Thursday, November 12, 2009
Last year, as awesome as it was in so many ways, was a distinctly unfeminist time in my life.
I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out just why this was, and I've suffered quite a bit of guilt about it, both as it was going on and now that I'm back in my ueber-feminist sphere here at the College. To be clear, I did not cease to be a feminist or to comport myself in a feminist manner, but very little of my experience there was felt with the same feminist passion that I have always had.The most obvious answer is that, particularly while I was in England, I was going through too much personal turmoil to really dedicate the same amount of energy to feminism as I usually do. Ironically, most of the specifically feminist things that I did abroad were done in England: Reclaim the Night, the Nottingham Women's Network, a class on women's history in Russia (at least that's what I did both my presentation and my essay on), and just simply the act of traveling alone on so many occasions. These things did not mean a whole lot to me. What stands out about my time at Nottingham now is a feeling of quiet and solitude, of introspection. I didn't spend my days staring meditatively out a window, not by a long shot. But I never did connect with much there, and given what I was going through - losing my grandmother, the death of my best friend's mother, worrying about my little brother - maybe that's not surprising. I wasn't myself. I had a good time, and without a doubt I felt better in England that I would have in Charleston, but I was too wrapped up in grief to feel the same excitement that I always thought I would when studying abroad, or indeed about much at all. Susanne is the exception, most likely because she was going through much the same thing. We helped each other heal, and we also made sure we were having as much fun as we were ready for, but a lot of that fun was sitting on her bed watching Friends or The Tudors and eating gummy bears and not the typical exchange student pursuits.
By the time I got to Germany, and also because of my experience there, I felt a lot better. I was excited. I got a chance to do it over again, in a new place with new people (and best of all, I got to keep Susanne). I was already connected to Germany in very personal ways, and I knew from the beginning how big a difference that would make. Time had passed, and while it certainly doesn't heal all wounds, they get a little easier to handle. I've talked at length about the amazing friends I made in Tuebingen, and everyone who meets me can be in no doubt as to how much I loved the place itself - a visit to my room will reveal not only photos, a German flag, and beer glasses, but also a rather large poster of the city itself. Yet Germany was an even less feminist experience than England. I didn't even travel a whole lot, and even when I did, I was never alone. I was a sponge, more concerned with just soaking up everything I came across than processing it. I don't think this is a bad way to approach a new culture, but it does admittedly represent a departure from my usual approach to nearly everything. The reasons for my lack of feminism in England don't totally apply in the case of Germany, though, so I've had to think even harder to figure it out. I realized that my friends were feminists. The classes I took talked about men AND women. I was almost never objectified in the everyday ways we are used to in this country. The fact is, my time in Germany wasn't really less feminist, but I didn't have to work as hard. I had the same conversations, but they were generally short because we all agreed - of course women should be paid equal, abortion should be legal, women shouldn't have to shave if they don't want to, und so weiter. I lived my life the same way, but it didn't bother anybody. Feminism wasn't a fight. Today, this fact was highlighted by this chart:According the the World Economic Forum, the US lags in all areas of gender equality (except higher education, which is something to think about), and many of the countries ahead of us are ones we have often labeled Third World. Germany's not at the top of the list, but it's a lot higher than we are. The honest truth is that a lot of what feminists in this country have been fighting tooth and nail for is old news in Germany. I could go into the history behind that fact, but this post is already running so long. I'll just give the most obvious evidence: Angela Merkel. However I feel about her politics, her presence on the world stage is a big deal, and it says a lot about where women stand in Deutschland.
I've written to much to close elegantly, but, as difficult as it has been to work through my experience objectively, I think I've hit the nail on the head. And I was honestly glad for a break. I don't like being angry all the time, and giving feminism some space was ultimately a great way to recharge emotionally, academically, and politically.
Monday, November 9, 2009
The Fall of the Wall back in '89 was one of the most important events of the 20th century, and not just for Germany. Within a year, Germany was once again united, and by 1990, the Soviet Union had collapsed. What I find astonishing is that, after 40 years of separation and Cold War, this revolution was peaceful. It began quietly, but by the end of the night, the world was changed and at least this one particular form of oppression was shattered. That it happened without bloodshed is an all-to-rare testament of the capacity of humanity for peace.
There are still problems. One of the debates going on when I was there this summer had to do with Social Security being paid to East Germans who had not contributed their own money to the system, and this is just the tip of the iceberg in regards to the challenges of turning two countries into one. "Ostalgie," or nostalgia for the East, persists, and despite our Western/Capitalist bias over here, I can understand it. Worldwide, the question remains: who is responsible for Wiedervereinigung? The answers continue to reflect the hostilities of the Cold War, as they generally look to Reagan or Gorbachev (that "or" is important, because of course it couldn't have been both). Despite these, the vast majority of the population agrees that Reunification was a good thing, and Germans and the rest of the world have worked hard in the intervening two decades to reshape Europe and learn from their Cold War histories.
I'm by no means an expert, but I am trying to understand the impact both of separation and reunification in Germany. It's complicated. But I think we should use this anniversary as an opportunity to take stock of the state of the world and reevaluate our progress. In twenty years, the world has become a drastically different place, but the old wounds haven't healed. In order to move forward, we have to look back.
I'll close with a quote from the German newspaper Die Welt today:
"Die Mauer sei jedoch 'nicht gefallen.' 'Sie wurde eingedrueckt. Von Menschen, und zwar von Osten nach Westen. Sie wurde umgestuerzt, abgetragen niedergerissen, in einer friedlichen Revolution.'" (Guido Westerwelle, Die Welt)
If we take nothing else from today, I hope it will at least be a reminder that change isn't passive. People are responsible for the evil in the world, but they are also responsible for overthrowing it. As Westerwelle said, the wall didn't fall.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Here are just a few of my favorite memories from the past year:
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
1. Screens. After a year of killing steadily larger and larger bugs who find their way way into my room and butt their heads endlessly against my light fixtures, I've realized what a simple yet necessary luxury window screens are.
2. Free water. I am a fan of bubbly water, but I am not a fan of water that costs two euro.
3. Air conditioning. Generally, this one isn't a problem, at least in my own room. But the feeling of walking, sweat-moistened, from the muggy outdoors into an equally muggy and considerably smellier classroom is not a good one. And if Oma admitted to liking the a.c. then I can too.
4. My stuff. Shallow as it is, I really miss my assorted crap that now resides in the attic at my parents' house. Every morning when I get dressed, I think of all the wonderful ensembles I could be putting on if only I had my massive clothes collection. When I'm bored, I remember the boxes upon boxes of books and movies and jewelry-making tools. These are basically the only things I own, so it could be worse.
5. Family holidays. I've managed to do some exciting things for the holidays during my time abroad, but there's nothing better than hanging out with a bunch of people you like and eating amazing food.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
I can't believe it's almost June. It has been ten months since I last saw Charleston, more than eight months since I arrived in England, four since I left, and only two more to go until I'm back at College of Charleston for my final year as an undergraduate. This past year has been a whirlwind for so many reasons, both good and bad, and now that I'm approaching the tail end of my time abroad, I'm able to see just how different everything is now. Until recently I really thought I hadn't changed a bit, and though I don't think I'm a completely different person, I'm definitely not exactly the same as I was a year ago. I can honestly say that the in the past twelve months, I've gone through the worst times of my life, but also some of the best. It has been incredibly contradictory, confusing, brilliant, heartbreaking, beautiful, and so many other things. Maybe I thought I hadn't changed because, despite all the things I've gone through, I haven't found resolution. But now as I look forward to going back to my old life, I've realized that the pieces are in place, and while I don't know what will become of them, they are not going to go away. These memories and experiences will be a part of me for the rest of my life, and all I have to do is figure out how to fit them all together.
I've talked before about the anxiety I have about going back, and after all this time, I am better able to understand just where that comes from. It's actually pretty simple. For almost a year, I've gone on and lived my life without Charleston, and Charleston has gone on without me. I love and miss my friends, but I know none of us are exactly the same as we were back on 27th of July, 2008 when I left. We've changed independently of one another, and now we're going to have to navigate those changes and find out through trial and error how to relate to each other again. I find that daunting. It won't be a natural progression either, but rather a reconciliation of who we were and who were are now. It may be hard to understand for those who haven't really moved around a great deal -- I don't know. But I think, at least for a little while, it's going to be weird. Because on top of being super excited to be back in Charleston with my wonderful friends, I'm going to feel out of place among them. And I'm going to miss everyone I've become friends with this year. And I'm going to be far away from my family, and without them, Charleston just doesn't feel quite as much like home.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The side you can't see is just windows and the door to my BALCONY. And it's even a in color scheme that I can get on board with, unlike the horrid peach and navy blue of Broadgate Park. Have I mentioned I love Germany? So basically, if any of you want to visit, I have plenty of space.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Over the past few days I've been reflecting on birthdays past, and I've had something of an age-crisis as a result. Nothing major, but with more than two decades of birthdays under my belt, it's starting to seem excessive. This year especially has gone by so quickly, and so much has happened that I feel like I need to take a moment to breath this week just so it all has a chance to sink in.
I've thought about my twelfth birthday more than any of the others lately, perhaps unsurprisingly, given that I spent that birthday not too far from Tuebingen. That week that I spent in Berchtesgaden was one of the best times of my life, and it's where I made a lot of decisions about the direction I wanted my life to take. Ever since coming to Tuebingen, I've felt a sort of communion with my twelve-year-old self, and it's wonderful to know that at least in this one way -- coming back and learning German -- I've lived up to my younger expectations of my older self.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
The next stop was Spain - five days in Madrid and two in Valencia. Despite some inclement weather, I had an amazing time. Kathleen and I got to wander around together for the first time in two months, when we braved the Great Snow in London. Both cities were so beautiful; even the gray skies couldn't diminish that. We ate some amazing food, drank a few bottles of wine, bought some great, cheap clothes, and got to spend hours just sitting around and chatting (and watching bad, bad movies). We even cooked Easter dinner for ourselves! It's like we're grown-ups or something. And on my very last day, who did I run into but Rick Steves! Now I feel like a real traveller.
In the royal gardens.
Eating a tasty paella.
Springtime in Tuebingen!
After a month and a half of sporadic wintry weather, it's finally spring here. Everything is beautiful and green, and I've been able to put my winter coat away for good!
Also, real school has finally started. I've actually only had one class so far, but it was lovely. I have high hopes for the next three months.
So what should we do to celebrate the arrival of spring in Germany but drink lots of beer? Yesterday I went to Fruehlingsfest in Stuttgart, with is the springtime equivalent of Oktoberfest. It was good and hot, perfect for a fair and/or large amounts of icy cold beer. We drank good German beer, ate delicious German food, and even joined in a few German drinking songs. Immer spass.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
For some reason, being in places for a month seems like a big deal to me. Maybe it's because this is the point, especially for studying abroad, that it ceases to feel like a long vacation and it starts to sink in that this is real life. At least this time it actually has some basis in fact; my Deutsch-Kompakt course comes to a close on Wednesday, and soon afterward I begin my actual classes. (I'm also signing up for next fall's classes on Monday, and I'm in the process of writing the proposal for my bachelor's essay, both of which are indicative of even real-er life.)
A month in, and I'm feeling really good. For the first time since last summer, I feel like myself, and a better version of myself to boot. The people are wonderful, the city is beautiful, the food is amazing... everything just fits. Nothing really monumental has happened, but it's better that way. I'm not looking for anything big and crazy to happen, I'm just enjoying each day and all the little things that come along with them. Whether it's a low-key night out with friends, a really good doener kebab, the sound of rain on my windows, or just understanding what people say to me (auf Deutsch, I mean), I feel like I'm in a place to just sit back and appreciate all of it without worrying about what it means or where it's going.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Right now, I'm again in that transitional moment, so I've been thinking a lot about those other times and places, as well as what's to come. Not only in Tübingen, but in the coming year - my last as an undergrad.
As for the present, I have spent most of my time in class thus far. We have about five hours of German per day, and when we're not in class, we're all usually hanging out together. There's never a dull moment. Last week was spent in Blaubeuren, a little town in the Schwäbishe Alb about two hours from Tübingen. I was little skeptical; after all, we were facing a week in tiny village with no internet and even more class time than we have here. But even with these drawbacks, it was amazing; every day there was something new to do, we had delicious food, the weather was fantastic, and I got to spend time with people whose company I genuinely enjoy. We also spent a day in Ulm, which is a great little city. One word: Brotmuseum.
We left on Friday, so since then I've just been catching up on homework and bureaucratic stuff, like choosing classes for next semester. It's looking like I will be abandoning all pretense and taking only German history/studies classes for which I can write papers about gender. And I'm still in disbelief that I'm choosing classes for my SENIOR year. Weird.
Blaubeuren cloisters and Blauetopf.
Kirche in Ulm. We climbed all 750 steps to the top.
Monday, March 9, 2009
The Neckar River in late afternoon.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Saturday, February 14, 2009
I left Nottingham on the 24th of last month and took a train up to Edinburgh to meet Dad. My leave-taking was like so many others - sad, but also incredibly hectic. Why is it that even if I start packing two weeks ahead of time, I always end up scrambling to get everything together at the last minute?
Next came Ireland. We spent a little more time there, and got to see a lot more. Again, the weather was unbelievable -- almost 60 degrees some days! We went to Dublin, Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, Connemara, and many other places. Dad really enjoyed the tiny roads... But we ate lots of potatoes and oysters and drank plenty of Guinness, so we had a good time.
Trinity College, Dublin.
Kylemore Abbey, Co. Galway.
Temple Bar, Dublin.
So after a little more than a week, Dad and split up; he went back to Philly and I continued to London to meet Kathleen. We had a fantastic time (but seeing as it was me + Kathleen + London, was there any doubt?). We did a lot of touristy things like the Tower, Buckingham Palace, and museums, mostly just to get out of the cold. I was looking forward to my flight back to the States -- I'd made sure to book well in advance, and I got a flight that wasn't at the crack of dawn so I'd be able to take my time in the morning. I figured that since it was January, it wouldn't be crowded, so I could get through security quickly and maybe even get a row of my own on the plane. But the morning before our flights, we woke up to this:
Ultimately I had two flights cancelled and spent an extra day and a half in London. And I woke up on the day I actually left with another cold. But at least I got to enjoy one of England's favorite past times in my last hours there -- queueing.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
I feel like I should do some reflecting on my time in England - really moving out for the first time, living in another country all on my own, going to a different school, travelling, etc. There's a lot I want to say eventually, but I don't think now is the time (as I already said, I haven't quite accepted that this part is over). I will say that I'm ridiculously excited about going to Tuebingen in a matter of weeks. As scary as it is to think about living my life in another language, it's something I've been looking forward to forever. I think I'll be more comfortable in Germany than I am here, even given the language. After all, I already have a friend there (one of my flatemates here, Susanne, goes to Tuebingen), so there will be a friendly face at the airport and someone I can go to when I have questions, not to mention an awesome friend with whom I get to spend five more months :). The school itself is supposed to be more like CofC than Uni. Nottingham, so I think it will suit me better than the massive university environment seems to to. And it will be getting warmer instead of colder, which is perhaps more important than I would have imagined it before the onset of winter here.
On a slightly different note, I should mention that for the next couple of weeks I'll be out and about, trying to see as much of the British Isles as I can. I'm meeting my dad in Edinburgh, Scotland on Thursday, after I leave Nottingham. We're spending a few days there, then doing a tour of Ireland. On the 30th I go to London to meet up with Kathleen before she goes to Spain. And finally, I get back to Philly on the 3rd of February.
I'll leave you with a couple of photos from my recent pilgrimmage to Stratford upon Avon (where Shakespeare was from).
Me and Shakespeare.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Monday, January 5, 2009
Saturday, January 3, 2009
The Spanish Steps.
Evening view of the Campo di Fiori.
Colosseum, as seen from the Victor Emmanuel Monument.
The paper chain!
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Wtf? Of course, the plot itself commits greater historical accuracy sins than this -- I bought the DVDs so I could find out what happens next, though I'm very familiar with the real Tudors. Maybe Anne Boleyn will actually give birth to the son he's always wanted and they'll live happily ever after. The real Henry's treatment of Anne probably will make it into the next season (which is out, I just haven't watched it), but what I'm really interested in is how the show portrays his character. In this season he's a very positive figure. He is shown as being impulsive and quick to anger, but he's also portrayed as being younger than he was when the actual events took place, so it's easy to put those characteristics down to his youth. So what if he breaks alliances and spends more money than he has? And his treatment of his first wife is more understandable to the audience because of the "great love" between Henry and Anne, and it's not as though divorce is nearly as controversial today as it was then. Religious controversy comes into the episodes in passing, but the real impact of this divorce -- separation from the Catholic church and the creation of a Protestant state -- is unlikely to appear.
Henry VIII is infamous for this schism, as well as his horrible treatment of his many wives, spending the country into debt, and being slightly insane (it's thought that he may have had syphilis). Few of these things make for a very likable protagonist, but they definitely make a compelling story. I just hope the show depicts his story as a descent into said infamy, rather than a misunderstood (and really hottt) ruler. Whichever direction The Tudors takes, though, I can take comfort in the very accurate historical fact that, despite his maniacal quest to produce a male heir (which the show does address), Henry VIII's most important contribution - his real legacy - is his daughter, Elizabeth I, who not only cleaned up the mess left by her father, brother, and sister, but who defined an age.