Boise State University. His current research and scholarship focuses on the intersections between fear, writing about nature, and the literary Gothic in 19th-century American literature and culture. He is co-editor of the book Before the West Was West: Critical Essays on Pre-1800 Literature of the American Frontiers (University of Nebraska Press, 2014).
Holly Mikesell works in the Office of the Provost as Project Coordinator for Academic Planning. In her role as Project Coordinator, Holly works with departments on the proposals of new programs and on the development of department strategic plans. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer, Holly is working with the Center for Global Education to offer a Peace Corps Prep program to Boise State students. Through this new program, Holly is excited to expose Boise State students to global opportunities while on campus and encourage them to pursue careers and experiences overseas after graduation. As a student, Holly studied abroad in Budapest, Hungary, and in conjunction with her Master’s degree served in the Peace Corps in Corozal Town, Belize.
What did I learn in the five weeks as a USAC FIDA? As a seasoned veteran to life I didn’t think it was possible to learn something new. I was wrong and in fact came away with more than imagined.
I learned a great deal in my three classes: Sociology of Food taught by Dr. Amy Blackstone of University of Maine. Introduction to Italian with Serena Marrocco, who was terrific and in five weeks taught us more than I thought possible to learn in 50 weeks. And I learned how to cook in the Cuisine Introductory Aperitivo with pastry chef Renée Abou Jaoudé.
From our field trips I learned that climate change is already impacting agriculture and ecosystems in Italy. The wine industry has started to harvest grapes in August when the harvest traditionally took place in September. Olives fall into the same boat with an earlier harvest. I’m curious how this shift in timing will influence the traditional holiday season, and how the traditional holiday season will impact the harvest.
I learned about Italy’s food systems. Including the roles of history and culture has on environmental issues, such as GMO use and labeling in Europe. I learned what “local” food means in Italy and how it is substantially different than what “local” means at home.
I learned that what is an invasive species in the U.S. is a keystone species in Italy. For example, Salt Cedar.
I learned that Viterbo has many adorable dogs and cats. Including this one who would not let us pet him.
I learned that a building can start as a convent, become a prison, and finally a place of learning called Università degli Studi della Tuscia.
I learned to bring a pen to a test.
I learned that you should not loan nice pens to the undergrads who did not bring a pen to a test.
I learned some words and euphoniums which I will not repeat in this blog.
I learned that food cooked at home does not turn out as good as food cooked in class.
I learned a new system of recycling.
I learned that traveling abroad and studying abroad are different. They share many of the same challenges (language, norms, etc…), but there is something about learning how to settle down and live in a new place. Albeit for a short amount of time.
I learned how to be a student again. And from this, I think it will help me be a better instructor.
I learned about the USAC program and studying abroad.
As far as studying abroad in Viterbo – would I recommend it to others? Absolutely, especially for those who are living abroad for the first time. Why Viterbo? For one the city – it is the perfect size, easy to get around and has everything you need. It is a easy place to learn – or in my case try to learn – Italian. There are nearby natural areas (see previous blog post) for those who want to get a hike in. Compared to other places, it is inexpensive; my housing, food, and other expenses were less than my expenses in Boise Idaho. And – this is the big one – the town residents are incredibly warm, patient and kind.
The primary reason for studying in Viterbo with USAC, it is the Viterbo USAC itself. The classes available are diverse and provides students a taste of Italy, yet applicable in the U.S. And the instructors and USAC advisors are amazing! Because Viterbo is centrally located USAC takes students on numerous field trips, including Rome, Florence and Southern Italy. But the biggest reason to study abroad in Viterbo with USAC are the people with USAC, Francesca Del Giudice and Luisa Quatrini. They have the USAC machine fine-tuned and running smoothly. The students LOVE them, and it is easy to see why. At the end of the program the students had an unofficial award ceremony – Luisa was awarded with the title of “Allora Queen” and Francesca “USAC Mom.”
This is my last blog. With this, I would like to say thanks to all those at BSU Global Learning Opportunities (GLO), USAC Viterbo, the residents of Viterbo, Dr. and Mr. Blackstone, and of course, the students from the USAC Viterbo summer session II – you made the summer amazing.
Is the title of this post cheesy? The answer is yes, yes it is. But what else can I call my last post in Italy?
Allora……all good things must come to an end. And by good things I mean my time as a FIDA with the Viterbo USAC, not my blogs. I doubt anyone will be sad to see those come to an end.
Va bene, during the last week I found myself trying to visit the spots I come to love. These included the meat and cheese shop Il Nostrano, Edan Fruits (they sell fruit), Pasticceria Garibaldi (they sell pastries), the gelateria Un Sacco Buono, Catina Dei Papi (yummy food), and Mat – where I saw some great live music. Please keep in mind all the shops and restaurants in Viterbo are terrific, these are just the ones that were near me, had people I enjoyed talking to, and amazing foods.
I also attended my last classes. In the Italian cooking class we were “in” Tuscany and learned a few dishes, including how to make fresh homemade pasta. In Italian language class I learned I am not fluent in Italian, but know enough to order food! And finally, the sociology of food course I guest lectured on the cultural comparison of the use and labeling of GM foods between the U.S. and Italy.
The last week had two going away and end of the session events. The first was a pizza dinner at Il Molino hosted by the USAC students. It was bitter-sweet as Il Molino was the spot we all first met and ate. Funny how the vibe and banter changed from the first to our last dinner; from strangers getting to know each other to friends.
The students provided a surprise in the form of an “award” ceremony. The students and four “adults” – Francesca and Luisa from USAC, Visiting Professor Dr. Blackstone, and myself – all received an award in the form of a title.
My title or should I say titles? “Most likely to say what others are thinking” and “most relatable professor to ever exist.”
Thank you students, I am honored!
It was at dinner when we learned George Clooney was in Viterbo to film a series called Catch 22. I have to admit, it was pretty exciting to see the city transformed to Viterbo 1943. In case you are curious, Viterbo 1943 didn’t look much different than Viterbo 2018.
Friday USAC hosted an end-of-the session gathering with a bit of gelato. It was simultaneously heartwarming and sad to say good-bye to the students, USAC directors, and class instructors. All terrific people. I was fortunate to have been able to spend time with them all.
Wow – five weeks sure go by fast!
For the person who accidentally read one of my earlier blogs you already know a little about Viterbo. It is a walled city and inside the walls one can spend countless hours wandering around, eating, shopping and soaking in the history. It’s a great place. As terrific as it is I decided to take the leap and leave the security of the walls to explore the world outside. I am happy to say that outside the Viterbo walls is just as amazing as inside.
One day while wandering (aka while lost) inside the walls I saw a “Via Francigene” sign. Apparently Viterbo was and continues to be a stop along a pilgrim trail. In my own way I’m a pilgrim, so that weekend I decided to follow my path. It only took a few minutes to get away from the hustle and bustle and in farm country. Along the way I saw more Via Francigene signs and knew I was on the right track. I even thought I could finish the whole thing that day. In my defense, at the time I didn’t realize the trail starts in Northern Europe and ends in Rome. Along this trek I saw fields of wine grapes, olive trees, lavenders, and prancing ponies. Unable find a café to wet my whistle with prosecco, I was forced to turn back.
My next outside the walls adventure involved The Palanzana, which is a mountain off a branch of the Cimini mountain system. From inside the walls I could see this lush, green mountain taunting me and I had to find a way there. It took three attempts, but I found the trail! The first attempt took me around an archeological area, which was off limits. The second I noticed some mountain bikers and figured they were headed that way. My sleuthing skills and Introduction to Italian language class paid off – they were indeed headed that way! A shout out to language professor extraordinaire Serena Marrocco – your tireless and efforts worked.
I made it to the hiking trails but somehow managed to miss the spur to the top of Palanzana. Some mistakes are worth it; I ended up on a trail that would be a treat to mountain bike – or in my case “bike hike” since some spots are super technical.
One more attempt and I finally made it to the top of Palanzana. It was well worth the wait; the views are terrific. The view of my adopted town of Viterbo was alone more than anyone could ask for.
Sadly, I only have one more week in Viterbo, but know I just scratched the surface of what is outside the walls. What can I accomplish in this week? In case anyone from the BSU School of Public Service (SPS) is reading this blog, by accomplish I mean work on publications.
The USAC program at San Sebastian is a lifelong learner’s dream. I am taking an intermediate Spanish grammar class, an intermediate Spanish conversation class, and a surfing class. The two Spanish classes start punctually at 9 a.m. and finish at 1 p.m. The grammar class mostly cover verb conjugations. Specifically, we focus on the future, conditional, preterite, imperfect, present perfect, past perfect and subjunctive verb tenses. There are a total of four students in our class. Talk about a great class size to learn Spanish intensively! My professor is Mari Mar and she is a wonderful teacher. She is always patient with the students, yet she continually challenges us to learn more and learn faster.
The conversation class is a really fun experience because we are able to use what we learn and speak about current topics. Of course, there is a considerable amount of vocabulary to memorize, but it sure does help in conversation. It is always a pain to have to pause the conversation to describe the word you don’t know. In our classes, the most asked question is Como se dice …. ? or How do you say ….?
Maria Sun, our conversation class professor, always makes sure we use the correct pronunciation. Even if we have to say the same word over, and over, and over again. Her reasoning is there are many words in the Spanish language that are similar and if you can’t pronounce it correctly, you may confuse the listener. This happens regularly outside of class and it causes a pain that I can’t describe well, but I will give it a shot. It is like your brain is a computer searching for files that it can’t find. You try to use filler words like well, you know, but and because. Eventually, you give up when you can’t find the word and this is when the pain moves throughout your body. Over time, this feeling goes away when you become more comfortable. The new neural networks become connected and the language feels more hardwired.
My goal coming to Spain was to be conversational by the time I left. I think I surpassed that goal in the first week living with my host family. The first day with my host family was a whirlwind because they had many relatives in town from other parts of Spain. Oh boy, there were some accents that were very difficult for me to understand. The host family speaks some English, but they know my goal and they only communicate to me in Spanish. I absolutely love this and I think every language learner in the USAC program needs to stay with a host family to really get the language down. Our conversations around the dinner table have helped me the most.
Surfing class is another way for me to practice speaking Spanish. I quickly realize that I need to know surfing and ocean vocabulary to speak with the instructors. We surf rom six to nine three nights a week on Playa Zurriola. This is a beautiful beach on the east side of San Sebastian. The instructors are phenomenal teaching everyone how to surf in only a couple of sessions. What an amazing experience!
This last weekend the Viterbo USAC students (including myself) went to southern Italy. It was a whirlwind tour. We started at 6:30am sharp from Porta Roma (one of the main ports into the walled portion of Viterbo). Fortunately for me, it is only a 60 second walk from my apartment. Our first stop – Napoli! A nice man – whose name escapes me – took us around the city to view the amazing architecture. What an unbelievable history. The tour guide called it a “lasagna city” meaning the city we see now is built on layers of past cities. I wanted to tour the underground Roman city, but no time. At least no time after my pizza stop.
From there we jumped on the bus and headed to the resort town of Sorrento. Nestled along the Italian coast, Sorrento has the small-town charm to go with the beautiful beaches. Luisa and Francesca – the Viterbo USAC gurus – were nice enough to take this Bronco to dinner on the beach. All I can say, best swordfish ever. I would show a picture, but somehow the dinner disappeared into my stomach too fast. No regrets.
The next morning we drove to the town of Amalfi – which is shoe-horned into the Amalfi coast. Not sure what name came first – Amalfi or Amalfi Coast. Guess some mysteries will never be solved. The road to Amalfi is curvy, narrow and on the ledge. Fairly certain if I had to drive we would have stopped within the first half mile while I cried out of fear. Fortunately Stephano was our driver – and he’s good. Really good. Stephano managed to defeat the laws of physics by driving a bus down a road that’s barely big enough for a Radio Flyer Wagon. Oh, and there were cars parked along the side, bicyclists, and oncoming traffic. Not only did we get there safely, but not a single person got car sick.
I heard tales of Amalfi, but wasn’t ready for this level of beauty. After a tour of the Duomo di Amalfi six of us went to the paper mill museum, both of which are worth a trip. From there we hiked up a trail to see some ruins, an aqueduct from the early 1930s, a small hydroelectric facility, and a waterfall. From what I can tell, most tourists don’t make it up there. If you are in Amalfi and want to get away from the crowds, see some lemon groves, have a view of the city and ocean, and splash in a waterfall – this is the place to go. On the way back we treated ourselves to fresh squeezed lemonade at an organic café. It really was the best lemonade I ever had. After some lunch we jumped on a ferry back to Sorrento. I didn’t get sea sick, which makes me wonder if Stephano was driving the boat too. My advice – if you are in Sorrento and want to see Amalfi – take the ferry. The view of the coast can’t be beat.
After some sleep we went back in time to the city of Pompei. It really is a time capsule of awesomess. Adding to the greatness of the day, our tour guide was named Monica; so you know she must be smart. Monica (our tour guide, not me) gave us the highlight reel (this included the “red-light district) of Pompei and told us a bit about the city, history, destruction, and its resurrection. Come to find out, the day-to-day life in Pompei, and its infrastructure wasn’t much different than we are used to today.
After three exciting and exhausting days, we got on the bus where we all promptly fell asleep. I would show a picture, but doubt most people would appreciate this.
Southern Italy Tour final grade: 30 con Lode (aka: A+)
While here I’m taking a Sociology of Food course, which is taught by Professor Amy Blackstone from the University of Maine. Part of this course included a winery tour. The lengths I won’t go through for the sake of learning and science.
Family owned and operated winery is named Falesco and it is located in the Umbria region. The day started with a tour – side note – our tour guide was a former USAC student! Our guide showed us the various aspects of wine making, and why they do the things they do. After we learned about the winery, including the history (it’s long), operations (complex) and where they sell their wine (lots of places). We had time for questions, of which I had many. Apparently one of their bigger challenges is climate change. The region is warming faster and as a result the grapes are ripening earlier than before. Near as I can tell, as much as a month earlier. Now they need to harvest in August, when it was late September. As with any industry there are politics and policy issues. Our guide explained how it works in Italy, which helped me understand the wine labels. What a complex industry.
As all of us who work in education know, you must present information in various ways for students to learn and retain information. And when you’re at a winery, there is no better way than learning by taste. Not all us on the tour participated in this form of learning, but I did. We didn’t try all the wines Falesco has to offer, but tried about five options. One was the Le Poggere Est! Est!! Est!!!, which was the best wines I had to date. Outstanding. If fact all the wine was so good, I had to bring some home. For the one person who reads this blog, I mean home to Viterbo, not home to Boise. So please don’t expect a taste.
My overall impression of the winery? Outstanding. If you are ever in the area, I strongly suggest a stop. The grounds are spectacular, the wine ever more so, and the people even more so. And yes, I learned a lot!
Until next time Falesco!
Last Sunday, Karmele, Mikel and I hiked part of the Camino de Santiago from San Sebastián to Zarautz (21.7 kilometers or 13.4 miles). The Camino is known as the Way of St. James. All of the Camino pilgrimage routes lead to the Santiago de Compostela in northeast Spain. This is where the remains of St. James were discovered in the ninth century. This pilgrimage was popular in the 10th, 11th, and 12th century. Now it is the most popular it has been in history with more than 200,000 pilgrims in 2014. There are four main routes: Camino Francés, Camino Primitivo, Camino Portugués, and Camino del Norte. We did the beginning of the Camino del Norte, also known as the Camino de la Costa.
We left directly from the apartment on foot. What a cool way to start a hike! We walked passed the university to connect with the trail behind Mount Igueldo. The ground beneath our feet changed constantly from city streets to park trail to country roads to mountain trails to old cobblestone roads to sand. This hike had it all! Including some of the best views that I have ever seen.
Along the path, there were many pit stops that offered water, food and a place to rest. Here you could stamp yourself with the Camino de Santiago logo and write in the journal about your experiences.
When we arrived in Orio, this fishing town was having its annual festival. They were celebrating the besugo, a very rare fish. The men of the village were partaking in a cooking competition. We ate lunch with some pinxtos (a small plate similar to a tapa) of besugo and some apple cider for a couple of euros. It may have been cheap, but it sure was delicious! When we finished eating, we got back on the trail. As we were leaving Orio, the women of the fishing village were arriving in boats to cheers from the crowds watching them. They had rowed from Orio to Bilbao and back, an exhausting feat of strength and endurance.
When we arrived in Zarautz, I was exhausted, but the views made it so worth it.
I’m a student again. And I have to admit, being a student is kind of fun. While in Viterbo I am taking three classes – Sociology of Food, Italian Cuisine Introductory Aperitivo, and Introduction to Italian (aka – Italian survival). So far I’ve enjoyed all three, yet the Cuisine Introductory Aperitivo is the tastiest. If you haven’t guessed, this is an Italian cooking class. Seeing how I’m not exactly a renowned chef, going into this class was a bit scary.
To date I “survived” two classes. The first class was an introduction to the five weeks. Our instructor Renée Abou Jaoudé – who is not only a pastry chef, but also has a Ph.D. in forest ecology – outlined the class. We ate a variety of antipasto dishes, which are basically appetizers, as we listened. Apparently, we will learn about foods from four regions in Italy, and of course cook some dishes from each. I think this is a great idea since I am more of a hands-on learner.
In our first cooking class we learned about Roman Cuisine and prepared a prima (first course), secondo (second course) and a dolce (desert). The prima was carbonara. This dish was easier than I thought to make, but required some skill. When you see scrambled eggs in a carbonara, then you know it was poorly prepared. Due to Chef Renee’s cooking chops, ours turned out perfectly.
Next up the secondo – which was saltimbocca alla romana, I’m not sure, but I believe that roughly translates to “jump in your mouth” or something like that. It is basically thinly sliced beef with a slice of prosciutto and gently then cooked.
Finally, we baked the cheese and cherry tart. This required making a shortbread crust. It was easy, but did not realize that temperature could impact the results. Well, the results turned out yummy.
My four other classmates and I had a little extra to take home. I think this took some serious will-power. I can’t wait to see what we cook up next.
The USAC program arranged for the French Romantic Arts class to take two field trips of our own. The first was to the little resort town of Aix-les-Bains on the shores of the Lac du Bourget, which is the largest glacial lake in France. It’s famous because the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine wrote his poem “Le Lac (The Lake)” here. So we took a train on a Thursday morning, walked to the lake, and then sat down on a beach and read the poem out loud. We discussed the nature writing of Lamartine and Rousseau while the breeze blew through the trees and across the water.
The second field trip was to the the Musee des Beaux-Arts, and it was part of a major assignment. Each of us had selected a painting that was in the museum to research and give a short presentation in class before the museum trip. Ideally, as part of our research, we would each have visited the museum on our own to look closely at the painting in “real life” rather than on a computer screen. In reality, the only student to do this was me. But this turned out to make the trip with the class so much more fun! It was like a mix between Christmas and a scavenger hunt as the students searched out “their” paintings and were so delighted when they found them.
These two field trips were my favorite days of the whole wonderful month. They exemplified the value of the “study” part of study abroad. Yes, we can read Lamartine’s poem or Rousseau’s meditations on solitude in nature anywhere; yes, we can Google Charlet’s painting Episode in the Campaign of Russia or Janmot’s 18-painting series The Poem of the Soul. But it is not at all the same thing as getting to walk along the same lake shore as Lamartine and look at the same mountainside. There is nothing like standing right next to the canvas where Delacroix stood when he held his paintbrush. The students came to understand this, and more than one remarked that this was the most meaningful class experience they’d ever had.
I’m so grateful I was able to watch these students each open into the joy of learning about art. None of them was particularly interested in either French Romanticism or art and literature in a broader sense. They just wanted to study in France for a summer and this was the only class that wasn’t taught in French. But each one of them did every bit of homework, attended and participated in every single class, and left four weeks later with knowledge and experiences and appreciation beyond what they’d anticipated.
I’m sold. I’m ready to apply to teach my own class for USAC sometime in the not-too-distant future. I will encourage my BSU students even more than I already do to figure out how to take some time to study abroad.
I am so grateful to the people who encouraged me to apply for the FIDA, especially Elizabeth Cook and Tom Hillard, and to the BSU Global Learning Opportunities office, Corrine Henke, Eden Taylor, and Ami Tain, for their financial and moral support.
This Saturday I went to Pamplona for the final day of the festival of San Fermin. San Fermin is a week-long celebration held annually in Pamplona honoring Saint Fermin, the co-patron of Navarre. Every year the festival begins at noon on the sixth of July when the party starts with the setting off of the chupinazo (firework) and ends on the fourteenth of July, with the singing of El Pobre de Mí. The encierro, or the running of the bulls, is the most famous event and that happens each day at eight a.m.
I woke up early on Saturday to catch a bus from San Sebastián to Pamplona at five a.m. I arrived at the bus station in Pamplona and it felt like I was walking into a war zone with trash everywhere, vomit on the ground and people slumped in uncomfortable positions trying to catch some z’s from partying too hard the night before. I made my way through the narrow streets to the start where the bulls are held in the corrals. This event has been on my bucket list since I read the Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemmingway.
I gathered near the corrals with the rest of the runners and asked them for advice as the time approached. I met a man named Ignacio who was running for the eleventh consecutive year. He gave me some tips and told me to stick with him to make the experience last as long as possible. He explained that it is like surfing a wave and that you try to be as close as possible to the bulls and stay in front of them for as long as possible. He said you are lucky if you can grab onto the horns of the bull. The people were chanting to ask for protection from the Saint.
A wave of energy surged through the streets as the start time approached. People started jockeying for position and the crowd started jumping up and down in anticipation. At exactly eight a.m. the firework signalled that the bulls were running. Like a wave pummeling a beach, the bulls rushed through the crowd and I took off running. I stayed in front of the herd and I reached the curves where it is suddenly more chaotic as people began to fall and crash into the walls. Ignacio lost me on the curves. I turned and saw three huge bulls running right toward me so I dove out of the way, underneath the barrier in the nick of time. My feelings were a cocktail of adrenaline, fear, and desire for more. After the bulls had passed, I jumped back in and ran with the steers with bells on their necks. I made my way into the plaza del toros in a much more relaxed manner. Within minutes, the event was over. The wooden barriers were dismantled and cleaning trucks removed the garbage from the previous night’s party.
After that, I took a walk around Pamplona to calm my nerves and grabbed a cafe con leche. I met a Mexican woman named Lilliana who was studying architecture in Madrid. She was willing to help me with my Spanish and we wandered over to the giants and big-heads parade (la comparsa de gigantes y cabezudos). During the parade, the giants dance to the rhythm of traditional music. While the big-heads simply precede the giants and wave their hands at spectators, the kilikis run after children, hitting them with a foam truncheon. Zaldikos, figures representing horses with their riders, also run after children with a truncheon. This is such a cool event for all ages.
Finally, I watched some traditional Basque sports. There were strong men and women events where contestants would pick up heavy stones as many times as possible and another to see how far one could carry these heavy stones. My favorite sporting event was the wood chopping contest because it not only required strength, it required precision and endurance. After a meal with Lilliana and her friends from Pamplona, I called it a day and headed back to San Sebastián. On the bus ride back, I was already reminiscing on what a wonderful day it had been and I knew it was one day I would never forget.