Saturday, September 24, 2011

Thoughts On Future Educators

I am an education major. Secondary Education with an emphasis in history to be exact. I am not sure if I ever come out and excitedly proclaimed this to the world, "Hey world, I'm a future teacher!"


Because I spend more time being belittled or belittling my major. My friends are all science majors and so naturally anything less than Biology 101 is seen as an 'easy' class. And I have to be honest, my Elementary Education classmates take a Senior seminar that requires them to make diagrams with shoe boxes as a 3 credit hours class. I mean I can understand what my science friends mean when they compare my Ed F 355 Adolescent Growth and Development textbook with their Organic Chemistry textbook.

That being said, I am happy to oblige my friends and throw in a few cheap shots about my major as well. It is not hard to do, when practically all of my classes are filled with several breeds of people, none of which are those I would necessarily want as my first choice for a teacher.

The Sorority Chica: On Tuesdays, all girls in Panhellenic at Clemson are 'required' to wear there a stitched letter shirt with the letters of their perspective sorority. I say required because I am in a sorority, and I have very rarely worn a stitched letter shirt on Tuesday. I would say that a lot of sorority girls forget to wear their letter shorts on Tuesday, but this generalization is quickly thrown out the window when stepping into any given education class. 80% of the females in my major wear sorority letter shirts, and live up to the 'typical sorority girl' stereotype, "So, like, yesterday at my school, like, the teacher gave them a test, and then like, told them to, like, take it." I want to say that now all sorority girls are like this. I, for one, am more interested in my major than my sorority.

The Coach: When I first switched into my current major, several people asked me what sport I intended to coach. I had no idea what they were talking about and instead talked about my own pursuits to run marathons. I now understand the question. About 60% of the guys in Secondary Education (history) discuss Clemson sport stats and excitedly talk about their future profession of coaching. Oh yeah, and history too.

The Future Lawyer: Several other students are planning on using the major to jump into law school. I never understood why someone would go through all the trouble of student teaching for a teaching certification when they had no intention of pursuing classroom involvement. But I soon learned that Education is simply easier than Political Science or History.

The Undeclared Professional: Other students sort of 'fell' into education because they did not know what else to do. Most of these students came to college with hopes of a guaranteed job after 4 years of study. There are only a few pre-professional fields of study at Clemson that give you a job title in your early majors. That's not to say that an education major is guaranteed a job, quite the opposite in fact. But with this major one is at least guaranteed a place on Craigslist or Monster to begin looking. With a Bachelors in Political Science, what is one supposed to do in regards to jobs after college?

The World Changers: Then you have your idiotic idealists who look at changing the world through educating the people. I'm not going to lie, this is where I fall in. When I first became a Secondary-Education (History) major, I came up with the genius reason for wanting to be a teacher. Therefore, when my Dad, my friends, and other people who knew me said things like, "You are so much better than Education" "Trilingual, and all you want to do is be a high school teacher, I don't understand" or "You're making a bad decision, you'll never get a job, it's a joke of a major."

To this, I had prefabricated a wonderful intricate and seemingly ingenious response: "I would rather be happy in life, than miserable. I would rather love my job than hate it. I want to teach kids the past so that they do not make the wrong decisions. Without knowledge of the past, we are deemed to repeat it." Yadda Yadda. So sappy and sentimental. But I believed it- well, I still believe it.

I am in the classroom now, and my views have evolved. I still think I can change the world as a teacher, but I no longer think that I can do that through teaching kids about history and expecting them to eat it up and and live by it to the extent that I did. You see, I went to a high school with almost 100% college retention rate, a perfectly upper-SES class, and a nearly homogeneous suburban New Jersey High School. I will be student teaching in a 'high needs' High School. My class is made up of freshman students with varying levels of intellect. Income disparity is prevalent, and minorities are not minorities in the school. I have only been observing now for a month but I can already tell that my views about education are changing. I am less idealistic, and more realistic. I find it more challenging to spend days in the classroom with my students and then return to Clemson to hear my friends talk about how stupid my major is.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Travel Channel New SHow Pitch

Okay, this summer has gone on long enough. I'm ready to be back at Clemson. Being bored at college at least is better than being bored at home.

On the bright side, I have watched several television series, reread all the Harry Potter and Hunger Games books, and decided to try and at least work on the 1001 Movies You Have To See list. Oh and I've also started to watch the Travel Channel, which seems like something I should have started to do years ago.

So far, I have learned a few things. Admire Adam in Man vs. Food, don't try to say if he can do it, so can I. If Andrew Zimmerman ever needs to be replaced (probably from food poisoning or his body shutting down from all the weird stuff he manages to try) give me a call. I'm down for that kind of stuff. I've eaten cow balls before, that's got to count for something. Anthony Bourdan and I would be good friends I think, since we both have that same try everything but be sarcastic about it attitude. And let's be honest, Bet is cool, but the stuff he conquers is not that daring.

With so much time on my hands as of recent, I have begun daydreaming about my only travel channel show and what crazy idea I would have has the shows premises. And it came to me instantly... Host Family! A 20 year-old fairly well-traveled kid (me..) would travel around the world and spend one week in a family in various different countries. The family would get to decide what to do and how to really immerse the student (me) which could include, crazy things, bizarre foods, and sarcastic muses about life in said-different country. I think it would be brilliant. Episodes could even be split too. Like comparing life in New Jersey with Georgia is vastly different. The same is probably true for comparing lifestyles in Sydney and the Outback, in the suburbs of Paris and the French wine country, and in Hokkaido and Kochi.

Travel Channel, give me a call if you are interested! I even know some French, Japanese, German, Argentinian, and Australian families that would be interested in hosting...

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Really Bad Flatmate of the World

 Dylan Moran on America

How Traveling Changed My Politics... and made me more confused

Before I began traveling long term, I was a hard core Republican. I came from a family of political conservatives, which included everything from Attila the Hun fascists to march with Martin Luther King independents. I was in 6th grade, when I peered out the window of my Middle school classroom and watched smoke rise over the distant city of New York. I learned the meaning of terrorism and hatred and American pride and what it means to be a Republican at 11 years old, when most kids my age just wanted to French Kiss on the playground. I poured out Grey Goose vodka and refused rides in German cars in 2003, on the edge of the Iraq 'conflict.' In 2004, I was a guest at the George W. Bush inauguration, my hero (until his last term when he began spending like slimy welfare-lovin' liberal.) Everything seemed to change after that.

Now, the Political Compass is calling me Left/Social Libertarian, and I can no longer watch Fox News. And every time my Mom starts talking about politics, I can not help but getting up and leaving the room.

First, I should probably start by saying I wasn’t the “stereotypical” Republican, many Republicans are, in fact, not “stereotypical”, to be fair. But the problem is that I had the tendency to have beliefs that my parents had drilled in my head. Although my Dad has changed drastically, especially in regards to to Social aspects, my mother is still radically conservative. My beliefs mainly boiled down to “Less Federal Government is Better,” which I still believe to some extent, but am slowly beginning to change my views on even this topic.

I fully understood that the money my parents were forced to pay to the government was used to build beautiful state-of-art school in Newark, NJ. This occurred while my own Public School, one of the best in the state, was falling apart, or had asbestos hanging from the ceiling. This to me was wrong. But I truly did not understand how it worked, in retrospect.

However, I have always been socially liberal. I can remember clearly in 2008, when my best friend, who's mother runs Planned Parenthood in New York City, and I went into New York City to participate in the Gay Pride parade. Neither one of is Gay, but we wanted to show that we supported them. I asked my friend if I was the only Republican in the crowd and she told me that without a doubt I was the only one with any conservative thoughts whatsoever. Probably not true. My Dad sort of ignored me when i told him what I had done in the city, but my mother was anything but pleased.

I believe in gay rights, gay marriage, and am pro-choice. But I also believe that it should not even be an issue. Gays are people like us, and if I can get married, I don't even understand why there would be an issue for them to be married. Thus, when this issue comes up, I tend to just not say anything and sit around in disgust. (Imagine my surprise with what goes on living and going to school in SOuth Carolina Bible country.)

I also used to be pro-gun rights. Why? Parental influence. My Mom raised me to love Carleton Heston. That was th extent of my knowledge on owning a gun. If you wanted to have a gun, as long as you didn’t use it to commit crimes, you should be allowed to. I thought the government had no business interfering in the private lives of its citizens. After all, in one of the amendement thingies we always talk about in school it says something about owning a gun. Thanks Mom!

I disagreed with government-sponsored social programs to support the poor, mainly because I thought they just threw money at the issue without looking at the root problems. I know also knew personally of people who went ahead and had another baby, not out of parental devotion, but because of an additional check each month. While I wanted to end welfare and medicaid type programs, I also thought every American had a personal responsibility to look after the less fortunate. This sort of helped me sort out my views that Americans ought not to be taxed for welfare, but should be able to support charity on their own. It should be my choice about where my money is spent.

I had plenty of liberal friends, but I stood firm in my beliefs, I was not to be swayed. So what happened? How did seeing the world, living with host families, indulging in another culture, change all these views?

"Americans are just Canadians with guns." In Japan, I was asked tirelessly if i had a personal gun. The story of Yoshihiro Hattori was relayed to me more times than I could have possibly counted. Somewhere along the lines, I realized the strict gun control and social programs of Japan were the reason for the safe streets (overlooking the Japanese Yakuza after all.....)

I was sick in France one time. It turned out to be Bronchitis, which, left untreated, could have hospitalized me and definitely ruined my ski trip in Chamonix with my Dad. At the time, I moaned and complain to L R that I hated the French medical system. The first trip to the doctor left me with over three different drugs including back, foot, and head medicine when I swear all I had was the sniffles. But my Brocitus treatment left me with a whole new aspect on universal health care. Depending upon where you seek treatment in France you may be paying for coverage through your government healthcare or you may be treated in a private healthcare situation. The beds in France are distributed between public hospitals, non-profit hospitals and for-profit companies - and health care jobs are regarded very highly in social status. Why was I ever against this universal health care system? Taxes. The taxes that are levied in order to pay for the providing of care to the public are quite high. As much as 12.8 of gross earnings are taken from an employee before they can even be paid. While it used to be 6.8% of earned income, the rate has now been dropped down to 0.75% of earned income. The heaviest taxes are on the rich, and not just the rich who have income. Rich people with assets are still taxed at a high enough rate to bring in more money to the national healthcare system

I used to believe that the government should not be involved in the markets. Since youth, I was taught free market would correct problems, so deregulation of industries was needed. However, as I got older and time went by, I realized that leaving problems to be solved by the free market assumes that consumers force corporations to comply to certain ethical standards or that the stockholders and board members make choices based not solely on profits, but on moral values as well.

Unfortunately, the bottom line seems to win out most of the time. The majority of consumers want the best products and services for the cheapest prices, so of course jobs need to leave the US to find a cheaper workforce elsewhere. Stockholders want high profits. It’s not enough to make A profit every year, a company needs to make larger and larger profits. In order to achieve lower prices and higher profits, corners need to be cut somewhere. This has proven, to me, over time to not usually be in favor of the American public.

Taxes are higher in Europe, but I neer heard anyone suffering under too high taxes. In fact, people seemed to go on strike when more conservative programs were pushed, which wuld lead to lower taxes. Plus, taxes are really that much higher when you factor in the cost of health insurance in the US and the cost of college tuition there (college tuition is paid for by taxes here, students only pay fees). [My host parents in Europe one time did the Math... we pay more in the USA.]

There is more to say on this. But I keep changing my mind on lots of different political ideas and stances. I think the best thing to say is that I have thrown off the brainwashing from my youth. I am independent and able to think for myself. And the fact of the matter is that my travels have given me a new mindset, a new way to look at the world.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Why Was I Born Here?

This is not some editorial blog post about reincarnation. (Although I have strong beliefs toward reincarnation, my college life in the rural south of Clemson University, and taught me one thing above all else. Don't talk about religion, that does not correspond with the majority. Sad but true...) This is a post about what it means to realize that while one's passport proudly proclaims a birth rite of an American citizens, I have my own personal doubts and apprehensions. I believe I was born in the wrong country. A honest mistake but a mistake nonetheless.

On my United Kingdom excursion, I was able to read this wonderful book Geography of Bliss: One Grumps Search for the Happiest Places in the World, by Eric Weiner. When he began the book, he identifies a character, or certain kind of person, very much like myself. In America, we seem to be expected to be happy 100% of the time, and those of us that are not happy 100% of the time are outliers, unhappy people who live unhappy lives. This is certainly not the case at all, even though I am one of those outliers that is not 100% happy all the times. I'll admit, I'm not a naturally happy person. But I'm not a naturally miserable person either. In fact, I am happy most of the time, I just don't feel the need to show it or remind the world around me how happy I am. Things that make me happy are small and minuscule  coffee mugs, old books, emails from France, and so forth.People are quick to identify me as a Pessimist, but I do not see myself as a pessimist. Jokingly, I used to tell people that I am pessimistic optimist, or someone that is realistically happy, rather than just phony happy all the time. I think it's the best way to describe it.
Another type of person, Weiner refers to is the Hedonic Refugee. Simply put, the Hedonic Refugee is a person who was born in the wrong country. They are people who’ve found a better cultural fit in a country other than their birth-place, “not political refugees, escaping a repressive regime, nor economic refugees, crossing a border in search of a better-paying job. They are hedonic refugees, moving to a new land, a new culture, because they are happier there. Usually, hedonic refugees have an epiphany, a moment of great clarity when they realize, beyond a doubt, that they were born in the wrong country.”

For me, that epiphany came when I was 16. I’d just returned from spending my year abroad in Kochi, Japan. I was young and naive at the time, when I truly began to believe that I was meant to live in Japan, meant to be Japanese. But as time gone on, I have begun to realize that Japan is not the place I am meant to be for the rest of my life, but I am sure without a doubt that the United States is not the place either. With Japan, as much as I would love to close out my American life, and begin life in Japan, I am not Japanese. People who have never been to Japan will not understand what that means. In American it does not matter if you are not America to be accepted, in Japan it certainly does matter.

I have been all around the world: Japan, Australia, France, UK, Germany, and many others and I still have not found the pace I was meant to be born. I thought for a minute that I was meant to be British several years ago while on a school excursion to London. But this past trip with my Grandma has confirmed one thing: London is not Great Britain. London is my favorite place in the entire world, and while I know I could spend a considerable amount of the rest of my life there, I am not entirely sure that Britain is my country of should-be birth.

“What to do with this information?” He asks after detailing the phenomenon of ‘cultural fit’. “Should we administer cultural-compatibility tests to high school students, the way we used to test for career compatibility? I can imagine the phone call from the school guidance counselor. “Hi, Mrs. Williams, we’ve tested little Johnnie and determined that he would fit in perfectly in Albania. He’d really be much happier there. A flight leaves at 7:00 p.m. Should I go ahead and make that booking for you?

Of course not. Just because the culture fits doesn’t mean we should wear it, and, besides, every society needs its cultural misfits. It is these people – those who are partially though not completely alienated from their own culture – who produce great art and science. Einstein, a German Jew, was a cultural misfit. We all benefit from Einstein’s work…”

He has a point. I imagine that if I ever did manage to find a country filled with people identical in personality to me, I probably would not want to live there. There was an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry realizes he is making a grave error in marrying a girl just like himself. "All of a sudden it hit me, I realized what the problem is; I can't be with someone like me..I hate myself!! If anything I need to get the exact opposite of me....It's too much. .It's too Much I can't take it ...I can't take it!!!"

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that you could devote your entire life to traveling the world to find that soul-mate of cities or that country you were destined to spend happily ever after with and maybe you’ll luck out and find it. I'm doing that with every trip I take and every experience I go through. I hope one day I can be like some of the great Americans in Paris, or wherever I might finally call home.

But for now, I think I'll embrace my time in New Jersey and then head back to school in South Carolina. I'm gonna save myself the trouble of complaining about not fitting in and work hard at learning to love the little things about America. The fact of the matter is that I see America as tourists see it. I'm better accustomed and less surprised at it's little quirks and wonders. But it is still a different experience for me. I'm American by birth, but Hedonic Refugee by fate.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Just a Few Random Totalitarian Thoughts Inspired by Europe

These recent trips to Europe have made me think a lot about my favorite subject; history. Europe offers endless experiences to indulge in history. It is after all the cradle of modernity, and has the most magnificent history from the Greeks to the Romans, the medieval fiefdoms, and the British Empire. I love any and all forms of history. I love a trip to the ancient city of Bath of the Roman Empire, just as much as I enjoy a good tour around the battlefields of Verdun. However, I enjoy contemporary history above all, which in regards to European history means 19th century onwards.

Since my DGPS trip, I have gone a weird research obsession with Nazi Germany. More specifically Adolph Hitler. I realize this is not something to admit proudly, and I do so only because my studies have all but taken over my life. I find myself immersed in Mein Kampf to truly understand Hitler’s reasons and thoughts, hungry for more information on the Goebbels family, and the inner most life of Eva Braun among other things.

I have across many books and many ideas and generalizations in my research about Adolph Hitler. One such book, which I picked up while studying the bible before my Hitler mania, talked about how even Hitler went to heaven. Is in heaven currently. And after all that reading, I do think that Hitler believed what he was doing was good, as seriously sad, sadistic, and messed up as that may sound. Also, I believe that seriously "misguided" souls like his serve as a reminder of what we are capable of. Though on a another level it has inspired true compassion we all have for humanity and the like.

I read Hitler’s writings and I understand what he says. I see his points and acknowledge the black and white words on the pages. But the generalizations are so biased and not backed up by ay such facts. How he got all of the Germans to follow his into the world’s worst war ever fought is completely behind my ability of understanding.

I watch the news and see Cuba, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia among others.

There are still many non-democracies but will the world see the rise of villainous tyrants again? What I mean are the authoritarian types, probably, our lovely Vladimer Putin for example, but what about near-gods who completely control the destiny of millions or even billions?

Will there be totalitarian giants in the 21st century? The immediate answer that comes to my mind is no. But I wonder if it is because the world is generally more stable than ever before? After all, WWI made the Russian revolution and Hitler possible. And dissolution of western and Japanese imperialism following WWII made Mao and third world revolutions possible. Will there be a great ideology or great struggle that could unite vast numbers of people desperate for change or a more hopeful future in a period of horrific turmoil--one that usually catapults individuals into the heights of power?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My True Love

“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” -Samuel Johnson

I am in love.

Head over heels, drop-dead smitten, had me at "Cheerio," unconditionally and irrevocably in love. I like to say that I left a little piece of my heart in all the places I have traveled to. And while this is the case for most countries, one place holds the key to my whole heart. The city of London.

I tell everyone that I have seen the likes of Sydney, Australia, which has been ranked the best city in the world for 8 years in a row. Been romanced on the charming canals of Venice, Italy, a favorite among most people. Seen wonders and ancient beauty in mysterious Kyoto, Japan. Indulged in the grapes of Burgundy and seen the lights of Paris, France. Indulged in delicious beer and chocolate in Belgium and Germany (can not decide which has better beer and chocolate.) I have now seen the Emerald Isle and all of it’s green spector and chased bagpipes and literary genius in Scotland. I have been to a lot of places around the world by this ripe old age of 20 years old. I realize how fortunate I am and yet, in all of these spectacular place, I truly have one love. London.

I cannot explain this phenomenon. From what I gather, even most Londoners are not too fond of their city. I suppose it is the same for my neighbors at home, who have either a love or hatred for New York City. I love New York, but not to the extent that I love London. There are no words to describe how strongly I love the city. Except that every time I hear someone say London, my heart flutters as a school girl with a little crush.

My love for London is returned to me in a wonderful feeling of being at home. It's an incredible feeling, that warm and tingly sensation of being home. It's a familiarity. It's the ability to know everything about something and still love it (or at least tolerate it.) You can go right into the closet and pull out a jar of strawberry jam and it would not be a problem. It's a comfortable bed and a feeling of safety. It's putting one's feet up in the sofa, a cup of tea with just the right amount of sugar and a crumpet to be washed down. It's comfortable and easy conversation over a big plate of comfort food and a pint of beer. It's home. And for some reason, I feel that way every time I am in London.

In New York, I always feel that the city is mine. It's familiar but it's a different kind of familiar. It's that good friend you have had for a very long time and you probably will have to the end of time. Yet you rarely see New York because they are always doing other things and moving quicker than you can keep up. It's the long conversations that only scratch the surface of the whole character. And after time, you realize you'll never truly know New York because it's too fast-paced and constantly changing for you. But that does not change what a good old pal they are, and how they will always be there for you. Paris is another old friend, but is also that snooty little spoiled kid you grew up with. Always more beautiful, smarter, cultured than you, and sure to tell you at every opportunity. Yet your still good friends with Paris because it amuses you and still has that magic it always has. But Paris is a small doses kind of friend. You still really enjoy spending time with them, but not too excessively. You can not take being with them for too long without feeling insulted by your lack of culture. And then there is London.

I love everything about London as well. I love the terribly gray weather because it brings out the brightest colors in umbrellas and rain boots. I love the bright red mail boxes that bear E R II, for the lovely queen. I love the smell of curry wafting through the streets, mingling only with the fried smell of fried fish. I love how terribly bland British food is, and how delightful and exotic ethnic food is here in this great city. I am obsessed with the Tube stations, “Mind the Gap,” and all the wonderfully elegant names for each station. Picadilly Circus, Leister Square, High Street Kensington, Notting Hill, Paddington. The theater district actually allows you to take food in and eat during the show. Pret a Manger on every street corner. Taxi cabs with more elegance than most cars. The preparation for the Olympics and the scaffolding on almost every building

I love feeling this blend of history and modernity in one city that simply works. New York is modern. Paris is old. London is a combination of the two. A combination that just works. The Tower of London in all of it's majestic ancient beauty has the gherkin building looming in the background and it just works wonderfully. Whereas a view of the Parisian city line with the Eiffel Tower is besmirched by that awful Montparnasse building, which is a complete and utter definition of an eye sore. New York does not have anything old. But London does not just have to be compared to other cities. A stroll down Notting Hill or Kensington brings out a suburb feeling. Hyde, St. James, and Green parks transport you effectively back into a green world.

I'm gushing now as I sit here and talk about London. I am remembering my time spent there and going back to a wonderful moment, that feeling of falling in love for the first time. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Just a Few Random Totalitarian Thoughts Inspired by Europe

These recent trips to Europe have made me think a lot about my favorite subject; history. Europe offers endless experiences to indulge in history. It is after all the cradle of modernity, and has the most magnificent history from the Greeks to the Romans, the medieval fiefdoms, and the British Empire. I love any and all forms of history. I love a trip to the ancient city of Bath of the Roman Empire, just as much as I enjoy a good tour around the battlefields of Verdun. However, I enjoy contemporary history above all, which in regards to European history means 19th century onwards.

Since my DGPS trip, I have gone a weird research obsession with Nazi Germany. More specifically Adolph Hitler. I realize this is not something to admit proudly, and I do so only because my studies have all but taken over my life. I find myself immersed in Mein Kampf to truly understand Hitler’s reasons and thoughts, hungry for more information on the Goebbels family, and the inner most life of Eva Braun among other things.

I have across many books and many ideas and generalizations in my research about Adolph Hitler. One such book, which I picked up while studying the bible before my Hitler mania, talked about how even Hitler went to heaven. Is in heaven currently. And after all that reading, I do think that Hitler believed what he was doing was good, as seriously sad, sadistic, and messed up as that may sound. Also, I believe that seriously "misguided" souls like his serve as a reminder of what we are capable of. Though on a another level it has inspired true compassion we all have for humanity and the like.

I read Hitler’s writings and I understand what he says. I see his points and acknowledge the black and white words on the pages. But the generalizations are so biased and not backed up by ay such facts. How he got all of the Germans to follow his into the world’s worst war ever fought is completely behind my ability of understanding.

I watch the news and see Cuba, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia among others.

There are still many non-democracies but will the world see the rise of villainous tyrants again? What I mean are the authoritarian types, probably, our lovely Vladimer Putin for example, but what about near-gods who completely control the destiny of millions or even billions?

Will there be totalitarian giants in the 21st century? The immediate answer that comes to my mind is no. But I wonder if it is because the world is generally more stable than ever before? After all, WWI made the Russian revolution and Hitler possible. And dissolution of western and Japanese imperialism following WWII made Mao and third world revolutions possible. Will there be a great ideology or great struggle that could unite vast numbers of people desperate for change or a more hopeful future in a period of horrific turmoil--one that usually catapults individuals into the heights of power?


This is my second trip to Europe this summer. And while I have been to London, my most favorite city in the entire world, once before, it is my first trip to the United Kingdom Isles. But as most would realize, I have been to France and Germany this summer already. A summer spent filled with European excursions is bound to have some profound effect on the way I think. As for me, I have just become more European than before, but more on that later.

In Europe there are a lot of graves. A lot of people over the years have met their end to disease, famine, war, age, and so forth. Death seems to linger everywhere one goes in Europe, and the UK is no exception to that generality. Just because England does not share the same killing fields of Verdun and Normandy as France, or death camps of Germany an most of Eastern Europe, does not mean a lot of men and women did not fall in UK.

I am afraid of death, or more specifically, dying young and not accomplishing all my dreams. I am not entirely sure of a heaven, although I truly hope there is one. (On a different but not wholly unrelated topic, I recently watched a really interesting Stanley Kubrick  movie that has given more insight into this frame of mind. Paths of Glory is a wonderful portrayal of the horrors of World War I and the atrocities committed by everyone in the conflict. In one scene, the evening before a suicide mission, one soldier tells to his comrade his theory about death and the way we humans view it. He thinks that we are not afraid of death, because if we were afraid of dying we would not be able to get up everyday. The fact of the matter is that everyone dies and each day inches closer and closer to our impending doom. We are afraid, however, of dying painfully. I agree with this theory, but I am more afraid of dying without living out everything I hope to do and dying with regrets.(

But to me, heaven can be found on Earth: on the tops of mountains, in the cafes in the cities for people-watching, in a large Frappucino on a hot day, in a long run through the woods, and curled up in my bed watching a good movie. On Sunday's, while my friends and peers at Clemson head to their weekly church session, I can usually be found on the top of mountain or n a long run through the woods. It i my solace and my reason to live. Dying means losing these brief fleeting moments of happiness. I am aware of my mortality and scared because of it.

That being said, being around death in a place so old got me to thinking. Mortality. One's awareness of life and death. The plain fact of just dying, and then being nothing is completely mind blowing to me. The thought of not knowing what is out there in the Universe, or able to find out the mysteries of even the earths past seems cruel to me.

In a way it is cruel. Dogs and cats, for example, who do not think (at east in the deeper ways we do,) also do not suffer worrying about the future or about death. A dog or cat might live, say, only 15 years, and yet they are much happier than we are and they don't obsess about death. How would you feel if you knew from the time you were young that you would probably live only 15 years? Of course, animals are unaware of their 'deadline' and I wonder who has the upper hand in this equation.

This got me to thinking about some of the graves we passed along the way. 4 year-old boys that fell victim to the plague, countless other children that did not get graves because of poverty. The thing that I wonder is if this boy should really be pitied. Was he even aware of his own mortality? It’s doubtful. He died with no expectations and hardly anything solid to hold on to. He probably had little to hold onto and look forward to anyway. Sure his parents had stuff for him to look forward to, but I doubt very much if he had anything himself.

It's a morbid thing to think about, I realize. There is no right or wrong about death, only that it is.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Learning How To Think European

I like to think myself as fairly well traveled. I realize I have mentioned on every blog entry that I have lived in France and Japan before and that I am using these past experience as a starting point to understanding some of the things I encounter along the road of life. I apologize for this, but I truly believe that it has given me the ability to see past the surface culture of France. Past the baguettes, the charming houses, and the slightly rude everyday Frenchmen. I have been able to indulge further in the culture, and I have learned how to think. At least, in regards to how the French and the Europeans think.
When I arrived in Strasbourg, and later on when I stayed with my host family from my Rotary youth exchange in 2008, I could not help but find myself wondering if France, and by extension the rest of Europe, ever really changes. The country seems to be frozen in time. The same buildings built hundreds of years ago are still being used, and not part of small epic new mini-mall. The Boulanger sits on the street with the same bread and jam to sell. There are still tons of strikes, even if they have evolved into anti-EU tax strikes rather than anti-French government strikes. The French people still have the same mindset about Americans: they only respect you if you at least make some sort of effort. Had this country changed at all since 2008? Surely, there must be something different?

One thing I did realize was how much I have changed as a person since I last lived in this country. And I truly believe that my DGPS trip is part of that change. Perhaps because I was surrounded by like-minded curious American Honors students, eager to learn and embrace a new culture, or maybe because I am a little older and think of more sophisticated things. I used to think of France as a country of delicious bread, cheese, and wine, endless strikes for meaningless purposes, and a mindset of being the center of the culture. I used to think of it as a single country in Europe. I now see it as part of the European Union, even if the French do not necessarily see it in this light. "Oh yeah, the French hate being European, " says L R correctly.

An entity in the European Union is not an easy thing to wrap one’s head around. It is not the same status as my home state New Jersey in Washington DC. It does not have a representation in a two-body Congress. In school, students learn French history, before they learn European history. The president of the United States symbolizes far more than the President of the European Union, while the president of France is far superior to the governor of New Jersey. Even though a Senator from Alaska still has to agree on the same bill for legislation in Florida, representation from Finland for legislation in Portugal is different. At least the Alaskan and the Floridian both call themselves American and speak the same language. The same cannot be said the Fin and the Portuguese. So knowing this, it is hard to put the status of a EU state into one’s mindset. One has to completely learn how to think, and not try to put a square peg in a round whole with regards to learning how the European Union works compared to our American federalist system.

I remember back in 2008 arguing with host parents about the European Union. My host mother was born and raised in Germany, but married a Frenchman and is now currently a French citizen. She had the same mindset at our tour guide, Christine, with her sheepish admittance to being a German citizen. (Although when it came down to it, she was German before she was French. And it was insult to think otherwise.) “I’m European before I am anything else,” she would say with force. We used to argue the importance of the European Union for Europe and for the rest of the world. I would always argue about the additional red tape and bureaucracy, and question why Europe was so keen on big governmental institutions. My host parents would retort that I was being foolish and hypocritical, with Washington having the same problems as Brussels and Strasbourg with regards to bureaucracy. But red tape and big government aside, I now see the European Union as a necessity. Perhaps not to the extent that it hopes to be, but an institution as such needs to exist.

Our trip to Verdun settled my back and forth thinking about the European Union. I have wrote extensively about how deeply touched I was by Verdun. Having seen the ruins of Normandy, and juxtaposing it with the ruins of Verdun, I have another completely different outlook on the French and the Europeans. It not only changed my mindset about the necessity of war, but also about the importance of a governing European body. It has also helped me to understand why the Europeans have not always supported the American endeavors in Iraq and/or other military expeditions. One look at the ravaged countryside of Verdun, which is still a haven for unexploded artillery, will help anyone understand this.

In conclusion, the trip has given me more than just 12 amazing friends, an unforgettable experience in a beautiful place in this world, and a history lesson that I will never forget. It has given me a new appreciation for all that Europe is, how it functions, it’s goals and dreams, and it’s haunting legacy that continues to plague its trek into the future. 

I realize something else too. I'm European. I'm American. I'm lost. Eternally lost.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Just a few photos from the Trip

The chateau we stayed in and of course, me!

The entire DGPS group at the European Parliament.

Christine and Me overlooking Baden-Baden, Germany!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

What Makes Our Fate

Maybe our mistakes are what make our fate. Without them, what would shape our lives? Perhaps if we never veered off course, we wouldn't fall in love, or have babies, or be who we are. After all, seasons change. So do cities. People come into your life and people go. But it's comforting to know the ones you love are always in your heart. And if you're very lucky, a plane ride away. -Carrie Bradshaw

I am a huge fan of quotes. Ever since I was a little girl, I have been reading quotes and applying them to my life in some way shape or form. My favorites of course are everything spoken by Audrey Hepburn and travel quotes. But I also love the quotes form shows like How I Met Your Mother and Sex and the City, such as the quote listed above. This quote specifically speaks directly to me.

Mistakes have always made my fate. Never once have I done what was expected of me, or stayed on the path I should have. I'm not saying that one out of the way to make some huge faux pas, just to receive the hypothetical benefits of what might come. But I have come to accept that maybe that mistake my parents made by putting me in Kindergarten at age 4 was not a mistake at all. Or that emotional melt down I had in March 2008 about not being ready to go to college, which led to my France exchange, was not a mistake either. Without these things what would have shaped my life? I would not be sitting on my lap top in Fixin, France writing this blog entry. That I can say for sure. Everything else is a mystery.

If I never veered off course, I can't say for sure I would be the person I am right here right now. I never would have met the Masaki's, The R's, or won the scholarship for my DGPS trip back to France. I don't even know if my Wanderlust would even be as prevalent as it is right now.

But things change, seasons and cities. Dijon is constructing a tram way out into the vineyards, while Kochi is raising money for Fukushima victims. People come in and out of your life, Andrew, Alex, Althea, and Brom to name a few. But it's really comforting to know that these wonderful people are always in my heart, and just a Facebook chat or phone call away. And if I'm really lucky, just a quick plane ride, train ride, and bus ride out into the vineyards away.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Age Before Beauty. No Age is Beauty.

So I have been writing on this blog since 2005, just under 6 years. Granted, I have not been very consistent. I took considerable time off to live my life between travels. And even though lots have things have happened in between trips, I just never felt compelled to truly write it down.

As time goes on, so does life. We get older, that's part of progression. We also experience certain events in life that change us. Some things can be marked by a specific day and time and incident. For example, on August 17, 2009, I moved into my Stadium Suites dorm to begin my college experience. On January 6, 2011, I ran my first ever Marathon in Walt Disney World. But not all great events can be marked by a date an time. For example, I left France 2 years ago, and while I do not think I have changed all that much, I have grown up a little but more. I am a little older and a little wiser, and a lot less naive. I can not give you a specific moment when I reached the point I'm at now, but it did happen along the way in a series of events.

Just before France, I emailed the R's about my return to France and to see if I could stay with them for a few days. The answer was of course, and several emails ensued in regards to updates to the lives of the R's. Cha cha's progression with her studies, Ant's new girlfriend, JF still working like crazy, Coco still being Coco, and L R still being L R. But what really bothered me was that L R also told me she was not able to run anymore due in part to a torn tendon in her Achilles. (In the email, it sounded like she would never run again. But in France I have learned she is just taking about 5 months off from the sport to recover.) It really bothered me to think that L R, who I believe I had grown so close to because of our mutual love for running, could no longer run. I talked to my Dad about it, and he just said these things happen with age.

I love my Dad to death, but I absolutely hate when he talks about getting old, which unfortunately is all the time. I'm not entirely sure I have the right to sit down and talk about this since my body has not progressed to the stage that he is in. And I know if and when he reads this, he will probably get annoyed. But I am really tired of hearing about how age destroys the body and forces you to give up a lot of good things. The way my Dad spoke this past vacation in Vermont sounded as if he was truly going to give up skiing for good. I accept the fact that I am a marathon runner, and that I am in far better shape than he is, but I am tired of hearing age blamed for every little thing. I also used to think it was just my Dad who had this crisis with a "frail" aging body. But I have learned the very opposite.

As I mentioned before, L R and I share the mutual love for running. So her injury kind of hit hard for me as well. Of course anyone can become injured from a sport such as running, especially when running in the Combs of Fixin, which is hard core trail running. The interesting thing is rather than blame a bad step or fall or something, L R told me that after age 50, things change. You can not do as much any more, because age holds you back. Essentially, she believed that the injury came about because of her age. This was not the first or only incident of L R blaming age for something. Several times she mentioned her age as a barrier to some things, until finally I told her to stop it. Age is Beauty. She has lived too wonderful of a life to feel disappointed by a number.

Before I left France the last time, Fred told me that I would have to come back in 10 years so that we could go in the Combs and run again. I ended up coming back after 2 years, and we were able to go up into the Combs and run again. But this time instead of telling me to come back in 10 years, she told me I would probably have to come back after 2 months. At minimum, every two years. I'll come back every two years or so because I love my host family ad I love the country of France, but not because I think everyone is going to drop dead from age as they all seem to think.

I am not naive enough to truly want to be old. I love my life right now. I'm 20 years-old, a hard-core long distance runner, an avid traveler, and a curiosity that probably never will be satiated before I bite the big one. I have also listened to many of my sorority sisters and older friends say that after the 21st birthday, there really is nothing to look forward to with regards to birthdays. But I don't see getting old as taboo. Sure, I know I will probably freak out when I find a gray hair in my head, but I sort of find silver streaks pretty cool. A sign of wisdom and a sign that you have lived a good life. And I know a lot of older people find crow's feet to be completely atrocious. But I like they are signs that you have lived a life full of laughter. Furthermore, I truly believe that you are as young as you feel. Maybe your knees creak and your tendon gets pulled easier, but if you can laugh and find joy in the simple things, a number should not define who you are.

Then again, I accept than I am only 20. Maybe I should come back to this post in 30 years. That's a terrifying thought.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Running in the Combs

You know when something becomes so natural and so much a part of your life, that you do not find it different or special anymore? For me, it's something that has become so routine that it's just part of life and not really something interesting to write about. For me, that was my daily Saturday morning running in the Combs of Fixin, with Leonie, Fred, Fred's husband, and a few of the other citizens of Fixin. It was always enjoyable and I loved that Saturday morning ritual almost as much as I enjoyed running on my own in the Combs. I just never really felt like I needed to write about it. It's like taking a shower, it comes as second nature and does not necessarily merit a blog post.

Of course, this past Saturday, I woke up bright and early with Leonie and together we headed up to Fred's house. Fred did not know I was coming to France, so when she saw me for the first time, she was so excited. Fred is Leonie's best friend in Fixin. All three of their children (Fred's three, and Leonie's three) have been about the same age, so they have taken part in many PTA {equivalent} meetings throughout the years. I am pretty sure Fred is the sole reason that L R is a runner, as a matter of fact. Of course, Leonie pulled her Achilles Tendon, and was out of commission from running. But unlike most people, this did not stop her from exercising all the same. She has taken up VTT (cross-country biking) in the meantime. But more on L R later.

The first thing Fred said to me after the obligatory Bissou was that she hoped my French was still in tact because she and I had a lot of discussing to do. Granted my speaking French is horrid, but I can understand French better than ever before. As we ran along the same trail we had run on 2 years ago, a stroll down memory lane came not from merely the path but also the great memories we spoke about. Fred is one of the most kind and optomistic French women I have ever met. She told me she was happy that my year was so wonderful, and that I had kept in touch so well with my French family (I think this was an indirect way of saying I was a good exchange student, but the other boy, Andrew did not keep in touch with his host family.) Of course, she admitted it was a shame that I did not get on well with the high school students, but all in all my host family, the traveling, and the love I developed for the country of France is far more important than that.

There were several things that Fred and I spoke about that really intrigued me. When she asked me how long it had been since I left France, I told her two years. She replied that it passed quickly, and really not much had happened in the mean time. I had to agree that things had not changed that much since the last time I was here. However, two years passing quickly? Hm. I thought about it, and came to the troubling realization that she was perfectly right. Two years since I had lived in France had passed in the blink of an eye. I can not believe that I am halfway through college already. I can not believe over 700 days have come and gone since the last time I was here. I have no regrets, and I feel I have truly lived up my college experience, but it slightly terrifies me when I consider time and my place within the constant swinging pendulum.

Running in the Combs is always a great relaxing thing for me. Even if L R and Fred managed to get on the subject of age, a topic I hate hearing about, more than I would have liked. One thing that made me angry was how Fred and L R kept talking about age holding them back from running and biking. Yet, even though I've run 3 half-marathons and 1 marathon, they continued to kick my butt running and biking. What might be a good excuse for me then? Ha.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Things I Learned in France

In retrospect, France may have truly been the best year of my life. At least in terms of how much I grew up. I used to talk about how I could never compare my years abroad in Japan and France, especially when people would ask which one I enjoyed more. And I still hold true to that even after all these years of 20/20 Hindsight. But the thing is Japan was a cakewalk compared to France. Surviving my year in France was hard. But I did it, and I truly believe I became an adult and a better person because of my year in France. I say this, of course, because my first night back in Burgundy, L R said, "You've become very European." Furthermore, hanging out with Chacha and her friends yesterday led me to believe that I truly have become more European. But there are several things that I learned in France that I only now realize I have learned.

1.] The only way out is through. My winter in France was somewhat dreadful. Of course, I say the same thing about my winter in Japan as well. I think I have Seasonal Affect problems, so I feel like any country with a gray cloud and a drop in temperature will make me somewhat miserable. But my French was so bad and I was not fitting in with the people in my school and class, and I spent many days waiting for that light at the end of the tunnel. It certainly did come along, and I feel like a stronger person because of that experience. In fact this year at Clemson, I had a very difficult and challenging year. In one semester, I alienated my sorority experience, lost my best friend and Freshman roommate, and had a major life crisis. I do not know if I could have gotten through the semester without my experience in France

2.] Who cares what other people think? Sure, I'm not entirely an expert on the subject. But France gave me the  opportunity to sort through people that I truly care about and respect their judgements, as well as people who do not deserve that respect. I spent a lot of time worrying about my French and others perceived me while in France, but it was because most of the time it was people I truly cared about. If I cared about what everyone though, the old Rotarians, the random stupid school kids, and so forth, than I would have hated my life beyond the ability to live it.

3.] Live a little bit. I wish I had learned this sooner. I am not entirely sure I learned this in France, but just afterwards when I used my experience to make college more fun. I wish I had drank more beer, smoked more cigarettes, and been more of a typical French teenager (well maybe not smoked.) Go with the flow, rather than try to fight it and miss out on what the common people do. I spent more time clinging to my roots, telling myself to drink less and do only what is 'right.' But sometimes what is 'right' is not always the most fun and even holds you back from missing the culture. I wish I had gone out with Cha Cha more and sat in the Brasseries with a beer or two, rather than sitting at home or avoiding going out with her all together. I realized this was my problem when I returned back to the United States, and I changed myself for the better.

4.] Eat. It is one of those stereotypes about France that is completely and hundred percent accurate. The French adore eating, but at a different level than Americans. We eat quickly and just for nourishment. Sometimes I think Americans eat because it is a painful experience that people are embarrassed of and that's why we do it and not think much of it. I know for certain that this is my reasoning. Coming to France, I will not admit to you that I had an eating disorder, but I will admit that I had some serious misinterpretations of eating. I avoided it, until L R put down her foot and forced me to act French and enjoy the food. Somewhere along the way I relearned how to eat. I have gained quite a few pounds since  my first day in France that first time, but I now have an appreciation and an appetite for food.

5.] There is no such thing as normal. I had convinced myself that I was completely unconventional and that I was no where near the definition of normality. But now I am not so sure. I think everyone thinks they are special in some sort of way, and everyone is special in some way shape or form. Mind you special might not always have a good connotation. I think being normal is a bad thing on some level, because it means your identity is just like everyone else's. The more I wrote on this blog how unconventional my life is, the more I began to realize that it's not unconventional at all. It's just a little different than the kids who stayed in High School and matriculated straight to college.

6.] The more things change, the more they stay the same. Okay, so I did not exactly learn this on the year of my exchange. This is more of a right here right now realization. but it is true. Things have changed very little since the last time I was here.  I have a lot to say on the subject, but I think I will just leave it at this for now.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Still Trying To Figure Out What To Do

Being back on the road traveling around the world again and I have begun to realize something a little bit troubling about myself. The fact of the matter is that I have a tendency to completely change my life for something what I deem very important in my life.

What I mean is that two days before I left France for the first time, I cried a little and told L R that all I wanted to be was normal. I wanted to be like her daughter Cha Cha, a fun-loving, smoking, drinking, average kid that thought more of having fun and less about what is going on in the world around her. I wanted to wear nice clothes and have lots of friends and drink alcohol and go to parties and not worry about what is going on Sudan, Japan, and politics in Europe.

My return to the United States brought me to Clemson University, where I immediately joined a sorority, made lots of friends, began drinking, and become normalized for lack of a better term. I changed my major from International Trade to Secondary Education. I figured since I as never going to leave the country, so why bother being in that kind of major. And something that used to terrify me... the idea of living in a white-picket fenced house with three kids and a golden retriever, become more realistic. I started dating boys that wanted that kind of thing, and never really imagined what it would be like to study abroad. I had so much fun Freshman year that I cancelled my plans to study abroad Sophomore year. All my money went into my sorority, buying adorable clothes, eating out, alcohol, and other fun things that made me what I considered a normal kid. I guess subconsciously I knew what I was doing. I was becoming an all-American girl. Normal. Which is what I truly wanted. Or at least it's what I thought I wanted.

Sophomore year changed all that. I moved on to my sorority hall, which I enjoyed, but I realized that it was not for me. I could not be a sorority girl 24/7. I could not lose my identity to sport letters at every occasion. Now, don't get me wrong. I do love my sorority and I would never change the great times I have had as a Theta, but it's not really who I am. When I moved off the hall, I, unfortunately, alienated several of my friends. I had to start over, which although this crushed me, ended up being the best thing for me. I refound myself in that previous semester. I become the same confused kid who's wings won;t allow her to stay on the ground for very long. I figured out that I was still me, the same girl that is still trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life while chasing Samurai and wearing French barets.

I am not entirely sure what the future holds for me. But I can not stay in South Carolina for the rest of my life. I realize now that I am too liberal, too curious, too unwilling to accept a marriage proposal or a job offer that I am not entirely sure will be right for me. I look in the mirror and realize the most important thing is to be happy, and not worry about what is expected or what is "normal." I'm currently on a great trip in Europe, and already planning another trip as soon as possible. I'm thinking Africa for Christmas.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Back in Burgundy Part 2

I finally did manage to get on that bus. Of course, I had to argue with the bus driver over whether or not I was going to pay for an additional bus fare for my bag that was immensely huge. I won, shockingly and only paid for one fare. Maybe I am becoming French.

The bus ride out to the Cote d'Or was surreal. Although on one level I felt like I had never left. Sure, I was a little older and maybe a little wiser, but time had almost seemed to stop in Burgundy. I am not sure how to explain other than the fact that the same little quirks that were there two years ago, still remained. Of course, a part of me thinks a lot of this stuff will never change. At least the important stuff.

The bus route was a little different than usual, but as we approached Marsannay-La-Cote, I began to bubble over in excitement. Couchey looked as if time had stopped. And through the vineyards we went on Fixin.

At Fixin Noisot, the bus screeched to a halt. I thanked the drover, and he mumbled something under his breath about my enormous suitcase. As I waited for the bus to pull away, I looked around at the Fixin just outside the R's door. I felt overwhelmed as I trekked to the door, and though I knew no one would be home for another hour, it still felt like I was just coming home after an afternoon down town in Dijon.  I dropped off my suitcase in the courtyard and then went for a little tour of Fixin. When I returned I sat in the back yard and waited for someone to come home.

At long last, I heard the sound of L R and her loud cheery 'Cou Cou' enter the court yard. I jumped up so quickly, that  got temporarily dizzy. "Leonie?" I said. "Ahh Julie!" she said.

It truly was if I had never left. We did the damn bissou kiss, which I surprisingly did not mind at all, and then she gave me a big hug. I was really overjoyed, but I kept stumbling in French. It was a shame because I soke a lot of French with Christine and I had hoped that I would be able to just magnificently return to my French language skills. But that was not the case.

Of course I could go on and on about the immediate things we did: shopping for pet food, seeing JF for the first time in a while, and hearing about Ant's new girlfriend, but I think the best part of the day was seeing Coco. Coco is 8 years younger than me, but while I was here, she was pretty much my closest friend. I learned the most French from her and she never failed to make me laugh. L R had the great idea to try and surprise Coco, but Coco saw my enormous bag and knew instantly that I was in Fixin. When she came into the kitchen and I ran at her, I briefly saw that she had a grown almost a foot since the last time I saw her, and she was sporting make-up. She was not the little kid I remembered but as soon as she said, "Julie!" I knew that things were good, and she had not changed too too much.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Back in Burgundy

I have always loved Burgundy, France. It is hard not to love a place that smells of pure life, is beyond picturesque, and produces some of the world's best wines. But to me Burgund means even more. I spent an entire year of my life here, and while it may not have been cupcakes and rainbows, it was a wonderful year. That being said, as my train from Montbeliard to Dijon slowly came to a halt in the station, I was overjoyed.

That morning Miles and I had taken the same train from Strasbourg to Montbeliard and finally to Dijon. Miles had just finished a semester abroad in Russia, where he met some students that live in Dijon. He was on his way to meet them, which was perfect because I really hate traveling on the French trains by myself. Miles and I spent several hours alternating between stories of France and Japan and stories of Russia. The normally long train ride passed quickly and I really had to give him credit for listening to me go on and on about how excited I was to see the R's.

But as that train slowed down on approach to Burgundy, I started tearing up a little bit. I think everyone can understand what it feels like to head back home. Whether it be after a long semester at college or a weekend trip down the coast. Although I never really felt like France and I were two peas in a pod, and that my lifestyle tended to clash with the lifestyle of France, I now realize that I have overcome that. I left a little piece of my heart behind in France, and being back in Burgundy helped me to find it again.

Of course that is not to say that life in France is any easier. I learned within 2 minutes of arrival in Burgundy. I got out of the train and headed to the old bus stop where I would take the same bus line back to Burgundy. When I noticed that Dijon was under massive construction, due in part to a new tram being built, I became nervous that the bus lines had perhaps changed. I walked up to the nearest French women with my bus schedule in hand and asked her in my very best French if the bus still stopped at this station. She told me probably not and then said that if I was planning on making th ebus, I would have to sprint to the next stop about a kilometer down the road. So that's what I did.

Long story short, I missed to bus to Fixin. It turned out to be one of those surreal moments everyone dreads, when your sprinting lightening speed down the street wheeling along a bag with a dead weight of a Sumo wrestler screaming in Franglish, "Attendez-vous! Je besoin ce bus!" The bus pulls away when you are finally at the bus stop. As I waited an additional hour for the next bus, I started a conversation with a women next to me, who informed me that the bus did in fact leave from the previous station that I had waited at. Instead of feeling like France was out to get me, like I did in the old days, I just stared out and smiled.

I was home and nothing had changed.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sense of Humor

I like to think I am a funny person. Whether I am or not is the real question, however. I have my on days and off days, and I think this is universal for everyone. What is not universal for everyone is humor. I used to believe that one could ta the word conversational to a language ability if one could joke in that paricular language. For example, living in Japan for one year and I was able to do a fabulous impression of Shinzo Abe, the Japanese president of the time, and knew each an every one of the funny national joke. I am now starting to think that this is less about conversationality in a language and mor about deep immersion in a culture.

In a recent study on humor around the world, it was found that Americans and Canadians, research shows that they had a preference for jokes involving a superior intellectual mocking an ignorant individual. I just want to say that I am a proud recepient of the Clemson Dixon Global Policy Scholars program, surrounded by Clemson's brightest students. It is unspoken but true: everyone loves jokes about dumb people. The UK, Australia, and New Zealand liked jokes involving word plays, usually using mischevious sexual connotations. If Monty Python does not completely sum up the Brits in a nutshell, than I have no idea what really does. European countries such as Belgium and Denmark enjoyed jokes with phantasmagoric qualities. Another strong trend in Europe are jokes about death and serious subjects associated with stress. Germany stands out uniquely as the only country that didn't show a specific preference for a certain type of joke, enjoying various jokes from different styles.

I say all this because humor has gotten me through all of my various travels. I have that wonderful ability to make a complete asshole of myself, and then turn around and crack up. Laughing at yourself is one of the best qualities to have. Especially when you live abroad as a stranger in a strange land. But I also have a tendency, as anyone of my friends and family can attest to, to poke fun at everything. I'm pretty open-minded but I absolutely love to joke around and make fun of people, which is sometimes an unfortunate quality. But sometimes it bonds people together. The fact of the matter is that when you don't now a person well, and you jokingly make fun of something about them, say for example their nationality, I think it shows that you are interested enough to know about their culture. Example time: Christine David, our awesome German guide on the excursion was subjected to a ton of my East German jokes as well as just plain German jokes in general. And you know what? She is my new best friend. I am going to visit her in Berlin next year for certain. Of all the exchange students my family has hosted throughout the years, humor has been a great tool. The Argentinians, German, French, Japanese, and Brazilians may not have come to the house with the ability to take a joke, but they certainly left with it.

Of course not all humor is a good thing. I happen to be one of the most sarcastic people, never missing an opportunity to belittle something. I have a strange sense of humor sometimes, but sarcasm tends to make me laugh the funniest. Sarcasm is very American I am told, and it not existant is most other languages. I went without sarcasm for a whole year in Japan, and although I was pretty sarcastic in France, I think a lot of it came across to people as asinine.

Having a sense of Humor while abroad is a very important thing, but I think it is also important to remember that what and how you joke about something is a completely different trans-cultural thing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I have been fortunate enough to see Normandy and the D-Day memorials of eastern France. Yet sometimes I think the most important European conflict to consider and understand in that time may truly be World War I. After all, World War I essentially prolonged a stale mate before World War II, and made tensions grow to the oint of becoming evil. That being said, Verdun is one of the most haunted place that I've ever been to. Even on a warm, beautiful summer day like we had on Saturday, I felt a chill walking through the abandoned villages, old forts, memorials and cemeteries that we visited. Although lush green grass grew over the ruins of the fortresses, and daisies and purple wildflowers carpeted the ground, the eerie reality of Verdun is that beneath the surface there are thousands of old bullet casings, bombs that never exploded, and the bodies of soldiers buried in the soil. 

When learning about WWI, I hear so many figures that are so shockingly huge that I can't fathom the immensity of their impact. How could 600,000 soldiers have died in one battle? What does it really mean that France lost millions, an entire generation, in the war? How could a town completely disappear? All of its buildings and inhabitants were utterly destroyed. While I feel that it is impossible to know the devastation and hell that was WWI, I know that I have a much better understanding of the weight behind each statistic.

I think that war statistics can often come across as very cold, almost to the point of being meaningless. When rattling off death tolls and battle dates, our guide excitedly declared 130,000 Frenchmen died for France in the battle of Verdun. What bothers me is that each and every man had a name and family and place in this world. There are so many bodies that are identified and it's hard to grasp the impersonalization a number does when truly considering statistics. Because how then can you preserve the truth that each soldier comprising that huge death toll was a person just like you? 

Monday, May 23, 2011

To Lighten The Mood of Verdun

I could probably write blog post after blog post about our brief excursion to Verdun, because it was sch a moving experience. Unfortunately, most of our group was affected not by the sheer horror of Verdun but by the tour guide we had. David, A brit expatriate in Luxembourg, seems like a knowledgeable and decent tour guide from the very beginning. On his first talk he was frank about what he had thus learned. He told us the truth about the EU in Strasbourg, which I appreciated because the people in Strasbourg never said anything like that. But as time went on, he began to deepen his obnoxiousness, and by the time the rest of the group, professors included, were fed up with him, I had joined the group against him. I could not tell you everything that he did to offend my fellow DGPSers and myself, but I thought a brief description as in order.  

To begin, he never gave the group any overview of the two-day tour, the battlefield of Verdun, or WWI. This to me was the worst problem, because even though I know World War I very well, I wanted to know what it was we would actually be seeing in regards to the war. This did not bother me too much because the rest of the group did not seem to have a problem with his lack of explanation. However, the problem came when I would ask him a question, and he would insult my intelligence because I did phrased the question the wrong way. On one occasion, as we were touring a field with huge craters from mining trench warfare, I asked if anything else happened here besides the mining incident. He looked at me and said, "What a stupid question! Come back to me when you have knowledge."
 Another time, Jenny asked the guide while walking from a WWII memorial site if both WWI and WWII were fought at the site of this memorial, and he literally scoffed at  me.  Scoffed. 

The fact of the matter is that David showed no real interest in being with the group or giving a tour.  The man acted throughout the entire two days as if we, the paying consumers of his services, were a colossal nuisance to him, and he made several snide remarks about how difficult we were to put up with.  While thee are many examples I can give you of this happening, I think the funniest is when he literally abandoned our group on a battlefield forest. Mind you, this comes just after he told us that there was serious live artillery in the forest and that people die each year walking on mines and collecting live ammunition. He then just left us there to find a way out on our own. 

Interestingly enough, he lost what little respect he had left from the group when he fabricated several important pieces of information on the tour. He has issues with just randomly pulling numbers out of his head to assign to casualties, but he also had a problem with making up a complete lie in the face of not knowing an answer. God forbid. 

And how could I forget the evening in Verdun? When we were touring the tiny city, he overheard Miles and Cameron say they wanted some good Italian food at this cute little Italian restaurant we had passed. He went on a rampage about uncultured we Americans were and that you don't come to France to eat Italian, especially at this place in Verdun because it was known for it's disgusting food and outrageous prices. To top this whole thing off, after we could not find a different restaurant to eat in, guess what the guide tried to get us to eat? At that little Italian restaurant. This was the final straw for our professors, who absolutely refused to eat at a place the guide just said was awful.

Being that he was British, he never missed an opportunity to poke fun at the French. I love a good French joke, don't get me wrong. But I think he crossed the line several times as well. He also said a few nasty things about Germans to Christine, and I thought that was unjustified as well. I didn't care when he blatantly called us uncultured and stupid Americans, but he needed to be a little less hypocritical.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Today started off as usual, but the day turned out to be one of the most interesting days I have lived in my life so far.

Ok, let me start at the beginning. We had a slightly later start today – 9am, instead of 8:30. Unfortunately, I woke up at 7 and could not really sleep in. But I decided to not let the morning go to waste and instead for a nice long run in the forest behind the chateau. Running along the former Maginot Line is quite a moving experience when you understand the history of the region.

Our only scheduled activity today was to visit the Alsatian Chamber of Commerce. I really dreaded this because finance and business bore me. The lecturer had a great PowerPoint, but his command of the English language was lacking in some instances. It is so weird that he knew many complicated words, but still had trouble with the simplest words – such as wet. He meant waterproof. I went to him after the lecture and complimented him on his English. I wish I could speak German half as well as he spoke English.

It is interesting how much the Alsatian economy mirrors that of Clemson, SC. The two economies are heavily focused on textile, automotives, and medicine. Many foreign companies invest in Strasbourg, and over 50% of the population is employed by these foreign companies.

After the meeting, we wandered through the streets and stumbled upon this neat craft shop. I got tsome patches for my crazy patchwork back pack, and some anchor earrings for my obnoxious preppiness back at Clemson.

After lunch, Dorothy finally got to buy one of those giant upside town muffin bakery treats, and we walked back to Strasbourg. Also, outside of the bakery, there was a woman asking for money, so we gave her some. I have not seen many beggars here, but there was another one in Heidelberg yesterday. There is a noticeable difference between the American ones and ones here – the ones here are slightly cleaner. Interesting.

The walk back was lovely and enjoyable. We saw the Arte center (a television channel developed to help reunite France and Germany) Also, on the way back, we saw a few banners outside of an institute protesting various issues such as anti-terrorism measures (so they were anti anti-terrorism). There was also a banner promoting Christianity. This was very interesting, since people are generally not religious around here. The banner said that court of human rights will not be here forever and this life will not be forever, so we should look to God.

Once we got to the chateau, Dorothy, Sally , John, Allen, and I rented bikes and headed to Kehl. We also took some lovely pictures with the chateau as background. Oh yeahhhh, Christmas card pictures! The ride to Kehl was…it is hard to describe it…intense and exhilarating? There is a regular, safe route, but we got semi-lost following the Google Map directions. Sally and all of her lovliness flagged down this passing biker and asked her for help. Thank goodness she spoke English! (Although I think I'm highly conversational in France, Sally loves to chat with people. She epitomizes all the friendliness that America has to offer.) The biker was also on the way to Kehl, so we just followed her. She was a Parsian opera soloist who is interning in Strasbourg and is going back in a month to audition for an opera company!

Whew, the path we took was so intense that it deserves its own paragraph. The route took us through highways and bumpy rocky areas that had no bike lanes (most roads in Europe has two bike lanes). Attempting to crossing the streets and having big trucks pass alongside you were the worst. But, we made it! We stopped on the friendship bridge connecting France and Germany. The bridge in Greenville, SC is actually based off of this bridge. It was really beautiful but I especially enjoy the story of the bridge, which I think I mentioned in an earlier post about Germany and France. Yet again, France took clear advantage of Germany.

Fate would have it that we end up right in front of a H&M store. With almost no money, shopping is atorture for me! Aterwards, we rode to the Supermarket. I just want to point that I have not mentioned eating at all today. This is because I tried to save money and only had a Diet Coke and some bread for breakfast. Needless to say I was completely delusional in the supermarket and could hardly choose what to eat let alone sit down and actually eat it. I was not alone in my delusional state, however. At the supermarket, Sally went crazy buying more crackers and chocolate as well as a bottle of great Bourgogne Wine, which I helped her pick out.

As we were all delirious from the physical excretion and lack of food, we were a spectacle in the store. Here, they have cigarette dispensers. We did not know what it was/how it worked, so I just pressed random buttons. Boxes came out and I pushed it back under the flap in hopes that no one would notice. I just could not stop laughing, as Sally acted like a Bull in a China closet bumping into random people and objects. We were a complete shit show for lack of a nicer way to put these things.

John and Allen rode back early to be back in time for Allen’s 9:15 train ride. Slightly sad that he had to leave, but his parents are meeting him in Prague tomorrow. Very nice. We followed en suite just after a little nourishment at the Supermarket. We were less insane afterward at the very least.

The ride back was not as bad as the ride to Kehl. However, we were racing to beat the storm at one point – scary dark clouds looming over us. It was rather exhilarating. I sort of wanted it to storm. I think that riding through a storm would be intensely awesome.

this is where the day gets kind of interesting. When we got back to the chateau, it was already 8:30, so we rushed to get ready, since we were supposed to meet some French teenagers at the Gallia tram station at 9pm. Unfortunately, we started out super late, and it got even later. Dorothy, Julie, and I got lost in some random suburbs. Caitlin and Kate were supposed to meet us at the Square, but hopefully, they did not wait for us so long. I felt so horrible we kept the foreign students waiting. We finally arrived at a Mexican restaurant in the middle of nowhere and asked someone. Once again, thank goodness for kind people. The lady directed us to the tram station.

When we finally made it down town, several interesting things happened. First, and to the grave dismay of Sally, a Middle Eastern-looking man at a random restaurant said, “ hi three prostitutes, how much for the night?” – in French, of course as we were passing by to walk to the tram station. Sally was fuming like I had never seen before after Dorothy and I translated.) First of all, I wore this nice black dress with a white cardigan over it, Dorothy wore a tube top with black pants and a cardigan, and I wore white pants and a shirt over a tank top. We were definitely not showing enough skin to earn the great honor of being called a prostitute. Second of all, even if we were dressed promiscuously, one has a right to dress as he or she wishes without being called a whore and made an offer. It did not bother me because it's just how they are sometimes in France, but the great bother came from Sally. I felt bad for her because I could not get across to her to just let it ride and not worry too much about it.

After all these long trials and challenges, we finally got to the Gallia tram station at 10:20pm. Understandably, the French kids we were supposed to meet were not there. The only thing we could do was get gelato. Which would make a funny story the next moorning when telling the fellow DGPSers, "We went all the way to Strasbourg, got called whores, got hopelessly lost...all for Gelato!"

We walked to the Square afterwards to make sure that the others were not waiting for us there. On the way, this another French man said, "two French girls and one Chinese girl. Three prostitutes. How much for the night?” I thought it was a little funny and I could not help but laugh. But Sally pestered me to translate, and thank god I waited for a few minutes to tell her what he said. I suspect if I had told her what he said right on spot, she would have Chuck Norris Roundhouse kick to his crotch area.

At this point, after two freaking sex offers and with my feet in immense pain, I asked Julie to say the French words for three and prosititue. Unfortunately for the French, Sally was completely fed up with the country and culture at this point. I felt sad about this because evn though I love to make fun of the French, I also think it's a wondeful culture. ally forced me to translate every little thing we heard on the street, and she continually gave the Death Glare to everyone of the male species. It was funny to watch, but as I was to learn her attitude was to come in handy. France was about to remind me of just that.

The walk back to the chateau from the tram station was lovely in the scenery, but uber painful. Dorothy and I took care of Sally, who was angry at the world and in pan because of her ridiculous heels. It helped a little, but there were still small rocks and pieces of glass we had to watch out for. Once, I accidentally tripped over a piece of concrete. Painful, but the two girls really helped me along. When we were almost back to the chateau, we had another disgusting event happen.

As we rounded around a alley corner with a house, Sally saw this dark shadow of a man. I was walking pretty close to it, so she grabbed my wrist and pulled me to her. I turned and saw the man smiling creepily at us. This repulsive man had his penis out and was masturbating. Sally told me later that she had seen him skulking around behind us for a while but thought he was just on his way home. I felt so sick to my stomach that I started to cry. Dorothy was quick to get me to calm down though. She reminded me that giving a reaction was exactly what that pervert wanted from us. We hurriedly walked back to the chateau, I teared up the whole way while Sally looked ready to fight someone. Dorothy did a great job calming the pair of down, however, and we focused solely on getting back inside.

Today was definitely the most interesting day we have had so far. Although it was a free day (minus the Chamber of Commerce visit), we were all constantly on the go. I feel like we all want to enjoy the area as much as we can.

While lost, we definitely encountered some wonderful people from around the area, but there were also negative incidents such as the two men with prostitution offers and that super repulsive man. The best that can said about today is that is strengthened the bond I have will my fellow DGPSers, but it also rocked my whole perception of France. I defended France to Sally when she angrily called it's people a bunch of rude perverts. But I then seemed subjected to exactly her argument. It's hard for me to grapple with right now.