St. Norbert College Magazine - To the wise man, nothing is foreign St. Norbert College
 


To the wise man, nothing is foreign
By Anindo Choudhury, Associate Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Biology

Antisthenes' aphorism is the lived reality in academe, where scholarly connections build bridges across continents

Sabina Hyland (Anthropology)
Sabine Hyland (Anthropology) on site at the Incan fortress of Sacsayhuamán near Cuzco, Peru. Hyland's research focuses on native cultures of South America.

 Anindo Choudhury (Academics, Biology)
Anindo Choudhury (Academic Affairs, Biology)
Sabine Hyland (Anthropology) has spent a good part of her adult life studying the Incas; as she walks among the ruins of the ancient fortress of Sacsayhuamán overlooking Cusco, in Peru, she contemplates a civilization captured in the silence of hewn rocks and mysterious knotted strings called quipus.

Internationally renowned for her work on Andean civilization, Sabine travels regularly to South America to explore her passion, and as she prepares for her next journey – this time as part of a Smithsonian expedition – she feels the burning desire to unlock the deep secrets of these mute remnants of a bygone era. She looks to another civilization, Spain – one that came into violent conflict with the people of the Andes – to provide clues … in medieval texts, often ecclesiastical in origin.

Such writings are often steeped in old European traditions and Latin terminology, tricky matters for any scholar, but Sabine is also lucky, I think. Her husband, Bill Hyland, director of the Center for Norbertine Studies, is an expert in medieval texts. Sabine and Bill are partners for life but their love and study of old texts makes them intellectual soul mates as well.

Bill and I were roommates throughout the college’s 2008 Norbertine Heritage tour of European abbeys, and I enjoyed having my own “reference encyclopedia” whenever I needed it. Like his wife, Bill also travels, but to another point of the compass – physically and virtually. Responsible for the growing prominence of Norbertine studies, he builds bridges to scholars on medieval Christianity all across Europe.
Tom Conner (Modern Language and Literatures)
Tom Conner (Modern Languages and Literatures) explores a bomb shelter outside Ho Chi Minh City. This extensive tunnel system was used by the Viet Cong. Conner has explored much of what remains.

I’m on assignment and I feel inspired to write about my colleagues, how the bonds they forge with people near and far in their journeys across the expanse of our globe enrich us intellectually and remind us of our common humanity.

A couple of years ago, Tom Conner (Modern Languages and Literatures) got on a motorbike in Udon Thani, Thailand, drove up to the Friendship Bridge over the mighty Mekong river and then crossed into Laos. He said to me recently, “I always want to know what’s on the other side of the bridge.”

To simply say that Tom studies French language and culture would be formally correct but would be missing the point completely. Trying to chronicle his travels and his scholarship is as bewildering as my attempt to capture this man’s thoughts as they pour out. I am so enthralled that at one point I stop taking notes – but who cares? I am having the time of my life listening to his talk of highways and dirt roads; checkpoints and armed guards; the remains of war; and the smiling faces of children.
Web extra
Follow the travels of Nick Patton ’03 (Office of Communications), who recorded a video blog from this year’s Norbertine Heritage tour. >>MORE

Deep down, he is interested in Indochina, its history, its contact with the French, and ultimately, in the lives of its people. He served as an observer on the International War Crimes Tribunal in Kampuchea (Cambodia) and as he speaks of that experience his voice becomes quiet. He is getting ready to visit Myanmar this summer. Conner’s students are lucky; they get to build their own bridges in their minds as he shares his scholarship and experiences with them.

Mark Bockenhauer (Geography) is getting ready to build another bridge – one of friendship and understanding – in Africa. In 1995, Mark was on a ship miles away from the Tunisian coast on a National Geographic Society-sponsored trip. He gazed out toward the coast and felt he had to get to Africa some day. Fifteen years later, Mark and Corday Goddard (Student Affairs) are leading students on a service-oriented experience to Zambia. Mark studies human geography, and the connections he and his students will make on this trip will remind all of them of our common bond of humanity, a bond that has been kept alive over the years by the amazing work of the Zambia Project here at St. Norbert.

My mind starts to wander … I look up and notice the lovely bottle of Burgundy, a surprise left for me in my office a couple of weeks ago. It was from Bill Bohné (Art), whose travels in Germany and France enrich the teaching of his craft. Several of us got together for a Pinot Noir wine tasting the other day. Tim Flood (Geology) wouldn’t care much for this, I thought – he likes Cabs. But he did take students to the Galapagos and is preparing to go to the Antarctic this winter. All right, that redeems him, if only somewhat.

I look across our beautiful campus from equally beautiful Main Hall and I spot the purposeful stride of our Austrian professor Wolfgang Grassl (Business Administration), our current Donald B. King distinguished scholar. I am reminded of his life’s journey and of his books and papers on the business world, on Jamaican street vendors, on Catholicism and on Norbertine intellectual life. It’s just too easy to write about him … but I am daunted; where to begin? Maybe another time, I tell myself.

International connections … ? I am suffering from a badly timed case of writer’s block. I go for a stroll. I see Deirdre Egan (English) crossing the parking lot – wait, she was at an Oxford roundtable last year – and then I spot Kevin Hutchinson (Communication and Media Studies), and am reminded of reading about his sabbatical in Australia and his collaborations. I look at the fluttering flags over our Bemis International Center, testimony to the bridges being built every day by the good work of our Study Abroad office, as one after another student becomes transformed by travel, work and life in another country … .

I realize I am starting to lose focus. But it’s shortly after lunch, and Bola Delano-Oriaran (Education) smiles at me from a distance. Bola hails from Nigeria and her life as a teacher is informed by what she believes to be true, that she “was born to this earth to serve humanity”; she could teach us something. More bridges, I think to myself.

Thomas Bolin (Religious Studies)
Thomas Bolin at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. He was in Israel for a conference on “The Bible and Philosophy: Rethinking the Fundamentals.”
One sees a lot hanging around Boyle Hall. I enter. “Not using the stairs, Anindo?” I turn. It’s Gratzia Villarroel (Political Science). She begins climbing. I turn and follow her, and struggle to keep pace. It’s been a long journey for Gratzia, from her homeland, Bolivia, to her position at St. Norbert. For years, Gratzia has led the international studies program here at the college. No wonder! She recently returned after a year-long stint as a visiting scholar at Harvard, recharged and ever more excited about her passion: how nations carry on with one another. Whether she is off to present a paper at The Hague or to a U.N. conference in San Jose, Costa Rica, this is a woman on a mission to build multiple bridges to the world beyond our borders.

Gratzia and I part ways on the third floor and I ascend to the fourth. I am in search of a man I am proud to know … but his office door is shut. Then I remember: Tom Bolin (Religious Studies) and I are supposed to meet at Luna, the coffee shop on Main.

I am an avid Facebook user. And Tom’s profile is a must-follow: He uses it to share his thoughts, offer insights and provide the rest of us an education. It is safe to say that a regular following of his Facebook profile for a semester is the equivalent of a course in classical studies, especially in Judeo-Christian history.

Little did his mother know that one day her son would present a scholarly paper at the 100th anniversary of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, a few hundred feet from where she grew up, and where “it all began” for the western Church. What made it more special was that Tom had his own children, his daughters, with him.
Vicky Tashjian (History)
Vicky Tashjian (left) spent 12 months in Ghana. Her friend, Selina Opoku Agyeman, is a staff member at the archive where Tashjian did work on matrilineal societies.

As he sits down with his beloved cup of coffee, he tells me about his trip, to Israel last fall; he gazes off for half a minute, almost unable to capture what it meant. For a week he shared the company of 25 other invited international scholars, a part of the “Bible and Philosophy” conference organized by the Shalem Center. His eyes shine when he sums up his experience. His Facebook profile shows Tom looking across at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and I wondered if he felt the 2,000-year-old connection between this hallowed ground, where it also all began, and the cobbled streets of his childhood Rome far away. I do know that his students feel it when he speaks to them.

I remembered spending a wonderful hour with Vicky Tashjian (History) at that very table. We talked history, our own and in general. I am surprised how many faculty members outside Boyle don’t know that she and her colleague Bob Kramer (History) are husband and wife.

I know they have very independent minds. But Vicky and Bob share a common passion: Africa. Bob’s focus has been the Sudan, and Vicky’s, matrilineal societies in Western Africa. The passion for their subjects is obvious in Vicky’s eyes and in Bob’s booming voice. I smile as I recall Bob’s vocal advocacy of non-Western cultures in our common curriculum.

I am approaching the word limit of my assignment. I look at my notes – more names of colleagues I am proud to work with: Michael Olson (Physics), who connected with German professors during his graduate work in nuclear physics through his undergraduate German language study; Fred and Heather Schmidt (Music) and our wind ensemble touring Europe this summer; Wayne Patterson (History) and his internationally recognized work on Korea; Jim and Carol Hodgson (Biology) and their life-changing Panama travel course; and so many more.

Back in my office, I glance at a CD I cherish. It’s of the Norbertines at Mondaye Abbey in France, singing in prayer. I am always moved and inspired by it, by them, so I decide to put it on. While the music plays, I flip through my photo album from that tour. I stop at a picture, a group photo – all 15 of us and our towering German bus driver, Matthias. No street was too narrow and no detour too inconvenient for him. He quietly read our minds, knew when we were thirsty, hungry or tired; he cared. Marcie Paul (Modern Languages and Literatures) says he touched our lives; he said we touched his. They are both right. It seems like a good moment to stop writing.

Summer 2010 Magazine

Web extraLook here for web-only content that expands on topics presented in the current St. Norbert College Magazine (PDF).

Text ExtraThe education of a freshman president
Reflections by President Tom Kunkel in Trusteeship magazine.

VideoJohn M. Perkins speaks
The civil rights statesman interviewed on campus.

VideoPaul Tagliabue opens Sport and Society conference
The former NFL commissioner delivers his keynote address.

GalleryCommencement 2010
A gallery of images from “a ridiculously fine day” in May.

GalleryGwen Ifill’s Commencement address
The journalist and newscaster spoke to the Class of 2010.

VideoOn the road
Images and reflections from a sabbatical journey undertaken
by Brian Pirman (Art).

Text ExtraThe Yogurt Man Cometh
A chapter to enjoy from this travelogue in Turkey, recounted by author Kevin Revolinski ’90.

GalleryThe faculty in action
Professors as educators: teaching, advising, demonstrating, mentoring and working with students.



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