Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112
They criss-crossed the sky. The planes and my future friends. Growing up on a farm, I always wondered where they were going, where they were leaving, and most importantly, why.
Why were they going from one place to the next? Babies, old men, young couples, business people, fleeing refugees.
Every plane left a mark that only lasted the afternoon, but I never left the hill without counting how many planes crossed our little patch of Coshocton, Ohio.
Now, I sit on a much smaller hill in Springfield reflecting. I came to this place — a few turns off Route 40 — four years ago. I came to Wittenberg because I knew I could study abroad. I guess I wanted to follow some of those faded planes.
Still, I had no idea that Wittenberg would give me much more than a chance to trip across the ocean; it brought many people, from many places, here, to become fast and never-fading friends.
I can trace those first encounters like the edges of lace — delicate tendrils — leading into something complex. I met Elena Leontiou at Playfair during New Student Days.
Later I ran into her on Woodlawn Avenue and met Radhika Butala, then Fumiyo Yoshimura and Wakana Sato. Soon, I was sitting with all the international students in the Student Center Dining Room.
They had already formed bonds from their introductory week before all of us fuzzy-faced freshmen arrived, but I quickly became part of their crowd.
After growing up in a place where everyone seemed the same, I was now living with representatives from those places I could only before imagine when I glanced at a globe.
And they valued me for being someone from the place they had chosen to come to learn.
I suppose it was always my intrinsic desire to take people to my family's farm and show them a part of Ohio much different than Springfield, which gave many of us the opportunity to continue connections outside of Wittenberg.
Take Bastiaan Spanjaard, for example. Although he spent the Christmas holiday with another student from Coshocton County, he was still able to spend some time on our farm.
Together, we made the rounds visiting some of my closest friends, and he was able to ramble about in the corridors of my world for a brief time.
We had no idea that less than two years later, I would spend a few nights in his hometown of Amsterdam, staying with his parents and one of his ittle sisters, walking the streets he had always called home.
Then there was Easter, which provided another opportunity for me to get on the road and head home, taking with me Deirdre McNally and Radhika.
Deirdre and I had always looked at the world through similar eyes — farmers’ daughters, away from home, new territory under our feet, but ever with a love for nature’s green and humble way.
So it was no surprise that she was right at home climbing the round bales in the barn and showing us the “Irish way” of jumping fences (step up two rungs on the gate, bend your body over the top bar, grab onto the lower rungs on the other side, and flip over-head down, feet flying).
It was a feat we made her repeat a few times. Quite contrarily, Radhika was used to many, many people instead of many, many trees. Bombay was a far cry from our hundred acres populated more by cattle than people.
But we melded our ways, as always, during dinner — cooking a big Italian dinner for which most of my friends have come to know me. Freshman year flies by for everyone, I’m sure.
But it especially flies by for those students who come for only one year. Together, we made a home of a place that was once so strange and unfamiliar. Together, each of us served as part of the whole for others.
It is always difficult to say goodbye, but it is particularly overwhelming when many of my friends were flying back to some other part of the world. Again, I was ready to watch the sky. I could always go home; my family isn’t one to move.
Still, none of us were sure when we would make it beyond the individual distances again, to follow the lace back inwards toward the center we created at Wittenberg.
When I returned to Wittenberg that August, I was a little wary of forming close relationships with the bevy of new international students, but, of course, they were too wonderful not to befriend.
I lived with Fumiyo in a sweet little room at the end of the hall in Ferncliff where many of the new internationals stayed.
Fumiyo introduced me to all the Japanese women who would congregate in our kitchenette, one of whom would become a future housemate. Ferncliff gave us the space to linger into each other's lives and learn from the multiplicity of differences.
Claudia Just and Junko Higa lived together down the hall, just past Katayoun Izadshenas Amiri and Kristie Needs. There were many international roommates that year, which made our network of friends even closer.
Sophomore year brought more trips home to the farm with friends from afar. Fall break Anne Geurts came, and we spent a lot of time outside walking the hills.
They fascinated both of us but she because her homeland, The Netherlands, was so smooth. Going home also offered the opportunity for conversations about what most people consider the mundane but what we consider culture.
Those tiny differences. The way we do things at home. Thinking back through these experiences, I recall that they all gave us the time to be ourselves in a different way and to focus on how the interior connects with the exterior.
Those first two years of college were full of so many different ideas. Going home was always a time to blend concurrent worlds, and it gave all of my friends an opportunity to see life on the other side of all those ideas.
Soon Spring Break arrived and with it another journey home — one full of adventure.
I’ll never forget the times Mark Fajgenbaum, Ankur Mehrotra and I, having stopped because some spring field was too deliciously green to avoid, would get out of the car and dance, our own remnants of a favorite Hindi song filling the air.
We never missed an opportunity to rejoice in the fact that we were alive, young and having fun. At the same time, I was getting in gear. I was about to do what all my friends had done — leave behind everything they knew and cross the ocean.
Deirdre and I had been planning our reunion on her side of the sea, but it wasn’t real until I stepped off the plane in Dublin, Ireland, boarded some bus that they said would take us to the center of the city and found myself on some random street, blocks and blocks from where I was staying.
I could have gone anywhere abroad, but how often in life do you get to live in a place close to your friends? How many chances do you get to fall into, not only another person’s shoes, but also his or her country?
I didn’t want to go all the way there just to get plugged into another system that was set up already, so I decided that before I went to Liverpool Hope University College in England to study, I would see how I made out on other turf — Irish turf — during the summer.
I met a girl from Minnesota on the plane, and as we made our way from wherever we were to O’Connell Bridge, beyond Trinity College, and down Dame Street, with all our luggage, tired and extremely confused by the many different directions people had given us, it started to rain — hard.
I put my face up, my arms out and laughed. Amy seriously started to consider why she was following me. But she didn’t know how happy I was. Deirdre’s and my dreams had come true. I was there. This would be my home for a time.
At the end of the July, Deirdre and I joked that our tiny house in Cabra Park, Phibsborough, in Dublin, had become a youth hostel, for in and out went many internationals, and I was finally one myself.
Four Irish men, one Northern Irish woman, three Americans, two Poles, two Italians, an unknown number of Australians, and unidentified visiting Algerians all occupied the same space at various times.
It was a new center, one from which Deirdre and I were able to branch out. Our trips North — to her home — were some of the most memorable and quintessential. One trip was purely accidental but never forgettable.
Working different schedules, Deirdre and I always took advantage of having the same day off. One evening she looked at me and asked if I was working. I wasn’t. “Why don’t we go home? I'll call.”
No one was home, so we left a message that we’d be at the Portadown train station some time that evening. The train only went so far, and there wasn’t a direct train.
Sometime along our normal route, I paused, looked directly at her and asked, “Deirdre, what day is it?” “July 15th,” she said. Suddenly, we remembered the protests taking place in Portadown.
Any time around July 12th isn’t the time to go to Portadown. Portadown is where some Orangemen insist on marching through the Catholic section of town, an event met every year with varying levels of intensity. We were headed to the heart.
And so were Deirdre’s mother and aunt. I’ll never forget the terse reprimand for not thinking about the larger picture. Dublin seemed like a different world.
Deirdre's mother and aunt had to take a few different routes to get to us, and as we drove back the long way to avoid more blockades, Deirdre whispered to me, “Jess, I’ve never seen tanks before.” “Deirdre!
I’ve never seen armed artillery men before!” We pressed each other’s hands in another moment of faith, not only for ourselves, but for the many lives we didn’t know.
It was only a brief glance at the depth of a country, a tangible microcosm of history but also our history. We were sent back to Dublin by bus, then train and kept working until the end of July.
We also had a whirlwind tour of Deirdre’s old haunts in her country. Ever the farmer’s daughter, I was right at home with her cows, too.
It was not long after then that we arrived in Liverpool — my new home for the next five months. It was another gift to arrive early, to be a part of the city, the culture, before being a college student.
It was another opportunity for Deirdre to show me around, and we went out every day with a new place in sight. Soon, another opportunity opened up in my life that neither me nor my sister, Nicole, could refuse.
She quit her jobs and came to live with me in England. What a treat! We started off our endeavors on a direct route to France.
She hardly stepped off one plane and into one country before we were off on the train to Toulon to visit another ex-Wittenberger, Jean-Marc Hiberty.
He and his family opened their arms and their hearts to us as we took to the rarely seen side of Europe. Anyone can be a tourist, but we were lucky to be able to go straight to the roots of my friends’ lives.
We stayed with Jean-Marc’s parents and sister for two days and then Jean-Marc took us on a tour of his personal homeland. We went to the village he had grown up in, a place he hadn’t visited since he was a boy.
Of all the gifts that Jean-Marc gave me, it was to see a place, a physical landscape, transform through the memories he shared.
We communed in a moment of personal homage, a time when he had the chance to reflect on the passage and place of his life. These are the moments I treasure, and the reason I now share.
From France Nicole and I traveled to Italy and stayed with Ilaria Garzoli, her mother and sister. The first night we were there, my sister and I slept like angels.
We were only in our twenties, yet we had made it home to the country that part of our family had left in 1901. We were returning something that was given, paying homage to many things much larger than ourselves.
We slept in Ilaria's room, my sister just a foot away. I remember saying to her, “Pinch me, I think I’m dreaming.” “I can’t; I’m part of the dream.”
From a tiny welcoming alcove in northern Italy, we traveled to Firenze and Roma — two awed and numb children of dreamers. Our dreams landed where our great grandparents had started. We had come full circle.
Then I had to go to school. It was another first, a different journey. My sister settled in with friends and started adventures of her own. I became part of a different kind of dorm life. All in all it was more than perfect.
Liverpool became a home of its own, on its own terms. But just as fast as it began, the end arrived — the goodbyes, the good lucks, all those wishes I had sent out the previous years were returned to me as my sister and I headed home to Ohio.
I’m sure there are many students who remember the difficulty in shrinking down from the literally large landscape of Europe or wherever they were to a physically small campus with large ideas.
It took a whole semester to re-adjust completely, but I looked forward to my senior year at Wittenberg. I lived with two of my friends from sophomore year. Yukiko Sumida used to live above me in Ferncliff. Katayoun had lived down the hall.
All of a sudden we were living together, each in shock that our final year had come so quickly. Our new home was something that even Deirdre and I had in common four years ago — the address of a familiar crush.
But we made 29 W. Cassilly have its own history. It began that summer when we celebrated Katayoun’s birthday and then mine. It was the host of many different dinner parties, dances and always a place open to others.
We wanted to start our own cookbook — a random guide to Italian/American, Persian/Swedish, Japanese/Chinese, and vegetarian cooking. But we didn’t have time.
At the end, when someone called escort, it was security who identified us as “the international house.”
Of all the things Wittenberg gave me, the opportunity to share, to transform, to translate, to mesh and meld beyond the confines of physical space to the hearts and minds of others and the places they call home stands out the most.
I have no doubt that I will see most of my friends again. I’ve already seen many of them more than once. I still cannot believe the countless links I now have around the world, all starting here and spreading out like those tendrils of lace.
I can look up and imagine them crossing the sky — a sky I, too, will soon cross again.
This story traces only a few of the international friendships Jessica formed. She would like to thank all of her international friends she met at Wittenberg for opening their hearts and their homes to her during the last four years. Jessica plans to teach English in South America in the future.
Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112