Germany Thus Far: Months 21 & 22

June and July updates are here. Fireworks, moonrise, and a waterfall included!

Since things have been quite busy in terms of my study load, I decided to lump two months together when I realized that there was no way I’d write about June on time. To be clear, those two months are June and July. Oh wow, that’s most of the summer gone already…

Around Konstanz & Southern Germany

In the first part of June, I did quite a bit of cycling. It wasn’t unbearably hot, but still nice enough weather to summon you outdoors. On one Saturday, I went cycling along the coast of the Bodensee with A before we went for a swim in the cool lake water. After swimming, we realized it was getting closer to 8, so we cooked dinner and then took some wine and glasses back to the beach.

Bodensee Sunset

We had intended to just drink some of the wine while enjoying the sunset. It was certainly a surprise when, across the lake near Meersburg, a firework show started up.

Fireworks vor Moonrise

This went on for about five to ten minutes. Near the end, I glanced to the right and noticed a light above the horizon. At first, I thought it was the sun for some reason, but then I realized that the sun had set to the left and had been below the horizon for some time already. It only took me a few seconds more to realize that it was the moon rising up from behind the Alps and scattered clouds there. We stayed a while longer and enjoyed the moonrise before finally deciding to cycle back home at a quarter to 11.

Moonrise

Several weeks later A and I went hiking at a place called Eistobel. The hike isn’t particularly strenuous, and there are several opportunities for taking a swim along the path (although the water is freezing!). However, what Eistobel is most known for is its waterfalls. I understand that the waterfalls are especially beautiful in winter when they freeze, so I may need to return during a colder part of the year to get the full experience.

Eistobel

Also that weekend, I saw my first ever hedgehogs during an evening cookout. A pair of the adorable little guys just decided to join us in the yard, probably drawn by the warmth of the fire and the abundance of slugs (a meal for them) in the nearby bushes.

At the end of the month, I spent some time at the annual Konstanz Flohmarkt (flea market). According to the local news, there were about a thousand stands at this market. It’s every year in June for a full twenty-four hours, along both sides of the Rhine and across the Swiss border into Kreutzlingen. I didn’t buy much, but I did pick up some antiques for one of my little sisters.

July has been much less exciting. The heat waves have ended with cold spells before igniting a new heat wave. As I write this, the past several days have been cold, rainy, and gray. I even had to get a pair of fuzzy socks out to keep my feet warm. Now the thing with these drastic weather changes, as any good Midwesterner would know, is that they bring strong storms. It’s been quite a month for a storm lover (meaning me!), and there were even multiple instances of small hail!

Hail Kz

The few exciting things this month, apart from the weather, have been dinners. The first dinner was at the house of my professor, who is also my advisor and now former-employer. In case you didn’t know, I quit my student job to focus my last few months on my thesis and job search. The dinner was a relaxing break, and I got to put my experience of making fruit bowls to good use.

The second dinner was to say goodbye to a good friend and fellow student in the program. He moved to Mannheim this week to pursue a PhD. I wish him all the best in his continuing studies, and I know he will see us all again.

That dinner was the first time I really thought about my friend group here splitting up. I realized that he and I are the two who will be leaving Konstanz at the end of this semester. And for me, that means having to once again search for a new friend group in the city where I will live next. Or being a hermit, which is entirely possible although not the plan!

In the Books

On the study side of things, there is good news. Lectures have ended, and I only have one exam next week. Luckily, this exam isn’t required coursework, so the pressure isn’t so high. I also finished my colloquium presentations on my thesis, which is a huge load off of my shoulders.

What is left is to get moving on my thesis, write everything up, and hand in the final document at the beginning of September.

I also officially started my job search in this past month, which has meant writing lots of cover letters and getting frustrated with myself for not speaking better German. The jobs in my field usually prefer people with excellent German skills. The ones which don’t require German are often either too senior for me, or I am overqualified for the position. I’m trying to apply for all of the jobs that I can which are in my Goldilocks zone (and interesting to me), but that means that I may not end up going to the city which I am most hoping to live in. Let’s see.

Speaking Denglish

I’ve been trying to push myself a bit more with German. I do have to say though, that doesn’t mean a whole lot considering learning improving my German has taken a backseat due to my thesis. Annoyingly, I keep stumbling across confusing things such as the strange forms of Junge which are part of an entire class of nouns previously unknown to me and the fact that Fladenbrot (flatbread) is not at all what I think of as flatbread. Sure makes it difficult to try cooking something new. But hey, finding ingredients has been a challenge since I arrived for many of my favorite dishes, ehem, Mexican and Southwestern cuisine.

Before the Storm at Bodensee

So that’s my June and July here at the Bodensee. Hope you all have been enjoying summer! Oh, and by the way, happy Game of Thrones return!

Cheers!

Deutsch Donnerstag: Schnee!

Deutsch Donnerstag

Hallo! I’ve decided to start a new series called “Deutsch Donnerstag,” or “German Thursday.” On as many Thursdays as possible (I am a busy grad student after all) I will try to write a little snippet about some German that I learned during the week, or share a story about German gone wrong (it’s pretty easy to mess up).

To begin, I’m going to tell you the best word in the German language (that I know of so far; this is likely to change often). It’s Schnee.

Schnee means “snow.” It’s my favorite word right now because of both its meaning and awesome pronunciation.

You might think that it snows a ton over here in Germany. In some places, it does, but here by the Bodensee I actually don’t get a lot of Schnee. The lake keeps the air relatively warm and humid. The couple of times that it has snowed so far, it melted right away or quickly turned to rain, while people north of the lake got a nice dusting of Schnee. Needless to say, I’ve been so jealous.

My birthday is coming up on Sunday, so I’m traveling to Ulm to visit a Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas market, and have some Mexican food to celebrate! Perhaps I will get lucky and be able to run around in the Schnee at the Weihnachtsmarkt

Cheers!

 

 

Getting My Second Wind in Oaxaca

This post is a part of looking back at my 2014 Oaxaca trip.

My second week in Oaxaca tends to be what I remember when I think about my time there. This was the week that I felt most comfortable, that I finally was getting the hang interacting with locals in Spanish, and that I spent the most time exploring.

One evening that I really appreciated was when my roommate and I took a walk around the city. We found a gorgeous fountain with some statues of Oaxacan figures, including the large circular male headdress that I saw in almost every informational blurb about their culture.

Fountain

Many evenings we walked the streets and talked to vendors, in between getting caught in rain storms of course. One of my favorite was this woman.

Metal Bugs

She spoke no English, but her work is amazing. She made all of these bugs from colored wire and other crafty bits. At first I didn’t want to buy one because I thought, “This will never survive the flight to the US.” Then, she offered me a container that she had made from the bottom of a soda bottle to protect it. I love dragonflies, so I bought one. She seemed very excited when I asked if I could take her picture.

The third and most significant thing that I remember about that week was a visit to a woman’s home that my professor arranged. We brought our own food and she cooked a traditional meal for us. She didn’t have much. Chickens roamed the yard and her kitchen was outdoors. She had built her own kiln in her yard, which she used to make pottery to support her family.

Oaxacan Dinner

Oh, and her grandson. That was what hit me the hardest: seeing her grandson, a young boy the same age as my host mom’s grandson. My host family lives in a large house, with cool stone floors, all the modern conveniences that Americans have, and even a maid. That boy certainly never wants for anything.

But this boy… This boy had none of these luxuries. His clothes didn’t fit right. I’m not sure what kind of education he received, but I’m guessing he goes to a disadvantaged school, as this wasn’t the city center. I don’t think his family had a lot of food. These boys lived not even an hour away from each other, but they seemed to be worlds apart. I think that these boys will never leave my mind.

I wanted to go into policy before this, but this is one experience that will always be a driving force for why I want to work on policy and help change the systems that make these boys’ lives, and that of their families, so different.

That’ll make you think about your developed-nation privilege for a while.

Cheers!

Monte Albán y Atzompa

On my first Saturday in Mexico, we went on an excursion to Monte Albán, an ancient city, and Atzompa, a nearby town with a thriving market.

At Monte Albán, the first thing I did was purchase a hat. A big awkward one, just to protect myself from the sun. I burn easily, and being up in high places in Mexico is a good way to get sunburnt for a normal person. I am not normal; I burn incredibly easily. A hat is required for Lynnae.

MA Hat

Our guide showed us around the mountain top city, which was once the capital of the Zapotec empire. We were given stunning views. The moment I saw this one, I knew I wanted to climb the pyramid structure at the other end:

MA Pano

As the speaking part of the tour ended, my roommate and I took off up those steps and enjoyed another spectacular view. The area down below used to be the city’s market place, where inhabitants mingled, traded goods, and celebrated religious events. In addition to the buildings and platforms you can see, there are also tunnels under the city that people used to get around.

MA Top

For sports fans, there is a Mesoamerican ball game court in the city as well. You may have heard in your history classes that in some places, the winners of the ball game won the right to be sacrificed to the gods, but there is no evidence of that having ever occurred at Monte Albán.

After we finally came back down the steps, we checked out some of the other archaeological wonders in the city. My favorite part was definitely the carvings that we found lined up. I was always fascinated by Central and South American ancient carvings, but seeing some in person was surreal.

Carvings at MA

At the end, we went to the market at Atzompa. There were so many things to buy, including alebrijes, mezcal bottles with actual hooves on them, and pottery, not to mention food! My roommate bought a rather large selection of delicious conchas, which are a type of Mexican sweet bread. They go fabulously with Oaxacan hot chocolate!

Atzompa

And that’s my Monte Albán experience in a nutshell. For anyone planning to go in the future, my advice is to bring sunscreen, a big hat, and cold water.

Cheers!

Exploring the City: Oaxaca

Much of my first week in Oaxaca was spent exploring the city. Oaxaca has many beautiful parks, pedestrian streets and historic buildings.

Catedral de Oaxaca (Cathedral of Oaxaca)
Catedral de Oaxaca (Cathedral of Oaxaca)
Iglesia de Guadelupe (Church of Guadelupe)
Iglesia de Guadelupe (Church of Guadelupe)

On the second day, we wandered through a side door into a church with gorgeous decoration on the inside.

Santo Domingo Gold

Santo Domingo Look Up

When we came out the other side I was amazed at how gorgeous the exterior of the church is. I asked a local (in Spanish!) which church it was, and he said that it was Santo Domingo! The Church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán is one of the most famous and oldest churches in Oaxaca. This Catholic church was built from 1570 to 1666. While it was used by the military in the past, today it is fully restored.

Santo Domingo
The front of Santo Domingo.

Santo Domingo was my favorite church in Oaxaca. We took in a lot of Oaxaca that first week. Though it was a good week of trying new food, getting caught in late afternoon storms, and visiting the Friday market at Parque Lleno, it wasn’t until the second week that I started to talk to more locals. After that, I started to feel I was getting to really know the city.

I’ll leave you all with this short post today. News of my next big trip will come soon, since I finally got the letter in the mail!

Cheers!

Looking Back: My First Day Abroad

Monday, April 21, 2014: My first full day in Oaxaca, Mexico.

My roommate and I woke up and went downstairs for breakfast where we were encountered by another girl who was living in the house. Over papaya and granola (no yogurt for me) we learned that she was from New Zealand, a student at a Maori immersion school studying abroad for a semester. In the next few weeks we became friends, and I got to experience a little of her culture.

After breakfast, our host family drove us to the school, Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca. We began our time at the Spanish language school with a language test. At the conclusion of this test, I was placed in B1 (levels range A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2 with C2 being the most advanced level). After the exam we were released to our classes.

My weekdays began to follow a schedule:

  • 9am-12pm: Spanish class
  • 12pm-1pm: Group conversation hour
  • Lunch break
  • 3pm-5pm: Cultural workshop (excluding Friday)
  • 5pm-6pm: Intercambio (excluding Friday)
  • Free time!

In Spanish class, we spoke and the teacher tailored the lessons to areas in which we were deficient. If she noticed we were deficient in reflexive verbs, she went over it and made us practice. My Spanish got much better in the short time I studied at ICO because of this teaching method.

During our group conversation we just spoke, and if we stumbled around the words and grammar, it wasn’t a big deal. The idea was to practice speaking, not to be perfect. I really liked this and the first day already I felt that I had been missing this in my Spanish classes of previous years.

Since it was the first day, we were then briefed on life in Oaxaca. It went a little like this…

Free tea and coffee available in the cafeteria daily. (This is the original source of my tea habit, which solidified in Northern Ireland.)

No toilet paper in the toilets because the Mexican plumbing system can’t handle it; throw it in trash cans instead. (Not as gross as it seems.)

The difference in food may upset your system for a few days. (It did.) Don’t drink the water or even use it to brush your teeth. (I didn’t. But I will add, be wary of swimming in it, too.) No raw food or fresh produce that was washed in said water, unless it was processed by your host family. (Even though the strawberries and sliced mangoes look lovely at the market.)

It’s illegal to participate in demonstrations, so don’t get involved. (Saw one, stayed away.) And of course, we received the usual “how to not die in a city / stay away from these areas” talk. (Heeded; survived.)

With that out of the way, we went on home for lunch. A little note on meals in Mexico: breakfast and dinner are usually pretty small, with lunch being the biggest meal of the day. Breakfast is eaten about 8am or 9am, as you would in the States. Lunch is at about 2pm. Dinner was the most difficult for me to adjust to, being eaten at 8pm. Cereal and fruit were normal dinners for us after exploring the city.

As I said, we had cultural classes in the afternoon after we got back to school. I decided to take the cooking class, even though I don’t consider myself an excellent chef. For the first cooking class, our instructor took us to both a chocolate shop and local market in the city center.

The chocolate shop, Mayordormo, had cocoa beans, machines to grind the beans and make chocolate right in front of you, and a variety of chocolates for eating and drinking! Anyone visiting Oaxaca should try the Oaxacan chocolate. It’s definitely different from that of the States, but it tastes a lot more rich and natural to me.

Freshly ground cocoa at Mayordomo.
Freshly ground cocoa at Mayordomo.

Mercado 20 de Noviembre is a market I went back to again and again. It has vendors selling clothing, pottery, alebrijes, jewelry, and a variety of food. On a typical day in May, the food section sells fresh bread, fruits and juices, mezcal (a type of alcohol), different meats, and chapulines (toasted grasshoppers).

Mercado 20 de Noviembre

As our cultural class ended, we walked back to the school and met our intercambios (language exchange partners) for the first time. The language exchange was one of my favorite things, because we took turns in English and Spanish. My partner told me about her university, and I really enjoyed learning more about her life in Oaxaca.

After our school day was officially over, my roommate and I decided to make a trip to the grocery store, supplying us with most of what we would need over the next three weeks.

Their grocery store was not so different. You could buy batteries, shampoo, and food, just like in the States. A lot of their things were even the same brands as ours, such as Lays, Oreos, and Fruit Loops. One thing to note is that they had a lot more fresh produce, meats, and bakery products compared to processed foods. After seeing this, I wrote in my journal, “No wonder the locals seem healthier than most Americans I know, not to mention a lot of them also walk everywhere.”

My roommate and I walked home to a lovely sunset. After getting everything in our room completely settled and chatting for a while, I got ready for bed. I remember that night after my first day-long experience of Oaxaca. I thought about all the amazing cultural differences and similarities I had seen as I drifted off to sleep, listening to the sound of some strange creature outside my window.

Thinking about this day, I often wonder what others’ first full day abroad was like.

Cheers!

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)

Before I really get going with what I want to say, I’d like to let everyone know that I’m not sick anymore. I have defeated the acute bronchitis! I’m too excited about this. Moving along now….

An interesting thing happened on Friday. It rained. Yes, I was surprised that it rained in Northern Ireland. I realize that this is the climate, but it was just so strange because the weather has been so nice, and we had not had a proper rain since I arrived. Just thought I’d share that with you all.

While I have been recovering I’ve been working on my thesis so I didn’t exactly get out much last week. While I was being wildly dramatic and dying from my illness, I managed to work a lot on my thesis. By Saturday, I was absolutely losing my mind and just had to go out.

Twin was in Dublin so I couldn’t con her into coming with me to the city and everyone else seemed to be gone or already have plans. Therefore, I just grabbed my stuff and took myself on a date!

It’s nice to just relax and spend time by yourself sometimes. I think I definitely needed that, especially after staring at all the data for my thesis for so long…

I arrived at Belfast Central after a train ride that nearly put me to sleep, and I remembered that St. George’s Market was open. I hadn’t been yet and figured it was a good time for me to go scope it out, since I’m definitely planning to return several more times to try to enjoy it as much as possible.

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)
St. George’s Market

The market was inside, which really surprised me. When I think market, I usually think outdoors. Although, I suppose that this isn’t too far off from the covered markets that I visited in Oaxaca.

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)
Inside the market.

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)

At St. George’s Market, they had quite a few food stalls out. Not that food is a bad thing, but I wasn’t exactly about to stuff myself and then walk around the city. I got to going around the craft stalls and there were a lot of locals with things that were handmade in Belfast or elsewhere in Northern Ireland. This place has Christmas shopping written all over it!

After perusing the market, I walked up towards City Hall. While I was walking past, a group of three women approached me. I could tell they were foreign (American to be exact), but apparently they didn’t recognize that I am as well. They asked me if I was from Belfast, and we all had quite a laugh when I said, “No, I’m from the States!” (Do I look like I’m Northern Irish?)

I made my way away from City Hall and towards the water. The wind was starting to pick up, and it was quite cold. At least the sun was out in full force. I walked along the water front and just enjoyed the day until I decided that I was hungry and ready to catch the train back to Jordanstown.

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)
Titanic Belfast

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)

I had a pretty good day out in Belfast and I’m glad that I went because the next day was quite cold and miserable. Then, the wind picked up and sheets of rain were falling down on us. My flatmate who is a local said that this is typical Northern Irish weather. I guess I’d better get used to it.

One more thing! I missed my very last Apple Day at Mary Baldwin yesterday. In order to still participate, I grabbed a few apples and went down to the beach with Twin. The tide was out and we walked out quite a ways. While we were out at the end, we noticed a seal hanging out on a rock sticking out of the water a bit away from us.

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)

Finding our seal friend was a nice surprise and Taylor also got a great shot of me for Apple Day. A little while later I sent it on to MBC with a “Happy Apple Day from Northern Ireland” note and they shared it. It’s fun to do little things like that sometimes.

Cheers!

My Solo Adventure in Belfast (& Apple Day)