Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Headed Out West

Gapsters (soon to be 'Trainsters') gathered together at Union Station in Chicago. 

Greetings From Albuquerque!

Hola from the desert lands of New Mexico! After many laughs, lots of people watching, and only a few delays on the train, we have arrived safely to our new home for the next two weeks--the Norbertine Community of Santa Maria de la Vid. What a serene location! Although tired upon arrival, students were re-energized upon learning they would be able to sleep in a bed in their own rooms, rather than a sleeping bag in a shared tent, or cramped into a train seat that only partially reclined. When morning broke on our first day at Santa Maria de la Vid, students were amazed by the very different scenery surrounding them--the night sky occulted the shrub-adorned dusty plain that is characteristic of the semi-arid area of the New Mexico landscape. A large solar panel farm abuts the property line of the Norbertine Abbey grounds and day time is typically framed by an endless blue sky that overlooks the Sandia and Manzano mountain ranges. In addition to staying at this beautiful space, we are gaining a stronger connection to our St. Norbert College roots as we live among the generous hospitality of our Norbertine Brothers.

Sunrise over the Manzano mountain range. Photo taken from the Abbey grounds.

After a very engaging orientation to the Santa Maria Abbey by Abbot Joel P. Garner, O. Praem, the students were invited to join he and the rest of the Norbertine Brothers for an evening meal. Not only was the meal absolutely delicious with a definite southwestern’ flavor of green and red chiles, the conviviality was palpable and conversation and laughter flowed easily at each table.

Abbot Joel gives us a tour of the Santa Maria Abbey.
Once a Packer-backer,
always a Packer-backer! 

After a few days to rest up and catch up on some school work, students got their first taste of the great New Mexico community with a visit to Mandy’s Farm--a therapeutic living farm for those with varying cognitive and physical abilities. The students, as well as the staff and residents at Mandy’s Farm, had a blast preparing the grounds for the second annual Haunted Barn Halloween Benefit! The Gapsters did not hesitate to roll up their sleeves and get down to work: cleaning out an irrigation channel, raking leaves and shoveling manure for compost, tilling and preparing garden beds, organizing and sweeping out the barn, and patiently unwrapping invasive vines from the garden’s fence. Before leaving the farm, the students’ hard work was greatly rewarded--not only did they help beautify the farm for its fund-raising event, but they made many new animal friends including alpaca, llamas, chickens, goats, and of course horses. It was quite a sight to see all of the Gap students hanging out with one another and their new furry buddies at the end of the day!

Nicole, Kate, Autumn, Morgan, and the fearless Dr. Fredrickson hanging with the horses!

Abby, Zach, and Madeline ridding
a fence of some invasive vines.

Mallory and Sam gathering hay to feed the horses.
Jack, Josie, Matt, and Morgan's
interpretation of American Gothic.

A new face joined the Gap Experience this week. Dr. Deirdre Egan-Ryan flew into Albuquerque from St. Norbert College to further facilitate the course she is teaching as part of the Gap Experience. Dr. Egan-Ryan’s course, American Myths, Community and the Individual, prompts students to think critically about the various myths that have informed our collective ‘American Identity.’ Through group discussions and careful analysis of the assigned course readings, students are challenged to think more critically about whether commonly held myths about a shared American identity are in fact, true, or perhaps as Dr. Egan-Ryan points out, might be considered falsehoods--or at least in need of more critical reflection. Student interest and participation in the course accelerates as they directly relate their service-learning experience and cultural exposure to the largely Hispanic culture directly back to their studies. Many of the students are discovering that there is a distinct difference between high school and what is expected of them at the collegiate level, but the excitement is very much alive as they apply what they are learning through their interactions with the local community to their academic inquiry.

In addition to serving the community and hitting the books, our Gapsters are experiencing New Mexico through the strong influence of the Hispanic arts in this part of the country. The chatter continued the entire drive home after seeing Confessions of a MEXpatriot. This one-man play chronicled the cultural bifurcation experienced by a young Mexican-American who struggled to reconnect with his Mexican ancestry, while still being heavily influenced by his American upbringing. Students truly enjoyed their time at the theater: Some were in awe at how a single person could memorize and perform such a complex monologue, while others affirmed their years of learning Spanish as they expressed their joy in understanding the Spanish parts spoken throughout the show. Some Gapsters could relate to the story as having been a ‘gringo’ or tourist in another country, while still others could relate to the satire directed towards the ever-popularized hipster. The students’ enthusiasm and commentary about the outstanding performance spilled into the classroom, where Dr. Egan-Ryan tied yet another lived experience to classroom theory and the academic learning process.

Playbill and ticket for a one-man show.

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