Other Worldly

By Kayla McGrady ’05
Carleton’s off-campus study options are impressive. With 25 term-long programs and a growing number of shorter programs over school breaks, Carleton professors lead students to every continent except Antarctica.

Consortium programs offer even more choices, and low fees and straightforward academic credit transfers make it easy for students to travel with other organizations. All told, more than 70 percent of Carleton’s students study off campus at least once during their four years here.

Despite this wealth of options, there are still limits. So we wondered: If Carls’ curiosity and imagination were unfettered by the constraints of physical reality, where would they go and what would they see? We polled our students, alumni, and faculty members, and they proposed destinations that range from byways inside the human body to the world created by J. R. R. Tolkien to the path followed by the English Christian mystic Margery Kempe, author of the first autobiography in English. Based on these suggestions, Voice writer Kayla McGrady ’05 imagined what fictional students on these programs might write in their trip journals.

Inside the Story

Hobbit holeHobbit hole Photo: Allen Douglas

Program: Comparative History, Sociology, and Anthropology in Middle Earth

Designed by: Kate Madison ’11, graduate archival intern at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pennsylvania, and Megan Ferre Clendenon ’12, staff writer for Student Caffé

Week Eight: Hobbiton

I am really glad to be back in the Shire.

I mean, the field trips were fun. There’s so much history—from the geologic record to the anthropological one—buried in the mines of Moria. The grasslands around Edoras were like an amazing ocean of grass, and of course Rivendell was so stunning that I can’t even come up with words to describe it.

At the same time, wandering through the dark (trying not to think about goblins), being lectured by a Rohirrim about my riding form, and listening to a 4,000-year-old elf drone on in a superserious voice about the evolution of his race all made me miss the comfortable warmth of the Shire. It’s just so nice here. There are birds singing all the time, everyone’s cheerful, and it smells like heaven. Green, green heaven.

Not to mention, I am really sick of lembas bread. Merry and Pippin were not kidding about that stuff. It tastes like tree bark. I am so glad to be back in the land of breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper. And all of it is delicious! Still, I should probably be grateful for the lembas bread break, because it curbed the Frodo 15 I was putting on here.

I’m finishing up my comparative history term paper on hobbit versus elven perspectives on the Battle of Fornost. I got the hobbit folklore I needed before we left, which meant I was able to read the elven texts and write most of the paper in Rivendell. I’ll say this for Rivendell: It’s a fantastic place to write a paper. Elves are really quiet.

I’m glad the paper is almost done, because I’m ready to get to the fun part! Our final sociology project is hosting a festival here in Hobbiton. We’ve been studying how hobbit society revolves around social gatherings, food, and storytelling, and we have to incorporate all of those elements into what basically amounts to a massive party.

My team is working on brewing the beer. (No underage drinking laws in Middle Earth. Sa-weet!) We’re making a superthick, creamy stout. This stuff is going to caress hobbit tongues into chocolatey euphoria. But we’re really hoping for a nod from Gandalf after his first pint. Then we’ll know that we nailed it.

Maybe he’ll even reward us with a story. I know we’re supposed to be the ones telling the stories on this particular occasion, and he’s already guest-lectured for us twice, but I just can’t get enough of Gandalf and his stories. There’s something about the way he tells them that is just, well, magical.

Firsthand History

City of HeavenCity of Heaven Photo: Allen Douglas

Program: Medieval History in Europe and the Middle East: Margery Kempe’s 1413 Pilgrimage from England to Jerusalem

Designed by: William North, associate professor of history, director of medieval and Renaissance studies, and codirector of Carleton’s off-campus program on history, religion, and urban change in Rome

Week Ten: Entering Jerusalem

After more than two months of acclimating to medieval life, I can honestly say that it’s not what I expected. I thought the hardest parts would be giving up indoor plumbing or eating off of a hunk of bread instead of a plate. Or maybe getting used to the tiny translator aid in my ear that converts phrases like “I have be ther but lytyl whyle and now have I ther a lyvery” to something more intelligible: “I’ve only just moved in, but they give me food there!”

Sanitation, food, and, yes, language have changed a lot in the past 600 years. But the translator works like a charm, the shots and water purification tablets keep us healthy, and the food isn’t too bad. (I still haven’t adjusted to the smell of sewage ditches, however, but let’s not dwell on that.)

No, the hardest thing to get used to is Margery Kempe’s emotional life. She’s a mystic, so she cries a lot. She was upfront about that in her book [The Book of Margery Kempe], which we read before we got here. Actually, taking the pilgrimage for myself has convinced me that she was remarkably accurate. Of course, we can’t listen in on the conversations she says she’s having with God, but she really does take them seriously.

Still, I wasn’t prepared for how startling these emotional expressions would be in person—especially after life in the (kind of stoic) modern Midwest. One minute she’s fine, and the next she’s crying so loudly I almost fall off my donkey. Sometimes her wailing even wakes me in the middle of the night. I asked her about these nighttime episodes and she told me she had a vision of being present at poignant moments in Jesus’s life, and it was so moving she just couldn’t keep her feelings inside. The way she described it brought to mind that time I bawled my eyes out watching Up.

Learning to understand Margery—and the rest of medieval life—has been worth it. Even without everything else I’ve experienced, the whole trip would have been worth it just for the moment when we topped that rise and got our first glimpse of Jerusalem. Margery stopped her donkey, burst out weeping, and thanked God that she could lay eyes on such a vision. And you know what? I was right there with her. OK, maybe not right there. I didn’t need two German pilgrims to keep me from falling off my donkey (like Margery did). But I did cry, and I thought I must be the luckiest 19-year-old alive to get to see this.

It was a spiritual experience for me: the way the sunlight re ected off the Dome of the Rock, the thunder-like rumble as hundreds of people—from near and far—converged on the city. When we passed through the gate and I brushed my fingers against the rough stone of the wall, it was a transcendent moment. The sounds of the city engulfed me, and I was part of everything that was happening, not just an observer from the future.

Being immersed in history made it seem more real, somehow. It’s not just sentences in books, but viscerally real—mud under my boots, surprisingly satisfying vegetable stew on my tongue, smoke (and sometimes sewage) in my nose, and a cacophony of different languages in my ears. I’ll never forget this experience—and those feelings—as long as I live.

Take a Closer Look

Journey through the circulatory systemJourney through the circulatory system Photo: Allen Douglas

Program: A Deep Dive inside the Human Body

Designed by: Isabelle Ibibo ’16 and Lauren Kempton ’18, premed Spanish majors

Week Two: Circulatory System

It still freaks me out when I wake up in the morning and see a huge leukocyte float past my window. But then I remember where I am and I just stare at this white blood cell, wondering how something so tiny could be so detailed, covered in craters and jagged peaks.

The first time I saw a leukocyte, I was reading book 12 of The Odyssey for my “Journey Narratives and Medicine” class. I was at the part where Odysseus fights Scylla when I looked up for just a moment—and there it was! I pressed my face against the window and watched it pass the submersible that is our home for the next 10 weeks.

That morning in class our professor showed us photos of the Italian cliffs that might have inspired the Scylla myth. We discussed how transforming real places and events through narrative can help us make sense of complex personal journeys—like returning home from war or going through treatment for a disease—or even our own journey through this human body.

Watching the leukocyte pass by, I recognized the same craggy landscape I’d seen in the pictures that morning. Isn’t that funny? Comparing a leukocyte to a huge cliff seems as absurd as comparing an orange to Mars, and yet, that is the beauty of getting outside the classroom.

Erythrocytes look way less weird—more like the blobs in a lava lamp or giant UFOs. They’re red and they’re cool. They’re also much easier to draw than leukocytes, which is a relief. I spent most of yesterday afternoon drawing a really detailed red blood cell for my “Medical Illustration and Animation” class. It came out really nice. I might hang it up in my dorm room when we get back. Honestly, the weirdest thing about erythrocytes is that they’re as big as our entire ship!

I was nervous about getting miniaturized, but it wasn’t bad at all. It felt a little like static electricity. Our ship is like a cruise ship for science. And art. And English. Really, it’s just a microcosm of Carleton. I love it.

We’re going through the aortic valve later today, and I can’t wait. I’m less jazzed about exploring the digestive system next week. I don’t think I want to know what stomach acid and partially formed feces look like up close. Plus, it’s going to be loud. The sound dampeners on the ship are pretty good, but we’re still going to hear a lot of rumbling and squelching. I just hope our generous host doesn’t decide to eat bean burritos the night before! At least I have neurons to look forward to in week four. They’re sure to be much prettier—and quieter!

Add a comment

The following fields are not to be filled out. Skip to Submit Button.
(This is here to trap robots. Don't put any text here.)
(This is here to trap robots. Don't put any text here.)
(This is here to trap robots. Don't put any text here.)