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The Power of One: TAP’s Movie of the Month for May 2015

May 5, 2015

Power 2Sometimes you watch the perfect movie at the perfect time of your life and the story hits you just right.  In 1992, The Power of One was that movie for me.

The world of the late 1980s and early 1990s was a world of constant change.  In 1989, a student revolution erupted in China, and for the first time, I found myself strangely connected to something happening on the other side of the world. I don’t know why the story of the tank man of Tiananmen Square struck a nerve, but it was the moment I started to become politically aware.

I began to see that Eastern European countries were slowly fighting for their freedom from the Communist machine that had been keeping them down for decades.  The Soviet Union, who had been the big, bad, scary threat in the world since long before I was born, finally crumbled.  The Berlin Wall fell.  Terrifying, but mysterious and fascinating things, were happening in places I wasn’t even sure where they were – Nicaragua, Liberia, Libya, Kuwait, Bolivia… The world was on fire, and I was engrossed.

Then I saw The Power of One, and I can’t fully explain the impact this movie had on me in 1992. I suddenly felt so sheltered and alone and helpless.  Before then, I thought I’d been getting the hang of the changing world, understanding who needed help, knowing who was the good guys and the bad guys.  I thought I was aware and astute, but that movie opened my eyes to how little I knew.  Until The Power of One, I’d never heard of Apartheid.  I had no idea what was going on in South Africa.  As aware of the world as I had become, I still knew nothing.

I’m hoping that for each of you, The Power of One opens your eyes to the way South Africa was in the middle of the 20th Century.  It wasn’t as simple as black and white.  The racism, the inequality, the anger, the fear…  The world isn’t simple and clean with a line down the middle to show you good on one side and evil on the other.  The Power of One is all about that gray area.

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Miss Tadey’s Musical Tour of South Africa

May 1, 2015

Ladysmith Black Mambazo are probably the first South African musicians anyone here in America ever heard.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I think music is one of the most important forms of expression ever. In all of my travels and research, music figures heavily and I make a point to find musical experiences wherever I go. As a musician, I can’t help but listen to and analyze the chord structures, intervallic tendencies and cadences of music that are typical for any locale. I marvel at the differences in instrumentation and vocal qualities to be found in foreign lands. Of course, the similarities are often surprising as well.

When we were in Krakow, I enjoyed a jazz club with our TD, Michael. Jazz is a very American style of music that can be heard in many other countries, South Africa included, but is often embellished with localized stylings. In Japan, TAP attended a fantastic Bunraku performance.  Like many other theater productions, live musicians provided a soundtrack to augment the onstage action. However, the sounds we heard were unlike any other I had experienced in theater and helped make the performance, for me at least, a quintessentially Japanese experience.

To prepare for any travel, whether it is with TAP or not, I create a playlist to help get my mind ready for the new experiences I will encounter.  Some pieces I choose because they are local favorites. Others I include because they remind me of previous experiences with travel or the culture I will be exploring. And sometimes, I pick music just because it is fun and exciting for me. Here are a few of my favorites from my South Africa playlist.

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Invictus: TAP’s Movie of the Month for April 2015

April 3, 2015

invictusDon’t let anyone tell you that sports aren’t important.  Too many people make that claim.  I have a friend who claims that sports are a waste of time, and there are many more important things to focus our energies on.

I see his point sometimes. This weekend’s Hawks game isn’t life or death, I probably shouldn’t want to cause bodily harm to my neighbor just because he likes a different baseball team, and March Madness shouldn’t really come down to real madness.

However, sometimes I see the exact opposite point.  Last summer we walked through the streets of Munich the afternoon of a World Cup soccer game.  The excitement in the air, the pride in their country, the flags waving, the face paint, the noise and energy.  That game meant something.  Sitting down in a beer hall in Munich that night, while the Germans took the field, that was incredible.  There was something palpable in the air that night.

The pride in Ireland was the same.  We visited Croke Park, the home of the Dublin hurling club.  There, it was explained to us that Irish athletes aren’t pros.  They don’t get paid.  They play for the love of the game, and hold down real jobs to pay the bills and feed their families.  The coolest part is that Irish athletes, whether it’s hurling, Gaelic football, soccer, or rugby, only play for their home county clubs.  No matter where in Ireland life or career takes them, you only suit up and play sports for the region you grew up in.  That kind of regional pride was amazing to watch.

On a very basic level, baseball in Japan, at least on the field, looks just the same as it does here at home.  In the stands, it’s a whole different game.  Drums, horns, giant flags, chants and songs for every batter, balloons and post game dance parties.  It was surreal, but you could see that the outcome of that game really mattered to those fans.  It meant something.

Keep that in mind while you’re watching Invictus.  Sports do matter.  They do mean something.  This movie, based on the true events of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, proves that.

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The Harig Hodgepodge

March 19, 2015


When Mrs. Harig started to think about what was missing, it became clear to her that it was simply the everyday lives of people in South Africa.  Some of the stuff she covers in this presentation are some of the fun little things about traveling.  The only time I’ve gotten to visit a school in a foreign country was in China, and it was an unforgettable experience.  Strange road signs aren’t something most travelers think about before arriving in a new place, but the “Humped Pelican Crossing” sign I saw on my first day in England and the “Road Unsafe When Underwater” sign I passed in Arkansas will both forever baffle me.  Beyond that, it’s always a good idea to know how to greet someone, what the local customs are, and how to make sure you haven’t grossed anyone out by using your chopsticks left handed.

She’s put together a slide show for you to look through to wrap your brain around how South Africans go about their every day lives, then she’s asking you to think about both the similarities and differences between your lives and theirs.  The slide show can be found here – South Africa Hodgepodge

While scrolling through the slides, take some notes down about what stands out to you as unusual or different, then try to think of what reminds you of home.  About halfway through the presentation, Mrs. Harig asks you to watch a video, which is also embedded below.  Then she asks that you read through this page to give you even more differences and similarities between your lives and those of South African teenagers.

When you’ve read through everything, come back here and use the comments to give your two cents about Mrs. Harig’s discussion points.  Pick two of the topics discussed and identify ways their society is similar to AND different than our society in the U.S. 

We ask that all South Africa travelers have this assignment complete before our April 11th meeting.


Japanese Fast Food Does Not Make For Pleasant

March 17, 2015

Vincent and Jules hooked me on the idea of checking out foreign fast food places.

Vincent: And you know what they call a… a… a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?

Jules: They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with cheese?

Vincent: No man, they got the metric system. They wouldn’t know what the @#%& a Quarter Pounder is.

Jules: Then what do they call it?

Vincent: They call it a Royale with cheese.

Jules: A Royale with cheese. What do they call a Big Mac?

Vincent: Well, a Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it le Big-Mac.

Jules: Le Big-Mac. Ha ha ha ha. What do they call a Whopper?

Vincent: I dunno, I didn’t go into Burger King.

If you were living under a rock in the 1990s, or weren’t born yet, that’s an exchange between two hit men in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 classic, Pulp Fiction. If you’re anywhere near my age, Pulp Fiction was probably one of the most quotable movies of your college years, and if you’re not – then when you’re old enough, you should definitely check out this brilliant film.

(If you still ride a school bus, you’re not old enough yet).

Considering this was a short scene in a violent movie about drug kingpins, murderers, and a washed up old boxer, it had a tremendous impact on my life as a world traveler.  The first time I left the good ole U.S.A. was the year after Pulp Fiction became a pop culture phenomenon.  I was a junior in college and about to spend a good chunk of the school year studying abroad in England.  The first time I met the other kids I’d be traveling with, one of the first conversations we had about plans for the semester overseas was going to Paris… not to see the museums, the Eiffel Tower, or to eat a baguette, but because all of us wanted a Royale with cheese.

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The Best Days of Your Life by Eric Hugenberg

March 4, 2015
Eric at the Cliffs of Moher last fall.

Eric at the Cliffs of Moher last fall.

Eric Hugenberg is a former TAP student he traveled with us on our 2009 adventure in Italy.  He has many fond memories of the trip, but what makes the TAP teachers most excited is that his time with us seemed to trigger an addiction to travel.  He’s been to many amazing places since his going to Italy with us in 8th grade, and he’s agreed to share some of his experiences below. 

Hello fellow Minooka TAP members! My name is Eric Hugenberg, and I traveled to Italy in 2009 with Minooka TAP. Right now, I am a sophomore at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska where I am studying to be a pharmacist.

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The Gods Must Be Crazy: TAP’s Movie of the Month for March 2015

March 1, 2015

gods_must_be_crazyThe 1980s were a fun decade for movies.  Comedies were entirely different than they were today.  Most modern funny films are loaded with lewd content that make them far less than family friendly, but the 80s were packed with funny family movies that made movie night fun.  Ferris Bueller, Ghostbusters, Big, Beetlejuice, The Blues Brothers, Vacation, Back to the Future, Bill and Ted, Roger Rabbit, Uncle Buck, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, A Christmas Story, Teen Wolf, and the list could go on.

One of my favorites, however, is an overlooked classic, one that not even my friends that grew up in the 80s remember – The Gods Must Be Crazy.  Released in 1980, The Gods Must Be Crazy is still the most successful movie in the history of the South African film industry, breaking records in both South Africa and Japan, and becoming the highest grossing foreign film ever in the United States (that record has since been broken).  It’s a slapstick comedy that relies on physical gags that are exaggerated one step beyond common sense, and reminds you of The Three Stooges, Charlie Chaplin, Tom and Jerry, or Loony Toons sketches.

While the humor in the movie comes from a heightened look at reality and silly physical stunts, the heart of the movie comes from Xi, a member of the San tribe of the Kalahari.  Xi’s people know no modern conveniences and have never experienced white people, advanced technology, or our society’s rules and laws.  So, when a bush-pilot tosses an empty glass Coke bottle out the window of his plane and it lands near Xi’s home, Xi’s life is changed forever.

At first the bottle is a novelty, and the tribe finds dozens of uses for it.  But the San people don’t have words for “mine” or “yours,” so this exciting new object begins to cause some fighting amongst these otherwise peaceful people.  When things go a bit too far, Xi decides that it is his mission to return this funny object to the gods, who were crazy enough to drop it from the heavens in the first place.  He sets off on a mission to toss the bottle off the edge of the Earth.

Along the way, Xi encounters a biologist, a school teacher, a revolutionary, a military unit, a mechanic, and a safari guide – all of them in the midst of their own goofy, slapstick filled adventures.

Throughout this year we’ve looked at some pretty heavy movies loaded with difficult subject matter, so it would be easy to dismiss a light-hearted, fun-filled comedy like The Gods Must Be Crazy as silly and not educational, however there is a ton we can take away from the movie about the Kalahari, the bushmen, the wild-life, the Xhosa people, and the amazing scenery we’ll see in South Africa.  Beyond that, we get to see what the South African sense of humor is like, and maybe gain a little insight into the people we’ll be meeting very soon.

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Mr. Doerr’s Architectural Scavenger Hunt

February 24, 2015
How many different architectural styles can you find in Dublin Castle?

How many different architectural styles can you find in Dublin Castle?

On the second TAP trip I ever went on, we were walking through a very rainy and cold Dublin, Ireland when I realized it.  I realized that we were missing one of the most important learning opportunities you could get out of teaching and learning in a traveling global classroom like TAP has.

On my first trip to Italy, it was obvious, and we spent time on it, but somehow we had dropped the ball while preparing for Ireland.  Walking down the street, we marched past so many teachable moments that it was killing me.  Opportunities to explore history and understand culture were lining the street we walked down, and we were simply walking by it with our eyes straight ahead, missing all of it.

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Zulu: TAP’s Movie of the Month for February 2015

February 2, 2015

In 1964, eighty-five years after the Anglo-Zulu War, Paramount Pictures released Zulu, a slightly fictionalized account of one of the most famous battle of that war, The Battle of Rorke’s Drift.  The battle was just the second skirmish in the war, the first being The Battle of Isandlwana earlier the same day.  Both battles had tremendous impacts on the outcome of the entire war.

In the 1950s and 60s, Western movies about small groups of cowboys being sieged by Native American savages, Mexican soldiers, or gangs of outlaws were immensely popular.  This film took that theme and applied it to a real historical battle set in South Africa.  It was a huge success.  Critics praised the movie (despite some inaccuracies) and audiences came in droves.  The movie was nominated for and won several awards, and is still regarded as a great movie today. Total Film magazine ranked Zulu the 37th greatest British movie of all time, the BBC named it the 8th best war movie ever made, and Empire Magazine put it at #351 on their list of 500 best movies ever.

As we prepare ourselves for our trip to South Africa, which is just 125 days away as of this writing, it’s important to look at some of these pivotal moments in the country’s history, like the Battle of Rorke’s Drift and the Battle of Isandlwana as both moments in the past and as turning points that shaped where the country went from there.  Looking back, we can always play the “what if” game.  What if the Zulus hadn’t embarrassed the British so badly at Isandlwana?  What if they had finished the job at Rorke’s Drift? How would the rest of South Africa’s history look now?

It’s easy, fun, and educational to ask those questions, but when we watch a historical movie, what we also do is look at it with a biased view.  History, as we know, is written by the victors.  The British ultimately won the war.  The Zulu Empire was eventually broken, and we know all to well how that white minority treated the black African majority as time went on.  Knowing our history as we do, we watch movies like this through a different lens.  The antagonists in this movie -the Zulus – are the “bad guys,” but in the other movies we watched, like Tsotsi, District 9, and Sarafina!, their descendants are the sympathetic characters, oppressed by the descendants of the soldiers from this movie.  That makes watching movies like this one that much more difficult, but that much more important.  History never has just one side.  Never forget that.

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Our Visit to Auschwitz

January 28, 2015
As we walked through the gates of Auschwitz, someone remarked that 70 years ago, people walking in didn't walk out.  That set the tone for the whole day.

As we walked through the gates of Auschwitz, someone remarked that 70 years ago, people walking in didn’t walk out. That set the tone for the whole day.

This week marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Southern Poland. TAP visited Auschwitz with 28 students in June of 2014. About three years ago, I read an article online that talked about the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Southern Poland. Over the years I’d read countless works of fiction about the Holocaust – Maus by Art Speigleman, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, and tons of non-fiction accounts of the time period, including Anne Frank’s diary, Night by Elie Weisel, and many, many more. All of them hit me in different ways, but for some reason this small article hit me even harder than those truly human stories.

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