Category Archives: In The News

New places impact identity

Gray, felt walls created a maze in the top floor of the old Younkers building in downtown Des Moines. For my father, then a buyer at the department store, the cramped space and eternal din of the fax machine represented the practical: a way to make money and advance his career. For my younger sister Tara and I, they represented a trip to the top of the world.

As suit-clad bigwigs waltzed by en route to the famed Younkers Tea Room, I entered the Iowa definition of a fairy tale. Delicate crown molding and gold trim decorated the Tea Room. I can’t remember what I ordered (probably grilled cheese, given I was an even pickier eater then than I am now), but I began to realize the power of place in those childhood outings to the Younkers Tea Room.

That power felt particularly real in January, when I traveled to Turkey for J-term. I couldn’t comprehend much of the language, but I felt at once at home and in another world. New places, I realized, have a way of linking the familiar and unfamiliar in the perfect balance, forcing me to reflect on — and adapt — my identity. While the Tea Room let me try on the identity of a queen, Turkey helped me find my wanderer identity.

The power of place hit me again in March 29, when the Younkers building — and my beloved Tea Room — caught fire. Though a large portion of the iconic building burned down, I cling to the memory of the gold trim and the coveted kids’ meal toy, a miniature ceramic plate hand-painted with a pink tulip. Somewhere between the tangible memory of gold accents and doll-sized dinnerware, I realized the role of place in the never-ending creation of my identity.

Abroad experience offers a lesson in letting go

A blue rubber band corrals a hodgepodge pile of papers: a map, a receipt, an itinerary, a ticket (or 10). I can’t read the writing on a bulk of them, and I can’t read the map (though I admit I probably couldn’t follow an American map either).

For once, though, I’m not worried about the language, the grammar or that I can’t comprehend any of it.

The allure is in the uncertainty.

I traveled to Turkey Jan. 9-24 with a group of 20 Drake University students, and “befuddlement” practically defined the experience.

“Wait, where are we going?” quickly proved the inquiry of the trip.

I rarely knew what I ate until I took a bite (and even then, I couldn’t label or pronounce it).

I can’t understand or speak Turkish.

Amid all the panic of experiencing a new continent, culture and language, I realized and embraced the beauty in the unexpected. And for a lifelong planner, color coder (Can I add that title to my resume?) and list enthusiast, departure from the orderly marked a frightening expedition into the unknown.

An unfamiliar language and culture weren’t big enough challenges for me, right?

When I buried my marker collection (for color-coding, duh) in my backpack and ignored the nagging, “Where are we going?” in my mind, I finally experienced Turkey.

I toured Hagia Sophia. I tried lamb. I learned a little bit of the language. I met a great friend whom I’ll never forget (and who I hope won’t forget that chatty Iowa girl with a love of language and a fear of Istanbul traffic).

As I organize each ticket, map, receipt and itinerary by date (Hey, I can’t abandon organization completely — we’ve been together a long time), I relive my time in Turkey. But more importantly, I relive the mildly alarming, ultimately intoxicating feeling of letting go. The feeling of a worthwhile “experience.”

Istanbul from the top of Galata Tower

Istanbul from the top of Galata Tower

Trip to Turkey promises a lesson in the power of uncertainty

I thrive on the thrill of certainty.

Though I’ve memorized the difference between “everyday” and “every day,” I check my beloved AP Stylebook each time I write it. I admit I relish the brief thrill in that moment of confirmation. And though I’ve memorized the family formula for caramel cake, I rifle through the recipe box each time I bake it in hunt of the now-tattered card.

Next week, however, I’ll embark on a big journey defined by uncertainty.

I’m traveling to Turkey Jan. 9-24 to learn about an unfamiliar culture on a new continent, and I’m uncertain what to expect. And weirdly enough, I’m fine with that (All right, I will be fine with it after I devour another piece of caramel cake).

When I wander the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, tour the Virgin Mary House in Izmir and try new food, I vow to let the uncertainty linger. While I get a thrill from confirming the amount of water in a top-notch cake recipe, I’m determined to realize the value in uncertainty.

I’m uncertain what that value will be for me, but I think I’ll begin the journey today, from my kitchen in Iowa: I’ll bake my beloved caramel cake recipe from memory.

Global engagement requires more than a glance at the day’s top headline

As a news junkie, I like to feel up-to-date. While my classmates click Facebook ritually, I click CNN, The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY, NPR, ESPN and The New York Times ritually. I even click Al Jazeera or BBC occasionally.

However, scanning the daily headlines doesn’t make me the up-to-date gal I claim to be, at times.

Global citizenship requires more than a glance at the day's top headline

Photo courtesy of Central Intelligence Agency

In just eight months, I’ll take a plane to Istanbul for three weeks of intense study. I’ll explore Islam’s evolving role in the world alongside 19 fellow Drake University students.

As I cracked “What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam” by John L. Esposito last week, I (mistakenly) expected to discover nothing new. I was an avid news junkie, one familiar with the Middle East. I was a global citizen, one who sought non-American news outlets.

I’m now 122 pages into the book, and my views of Islam and the Middle East have evolved noticeably.

I now see both sides of the hijab debate. I now see the likenesses among Islam, Christianity and Judaism. I now see the tough decision facing Muslims today — follow ancient religious laws or adapt those laws in the developing global society of 2013.

Likewise, Esposito’s book taught me that the news, while I love it, isn’t enough. As a news junkie, I have a responsibility to seek knowledge beyond the media discipline. I need to watch movies, watch documentaries, read academic essays, read fiction and read academic books.

Global engagement takes more than a glance at today’s top headline.

Until I land in Istanbul in eight months, I await a new discipline. While I discover new things about Islam on each page of Esposito’s book, I’m eager to jump into a discipline all my own: experience.

Like my responsibility to seek knowledge beyond the media discipline, I have a responsibility to experience the world — my world — beyond the pages of a book or the scenes of a movie.

Boston Marathon tragedy offers chance to redefine ‘neighbor’

As the Boston Marathon tragedy developed on the screen of my MacBook Pro today, as I stared at the bloody photos, the scared spectators, I felt a wave of sympathy. As “Did you hear about Boston?” echoed through the academic and residence halls at Drake, I realized that the tragedy, though a shock, yields a new chance for me, for us, even from far away.

Why we need to redefine 'neighbor'

Courtesy of Central Intelligence Agency

Even as I mourn the Boston victims and hope for justice, I commit my own injustice. Namely, I never consider — let alone mourn — the bloodbath at my neighbors’ place in Syria. Though an ocean separates us, I hardly acknowledge that 70,000 Syrians have died since the war broke out in March 2011.

Clearly, it’s easy to feel sympathy for and mourn my Bostonian neighbors. I confess, though, it takes more effort to even be aware of my Syrian neighbors — let alone mourn the rampant deaths in that region.

As I say, “Oh, that’s incredibly sad!” when I read the latest Boston Marathon tragedy update, I pledge to guide my cursor to the “Syria” section of the “World” tab and pay some respect to my other neighbors, neighbors I have long ignored.

My grasp of the word “neighbor” needs an obvious overhaul.

Though my quest requires changes in my outlook and my America-centric news routine, I am ready to repeal my own injustice as my country seeks justice.

I hope the changes make me a more aware journalist and more importantly, a more aware global member and a more aware neighbor. Tonight, Boston and Syria, each a neighbor, hold my concern and my sympathy.