Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Back in the US

Hey guys, so I'm back in the states again. Still going to post a few last posts, so keep reading, but just wanted to let you know I'm home. We never ended up going to Paris, since the carpool program we were using didn't end up working out; however, we did go to Munich and it was fantastic. This was by far the best summer I've ever had, I'll miss everyone I met there and miss waking up in Aachen, but life goes on and it's time for different adventures.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Heya!

Hey guys, sorry for the lack of updates, but I leave Germany on the 30th. That means less than 2 weeks of being here, and honestly every time I try to write something it becomes a little depressing. This entire experience has been by far one of the greatest things I've ever done in my life. I've learned about other cultures, practiced awesome lab techniques and met some great people. I'm going to come back more relaxed, more confident and ready to make this year count, but it's still sad to go.
    On a happier note, I still have two weeks left! I hate just wasting time being sad about leaving, so instead of doing that, I'm ending this summer with a bang! This weekend I'll be going to Paris and then next week we'll be traveling to Munich : ) Expect some great updates and fun stories.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Dublin and Stuff

   Hey homies, sorry for not updating I really haven't had much down time in the last two weeks. Research is really picking up now, yay mutant fungi, so it means later days and less time to blog. I was going to update thursday, but I locked myself out of the room....pretty classic me. Anyway, last weekend, a week ago today, we went to Dublin! It was great, probably the most fun bars I've been to yet. They had a lot of live music, and honestly it was just great to be able to understand everyone. I haven't been able to completely understand random people on the bus since leaving the US, since my German is still not really that great, so that was really awesome, but almost a little too much to handle. The last  7 or so weeks have been incredibly fun and incredibly relaxing, not being able or expected to understand anyone who doesn't already know you is kinda peaceful. You can get on a bus tell them where you want to go, ask if you're there and say thank you...but that's about it. That means a lot more time for quiet reflection, which has been really great.
    This weekend I stayed in Aachen for the first time in a while, went hiking in a nearby town yesterday and am probably just going to hang around the dorm and maybe the markt today. I only have a little more than 3 weeks left...it's a bit frightening. I really miss everyone back at home, but I like it here a lot. Oh well, what will be, will be:)

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sachsenhausen

     On our second day in Berlin we went to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. It was my first time seeing a concentration camp and it took me a little by surprise. You learn in school about the holocaust, but for the most part you pretend it happened in another realm. It was before we were alive, in a place most of us have never been and ya It affected a bunch of our families, including my own, but It's easier just to pretend it happened in another world because one disgruntled evil man decided to start a war. You picture concentration camps isolated from the rest of society, from the rest of the world. They're not though. The main purpose of concentration camps was to work people, that means they produced a lot of goods, which  needed to be transported. The need for transportation means most concentration camps were near major railway lines. They weren't isolated in another world, they were in towns, where bystanders could see what was happening
     The holocaust didn't occur because of one evil man, it involved an entire world. This isn't saying anything bad about Germany or Germans. If there is one thing you take from my blog it's that Germany is so much more than the World War II. The culture here  is welcoming and accepting, honestly more accepting than American culture. Obviously it was different 70 years ago, but the world was different 70 years ago. What happened here was more a result of the aftermath of World War I, the result of a negative environment more than anything. The times were hard and it was easy to just succumb to hate. It's cliche, but hatred blinds us, it takes away reason and can make it easy to commit horrible acts; it's also something we are all capable of feeling.
    The most startling realization of the whole visit is the ease with which this could occur again. Looking back what happened was so horrible, but at the time it was just a slow progression of hateful acts until murdering large groups of people just seemed like the status quo. Genocides have occurred after World War 2 and are still occurring now. People continue to remain silent as thousands are wrongly killed. All of this is just because of hate. If people could dispel whatever hateful views they have and view everyone as fellow people, and not just brash stereotypes that can't love or hurt. I guess the main thought I got from all this is that we have to be incredibly aware of our own hatred and prejudice. We all have it, we all forget that the people and figures we hate are just as human as we are. The heights of human kindness are infinite, but so too are the depths of hatred.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Berlin Part 1

    This weekend we went to Berlin and met up with a few friends from back in the states. I know I've only seen a few of the world's cities so far, but Berlin is so far my favorite. There's so much history, so many things to do, it was hard to squeeze in so much into less than 36 hours. Also would be hard to squeeze the whole weekend into one post, so surprise you get two : )
    Before I get into the actual city, just want to discuss how we ended up getting there. So ICE trains are really expensive, ranging above 100 euro for one way, which is a little too steep for me. Luckily, they have the schönes Wochenende ticket, literal translation is nice weekend ticket. This lets a group of 5 take any number of regional trains in a day for 42 euro for the entire group. The downside is instead of one happy 6 hour train, you have a bunch of short trains and a 3 hour layover in a tiny town called Minden, amounting to a 12 hour trip. With a group of people you like it's really fun, also now I can say I've slept on the floor of a German train station. The way back was a hassle too, but that's significantly funnier to me than it would be to anyone here so If you really want to hear the story ask me when I get back : )
     Back to Berlin, the city has a rough past, but It's coming back and is honestly one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen. We saw all the touristy things, including the Berlin wall. The wall isn't as intense as you would think, it's just a wall. It's odd that it took less than a weekend to build the first draft of the wall, which would keep the east and west of Berlin separate for almost 30 years. Of course the wall was manned by soldiers with guns, but still. One weekend was all it really took.
     Oh well, I need to head out soon, but If you ever have the opportunity  to visit Berlin please do. It's beautiful beyond words.

P.S. I broke my computer mic some how so until further notice the videos won't be happening, sorry friends : /

Monday, June 17, 2013

Do You Remember When?

    More a random musing anything, but as I'm making posting and messaging friends from back home something really odd hit me. I haven't said "Do you remember when?" this entire trip. Back in the US I said this at least every day, just kind of in passing. I guess it's just because in the US I have so many memories, while here each day is still so new. Honestly, I kind of miss the ability to share memories from more than 4 weeks ago. I guess I could just start doing it randomly... "Hey Remember when we went to Maastricht?" "Ya that was last weekend...."

Sunday, June 16, 2013

It's Been A Month...

     I left Pittsburgh on May 15th, and I left New York on the 16th...which means that I've been away home for a full month  now. The initial wonder of being somewhere new has worn off, the follow up sadness and homesickness has also faded, more or less; all that's left is comfort. In only a month, this place has become a home of sorts. Don't get me wrong, there are still 6 weeks of new and awesome experiences. It just feels a little better at the end of the day when I get back to Aachen
   Also, I've realized that besides the few people that read this from Carnegie Mellon linking it out, http://www.cit.cmu.edu/global/student_spotlights/current_students_abroad.html, the majority of you are just my friends and family. So I'm just going to make this more of a travel journey, with a few more deeper entries. That way when I don't respond to emails, you'll know where I am. Don't worry though, you'll still get some quality video upload entries.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Video Entry 1: Caffe Crema Pads and Degraa

video
Finally figured out how to do this:) Should have at least one video entry a week from now on

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Zurich!

     Spent the weekend in Zurich, Switzerland. It's incredibly beautiful and, just like Amsterdam, very welcoming. The entire town is a beautiful mixture of old and modern architecture, with canals, a large lake and a beautiful, albeit distant, view of the Alps.
      While walking along the lake shore we past a pride rally, but the surprising aspect was there were no protesters, just the rally people. Further in town there was a Turkish protest trying to promote the views of Ataturk, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/08/turkey-protesters-proclaim-heirs-ataturk. The protesters were calm and reserved and, just like with the pride rally, there were no other people picketing the protesters views. The ability to fully express your views without interruption was really heart warming. The few protests I've seen in the states have always had other people picketing the opposing views. I understand the right to picket others views is freedom of speech, which is great in it's own right. The lack of picketers in Zurich wasn't due to a lack of freedom, but a respect for people to explain their own view without interruption. It just seems more respectful to let others express their views, and then say your own when you get a chance. 
      Either way Zurich was a fantastic way to spend the weekend. I think this song, by The Last Bison, sums it up pretty well:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUDKrQyeXKY

Monday, June 3, 2013

What I Learned in The Last Three Days:

1. Amsterdam is a beautiful city full of tolerance and amazing people, but try to find the none-touristy spots.

2. Science is fun when done correctly.

3. If you use a hair buzzer that was meant to be used in the US in Europe, it will make very loud sounds. Then your neighbors will yell at you.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

    So I haven't really been updating as frequently as I though, I'm sorry I'll try to be better, but It's because I've been trying to fully immerse myself in the culture and often don't really have that much energy at the end of the day. It's been exactly two weeks since I've left the states and there have been so many different experiences and feelings, but the purpose of this blog is to comment on the general experience of living a broad and not so much the specific events happening in my life. That being said, the most important piece of advice I can give is that when you live abroad, take it slow.
     Traveling abroad is fun, you see sites and eat special food, but it is much much different than living abroad. When you live in a foreign land you're forced to adapt to the culture. If you continue to act like you're just a tourist, that's how you'll be treated. If you stop to ask how to pronounce words or how you should act, then ya they'll still know you're not from their country, but they'll begin to treat you like you belong there. This may not sound super fun, but understanding another culture is so much more rewarding than any site or food you can experience. You'll learn more about yourself and the way people are similar in so many ways. In order to do this though, you need to actually be there. So maybe that means seeing less places, but experiencing more. I'm not sure, I guess it all depends on what type of experience you're looking for.
      On another note, I won't be able to update the blog this weekend, but after that I'll try to stick to updating at least once every other day. Also, next Friday will be the first video post : )

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Printen

     Every place has certain foods that they claim they make the best, but there's no guarantee that that city actually has the best of it. There's one special type of cookie that Aachen definitely has the best of, Printen, since it is only made here. It is a semi-soft chewy gingerbread type cookie with a bunch of cardamon  licorice and other magic spices. When you head to the Markt, almost every bakery has bags full of this awesome tiny treat. Even if you're not a fan of the cookie, it's fun to know that what you're eating can only be bought there. 
     It seems silly, but the thought that you're having something so unique to the place you're visiting is reassuring. When you first start living abroad there's so much you can't access; friends, Netflix, certain foods or the feeling of knowing the native language. The fact that you're gaining something new and 100% unique is Comforting. There's obviously so many new experiences, but you can't really be sure if you're actually retaining these experiences or growing from them. Printen at least reassures me that even though it's only been a week and a half, I've already added something to my life that I would never have been able to if I just stayed in the states.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Best Cereal in the World: Nougat Bits

      Fun culture fact of the day: Nutella is really big in Germany and it's delicious. Not quite sure why it tastes better, but it does and it's fantastic. The only thing that could possibly be better is if you took this superior nutella and jammed it inside some chocolate cereal type thing. This is basically what Nougat Bits are. Google it, look at pictures and try to find some in a local store. Seriously though, if they don't sell this cereal in the states I'm going to have to ship a few tons of it home and slowly eat it forever.  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Kawo 1

     I promised you at least post a day, and so you shall receive! Today I went to a bar on the basement floor of my dorm, Kawo. That concept alone confuses me to no end. I'll put in an entry later on about the views on alcohol for America and Germany later on, but for now let's just stick with this.
    For five Euro you could get a variety of drinks and the company of many UROP students and friendly German students. One thing that is incredibly different is how Germans treat foreigners. They try to help them as much as they possibly can. Unlike the American view, which is mostly forcing them to speak English, almost everyone in Aachen attempts to convey their thoughts in a mixture of English and German. It's incredibly helpful and very heart warming. It's important to remember that  although you may be giving an impression of your home country to whatever land you visit, those people are also giving an impression to you. I guess the general lesson is to try and treat people as respectfully as you can. Even if you can't fully understand them, try to. The little bit of effort goes a long way.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My First German Birthday Party

     On the first night I arrived there was a birthday party for someone at a local dorm, since it's Germany and dorms have bars. To clarify, I don't mean like a tiny secret bar freshman keep in there room and fill with Tortilla Gold and Natty, I mean a full fledged bar in the basement of the dorm with stuff on tap and multiple mini fridges. This would have been culture shock enough, but the birthday party was far from what I was used to.
      Instead of cake and ice cream, they had a tub of hot dogs, Wurst, and raw meat with onions, Mett. The music playing was  a mixture of 80s and 90s pop, like Barbie Girl, and an occasional German song. Most of the night we played Loopin' Louie, http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/327/loopin-louie, which is a really fun child's game turned into a drinking game. Fun night, never met the birthday person though. A great start to experiencing German culture and what it means to be a college student in Aachen.
      Side note: if there's anything I can do to make this blog better/interesting things you'd like to read about please either comment or email me at jordo64@gmail.com. Danke!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bahkauv

    Felt bad not saying anything cool so here's a quick fun story:

    This cute little guy is called the bahkauv. Legend has it that when people are drunkenly trying to get home after a late night at the bar, the bahkauv will chase after them and try to attack them...but only drunk people have to fear him.  Maybe I'll warn my residents about the bahkauv next year, just try to scare them a bit : )   

Short post: Still Alive, Aachen's awesome

     Sorry for the delay, I had a lot of issues with the internet connection the last few days. After a bunch of road blocks, mostly due to the bank locking my account and not really being able to understand much, I've happily made it to the awesome city of Aachen.
     The travel over here was a bit difficult, but I think it went as well as it could have with the little amount of preparation I did. For those of you planning to go abroad, make sure you know exactly how to use the train and tell your bank exactly where you'll be going and taking money out of, also have your bank's phone number handy. They tend to be super hasty to stop your account when they get random charges from different countries, calling them makes it go by so much quicker. Also, it helps a ton to have someone in the country you're traveling to that can help you out. I'm really not sure how I would have managed the last few days without my buddy, through UROP's buddy program.
     I really need to get back to studying my German, but just wanted to post something so people know I still plan on doing this:)  Expect something more fun tomorrow.

Friday, May 17, 2013

New York: Almost On My Way!

    Back in New York for the day, really missed the city, didn't really miss Long Island as much. As much as Pittsburgh feels like home, Westbury doesn't. It's not that anythings changed really, we've just grown apart I guess. Being back home is almost exactly the same feeling as staying in my empty room after packing everything up. It's full of great memories and awesome adventure, but those are all in the past, now it's just empty. All that's left now are some old clothes, a few friends and 18 years full of memories. I guess that's pretty good for a few days though. Anyway, it's always important to revisit the past, even if it's awkward at times.
     Well, I guess this is my last entry in the US, the rest of the blog will be a lot more fun and upbeat. I'll probably post another entry tonight/tomorrow when I'm at Heathrow (London Airport)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

It's Scary Sometimes, But That's Okay

       Part of the goal of this blog is to convey the experience of travelling to another country from the lens of someone who has never left the US. In order to do this well, I'm going to try to be super open with all the emotions I'm feeling. I'm not that open of a person usually, but I guess this is the best way to try to express everything.
      I'm really excited to be on my way to Germany in less than 2 days, but there's so much that I don't know about. I don't know any German, not really quite sure where the Euro applies or how trains in places besides New York City work, to name a little bit. It's hard to leave a place you're so comfortable with to go to somewhere you know nothing about. Its similar to the feeling you have before going to college; you're incredibly excited, but nervous beyond belief.
     I've spent almost the entirety of my life on the east coast of the US, except for a few trips to California, so I don't really really know what this summer is going to be like. That scares me. For the first time in a while, I have no idea what the next few weeks are going to hold. That's scary, but maybe it's a good thing. Leaving your comfort zone is how you grow. Maybe it's best to embrace the fear and accept that its going to be a little odd at first.  Oh well, either way I'll be over there soon

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pittsburgh

     
             I've spent the last week trying to find a picture that can capture exactly how I feel about Pittsburgh right now. The closest I came to that was a pretty picture of campus:


Doesn't really capture all that much, besides the most attractive way to include Walking to the Sky, the large metal pole, into a picture of campus. I tried to figure out why I loved Pittsburgh, I realized the greatest parts of Pittsburgh for me are the parts you can never record. The friendships and memories that were formed here are the pieces of Pittsburgh I hold dear.
       Over the last two years I've met so many people that I care about and for the first time in a while, I've found a place that feels like home. What I'll miss most about Pittsburgh isn't the large amount of bridges, 446, or the awesome view from Mt. Washington,  its the people. I'll miss staying up till the early morning talking about life and how fast time's passing. This last year was rough, but thanks to a lot of people, I was able to get through it. All of the connections I have here make it such a comfortable place.  Pittsburgh has become more than a random cool city, it's become my home.
     

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Welcome to the Blog!

     In less than 3 weeks I'll be on a plane to Dusseldorf, followed by a hour train ride to Aachen. Thanks to the CIT Travel Grant and the UROP program, I'll have the opportunity and the monetary funds to spend 10 weeks researching Biofuels at RWTH at Aachen University. One of the conditions to receiving money from CIT is that I share my experience with the Carnegie Mellon community, so that's what this Blog is.
     Over the next 12 weeks or so I'll be regularly updating this with fun adventures, random musings and a ridiculous amount of photos. Once I get to Germany, I'll try to do at least one small update a day and one video entry a week.
    To start off all this, I'll try to do at least one or two entries on Pittsburgh. After all, it's hard to truly understand where you're going unless you know where you're coming from.