D6990 Rotary Foundation Global Grant Scholar, Michael Matthiesen, February Update

In April 2014, the Rotary Foundation awarded a Global Grant Scholarship to Michael Matthiesen, who will spend a year studying at the University College of London. This prestigious grant was sponsored by Rotary District 6990 and matched 100% by the World Fund for a total of $30,000. Michael sends District 6990 news about his grant experience.

After a multiple Rotary Club talks, the Burns Dinner, and a full month of Rotary events in January, February was a month where I stepped back from Rotary and experienced European culture. I also took a role in introducing aspects of America Culture to Europeans…specifically the Super Bowl.

On February 1st, myself and other Americans hosted a Super Bowl night at my residence, Goodenough College. We worked to make everything as authentically American as possible including serving food such as BBQ chicken wings, pizza, chips, salsa, and everything else that you would see at a stereotypical Super Bowl Party. As this was a big event, I had some help from some French Canadians that were also huge fans of the NFL, and they offered to serve a typical French Canadian dish called poutine. I joked that it was un-American, as it is authentically Canadian, but they cooked enough for 50 people and it was delicious!

The international audience that came to watch the Super Bowl at Goodenough College.

The international audience that came to watch the Super Bowl at Goodenough College.

The Super Bowl was a hit, and I was amazed at how many people across the world watched NFL games regularly. I thought I was introducing an event that would be new for many people in the room. For many this was their first time watching the Super Bowl or even seeing an American Football game. However, for many more they knew not only which teams were playing in the Super Bowl, but were huge fans of either the Patriots or the Seahawks. Talk about a cultural exchange! The event was a site to be seen. Over 75 people watched the Seahawks and Patriots battle it out from 11:00pm to 2:00am London Time. Many left after seeing Katy Perry perform at half-time, but I was shocked at the number who stayed to see the end of the game. There were a number of Americans in the room, but a majority of the room were made up of Brazilians, Canadians, British, Irish, Africans, Indians, Egyptians, and other Europeans. All of us were shouting at the referee like we were in a Miami Sports Bar. I remember one Brazilian was a huge fan of the Seahawks, and was probably the most upset person watching when the Patriots intercepted the Seahawks last attempt to make a touchdown at the end of the fourth quarter. In retrospect, I think the event was a bigger experience for me then anyone else, and proof that the NFL has been doing a great job of appealing to an international audience. For the record, the NFL hosts one official game in London a month — the Miami Dolphins even played the Oakland Raiders in London back in September! There is also talk of London being the first international city to get an NFL Team…maybe even the Jaguars in 2021?

Lake Locklee in the Mountains near The Burn

Lake Loch Lee in the mountains near The Burn in Aberdeen, Scotland.

After the Super Bowl, I took a trip with some friends to visit the British countryside in Aberdeen, Scotland. The Highlands were absolutely beautiful and we stayed at a facility in Aberdeen called The Burn, which is owned by Goodenough College. For a Miami Boy this was a complete change of scenery. Scotland is the furthest north I have ever traveled, and for the first time I stood on a frozen puddle — which is something you don’t see in Florida! The Burn was surrounded by Scottish Mountains and hills. I kept joking that the scenery was so picturesque that I was pretty sure Microsoft officials vacationed here to take pictures for the Microsoft 7 default profile photo!

We did a lot of hiking, and though it was very cold by my standards, the locals said that the weather was beginning to warm up so we began to see the ice melt into creeks and waterfalls. We went hiking into the mountains and had snowball fights. The group of friends I went with included Australians, Canadians, English, South Africans, and two other Americans. During one night around the fire place, some of the Canadians and Americans took it upon themselves to introduce the Aussies, Brits, and South Africans to smores — which none of them had ever tried before.

On the last day on this Scottish vacation we visited Dundee Castle. A seaside architectural marvel, the castle was built into a huge rock formation that looked upon the North Sea. On another hill we could see remnants of the battle that turned Dundee Castle into the rubble that remains. Hundreds of year old braces that were used to support cannons were still firmly stuck in the ground of an adjacent hill, which clearly illustrated to everyone what may have happened a couple centuries ago. Also while I was in Scotland, I got to see their version of the Pound (£). The Clydesdale Bank prints a different version of the pound then the Bank of England, with famous Scotsman on the currency instead of Queen Elizabeth. I learned the Scottish pound isn’t accepted by most shops in London, so I decided to keep it as a token of my travels.

My friends and I in front of a beautiful Catalon fountain

My friends and me in front of a beautiful Catalan fountain in Barcelona.

Later on in February, after getting some school work done, I traveled to Barcelona, Spain with the same people with whom I arranged the Super Bowl. The city was beautiful, and incorporated art into every crevice of it’s architecture. Barcelona is in the Catalonia, which is one part of Spain that not only speaks Spanish but it’s own language called Catalan. The culture had a heavy influence of French especially being so close to the French border. Not one person in the group spoke Spanish, even though everyone expected me as the native Miamian to know some Spanish, however, we lucked out because all the signs were written in Catalan, Spanish, and English.

Being in Spain oddly felt so familiar, and I think it was because in my head I was recognising parts of Miami in the Spanish culture. While in Barcelona my friends and I visited all the typical tourist locations: Las Ramblas, Gracia, the Segrada Familia, the Barcelona beaches, and more. Since the Spanish economy hasn’t been doing so well everything was very cheap! A grocery store near the Las Ramblas was selling so many things for only €1. It was also interesting working around the Siesta System. We learned that in the late morning some restaurants would be open, and when we came back a couple hours later they were closed, and in the evening they would open again. Though it was confusing we worked around it. The British joke that the Siesta system is proof that the English have a better work ethic then the Spanish (there is still a slight rivalry between both cultures because the British still own the colony of Gibraltar on the Iberian Peninsula and the Spanish think it’s about time that it be returned to them).

The Spanish seaside town of Sitges.

The Spanish seaside town of Sitges.

During the last day of our trip we decided to take a train thirty minutes south to a seaside Spanish town called Sitges. The architectural structures reminded me a lot of CocoWalk, but you could tell that these were the development of hundreds of years of culture.

-Michael 

Michael Matthiesen, B.A 


Categories: Happenings in D6990

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