Cliché Life Update: More Abroad Adventures

Coming Soon to An Instagram Feed Near You

I'm going to Morocco and Turkey this summer in late June. I hope I'll be able to keep this blog updated while I'm traveling, but we'll see. 

More important life update:

I'm going to graduate school!

This September, I'm moving back to London to complete a Masters degree in Political Economy of the Middle East at Kings College London. Hopefully, they'll let me stay this time.

Repost from SMU Abroad: "Peer Adviser Spotlight: Alec"

This is a repost from the blog I ran this past year about returning student from SMU's abroad programs. If you want to read more stories like this one check out my other blog here.


Alec Edwards

SMU-in-Madrid, Summer 2015
IFSA-Butler: London School of Economics, Academic Year 2015-2016
SMU-in-Israel, January 2017

International Studies and Human Rights majors; and Business Administration, History and Spanish minors

Graduating Spring 2017

atedwards@smu.edu


My favorite abroad memories are all while I was traveling during my free time, and since I studied abroad for a whole year my junior year I had a lot of time to travel. I think I saw over 13 different countries in the span of a year. I could ramble on for ages about each on, but my favorite trip was one of the few that I took by myself. While I was at LSE, I had a month off after Easter before exams started, so I decided to take a few trips around Europe. I had wanted to go to Trieste, Italy and Ljubljana, Slovenia since I had read that they were some of the most underrated travel destinations in Lonely Planet, Another reason I was so anxious to go was Trieste is the location of one of the only Nazi concentration camps in Italy. I had never gone to a concentration camp before, but I had been to the Holocaust Museums in both Dallas and Washington, DC. I had been to countless WWII museums, and honestly, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about the Holocaust. But I wanted to feel it, and as a Human Rights major, it felt especially important to me. I wanted to be in the same place that I had read about. So I packed my bags and left London for the week. After settling into Trieste for a few days, on a rainy morning, I took the local bus out to the south of the city to Risiera di San Sabba, the site of the camp. The whole thing felt surreal, and actually rather fictional. I was alone. The only people there were two workers. I said hello to them, but they returned to their office. The site is open-air, so as I walked through the building the rain began to pour. As I looked up to the sky where the smoke stack once stood, I was overwhelmed with the power of the camp, its meaning, and weight of it all came crashing down on me.
— Alec Edwards

Alec’s first study abroad was to Madrid, Spain. There he stayed with a host family and took Topics in Spanish Civilization and Spanish Conversation.

Sintra, Portugal, 2014

Sintra, Portugal, 2014

While you’re in Madrid you have to check out:

  • El Tigre: if you want great tapas for really cheap, come here!
  • Museo Reina Sofía: I’m really into modern art and this museum is one of the best I’ve been to
  • El Retiro: rent a boat, take some great pictures, don’t fall into the pond–it’s cold
  • Chocolatería San Gines: churros are great, but the best part about this place is that it’s open 24/7
  • La Bicicleta: my favorite hangout spot, and the neighborhood, Malesaña, is super hip.
  • Estación de Chamberí Museum: it’s an old subway stop that they have restored and turned into a museum. It’s a fun place to go and watch the train cars pass by.

His favorite memories from the trip were the group dinner in Granda, visiting la Confitería Santo Tomé in Toledo, and visiting Lisbon and Sintra on one of his free weekends. While he was in Madrid he also took a trip to Córdoba as part of a class trip and traveled to Paris on a free weekend.

SMU-in-Madrid group photo, 2014

SMU-in-Madrid group photo, 2014


The next fall, Alec traveled to London to attend the London School of Economics for a full academic year. At LSE, he took Introduction to Development in the Global South, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Islamic Empires: 1400-1800, and International Organizations.

Nick and myself, Bath, 2015

Nick and myself, Bath, 2015

While you’re in London you should definitely find time to do some exploring on your own and experience the great multiculturalism that London has to offer. Sure, the Eye, Tower Bridge, and Elizabeth tower are great! But you need to go get Indian food on Brick Lane, go to Old Spitalfields Market, check out Dinerama in Shoreditch, and buy tea from Fortnum & Mason. My favorite restaurant at the moment is actually a vegan and vegetarian place in Soho called Midreds. But there is so much other great food in London, I think I spent most of my money on food. When I wasn’t eating, I really loved touring the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Tate Britain, the Imperial War Museum, and the National GalleryIronically, while I was in London, the National Gallery had an exhibit on Fransisco Goya, and they had one of his painting on loan from the Meadows Museum. If you have a chance you should definitely try to see a concert at The O2 Arena. I went to see Ellie Goulding play there right before I went home for Easter, and it was a great cool experience to go to a concert in another country with my friends.

in Vienna, 2016

in Vienna, 2016

While he was in London for the year, Alec also traveled to Oxford, England; Prague, Czech Republic; Bath, England; Dover, England; Dublin, Ireland; Cork, Ireland; Edinburgh, Scotland; Rome, Italy; Copenhagen, Denmark; Stockholm, Sweden; Vienna, Austria; Zürich, Switzerland; Bern, Switzerland; Interlaken, Switzerland; Hamburg, Germany; Pisa, Italy; Florence, Italy; and Cambridge, England.


Alec’s last program was actually while he was a Peer Advisor in the SMU Abroad office. In January 2017, he traveled to Israel on the first ever SMU study abroad J-Term class. There, he took a 10-day Ways of Knowing course called Religious and Social Meanings of the Holy Land.

My favorite part about this study abroad trip was that I took it with some of my best friends. I found out that the office was sponsoring a J-Term program, and I really wanted to go. So got my friends to sign up with me, and it was honestly the most educational and rewarding trip. The program was really small, so we got to know the professors really well, and I loved learning from them. As much as it was a shock to me how structured and packed the trip was, it helped me understand something that I had been studying for so long from a completely different perspective.
Mikveh Squad, 2017 (left to right: me, JR, Claire, Patricia)

Mikveh Squad, 2017 (left to right: me, JR, Claire, Patricia)


Some recommendations he has for while you study abroad:

  • Studying abroad for so long can be tough, so if you have the chance make sure to join a club or local sports team so you can make some local friends.
  • Call your cell phone company and ask them to unlock your phone for international travel before you leave the country, they should do it for free and you can get a cheap sim card for data and texts once you arrive in your host country.
  • Don’t be afraid to do something you’ve never done before, but make sure you do your research first and be smart about it.
  • Study abroad AS MANY TIMES AS POSSIBLE. My study abroad experiences were my favorite part of undergrad, and I met some of my best friends while I was abroad.

PLSC Civil Rights Pilgrimage Day 8

Listening to Jennifer Ford at the University of Mississippi Archives left me with quite a
few onerous thoughts. I really enjoyed learning about each of the different artifacts from the
collection, but it got me thinking about the decisions and work behind the scenes to create
specific narratives about American history in the Deep South. My first question was: how do we
preserve history? In mainstream American culture, we gather documents, movies, recordings,
and books to tell the story of how our nation evolved, but in other cultures within the United
States, history is oral and lacks the same kind of texts and images that are considered valuable. I
wonder how we can tell the real history of Native Americans and African Americans when their
histories have been suppressed for so long. My next thought was: what history do we show? I
was wondering what parts of our history do we take pride in and what other parts of our history
have we tried to ignore and erase. I think the talk today demonstrated how that has been taking
place from the beginning of American history. Many people would try to erase the horrors and
deaths of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, but the University Archives is attempted to reclaim that
history. My third thought was on the Slave Insurance documents. I had no idea that slave owners
took out insurance for their slaves. I think it ties into what Jennifer Ford said about understand
the Civil Rights Movement. You cannot understand the Civil Rights Movement unless you
understand the 18th and 19th century. The mechanism of American culture and religion that
allowed whites to oppress and enslave African Americans developed and was perfected in the
centuries before the Civil Rights Movement. At the end of the presentation, I thought the card
that compared James Meredith to Abraham Lincoln to be one of the most moving artifacts on the
trip. It was a relief to see evidence that there were good people who believed in James Meredith
and the others who desegregated schools across America. Travelling across the South and
witnessing the pain and suffering of so many people is depressing. You begin to feel the same
desperation as the activists in the movement did years ago. It is almost unbearable, you bend
until you feel like you have broken, and the only thing that keeps you going is little sparks of
hope like the card some stranger sent James Meredith on October 4, 1962.
The Civil Rights Museum in Memphis was a good way to wrap up the trip. I felt like we were
walking back in time through the trip. Both physically and temporally. The Museum brought the
trip back in the front of my mind, and all of the experiences, people, and places of the week filled
the rooms around me. It felt special to be able to say “I went there.” 

Song: In America – John Legend

PLSC Civil Rights Pilgrimage Day 7

The House of Medgar Evars was very informative. I did not know who he was before the
class. For me, I was reminded of the history of the Civil Rights Movement that I do not yet
know. I was reminded that I can never be comfortable in my knowledge of human rights. I feel
like we repeat the same names in history over and over again until their names mean nothing to
everyone. Or they mean anything to anyone. How many times do people bring up Dr. King on
Facebook to diminish protests and demonstrations? These great people have become tools of the
oppressor to put oppressed peoples in their places. The bullet hole and the period furniture speak
to the violence of the movement, they speak to the attempts of past oppressors to put Medgar
Evars in his place and put him in his grave. He and his family lived every day in fear that
someone would bomb their home, or shoot them through their windows. The beds are lowered,
the windows are raised, and the door was moved to shelter the children. The Movement was violent. 
I enjoyed my time at the Smith Robertson Museum. I think it spoke a lot to the ability of
communities to overcome great disadvantages. I only wish there were more resources and
museums to discuss slavery in the United States. We have not yet accepted the horrors of our
past, so we are unable to build a united community. Museums about the Transatlantic Slave Trade
help us reconcile the horrors of slavery and disenfranchisement of African Americans and other
minority, but so many people have no idea how violent and dangerous slavery and oppression
was for millions of minorities. I am frustrated because I do not know all of this history because
it deemed unnecessary. Because we need to let sleeping dogs lie and we are only causing
division in America because people want their suffering to be recognized. The reflection at the
museum felt unproductive. I think the main reason it felt unproductive is because we are not a
community. The trip has felt divided. I feel like a lot of people on the trip are coming from good
places, but they are unwilling to listen. They only want to speak and be heard. I understand their
frustration, they believe in what they are saying, they want other people to know what they
know, but we need to find a better outlet for that frustration.
The Winter Institute was a very interesting presentation. It was insightful to hear about
the connection between the Institute and the Philadelphia Coalition. It was really cool to see how
their work in the institute is used in communities have visited. I liked hearing about some of the
other initiatives that the Institute works on at Ole Miss, but I felt like the time could have been
better spent actually participating in some of the activities that the speaker mentioned. I think
that something like the story circle would have greatly benefited the group as a whole. I think
that there was a lot of distrust in the group because of perceived grievances and prejudices within the group which made the reflection difficult. The reflection felt very hostile. I think there were a
few good moments, but it was not productive. There were quite a few people that took it upon
themselves to attack others, and I did not appreciate that. I wish that we had more time on the
trip to work through that kind of hostility.

Song: Land of the Free – Joey Bada$$

PLSC Civil Rights Pilgrimage Day 6

The Rosa Parks Museum was a very informational trip. It was good to discuss the actual
incident of Rosa Parks protesting segregation on the Montgomery buses in detail. I feel like we
are talking about such a short and vague history of the boycott that I could never really describe exactly
what happened on that day. The legal explanation was especially interesting to me because I had
never known that she did not break the law that day. Learning that fact demonstrated to me how
far the Jim Crow laws went to dehumanize African Americans in any and all ways that were
possible. Furthermore, it was strange to learn that bus drivers had the authority of police on their
buses; today it seems novel, but I can imagine how it was used to force the submission of
African Americans in all public spaces. One of the things that I have noticed about this trip is the
reoccurring theme that people are trying to remove that troublesome history from America’s
past. Professor Jordan said that the plaque commemorating the arrest of Rosa Parks was actually
removed with no plans for a museum, and it was only through community efforts did the
museum replace it. That shows me the importance of holding people accountable to maintain and
preserve our history.
The Equal Justice Initiative was a really cool experience. It was exciting to learn about
how a local organization was pushing for change in their own community. One of the points that
the representatives of EJI made that resonated with me was that “slavery didn’t end in 1865, it
just evolved.” The work and research that they have done to correlate lynching rates to death
penalty rates is astonishing and something I never would have thought of before. I appreciate that
they believe that the mainstream narrative of civil rights is incomplete. It feels incomplete to me
as well. I want to come back and see the National Memorial to Lynching and the museum they
are building. The most important thing that I took away from that was that we can all create
change in our own communities. We should be collecting soil samples from the locations of
lynching in Texas, too. Problems like mass incarceration, wrongful death penalty sentences, and
children imprisoned for life are not only problems in Alabama. They are also problems in Dallas
and across the country.
Crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge reminded me that we are on our own freedom ride.
We would not even have been able to take this trip 52 years ago, but thanks to the people who
tried to cross this bridge, we can. We have come a long way from 1965, but we still have a long
way to go.
 

Song: Glory — Common & John Legend