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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A summer in Ireland

To sum up my experience so far: Ireland is awesome!!! I have had such an incredible time since I've been here. I'm studying abroad with an organization called Academic Programs International. I, along with nineteen other API students, have joined over one hundred other US students at the National University of Ireland, Galway in a summer Irish studies program. We have classes during the week, I'm taking History and Society, and on the weekends we fly off to various parts of Ireland. My classes are so interesting. Professors here at NUIG teach the lectures and lead the seminars. I've learned so much about Ireland in just a week.

This past weekend, we visited the Cliffs of Moher, a long line of cliffs plunging into the ocean in the west coast of Ireland on Saturday. The cliffs stand 700 feet above the water and it is an awesome sight to see. You feel so insignificant when faced with the immensity of nature, standing on the edge, looking down at the tiny waves below. The ocean stretches out in front of you, disappearing on the horizon. Sunday, we visited the Aran Island, an island off the west coast of Ireland, and hired bikes to ride to Dun Aoghasa, a three thousand year old fort on the edge of the island. The fort ends in three hundred foot cliffs standing over the ocean. It was an incredible experience to bike across the island, seeing the scenery and breathing in the crisp, ocean air. Large, stone walls stood around the fort, made even more amazing by the fact that they had been built over three thousand years ago.

As it seems that time is flying by, at the same time I feel like I've been here forever. I am loving my time here, I'm surrounded by the friendliest people, and the island is rich in ancient history and culture.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Travel Diary

I have decided to more thoroughly document my study abroad experience, as well as day to day adventures as a McDermott Scholar. It is still a work in progress, but I hope to have it fully up and functional within the next few weeks. The URL is http://kmclean.salet.org. Come check it out, kick the tires, etc. The updates will be almost daily for the first two weeks or so, as I bring the site up to speed. After that, updates will occur as the adventures do.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Zambia: interning with a non-governmental organization called Pact, describes Lusaka

I'm staying in a standard-hotel-type room in a small guesthouse, which, though expensive, gets me a clean room everyday and a kitchen in which I can make all my own food. It's in one of the nicest areas of Lusaka, where lots of government workers, diplomats, and business people live, and in fact the Zambian State House, the equivalent of the American White House, is the halfway point in my twenty-five minute morning walk to work. The State House is right across the street from Lusaka's main army base, and everytime I walk past I can't help but ponder that ironic metaphor for the power dynamics in so many African countries past and, though much lessened, present.

I work in a colonial-style compound house that looks more like it should be hosting embassy parties than the staff of an NGO. It's the middle of the dry season now, and if you drive out away from these suburban streets into the bush that surrounds Lusaka you'll find fields of dry brown grass dotted with still-lush green trees. By the cusp of the wet season in October or November, as the people hold their breath for the new planting season, even those trees will have lost their leaves. But for now I get a taste of the magnificence of the wet season in the colorful flower bushes that hang over the compound walls or sprout up along the sides of the streets. The neighborhood reminds me a bit of Plano, in fact, though they've substituted thick, high concrete or brick walls for chainlink or slat fences and each compound has the blazon of its particular security guard company posted on the metal gate. I suppose it's ironic that I feel so safe here when I'm surrounded by such an ominous vigilance, but I walk everywhere - to the supermarket, to the Internet cafe, to the pharmacy, feeling a bit as if I'd been transported to a tropical Dallas.

The rest of Lusaka is less prosperous. Neighborhoods range from the middle class, which have their own, smaller houses and walls but usually lack a security guard, to the compounds - Zambia's word for the slums. Stone and building materials are cheap here due to the leftovers from all the mines nearby, so at least there aren't the makeshift wood shacks so notorious in other large-city ghettos. But a neatly-built stone house with a tin roof might be bare inside. A family's possession's in the compounds are the real measure of their wealth, which is why Robert Mugabe's resettlement efforts just to the south, discussed here by the New York Times, are so devastating.

There's also another terrible secret - AIDS. The disease officially infects about 15% of the population, which is much less than some other nearby countries, but it's still having a devastating effect on the populace, particularly, and illogically, on the educated classes, whose power and comparative wealth is a strong temptation. Things have gotten bad enough among the teaching corps, for example, that public school students here often go to school in shifts; three sets of students receive instruction for only about three to four hours each day. And though I often see televised public service announcements targeting stigmatization, it'll take a bit of time before there's really a sea change in how people think here about abstinence, fidelity, the stigma of HIV, and the status of women here.

And just a bit about the nation itself: Zambia is about the size of Texas, with half the population - only about ten or eleven million - of which a million alone live in the capital, Lusaka. It's mostly flat and covered by bushlands, though there are several major rivers, including the Zambezi, which provide some of the continents' most exceptional game reserves. The major tourist attraction, though, is Victoria Falls, the magnificent Zambezi waterfall that Zambia shares with Zimbabwe. I'll try to get some pictures up here of that when I visit later on in the summer, because it's truly a sight not to be missed.