It was Valentine’s Day and Mrs. Pearson was checking her e-mail. She saw that the Goethe-Institut, which is a worldwide cultural organization working with urban culture in Freiburg, Germany had sent her something about the scholarship she had applied for. She was elated when she found out she was the only U.S. citizen selected to attend the 18-day summer seminar for cross border communication there.
“They wanted to get a good mix of people from all over the world,” Pearson said.”It was a matter of looking at the applications that they had, and then deciding which people would fit best for which seminar. But I think they figured since I was equally qualified in French and in German, that it was really appropriate for the area we were in.”
Pearson wanted this scholarship because she loves the study of language and cultures. The seminar focused on talking about cross-border cooperation and projects working to educate the communities in Germany and France of their cultural connection.
The organization establishes projects that people can do to help merge the cultures of Switzerland, France and Germany. One of the projects Pearson took part in was called Children and Animals. They visited a farm that used to be a refuge for animals but is now a place for German and French children to come and play with the animals as well as learn about their different cultures.
“I think that projects like this are important because it makes people understand in a people to people sort of way what is possible for the world,” Pearson said. “That sometimes people have to take the initiative to get things done rather than laying around for politicians to do something.”
Freiburg is located along the southwest border of Germany, close to the border of France and Switzerland where the countries meet. Besides the importance of community projects, Pearson feels the concept of intertwining cultures is also important.
“It’s just a way of breaking down barriers and breaking down conceptions that people have that the French and the Germans don’t get along,” Pearson said. “The French and the Germans of today understand that if they are going to make Europe work as a whole, they need to be working together so that Europe will not fail.”
“[France and Germany] decided that they had a lot of common interests that they could help one another with,” Pearson said. “They understand that they have a bond even though historically they have been separated by kings, queens, politicians etcetera. Ethnically, they are the same people.”
Studying in Strasbourg 30 years ago, Pearson witnessed how polluted the rhine (river that runs through western Europe) was, but because of the citizen projects that are going on there now, it has become remarkably cleaner than it used to be. This is just one example of how the efforts of seminars like the ones at the Goethe-Institut can be seen.
“What I liked about the seminar we were in was that we were from five different continents, 18 different countries and there were 21 different people,” Pearson said. “It’s the sort of atmosphere that I love. I got to meet people in places that I had never met before and I think I gained some good contacts–maybe for life, I hope.”
Meredith Birt and her boyfriend Jonathan of three and a half years were sitting at the Hermitage hotel in Monte Carlo, France overlooking the marble ice terrace and the princess palace off in the distance. This was their first stop before heading to the Le Louis XV restaurant for dinner in Beausolei, Monaco just a block outside of Monte Carlo.
“I sat down next to him, he said ‘you know I love you’ and I said yes. He pulled out the ring, and I was very eloquent and said ‘are you serious?’” Birt said. “He said ‘yes I’m serious. Later on he told me how nervous he was.”
Ever since her fiance was 25 or so, he has wanted to go to Monte Carlo. The only problem was, Birt had to teach so the only time they could go was during the summer. He had this fantasy of going to the Casino Royale, dressing up in a tux and Birt dressed up to, hanging out with a bunch of people in Monaco.
Instead of a fancy night at the Casino Royale, they were spending time at their romantic hotel in Beausolei on their last night there when he first got the idea that he would propose. He wanted them to be overlooking the balcony and all the beauty of Monaco. The balcony wasn’t exactly what he had hoped their view would be; it was overlooking a little side street in town. He decided to wait until dinner that night.
Birt noticed that he was acting a little strange with his hands in his pockets all day. And that he was wearing a polished grey suit. He didn’t want her to see the lining in his suit coat where he was hiding the ring.
“We had gone to the Casino Royale the night before where I kind of thought maybe he would propose, but he didn’t and I was just like ‘alright, oh well, that’s what you get for getting your hopes up,’” Birt said. “I was shocked [when it happened] and then I just had this weird feeling of I wish I was home for like two seconds so I could go and tell my parents and my friends but you know, it was pretty perfect the way it was.”
Birt said what made up for not having her family close to tell about her engagement was getting to meet up with her second cousin Margarita in London for dinner and her roommate from college. The main thing that Birt and her fiancé did throughout London and Monte Carlo was spend time together. They took a tour of the princess palace, went to the British museum, she took him to her favorite pub called Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and he took her to have high tea for the first time.
“Besides that, we had a couple really nice dinners and got to watch ridiculously wealthy people waste their money,” she laughed. “The best part was getting to show each other what we knew about London.”
Stay calm, David Muhammad tells himself. Ignore the butterflies. He doesn’t need to hype himself up or use anger to get himself in the zone. He listens to some mellow jazz by Mos Def to keep his mind clear before the fight. The second he bows before entering the match, his nerves disappear.
The mental and physical instincts of training kick in as the match begins. Every movement has to be perfect. One mistake can give his opponent an easy chance to attack. The hours of explosive lifting, sprints, plyometrics and footwork drills are now coming into play. In each competition he is working towards his ultimate goal: to make the USA karate team.
He tried out in July. To his disappointment he didn’t make the team, but he plans on trying out again next summer. He has participated in competitions across the country and has had his share of ups and downs throughout competing. Muhammad eventually wants competition consistency, but right now, according to him, the main key is training.
“In the summers, I have to take every free moment when I am not teaching to train. Muhammad said. “I have learned how to get a lot out of short training sessions. As cliche as it may sound, it is not how much one trains but how they train.”
Muhammad spent his summer teaching karate to people anywhere from the ages of three to 70, training karate, living and breathing karate. Muhammad has taken classes since the age of three gaining his 4th degree black belt, helped run his father’s karate studio since the age of nine and has now spent 24 years doing what he loves–teaching and training.
A typical class at the Kwanzaa Martial Arts Academy will begin with meditation to focus the class in. After meditation, they recite an oath to unite everyone as a group and bring them closer as a family: we as members train our spirits and bodies according to the strict code. We as members are united in mutual friendship. We as members will comply with regulations and obey instructors.
“After that, we do basic warm ups like sit ups, push ups, jumping jacks and sprints,” Muhammad said. “Then we work with them on basic techniques, memorized set movements called katas, or forms, and then maybe some sparring drills or self defense scenarios.”
In the summer, the classes for the kids are eight hours a day versus just a couple hours after school like it would be during the school year. It’s intense, according to Muhammad, but it allows the students to be exposed to a bigger variety of martial arts activity than they would be in their regular classes during the year.
The best part about teaching karate, according to Muhammad is seeing how it impacts the students that come into the studio.
“You see a lot of turn-around in kids who come in with ADD, who come from broken homes, a lot of inner city kids or international kids as well,” Muhammad said. “It’s just nice to give a kid something that they can take and use the rest of their life beyond just beating people up.”
Karate is his outlet, his way of life. It brings him peace and gives him something to put everything he has into.
“It amazes me that, through a very physical activity, I am able to find peace and help others,” Muhammad said.
“Because of this, I have fallen in love with Karate. I plan to continue training for the rest of my days.”