January 16, 2018: Updates and another challenge

Just today alone, this blog increased its profile significantly, with five views from the UK, three from the Netherlands (dank je wel, Nederland, van deze half-Belgische schrijver), which doubled the views in one day as it had in all four years combined (3 to 7), and my first ever from Ghana and Japan! Even if they were just stopping by on accident, it does mean a lot.

As blasé as this will sound – actually, as blasé as it is – why don’t I throw in an extra challenge? With these new views, I now have views from twenty-five countries all-time! So, if any of you readers are interested, how about we do a little informal contest?

Image result for it's contest time
Photo courtesy of http://www.keepcalmandposters.com. 

These are the primary topics on these blogs, in no particular order:
1. Sports – primarily baseball, association football (soccer), and basketball.
2. Travel – local, domestic, international, and everything in between
3. Arts – movies, songs, literature, and what it means to be a part of the creative community
4. Living life as a high-functioning autistic, and how it ties in to the other three topics mentioned above.
5. A compulsion to list things, which ties into #4.

I do write about other topics, but less frequently. If these topics, or perhaps a combination of them, appeal to you, keep coming back, please. I hope to hear – or in this case see – from you soon.

For those that are excited about the World Cup in Russia, all the teams in Group A and B (Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay; Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran) and the first two of Group C (France, Australia, and the next two coming soon!) are up. If you click at the top of my blog and look for the tag “World Cup profiles,” you can look it up there. Maybe some of you have a team that’s in it this year. And, to up the ante a little bit, here’s a link to the profiles page, with every team so far.


Here’s the challenge: every month for the rest of the year, and I’ll do my best to get it as close to the 15th or 16th of the month as possible (May will be difficult because there’s a trip planned, but soon afterward!), each country that reads this blog will have its monthly progress tracked. At the end of the year, I’ll tally up how many combined views I have from each country (2014-18). And at the end of the year, I’ll write an entire post about the top three countries!! Does that sound like a fair challenge?

For the sake of argument, because it would be unfairly stacking the deck, I’ll leave the United States out of this one. So, this leaves twenty-four countries as of this writing (6:25 p.m. on January 16, 2018). Other countries may enter (or re-enter) the race at any time during the year.

Going back to this blog’s inception in 2014, here is the full list of views. And our current leader is….Belgium! In the event of ties, it’s listed by the way my stats page lists them.

Leader board (April 2014-present, U.S. excluded)
1. Belgium – 72
2. United Kingdom – 23
3. Australia – 22
4. South Korea – 16
5. India – 11
6. Ireland – 10
7. France – 8
8. Netherlands – 7
9. Thailand – 6
10. Canada – 4
11. Italy – 4
12. Brazil – 4
13. Germany – 4
14. South Africa – 3
15. Russia – 3
16. Taiwan – 3
17. Indonesia – 2
18. Ghana – 1
19. Caribbean Netherlands – 1
20. Mexico – 1
21. Czech Republic – 1
22. Ecuador – 1
23. Spain – 1
24. Japan – 1

Year of 2018 (as of January 16)
1. India – 11
T2. United Kingdom – 6
T2. Belgium – 6
T4. Netherlands – 4
T4. France – 4
T4. Italy – 4
T7. Australia – 3
T7. Russia – 3
9. Canada – 2
T10. Ghana – 1
T10. Japan – 1
T10. South Africa – 1
T10. Taiwan – 1

If anybody in the blogosphere reads this, the gauntlet has been laid down. If anybody is interested, keep reading! Also, feel free to comment where you’re from, and perhaps we can trade views. Feel free to pass this on to your friends. Hopefully, these global interests can help narrow the divide in a chaotic world right now.

The challenge is on! Who’s with me? If you’re in, on your mark, get set, go!!


Not your typical atypical

We’re around the halfway point of the first month of the year, and the challenge I left a few days ago has worked amazingly well. I was hoping to at least match the number of countries I got during 2017, which was ten. In just over half a month, those numbers have already exceeded the goals. In just over sixteen days, we’ve had thirteen countries visit this site, including four newcomers so far: Ghana, India, Italy, and Russia. Thirteen countries, and the year isn’t even a month old!

If anybody is interested in taking part in my challenge, here is the post that connects to it: https://ericparisvangucht.wordpress.com/2018/01/13/my-2018-challenge/

Perhaps I’ve also gotten smarter at writing this blog, figuring out how to tag, and doing my best to promote myself elsewhere. Even attaching photos can be a major advantage. To everybody who’s visited, please keep doing so, and let’s see where this journey takes us this year.

That’s where this post ties in. If you had to describe an autistic person in a nutshell, how would you describe them? Socially awkward? Math-oriented? Machine friendly? Many of these labels are true, and do apply to many. But within the bounds of my condition, I think I’m definitely a nonconformist. Many of the autistics I know prefer math, science, anime, comic books, and other logic-related topics. But I never really identified with any of those things, with perhaps the exception of Tintin comics. Even then, they’re geographically themed, and involve humans trying to defeat other humans. Even if there is mysticism and fantasy involved, it’s oftentimes secondary in those stories.

So, I’m not your typical “atypical,” if you want to use that word for me. I prefer to write and talk about sports, and play them whenever I can. For those that are reading this blog from outside the United States, I have ten World Cup profiles for international football, and those that are in the know may appreciate my World Series and baseball-themed blogs. Additionally, I was high-functioning enough to really get good at acting, which if you think about it, makes perfect sense: the rigidity of the script, the punctuality we’re often known for, the ease in memorizing line. Speaking of punctuality, my first job in 2007 was for the Indiana University Office of Orientation, and I won an award for “Most Punctual” at our end of summer banquet that year. Perhaps it’s applying the old theatre saying: “If you’re fifteen minutes early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.” 

And lastly, yes, the travel side is part of it. While most that are not on the spectrum would love to do more traveling, and there are some on the spectrum (myself included) who do as well, I’d argue that the majority don’t like it that much. The loud noises, the fear of heights, the narrow spaces, the fear of being away from what we know, and a whole variety of other reasons are part of it. It doesn’t help that the places themselves aren’t able to accommodate at all, or at the very least it’s taking a very, very long time. Unfortunately, patience isn’t a strong suit for many of us.

There is a culture to autism. But it’s a lot broader than you think it is. No two cases are the same.

Let me ask again: how do you describe an autistic? Well, if you keep reading these posts, the answer may surprise you.

Author’s Edit: Make that fourteen countries! I just got my first view from Japan! ありがと to that viewer. It does mean a lot, everybody.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

National Geographic Books: 2018 updates – Sacred Places of a Lifetime.

Some of you may know the National Geographic books I was so fond of. Here’s a 2018 update of Sacred Places of a Lifetime. The genius of these books is that instead of by country, it’s listed by what kind of place it is – i.e. a church, or a cemetery, etc. Photos will be credited as such, and places will be listed in order by how the book lists them.

I. Sacred Landscapes 

II. Megaliths and Mysteries 
1. Stonehenge (England)
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2. Megaliths of Carnac (France)
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Reader’s Digest 

III. Cradles of Faith 

IV. Majestic Ruins 

V. Daily Devotion
1. Old North Church (Boston, MA) 
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Wikimedia Commons.

2. University Church of St. Mary (Oxford, England) 
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Wikimedia Commons

3. Salisbury Cathedral (Salisbury, England) 
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4. Aachen Cathedral (Aachen, Germany)
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5. Westminster Abbey (London, England)
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6. Notre-Dame de Paris (Paris, France) 
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7. Sacré-Cœur Basilica (Paris, France)
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VI. Shrines 
Shrine of St. Ursula (Bruges, Belgium) 
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VII. The Pilgrim’s Way 
1. March for Jobs and Freedom, National Mall (Washington, D.C.)
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2. Mont-St-Michel (Brittany, France)
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Lonely Planet. 

VIII. Ceremonies and Festivals 

IX. In Remembrance 
1. Ground Zero (New York, NY) 
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2. Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Washington, D.C.) 
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Sacred Sites International. 

3. Korean War Veterans Memorial (Washington, D.C.)
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National Park Foundation 

4. Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial (Normandy, France) 
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History Channel. 

X. Retreats 

Near-Misses, Unconfirmed, or Inconclusive (listed by chapter) 
1. Mission Concepcion, San Antonio, TX (Daily Devotion)
2. Rothko Chapel, Houston, TX (Daily Devotion)
3. Shrine of the Three Kings, Cologne, Germany (Shrines)
4. Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA (In Remembrance)
5. Cenotaph, London, England (In Remembrance)
6. Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres, Belgium (In Remembrance)
7. Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France (In Remembrance)

Totals by Country 
United States – 5
France – 5
England – 4
Belgium – 1
Germany -1

Total Confirmed: 16

Still holding from where it was last time, but hopefully can do updates next year.

Image result for sacred places of a lifetime
Photo courtesy of National Geographic Store. 

Hearing beauty

“Unhappiness, where’s when I was young and we didn’t give a damn?
‘Cause we were raised to see life as fun and take it if we can.”

“Ode to My Family,” The Cranberries

I mentioned it on Facebook already, and I apologize to many of you if you’re finding this out this way, but Cranberries lead singer Dolores O’Riordan died suddenly today at the age of 46. Rock music has a way of taking the best way too soon. She may not have been as famous as somebody like David Bowie, or George Michael, but to me, this one really hits close to home. In a way, she was a specific part of my childhood.

Born in 1971 in Limerick, she was my first real introduction to 1990s rock and roll. Early in my childhood, I had heard certain artists, like Bob Marley, Van Morrison, and The Beatles’ Abbey Road during road trips in the car. As amazing as they were, they were all before my time. I knew what music was, and who they were, but I didn’t really feel like I knew them. The Cranberries were the first band, period, in any genre, I actually felt a generational connection with. For most of my childhood and up to my junior year in high school, they were likely my favorite band, or near the top. I pick that time because junior year was when I discovered Automatic for the People (R.E.M.) and never looked back. Still, I was always fond of The Cranberries. Their first two albums – Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? (1993) and No Need to Argue (1995) – were considered their best, while their last four weren’t as strong. But you could have fooled me. Their third album, To the Faithful Departed, got a pretty tepid reception and apparently was ranked as one of the worst albums in rock on a survey. If they think so, fine. But I can’t see it. In fact, for its darker concept, lyrics, and the fact that I was ten and was able to decipher it all better, To the Faithful Departed is actually my favorite of every Cranberries album.

“Always be near me, guardian angel.
Always be near me, there’s no fear.” 

And that voice. Dolores O’Riordan had one of those voices that you never forgot. I said on the first post, but I’ll say it again: to hear it was to hear beauty. She could write about anything, and had the chilling voice to boot: love, The Troubles in both sides of Ireland, her strong link to Catholicism, and how fiercely devoted she was about the welfare of children. She was a mother herself, and I’m sure she loved her children fiercely.

Her cause of death remains undisclosed. I’m not sure I want to know. It feels like it would be knowing too much to do so. Hopefully, it was as peaceful as possible, and apparently it was unexpected because she was recording in the last few days. I wish I knew what to make of it.

The reason it’s so close to home is also because it’s one of the strongest bonds I have with my own mom. For all of the problems she had in her later life, my mom was my music teacher, at least in terms of bands. Those first two albums mentioned above were a staple for the two of us (and my dad, when he would drive me) in the car on the way to nearby Unionville. For six years, I played youth league basketball there, and it became something of a tradition to listen to it on the car for practice and games, particularly in the early years. I never met Dolores O’Riordan, but I can see the motherly parallels. Some of her songs would have passed for lullabies. Her death is like losing one of my mom’s best parts all over again. It doesn’t hurt as bad as actually losing her, but it’s like a part of her legacy is gone, too, or at least will never be the same again.

While The Cranberries may have faded from many people’s memories, while they may never make the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (they’d get my vote), while they may not be as legendary as The Rolling Stones or The Beatles or The Who, they were, to a degree, a way for my generation, the early millennials, to air our grievances. To me, they’ll always be legends.

I have to conclude with the title of their opening track on their opening album, the one that started it all, “I Still Do.”

“I’m not ready for this, 
Though I thought I would be. 
I can’t see the future, 
Though I thought I could see. 
I don’t want to leave you, 
Even though I have to. 
I don’t want to love you, 
Oh, I still do.” 

Rock on, Dolores. Ar imithe ach gan dearmad.

Image result for dolores o'riordan
Photo courtesy of http://www.irishtimes.ie. 

Theatre family

I can’t stay too long because I have to wake up early each of the next two days. And ordinarily, I wouldn’t be writing about a meeting. But theatre is special for us.

The group I do most of my work with now, Monroe County Civic Theatre, or MCCT for short, had its yearly meeting today. Yearly dues-paying members, of which I am one, are allowed to vote for the board, and there were five new members added onto the nine-person board. We did a recap of our 2017 shows, then looked ahead at our 2018 shows.

Here’s what’s on our schedule for this year.

When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? by Mark Medoff
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Frozen by Bryony Lavery
King Lear by William Shakespeare
Winter Symposium by MCCT members

We also had three proposals under consideration, but I wasn’t present for those. It’s still early in the year, but it looks like a strong lineup this year. As an all-volunteer organization, MCCT has been trying to expand their profile, and finally looks to be doing so. Fingers crossed.

It’s like a second family to me. Here, I belong. Here, I am given a chance to grow. Even if I may be a little handcuffed by scheduling this year, I will do my best. This is the beauty of theatre. We help each other, we pick each other up in rough times. The work is the catharsis many of us need.

Here’s to 2018, MCCT. Hope I can take this journey with you soon.

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Photo courtesy of http://www.openclipart.org. 

2018 FIFA World Cup profile: AUSTRALIA

Much like the United States, many in Australia also call the sport soccer instead of football. But that’s another story. While it’s not necessarily as bad of a draw as it was four years ago, I think that Australia still has an uphill battle to get back. They had to survive two separate playoffs, one against Syria in Asia, and once against Honduras for the spot in the Cup. And given that they’re the odd team out of the top twenty in this group, can Australia come back stronger than four years ago, where they lost all three matches?

Flag of Australia
Photo courtesy of http://www.flagpedia.net. 

Team profile 
Nickname: The Socceroos
Total appearances (including 2018): 5
Best Finish: Round of 16 (2006)
Current Manager: Vacant*
Caps leader: Mark Schwarzer (109)
Leading scorer(s): Tim Cahill (50)

* Ange Postecoglou was their most recent manager in the World Cup qualifiers in 2017.

The Cup
Group/Placement: C2
Date of Qualification: November 15, 2017
FIFA ranking at tournament draw: 43

June 16 vs. France – Kazan
June 21 vs. Denmark – Samara
June 26 vs. Peru – Sochi

Australia’s manager Ange Postecoglou resigned following the qualifiers, and his replacement hasn’t been named yet. Former U.S. and Germany manager Jürgen Klinsmann is one of the candidates under consideration for the position. Along with fellow group member Peru, the Socceroos were one of the last two teams to qualify. And as I mentioned with France, the group is better than appears on first glance.

Australia comes in as the lowest ranked team in the group, and they have a tough match first with France. I could see them maybe earning a point about Denmark or Peru, but is it too late chronologically if that happens?

Australia’s main man is their all-time leading scorer, Tim Cahill. He’s likely to appear in the World Cup, but it’s probably going to be his last one since he’ll be 39 in December. Australia rode a surprising run to the round of 16 in 2006, but those days seem so long ago for them. Australia could go several ways: they could have a repeat of 2006, or it could be a repeat of 2014, where they lost all three games. Of course their supporters should root for them, but I also worry that their expectations are just a little too high for this tournament.

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Tim Cahill is Australia’s all-time scorer and their best hope of a result in Russia. Photo courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald. 

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Australia’s jersey crest. Photo courtesy of http://www.futbox.com 

My 2018 challenge

I have a challenge for the readers of this blog out there.

You’ll allow me a little bit of immodesty from time to time. In 2017, I got 1,172 views on this blog, from ten different countries. So far in 2018, thanks in part to a subscriber about autistic blog sites, 2018 has almost 500 views just in this first half of the month, with eight separate countries chiming in so far (by number of views): United States, Belgium, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, Russia, and Taiwan.

Here’s my challenge: with your help, do you think this blog can get 2,500 views in a year? Yes, I’m a shameless promoter in this, but at least I’m open about it. Let’s also see if we can get more countries this year, too. I have several friends overseas, and if they’re reading this, hopefully they can help spread it as well. Writing is my strength, and this is me trying to put myself out there, even if I’m overdoing it. There are worse things you can overdo.

If anybody is willing to take this journey with me, to meet this challenge, you have my gratitude and thank yous in advance. I apologize if it’s asking too much, but hopefully not.

If you’re in, keep on reading.

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Photo courtesy of http://www.thebalance.com. 

2018 FIFA World Cup profile: FRANCE

“Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé!”

The 1998 champions have high expectations coming into Russia twenty years later. And they’re not the only ones – many of the “experts,” as much as I dislike the use of the term, are expecting much of the same thing. The talent is certainly there for at least a quarterfinal run, and many have France as the next team to beat after Germany. But there’s a maddening dynamic to them – when they’re written off, they do well. When expectations are high, they fall apart, often in dramatic circumstances. Can Les Bleus avoid that here?

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Photo courtesy of World Flag Database. 

Team profile 
Nickname: Les Bleus (The Blues)
Total appearances (including 2018): 15
Best Finish: Champions (1998)
Current manager: Didier Deschamps
Caps leader: Lilian Thuram (142)
Leading scorer(s): Thierry Henry (51)

The Cup 
Group/Placement: C1
Date of Qualification: October 10, 2017
FIFA ranking at tournament draw: 7

June 16 vs. Australia – Kazan
June 21 vs. Peru – Yekaterinburg
June 26 vs. Denmark – Moscow (Luzhniki)

Consistency is a key word for the French team. In the last five World Cups, they’ve had the following patterns: champions-group-second-group-quarterfinals. And before that championship run in 1998, they had missed the previous two tournaments after making the semifinals in 1982 and 1986. Their style may be known as “champagne football,” but it has also had a really frustrating tendency to be flat when expectations are high.

Group C is what I call “surprisingly deceptive.” You have three teams in the top twenty of the world, France being one of them. Coming off of a hosting gig at Euro 2016, and a runner-up appearance at that same tournament, this French team is loaded with talent, from manager Didier Deschamps to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to playmakers such as Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann, to veterans Olivier Giroud and Paul Pogba, to lesser-known talents such as Moussa Sissoko and Blaise Matuidi. And they have several young talents waiting in the wings such as Ousmane Dembélé. But one of their biggest up-and-coming threats is only nineteen years old and has already been described as dynamic – PSG forward Kylian Mbappé. Born in the nineteenth arondissement of Paris, he looks to be a dominant presence, and a dynamic talent. Many have already started comparing him to Thierry Henry.

In many ways, winning Group A of UEFA qualifiers was magnificent enough. They had to deal with major bullets in Sweden, Netherlands, and a Bulgaria team potentially on the rise. Even little Luxembourg held Les Bleus to a scoreless draw during qualifying. France has a lot of talent, but like a few other teams, such as Belgium and perhaps Argentina, do they have the ability to play as a cohesive unit? Is there such a thing as too much talent?

France is likely to win this group, and I don’t think it’s likely that they’ll fail to advance. But it’s not impossible, and with the other talent in a more difficult group than people give it credit for, the last thing France wants and needs is to be caught asleep at the wheel.

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Kylian Mbappé is said to be France’s next rising star, and many think he’ll have a big World Cup. Photo courtesy of UEFA. 

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The FFF crest for France. Photo courtesy of logos.wikia.com. 

Origin story

This blog first started in April 2014, largely on a challenge from a former work colleague. Perhaps the argument was that having a blog would be more polished than writing mere Facebook notes over and over again. And he was right. So, in a way, I owe him this post.

I didn’t really know where it would go when I wrote. I guess I just followed the mantra “write what you know.” I figured if I could get views from some other places, I would be content.

January isn’t even halfway over yet, and already I’ve had views from eight separate countries. Two debuted for the first time – Italy and Russia. Grazie and Спасибо for doing so. Even if you’re stopping by, I hope you’ll continue to do so.

I’m now one-fourth of the way through the World Cup profiles. Keep an eye out for Group C (France, Australia, Peru, and Denmark) in the near future. It may be a cheap way to do it, but I’ve never seen it that way. I’ve always felt lucky that I get to travel whenever I can. And I’m always grateful to get new views. It’s nice to know that people are interested in reading these words, as jumbled and cluttered as they may be. Let me cook something up for you here.

In all seriousness, though, I know I’ve said it numerous times, but thank you to everybody who reads my posts. I know they can be tedious, and perhaps a little repetitive, but I think I’m starting to expand my profile. If you can do this favor for me, I’d be forever grateful.

This is the blog’s “origin story.” Hope it rises to meet its destiny.

A global childhood

It’s no secret that I’ve been promoting this blog as a global one. This began during my childhood years, when I would go over to my neighbor Joel’s house and watch Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? But I think one of the biggest influences was my old school, University Elementary.

Because it’s a college town, Bloomington already had a multicultural background to begin with. University School, or UES as we knew it for short, was one of the best examples of it. I met my best friend Andi in second grade, and our class that we met in was pretty revolutionary: we had a combined second-third grade class, known as “multi-age.” There were some question marks, but I remember fond memories of those halcyon days. I never would have been able to meet Andi without that class. That same year, we all took Spanish class one day a week. This continued for the remainder of my elementary school career. I wish I had taken it more seriously back in the day, although from what I do remember, I was pretty excited to participate whenever I could.

Funnily enough, I only did half of my kindergarten year at UES. Second semester, we spent it in Antwerp, from January-August. And it was the first year of the new building; the old location is presently the gym for the IU women’s volleyball team, and up until the 1970s was actually a high school, before Bloomington High School North (my high school) ended up taking its place. UES didn’t really have a mascot, but unofficially, we were the Owls, referring back to the old University High School days.

Back in the day, it was common for the fifth grade classes to go to a nearby woods called, appropriately enough, Bradford Woods. We only had nine guys in our bunk (Andi and another good friend of mine named Dave among them), but looking back, I think about how special it was: Andi hails from Albania, I’m half-Belgian, and we had one from Ghana, one from Kuwait, and three from Brazil. We didn’t all go to high school together, as about half of our bunk moved away before then and/or transferred schools, sometimes both. That was the tragic part of it: because many of my classmates were the children of parents who were studying at IU, you could never tell how long your friends were going to stay.

Unfortunately, I lost contact with some that I was hoping to keep it with. With a couple, I was able to re-establish contact, so that was lovely. You don’t get to choose your classmates, but I always wanted to reach out to them as best I could. Such is life.

Being Belgian, of course I got to do a report on it in sixth grade. Having visited all the exhibits in previous grades, and being the huge geography nerd that I am (most people from elementary school know me for that and my baseball fanaticism – and yes, I’ve kept both of them), I had been looking forward to that day for many years. To the best of my knowledge, it went well, and there were no major hitches. And sixth grade year (raise your hand if you had Mrs. Williams during ’99-’00) was probably the strongest individual class I was part of. We did our country units, and also did units on Vietnam and the ’60s, and on other major wars of the 20th century as well. It’s been over fifteen years since we graduated, but man, what a year that was.

Most recently, I ran an after-school French club for a semester, teaching French to the ALPS kids in grades 4-6 in fall semester 2011. I had just graduated college, but coming back to the building, it was just like I remembered it.

If you were at UES during that time, this post is for you. We were luckily enough to have so much of the world, and yet have so much of it yet to explore. Those bonds were some of the strongest through the middle and high school days. These ties that bind are very special. Thank you for allowing us to share them.

On the MCCSC website, instead of a picture of the school, it shows a drawn picture of a globe with children holding hands around it. We used this same design on a T-shirt for our grade’s musical revue each year. I guess it’s still popular. And the motto around it says, “Naturally global.” Couldn’t have put it better myself. And thank you, University School, for giving me those experiences.