In the Shadow of Salvador Dalí in Spain

A land of good food, remarkable culture, and the siesta.

If you ever get the chance to go to Spain, just go.  Get there as fast as you can!

Several years ago I was blessed with the opportunity to give a guest lecture on public sphere theory at the Instituto de Empresa (IE) in the heart of Madrid’s financial district.  I must tell you this is an awesome campus in an amazing city. It has approximately 1900 students from 90 different countries, so it is very cosmopolitan.  There is also a satellite campus in the ancient city of Segovia.  There, classrooms are built above and around archeological sites. The whole experience was simply extraordinary.

All guest faculty at IE in Madrid stay in the Residencia de Estudiantes.  This was the first cultural center of Spain and it has hosted a number of artistic and scientific scholars…including the painter Salvador Dali. All faculty members in residence eat meals together and gather in common areas to encourage dialogue between the arts and sciences.   Other scholars who have stayed there include Albert Einstein and Jose Ortega y Gasset. I was humbled to be in the shadow of such great minds. Continue reading

IFest: The Best Houston Has to Offer (For Extra Credit)!

Have you ever wanted to travel to Argentina, Australia, Brazil, the Caribbean, China, India or Ireland?  How can you do that without buying a plane ticket, getting a passport, or taking time off from work?

There is a way to do just that in the cosmopolitan city of Houston, which is one of America’s most diverse urban areas.  It’s called the Houston International Festival (or IFest for short).  For two weekends (this year April 26-27 and May 3-4), downtown Houston becomes another place on the planet.  Literally.  The countries/regions that I just listed have been the featured cultures at IFest in the last six years.

If you want to visit Australia in the next two weekends, head to IFest because that is the highlighted country this year.  The culture of “the land down under” will be presented with a lot of activities.  I must say as an American expatriate, I always resonated with the Aussies I met traveling or working. They are a lot like us Americans, yet also a little bit different (in a very good way) so it should be a lot of fun.

Between 100,000-150,000 people visit IFest annually.  This is probably the largest international festival in the United States.  When I teach Intercultural Communication here at HBU, I offer students extra credit to attend the festival and then have them write a paper about the food, music, and cultural artifacts that they observed using the theoretical concepts we learned in class.  There is a lot to eat, hear, and see! Continue reading

Zombie Apocalypse

Today in the entire history of the universe, let alone in your own history, there has never been another day just like today, and there will never be another just like it again. Today is the point to which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until the hour of your death. If you were aware of how precious today is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all.  – Frederick Buechner

Buechner will inspire you if you read his work. He writes short fiction and reflective Christian books. Take a look again at this quote; he wants us to imagine just the here and now. We pine for the future and carry around so much regret from the past. We always end up frittering away the precious moment in hand because we’re not careful, we’re not watchful, we’re not grateful.

We live in a world that is so future oriented. I teach college students every day. And each day it seems more and more as if we’ve just gathered together for a dress rehearsal. We’re all spending so much time, energy and thought preparing ourselves for the future: career, family (gulp), citizenship, taxes, etc.

What has ended up happening to us all is that we’ve missed the moment at hand. I don’t think college is really supposed to be a rehearsal for the future. It’s supposed to be magic, momentous, and meaningful right now – for what it is right now, not for a promised investment in the future.

I look out at all those bored and disengaged faces. What could this class have to do with my future? How is this going to help me make more money? All the while this very moment is lost again and again.

By the way, I’m trapped in this zombie movie as well. I make all kinds of speeches about “preparing for your future”. Isn’t that what I should be doing? Training current students to become future people?

It’s that Evangelical Mind again.

We are all living in a zombie apocalyptic existence of our own making. We’re dead to the here and now because we’re so completely absorbed in making a successful future for ourselves. The only antidote is to wake up and get engaged with right now. With the only reality we can possess.

Buechner encourages us to live in the present moment, to awaken and to invest our minds and souls into this very second. It’s as fragile as a lightening bug held in the shaking hand of a five year old.

But it’s all we’ve got.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. – Jesus

To My Sophomores

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Dear New Sophomore,

I would call you by your first name, but I haven’t met you yet.  But I will, in about a week, and then I really need to know your name, because it is important to call people by their names.  In fact, I am so excited to know who you are, I want you to go ahead and learn the names of everyone in our class.  This way you know that we are a team, and we are all trying, together, to fill in the gaps of knowledge that we all have.

You might meet your new best friend in this class, so go ahead and learn names in case that is the case.  You might also meet your intellectual nemesis, the person who drives you so crazy with their condescension and pretensions that you throw yourself into your work, graduate summa cum laude, and get your law degree from Harvard, just to show that person a thing or two.  People want to be addressed by their names, because almost everything in this world is personal to someone, and you are kidding yourself if you think otherwise.  Plus, it is harder to say something unkind if you have started that sentence with someone’s first name.  Trust me, if you can learn the periodic table, you can learn to remember names.

I want to reassure you that I completely agree that it is unfair that you are labeled “sophomores,” which inevitably makes anyone with a pulse think of the word “sophomoric,” and I am here to tell you that I have met people with doctorates who better fit that description than many of my students.  What can I say?  Labels are unjust, but they can also be great incentives for proving everyone else wrong.  The traditional meaning of “sophomore” comes from the Greek roots for “wisdom” (think of the the word “philosopher,” which means a lover of wisdom) and then the root for “fool” (the same root for words like “moronic”).  I know this seems oxymoronic:  How can you be wise and foolish at the same time?   Some roughly translate “sophomore” (besides being a second year student in high school or college) as someone who has gained knowledge, but not enough wisdom to know how to apply it.  Some think of sophomores as those who think they know more than they actually do.

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