Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Portland Life

Hello from the Bridge City! I arrived a month ago "to stay for a few days" but my ridiculous uncle Rex lured me into staying for two weeks - including a very memorable trip to the coast to go deep sea fishing. (See picture to the left - I puked off the railing like this for the entire five hour journey and Rex kindly interpreted this as an excellent photo opportunity!) Despite this rocky start, Portland's charm kept me here a little longer. The people are even friendly than the midwest and the South! Everyone's got some quirky passion and is willing to cram into tiny old houses to pay the rent and not work too much. Free stuff, from food to concerts to couches, abounds! And I've even got a job tutoring military recruits in middle school level math to pay the necessary bills. I've been living in an up-and-coming area of town called Mississippi, but my sublet sadly ends in a week, so I've frantically been house-hunting and think that I've landed a place in the central industrial district where the homeless people are sweet, the squatters are plentiful, and the investors are eying as the next hotspot for development. Don't worry, Mom, the "sketchy" in Portland is probably equivalent to the "nice" places in New Orleans. Of course, I miss the hot, humid and crazy nature of NOLA but Portland is the first city to feel right, so I think that I'll be sticking around for a while - even if it rains for the next seven months. Come visit!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Jestes Wolna Jak Ptak

“You are free like the birds” … life after college in the most beautiful place in America.

Glacier is an absolute natural jackpot. For every mile your hike, you’re rewarded with waterfall, majestic lake, wild animal, view of the Rockies, or all of these! The deer, elk, bears, moose, and sheep abound. Even the 90% of visits who do not hike more than 100 meters from there car are able to see most of these sights from the inter-mountain highways which wind through the park. The roads are often blocked by “bear jams” in which tourists spot an animal and stand on the road staring while all other cars stop to join. Despite the crazy confused tourist, I love it here.

Of course, I can’t play in the wilderness all day since I have to work here. But some of my coworkers and I still confuse our new lives with memories of summer camp. The only differences I’ve found are that we don’t care packages anymore (although that can change…) and activities are replaced by work shifts (but they are getting more enjoyable).

Since I’m working at the front desk here, I’m learning great hotel secrets. My hospitality tip of the day: when a hotel calls itself “rustic” think of this in terms of a dead-bad smells in rooms or holes in cabin walls. It’s like calling a child “loveably ugly” or someone “adorably dysfunctional” – its not exactly a compliment once you think about it!

Mt. Rushmore is overrated – I stop there on my 23 hour (1600 mile) trip out to Glacier. It’s a bit ironic that esteemed naturalist President Roosevelt decided to blow up the side of a gorgeous mountain for a monument. To be fair, he didn’t quite sanction his face being placed on but it could not have come as a surprise to him when he hired a good friend to design and oversee the project.

More about rafting, horseback riding, helicopter rides, and my weekend on the ranch in the Bitter Root valley later.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dla Ciebie

“For you,” here are my five favorite things about Krakow and my study abroad experience in general:

1. My research project about Pope John Paul II (Popius Jan Pawel Druga, po polsku!). I completed a series of interviews under the guidance of a Dominican monk, Profesor Rys. Once a week I would visit his monastery for storytime about his life, the Church, and soemtimes John Paul as well.

2. Language lessons with Pani Jagoda as I learned so much more than just Polish. Here we are together with Kuba, the only other person in my program.

3. I joined a gym when it got cold. My frequent misunderstandings there never ceased to entertain me. “Mlyn” had a coffee shop downstairs and workout rooms upstairs. Behind the brightly-lit windows are people walking on the treadmill while talking on their cell phone, red-shirt instructors demonstrating exercises which I swear do not do anything to build strength, and weightlifters who would stop their routine to dance along to Brittney Spear’s newest hit song!

4. Polish food. It was delicious and inexpensive. Plus I particularly enjoyed the “Stary Kleparz” (Old Market) which had an abundance of cheap produce and cheery old ladies.

But we must not forget that Polish people really enjoy meat best. This booth was in the Christmas market in the old town square.

5. As much I love Krakow, I also appreciated the chance to see elsewhere in Europe. I visited Berlin (first picture), Prague (second picture), Paris, a small town in Southern France, and London. I also did travel to some smaller towns in Poland.

Final Thoughts:

Krakow is a perfect study abroad compromise. While it is new and different, it was not hard to integrate into the culture. I enjoyed introducing American traditions like thanksgiving and peanut butter cookies to Polish students in my dorm as well as exchanging stories about the different college experiences. I also liked that everyday life was a challenge always with something to discover in Krakow and about Polish culture. The academic components, since yes it is study abroad, focused on outreaching into Polish culture and not just sitting in a classroom. In the end, I have gained immense respect for three things: academia’s role in society, Poland as a unique and thriving country, as well as the people who I had a chance to get to know. Last but not least, I appreciated that Polish people are so nice and the city is so beautiful. Here’s one last picture:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Old Polish Post: Bylam Praha i Berlin

Mad props if you can guess the meaning of this title. And for my grandpa Ron for supposedly being my #1 reader.

The torture museum in Prague was a highlight. Yes, I know this sounds rather grotesque. It's not the mechanics of the contraptions that I found interesting but the history and human implications behind the exhibits were fascinating - like the general population's willingness to go along with such injustices and even join in by offering additional blows to those in shackles on the town square as well as the sexist standards of medieval society. My sister Nina might be proud that I walked away significantly more of a feminist than I would like to admit.

The enormity of Berlin and its vibrant cultural life absolutely overwhelmed me. After a few whirlwind tours and museum visits, the Jewish Museum was possible the best done I've seen from the building's architecture to minute details of each exhibit. Alternatively, the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin's modern art museum, had the creepiest exhibit called "the cult of the artist" complete with a garage projecting images of oversized sleeping clowns, completing with their snoring sounds in the background.

I also very much enjoyed the diversity in Berlin after the somewhat ethnic monotomy of Poland. It was refreshing to hear other languages, including Polish! But more importantly, it was fantastic to have a huge variety of food. the Indian feast to street side kebabs and falafels to the best apple strudel of my life.

Speaking of nourishment, I've also discovered a personal affection for dark beer.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Moj telefon jest zaba

Polish pronunciation reminds me of my con law exams which only made me want to bang my head against the table over and over and over again. So, I can’t sound it out for y’all but this phrase literally means “my phone is a frog” which in all honesty is true as this is a ring tone option for my polish cell phone.

Onto other cultural shocks: a kind friend warned me about the prevalence of PDA in Europe. Typically, I’m not a fan of PDA, so the amount and degree here never ceases to astound me. But I’ll make exceptions of my disapproval for those that make me laugh. Say, the couple in the park who had brought along a boom box to accompany their afternoon rendezvous.

Speaking of music, Poland is an absolute heaven for my horrific taste – meaning that the people here and I share a passion for bad pop. Current American hits and Polish songs are in the mix but what gets me is that you can’t go very far without hearing a top dance hit from the 1990s – street side cafes, libraries, the pub downstairs, etc. It’s great!

Jeden, Dwa, Trzy, …

1, 2, 3, … I like counts quite a lot. For example, when I drove from Denver to Philadelphia last summer, my friend and I tallied the number of pickup truck and SUV mentions in country songs – SUV’s won, fyi. Here in Poland, I’ve been counting nuns and cyclists.

Thus far, I’ve spotted one person wearing a helmet and only two road bikes. As the semi-cycling snob that I have become, I can’t bring myself to respect those guys who get decked out in spandex only to cruise (pretty slowly) along on a hybrid. Also, having seen and participated in many bike falls, I’m amazed that almost no one is wearing helmets.

In terms of nuns, I’ve seen at least 30 as opposed to back home where my lifetime count is 0 - not counting the hundreds in the Sound of Music which I watched every time I got sick until I was 17 or so. It’s comforting that nunnery is not a dying trade here and I’m sure the nuns are probably hiring—a very reassuring fact considering the economic crisis plus my senior year what do I want to do with my life crisis,. As is the military – on long runs and bad days, I mentally compare these career paths. I think the biggest downsides are: nunnery requires a lifelong commitment and I could get killed in the military. Which is worse?

In more realistic terms, studying abroad may be good for my job search. Surely, not having internet in my room and not being on campus for interview days and other events hosted by my career development office is a bummer. But more importantly, not having the stress of four Grinnell classes has allowed me time to think about the lovely question of what I want to do with the rest of my life.

In addition, being in a real city (no offense “city” of Grinnell, pop. 10,000), I’ve met people with jobs that I was considering – such as an ex-Enterprise Leadership Training Program participant who did not believe that the washing cars component built business skills and a Polish sports TV journalist who makes almost twice as much as a typical entry level journalist in America. Plus, all the construction and people in overalls reminds me how much I enjoyed New Orleans worksites.

At present, I’m still leaning towards the affordable housing industry with the larger dream of doing private development work for low-income families. Private companies usually don’t tackle affordable housing since its hard to make even a slim profit, but it is an existent, albeit small field which at the moment seems perfect for my skills and passions. However, I can see myself doing a lot of things in the mean time –

  • traveling for a year or so immediately after graduation,
  • working for a consulting company to build business skills and serve my time as an entry-level slave,
  • staying in Iowa to work and save money/pay off loans, or
  • going to graduate school (in what who knows?).
Enough about the future, today's weather is beautiful and now I plan to enjoy it!


Yesterday....I can't say last fall so this term will have to do. Regardless, I found this old life update on my computer which I intended to post here after I got home last winter break.

I am home recouping after another exciting semester at Grinnell. As usual, my life—despite its location in the midst of Iowa’s cornfields—seems to have taken me some very interesting places. Below are some highlights from the last couple of months:

Chicago Century - I originally wondered how in the world it would take FOURTEEN hours to make it 100 miles around the perimeter of Chicago, but the 10 mile per hour pace and frequent stops made this time span pretty easy. Starting the ride with 4 pieces of French toast and 3 slices of bacon pretty much set the ton for the day. I was also surprised when I arrived decked out in my usual garb—spandex, of course—that I was oddly dressed among the bunch who were mostly wearing street clothes. I mean one girl biked the whole day in Old Navy’s classic cheap plastic flip flops. We were only at mile 25 when we stopped for lunch and the first swim in Lake Michigan. Cool local tourist spots and bars with fun names were also frequented. Around dinner time (9 pm, mile 75), the leader of the bunch plopped a twenty-four pack on the table and announced loudly that “it is VERY important to stay well hydrated.” There was a midnight skinning dipping in Lake Michigan (my bike and build friends would laugh that instead of partaking I used this time to take a brief nap). We finally made it to 100 miles at 1:30 where people proceed to “re-hydrate” after a long day on the road. I made it home around 4 am and proceeded to wash the mud off my legs from a puddle I hit TWELVE hours ago.

Wedding Crashers - Strolling the streets of Chicago both nights, I just happened to come upon two different wedding parties – one a pre-marriage bachelor/bachlorette’s bash with live music at the local pub where everyone knew each other and I even got to meet the owner. The next night, we stumble in after a long day’s ride at 1:30 am to find a women in a wedding dress. In both cases, I got to meet the bride and groom and on the second night the excited bride even pulled me over as she proudly introduced me to her new husband. My question: what are wedding parties doing in bars this late at night with me?

In…and out…of “Debate House” - Grinnell College doesn’t have a Greek life, but some clubs (the baseball team, for instance) seem to form a substitute to the fun and social atmosphere my friends down south tell me sororities consist of. For me, debate fills this niche. As a result, I was really excited to move into debate house this year which is an “off-campus, college-owned project house.” But once I moved in, I couldn’t stop sneezing, itching my eyes, and waking up in the middle of the night. One morning, I almost convinced myself that I had pink eye – luckily (luckily?), it is just really bad allergies. Student Affairs kindly let me move and allowed me to take my wonderful roommate with me. We now live in possibly the loudest dorm on campus, and when they are not parties on every floor, I can sleep through the night!

Student Newspaper Columnist - I get paid to ramble about my opinions on religious life on campus and my “safety-third” life philosophy I picked up from an early retiree worker on a Habitat site in Jacksonville, FL. Its pretty sweet.

GPD - The Grinnell Police Department hired me as an office assistance for 2 months this semester. I enjoyed entering data (citations, parking tickets, and late fee-reminders) into their computer system and getting a legal insider view of the officers and the station dynamics. Plus, I got to see the plans for the new station and ran into plenty of my fellow students’ names through my work. Whoever said data-entry couldn’t be amusing?

Texas Ironstar Triathlon - After Bike and Build, I remained on an extreme sports kick and convinced a friend to sign up for a half-ironman race with me in late October. Really, I am not sure what I was thinking. The competition required that I finish a 1.2 mile swim, 54 mile bike ride, and 13.1 mile run in less than 8 hours. I mean, people quit their jobs to train for these things. We would call each other laughing about our faulty workout regime and tips about how to squeeze in training constantly. My friend would sprint on her bike between places on campus and then add up the ½ mile segments over the day and count it as a real 10 mile ride. Somehow we both finished with huge smiles. And as the youngest two females in the race, we got numbers 1 and 2 which race volunteers would pretend meant first and second despite so so slow pace.

Don’t be late to your flight - Those are the wise words of my mother before coming home for winter break. Being busy and not believing that Des Moines “International” airport (they fly to Canada, on occasion…like once a week) could ever be busy, I show up 30 minutes before my flight, wait in a surprisingly long line, discover that I could no longer check in and then learn that they are no feasible airline alternatives. I land on a 31-hour GreyHound trip home. So you think that the lesson is obvious and I would never show up late again. 10 days later, I am trying to go back to Iowa for the caucuses, am once again late, and as a result again miss my flight. But luckily for my fellow passengers who also didn’t make it to the gate in time, I was the only one standing there with experience of missing my flight so I called airport security

Life Goals - I have come up with three, very vague, but hopefully doable things I want to achieve:
1. I want to affect positive change through my career. (I told ya, they’re vague.)
2. I will do anything for 1 year so long as it (a) pays off my college loans and (b) is legal. (Any ideas? Let me know.)
3. I believe that American society has done some things very well such as promoting a fluid class structure (although arguably not equal opportunity, personal economic change is feasible), strong medical care, universal education, and a vibrant (although also imperfect) political culture, and be a part of extending some of these amenities to places around the world. This is much more of a long-term goal, but definitely something to keep in mind.