college

that freshman feeling

People kept staring at my massive, black umbrella as I walked from the tram stop to the central plaza of the university in the grey drizzle. Maybe they were awed by its span. Maybe they wished both the tops of their backpacks and the tops of their heads were dry like mine. It’s a struggle to maintain both when you have a diminutive umbrella. But all my belongings were free of moisture.

However, the downside to a venti, triple-shot, extra-special, super-sized, double-the-fun umbrella is that it holds extra water when folded up. Mine drip, drip, dripped a trail of darkened rain on four floors’ worth of average stairs, across a wide breezeway, and around and around a deep-summer-strawberry-red circular staircase to the fifth floor. The two other people there in the tower-like corridor slouched against the radiator by the window. I wandered to the end of the short hall and peeked around the corner, hoping to appear nonchalantly curious rather than lost or clueless. Then I joined them and swiped at the screen of my phone, feigning a deep interest in its display.

Between serious-looking phone-staring sessions, I alternated my furtive, upward glances between door 3501 and the spiral staircase and my watch. The time displayed on my phone didn’t register in my mind. Three minutes til class time, and still none of the three professors, who had raised my hopes with their footfalls on the staircase, had entered the appointed room. One minute more and I would have to try the door myself; I would be forced to contend with its lack of a rotating door handle; I would be required to figure out what the light switch-like button to its left meant. I would surely be foiled in my attempts to enter – as I had been with previous German doors of that nature – and would turn back to hunch over my phone in embarrassment. But, wait. Hallelujah! A fourth person emerged from the stairs! She headed straight for the terrifying door, buzzed the doorbell with all the confidence of a German accustomed to dealing with a wide variety of confusingly closed entryways, and slipped into the room – a library? – when the lock clicked open to admit her.

I quickly followed her example, and inside the – sure enough – library, we exchanged whispered inquiries:

‘You looking for Byzantine–‘

‘Yeah, Byzantine Archeology. Is there a classroom in here?’

‘Not a clue.’

Our mutual confusion was reassuring, and we padded down the faded industrial carpet side by side. An older man appeared from an office beyond the end of the bookshelves, a half-dozen yards in front of us. He cheerily beckoned us to the end of the little departmental library with the glad tidings, ‘The classroom is down here.’ Success!

My fellow loiterers from out in the hall were just seconds behind us. And soon I found myself seated in a cushy chair, surrounded by nine classmates, listening with bated breath to the professor explain Introduction to Byzantine (Art History) Archeology, waiting for the axe of daunting assignments to fall, and wishing I knew the definition of every other word he uttered. I’ve never felt so much like a freshman in my life.

hallo, Freiburg

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It finally happened. I went to Germany. I came to Germany. I’m in Germany.

What?!

I’ve been here for a full six days now, so lots has happened – enough to keep me busy enough not to blog, anyway. In the interest of being as succinct and organized as possible, I shall answer some questions I have posed for myself.

How was the trip to Freiburg?
I flew Luftansa straight from Houston to Frankfurt, Germany. Mom dropped me off at the airport around 2:15pm, and after waiting for an hour in an impossibly slow security line – during which time I wondered if the US is the only country in the world allowed to have blue passports or if everyone just likes red better – and another 30 minutes or so in the terminal, I boarded the double-decker plane. That is, we lowly cattle boarded after the  first- and business-class passengers boarded through a separate gate. I shouldn’t have been surprised by such a stringent segregation of the classes, but I was, especially when I discovered to my amusement that both gates lead to the same gangway and door. Anyway, the flight was mostly empty, and as our 4:30 departure approached, I held tightly onto the hope that I would have my row of three seats all to myself. Alas, no. A Hungarian mother and daughter took their places next to me just before the door was closed, sealing my fate: there was no hope of sleep. So, I spent the next 8 hours and 45 minutes mostly watching movies and tv shows, and occasionally attempting to sleep. Sure enough, that never happened. But I finally got to watch Frozen, so I felt that my flight was well-spent, if not restful. By 9:00am, I was walking off the plane and into the enormous Frankfurt airport. And then, by 9:53, I had exchanged money, emailed my parents, picked up my trusty suitcase, bought a train ticket from a kiosk, found the train station, gotten directions to my train platform, and smashed my suitcase on the floor next to me inside the train car. Two hours later I was in Freiburg.

What happened once I got to Freiburg?
From my platform at the train station in Freiburg, I followed the directions given to me by the Sprachlehrinstitut (SLI) and bought a Straßenbahn (streetcar/tram) ticket. I got off two stops later and pulled my giant suitcase across the cobblestone streets and sidewalks in the wrong direction a couple of times before I found the SLI building. Inside, I sat at one of several tables of students while a staff member reviewed the large packet of information she’d handed out: class, dorm, optional activities, regional tram ticket, food, et cetera. After purchasing my month-long tram ticket, I got on the tram to my dorm. 10 minutes later, there I was.

Where am I living?
My dorm is one of 22 of varying sizes that are situated along a small lake, 10 minutes outside of the older part of the city, where the university is located. Our floor has two hallways; each hallway has four single-person rooms, one half bath, and one full bath; and the two hallways both have access to the large kitchen and dining area. I’m allowed to use any of the pots and pans and such in the well-stocked kitchen, though I’ll most likely subsist quite happily on sandwiches alone for the next five months. My room itself has a large window, comfy bed, perfect-size desk, hanger-less closet, bookshelf, pathetic radiator, and sink. All of my flatmates are German, and they seem quite nice and eager to include me in their outings and such.

What are my classes like?
The Sprachkurs that I am taking is split up in to 12 or so levels/classes, and there are 180-odd students from 30 or so countries here to take it. I am in class 5 with a couple of other Americans, at least seven Japanese students, a Brazilian, a Greek, an Italian, a Brit, and a girl from Hong Kong. We have class from 9:15 to 12:45, with a generous 30-minute break thrown in. During class we generally work out of our textbooks, doing fill-in-the-blank exercises, answering reading or listening comprehension questions, or following prompts to have a short discussion with our neighbor about a particular topic. It is frustratingly boring at times, but I hope that it will get better. Our teacher is a nice middle-aged lady who, though unable to explain new words with much success, is patient, enthusiastic, and as engaging as possible, considering the curriculum.

What have I done besides class?
In more or less chronological order:

  • taken a mini tour of the city with a bunch of other students
  • eaten at the Mensa (the student eatery with a single-item menu) with some classmates
  • stumbled across a consignment shop and bought a pair of boots
  • gone grocery shopping every couple of days for fresh bread and fruit
  • been shown important eating spots by our German teacher
  • eaten a proper German bratwurst
  • hung out with my flatmates in the dining area while they spoke German, catching about 45% of what they were saying
  • successfully avoided spending time with students who want to speak English
  •  walked up the hill outside of Freiburg with at least 50 other students to see the town from above
  • met more Japanese students than I can count
  • gone on an excursion to some towns outside of Freiburg with four other students (separate blog post forthcoming)
  • attended a German-English service at a Calvary Chapel
  • wandered here and there in the city without getting lost
  • been generally cold

So, what did I miss, guys? Any burning questions?

the coming adventure: Germany

German scenery from Europe 2012 trip

Who?

Me. Claire. And no one else. There’s not a single other UNC student going to the same university in Germany. No, I don’t mind that. In fact, I prefer it. That way there’s no expectation that I’ll be friends with other UNC in Germany. I’d much rather make friends on my own than have them forced upon me. Speaking of friends, one of my goals while I’m there is to avoid making any friends that speak English as their first language or as a nearly-perfect second language. Obviously, I have no intention of being unfriendly to English speakers, and I’m quite dubious that my resolution will hold. But nevertheless, I’m going to try to befriend people with whom I can only speak Spanish or German. Yeah, there’s no way it’s going to work.

What?

An exchange program! Theoretically, I am being swapped with a German student. My tuition pays for them to take classes at UNC system school, and their tuition pays for me to take classes in Germany. (That makes it a very uneven trade, since university is practically free in Germany. Oh well.) I will live in the dorms and take classes just like any German university student. And, yup, all my classes will be taught entirely in German.

When?

From early March through July. One semester. The academic calendar in Germany is different than ours. The winter semester begins in October and goes through February, to my understanding, while the summer semester starts in April and goes through July. So why am I going in March? Well, all March long there’s an intensive language course for international students coming to the university. We study German at least four hours a day in order to – hopefully – bring our fluency up to the level necessary to survive classes in German. In April the regular German university students return and real classes begin.

Where?

Freiburg, Germany, specifically Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. It’s nearly as south and west as you can possibly go in Germany, right near the boarders with France and Switzerland. From my limited research, the weather appears to be reasonably mild and the scenery verdant and woodsy. More importantly, the university offers classes in all of my areas of study: Linguistics, Spanish, and German.

Why?

That is the question, isn’t it?

Well, I suppose the main reason is that German is my minor, though why that is, I do not really know. I’d wanted to start taking another language at some point in college, but I never intended to start so soon. However, I’m glad I did. At the only half-serious suggestion of my friend, I joined her in German 101, after swapping it for a freshman seminar that I disliked during the first week of freshman year. Of course, I enjoyed it, so I just kept taking classes, and at some point I realized that I had no intention of stopping, so I just declared German as my minor. I’m completely convinced that it’s possible to minor in a subject – especially a language – and graduate without any sort of really useful knowledge about said subject. Therefore, I suppose this exchange program is, to me, a chance to legitimize my German minor – to prove to myself and future employers that I actually have a functional knowledge of German, not just one learned for an hour a day, three days a week in an American classroom.

Besides that, I like Germany. At least, I think I do, based on the grand total of 2.5 days I spent there during our Europe 2012 trip. In fact, I think that’s the real and original reason that I began taking German in the first place. Those few hurried days in Germany in 2012 were quite frustrating: I didn’t understand the language. It’d been ages since I’d traveled somewhere where people spoke a language other than Spanish or English. Not understanding a solitary word of what I heard or read felt like a novelty all over again and frustrated me to no end. But at the same time, I really loved the part of Germany I saw. The Bavarian countryside was lush and rolling. Munich was clean, orderly, and bustling. Good bread and cheese could be found everywhere, as is true throughout much of Europe, I understand. It was all lovely. I determined that I wanted to return to live in Germany someday. Lo and behold, that’s what I’m going to do. But first I took some German. A whole three semesters of it, which brought me up through 4th semester German (that discrepancy is another story).

In addition to my desires to live in Germany, study German, and legitimize my minor, I’m looking forward to (hopefully) taking linguistics and Spanish classes, too. I suspect it will be fascinating to experience linguistics and Spanish classes being taught in German, especially from a pedagogical perspective.

How?

Through a state-to-state student exchange between the university system of the state of North Carolina and the German state of Baden-Württemburg. Other than that, by plane, with my entire life stuffed into a suitcase in tow.

 

So that’s the story, people. Questions?

 

 

so, where is home? [going to Houston]

Why this picture? Because it's the only one of Texas I have left that you haven't seen already. Why the Instagramy editing? Because it's Texas.

Why this picture? Because it’s the only one of Texas I have left that you haven’t seen already. Why the Instagramy editing? Because it’s Texas.

I’m going to Houston in about a week.

Here’s the short story: My family moved to Houston, and I still go to school in North Carolina.

Here’s the slightly longer story: Just days before school started this semester, family moved to a house I’d never seen in Houston, Texas.  Instead of accompanying them to my new “home,” I slept on a comfy mattress on the floor of my best friend’s house for a few days, and then drove our little Civic, filled to the roof with the belongings necessary to facilitate learning, back to school. And at school I have remained, fully expecting to finally experience that elusive place that part of my family calls “home” only once Christmas break and the blessed end of the semester arrived. But, lo and behold, my test schedule miraculously arranged itself  so as to provide a brief interlude in studying, falling directly over the duration of fall break. So, I (read: Mother dear) booked a ticket and laid my plans to go “home” to Texas for four days.

But what is “home,” anyway? Whenever I return from trips, I’m convinced that “home” is where you can raid the refrigerator with gleeful abandon or where you have a favorite bathroom and know exactly where to find the extra toilet paper. But, when I’m traveling, “home” is the most recent place where I left the contents of my suitcase strew across the corner where I’m assigned to sleep. Here at school “home” could either be Wilmington proper, our former house outside Wilmington, in Houston,  in my dorm room, at my best friend’s house in Wilmington. Which is it? I haven’t a clue. And – while I’m questioning things – why do I have to pick? They say “home is where the heart is,” but what if your “heart” happens to be in multiple places?

This is strangely familiar. I think I’m drawing on the vestiges of the little short-term missionary kid I once was – the one who, for what seemed like the longest time, felt as if she’d left “home” back in Uganda when returning “home” to the US. But it’s different this go-round. I’m in a different stage of life, and not living in the same place for a year straight has become normal since I created this blog in 2011.

As it stands, I’m not too concerned. I’m getting far better at dealing with this nonsense called “change,” I think. I’m not feeling any separation anxiety for Wilmington. And I lived there for 17 years. I don’t miss Wilmington like I did Uganda. And I only lived there for two. Sure, there are people there who I’d rather not live farther than 30 minutes away from, but that’s life. Proximity to people I like doesn’t make a place home. I’m starting to think that I’m a turtle: I carry my sense of “home” along with me.

However it works, I’m rather excited to add Houston to the list of places I’ve called “home.” I figure the more places on that list there are, the better. So, save me a seat on the next plane, because likely as not, I’ll feel right “at home” once I get there.

procrastination blogging [+ ginger lemon marinade]

I blog at the most inopportune times. For instance, this morning I wrote a post – that I’ll publish in the coming week or so – when I should’ve been studying for today’s German test, practicing my presentation for Spanish class, or perfecting my first phonology paper. Instead, I spent 45 minutes or so of my morning letting my thoughts flow freely through my fingers onto the computer screen. This very post I wrote – by hand, no less – while sitting in the shade of the towering lab buildings during my 30-minute break between classes. I should’ve been catching up on reading from the previous class.

This same phenomenon occurred to me last semester: writing, blogging for pleasure when my school work is most pressing and critical. Even when I crawl into bed – later and later as the week wears on – my mind is composing blog posts and perfecting their sentence structure as I drift to sleep.

I’m sure it must be a form of procrastination – something seemingly more productive than browsing Buzzfeed or Foodgawker or NPR.org, but nevertheless an escape from or delay of the task at hand.

Maybe it’s the satisfaction I get from hitting the “publish” button and seeing my post there, finished, on the front page of my blog, the product of my own brain, with no one to criticize it but myself. Meanwhile my tests and papers are graded and marked and deemed good or bad by my professors – outside my control. They can always be improved upon or changed; they always demand a second, third, eighth look.

Maybe it’s the constant state of high alert, brought on by the endless succession of weighty assignments, that puts me in the writing mood. My brain is running fast and hard and can’t even slow down enough to mindlessly browse the web. It must create! Question! Analyze!

So here I am, with a treatise about why I blog what I blog when I blog it – and a recipe that has sat in my drafts since the early summer, waiting, apparently, for the mad rush of October for it to be posted.

My, what a strange experience life is.

And with that, here’s a recipe for marinade that I made several times this summer.

I used it with beef and paired it with grilled pineapple. It was delightful. It’s a lovely combination of the slightly warm and vaguely licorice-y Chinese 5 Spice and ginger flavors and the tart acidity of the lemon and rice vinegar. Flavor contrasts make for the best marinade, I think.

Ginger Lemon Marinade

  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 inch  slice of a medium onion, minced

Whisk together all ingredients. Place meat in a tupperware container and pour marinade on top of meat. Marinate in refrigerator for at least 6 hours. Marinating time depends on how thick your cuts of meat are. Cook the meat according to your preference – grill it, bake it, sear it, whatever. Enjoy!

[I used this marinade for four or so good-sized steaks. I suspect it would also work with chicken.]

gratitude lately [Job 2:10]

The week before last was a long week here at school. My friends and I agree that we’re just ready for school to be over. And it isn’t even close to fall break yet.

It’s not that I had a lot of tests that week. Or that I had an unusual amount of homework. Or that the weather was dreary. None of those things happened. The week just dragged by in a mundane succession of slowly ticking minute hands on classroom clocks and shuffling crowds between classes.

So, inspired by Today’s Letters – a collection of letters and other wonderful things, written by an ever up-beat and thankful couple  – I’m making a list of what I’ve been grateful for recently.

Because,

 Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

– Job 2:10 (NIV)

No indeed. Bring on the dense readings, mindless busywork, and 5-hour blocks of back-to-back classes. Because with them comes many good things.

Lately, I’ve been grateful for:

Almond butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. And dining halls that are usually stocked with bananas.

A bike to get me places fast and a lock that keeps my wheels from being stolen.

Exercise. And soreness, which is the reminder of hard work done well.

An aunt and uncle who live close by, who let me use their kitchen to cook off steam and their driveway to store my ride home.

My little iPod and listening to NPR as I walk to class.

Sticky-tack and how it solves all sorts of quandaries.

Re-discovered hair barrettes and how they keep my fluffy hair from taking over the world.

Study rooms and praying mantises that join me to watch the sunset.

And fall break, which is now one week closer than it was when that slow week finally ended in a glorious, sunny Friday.

banana & peanut butter granola clusters

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I’m back with another granola recipe. Of course.

This granola could be expressed as a logical syllogism:

All granola recipes need a sweetener.

Some bananas are (very) sweet.

∴ Some bananas can be granola sweeteners.

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That’s how my thinking regarding this granola went. I’m occasionally alarmed – though usually I don’t let it bother me – at the vast quantities of agave syrup, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, and honey that are consumed by the batches and batches of granola I make. So, in an attempt to escape from the cauldron of semi-processed liquid sweetener into which I had fallen, I decided to experiment with just using fruit as a sweetener.IMG_5394

Mid-way through last semester I conducted my first experiments with granola sweetened with blueberry and strawberry purees, respectively. They were an utter failure. I could neither taste the blueberry or strawberry flavor nor detect any sweetness. In the end I was forced to add brown sugar to my already baked granola, and during the rest of the semester I made it palatable by mixing it in with my other, far more tasty granola varieties.

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Over spring break I tried again, this time with bananas. Success! Lightly sweetened granola sans liquid sweetener! Granted, the actual banana flavor is mostly masked by the peanut butter and nutmeg, but that’s because I like peanut butter. If you want more banana flavor, I’d say reduce the peanut butter and cut out some of the nutmeg, which may or may not work. Regardless, using the ripest, sweetest bananas it tantamount. Got bananas covered in black spots? Use those. Mostly blackened bananas you stuck in the freezer to save for banana bread? Those ones.

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Riper bananas are sweeter bananas.

Sweeter bananas make sweeter granola.

Sweeter granola is better granola.

∴ The riper the bananas, the sweeter the granola.

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This granola is marvelously crunchy and full of big clusters. It is just a good a snack as it is a breakfast cereal. Believe me, I know. In a fit of snackishness, I went through a good fourth (third?) of a batch in one evening. That was a delicious mistake. Now I’m stranded here at school, carefully rationing out my granola and raiding the dining hall for pumpkin seeds and peanuts to use as filler to bolster my stock. If I’m careful, I think I may just make it through the last three weeks of classes. Maybe.

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Banana & Peanut Butter Granola Clusters

  • 4 cups oats
  • 1/4 cup flax meal (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 very ripe bananas (should be ~1 cup pureed)
  • 1/4 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup roasted peanuts
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Toss the bananas, peanut butter, and vanilla into a food processor and blend until smooth.  In a large bowl stir together the oats, flax, salt, and nutmeg. Add the banana puree and stir until all of the oats are evenly coated.

Spread the granola on a cookie sheet or two and bake for 60 to 75 minutes at 300°F, until crunchy and slightly golden. Add the roasted peanuts and golden raisins. Enjoy with milk, on yogurt, or by the handful!