OU student finds herself…running with the bulls

Civic Engagement Scholars receive a stipend to complete a nonprofit internship of their choice during their junior year. Clair Carter ’12 was accepted into the University of Dreams internship program in Barcelona and was hired at a small nonprofit for eight weeks called Manos Unidas in 2010. Here are just two of her amazing stories about her work and travels. To read more, including what it was like to be in Spain when the Spanish team won the World Cup, please check out her blog

Clair Carter ’12 after running with the bulls in Spain.

By Clair Carter ’12
Applying for an international internship is a gamble. Aside from the uncertainty of receiving the position, there is no guarantee that one´s workplace will be enjoyable. It was apparent on Wednesday when all of the students in the program reconvened for dinner after the first day of work that we were not all winners.

Some students were greeted with intricate ceremonies involving smearing tomatoes and oil and, of course, kissing more strangers than one cares to remember. Other students failed to comprehend their Spanish instructions and attempted to look as important and busy as possible while actually surfing Facebook for hours. One girl discovered that she was the star in a real life version of ¨The Devil Wears Prada¨when upon entering the office, she was bombarded with a list of tasks and no directions (or kisses for that matter). How does one obtain 50 clear umbrellas anyway?

But I feel like the Goldilocks of the group. Although finding my office was difficult, acclimating to it has been anything but. I spent the first three days just learning my place here. I work for Manos Unidas, that´s Mans Unides in Catalan and United Hands in English. This non-profit NGO (non-governmental organization) is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary. Started by catholic women in the interest of women, Manos Unidas has expanded to help families and communities all over the world. They are devoted to ending hunger, improving health, sanitation, and education, promoting the rights of women–to sum it all up, world peace.

The discussions here flow smoothly from universal health care to burkas to diets to futbol to Avatar. For now, I am mostly a spectator. I understand what is being said over coffee, but my tongue and my brain have yet to synchronize. From time to time, I interject and everyone waits patiently as I search for words and proper conjugations, but mostly I just laugh at the way everyone teaches each other.

I feel as if by some bizarre turn of fate, I have ended up here just as I found myself at Oglethorpe. I did not realize how much I would connect with the purpose or the people of either of these two small places.

To my dad and mom(s) and friends and boyfriend and grandmas everywhere, just go ahead and take a deep breath. This last weekend I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in what is quite possibly the most famous Spanish tradition.

I went to Pamplona to run with the bulls…

Clair Carter ’12 in Spain

There were eight of us who left campus to ride the train to the metro to the bus to what we all agreed was sure to be one of the greatest adventures of our lives. And on that note, I’d like to go ahead and declare that I will never forget what I have seen this weekend.

Our bus, filled with other eager passengers decked out in white and red, barrelled along through the empty highways connecting Barcelona to Pamplona. Barrelled is not the right word because the experience was more akin to barrel racing. The seats should have been equipped with saddles instead of seatbelts. Between the swaying and bumps and general raucous of the bus, I only managed to sleep for one out of six hours- not exactly prime running condition. As the street lights illuminated the city, we quickly realized that we were not prepared. The view of bodies strewn across side walks, gutters, benches, streets – basically any flat surface- seen from the second level of our double-decker bus is the closest I think I will ever come to knowing what fighter pilots in WWII saw. In every direction bodies littered the ground, their once pristine outfits now stained with random splashes of sangria and kalimotxo (wine and coke, the official drink) The only thing more unnerving than the heaps of humans were the veritable mountains of garbage. You could hardly find the ground beneath the layers of bottles, bags, napkins, and other unidentifiable wreckage from the night before.

This scene was humorous as we gazed incredulously from our seats. Then the bus doors opened. A wave of stench washed over us, an odor so strong it was tangible. We attempted to hopscotch through the filth before giving in and trudging through the ankle-deep waste.

After leaving my bag in the hands of my friend Brittany, I left with four boys to find a place on the course. This adventure was not a complete whim. I had done my research and chosen a place to run. We found our spots and settled in for the two hour wait until our race would begin. As the clock ticked closer and closer to 8 am, the pedestrians began to clear the track and take up their viewing positions. I don’t know what I noticed first, the lack of fellow females or the incessant murmurs–Why is she here? She should leave. She’s crazy.

Every man that passed me, sober or not, felt the need to implore me to leave. Don’t be stupid, don’t be silly–they all said. (Were we not all about to put ourselves in front of rushing 800 pound animals? We are beyond the discussion of stupidity at this point.) I gave them all the same response: I came to run. Good luck to you. Some of them took this well, shook my hand, and moved on. Others gave disgusted looks and threw their arms in the air. Still others called their friends over as if this were the best joke they had ever heard. All I could do was roll my eyes and smile.

With less than ten minutes to start, I scanned the crowd to find two other women (a Spaniard and a Kiwi–instant new friends) and a sea of men all itching to move. They tried to hide their uneasiness with stretches and jumps and jokes, but everyone´s eyes said the same thing: why am I here?

Now, as I had entered this trip thinking it would be a defining moment in my life, I was expecting nerves that would shake my knees and adrenaline that would allow me to turn over school buses at will. So I waited for the feelings to consume me while I stretched my legs and arms, but my face showed what was really going through my mind- which happened to be nothing much at all. The men around me noticed this curiosity, and several of them accused me of being on drugs. They were clear that if I were on drugs, I would definitely need to leave. But I just stayed and waited. When we heard the first rocket, the boys I came with took off. I waited until I could see the bulls enter the plaza and then began jogging. As the people behind me began to run, I picked up my pace. My intentions were to run until just before Dead Man’s Turn (Estafeta) and then bail out. After this blind turn, where the bulls usually pin a few unfortunate souls between their bodies and the wall, there is only one small space left to exit the track. The rest is an uphill sprint to the arena. I made it almost all the way to the turn without incident. I was not even breathing hard. I thought I might try my luck and just run straight into the ring with the bulls.

Then I heard the single most horrifying scream in my life. I looked over my shoulder (secretly hoping that someone had just gone into labor) to see a man flying through the air. That was my sign. I climbed over the fence and joined the spectators. My heartbeat was still just barely above it’s normal tempo. There was no great rush, no euphoric sense of accomplishment. I watched the rest of the runners and could not help but think–what next?

We spent the rest of the day wandering around silently agreeing that nobody enjoyed the festival, that we all wanted to leave, that this is not all it’s cracked up to be. And as we stood in bitter silence, our ears were suddenly bombarded by the sounds of a marching band making its way down a side street. Without verbal confirmation, we all turned and joined in the parade. We clapped and snapped and hopped and kicked and tried our hardest to look as traditional as possible. We gave what was probably the least convincing performance of our lives, but we were having too much fun to care.

As it turns out, this parade ended as quickly as it began. When the instrumentalists got tired, they just stopped. And while we waited to see if the music would start again, it occurred to me that you can’t manufacture fun. You can’t say that fun will being promptly at 8 with the launching of a rocket. Fun just finds you, even when you would rather just sulk for a while.