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Sacred Summer: My Carleton Fellowship Experience

Aidan describes his summer in Europe, funded by Carleton's Fellowships office.

Aidan describes his summer in Europe, funded by Carleton's Fellowships office.

Coming back to Carleton after the summer is always exciting—even after spending a summer backpacking in Europe. As I detailed in my last blog post before the summer (attached here!) this past summer, I traveled around Europe studying churches on Carleton’s dime. To quickly summarize that post, Carleton has tons of funding available to fund students’ ideas, research, or otherwise through the Fellowships Office. This past summer I was able to get funding for my research idea and go to Europe without worrying about finances! It was truly an incredible experience, and I want to linger on it just a little bit longer. So today I invite you to come along with me as I reminisce about the amazing sights I saw. And tell you about my research too I guess.

backpack and supplies
My trusty backpack and supplies! A frugal life to be sure.

The Research

My research project this summer was titled “Sightseeing the Sacred”. Although was initially intended to be ethnographic research for my Comps—Carleton’s version of a senior thesis, read more about my process here—I ended up shifting my Comps’ focus to other realms! In my project, I spent around a month in Europe visiting churches to try and understand the ways in which tourism both affects worship in the space and provides necessary funds to the church which allows it to continue its regular function. 

italian countryside
My view of the Italian countryside from my flight into Rome. The start of something great.

Of course, that was an extremely abridged version of my research and findings. But if you want to find out more, I’ll be bringing my research back to Carleton in the form of a talk and poster session! I could talk non-stop about my findings, but what I’ll always remember is the experience. Nothing short of incredible.

The Experience

Speaking of the experience of my time in Europe, I was able to study more than 50 amazingly beautiful churches (images of some of my favorites attached below) and visit three countries (France, Spain, and Italy). My journey included an arduous 27-hour train journey, hundreds of thousands of steps, hundreds of miles, and an uncountable number of memories.

roman cathedral
My fav from Rome! Clearly, they love subtlety. (Shout out to Jaco, my Italian friend and translator!)
roman cathedral 2
Another fav from Rome, I couldn’t decide! Sue me!
geese in barcelona!
Not quite a church, but these geese lived at my favorite Barcelona cathedral!
parisian church
My fav Parisian church? Maybe not, but the stained glass deserved a mention!

Although I was there to be a researcher, I had plenty of free time to explore these foreign cultures and countries. My fellowship was a chance for me to explore my passions and experience new and exciting things all at the time. It enriched all areas of my Carleton education, playing into my minor and other interests as well. I tried the food. I saw the sights. I met the people. And, I researched. Obviously. 

the ecstasy of st theresa
My favorite Bernini piece, just a block from my hostel!
keith haring triptych
A Keith Haring triptych I stumbled upon in a Parisian church!

The Fall Out 

Coming home from Europe was of course sad, but with so many thoughts in my mind, I feel more prepared than ever to start my final year at Carleton. And honestly, the “bring back” portion of my fellowship is shaping up to be my favorite part. After a month of experiencing, studying, etc. I have come to understand my place as a religious researcher better. I have come to understand my research interests better. And honestly, I think I’ve become a better person. Being able to study something I feel so passionate about during my college years has been invaluable to me. 

As I think about my time at Carleton and my plans for the future, my fellowship will always be among the most important aspects of my Carleton education. And even though fellowships were never on my mind when I decided on Carleton, they’re definitely among the reasons I have loved being a student here.

Aidan (he/him) is a Senior from Batavia, IL coming back to Northfield after a summer studying churches in Europe. He is a Religion major and French minor with a passion for cello. Outside of class, he enjoys spending his time cooking, hanging out with his housemates, and broadcasting his favorite songs to the Northfield community on KRLX. You can often find him at the campuses’ two dining halls chatting with other students while working as a student dining hall manager.