Saturday, November 28, 2009

Vereinten Nationen Simulationen

[ Model United Nations ]

Contrary to my expectations, Thanksgiving turned out to be very enjoyable here in Germany despite it not being a holiday here, let alone one which is even well known. Nonetheless, with the smell of pumpkin pies, great excited reactions from my host parents who also made me feel very loved and thankful because they wanted to share some of the traditions with me, along with my friends confusedly taking a first bite of this ... pumpkin dessert?... and then busting into huge grins with whipped cream at the corners of their mouths, I had a great time sharing a little bit of home here abroad. I never really fully appreciated just how American Thanksgiving is, yet talking about it and sharing the traditions here in Germany, while also connecting back home with some very exciting Skype calls, truly embodied the great experiences I am garnering, even in spite of missing family and friends back home. To really feel what I was thankful for back home, along with using the day to reflect on all that I am thankful here in Germany, was a great feeling.

Now, unlike my cousins and friends back home, I still had class on Thursday and Friday and had no breaks, and this week has been exceptionally busy. It seems like the past posts have just added on to each other with one busy thing after another that I am doing - political seminar speeches, resume and job interviews in German, grammar classes, ... pie baking - but there has been even more that I have been doing during free time [ correction - during time that could be used for quality sleep ] and that is intensive research on United Nations protocol and German Industry.

Whereas I have found the research to be very interesting and beneficial to myself, I will admit to those that are confused that I do not go surfing through German solar energy statistics and translate the findings or check up on passing resolutions in minimum wage standards in the world just for fun.


To backtrack a little, this all started back while I was still living in Saarbrücken. There were a couple students from the CBYX participant group that were contacted with an invitation for a unique opportunity here in Germany. There was a model united nations conference taking place in Bonn and to have some representative CBYX Americans in the event, we were motivated to apply. The invitation was an exciting honor in itself to be selected from the group of Americans from my initial application in America to the CBYX program [ who knew that my essays would still be used to land me other opportunities in Germany?! ] and now I had new doors opening to attend this conference in Bonn, Germany if selected later in the year.

I was very excited and wrote out my application within days of receiving the invitation and stressed my desire to represent Germany [ you must represent a nation other than your homeland] since I felt it would enhance my CBYX experience, and also hopefully join the International Labor Conference since I had interests in education, the economic crisis and new green technologies as substitutes all directly connecting to my interests coming from work experience in Detroit.


My application was very detailed and intertwined just like all of my reasonings for coming to Germany, and I was very excited a month later to receive not only my official invitation to the conference, but also as the representative of the Federation of German Industries [Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie - BDI] at the conference. I had to sit back and realize for a moment what great opportunity I had just landed - this conference was hosting students from over 40 nations around the world, and I could only imagine that many wanted to represent Germany since the international conference took place here! It was an exciting personal achievement, but there was still a lot of work to be done.


Over the past two months, I have wrote papers and position statements about my background research to submit to the conference and have already begun my opening statements to directly present to the delegates of the International Labor Conference [ one of the branches of the United Nations ] what exactly the Federation of German Industries hopes to see in our simulated resolutions.


Hold on now ... great you are going to Bonn and representing Germany... but for what? What is a Model United Nations conference? I have officially never done one myself, but it is a simulation of an actual United Nations session where students represent nations or affiliated parties, research how that state functions, their beliefs and what they hope to vote for in resolutions. Organized debate is opened in a week long conference filled with many formal sessions, resolution writings, diplomatic discussions ect. The conference is held in English and French - two of the main languages of the UN - and incorporates students from all over the world. For one week I will be acting as the BDI and expressing how this federation would vote and delegate over the three decided topics -

  • Safe and Sustainable - New Jobs for a Low Carbon Future
  • Gender Equality at the Heart of Decent Work
  • Creating a Future for the Next Generation: Improving the Access to Quality Education
There is much that I still have to learn about how the conference functions altogether, but I feel that I have sufficiently researched about who I will be representing, background information about the topics we will discuss as well as the format of how a UN session is held.


On top of everything, however, I am very excited about seeing yet another new city in Germany that I have never seen, Bonn, and also meeting students interested in international affairs from all over the world. My suit, shirts and ties are packed and tomorrow morning I am heading off to a very busy, but also exciting week ahead of me.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Kürbistorte

[ A rough translation in German to Pumpkin Pie ]

Thanksgiving is here, and quite honestly, this very important Thursday in America would have just came and past here in Germany if I didn't make note of it.

I didn't want this holiday to just go under the radar, but I didn't know exactly what to do to try and bring some of the festivities to my host family and friends here abroad. About a week ago was when I made the bold plan that I was going to make pumpkin pie here in Germany -

What? Why do you need to find pumpkins? ... A dessert? Pumpkins in a dessert?

That was the first challenge - finding pumpkins and explaining that, yes, in America we like to cook pumpkins into sweet desserts - some of my favorites in fact.

Luckily, since Andreas owns and runs a small organic produce shop, he got me some... gourds. I think they were pumpkins... well, in German they are a Kürbis. It was just going to be my luck to cook these pumpkins [something I have never done before] not even knowing if they were the right kind for a homemade pumpkin pie [ also something I have never done before].


I was beginning to feel the anxiety that I felt back in Finland where the pressure was on me to make an "American cake" from scratch for everyone to try. [what is an American cake? I don't even know... see the post.] I had never made a pumpkin pie before, and now I was jumping into the responsibility with no lifesaver with the reputation of this American classic balancing on my final product here in Germany.

I did my research, translated names of spices, learned how to make a crust, converted measurements and felt a little more prepared. With all the research, ingredient searching, pumpkin cooking, butter-cutting-into-flour crust making, and finally baking, you might not be surprised to hear that the procedure was a patient three day process.

[ I made the pumpkin seeds too... I had those to munch on while translating spices ]

Tuesday night I cooked the pumpkin. I tried to act as nonchalant as possible - of course I know what I am doing... I won't explode your kitchen - but nonetheless Inge and Andreas were eager to come check up on things over my shoulder and watched with equal curiosity as me whether the pumpkins would be edible after experiencing my steaming contraption on the stove.


Night one went smoothly - the puree was not watery, and had a great, sweet pumpkin taste and a nice orange color. Andreas brought me some great pumpkins.

The next morning was the next challenge - the flaky crust. I snuck into the kitchen while Andreas was busy working on somthing in the other room and Inge was gone - with this step, I really had no idea what I was doing.


CUT in the butter, don't mix. Make sure the butter and water are COLD. Don't use too much water or the crust won't be FLAKY. By the end of the nervous mincing of butter chunks into the flour I figured this crust would either become the most flaky, golden delicious complement to the pumpkin that the Germans would ever taste... or the biggest butter-laden glop they ever voluntarily would put into their mouth. Well, into the fridge it went to rest... here goes nothing.



Step two was completed. That evening, after dinner and before we were going to watch a film on TV as a family, I whipped up the filling for the pie - a very crucial step to make sure that all the spices are right ... hard when you are working with conversions of say... 8 ml... [ This was also after the near debacle of finding a substitute for evaporated milk in Germany... I tried my luck with unsweetened German Kondensmilch...]


With the pies in the oven - still acting like everything was completely under control - I had an hour to watch the movie - and hope - that those pies weren't burning, inflating, deflating, bubbling... exploding, inside Inge's oven. When the time had come, we all went to check them out - it was all or nothing.


Perfection. They smelled so good, had a rustic color of being homemade, and the crust at the edges gave hint to a perfectly golden crumble. Inge said I should be proud, and I was - "it is so much work for this desert isn't it." I learned the hard way that it really was...


Complementing our lunch on Thursday - a day that would have felt just as normal as the last - the pumpkin pie was the conversation seg-way into everything about Thanksgiving in America.

So you have a holiday celebrating pilgrims and Indians? [Hmm... wow, I haven't thought about it this way in a long time... no we don't sit around in America and talk about the mayflower... ]

Every family in America eats a Turkey ?
Fast alles [ Just about every family...]
That is a lot of Turkey...


Germany does have a translation for Thanksgiving - Erntedankfest - however that refers to more of a harvest festival than what the entire holiday embodies in America. I have noticed a trend that I have been doing to explain American holidays. I start referring to Charlie Brown without really noticing it. When Halloween came and went; The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. Now to capture the meaning of Thanksgiving, family, friends, food, appreciation; Happy Thanksgiving Charlie Brown. I don't think there is a better way to display the meaning behind all of the Turkey, cooking, chaos and huge get togethers for thanksgiving than Peppermint Pattie apologizing to "Chuck"-Charlie Brown that maybe jellybeans, toast and pretzel sticks instead of Turkey and Pumpkin Pie wasn't why they were all together for Thanksgiving anyways.


I got to share some of my family traditions with my host family - the Turkey Trot 10K race in Detroit in the wee-hours of the morning on Thursday, then getting home to catch the Parades on TV as the aroma of my mom's pumpkin roll warmed the house. Then off to the first dinner at Auntie Jackie's where sometimes over 40 people can cram into the house for the festivities, and one more dinner at my Ciocia Roza's.


Of course talking about everything made me realize what I was missing back home probably just as I was speaking [ wow, it is midday here... Adam and Dad might be running already], but I was so proud to talk about the great festivities that my family had, add a little sentimentality to this "strange" holiday we have in America "talking about pilgrims", and express to my friends and family here in Germany - over some great homemade pumpkin pie and freshed whipped schlagsahne - that I had a lot to be thankful for.

[ Success! my host parents enjoying their first pumpkin pie! They even brought out the champaign to celebrate Thanksgiving at our house. ]

Happy Thanksgiving!

Glückliches Erntedankfest!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lebenslauf

[ résumé ]

In between all of the normal school work, language learning, family-life experiencing events that are taking place here during my year abroad in Germany, there have been things still happening behind the scenes that I have needed to complete to make sure that I follow the program I am on with CBYX.

As I have mentioned, the CBYX program is the Congress-Bundestag scholarship for young professionals, therefore internship work is a fundamental part of the program - over 5 months of the year. Aside from the challenges of completing successful work in a German company, let alone speaking enough German to function in an office environment, an internship is not just handed to me with this program - part of the adventure this year is finding, applying and landing a praktikum on my own terms.

During the language school phase this was a very daunting feeling for me - I am 19, don't speak business level German and I don't even have a college degree - unlike many other PPPler. How was I going to find any job let alone something that I would find beneficial to me. Fortunately my InWEnt representative [ from the program that advises us through our scholarship year here in Germany ] has given me a couple names and numbers as leads here in Göttingen. At least I know where some political party offices are now, and a name to address my cover letter of my resume, but the rest of the work has been up to me and my choppy German skills from there.

[ My resume that I have had to correct numerous times to get the German right and translate my experience and background from America into understandable language in German. I have also completed a cover letter in German that explains my experience in Germany and the reasons why I am searching for that particular job - a necessary attachment to the Lebenslauf here in Germany.]

Over the past couple of weeks I have organized some meetings around the city in between my class schedule, got on a shirt and tie and nervously anticipated a lengthy conversation in German explaining my opportunities here in Germany under my scholarship and my next step in finding an internship to start in February.

So far I have had a few meetings with the Green party here in Göttingen, and coming soon another few meetings to introduce myself to the FDP party. Things have gone smoothly so far - a lot of vocabulary I now know I need to learn - but at least I held my own in the conversations with my new potential Chefs - bosses.

Kekse backen

[ Cookie Baking ]

Christmas season seems to be well underway already here in Germany, which made me realize that Thanksgiving is just around the corner in America and the festive month will be starting there just as well. At first I thought that things were starting too early - they don't really do Halloween here... so you can imagine that Christmas candy was already out in late October! - but time has flown and the holidays are already starting.

Even this early in the season - it isn't even December yet! - I am already noting some of the differences - mostly subtle, yet some profound - that will make this Christmas so different for me - my first opportunity to experience Weihnacten.

Last weekend, Andreas was out of town and Inge and I were home for the weekend. On Saturday she had to run some errands [ turning out to be some items for early Christmas packages ] but she told me that we could meet up while she was in town. The weather was great - sunny and mild temperatures - which is something that you come to appreciate to the fullest in the overcast, rainy season of late fall in Germany. The meeting place was one of the most famous Konditorei in Göttingen, a well known Confiserie, that specialized in towering torts and handmade chocolate truffles [ which I picked up for Andreas a while back as a surprise just striking some luck that they turned out to be some of the best in all of Germany - "of course that why I picked them out from there!" ;) ].


Inge was already in the holiday spirit and amongst her shopping wanted to enjoy a weekend kaffe und kuchen with me - typical German midday coffee and cake. The tradition is quite popular in Germany, especially on weekends and with older generations, to enjoy a nice Pause in the day complemented with a great multi-layered tort.

I met Inge at 4 pm sharp - I am sure to follow her very German Pünktlichkeit - and we ordered great slices of cake - Inge boasting that they were some of the best in Northern Germany [ I won't disagree! ] along with some frothy Cappuccino. Our conversation was long and very enjoyable, and I feel that it was a good bonding experience - something that I will admit has been challenging to foster amongst the stressful transitions from family in Saarbrücken to German university, but I have been making sure to appreciate and work to cultivate nonetheless.


Our weekend together continued with some more holiday preparations. Next Sunday marks the first Sunday of Advent officially starting the German Christmas season [ complete with great outdoor Wiehnachtsmarkts, Glühwein and shelves of very well-known advent calendars filled with daily chocolates. ]



[ Our production line of cooling the crispy cookies and selecting perfect shapes from the oddities to sort them into the right Christmas tins ]

Our kitchen was warm and aromatic with sweet holiday spices since Inge and I were preparing some of her passed-down-through-generations ginger-snap cookies - loaded with nuts and other candied fruits and spices. Even the knife that we used to cut the cookies was from Inge's grandmother - warn and aged - making me appreciate the traditions that this family had, all the while I got to excitedly share some stories of my own.


I can feel deep down the realization that I will be here in Germany missing Thanksgiving, Christmas and everything in between while living abroad - but I know in myself, and as a message to all my friends and family back home that I will be missing over these very important few weeks, that there will be many new traditions and opportunities for me to learn about that I hope to experience to the fullest and share with everyone when I return.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Rechts Politik in Amerika

[ Right-wing Politics in America ]

Hamburg was extremely fun, but a fun weekend doesn't come without a full week of classes, speeches and work ahead of it. I had a project this past week in my American Government class - yes, I am in American Government. Even the professor jokingly questioned why I would come all the way to Germany to take that class - well, A. Because I can at least somewhat follow along with the curriculum, and B. Because it is a great opportunity for me to hear many new viewpoints and observation of American news from a European perspective - The class comprises completely of Germans and has many discussions, interesting opinions, as well as biased, media-based stereotypes. Hearing about the American Constitution with German grammar made me realize just how much more confusing the American system seemed [ Along with Germans loving to make charts and diagrams with tons of intersecting arrows - like our checks and balances system...and a criss-cross of legislative, executive and judicial branches... all on one powerpoint slide...].



In the beginning of the class, all of the students had to volunteer for their semester speech for the course and select their topic. There was one unique opportunity to join a seminar on campus led by the 'Democrats Abroad' to discuss the current situations dividing the political scene in America, mainly the current loss of power in the Republican Party. I felt that the speech would be a unique way to allow me to make more connections back to current events in American politics while living abroad in Germany, and also the fact that this seminar was all in English was also an incentive since so much of my week was filled with reading and speaking in German already.

As the first weeks of class flew by and I had to start preparing for my part of the presentation I was quickly made aware that this was not going to go by without its challenges. Not necessarily challenges of getting the project done - but challenges of what I represented doing this project AS an American talking about situations that, well, make America look pretty circus-like at the moment.



My portion of the presentation, as I later found out, was to further explain the current 'Tea Party' movements and Town Hall Interruptions taking place in America mainly out of fear and confusion over the Obama administration's actions with the stimulus plan as well as health care reform. To briefly recap - since it has been pretty hard to miss on all news broadcasts, from rightwing with Fox News, to more liberal broadcasts - the 'Tea Party' protests are apparent 'grassroots' groups [freely gathered groups of protesters] that are protesting the national debts and `unconstitutional` actions of the new stimulus plan. Many protesters come together referencing the founding fathers as well as images from the Boston Tea Party claiming their anger over these controversial plans by the government [ all of which have been received as ridiculous and often turned humorous due to its lack of connection to the real historical events by leftist media] .



The other topic was Town Hall Interruptions which is very similar to the Tea Party since it also deals with protests rooted in fear and confusion. Many conservative Americans have filled up Town Hall meetings across the nation discussing the new Health Care reform plans creating huge commotions and uproar with their often misinformed understandings full of fear of what this reform would mean for America. The main topic of discussion from this was how the media has portrayed it.

There has been a stark contrast in coverage leading to debates over appropriate journalism, as well as the 'entertainers' and radio show hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter, that have a huge pull over American audiences on both sides of the political spectrum, even when they aren't Politicians or credible journalists. Rightwing coverage has slammed the left for being arrogant and straying from American fundamentals, while the Left is claiming the right to illegally funding and promoting these protests [ considering them 'Astroturf' - privately funded - and not grassroots] as well as widely broadcasting the ignorant remarks made by emotionally-driven, often non fact based protests of conservatives.


What does this leave me with ... a lot of naïve Americans, a lot of bias, a lot of sensationalized news, and unfortunately a lot of protest imagery that loves to compare both sides of the political spectrum to Nazis. Amongst the anger and fear involved with these protests, terms such as Nazi, communist, socialist ect. have been freely used by civilian Americans, often just to associate someone with evil or fear, and not necessarily with what the -ism really means or represents. This is the hardest to explain to a German audience especially since BOTH sides of the American political scene are calling each other Nazis [note that this is not mainstream, but that the select few individuals that do these garner the most news attention in our modern media] or how Obama is 'socialist' for proposing this health care plan... as if being social is a bad thing... German health care is much more liberal than the plan being proposed in America... and socialism is not loaded with negative meaning here either.



Now, after this "research," [ because a lot of "he said"/ "she said" information over this topic came from youtube, twitter, facebook ect. - modern "media" sources ... I even ended up on Sarah Palin's facebook to confirm a quote by her promoting Americans "to stand up for their rights"] my personal dilemma was how to portray this media onslaught taking place in America and how to fairly address all groups involved - from the religious right, to the 'socialist' left... regardless of where in the spectrum, all political views had some controversial propaganda or media coverage. My personal approach to the project was to be as sympathetic as possible to the fears taking place and address the situation as it was - a small media battle that exploded into sharply dividing political views in America.



When I met the Göttingen Democrats Abroad things were different - such a group exists?... yes, they are a group of generally older Americans living abroad in Germany - many for several years or decades, that get together and discuss current events in American Politics. This group of Americans - many as I have mentioned have been far removed from American society for years or decades - were definitely Democrats, but also very anti-Republican and were eating up this sensationalized news that came overseas much like the Germans have been. I was open to their viewpoints and ideas, and even their jokes poking fun at rightwing media, which ultimately wouldn't have been too big of an issue, however, this group was leading this seminar, and this slant was going to be the representative view of these situations of America to the German audience.


Now - maybe it is because I am young, or maybe I take the 'representing a fair and balanced view of America' too seriously, but I was bothered by the fact that this seminar was turning out to be a Republican-slam and a discussion about the naive groups that protest in America. There was definite bias in the seminar - and being a 'Democrats Abroad' sponsored event for students and citizens in Göttingen, why shouldn't it have been - but my concern was less about the bias of political parties, but more about the bias portrayed about 'just how stupid we are' as Americans and 'what on earth is going on in the country we came from?'

Of course there are sympathetic answers to all of the fear - naïve or not - but the approach at this seminar was to just use these naïve, emotionally driven protest commentaries to the advantage of the leftist agenda proclaiming that there is just a circus erupting overseas with the citizens, the media, and a mix of the two together fueling the fire even more.

I kept my report as it was. I covered the topics that my professor and the 'Democrats Abroad' requested of me, but I was not afraid to address the confusion that I felt everyday living in Germany discussing these topics and how to be fair and as descriptive as possible. The images I used were filled with controversial comparisons to Nazi propaganda, but I used this as the platform to explain there are things even I won't understand, nor be able to associate with, yet it is this sensationalized representation that is the first to make it oversees in the news and media, and not always the actual situation taking place.

The seminar continued with other speeches by German students - stumbling with their accents, but very impressively presenting their topics including republican loss in local elections, the electoral vote system, as well as further media research - however, I felt more of a bias in these speeches too since it was this media that also persuaded how they presented their findings.



The rest of the seminar continued how I figured it would - video clips of obnoxious Americans riled up by journalists at rally events to the point of only speaking from emotion and not rationality ultimately creating a ridiculous, but also humorous caricature, of this new 'typical' American protestor. It might be funny at first - and I will post some of the YouTube clips that were used for discussion - but sitting in the audience at this point, I felt more upset at the fact that there were many times I wish I could have interjected with a ' yes, but... ' or ' the reason they see it this way is...' but the presentation was already slanted one way.

[ Congressman Barney Frank from Massachusetts confronting a woman comparing Obama to Hitler.

A humorous clip, but very frustrating at the same time. ]


[ Leftist media portraying the Tea Party protests in Washington D.C.

- This clip was shown at the seminar.

Now in America there are people that would watch this

and nod their head in agreement,

some that would laugh in shock or horror, and some

that would just bash the 'idiocracy'

some believe we have become.

Either way, there is an explanation

for all of this, but often

hard to clarify amongst so much bias in

the media's portrayal in the news. ]

Fortunately some of the Political Science staff that was invited to the seminar did a very good job creating a more balanced understanding from the seminar's blatant theme. As one professor put it - the right cannot be completely blamed for seeming fact-less or naïve. They are protesting for what they believe is right. Much of America was based on Religion and faith, and these don't have rational facts all the time, much is just emotion and believing what is right. This has been part of the American political debate since it began, however, now, with modern media, this is being used as a weapon and subsequently diving the parties even further to not have any ability to discuss anything. Whether I agree or not is not the issue, but the bottom line is that there is a lot of background information needed to even begin to understand any group of people and it is no exception with these protests taking place in

America.

[ Another clip shown and "discussed" at the seminar - Humorous

- especially with the woman with the American flag

obnoxiously flying behind her

[ seen in Germany where a flying flag of patriotism is still hard to come by!]

until you realize that some think this is how "everything" is...

and just how many misconceptions there still are ]

I cannot deny that the experience was not a learning one for me, but it was for other reasons. At times I was embarrassed and upset, but I think that goes along with serving as a “representative” from any nation abroad. The ‘Democrats Abroad’ did nothing wrong and only created a seminar and discussion platform based off of their concerns with the Democrat vs. Republican arguments in America – bias was probably inevitable. I volunteered for the project since I thought I would fit in well into the discussion as an American student, but the situation evolved into something more polarizing. What was a challenge for me, however, was once again facing how difficult it is to clarify misunderstandings and speak not only for myself, but also explain the thoughts of others just to enhance more well rounded perceptions. Hopefully for my group’s sake we will receive a good grade, but for me, well, some nights you have to go home feeling that you may have failed to get your point across amongst the louder voices of others – especially a room of ex-pat democratic Americans, and many highly critical German university students and audience members.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Weil vierundzwanzig Stunden viele Bilder bedeutet ; Hamburg pt.2

[ Because 24 hours = a lot of pictures ; Hamburg pt. 2 ]

A collage of pose striking, group shots, dancing the night away, and enjoying the great full day adventure in Hamburg.