Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tales of a Procrastinating Mainer in Switzerland

So I lied slightly when I promised two posts upon my return from Morocco. Sorry about that. I've been incredibly busy writing papers and traveling around Europe with my family and my roommate, Becky. It has been fantastic. Morocco was AMAZING. I had so many cool opportunities and I completely fell in love with the country. More about that later, first a quick summary of what I did before I left for Morocco.
Mary and Becky Reunited in Switzerland
As I mentioned a few posts ago, Becky came to visit me from Ireland. As most of you already know, Becky and I might as well be attached at the hip. We weren't really sure how we would last an entire semester away from each other and luckily we didn't have to find out. She came with one of her friends from her program, Hannah, who also goes to Saint Mike's. It was so great to be reuknighted (see what I did there?). After being in Switzerland for a month, I was really beginning to feel the homesickness settle in, so it was nice to have a little piece of Saint Mike's around, even if it was only for two days. The first day we went to Montreux, a beautiful Swiss city at the end of lake Geneva. On Saturday, I gave them the grand tour of Geneva. That night we went to a Geneve-Servette hockey game, which is part of the National Swiss Hockey League; it's the same league Tyler Seguin played for during the NHL lockout in 2010.  It was a very different experience than going to a hockey game at home. During intermissions, they drove cars on the ice and the fans were singing soccer chants throughout the whole game. They also make the top scorer from each team wear a bright orange jersey and helmet, which was an interesting twist. Even though there was a Swiss spin on the game, it was fantastic to watch hockey again and the game ended in a full on-ice brawl (including the refs), which is always a plus. I was sad to see Becky and Hannah leave on Sunday, but we made plans to visit Rome in late October, so I had something to look forward to.

Our Seats at the Hockey Game

The next week consisted of a visit to a chocolate factory with my French class and visits to various International Organizations. We went to the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the UN Development Program (UNDP), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the International Red Cross (ICRC). With every agency we visited, I could feel the political science nerd inside of me majorly geeking out. At times it was tough to be the only policy lover in a sea of public health majors, but I was too excited about visiting all of these agencies to be bothered by it.

The Crisis Room at the WHO
That Friday night, I wrote my first crunch-time paper of the semester. The paper was due at 11:00 pm that night and in typical Mary fashion, I turned it at 10:56 pm. So in case you were worried, I haven't changed a bit. The next morning I was up early to attend Desaple, or the cow festival as I've dubbed it. This festival takes place all over Switzerland on the last Saturday of September. All of the farmers in the mountains dress up their cows and bring them down from the mountains to prepare for the Winter. The festival was complete with lots of cheese, traditional yodeling, and Bernese Mountain dogs, as any festival should be. After a long morning at the cow festival, I went home to pack for Morocco!

The Classiest Cows I've Ever Seen
 I had to wake up at 4:00 am to catch my flight to Rabat. As a result, I slept for most of the flight from Geneva to Paris and then most of the flight from Paris to Rabat. The heat was noticeable from the moment we got off the plane. Since the majority of the country practices Islam, we had to dress conservatively, which meant I wore pants in 90 degree heat. Not ideal conditions for most Americans, let alone a Mainer who practically melts in 70 degree weather when wearing shorts. Needless to say, I was a long way from the cool fall air in Vermont. After we got through customs, we grabbed our bags and headed to the center of Rabat on a large tour bus. I'm convinced I've never looked more like a tourist than I did in that moment. I found myself snapping pictures of every sign I saw, just because I was so fascinated by the Arabic script. I was excited because I had officially crossed off another continent on my bucket list.

I don't want to punish you for my laziness by writing a super long post and I have so much to say about Morocco and my European travels that I think they deserve their own posts. I'll attempt write again tomorrow, hopefully it'll be a better attempt than last month.

Á Demain!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Quick Update

Just a quick update! I had every intention of writing a post about my last couple of weeks touring UN agencies and going to cow festivals (okay, one cow festival) but I ran out of time this weekend and I'm leaving for Morocco tomorrow! I won't have a lot of access to wifi while I'm there so no updates until I return to Switzerland in two weeks. Hopefully your not shattered by this news, but if you can hold on for just a bit longer I promise two jam-packed-study-abroad-adventure posts the weekend I get back.

Until October,

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lucerne, Bern, and Bears

Sorry I haven't written in so long, I've been incredibly busy (and a little lazy during my free time). I can't believe here I've already been here a month, surprisingly enough I've gotten into a pretty regular routine. I've also had the chance to explore some cities in the German part of Switzerland, which is fantastic. It is strange how different the Swiss French and the Swiss German cultures are. I just got back from a weekend trip to Lucerne and Interlaken, both are very cool cities with incredible views. I don't think I've been to a place in Switzerland yet where you're more than 40 km away from a mountain at any point in time. I'll tell you more about the trip in a moment, but first I have should probably write about the last 2 weeks of my life.

View from the scenic train in Lucerne 
Our second week lecture topic was migration. We started the week off by watching a movie called "Vol Spécial" followed by a discussion with the director of the movie, Fernand Melgar. It is set in a detention center in Geneva and follows the lives of the undocumented migrants whose applications for political asylum were denied, as they wait to be sent home. While the detention center is one of the nicest in the world, the men are locked up for years at a time, unable to leave or work and living under strict curfews within the center. Some of them were unaware that they were in the country illegally. Eventually, since most of the men refuse to leave on their own, they are forced to go back to their country of origin on a "special flight" where they are tied up and escorted by police. At the end of the documentary one of the immigrants dies of suffocation during transportation to the special flight. The movie highlighted the violations of human rights in the immigration system and definitely painted an ugly picture of Swiss politics that I had never seen before. We also learned that for a person to receive political asylum in Switzerland, they have to apply in the country, meaning they are illegal immigrants until their application is approved, which could take years. Mr. Melgar was incredibly inspiring during his talk, explaining that while he knows the film seems biased he felt it was important for someone to speak for these men. It turns out PBS aired the documentary this summer, I would definitely suggest you watch the movie if you have a chance. It convinced me to focus my ISP (the research paper I have to write at the end of the semester) on migration.

Mountain goats in the Jura 

Later that week we visited local NGO's. I visited an organization called Mercy Ships, which was created by a Texan in the late 70's. The program sets up hospital on an old cruise ship in ports of developing countries, mainly in Africa. The headquarters is in Lausanne, so a group of us got the privilege to chat with some staff about their operation. The crew of the ship is comprised of over 400 people, who are all volunteers and pay to stay on the ship. They stay in a country for 10 months and perform free surgeries on a few hundred people. They do very specific types of surgeries, like removing giant tumors, fixing bowed legs, repairing cleft pallets, and removing cataracts. Although most of the surgeries are basic procedures in Western countries, the health problems that cause them can be life threatening in a developing country if they go untreated. It seems like an incredible organization. I've included the link in case you want to check their website out: http://www.mercyships.ch

View from the Jura 
After the trip to Mercy Ships, part of our group went to visit CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). I wish I could tell you more about it, but I got lost somewhere between the words particle and physics. As our guide explained they don't actually do any nuclear research anymore, but it is where the biggest discoveries in particle physics over the past few years have come from. It is very possible that I fell asleep during the lecture they gave on what goes on at CERN, but I was very awake for the tour which crosses the French border multiple times. We got to go to one of CERN's space command centers, where we saw Samuel Ting. Mr. Ting, runs the command center and won the nobel prize for physics in 1976. We also got to see the particle accelerator, which is 100 meters underground. I could try to explain what it is used for but I would fail miserably, so I'll just leave you with a picture of me standing next to it in a hard hat.
Particle accelerator 
One night my host mom, Gudrun, took me to a park in the Jura mountains. It was an incredibly clear day so the views were amazing. The park was huge and it had a ropes course that spread through the woods probably about the length of 4 football fields. We spent about an hour strolling through the park looking at the gardens, the views, and the animals in the petting zoo. As the sun started to left the park and went to a restaurant to eat some Malakoff. Malakoff is a swiss specialty, which is basically fried cheese. It's sort of like a mozzarella stick but so much better. Apparently it was invented in Vaud, the canton I'm living in, so naturally it had to be accompanied by some wine from the same canton to make it a truly local meal. All I can say is, I don't think I'm ever going to be able to eat American cheese after this trip.

View of Mount Blanc from the Jura 

Last Wednesday, my group went to Bern, to learn about development policy. We started off the morning by meeting with a representative from the Swiss Agency which focuses on global food security. After the lecture we toured the city. It was so nice to hear German for the first time since I arrived in Switzerland. It felt pretty cool when the whole group turned to me to translate their lunch menus. Even though we only had the afternoon to tour the city, we were able to see the federal building, Einstein's house, and Bear Park during feeding time (home of 3 actual bears). The city was beautiful and it reminded me a lot of Bremen.
Sad bear 

Group picture in Bern
As I mentioned earlier, last weekend I went to Lucerne and Interlaken. I left Friday afternoon with my friends Edgar and Amedee. I was put in charge of booking the hotel, unfortunately I have lost that privilege for all future travels. It turns out I booked a room for three in an old jail-turned-hotel. The lobby was very nice but our room was about the size of a single in the 3's (those of you from St. Mike's will get the reference, for the rest of you the room was tiny). We made do with the tiny accommodations because the hotel was right in the pedestrian zone of the city. On Saturday, we spent most of the day touring the city. We decided to hike up to a castle where we got the most amazing view of the landscape. I think it's safe to say it was the best view I've seen so far. I think Luzern has been my favorite city so far.
The castle we hiked to

Typical Study Abroad Picture

Hanging out in the lobby because our room was too small

On Sunday we took a scenic train to Interlaken. It was totally worth the 15 Francs (thanks to the 1/2 pass I mentioned in my other post). We got a bit of a late start, but luckily we went through the mountains before the clouds hit. By the time we got to Interlaken it was rainy and we were all tired. We couldn't see the Jungfrau (one of the tallest mountains in the region), so we decided to grab lunch, explore the city for a bit and then head back towards Geneva.

Amazing view from the scenic train 

As for my French, it hasn't really improved at all. In fact, I think I'm going to start speaking with my host mom in German after my French classes end so I can at least become make progress in one language while I'm here.

Another view of Lucerne from the Castle
Becky (my roommate-extraordinaire) is coming to visit this weekend!

Á Plus,

Monday, September 2, 2013

Je Parle Américain

This week has been a flurry of long lectures, hopeless French lessons, and biometric scans. As boring as that may sound, I've really enjoyed it so far. Mainly because the biometric scan brought me one step closer to getting my Swiss residency card (and it made me feel like a spy). I'm starting to get a little more comfortable with the idea that I'll be living in this crazy place called Switzerland for the next 3 months.

Our lectures last week were on public health, health systems, international health regulation, and anti-aging medicines. 3 of the lectures were taught by Dr. Astrid Stuckelberger, who was commissioned by the UN to advise on the field of anti-aging medicine. She has also done a TED talk and wrote two books. The lectures were really fascinating and it was exciting to have the opportunity to learn from such a distinguished professor.

The title of this post was really a nod to my French classmates. I never realized how tough this language is; at this point I've had 12 hours of French instruction and I can now count to 100 and tell you my name. Other than that I'd be tempted to throw my hands in the air and say, "Je parle Américain" (I speak American), as one of my classmates so eloquently put. I hope that after 5 weeks of this intensive language study I'll be able to say a bit more, but for now I think I'll stick to writing these posts in English.

View of Lausanne from the Cathedral

On Friday, the group went to Lausanne to get biometric scans for our visas. We got to spend the whole day touring the city, which is gorgeous. We met our home-stay coordinator, Christina, at the train station in Nyon in the morning. When we arrived in Lausanne we toured the cities largest cathedral. We climbed nearly 500 steps of a winding staircase to the top of the cathedral. The view was breathtaking. You could see the entire city as well as Lake Geneva and Alps off in the distance. All I could think of while I toured the cathedral was how much work went into the church in the nearly 100 years that it took to build it in 1170. It reminded me of the cathedral in Ken Follett's book "Pillars of the Earth".
After visiting the cathedral and doing our biometric scans, we had lunch on the lake front and visited the temporary Olympic Museum. The real museum has been under renovation for 2 years, but it re-opens in November. I've heard they have one of Michael Jordan's shoes on exhibit, so I will definitely making a trip back to see the full museum. As my friend Rose says, "anything for MJ". 

Lausanne Cathedral
A bird carved out of a carrot at a
Chinese Restaurant on Friday
On Saturday, I went took the boat across lake Geneva to Yvoire, France with my friend Edgar. The boat ride was about 25 minutes and cost 13 Francs with my 1/2 Pass. The 1/2 Pass is a card you can buy that cuts the price of all travel within Switzerland. It was about 200 Francs to buy a pass for the year, but since Swiss travel is so expensive, I expect the pass to pay for itself by October. Anyway, back to Yvoire. It is a medieval village that has turned into somewhat of a tourist haven. We only spent about 1.5 hours there but we had enough time to check out the village and its famous "Garden of the 5 Senses". As always, the views from the shore of the Alps were incredible.
Yvoire Castle from the Garden
View of Switzerland from Yvoire

On Sunday, I joined my friends Amedee and Edgar in Nyon to go swimming. We found a really cool public swimming area, where the locals were laying out in the sun and drinking wine from the snack bar. After swimming we found a nature trail and walked around the outskirts of Nyon, before grabbing a bite to eat at the local kebab restaurant. We also went to check out a church service that was conducted in English. It was pretty cool to see the community of English speakers with all different types of accents in the middle of a village in Switzerland. 

Amedee and me swimming in Nyon

Today was back to business as usual. We had a research methodology lecture in the morning and our usual french lesson in the afternoon. I ate lunch at the castle in Nyon and the views were the clearest I've seen them since I've been here. It seemed like everywhere I went Mont Blanc was in full view!
The view of Mont Blanc in the sunset from my terrace in Sygny

À demain!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Settling in Switzerland

What a crazy few days it has been! Since my last post I spent some more time in Geneva, met my host family, and went to my first day of classes. It has all been a bit overwhelming to say the least. However, I did manage to figure out the shower in the hostel eventually, but it was definitely a relief to use a real shower when I got to my home stay.

I fell in love with Geneva on Thursday when we went to visit the old part of the city. We saw the Protestant Reformation Monument, St. Pierre's Cathedral where John Calvin preached, and the birthplace of Rousseau. The history nerd in me was geeking out over the significance of all the sights we saw. After the tour I went swimming in Lake Geneva with a few of the other kids from my program. I even jumped off a 15' diving platform into the water, which was terrifying but fantastic at the same time. I almost didn't go because I was still jet lagged. I am so glad I went; if I had to guess, I think it will be one of my favorite  memories of my time in Switzerland. The water was incredibly clear and the view of the mountains was breathtaking. One thing I love about this country is how beautiful it is.  There really aren't enough words to describe some of the views I've seen on this trip so far.

Jet d'Eau

Friday we travelled as a group to Nyon, about 20 minutes outside of Geneva, where our classes will be held. While I love Geneva because it is such an international city, I love Nyon because it is a very picturesque European city. We got to see the school we will attend and then we were taken to a castle that in the middle of the city that overlooks the lake. From the castle you can see a medieval village in France that I hope to visit at some point in the near future. I will definitely be spending a lot of my time at this castle in Nyon. This picture explains why:

On Saturday we met our host families. I was incredibly nervous, and to make matters worse, the bus that was supposed to bring us to them was an hour late. After much anticipation, I finally met Gudrun, my host mom. She is incredibly nice and (luckily for me) is fluent in English. After we left the meeting place, we quickly made a pit stop across the border in France so she could get gas for the car. I don't think she understood why I was so excited about this. Later that afternoon she showed me around her apartment and we went for a walk around the village, Signy, where I'm staying. We had coffee and chatted about American politics, then we went into Nyon for ice cream. That night she introduced me to her boyfriend Hermann, who only speaks french. It is a little tough to communicate with him, but we've worked out a system where he speaks French to Gudrun, she translates to me in English and I respond in German. He understands German, but isn't able to speak it.

Hermann is a jazz pianist, an amazing one at that. Before dinner he sat down and played "Georgia on My Mind" and I got chills. It was incredibly comforting to have such great music around. On Sunday, I slept in and then skyped with my family and some friends. After I did some homework, I walked around Signy and took some pictures of the quaint little village. There are vineyards everywhere, and I have a view of French mountains from our terrace.

Monday got off to a bit of a rough start. I woke up at 8:30 for my 8:58 bus. Luckily after 2 years of rushed mornings at Saint Mike's, I was out the door by 8:45. However, I got halfway down the street and realized I forgot my bus pass. I sprinted back to the house grabbed the pass and sprinted back to the bus stop. Luckily for me, this bus didn't live up to it's swiss stereotype and was about 2 minutes late, so I caught it just in time. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I listened to a lecture on public health and then we had a quick visit from a group called "Reseau Cancer du Sein" which is the Breast Cancer Network in Geneva. They explained that their NGO works as an advocate for breast cancer patients in Geneva and it was the first program of its kind in the country. The whole idea of the group is to act as a mediator between doctors and patients to convey what could be fixed in the treatment process. We will have a chance to visit their main office and volunteer at some of their events later in the semester.

After lunch I had a 3 hour French lesson. It was quite exhausting, I never realized French had so many pronunciation rules. I felt like a little kid again as I fumbled through pronouncing the letters of the alphabet. For some reason, I kept translating words from English, to German, and then into French in my head. It made the 3 hours quite frustrating. I'm excited for the challenge. Hopefully by the end of the semester I will be able to communicate with Hermann without too many problems.

I'm off to bed now, I have to rest up for another 3 hour french lesson tomorrow!

À Demain (I learned that today),

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Geneva: Day One

After 17 hours of travel I made it to Geneva. The flight wasn't too bad, but I couldn't sleep for some reason. The movie selection also left something to be desired (if someone ever tells you "At Any Price" starring Zac Efron and Dennis Quaid, is a good movie... they are dirty liars and are not to be trusted). All of the packing struggles, sleepless hours, and terrible movies were worth it when I got to watch the sun rise over the Alps as we flew into Geneva.

I met some of the girls from my group shortly after claiming my bags and then we waited for the other members to arrive. We were entertained by our program leader, Monica, who is originally from Mexico  but has lived in Switzerland for 15 years. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, but there is something quite overwhelming about hearing Swiss-French spoken in a Mexican accent. While we waited for the others, we  introduced ourselves and did whatever any other college students arriving in a major international city would do; we went to the nearest Starbucks. I was half asleep until a bird flew past my head and hit my neck with its wing. Just the day before, I went to the beach at home and a seagull landed on my lap in a failed attack on my sandwich. Hopefully this isn't the start of a new trend.

After the Great Bird Fiasco of 2013, we met up with the rest of our group and took a bus to the hostel. We had some free time, so some of us walked down to the lake and took in the views. For dinner I ate at a restaurant called "Holy Cow" with a few other group members. Mom, Dad, Ashley, Becky: believe it or not, I even ate kale.


The rest of the day was a blur because I was quickly approaching 30 hours of no sleep. I got a chance to see some break dancers on the Waterfront, which was awesome. I'm thinking if this whole Political Science thing doesn't pan out I'll try my hand at breakdancing. We turned in for an early night and of course I feel asleep before I could even take my shoes off. I woke up an hour later and attempted to shower, but much to my surprise, that was no simple task.

Overall, I'd say I had a pretty great first day. I think the over exhaustion made me a little more homesick than I expected but having a photo album helped. Tomorrow we're touring the city, and I'm hoping to conquer that strange shower that shuts off every 15 seconds. I'll let you know how it turns out.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Final Countdown

I can't believe how fast this summer went! When I was leaving Saint Mike's in May, it seemed that next semester was centuries away; but now here we are. I leave for Switzerland next Tuesday. 

I had an awesome break interning for Angus King and doing lots of fun summer things. I got to practice my public transportation skills on what seems like way too many buses and trains. Even though I worked for 13 hours a day for most of June, I also found lots of time for camping with the fam, swimming, hiking around some waterfalls, and visiting Saint Mike's just one last time before I left the country. Of course with all of this fun summer stuff I didn't leave myself much time to think about this upcoming semester. In usual Mary fashion, I saved everything for the last minute... I didn't even buy my plane ticket until mid-July. Somehow, mostly thanks to my family, it is all coming together. 

This week has been all about packing. Most of that process has consisted of me insisting that I need just one more T-shirt, and my sister, Ashley, and my mom trying to convince me that I don't have room. They have succeeded in cutting back on jeans and sweatshirts but I am holding strong on the flannel shirt. They just told me that my inner-diva is coming out, but I've decided that I'm okay with that if it puts me on the same list as Beyonce. 

Other than packing, I'm going to the Zac Brown concert with my roommate, Becky, and then I'm camping this weekend. All summer I've been jealously looking at other people's study abroad pictures as my friends took off for Australia, New Zealand, and Bhutan. I guess it's my turn now. Next time I write, I'll be off on my journey.

Adieu (did I mention that I forgot to learn French this summer...whoops)