About Joe Huber

Hello, My name is Joe Huber. I am originally from Troy, Ohio and started studying at UofL in 2007 where I am now a senior marketing student and member of several student organizations. These include the Student Marketing Association, the University Honors Program, and Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity. I have been fortunate enough to be able to study at the European Business School in Oestrich-Winkel, Germany where I will reside until late December. I will then return to UofL for a final semester and graduate in May.

Thoughts on Veteran’s Day from abroad

Living in Europe has given me a very unique perspective on the international impact of American affairs. For example, I have learned more about America’s role in the financial crisis here than I ever did back home. Everything that happens in the States has a global reach, and I’d like to share my thoughts about the impacts of something that hits close to home for me on this Veteran’s Day: the role of the American military throughout the world.

Today is November 11, Veteran’s Day, 2009. It celebrates the heroism and honor of those servicemen and women who have served in any capacity at home or abroad, especially those who have fought to defend our country in foreign wars. I have several friends and former classmates in the military, many of whom have taken tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. My sister and brother were both simultaneously in Iraq for a good portion of the last year serving in the Army. My sister is a Major and has been deployed several times, but this was my brother’s first deployment and he, recently engaged, was an activated reservist in a Psy-Ops division. For their service, the nation should be grateful and respectful.

Their service to their country is unquestionably brave, but often times the reasons for their presence are unclear. Questions about the efficacy as well as the true motivation for our strategies have gone unanswered, and I don’t really expect that to change. I have conceded that I probably will not know the true motivation for continuing this war. So I guess I don’t really like the idea of war or foreign military action in general regardless of the reason, but it’s a fact that will not soon change. When it’s my own family and friends that I have to wish a happy Veteran’s day to, I really think about our current situation in juxtaposition with previous recourses that helped to resolve world conflicts and peace keeping efforts, and it’s interesting to draw upon my experiences here to do so.

Now my personal thoughts on it aside, it cannot be ignored that the American military has a profound presence throughout the world. One of my close friends here at EBS actually served in the Korean military alongside a US Army division (all Korean men serve in the military for two years). He trained with them and hung out with them on the weekends. Twenty minutes from Oestrich-Winkel in Wiesbaden, there is a large Army Airfield, which is one of the several US military installations in Germany and one of the 761 military sites on foreign soil. It’s easy to see how post WWII Europe and would desire a US military presence to stabilize the region and prevent further conflict and how America would have a vested interest in preventing communist interference, but many people question why these bases are still here some 60 years later.

America is protecting her interests abroad by having military sites in foreign countries, and though many countries dislike the idea of having a foreign military presence on their soil (we would never allow it in our country), the fact is that a good portion of these installations are welcomed not only for the security their presence brings, but also the economic shot in the arm that a few thousand soldiers with no bills and some disposable income gives to a region. For example, on Sundays, several of the American EBS students go to a sports bar in Wiesbaden that is plastered with American sports memorabilia, serves buffalo wings and cheeseburgers, and gives a discount with an American military ID. Reservations are necessary because it is packed to the rafters with soldiers spending the entire evening at the bar watching the NFL. It’s not inexpensive either, but this bar has done a great job catering to a very specific American audience and there are many businesses in the region that follow a similar plan.

I have had discussions about the US military with several people from all over the world including one of my German friends who was very knowledgeable on the subject, and it’s clear to me that the presence of the American military is much more welcomed here than I could have ever thought. Despite their opposition to many of our current military operations, many Europeans regard the US as a stabilizing factor in the region and a safeguard against threats. They have become so accustomed to our presence that they were aghast when I told them that I don’t think it’s our responsibility to keep world peace. I mentioned to my friend that it’s the US tax dollar that supports these installations and that few Americans truly realize how many overseas operations currently exist. I then mentioned that the role that we have taken on is actually the formal responsibility of the UN or NATO and not that of any one nation’s military. He then countered by saying that these are powerless organizations that are slow to act and only do so after deliberating on an issue. So, by building a reputation of quick decision-making and readiness for military action, the US has become the de facto combination peacekeeper and local economic stimulus throughout the world.

On one hand it is nice to be regarded as a powerful nation with a strong military, but I am not sure how I feel about having the rest of the world expect us to be the first to resolve a conflict. We didn’t get involved in WWII until Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, and we avoided the European theater in WWII until 1942, three full years after the war broke out. So we have ignored George Washington’s advice not to involve ourselves in foreign affairs and have strayed far from Theodore Roosevelt’s “Speak softly and carry a big stick” view of foreign relations. Our position in the world now allows us to leverage our economic and military strength to achieve goals in line with our own interests.

This policy has had a mixed bag of successes and failures. The Vietnam War was unpopular and the effectiveness of our presence was questionable; the Cuban embargo (Cuban Democracy Act) is often regarded as archaic and detrimental to the nation it was supposed to save. On the other hand, however, two days ago marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, something that Germans are proud to celebrate, but it also serves as a stark reminder of the oppression that communism brought to the region. I can’t help but think of the way that the threat the USSR posed was neutralized: through very strong military inaction. Reagan is credited with ending the communist regime, but it was really just the straw that broke the camel’s back after a long series of strategic moves by his predecessors, none of which used military action to effect results. It is interesting, that despite very little military aggression directed toward Russia, the number of foreign bases surged to over 1000 at the height of the Cold War. The American military’s strength and global presence solved the problem without ever actually going to war with Russia. The Cuban Missile Crisis, one of the most volatile situations in modern history, was defused by a strong military presence and a slow trigger finger. It’s unfortunate to note that there are currently 184,251 troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan alone, and President Obama is in the process of narrowing between four strategies to push forward in Afghanistan; every plan involves more troops.

Like I said before, a Veteran is any person serving in the military during a time of war. So while the world remains divided on what the role of the US military should be, this time of war drags on into its ninth year creating more and more veterans each day, each having made unique sacrifices for his or her country. This war may not be popular and the end may not be in sight, but these men and women deserve the gratitude and respect of their countrymen. So I would just like to take this opportunity to remind everyone to thank the veterans they know.


If you search Google for “The Most Beautiful City in Europe”, that’s where I was last weekend. Prague is famed to be one of the few European capitals untouched by both World Wars and as a result, its old world idiosyncrasies have homogenously coalesced with modernity to form a vibrant city with an ancient past.

With its Gothic architecture imposing and crepuscular in the amber-tinted mist, its unadulterated medieval grandeur evokes a sublimity that cannot be easily described. The castle and cathedral overlooking the Charles Bridge are monoliths that stand as a testament to an archetypal epoch in European history, one in which knights rode steeds across the golden hills and besieged strongholds stood defiant amidst a flurry of bolts and arrows. When walking down a cobblestone street lined with the shops of marionette purveyors and street artists of all kinds, my imagination ran wild thinking of all the generations that had walked those very same steps and all the different things to which they had the privilege to bear witness.

We had the opportunity to see this city with a few friends, two of which grew up in Prague. Every chance I got, I marveled at what it would be like to grow up in a city like this. We stayed at our friend Hoang’s apartment in the Branik district and had home cooked Vietnamese meals prepared by his mother (his family is from Vietnam, but has been living in the Czech Republic for 20 or so years). We were introduced to his friends from high school and went to a few of their regular bars where we were educated in the art of foosball, something about which I thought I already knew a fair amount. They quickly showed me the error in that belief.

At night, we toured the historic areas in Old Town, visiting shops and taking advantage of the relatively weak currency and strong spirits. We were able to meet up with fellow EBS students one night and enjoyed the ambiance of the evening in the company of good friends and a beautiful backdrop. One night, we were even able to get lost by taking the wrong bus stop to some scary warehouse encircled by dimly lit, tree lined paths; the dense fogged being pierced by the barking of German Shepherds just behind the fence nearest to us. Somehow, even that experience was surreal. I was able to appreciate the beauty of the moment, something I very quickly should have overlooked in favor of my concerns for self-preservation.

After surviving our weekend, it was now time for the car ride home. I had the fortune of driving from Bavaria back to Oestrich-Winkel on the famed autobahn. It was unfortunate that I was driving an economy sedan with five people through construction zones at night. It was still an experience, however, to get passed by Porsches traveling at twice my speed. However, it was probably a good thing that my aspirations for speed were thus thwarted because I was rusty after not driving a car for three months. But we returned safely to a mundane and studious existence void of the excitement to which I had grown accustomed. We won’t be traveling again until December, so my only option at the moment is to study, which isn’t entirely negative, but it’s not exactly Prague.

Waking up from the American Dream

I have been hesitant to write another blog entry for fear that I didn’t actually have something interesting to say. I don’t just want to write about my misconceptions, how mind-blowing the culture shock has been, and how beautiful Germany is. I purposely waited until after we had the opportunity to be here a little while and get acclimated so I could have a better handle on some things I wanted to discuss. So here goes:

I have been living and interacting with students from all over the world. These students are from Singapore, Korea, The Czech Republic, and Hungary just to name a few places. At least once a week, we will get together for dinner and this is a great way to share our culture with one another. I have had the pleasure of tasting all sorts of Asian delicacies and then I was the judge of a Goulash competition. I tried my Hungarian roommate’s Palinka, a traditional schnapps recipe that is made differently by each family by aging various kinds of fruit in a special distillation process. During these weekly endeavors, I have slowly come to this realization: America has very few traditions that have not 1) been stolen from other cultures and then changed to reflect our own tastes, or 2) been shamelessly exploited and marketed to the rest of the world.

When I tell people that I go to school in Kentucky, they don’t recall that we have a beautiful landscape with rolling hills, they neglect to make note of the largest horse race in the world or the most spectacular fireworks show in North America. They ignore the things that make it so dear to us, but their minds immediately go to the eleven herbs and spices of the man in the all-white suit. That’s it. To the rest of the world, Kentucky is KFC and Jim Beam, California is Hollywood and hippies, and Florida is Daytona at spring break. It’s really sad that our culture has been spread throughout the world so that there are so very few of the many things that used to make us unique.

When I visit a new place in Europe, I love the feeling of learning everything about it. Coming into this trip, I didn’t really know too many of the nuances of my friends’ cultures so everything is brand new to me. I feel like I am learning so many things that I would never have been able to in the States. But when I try to tell them about the ever-evolving political landscape in the US, how LeBron James is single-handedly reviving the NBA, or any other thing that I would assume to be unique to the US, they have more to contribute than most Americans I know. I feel like I have nothing to tell them that they don’t already know. America prides itself on its rugged individuality and its capitalist mindset, but somehow in “Americanizing” the rest of the world, we have lost many of the things that make us the non-conformists we pride ourselves to be. We have embraced this capitalist mindset to such an extent that we have mass-marketed our very best traditions to the global economy, and I believe in doing so, sold part of our identity. I am afraid that our culture no longer instills wide-eyed aspirations for the American dream in the hearts of those throughout the world, but instead we may have almost become a parody of ourselves. I often wonder what it would be like to come from a lesser-known country and have the opportunity to introduce others to all the things that make my land different. I would like to introduce the world to an America that they don’t already know everything about, and show them some meaningful traditions that haven’t been satirized. I guess the thing that makes patriotism so special is the fact that only one’s countrymen can identify with the things that make your home so dear. But when everyone in the world knows about your home, sometimes it loses a little of its luster.

America is the greatest nation in the world because of our freedoms, our opportunities, and our people. It’s noble to want to spread these ideals to the rest of the world, but I just wish that we had realized that it’s okay to keep a good thing to ourselves sometimes because that is what makes her special and that is what makes our dream uniquely American.

Travels before the beginning of the semester

In planning our trip to Europe, Patrick and I wanted to get the most out of our experiences. Instead of flying into Frankfurt a few days before classes started, we elected to travel to the places that we may only get to see once in our lives. Our flight took us to Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, where we successfully navigated the 15 million person city (almost twice the size of NYC). We didn’t know any Turkish, we weren’t familiar with the culture, and generally had no idea what we were doing. This proved to be the most enlightening part of the adventure because of the steep learning curve. We quickly became acclimated to the heat, the nagging shopkeepers, and the chaotic traffic. Looking back, I am glad we started our trip in such an exotic location because after you find your way around Istanbul, Rome and Athens seem far less imposing.

We stayed in a great hostel with a fantastic location. In fact, we may have been spoiled a bit in that we got our best accommodations for the first leg of our journey. Second Home Hostel is located very close to the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, as well as the wharf area and the Bosphorous. We went to these ancient locations on foot and were able to see many of the sights this historic city has to offer. We enjoyed the native dishes and spent time with the Turkish managers as well as travelers of all ages and nationalities in the common room of our hostel. After 4 days in the former capital of the known world, it was time to move on to the birthplace of democracy, Athens. Patrick and I outside the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

We were able to take an overnight train from Istanbul to Thessaloniki, Greece. After staying there for a few hours, we elected to go straight to Athens even though our reservations didn’t start until the following day. Upon arriving in Athens, we went to Hostel Aphrodite and asked if they had any space for us. They said the only place they could put us was on the outside balcony for €9. Not wanting to surrender a sure place to sleep, we decided to stay in sleeping bags on the tile porch. It was nice; the city lights were dim and the warm air was dry and perfect for sleeping. That is, until about 3 am when the air conditioner’s water seeped into my mattress, soaking the entire upper half of my body. I had to move all my belongings in the middle of the night and lay my sleeping bag out to dry the next day. Once we checked in and got a bed, we loved Hostel Aphrodite. Despite its quirks, we really enjoyed our stay there. That was mostly due to the in-house bar/bartender. The bar, which was located in the basement, offers a free welcome shot of Ouzo (a traditional Greek schnapps) to every new guest. There was automatically a sense of community that was created, and this, coupled with its eclectic patrons made for some very interesting evenings.

When in Athens, we saw all the historic sights, the Acropolis, the Temple to Olympian Zeus along with various ruins from a myriad of different empires. Here we are throwing up L’s outside the Parthenon.We spent an afternoon on the beach, and climbed the highest point in the city at night. Lycabettus hill overlooks Athens and stands 277 meters high. There is an Orthodox church at its precipice and it has a restaurant that provides stunning views of the city and all its sights. After the descent, Patrick and I managed to get lost. Thanks to the walking tour we took the previous day, however, we were able to navigate back to the hostel via landmarks.
Patrick is a runner. He has run in the Louisville marathon, is slated to run against world record holders in Berlin on September 20th, and has his eyes on Boston. His passion for running and my appreciation for Greek mythology meant that we had to make a trip to Marathon. According to a combination of ancient writings and modern folklore, a battle was won by the Greeks against the Persians near the town of Marathon. To tell of the news, one man named Phidippides (or Philippides, based on who you believe) ran the distance from the battlefield to the Athenian court to tell of the victory. Upon telling of the great battle, he promptly died from exhaustion. This legend has given birth to the race that forces so many athletes to push their bodies to the limit to endure the grueling 26.2 miles. It would only follow that we should make the trek out to the Greek countryside. When we arrived, the first thing we noticed was that nobody was around. Shops were closed for an excessive lunch break, and the people we did see only spoke Greek and looked at us funny. We navigated the town by trial and error, and when the temperature is pushing 100 degrees, that is not the best process. But finally, we wandered upon the stone that marked the starting point for the first marathon race in history. It was in a worn-down Olympic stadium that had the pathetic torch to match. But we felt gratified once we stood before that granite slab with the bronze plate that marked the spot where the Olympic Games were revived and marks the starting point of the race that commemorates one man’s determination and devotion to country and cause. This was a great experience for Patrick, who has an almost religious connection with running.
Probably my best experience in Athens, however, was going to visit Pantelis Mellissinos. He is a third generation sandal maker and his shop is an unassuming store in one of the side streets in Monistiraki Square. His Father, Stavros, was a famous poet and transliterated the Rubaiyat into Greek. Despite their family’s success, they still lead humble lives as sandalmakers because they believe that art truly manifests itself when one is where they are supposed to be in life. I bought a pair of sandals that were custom-fitted and also bought a pair for my friend. Mine were the same that John Lennon bought when he visited Stavros, and the pair that I bought per the request of my friend were called “The Aristotle,” coincidentally named not only for the famous philosopher, but also for the wealthy Greek magnate and future husband of Jackie Kennedy, Aristotle Onassis. In talking to Pantellis, I discovered that he was a very grounded individual despite his fame, and he even studied at a school in Ohio near my hometown. It is these experiences that make an international trip truly unique. Anyone can throw down some money and get a ride on a tour bus, take some pictures and buy a t-shirt, but doing the things that you can only capture in that moment will be what you most remember. After 4 nights in Athens, it was now time to begin our journey to Rome.

After we booked deck space on an Adriatic ferry, we took a train to the port city of Patras. This allowed us some wonderful views of the Greek coast with its crystal clear waters. When we arrived, we had to negotiate with the clerk to change our ticket to that day, because the agent in Athens booked our tickets for the following day. Fortunately, this proved to not be a problem and an hour later we were putting the Hellenic landscape behind us with nothing but dark blue before us. When you book a second class ticket on a ferry, you do not get a cabin, or really an assigned seat for that matter. So for the first part of the ride, we spent time on the boat’s heli-pad, talking with people from all over the world. We happened to meet two girls from Portugal. Nina and Mariana were also headed for Rome, so we agreed to travel together until they had to go to Switzerland. We spent most of the night in one of the boat’s lounge areas but we also ventured outside occasionally. The cool breeze coming from the sea was refreshing. But then it got late. And cold. Since it is a 14 hour trip, we had to find a place to sleep at some point during the night. We managed to find a semi-dark spot on the floor of the boat’s theater. When we awoke, we were in what has to be the nicest Italian port city, Bari.

In Bari, we booked our train to Rome, but it didn’t leave for a few hours so we managed to spend most of the day at its man-made beach. Once we were sufficiently sunburnt and sand-covered, it was time to make our way to Rome. In Rome we had the luxury of a private room at a comparably reasonable price at Hostel Ciao Bella. It was located on Via Quattro Fontaine, very close to many of Rome’s landmarks. We spent our days touring the Colosseum and the other innumerable landmarks. The social aspect of Rome is not lacking, either. Upon recommendation from other seasoned travelers, the four of us decided to attend a sophisticated soirée of sorts: Pub Crawl Roma. This was a great way to see the city and enjoy the company of other young people.
Despite being out very late, the next day we awoke around 7 am and were in St. Peter’s Square by 8:30. This was the most absolutely awe-inspiring sight I have ever been able to witness. The history and beauty that are emblazoned everywhere within its confines make Vatican City my favorite square mile in all over Europe. To see the devotion of generations of the world’s greatest architects and artists amalgamated into such a triumphant symbol of faith and beauty was unbelievable. We had the opportunity to attend mass inside the Basilica. Between the tourists bustling by trying to see the priceless masterpieces and relics and the indecipherable Italian liturgy, an unusual amount of tranquility came over me during the Mass. Being a Roman Catholic, it felt good to see the place that shaped so many modern religions and governments. The lasting impact of the Church can be symbolized by an Obelisk that stands in the middle of St. Peter’s Square . It was built in Egypt in the 13th century BC and was brought to Rome by Caligula in 37 AD and became the centerpiece for Nero’s infamous circus, which was located very near to the current Vatican site. Because of this location, the obelisk witnessed the deaths of thousands, including that of St. Peter himself. Nicknamed “The Witness,” it now stands a testament to all those who have lost their lives as a result of religious persecution.
The following day, we had to return to the Vatican to see the museum. In my opinion, the Vatican Museum is more impressive that the Louvre in Paris. It contains so many historic paintings and sculptures by Raphael, Michelangelo, and countless others. The Sistine Chapel is within its confines and is every bit as magnificent as I had been told. The summation of the museums collections are mind boggling. An interesting statistic: The Vatican museums are over 9 miles long, and it is said that if you spent only 1 minute admiring each painting it would take you 4 years to complete the circuit.
After spending 4 days in Rome that went entirely too fast, it was now time to move on to Florence.

Florence is a beautiful city that is known for its architecture and culture. We stayed at a summer hostel run by Poles. It was called Bling Bling. We were only able to spend a day and a half in Florence and about 45 minutes in Pisa. We had to be on the train from Pisa to Genoa to connect to Milan so that we could get to Germany the following day. As a result, Patrick and I trekked about a mile across the city with 35lb backpacks, battling stifling heat. We underestimated the distance and were forced to turn back before we could catch a glimpse of the only thing Pisa has to offer. Luckily, we caught our train and were on our way to Milan.

After a few minor setbacks finding connecting trains, we arrived in Milan without great incident. We then boarded a night train that was slated to take us to Frankfurt, where we would then go on to Wiesbaden, and finally Oestrich-Winkel. Unfortunately, I sent my Eurail Pass through the wash in Florence…so it was pretty mangled once I salvaged it. Apparently, the Italians didn’t mind the torn paper and the missing information. But it turns out the German conductors are much less forgiving. I was awakened at 5 am when we arrived in Frankfurt to a mustachioed German man whose limited English vocabulary conveniently included the phrases, “I don’t know what this is, but this is not a ticket!” and, “You must PAY!” After some confusion followed by arguing which quickly devolved into pleading, I had to pay for the full cost of the ticket, €124… Willkommen aus Deutschland, right?
But the point is, we made it to Germany and we had our own place to sleep that night… right?