Friday, January 30, 2015

From The Director's Desk - Verrazano Travels in 2014

Professor Charles Liu, Verrazano Director, did some traveling in 2014 as part of his academic work.  Below, he shares some of his observations about the places he visited.  Note the Verrazano t-shirt worn proudly, and be sure to bring your Verrazano t-shirt on your next adventure!

The Verrazano School is still young - just finishing our seventh year of existence - and not everyone has heard of us yet.  That’s changing, of course, as Verrazano alumni increase in number and continue to do great things that carry our reputation far and wide.  Meanwhile, I am happy to spread our name wherever I go.  In the tradition of Verrazano students sharing their study abroad experiences, I’ll describe a few touristy highlights from some of my 2014 academic travels:

Vindobona ruins
Vienna, Austria - At the height of the Roman Empire, Vindobona was a thriving fortress and settlement.  Today, the great city of Vienna is built on Vindobona’s foundations, and one branch of the Vienna Museum (free admission on the first Sunday of every month!) is dedicated to that history.  The ancient Romans welcomed a diverse population that brought a wide variety of languages, religions, and cultural practices into its domain, while it propagated its government and technology outward.  (Read on to see what I mean...)

Bratislava, Slovakia - Either by boat along the Danube River or by commuter bus along the highway, it’s almost easier to travel from Vienna to Slovakia’s first city than it is to go from Staten Island to New Jersey.  So I went!  Bratislava is a relatively small city, yet rich with history, culture, and art.  It was a great half-day sojourn to amble around this Eastern European capital, once behind the Iron Curtain and now a vibrant, growing free economy.  Have some bryndzové halušky - super-delicious traditional Slovak dumplings with sheep cheese and ham - when you go.

Masada and the Dead Sea
Masada - This UNESCO World Heritage Site in southern Israel is far more than just an opulent ancient Roman palace and fortress overlooking the Dead Sea.  The Roman siegeworks that surround the palace, occupying some 700 acres, are the best-preserved of its kind in the world.  Although the palace towers more than a thousand feet above the desert floor, the Dead Sea basin is so low that the palace’s highest point is less than 200 feet above sea level - half the height of Todt Hill.  It was particularly remarkable to me that many of the architectural features of the palace, including its heating and plumbing systems, looked exactly like the features I saw in Vienna’s Vindobona ruins, 1,500 miles and a continent away.  Pretty amazing, those ancient Romans.

Rawabi in the West Bank
Rawabi - In the West Bank, 15 miles north of Jerusalem and 15 miles south of Nablus, is a residential community under construction that is being modeled after American-style planned communities like Reston, Virginia.  When completed, Rawabi will have schools, shopping, an amphitheater, and 6,000 family homes.  It felt to me as if I were touring a new subdivision being built on Staten Island - complete with model homes, showrooms, and construction vehicles rolling around and beeping from all sides.

In all my travels, what struck me most was the commonality of the people I saw and met - all of our shared hopes and aspirations, all of us doing the best we can and trying to do the right thing, and all of us making the most of what we have to make the world a better place.  The leader of the development at Rawabi said it well; he told us that he grew up in Nablus, just a few miles away, and when he visits he sees his childhood friends and acquaintances still there - many of whom are more gifted and talented than he - who never left their hometown, and never explored beyond the limits of what they’d known since birth.  He counted himself so fortunate that he had the chance to go to the United States, to live and get an education here, so he could learn and see all the amazing things that exist in this world, and then embrace the opportunities he saw to make a good life for himself, his family, and his community.  Sometimes the world can feel a little too big, or crazy, or intimidating; if we can remember, though, to ground ourselves in what really matters, as one human being to another, then all that other stuff will seem much less daunting as we strive to do the best we can, one day at a time.      

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