Monday, September 24, 2007

Mistaken for a Highschooler

Hi Friends!
Some things don't change, no matter what side of the world I'm on. For instance, last week, when I was wandering around the city lost I asked for directions at a Kiosk. The lady at the counter didn't understand my English, but a man who was probably 70 years old overheard. He looked kind of like an older version of Mr. Rogers with his slacks and sweater. He stepped right up to help. "Ehh? Which Language? Français? Nein? English? Ok, where do you want to go?" I showed him the street on the map, and he said, "You need to be on the other side of the river--you see that bridge there? The Other side of the river." I should have known that, I thought--whenever I'm lost in Portland, its always on the wrong side of the river. The old man continued "You take Tram 3, Ehh? Number 3!" He held up three fingers to clarify. "And then, you cross the river, and walk up the steps and the highschool is right at the top of the steps. Its a long walk, but you have good legs, and its right at the top of the steps, you'll see the highschool." The highschool! I thought. I'm not looking for the highschool...he must mean the university though. I thanked him and followed the tram tracks across the bridge because I didn't have any coins to buy a ticket for tram 3. I turned right at the end like he said and up the steps, and--sure enough, there was the highschool. I wanted to march right back across that bridge and say, "I'm in Graduate school, not high school!!!" but I was still trying to get to class, so I didn't.

Internet access is still sketchy, but I have just discovered a second library that has Internet access, and this one is closer to the main campus building than the English department library is, so we are in good shape.

Tomorrow we are having a going-away dinner for Agi, the girl from Poland. She moves out this week and then I can move into my permanent room.

This weekend I went with Daniel to a movie (in English!!), went grocery shopping with my hiking backpack on because the store is a long ways away and how else was I going to carry everything back?! and Johannes came down from Frankfurt and we had lunch and dropped by the Starbucks. Would you believe they dont have peppermint mochas here?! I might not have come to switzerland if I had known that. I'm getting pretty settled in and I am finding my way around. I need to make more friends--otherwise I am going to wear out the few I have.

This week I am starting a class called English in America--it covers the development of American English, the regional and ethnic differences, etc. I will be a real live specimen for them, and I am really excited about this class, except I did the reading for this week and it was a very brief overview of US History-- all 200+ years crammed into 15 pages. It was a tremendous oversimplification, of course, and we haven't got to reading about the language component yet, but I am waiting with bated breath.

Ok, I am off to class soon (Slavery to Freedom in S. Africa), so I will talk to you all later. I will post pictures from around town hopefully in a day or two. Much love and saccharine (as my dear elder brother calls it).


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Didn't really fall off the face of the earth, but close.

Sorry for the lack of communication this week. I don't have internet currently at my new place in Switzerland, which is making everything a bit difficult. Until yesterday, I also hadn't found a way to get online here at school either, because I still don't have a student email account or login credentials...but, fortunately, I met a very nice graduate student studying English, who happened to know that jf you cut through a bookstore just past the main building, turn the corner onto an old cobblestone street, go through the huge wooden door marked with the year 1556 or something like that and up the spiral staircase to the English library, there is not only a splendid supply of American and British literature, but also some computers that dont require a student login ID. This works fine while I am here at school, as long as the department is open, but my communication will still be a bit sparse until I have internet at home.

My classes so far look as though they will be interesting! They're about great topics like land reform, mining, class relations in the industrial revolution, the idea of civil society and its application to Africa. I'm also taking epidemiology at the Swiss Tropical Institute with a bunch of science students and doctors (don't worry--it's an introduction to epidemiology), and I start my German class tomorrow.

The people in the program are really remarkably friendly, which is nice, and more than I expected. I've met 3 of the other 7 people who are new this semester, and I have a lot of classes with two of them particulary--Chantelle from London, and Andrea from Hungary. They both are nice, and Chantelle and I will both be learning German, so we have that in common too. And of course, we have our first language in common which is always a plus. There is one other American in the program that I know of. He's from Illinois, and he's given me some helpful tips about the tram, where to find things, etc.

My living situation looks like it will be ok, provided I get this internet situation worked out. I kind of wish it was closer--the tram is easy, but costs about 68 CHF per month, and if I lived a bit closer a bike could be a good alternative. Bikes aren't cheap either, but at least I'd only pay for it once. But then, who wants to ride a bike in bad I don't know what's best.

I still have some details to work out obviously, and I'm a bit frustrated about them, but I think it will be ok pretty soon. Please pray that we get internet access at home this week. My land lady is going on vacation next week and if they don't come to install it before then, it could be as late as the middle of October, which makes work, banking, downloading my reading assignments, keeping up with class notifications, etc., all very difficult.

love to you all,

Retroactive to Sunday...

Ah, Switzerland. My Euros don’t work, but otherwise, we’re golden. I’m camped out in a kids room: there are boats sailing across my walls, and I have more helicopters and LEGOS in here than I know what to do with. I start my classes tomorrow, although I’m thankful to have a very light day on Monday, and I’ll use the extra time to get my bearings in Basel. I’m pleased to report there is a Starbucks in Basel, by the way. Not that I’ll be frequenting it, since I’m a poor graduate student now, but if I get lonely for the Great Northwest, I might swing by. I think I’m fortunate to have a temperament that adjusts quickly to new places and people, but it’s not so fun not understanding people…so…we’ll see. I might find myself in Starbucks more than I anticipate. I am understanding more and more German every day though, and I’m still having a wonderful time!
Here’s the quick rundown of what’s been happening:
1) I might buy a bike! I haven’t had a functional bike in ages, so I’m excited about that—if I get one it’s going to have a basket and everything. How fun! The guys in Lörrach have been out en force on my behalf all week looking for a suitable used bicycle, and I’ll post a picture if/when I buy one.

2) In other exciting news, I went grocery shopping, and I’m feeling quite domestic. I mean, I am set for nesting: I could bake you a pie or make oatmeal for an army, or invite the royal family for tea, or we could have pasta or potatoes or anything you want!! That is, we could if you were here. Unfortunately, I don’t have very many decorations for my room yet, but don’t be alarmed! I will remedy that situation shortly. I was going to buy tulip and daffodil bulbs yesterday, but Mrs. O reminded me I don’t have a garden (particulars, particulars) so first, I’m going to ask if I can have a pot in the yard, and THEN I’m going to buy flower bulbs.

3) My classes that I’m most looking forward to are “Black and Yellow Gold. A comparison of Mining and Miners in the German Ruhrgebiet and the South African Witwatersatrand, 1880-1950,” “Land Reform: Poverty as History in South Africa,” and “Imagining Africa: Missionary Intellectuals and Systems of Knowledge.” I don’t know if they’ll let me take the class on mining. Some of it is in German, and my German ist nicht so gut. I will have a total of around 11 classes, including German and an African Language (probably Swahili, but depends on availability. Arabic is the other most logical choice). That feels like a lot right now, but it’s about right—their credit system works differently than ours, so a “normal” credit load is about 30 credit points a semester, and I’m at 28ish. I’m also taking a course with the English department on South African Fiction, and I think that will be fun too. I’m a little heavy on South Africa-themed classes this semester, but it’s just what’s offered this time.

4) Olga and I watched Emma Saturday night, and I have to say I love that movie so much. The boys refused to watch with us. We tried to invite them, but they said “NO EMMA! And you aren’t going to contaminate our laptops with it either!” I told Vitaly that I know a couple guys who actually enjoyed the movie, but he said, “are you sure they were guys?,” so Olga and I gave up and watched it by ourselves and had a wonderful time without them.
There you have it. J Steph’s life in a very small nut shell. Feel free to email me or leave comments! I enjoy getting emails, and I’ll do my best to answer in a timely fashion. Blessings on your day!

Friday, September 14, 2007

How to offend, in five words or less...

Some people around here seem to think that the proper English names for things like poop and butt are Sheet and Assophagus. I don't think anyone ever told them that those aren't the polite terms for either, and that in fact, scat and bum or rear or caboose will work just as nicely and will be much less abrasive to the native English speaker's ear. I don't think they're trying to be rude, but we'll be going along in polite conversation, "blah blah blah her assistant..." and it's so hard for me to hear the rest of what the person is saying because I can't believe they just said that to me! In front of old people or children! or AT CHURCH!
I was on the train the other day and some kids in the next seat heard me talking and thought I was British, and when I said, no, actually I'm from the United States they said, "Oh! cool! Are you from the Bronx? Do you know 50 Cent personally (they really said that! do you know him personally!)?" I said no, I live far from the Bronx, and I don't believe I've ever had the pleasure of making his acquaintance (50 Cent is a rapper, in case you don't know). And THEN, these kids busted out some song lyrics. Now, if you know much about rap, or anything about 50 Cent, you know these are not exactly Shakespeare sonnets or the kind of lyrics that people generally quote to a girl in public, much less one they just met. Use your imagination--50 Cent is about as impolite as you can be, and while I'm sure the kids know in their heads, "this is a bad word in English," I don't think they've thought about how it will cause English-speakers to respond to them if they use such crass language to them. I don't even think they were trying to be unfriendly, and I would have been happy to talk to them otherwise. I just really didn't have much else to say to them after they told me I should shake my assparagus for them. Kind of a little irritating, you know?
So, after all that, I'm feeling a bit sheepish, because when I was in school my floor knew one extremely offensive word in Japanese. We even knew what it meant--but the idea didn't carry the same offensive character that it apparently does in Japan. We were all sitting around a line of tables in uwajimaya Japanese restaurant in Beaverton with Yoshie, our Japanese floormate. Her roommate Brittney was sitting next to her, and she said, "hey, lets play telephone," and she whispered a word to the girl on her other side. We all whispered that Japanese word around until it got to Yoshie, who was SO mortified we thought she'd die on the spot. What if the Japanese waiters had overheard!!! She was ticked. We thought it was funny, but she was pretty upset. Ironically, the other time I saw her really mad, she expressed it by flipping off a teacher and the rest of us thought that was totally inappropriate and offensive...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

One old church and two new shoes!

Hi Friends!

For those of you who like to get right to the point, I'll give you the High/lows, as we used to call them at Fox. The highs this week have been exploring Freiburg with a new friend, lots of fun conversations with my hosts, and buying new shoes (black flats, purchased today). The lows have been sparkles in my water, and wishing every single day that I understood German better.

Today I went to Freiburg with a friend from the church. Everyone else was either at work or school, so I would have been holding down the fort on my own. Peter and Vitaly and Mr. O all work at the same place up the road and they come home for lunch every day. Mrs. O had to work today, so the original plan was that I would cook lunch. When they found out I was going someplace the guys were like, "WHAT? NO! you can't go! what are we going to eat!?!" But they apparently managed, and I was sort of glad to not have the pressure of having something edible pulled together when I don't know where anything is in the kitchen, am not familiar with the food they have in the house, and can't read anything in German.

But anyway, back to my story. We went to Freiburg, and that is one cute town (see pics)! I'd like to live there, but so would everyone else, so it's expensive. The point was to take pictures, and I learned a little more about how to use my Nikon. Daniel had a nice Digital SLR too, and he knows how to use his better than I do.

Sunday I went to the Black Forest with Olga and family and took a little boat ride...visited a waterfall...stuff like that. The BF looks a lot like our corner of Oregon, except with better architecture and higher hills. They both have that rich evergreen presence that we Oregonians love so much. It's colder there than in Oregon, though. A guy from church told me that his house in the black forest is at 700 meters. Olga and I babysat for this guy and his wife Saturday night. They have lovely children, but babysitting is a lot easier when you speak the same language as the kids, lets just say that. In all honesty, Olga babysat and I happened to be there.

Monday I went with Peter and Mrs. O to Switzerland to meet my land-lady-to-be and see my room. The house is in a quiet neighborhood, and my room overlooks the garden. I'm happy about that. The room is an ok size--not big, but not much smaller than my room at home, so it's fine. Everything is set for me to move in Sunday afternoon.

Enjoy the pictures! Talk to you soon!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Home Sweet Germany

I am here in Germany keeping a tough schedule of riding bikes and trains, eating ice cream, watching American movies in German, and hanging out with a bunch of nice people my age all day. My trip here wasn't too bad--even the 10 hour layover was endurable. I sat in the white wooden rocking chairs at Charlotte International Airport for a few hours and thought about how I was definitely in the south (who else would think to put rocking chairs in an airport?). I even logged on to wikipedia, found the song Dixie, and me and the 1915 Chamber orchestra performing it had us a nostalgic moment for the south. Then, after that, because you can only be nostalgic about the south for so long and I had a whole 10 hours to fill, I got a pedicure. Now, if you think that's indulgent, be glad I refrained from also getting a manicure and a massage and my shoes polished too! Believe me--one girl, 10 hours in an airport, nobody to talk to--even a shoe shine on a flip flop sounds like an interesting activity. Then I went to Starbucks and took a nap...and the rest of my layover wasn't very interesting.

On the plane I sat next to a lady from Bavaria on one side, and a 21 year old guy from Cincinnati who was on his way to Warsaw doing almost the exact same thing I was doing. He doesn't speak polish, didn't previously know anyone in Poland, but is interested in international affairs, and he was on his way to school. Obviously, we had a lot in common. We talked about expectations, apprehensions, what our mothers think about our crazy ideas. He thinks his is just glad to have him out of the house, but I doubt it. Anyway, when we got to Frankfurt he kindly carried my bags for me, watched my stuff while I hit the ladies room, escorted me to my train and explained in detail how the schedules work and important little distinctions like "arriving" versus "departing" in German. Once I was actually on the train, however, I had a little more trouble with my bags. There were other people with a lot of stuff too...but usually they were traveling in groups and could at least help each other. It was a bit challenging by myself. There were a lot of people, and they all looked like they knew what they were doing and where they were going, and I didn't. Then, as if I wasn't feeling lost and silly enough already, the guy pushing the snack cart thought I was entirely amusing (especially my German) and I wanted to tell him, "Look buster, don't laugh at me. It's not funny," but he moved to a different car before I was done being flustered enough to say so.

I was supposed to meet Olga's brother Daniel at the Basel train station in Switzerland, but there are two stations for Basel--one in Germany and one in Switzerland--and I got confused about where we were meeting. By the time I got another train I was a half hour late, and I didn't have any way to tell Daniel that, and I didn't know if he would still be waiting when I got there! I got off the train at the right stop this time, and there was hardly anyone there. Nobody waiting with a sign, like they had said. No indication of a waiting area or anything. I asked the passport control police if they had seen a kid wandering around holding a sign with a girl's name on it, but they said no, they hadn't, and sent me around the corner to check the hall inside. No kid or sign there either, but this guy who was NOT holding a sign gave me a funny look and said, "Stephie?" He turned out to be Olga's older brother Peter, and he had come with his car and his brother and sister to get me. Daniel and Julia had been outside with the sign, but we had missed each other. Peter says when the train I was supposed to be on came, they didn't know if they would recognize me exactly, so they jumped in front of every blond girl who came off the train and held the sign up for her to see, and they were getting worried when nobody responded very positively.

After that little adventure, things have been just great. My host family is warm and friendly, and it's fun to be with people my age again! Olga is a kick in the pants, and we decided we're going to learn to ski together this winter. Her little sister Julia is 11. She's a sweetheart, and she leans on my arm, or writes me letters in German in Google and then translates them to English using the automatic translator. Today she said I'm her sister too, like Olga. The boys are normal brothers, and they're holding the ropes on behalf of my own brothers. They tease me about my pedicure, about running slow, about not being too proficient in driving a standard, and so on. They're helping me find a cell phone too, and are busy bringing me up to speed on Italian car makes, including engine types, of course. The kids speak pretty good English, especially the oldest three who are Peter, Olga and Vitaly. Mr. and Mrs. O make efforts at English and I make efforts at German and occasionally Russian, so we do ok. Mr. O is always saying stuff like "Stephie! Wo ist Deine hausshue?!!" ("where are your slippers?"), of "Stephie! Essen!" (Eat!) but he speaks so little English that he has to ask his kids anytime he wants to say something in English. Tuesday night the kids and I went and saw the Jackie Chan movie Rush Hour 3, in German of course. Wednesday we went to the school and stopped by my department. I think I'm going to really enjoy my classes. There are about 30 people in the program, and 8 new students this term counting myself. The coordinator met with me and a girl from London at the same time to discuss classes and such. She comes from an Art History background, so it sounds like we have some common interests beyond our immediate studies too. The mandatory courses this term are introductions to the various disciplines that shape the rest of the program. Then besides those, I'll take a few additional classes. There is one that is a two semester class basically for designing public history--in this case, the first semester is spent researching Basel's historical connections with Africa and determining which aspects could be best presented to teach about Basel's history and Africa. Then the second semester is spent learning about design principles, presentation styles, multimedia, creating a walking tour of Basel based on the research in the first semester, and coordinating it all in time for some big Africa conference that will be held in Basel next year. I think that sounds fun! It's like working in a museum, without being stuck in a museum, which is the main reason I never wanted to be a curator. The subject matter and presentation design is interesting, but the indoors-with-artifacts part is kind of a drag.

Wellp, there's more I could say, of course, but its 2:30 am, and I should sleep, and you probably wouldn't want to keep reading anyway. :) So, I wish you a guten tag, and all my love. I'll send some pictures soon.