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Russia Trip 2017-2018


A select group of 14 Texas A&M International University students won’t be soaking up the rays at a Spring Break beach.  Instead, they’ll travel over 6,100 miles to Moscow, and St. Petersburg, Russia as part of the University’s “Reading the Globe Program.”

The students participated in the University’s Common Read and through a competitive application, essay and interview, have been selected to participate in the “Reading the Globe” study-travel opportunity.  The selection of travel to Russia was framed by the setting of the Common Read book for 2018, the acclaimed “A Backpack, A Bear and Eight Crates of Vodka,” by Lev Golinkin. Golinkin visited with TAMIU students and offered personal insight into his text and personal journey last October.

Students participating in the program include Isabela Barrientos, Marcos Enriquez, Briana Escobar, Kimberly Flores, Mayra Hurtado, Sergio Martínez, José A. Medrano, Aranza Obscura, Alyla Robles, María Graciela Rodríguez, Aaron E. Salazar, Rebecca Vela, Alfredo Velasco and Alan Villarreal.

Their time in Russia is highly structured with academic classes, guest lectures, related guided tours and a service-learning opportunity, said Dr. Conchita Hickey, TAMIU professor emeritus of the University College, which directs the popular initiative.

“Among trip highlights are visits to the Lenin Mausoleum, the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, a guided tour of Cold War bunkers, an evening in Gorky Park, tour of St. Petersburg, the burial place of Russian Tsars, a roundtable discussion on the Bolshevik Revolution with students at St. Petersburg State University, a trip to the Winter Palace at the Hermitage, and Catherine’s Palace,” said Dr. Hickey, professor emeritus.

Hickey provided some program history.

“Launched in 2008, the Reading the Globe program requires all First Year students to read a book focused on an international topic. This book is read and discussed as part of the UNIV 1101 freshman seminar curriculum, Learning in a Global Environment I. The Common Read Program provides the opportunity for discourse about issues relevant to students, and raises social awareness on a local and global scale.  We also share the experience with the City of Laredo as the selected book is part of its ‘One City, One Book’ program,” Hickey explained. 

To date TAMIU Reading the Globe student groups have traveled to Bosnia, Cambodia, China, Chile, Croatia, Ghana, Hungary, India, Poland, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey. 

 

Russa Trip Students
Left to right, front row are Aranza Obscura, Isabela Barrientos, Alyla Robles, Briana Escobar, Mayra Hurtado and Kimberly Flores. Second row, left to right, Sergio Martínez, Alan Villarreal, Marcos, Enriquez, Aaron E. Salazar, José A. Medrano and Alfredo Velasco. Not pictured are Rebecca Vela and María Graciela Rodríguez. 

 

Picture of Tami Summers

Ms. Tami D. Summers

Instructor

 

Picture of Dr. Hickey

Dr. Conchita Hickey

Dean Emeritas

Senior Lecturer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PICTURE

Mr. John Hickey

Adjunct Faculty

Ana Clamont

Ana Clamont

Design and Brand Manager

Photographer and Blogger



Their experience will be shared right here with regular blog entries being posted as they are on their travels.

The group will depart Laredo on March 8, 2018 and return March 21, 2018.

To see more photos, follow the adventure on Instagram - @TAMIUreadingtheglobe 


Mayra Hurtado at London Heathrow Airport

Since it was my first time flying, I was awfully terrified of getting on the plane. I did some research just to know what to expect and, the more I read into it, the more scared I became. A plane ride was described by far too many sources as being comparable to a roller coaster. I'm not much of a roller coaster lover, so this information just made me feel more afraid. As we started getting into the plane, I became more anxious knowing that take off was getting closer and closer. Thankfully, the flight went by really smoothly and there wasn’t much turbulence when we were in the air. It was a short flight from Laredo to Houston, but nonetheless my first flight will be a memory that will last a lifetime.

Mayra Hurtado
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador


Today was a roller coaster of comforts and discomforts. I enjoyed every step of it. It was an interesting adventure walking around the airport in Houston, London, and Moscow, observing the melting pot we had just poured into.

We made our way to Houston on Monday afternoon. The flight was easy and smooth. Once in Houston, we resolved an issue involving several missing boarding passses. This was completely necessary and not much of an inconvenience. We ate at Ruby's Diner, which serves pretty good Chili-Cheese fries. I sat there in silence taking it all in. I sat alone in a group for a moment and kept an ear out for all those accents and languages I didn't recognize. What followed?  A realization of what life was worth living. The interesting part of life, where things are different in every corner of your path. This thought wandered for the next 17 hours while we went to London and then to Moscow.

Once in Moscow, I realized Russians are not what I expected at all. I can't wait to find out more in the daylight.

Aaron Salazar 
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador 

Aaron Salazar with Reading the Globe group

Alfredo Velasco in front of Russian architecture

My culinary adventures throughout Russia have so far been quite the whirlwind of experiences. From meat-filled pancakes to the famous Russian borscht, it’s an accumulation of tastes I had no idea existed. Today was our first day in St. Petersburg, and for lunch we headed to a local cafe that specializes in authentic Russian pies — not your typical round, crust on the bottom creation — but fresh pastry dough stuffed with either a sweet or a savory filling. The offerings ranged from rabbit with mushrooms, salmon with broccoli, to cherry, apple and loganberry (a tart berry found only in northern Europe). I chose salted herring, a white fish which oddly enough with the pie crust, tasted much like the sushi we would find in our local HEB aisle. The best part however was tasting the pies of everyone around me as we were all sharing the experience of Russian cuisine together, giving our thoughts on each dish. One peculiar detail I noticed is that all of our food was cold, almost like a deli sandwich cold, and our drinks were room temperature. We quickly found out Russians don't pair ice with their drinks unless one specifically requests it. Makes sense given the fact they live in such a frigid part of the world but it still left me confused as to why they wouldn’t want a nice warm pie. Nevertheless, we left only crumbs.

Alfredo Velasco 
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador 

 Russian cuisine


Today, we embarked on a journey that will undoubtedly remained ingrained in our minds. As the freezing snow fell from the sky, obscured by the clouds and fog, the gorgeous Winter Palace emerged in the distance. This was a moment that a camera could not properly capture. This perfect moment, this remarkable scene, was one we would never forget. As gorgeous as the structure is architecturally, its true value rests in the rich historical artifacts that lay inside. The Winter Palace is the largest museum in the world. From art, to architecture, to weapons of war, all can be found here. The sheer amount of knowledge disseminated was simultaneously overwhelming and riveting. There was so much to learn in such little time. We discussed some of history's most fascinating and influential people such as Catherine the Great, Leonardo da Vinci, and Voltaire. One of the most interesting aspects of our visit was learning of Empress Catherine the Great; her perspectives were truly deserving of study. She is a true example of what a great ruler should aspire to be. The lavish design of the interior may make it the most aethestically gorgeous marvel on earth. The gold-leaf on wood blended with reds, whites, and blues. The Winter Palace is the epitome of the Russian imperial era. This experience will remain with each witness for a life time. While we were a meager 18 of the 200,000 visitors the Winter Palace receives yearly, the knowledge and memories we gained are incalculable.

Alex Medrano 
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador

Winter Palace


After a very long and very cold day in Moscow, we boarded a train that would take us to our second city of the trip — St. Petersburg! This had to be everyone’s first over night train ride. We were excited of course and curious as to what to expect. Tickets in hand, we lugged our huge suitcases down a rather narrow hallway. So, size matters. Our cabin was every bit of eight feet long and five feet wide. There were four girls, four large suitcases, various carry on and no space! With a bit of imagination, a lot of cramming and even more patience we settled in. The train service included goodies such as slippers, a bottle of water, a candy bar, and toothbrush. Each bunk was equipped with comfy linens and fluffy pillows. It was for sure a night to never forget full of laughter and conversations with my new family. We finally fell asleep around 3 A.M, lulled by the smooth rhythm of the train tracks. Morning came all too soon, and with it more chaos. But that’s a story for another day. 

Brianna Escobar 
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador 

Brianna Escobar and fellow trip mates on Russian train

We have been to many different historical sites here in Russia, all of them with great significance to country’s history. Nonetheless, the one that touched me the most was Red Square. Readings and images simply do not do justice to this place. I personally found it beautiful all around. And I do mean all around. The square is bounded by red stone walls and churches — at least four churches. This made it attractive to me as Red Square is typically associated with Communism and a dearth of religion. The Kremlin is definitely a sight to see — the onion domes, the bright colors, the original architecture, simply overpowers any preconception one could have about it. Though we could not go in (a familiar phrase- “No!”) we did get to see Lenin’s Mausoleum. I found it curious that the Russian government would still exhibit such a person for public enjoyment. St. Basil’s Cathedral right next to the Kremlin is both majestic and a way to reaffirm this country’s spirituality following the Soviet times. Visiting Red Square should be on everyone’s bucket list. I really thank TAMIU for making this possible for me.

Sergio Martinez 
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador

RTG Group at the Red Square


Alan Villarreal at the Moscow Choral Synagogue

Our visit to the Moscow Choral Synagogue was a short yet highly rewarding experience. Being a person who greatly esteems the culture of Israel, my joy was full as we entered this authentic house of worship. The men in our group were handed complementary kippahs to wear on our heads as we entered the holy sanctuary, instantly increasing my enthusiasm. When I've read about events taking place in a synagogue in the Bible, I had imagined them to be simple and quaint, placing more emphasis on the Scriptures rather than the setting. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to view this synagogue's focus on elegant decor and intricate interior design. Even so, the contrasting Edenic paintings of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life; the walls interlaced with Hebrew Scriptures and prayers; and the pastel color schemes that characterized the room enhanced the atmosphere, making it appear heavenly. We engaged in inquiry with one of the synagogue rabbis; he shared the synagogue's history, which had its founding in 1891. Interestingly, he explained how this was the only synagogue allowed to operate during the Soviet period in Moscow—an attempt by the government to appear more tolerant and less antisemitic. Although we were not privy hearing the men's acapella choir (from which the synagogue derives its name), the experience was personally enriching, helping me view the Jewish faith with greater regard. Furthermore, a visit to the gift shop enabled me to add one more kippah to my collection, and I left feeling greatly blessed. 🕍🔯����

Alan Villarreal 
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador 


Stereotypes. What is a stereotype? According to the dictionary, a stereotype is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. We tend to use these stereotypes as we try to make meaning and create understanding of other cultures, other people— most anything foreign to ourselves.  But are stereotypes real?  Are they useful? Are they harmful? This afternoon, we were able to meet with our Russian peers at university in St. Petersburg. In groups of four — 2 Russians, 2 Americans —we discussed the topic of typical American and Russian stereotypes. Of course, it is easy to assume and believe these stereotypes, such as Russians never smiling and Americans maybe smiling a little too much. But by the end of the session, most stereotypes were dispelled, clarified or the stories behind them were shared. I came to see how, in the end, we are all just people. These students are young adults just like us. It was enlightening and eye-opening being able to hear the Russian students' perspective on life and America. My new friends, Vlada and Nikita, recommended some Russian Soviet movies to watch and a few flavorful dishes I shouldn’t leave Russia without trying. This experience has definitely widened my view on many levels and encouraged me to want to learn more about the array of cultures in our world.. Now, I can say I have friends in Russia, and Vlada and Nikita have friends from America. Borders and boundaries set limits, but crossing them brings us together as a human race.

Isabela Barrientos 
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador

Isabela Barrientos, sitting amongst friends
RTG group with TAMIU banner

With Russia as my first international trip, I knew I was bound to experience something enlightening that would expose my hidden interests and give me a reason to become an even more inquisitive individual. I was also in search of an experience providing an immense amount of cultural knowledge. That was exactly what the tour of St. Petersburg gave me. As we cruised through the city of palaces, we stopped by the cabin of Peter the Great; it was the first residential building built in St. Petersburg, and it housed the tsar from 1703-1708. This city is now one of the only European cities that has been able to maintain its first building. The preservation of the city allows it to be a mecca for cultural and historical landmarks. Keeping landsites such as the St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral  intact since the 18th century allows for society to get a feel and really comprehend the background of the city and the vast impact history has had on it. Moreover, St. Petersburg embodies the importance of rich history. I’ve been inspired. There is so much to learn. A city that embraces its history and preserves its antiquity only gives future generations a chance to truly understand the ways in which our world has evolved. My eyes (and camera lens) experienced surreal moments throughout this tour of beautiful, colorful, inspirational St. Petersburg. 

Aranza Obscura
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador

Aranza and fellow RTG ambassador, Alfredo Velasco

Through the biting cold we went, gingerly trying to control our skidding feet on the slippery ice, all for the glittering jewel that is Pushkin’s Catherine’s Summer Palace. This treasure was constructed for Catherine the Great as her summer house. Later her daughter, Elizabeth, lavishly added to the palace; theorists claim Elizabeth’s excesses lead to Russia’s bankruptcy. Inside we glimpsed a world full of opulence, luxuries and riches comprised of over fifty rooms, all of which have an individual and designated purpose (dining, dressing, waiting, dancing). One of my personal favorites, the Great Room, housed the most ornamental decorative gold-leaf of all palaces in Saint Petersburg. It was renovated after the Great Patriotic War when Germans invaded and burnt part of the palace. The intricacy of such architecture left us in awe; we learned of the Baroque style meaning that each and every piece was unique as per Elizabeth’s request. Due to time (not enough) and circumstance (on going renovations) we were only able to see a part of the palace — but that small taste left us hungry for more.

Kimberly Flores
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador

Kimberly Flores in front of Summer Palace


The jeweled costumes, the elaborate set design, the grand stage were the first thing that caught my attention when we walked into the theatre to watch Swan Lake. I wondered if the dancers knew what to do and where to go, if they could throw in a surprising trick or two, if they seemed to be enjoying their part as a performer. All this was juvenile charm, but I was anxious for other qualities besides charm.

The dancers had unusual control over their movements. Their movements were unusually clear to the eye, and I could feel the difference of emphasis and urgency in their motions. I was not only watching charming dancers, but a dance. A story. I moved with the changes in their energy: taut or easy, active or passive, pressing or delaying, beginning or ending. Dynamics, space, and time, the dancers called it all to my attention and kept these three strands of interest going all the time. Those elements -- bodies that contract and hinge, sudden sinkings and instantaneous risings, sashaying across a crowded stage -- absorbed me, and now, it is an experience that will always dance around in my memory.

Alyla Robles 
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador 

RTG Group outside of Russian theatre house

RTG group in front of Cold War era Soviet bunker

Among all the sites we had the opportunity to visit during our short time in Moscow, the Cold War era Soviet bunker was most astonishing. The simple facade of the shelter keeps its secret well hidden. Inside, accompanied by our tour guide/comrade, we descended (and eventually ascended) eighteen levels of stairs finally reaching the rich history housed under those thick steel walls. It was mesmerizing. For example, I stood in the very command room where, decades ago, Soviet generals gathered to decide the possible fate of the world. I got shivers as I viewed the underground office that was built for Stalin to carry out his Communist agenda. It was the kind of feeling that is typically experienced through books or documentaries. Seeing history and historical artifacts first person makes one more aware of it. I now have a powerful knowledge of how our important our past is to our future. As the lights went out, the emergency sirens came on, and screams flew from our mouths. It was a surprise mock nuclear drill! Our eyes were opened to the fear that once paralyzed people on a constant basis, reminding us to ensure it never be felt again. 

 

Thank you...Marcos Enriquez
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador


Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin. We all, at some point, have heard at least one of these names; and we know, for sure, that they are related in some way to Russia. On our last day in St. Petersburg, we had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Professor Dmitry Vasilenko from Saint Petersburg State University of Economics regarding the October Revolution. The lecture was riveting; the professor spoke with so much passion and wisdom that it was impossible to not be engaged by his narrative. As a history major, I have always been fascinated by events that changed the course of humanity, and the Russian Revolution is certainly not the exception. However, it was insightful to learn that the Revolution was not a radical movement that took place in 1917, but that it was a complex process that lasted between 1861 and 1921, a gradual affair that could have been stopped in many ways throughout the years. Also, the lecture helped me better understand not only the Revolution itself but the philosophy of life and the role of government that Russians find more efficient. They view the world differently than us because their history is so different from us. They are aware of their past and what has worked for them and what has not. They are a prime example of a country that knows its history so that it won't be condemned to repeat it.

Marcos Enriquez 
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador

Marcos Enriquez


Sergio Martinez in front of the St. Isaac Cathedral

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia experimented a revival of religion. All faiths began to gain strength in this country. The Russian Orthodox church, which accounts for 80% of the nation’s faithful, has seen the biggest increase. One of its biggest Cathedrals, St. Isaac, located in Saint Petersburg is definitely one of the most beautiful churches in the whole world. I had never been inside an Orthodox church (there are no pews or specific sermons; worshippers stand together and chant or sing) and I am glad I was able to be inside this one. Although it is now commonly used as a museum, it retains the original Icons used hundreds of years ago for worship. I was surprised to find out that they had survived the Soviet period when priests and religious people were killed simply because of their faith.  They survived but required much renovation, renovation that continues today. It is honestly a breathtaking view: the gold, the frescoes on the ceiling, the immense size of the interior. As a spiritual person myself, I have never felt closer to heaven.

Sergio Martinez 
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador 


For most of us, our morning started around the wee hours of four in the morning (which was an accomplishment in itself). We were to collect our belongings from our hotel in Saint Petersburg and move onto our next stop, Vienna. The stories I heard after departing the hotel lead me to believe some of us did not have quite the smooth transition. One traveler said they couldn’t sleep due to their overnight packing while others like myself had not packed a single item. Luggage weight is a big deal. Another accomplishment in the process of the flying over to Vienna was that most of us proceeded through the airport confidently given that we had gone through the whole show a couple of times already. A few, however, didn’t have it so easy. One traveler had to remove items from his luggage because “it had a bump.” Another had to go through heavy screening; she said the officials asked her questions related to her passport and the reason for her stay. Overall, the airport was very organized in the way they dealt with crowds. Regarding security and customs, there were about 4-5 stations we had to go through, each had about a 2-3 minute walking distance. Our luggage and carry on had to be scanned, we checked in our suitcases and printed out our tickets, walked to get our tickets verified and into customs where they proceeded to stamp my passport and scan my carry on once again. Once at the gate we had a bus take us to where the plane was situated. We bundled up and headed across the freezing tarmac. Good bye Russia. One long nap later (smooth plane ride) we landed in snow covered Vienna. Getting to the airport in Vienna resulted in transitioning to the German language (a bit more familiar) and the use of euros over rubles. Crossing yet another border took me to a place of unfamiliarity (Vienna) that will soon be unfamiliar no more—third accomplishment.

Kimberly Flores
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador

Kimberly Flores in Vienna


Alyla Robles in Vienna

Honestly, I don’t know anything about Vienna. Except maybe… sausages? Knowing Vienna was only a two-and-a-half hour flight away from our second stop, St. Petersburg, I could hardly keep my excitement contained. My first impressions of Vienna were fantastic. From my hotel room alone, I could instantly see a bustling city filled with old world and new world features. It gave me a great perspective of the city from above. Needless to say the colorful buildings enticed me to throw my bags down and start seeing what this city had to offer.

During our walking tour, we snaked through alleyways and and crowded streets. It seemed no matter where we went (the Ring Road, the Augustinian Church, or St. Stephen's Cathedral), there was a great mix of cultures both local and abroad. In Vienna, walking down the street and seeing gothic architecture mixed with modern shopping in industrial buildings, and one offs like the Spanish Riding School mixed with every style of food from all over really was amazing. Even though this is only the beginning of our stay in Vienna, I can describe it in three words: enticing, stunning, and timeless.

Alyla Robles
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador


After a fulfilling breakfast, we hopped on the metro and headed to University Wien. There l noticed the beautiful buildings and statues. Once inside, Dr. Wolfgang Mueller was ready to enlighten us on the historical relationship between the Soviet Union, Jewish migration, and Austria. I was eager to learn more about the Jewish community’s struggle migrating from the USSR. We already had some previous knowledge about the topic as our common read, A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka, detailed author Lev Golinkin’s experience immigrating to the USA with his family after being severely oppressed simply because of their Jewish ethnicity in Russia.

Dr. Mueller situated his lecture in the early 1960s when Jewish people wanted to flee from the USSR but were mostly denied. The emigration movement was supported by many Western nations but was dismissed by Soviet regime. The Doctor’s Plot, which consisted of a series of trials against prominent figures of the Jewish community, was an event utilized by the media to fuel negative stigma towards the Soviet Jewry.
Visas were issued only for people without higer education thereafter. However, the United States retaliated, putting pressure on the Soviet Union by demanding the USSR uphold human rights if they desired Western products. Afterwards, Soviets realized they could also use Hebrew immigration as a blackmailing strategy against the State of Israel; if the USSR disagreed with the latter’s agenda, they’d decrease the amount of migrants released to them. Thus, Jewish migration from the Soviet Union increased, continuing until its collapse in 1989.

Once the lecture concluded, a representative from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, or HIAS, explained how this organization (which is headquartered in Vienna), has helped facilitate the migration of persecuted minorities to safer nations since 1981. She reminded us that this phenomenon is not just a theme in Golinkin’s novel; it is a continuing issue that we, as a border-town community, must be actively engaged. We should be inspired to take action and continue not only helping the persecuted escape oppression, but eliminate the reasons for them wanting to leave in the first place.

Maria Rodriguez
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador

Maria Rodriguez with Dr. Wolfgang Mueller


Rebecca Vela in front of Schönbrunn palace

Schönbrunn, which means "beautiful spring,” was purchased in 1569 by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II to serve as a hunting grounds retreat for the court. The palace was later remodeled during the 1740s-50s as a wedding gift for Empress Maria Theresa. My entrance into this magnificent baroque style palace literally took me on a passage through time. The rulers believed that family was everything; this was made apparent in virtually every room. Family portraits, elegantly painted, are prominently displayed. Schönbrunn is elegant and beautiful yet modest in its own special way with each room telling a different story. The rooms range in color and materials — royal red satin and gold trimmings to blue velvet and tapestry. Visiting the palace gave me a new outlook on the Vienese culture. My personal favorite room (out of the 1,441 rooms) is the Old Lacquer Room, which Maria Theresa had built for her husband Francis Stephen after his death in 1765. The room is decorated in walnut with black lacquer panels on the walls. Centered in the room is a portrait of of her husband painted by Pompeo Batoni. This room emanates the love Maria Theresa shared with her husband and the grief she felt upon his passing. I was not permitted to take photos of the palace interior, but the memory of the architectual monument called Schönbrunn palace will forever be imprinted in my mind.

Rebecca Vela
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador


Aaron Salazar

Traveling alone. It's a big step in life. You , yourself, and the only asset that matters — resourcefulness. Traveling in a group , another asset surfaces —reassurance. It feels great to travel with a group of young minds to which I can relate. It's easy to get serious and lose all the fun in travel when you're alone, but when you have likeminded people around, fun is never in short supply. As a person, I've typically learned to glorify loneliness; I equate it with strength. This trip has shown me that one must connect to feel complete. This trip has had its ups (camaraderie) and downs (moving about as a mini-mob) but in the end— content.


Aaron Salazar
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador


Today was our third day in Vienna. Our guide, Walter, walked us through the historic city and showed us some of the most seminal places of Jewish culture. Eventually we stopped at a plaza featuring a small, somewhat nondescript (at first glance) grey building. But the closer we got, it became apparent this was more than a simple, grey building. It was a monument built in order to honor the 65,000 Viennese Jews who were murdered during the Nazi regime. The monument walls were constructed of stone carvings resembling books — rows and rows of stone books, spines facing inward, “pages” facing outward — each one representing an Austrian victim of the holocaust. The reason for the obtuse placement of the books is its representation of societies “backward” behavior towards the Jewish population. The memorial doors, also of stone, were without door knobs symbolizing the permanence of the physical loses. Engraved in alphabetical order on the building’s surrounding base were the names of all the death camps in which Austrian Jews suffered. I was in awe of the craftsmanship displayed but deeper than that was the context of where this monument was placed. Before the Nazis occupied Austria in 1938 there stood one of the earliest synagogues in Austrian history. When Austria was occupied all but one of its synagogues was burned down and completely destroyed. However, despite this the accomplishments and importance of the Jewish people will never be diminished or destroyed. The memorial is a reminder that even from the ruins, people will rebuild and move forward together.

Alfredo Velasco
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador

Alfredo Velasco in Vienna


Rebecca Vela at the Kunst Heritage Museum

Franz Jospeh I commissioned the Kunst Heritage Museum of Vienna approximately 127 years ago in order to house and display the Hapsburg’s vast art collection in one place. This baroque styled museum took 20 years to complete (10 for the outside and 10 for the inside ), with each gallery corresponding to the collection. Depending on how old the paintings were or the materials used, certain rooms are maintained at different temperatures (and even smelled differently) in order to preserve the art collection. Upon entering the museum the first thing one sees is the grand white marble staircases fit for nobility to walk upon. The entrance walls of the museum are covered in red and grey granite with columns tall enough to seemingly touch the heavens. While inside the gallery room walls are adorned with tapestries in varying colors of maroon, blue, green, and grey. Some of the artists featured in this collection are Velasquez, Caravaggio, Klimt, Rafael, Rembrandt and the Hapsburg favorite - Titian. My personal favorite painting out of the entire collection is the "David with the Head of Goliath" (1607) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. In this painting David is portrayed with a sword in one hand and the beheaded villan Goliath in the other. However, there is much more to the painting than meets the eye. Goliath is actually a self-portrait of Caravaggio, whom was forced to leave Rome for killing a man. This rendition was done in order to appease the pope, an apology of sorts. Caravaggio also appealed for forgiveness via letter but unfortunately died from injuries received in a battle before returning. Visiting the Kunst museum has afforded me a better understanding of how important art is and the necessity of its preservation for the many generations yet to come.

Rebecca Vela
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador


March 13, 2018 we arrived in Moscow, but as we arrived at our hotel destination we were confused. Viewing it from the outside it looked suspicious -old, grey, nondescript. We entered and it was a whole different story; it looked like a tiny hotel with a small front desk and welcoming clerk. The rooms all had their own unique style.l (they were small, sparse byut clean). Our room was decorated with flowers on the walls and the room next to ours had an ocean theme. For breakfast, we had to walk to the basement (down five flights of stairs — no elevator) where we were served breakfast —an egg, bread, blini, yogurt, and some coffee (or tea). In St. Petersburg the room was not as spacious yet it felt safe and secure. The windows opened so we had a view of the city. Again no elevator. We were again offered breakfast in the mornings which, in contrast to Moscow, included lots of options. In both Moscow and St. Petersburg the rooms were small, there was barely enough room to walk around and the bathrooms were compact yet somehow the room felt welcoming and comfortable. Finally the hotel in Vienna, Austria has to be the nicest hotel yet. It looks modern just like the ones back in America and the rooms are more spacious. We have a a beautiful view of the whole city with a cathedral right in front of us. The breakfast is set out like a buffet; there’s so much food to choose from, fruits, bread, ham, cereals, yogurt, coffee, tea, etc. And there is an elevator which is quite welcome when it comes to luggage and long days. For the most part everyone at the hotels were friendly and willing to help us with directions and questions. Home away from home.


Briana Escobar
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador

Briana Escobar

Today we visited the Albertina which houses many famous works of contemporary art. After this visit, I truly began to question what made art valid. The museum was decorated with paintings from the 20th century onwards. This artwork is particularly distinct from the artworks created in the previous centuries. While paintings of the past were highly detailed and focused on royalty or biblical stories, 20th century art was able to expand to a broad range of topics. Due to members of the clergy or royalty no longer offering patronage, artists were now able to paint what they truly desired. The most valuable lesson I gained from my visit to the Albertina is that art changes with the times. A perfect example of this is the impresionist style. Orginally, it was created to capture a moment in time; however, once photography became a reliable medium, the impressionist style shrunk in popularity. We witnessed art history right before our eyes as the paintings themselves became glimpses into history and innovation. Through the course of the museum tour we saw art evolve from impressionism, to exoticism, to protests of wars and various other abstract concepts. When I first entered the Albertina, I believed that Renaissance paintings were undoubtedly the best form of art; however, this experience has allowed me to grow to appreciate many other art styles to which I was previosly oblivious. Learning of art, culture, and history of different eras is imperative to becoming a well-rounded human being. Another border, another boundary crossed.

Alex Medrano
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador

Alex Medrano at the Albertina


Mayra Hurtado at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna

Today as our last official day in Vienna, we visited the Spanische Hofreitschule Wien (Spanish Riding School of Vienna). This group is comprised of beautiful pearly white and grey Lipizzan horses with traditionally uniformed riders atop. Not only were the riders and horses enchanting, but so was the architecture of the 1729 riding hall. The white stone riding hall was commissioned by Emperor Charles VI in order to open the magnificent riding school that stands today. Now it is not only open as a riding school but as a Viennese staple for the public to enjoy. We were able to witness these horses perform a variety small tricks such as ballotade (a form of trodding) and capriolle (a trick where the horses would jump and kick in midair). Next, we walked to the Danube River which is the second longest river in Europe. As we stood on the bridge overseeing the river, we were able to take in all the colorful graffiti that plastered the walls. But like Vienna itself the Danube is simply far too grand making it a visual representation of our overall once in a lifetime experience.

Mayra Hurtado
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador


Aranza Obscura

I consider this farewell dinner blog the one that sums up my entire experience while abroad. Although really there is no way to put into words the unique moments I experienced. Never did I think that I would be partaking in an adventure full of culture and history in Russia & Austria with thirteen other students. As we conversed while enjoying yet another delicious meal, I realized that these are the exceptional and rare experiences that we don’t come by quite often. We all shared how our encounters with the people, food, and history have changed our perspectives. This was our opportunity to compare our experiences and identify the highlights. My highlights were the restaurants and the tours. I am now exposed to a new kind of flavor and Austrian food has become one of the top on my list. Wiener schnitzel is a delicious dish that consists of either breaded turkey or chicken accompanied by potatoes (something akin to milanesa or chicken fried steak). Although similar to American food, this dish has a completely different taste. This culturally enriching trip has taught all of us that there is so much to learn about our world and that everything has a story behind it. Another boundary crossed.

Aranza Obscura
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador


A pivotal component of traveling abroad is negotiating the idiosyncrasies of a foreign language. This applies as well when interpreting English as spoken by a European (or other non-native English speaker). The words may be the same, but the meaning is often different. Why? No question mark needed in Russian. “Why” isn’t used as a query; rather it is a statement used to introduce an explanation. It took me a day or two to realize that each time our tour guide said “Why,” he wasn’t ASKING us, he was simply using a verbal cue to indicate an explanation was on its way. I found yet another distinction in Vienna where our guide sprinkled “maybe” throughout her narrative. “Maybe we go that way,” she would say. But again, it was not a question, suggestion or request. She had already planned for us to go “that” way. “Maybe” was being utilized as a polite signifier, somewhat akin to saying “please.” Why- maybe it’s just the way it is.

Tami Summers
Reading the Globe Faculty

Ms. Tami Summers and Dr. Conchita Hickey


Isabela Barrientos in front of a food market

It is through food, one can experience a place, its' culture, history and tradition. This was one of the things I was looking forward to the most in this trip. Where can I even begin with Austrian Cuisine? Austrian Cuisine has been influenced through the years by an array of countries over which the Habsburg's ruled. However, with time, Austrians have used these influences to create dishes of their own. Thus, Austrian Cuisine came to be. Before visiting Vienna, I had no idea what I'd be eating for the next week. Now that I am fully aware of what Viennese people eat, I can truly say I enjoyed every dish placed in front of me. From a "Wiener Schnitzel" to "Griessnockerl", the flavors were some my palette hadn't yet been exposed to but still managed to create an explosion of fireworks in my mouth. However, these dishes managed to simultaneously remind me of home. For example, the "Wiener Schnitzel" --we were able to compare to what we know at home as a Milanesa. Dishes such as these are created with fresh meats, fruits and vegetables, which could be bought at a farmers market, like the one we visited today. Shops next to shops filled with vegetables and nuts and meats and cheeses to souvenirs and clothing. Walking through the path between the shoppes filled me with such a lively energy and colorful aesthetic. I wish we could've stayed there all day. Unfortunately, we had to leave, due to our early departure to the USA. I must now say goodbye to Vienna and the wonderful experience it brought to me though it's exquisite cuisine. Goodbye Vienna, I'll see you again! Borders and boundaries won't keep us apart.

Isabela Barrientos
TAMIU RTG Ambassador


As we said "auf wiedersehen" to Vienna, I was tasked with authoring the conclusion to the RTG Ambassador blogs. As the clouds obscured the view of the countryside through my airplane window, I pondered—to what shall I liken the 2018 Reading the Globe to Russia and Austria? It is best described as an adventure rife with both losses and gains.

We began by losing our initial flights to Russia because of a tragic accident, but we thankfully gained new tickets because of the tireless effort of Dr. Hickey, our program coordinator. Some ambassadors lost their fear of planes as they braved the skies for the first time and gained confidence for the subsequent flights—of which there were seven in total. We all lost our ability to communicate effectively as we strove to learn and use basic phrases in two foreign languages, yet together we gained skill over time to express our thoughts in these unknown tongues. We lost the warmth that we are so accustomed to enjoying as we gained respect for those that suffer the frigid temperatures of Eastern Europe continually. After so many years, I lost my tendency to reject new foods, gained a new palate and a realization that there are so many delectable meals to be discovered. For many, the preconceptions and stereotypes held about Russia were lost as we immersed ourselves in an elegant and breath-taking culture, one which helped us gain a great appreciation for and new perspective of this beautiful nation and its residents—a feat that would have most likely been impossible to achieve had we remained in Texas. We gradually lost our dependence on other adults as we roamed the streets of Vienna on our own, and we even gained an impressive ability to maneuver our way through the city's metro system in just a few days. All of these and more were milestones that will leave an impression on the rest of our adult lives, but the most important was the one that transcended beyond the scope of this two-week trip—the friendships we gained. I'm certain I speak on behalf of all the ambassadors when I assert that the relationships and bonds this experience helped foster and grow are ones that will follow us for the rest of our days at TAMIU and beyond. I will treasure in my heart every laugh, every memory, every smile, and every experience which brought me closer to this precious group of students. I thank God for the kindness and blessings they have showed forth to me, and I hope the future cohorts of ambassadors will be fortunate enough to be surrounded become as close-knit as we became. Many thanks to all TAMIU faculty, CEPA Europe, our families, and Lev Golinkin for making this trip possible. May the blessing of the Lord be upon the Reading the Globe program always 📚✈️🌍

Alan Villarreal
TAMIU Reading the Globe Ambassador

Alan Villarreal with Whataburger meal