Project 21

21 Stories in Under 21 Weeks by the Age of 21: the Faces of Western Europe

Behind every wrinkle and smile lies a story untold—cheeks bear stains of tears, eyes show weariness of hurt, and smiles shine with happiness fulfilled. Project 21 is a compilation of Europe's local stories as our paths cross.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tom Dennis, born and raised in England’s Lake District, is by far the most significant person to my experience in England, as he is my closest British friend. From the first day we attended St. Thomas’ church, Tom came straight up and welcomed us to England, making us feel at home in the little church community. “The Americans,” he called us at first. Not only has Tom taught us a great deal about England, explaining the difference between biscuits and cookies, but he’s also given us the chance to tell him about America, as one of his biggest dreams is to travel the US. It’s a fair friendship, as we both culturally benefit from the other—I love England, he loves America. 

Tom is what we sometimes refer to as our “crazy old man” friend because of his sarcastically grumpy humor, but also because he has a pair of socks for each day of the week--blue is for Sundays. In all seriousness though, Tom is one of the nicest people I've met in England and I will greatly miss his delicious pancakes and fancy syrup that is authorized by The Queen. Most of all, I will miss the way he distracts us in the library for hours with his endless ability to keep a conversation fresh. He has given color to this great nation, opening my eyes to new experiences, new terminology, and new foods. Of all the people I've crossed paths with on this great adventure abroad, Tom is the most memorable.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dolly, the owner of my favorite sandwich shop, has become accustomed to serving Americans, as we flock the tiny building every Wednesday—it doesn't take many to fill the shop. Dolly’s is a tiny, one-room sandwich shop where the cash register, the kitchen, both cooks, and the boxes of bread are all within three steps of each other and completely visible to the customer. Though nothing fancy, the shop is in a prime location for students being less than a block from campus, and because the portions are generous and the prices are ridiculously low, it is quite the hotspot. Dolly knows how to run a business based on her costumers.

She’s a sweet woman who can sometimes be caught in a bad mood, but no matter what type of day she’s having, she will always call you “love.”

“What can I get you, love?”

“Thanks, love.”

“Pickles, love?”

Dolly almost always works the register, writing orders on little slips of paper and taping them to the cook’s wall, and when she’s not taking orders, Dolly is taking pictures. All along the shop’s walls hang pictures of customers. This little shop and the lovely woman inside will always be a part of my experience in York.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

James Doyle, a successful 24 year-old English jockey, rode the horse, Mince, on Wednesday the 15th at York’s first horse races of the season. Without knowing anything about James Doyle or Mince, I picked the team as mine, cheering them on for the win. Though they didn't take first, Doyle and Mince fought for the lead, losing it in the last stretch. However, because of a bet I made with a few friends, my horse only had to not lose, which he pulled off successfully. Sadly, Doyle didn't win the £100,000, but he won me a free desert and that made him a winner in my eyes.

As we were leaving the stadium, a line of jockeys walked behind a white picket fence, retreating to their trailers after the race, and by chance, the one jockey I happened to notice was James Doyle. My racer. He was the first professional jockey I had ever met, and gee was he adorable. I learned later that he was a world acclaimed jockey after winning £2 million at a race in Dubai. I’m a bit star struck.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Kevin, also known as "Kev," took us for a ride today in his little red British car. We were on our way to a mid-day tea party with friends when Kev so kindly offered to give us a lift. For some of us Americans, it was our first ride in a British car—I had ridden in one over spring break, but never by a local. Kev flew around corners, wobbled through round-abouts, and sped over speed bumps, and from behind the windowpane I watched as York's neighborhoods zipped by. Kev chattered away as I watched the daily lives pass by: locals gardened in their yards and strolled along with baby carriages, and at one home, a little girl with a twirly, red dress danced on the sidewalk by her father's produce stand. It was a side of York I had never seen, thanks to Kev's friendly ride.

We got to know Kevin at St. Thomas' church, but he was by our side from the beginning at every International dinner party at York St. John Uni. Sure it's his job to help the internationals, but I don't doubt one moment that he genuinely cares. Thanks to Kevin, we experienced York to its fullest.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Ian, a sweet old man from St. Thomas' church, makes a point every Sunday to come talk with the young American girls after the service. He knows us each by name and by the glimmer in his eye and the nervous fiddling of his hands, I can tell he cherishes our short conversation, trying to make them last as long as he can. Each Sunday, Ian shows up to church wearing a grey suit and a green, cloth tie and every day he re-invites us to Monday night Scottish dancingwe attended once with him, but he hopes for us to come every week. Though he may overwhelm some with his endless talking and repetitive questions, there is something absolutely charming about his stories, though I don't always follow with his thick accent and quiet voice.

With decades of stories to tell, Ian would talk away. I learned quite a bit of random facts about the man. When he was a teenager, he once sailed through York along River Ouse with a tent strung up on the mast because his sail broke; he bought his first car for 20 pounds, splitting the 100 pound cost with 4 friends; and in the past month his gutters broke, his sink needed replacement, and he pulled his Achilles tendon.

Today, we said goodbye and as a parting gift, Ian slipped a little box in my hand, saying, "you don't have to keep it. It's just a little present so you will remember me." I hadn't realized how much we meant to him until I opened the little box and found a special wooden calender inside. What a sweetheart. 


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Melissa, our sweet and quirky hostel host in Llandudno, welcomed us with a warm hand, though we didn't actually meet her until a half hour before we checked out. I walked into the hostel lounge where she stood next to a backpacker's backpack chatting about cake decorating with a friend of mine, so naturally I assumed she was a fellow resident just passing through on a weekend trip. It took a few minutes of casual conversation before we disclosed the truth. Melissa had been at home over the weekend helping her two daughters decorate cakes for a cake contest they were entering. One daughter had designed a 3D dragon cake complete with scales—I know because Melissa showed us pictures from her phone, just as any proud mother would. 

Born in Tasmania, the roughest and most dangerous part of Australia, Melissa moved to London at age 21 hoping to make it big as an artist. "I quickly realized I was too shy for that," she laughed. "But I sold a few paintings." Eleven years later, she and her husband moved to Wales where they opened this homey hostel and lined the hallways and rooms with Melissa's original paintings. The hostel has become her own work of art. 


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Ryan, our enthusiastic friend at Alnwick Castle, was literally everywhere! We first met him at broomstick flying lessons where he pranced around on his little broom, kicking his feet high in the air and screaming like a maniac. At one point, he tumbled down the hill rather violently, but he was fine. Later that day, we saw him teaching kids how to make soap at the dress-up station where we overheard him saying that some days he works as an actor in the haunted dungeons. Lastly, though we shouldn't have been surprised at this point, he introduced himself as our tour guide of the castle grounds. He was everywhere!

Ryan was perhaps the most enthusiastic adult I have every met in my entire life. We saw him from 10 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon and he bobbled with energy every second. I couldn't understand where his energy came from—I was exhausted after an hour of just watching him. However, I don't think I've ever been more engaged in a tour than when I listened to Ryan. He knew how to entertain, that's for sure.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Kristin Vander Linde, the youngest daughter of my Calvin College abroad professor, is visiting York for a month between university terms. Studying Fashion at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, California, Kristin is eager for change, looking at universities in both Edinburgh and London. Her goal is to study fashion in Europe, and one day become a top-name designer making valuable hand-sewn garments for runway shows. As the European fashion industry is geared towards chic, high-class fashionAmerica's fashion industry is geared more heavily towards celebritiesKristen hopes to one day live and work in Europe.

With bright red, vegan-died hair, blue eyes and piercings, Kristin is an expressive and artistic designer with a 16th century Gothic-horror style. Her expressions are bold and loud, and extremely Europeanthe fashion industry is just the place for Kristin, as her unique style speaks for itself among a crowd of people just trying to fit in. 


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Evelyn Vander Knaap, Joop's wife, also shared the evening with us over a nice dinner in a quaint Dutch hotel on the outskirts of town. She had a charming personality with a contagious laugh that was deep, raspy and straight from the heart, and all evening she found something to discuss, never allowing silence to take over.

Having just come home from a cruise to Dubai with Joop and friends, Evelyn was thrilled to be back in the Netherlands, as she didn't enjoy the dry heat of the Arabian Peninsula or the over-hyped tourism of Dubai. Over the years, Joop's job took Evelyn around the world, visiting every corner of every continent, and though well traveled and cultured, Evelyn was quite content to never travel again and just stay rooted in her Dutch home. For a woman who's seen more of the world than I ever hope to, she was surprisingly Americanized—not in a bad way, but in a way that made me forget we were in the Netherlands. Her English was impeccable and for awhile we bonded over American shows, such as Revenge—I truly hope she does travel more, at least to Colorado where we can meet again.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Joop Vander Knaap, a local Dutchman and a close work friend of Don Vermeer—he has friends in almost every city—met us for dinner as we stayed in the peaceful Dutch town of Soestduinen. Though from a city further north, Joop and his wife drove down for the evening to share time with good friends. Joop was a jolly man with gentle eyes and a sweet smile, and when he spoke, he looked you right in the eyes and gave you his full attention. His English was remarkably clear, but naturally when he spoke in Dutch, we understood nothing.

Near the end of the evening, he called the waiter over and they rattled on together in Dutch. Though we didn't understand, we guessed from Joop's motion of pointing at his palm that he had asked for the check. When the waiter brought the slip of paper over, Don reached out to grab it as any polite friend would do, and Joop quickly pulled it away as if saying, "No, I'll pay." Amused and bewildered, Joop waved the piece of paper in the air, showing the blank sheet, saying, "I just asked for paper! Not the check!" We laughed hard that night, making good friends, and by the end, we walked to our car with sore cheeks and full bellies. 


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Marjorie StagnittoBruno and Valerie's 20 year-old daughter, arrived late to the dinner party with chilled bones and frozen fingers. Apparently the trains through Paris were shut down due to a suicide, and so Marjorie rode through town on the back of her boyfriend's motorcycle, dressed in her fine and stylish clothes not designed for warmth. She came in with a sweet Bonjour, greeted us with French kisses, then made a cup of tea and sat in front of the raging fire Bruno kindly made for her.

Marjorie had come from school where she studies the art of cosmetics and beauty. Her school is located on the famous champs-elysees in downton Paris, and yet she expressed that her biggest dream is to travel to New York City—little does she know, she's living the dream of thousands of American girls who would gladly trade places with her. Throughout the evening, Marjorie didn't say much besides a few words such as "headache" and "brr." In fact, the only conversation we shared went like this:

Me: "I don't speak French."
Marjorie: "I don't speak English."

But despite our inability to communicate, we got along well enough just laughing with each other at our crazy parents—a good laugh is the best way to make friends. 


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Valerie Stagnitto, Bruno's wife, also invited us warmly into her home where she had prepared a four course meal with authentic French dishes including liver, blood sausage, and pâté. She served steak wrapped in bacon, potato puffs, 5 gourmet cheeses, and ice cream brownies to finish it off. Her hospitality was endless, as she continued serving drinks and dishes throughout the night. 

But she didn't stop with the food, as she sacrificed her time to drive us to and from her house (as late as midnight), weaving through the busy streets of Paris where traffic rules don't exist and horns are necessary—I was glad I wasn't driving, as I don't have the nerve to squeeze between cars with only an inch to spare. Throughout the hour long drive—traffic is bad in Paris—Valerie made great conversation, formulating sentences as best as she could. Though there were times she struggled to find words, I was impressed with her confidence and determination in trying. She showed me up, as I can only say please and thank you in her language. 


Friday, April 19, 2013

Bruno Stagnitto, a local Parisian with a charming French bungalow in the suburbs of Paris, invited us to his home on our last evening in France. Close work friends with Don Vermeer, our personal "tour guide", Bruno welcomed us in with a warm smile and classic French kisses.

The evening began with wine and champagne. As subtle small talk before our evening set into motion, Bruno entertained us with intelligent information about the making and quality of the wine, most of which flew right over my head as I hardly know the difference between white and red. He was quite educated and as I discovered later, wine was more than just a conversation starter—just around the corner was a modestly sized wine cellar stacked with bottles of aging wines. I guess I learned from an expert. All night Bruno engaged in full conversation with us, speaking with extremely good English well enough to crack jokes all night and keep us until 12 p.m. He was a charming Frenchman, but I couldn't help feeling slightly sorry for not knowing more French, as he tried so hard to speak English for us.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dave Ruissen, a local dentist from Oost-Souburg, Netherlands, invited us into his home as we stood on the corner outside his house appearing confused. Don Vermeer, a family friend traveling with us, mentioned our search for my great-grandfather's house from when he lived on this street in the early 1900's. And so Dave offered to show us his old maps of the city. He was a skittish, wide-eyed, and big-eared fellow with as much enthusiasm as my mother. Flipping through books, he hopped up every two seconds to pull down a new book from his shelf until there was a stack of maps and books on his coffee table. Though we never found the exact house, we found a neat book with old images from the years my grand-father lived in the Netherlands, and Dave was kind enough to call the local bookstore for us. And even more, he walked down to the bookstore with the bookstore owner to assure that we found the book we wanted. Dave was a great representation of the Dutch hospitality, and though we're not locals, he made us feel extremely welcome in the city of our origins.  


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Derek Low, from Aberdeen, Scotland, talked with us for over a half hour in the Castle Howard museum in North Yorkshire. Pinned on his blue, slightly-oversized, suit jacket was a name tag with the title "House Guide" scribbled in gold ink. We toured the castle without a guide, only stopping shortly to ask questions, but once we asked Derek a question, we couldn't get him to stop. From one end of the long ballroom to the far end, he led us down, chatting about jewelry boxes, paintings, statues, and wallpaper. Extremely informative and full of facts, he was quite an animated older man, sticking his head out and bulging his eyes to emphasize a point.

While spouting out facts about an old wine cooler, he mentioned Australia, mistaking us for being Australian. However, we had assumed he hinted at his own nationality, so when we mentioned him being Australia, he acted extremely offended. Apparently the British hate being called Australian just as Canadians hate being called American. A mutual misunderstanding, but it didn't harm our friendship as he laughed it off and kept talking, leading us further down the ballroom. What a pleasant man.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Megan Hennessy, a friend of a friend, is studying in Dublin, Ireland for the year. From Mendon, Massachusetts, Megan is a U.S citizen, exploring the European countries from the inside out like many others, including myself. But "Dublin is my new home," she said having lived in the city since September of 2012. "I walk these streets everyday and it's just become a part of me. The idea of going back to America is a little sad, and frankly, boring." 

Megan played "tour guide" for us Irish travelers this past Sunday, St. Patrick's Day, showing us the hot spots and local attractions, including restaurants and bars. "This is the craziest I've ever seen the city. Come back another day and you won't recognize it!" 

Attending Trinity University in Dublin, Megan is studying to be a writer of drama scripts for TV shows—she came to the right place according to many locals as Ireland and England have some of the greatest television shows. Though short, Megan and I bonded like close friends through the chaos and grim of Dublin's St. Patty-littered streets. 


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Steve Nash, the perfect combination of crazy and professional, teaches creative writing at York St. John University—he is the ideal example of the self deprecating, ironic British humor. Though respected enough to teach at a uni and talented enough to be publishing a book, he refers to his work as "shit writing." As if!

Never before have I had a tutor (a British professor) with so much spunk and craze—the 3 hour class period is really quite enjoyable as he falls into rants about Les Mis and teen-emo-bedroom poetry.

On the first day of class, Steve came into class with heavy eyes and spiked hair wearing skinny jeans, folded-over ankle boots, a v-neck T, and a pointed-collar blazer—I could have sworn he was a student until he sat down at the front desk.

"I should explain why I look like crap today," he began with his British humor, "I've had a rough couple of days." Steve's mom had been in a coma for 3 weeks, his thesis paper for his PHD was due at the end of the month, his boss had just informed him of a collection of colleague meetings to attend, and the train attendant had just broken his credit card in half. And here I am complaining about a 500 word essay due tomorrow.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Carol, a fellow tourist of Edinburgh stumbled upon our picture last Sunday as we awkwardly fumbled with our camera in the gate of Edinbrugh Castle. "Can you take our picture?" we asked as her group of friends approached, 5 or 6 middle-aged women. Kindly, they agreed—we didn't give them much choice as we blocked the gate. 

"Oh oh oh! Me too!!" Carol skipped over, her green scarf bouncing with her enthusiasm, and posed naturally as if a long-lost friend.

"Caroooooool!" her friends teased, "they don't want an old lady in their pictu'a!" But at this point, we did. 

After much laughter and silly banter, the pictures were taken and we were on our way, but as we parted with Carol and her friends, I felt a strange sadness with the lack of closure—I had to remind myself we weren't actually best friends. When I grow up, I want to be a "Carol."


Monday, February 18, 2013

Marian Moore, a York local, was the first to welcome me to St. Thomas Church as I walked in late, her arms open and her smile bright. Since that first day, she has extended her arms even further, receiving me into the church family as if I've attended for years.

Growing up, Marian attended Sunday church regularly though differently than most children. Having parents who worked Sundays, Marian would be dropped off in the morning and come home to an empty house. One day, at age 8, Marian ran home after the service with an eagerness to read her Biblean eagerness not often seen in young children with non-relgious parentsand so she began from the beginning getting bogged down only in Laviticus and Lamentations. But Marian has not always had this child-like enthusiasm in her faith, as she confessed in our study Sunday night.

"At age 15 or 16, I began to doubt," she said, "I began to wonder how there could be a loving God with so much suffering in the world." And again at age 40, she found the rug pulled out from beneath her when a friend praised her faith. HOW is my faith strong, she doubted.

"But without doubt, how can we have faith," Marian asked, "because there's no stronger faith than that which brings you back from doubt." Through her testimony, Marian has shown me there is promise in darkness, and she has proven that church is a universal meeting place open to allno matter where we're from, or where we're going, we're all on a train ride together.


Friday, February 8, 2013

Unknown, I came to "know" this Scottish gentleman as he led a two-hour tour through the winding history of York. Naturally, I would have asked for his name, but having just read a chapter on British greetings in my culture textbook, I was a bit on edge. According to Kate Fox, the British don't feel comfortable sharing personal information unless one proves to be more than an acquaintance,  and since we briefly partook in conversation between landmarks, I felt it would be impolite. 

Regardless, this local tour guide was born and raised in Scotland and has resided in York with his wife for almost 40 years. Close to every morning, he explained, his lovely wife rolls him out of bed, rain or shine, so he can partake in his retired service, an honorable service of sharing his city with the curious. "I give a tour almost everyday," he explained, "and I give the same tours so much, I can't even remember what I've said yesterday." Though short, this kind Scot took me on a tour through timeto 71 A.D. and back againfree of charge and free of wages. Priceless.


Friday, January 26, 2013

Kate Whaleborn and raised in the city of York, stood guarding the top of the York Minster on a cold, wintry morning, her sleeves rolled to her elbows. Snow is uncommon in England, but when it does fall, it piles on the streets and sidewalks leaving puddles and slush to stomp through. "Aren't you freezing," I asked. "Oh no! My boss hera' at the Minsta' supplies us with batt'ry powa'ed clothing. I'm ratha' toasty, actually," Kate laughed. The Minster, one of the largest gothic Cathedrals in western Europe, is a building without heat, and even on warm days Kate says the building is still "chilly to the bone."
Interestingly, though I arrived to York only 3 days ago, Kate beat me to the top by a mere half hour. "This is my first time up here," she said, and so we stood together as gawking tourists admiring the extensive beauty of the snow covered city we both call home.

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