bikes, “missing moments,” and library creepers

I’ve been up to some really fun and exciting Dresden stuff and some really boring and aggravating research stuff lately,  but I don’t have the time/energy to write a full post at this exact moment, plus I haven’t uploaded photos! Luckily, Felicitas posted a bunch of photos from the past 6 months or so that reminded me of some moments I haven’t documented.

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This is from my lovely birthday celebration. Flitzi and I had a picnic, rented bikes, and went for a ride along the Elbe, which was so fun that I am insisting that Daniel and I do this while he is here in less than a month! This picture is also a nice reminder that I don’t actually have my own bike even after being here for almost 8 months, but since it was cold for most of those and because my tram/bus tickets for the year are included in my tuition expenses, I guess that’s mostly fine, but part of me does wish that a magical genie could just grant me a bike so I could save on the (negligible) expense and inevitable internet searches and possible creepiness involved in internet transactions.

Speaking of creepiness, I have been dealing with more than usual unwanted attention at the library, which is a sure sign I am spending too much time there/here (guess where I am now)… today the same guy approached me for the second time while I was sitting at the same table where I was when he last wanted to chat about my computer and whether I think it’s too big… and of course he thought I was British. The one that takes the cake (and that I maybe feel bad about?) is the guy that struck up a conversation last week about being able to connect to the internet, but then he ended up insisting that he add me on Facebook which what do you even say to that to not sound rude? So I put him on restricted profile, but then he started messaging me (and of course he spelled my name wrong, come on dude), so I unfriended him. since then he has sent me a message to inform me that it is “unpolite [sic] to just unfriend someone like that [….] how hard is it to maintain a Facebook friendship?” …No comment.

So, raging social life. I know you’re jealous.

 

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seven quick takes…

…which are totally pointless but at least tangentially related to my work/research/productive things, so this can totally count as progress, right?

Basically, boring week = boring post.

1. I became a student member of the International Water Association to attend that conference in Patras, and now I get their magazine every two months, which is pretty cool. The current edition’s cover story is about “Hamburg’s lead on water and energy,” which gives me hope that maybe one day I could live or work at least part-time in Hamburg… because I’d be down with that.

2. Also, I’ve only read about three pages so far, but the frequency with which the “water-energy nexus” has already been discussed is very encouraging, since I’ll be focusing my master’s research on the interconnectedness of water and energy to some extent!

3. I really long for the day when I will actually feel motivated to work. It’s been rough goings here lately, but my report is coming along… even if the pace is glacial. (Geography puns!!!!!!!) My professor even liked my first chapter, and the revisions for that are coming along! However, my day-to-day motivation to actually get to the library, first of all, and then to remain focused when I get there… are… I don’t want to say non-existent…

4. Ok, that was headed in a bad way, so we’ll change gears. People who knew me in college will know that my favorite day of the whole semester was the day when the new course schedules would come out, so I could plan my projected classes for the next semester… color-coded and prioritized into plans A, B, and C, of course. I’ve started the process for my first semester of graduate school, and there wasn’t all that much to decide, but who knows what kind of obstacles I’ll run into when it comes time to register? As I have it drawn up now, I’ll be taking the intro class for my Energy Analysis and Policy certificate, Energy Economics, Benefit Cost Analysis, and Water Resources Institutions and Policies. I know that probably sounds super boring to everyone but me, but I’m pretty jazzed about it!

5. I’m giving a group presentation in my Physical Geography of North America class about water use, demand, and resources in North America/the US! It should be really interesting. We’re starting work this week.  Of course it will all be in German but if I was able to totally make a fool of myself in fluent German this week in class with little to no preparation, I think it will go over nicely with 2ish weeks of prep.

6. One slide in our lecture today was a big map of the transport (train) networks of the US, and all I could think of was playing Ticket to Ride with family and friends… standing on chairs for a full view of the map, crying in the corner due to a missed connection et al. (hehehe.) All the major junctions were the same, but notably Sault Ste. Marie was NOT included. We may never find out what made it important enough to include in the first place…

The only way to fully appreciate the entire map and thus create a bonafide railway empire

The only way to fully appreciate the entire map and thus create a bonafide railway empire (stealthily passing cards under the table while the parentals aren’t looking notwithstanding)

7. I should really be working on my revisions right now so I’ll bring this post to a premature HALT… if anyone could go ahead and send me some packaged or bottled motivation of some sort… that would be great.

embracing my inner nerd in patras

(Alternate title: I Would Write Something Profound About the Highs and Lows of the “Academic Lyfe” if I Weren’t So Dang Tired From Traveling.)

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The reason for my trip to Greece was a conference that I found sometime last semester, hosted by the International Water Association (of which I am now a student member). The symposium’s official topic was “Water, Wastewater and the Environment: Traditions and Culture.”  The themes of the conference focused on looking at the water management technology and infrastructure of the past as a way of learning lessons for the future. 

Overall, the symposium was… somewhat subpar. The organization of the weekend was not great to say the least, and I felt like a bit of an outsider since I’m only a student and I wasn’t presenting a paper (as I learned that probably 90% of the attendees were). I got tired really quickly of having to explain to everyone that I met that no, I was not presenting, and yes, I am only a pre-master’s student on a gap year. (And also yes, I am from America, even though, yes, my name tag says Germany.)

However, I was able to hear a few very interesting presentations, meet some friendly people, and see some of Patras, Greece’s 3rd largest city.

On the second day of the conference, I played hooky after lunch and went for a beach stroll along the Mediterranean instead! It was totally worth it.

On the second day of the conference, I played hooky after lunch and went for a beach stroll along the Mediterranean instead! It was totally worth it.

My nerdy little Plan II heart was definitely right at home during a few moments of the conference. The first key-note speaker (and the only one who did not read verbatim off of cards or fail to show up) gave a great talk about the detriment of “environmentalist” pathos to the task of natural resource provision and conservation, which I thought was on point.

In the last session of the first day, I heard a talk from a PhD student at the University of Patras about using mathematical optimization algorithms to solve political conflicts about water allocation! Can you even imagine? What an exciting concept!

The first talk I heard on the second day was a wide, sweeping history of wastewater management trends and developments throughout history–nearly 4,000 years of history!–leading to today’s most cutting-edge treatments, like a reverse-osmosis procedure that Singapore is starting to implement as they attempt to create a self-sufficient water supply!

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The woman who presented on the history of wastewater management was the only other American I met during the weekend, a college professor from Connecticut. (Apparently, she’s originally from near Scranton, PA, probably within 15 minutes of where my grandparents live… Die Welt ist ein Dorf!) We also had some mutual colleagues/acquaintances/people I met once when they were guest speakers in a class I was taking, from Austin, so that was cool.

I really enjoyed talking with her because she was basically the only person all weekend who actually understood me, maybe because of the cultural differences between American and European academia. The idea of changing fields, like I’m currently in the process of doing, is almost unheard of in Europe, in my experience. So it was encouraging to talk to someone who thought it was great (instead of totally weird) that I, a rookie, would attend a conference just out of curiosity! 

The massive, and gorgeous, Rio-Antirio Bridge

The massive, and gorgeous, Rio-Antirio Bridge

(Also, I think Europeans have a different conception of space. I, as an American, wanted to take the opportunity to travel to Greece while I am already in Europe, because who knows when I would otherwise get to go? To someone who lives in Europe, Dresden to Patras is a loooong way to go for a conference you aren’t presenting at. Which, you know, they have a point. But the city of Houston is probably bigger than all of Greece so it’s all relative.)

Despite the frustrations of the weekend, like dealing with Greek lack of organization and having to miss Mass on Sunday, the conference gave me a lot to think about regarding my future career, and getting to hear the talks actually energized me to finish strong with my research this year! I’m toying with the idea of presenting my research at the DAAD conference I’m attending in July… we’ll see how that goes!

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the part where i actually do some research

Well, actually, that’s a bit misleading.

The truth is that I have been doing a LOT of research since October. Probably too much research. Because every time I found a new article about flood management or residual risk management or reservoir construction or flood mapping, I would read it, stress about how this new information would fit into my mythical research project, and go on to get absolutely nothing done.

So finally, when I was at the end of my rope with a 15-page outline that contained a lot of information but absolutely nothing of interest, I had a great meeting with my research advisor after which I knew EXACTLY what I would write.

Don’t you love when that happens?

I fully accept that I make my life much more difficult than it needs to be, but I’m thankful that things normally come together in the end.

So I am happy to report that after 5 straight days of getting up early to go to the library (I have to get there within 20 minutes of when it opens at 8 or the whole place will be full… finals season), I have officially written 15.5 pages and over 4,300 words! I am 6/8 of the way done with my first chapter [actually, it’s my second chapter, but it’s the first one I’ve written], and it’s not perfect, but it exists!

(Don’t be fooled by that last sentence/paragraph, which is probably a run-on and contains two different parenthetical thoughts. I am normally considered a “good writer” but I guess your mileage may vary.)

I am a big fan of just getting things written. I wasn’t always this way, but once I started writing my thesis and I had deadlines and responsibilities and high expectations, I started subscribing to Anne Lamott’s school of the “shitty first draft.”

All good writers write [shitty first drafts]. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have […]. But this is a fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

I just wanted to check in here quickly to report that even though I haven’t been blogging, I have absolutely been writing! Also, if anyone would like to read over my shitty first draft, please give me a shout. 😉

a week (ish) in the life

I’ve had some requests from people to hear about what a typical schedule is like for me. The short answer is that there IS no typical day, which is actually one reason that I haven’t been blogging more. It seems there are 2 speeds to the unpredictability: speed 1 is “don’t leave the house all day due to work and/or laziness,” and speed 2 is “run around all day doing various things, quickly getting worn out.” But the past few days have been pretty eventful, so I won’t promise that they are “typical” of my life, but they do include many of the activities that I may do on a weekly basis.

On Tuesday, I had my first interview with a reservoir manager at the LTV (state reservoir agency). The interview originally conflicted with my appointment at the Bürgeramt where I hoped to finally pick up my residency permit, which would allow me to stay in Germany until August (always good!), so I told the interviewee I would come to his office after my appointment. My appointment was at 1:30, so I spent the morning preparing for the interview later that afternoon. Once I printed out my interview questions, I grabbed my paperwork for the Bürgeramt and headed for the tram.

About 1 stop from the office, I decided to peruse my paperwork and realized that I should have brought my passport — which was back at my apartment! I called the office on the way back, letting them know that I’d be late… but drastically underestimating the time I’d need to retrieve the passport and return to the office. I finally turned up about half an hour late and was promptly told that I was missing a document I’d need from my landlord verifying that I’m allowed to live in my apartment….

But I didn’t have time to worry about that, because I needed to make my way across town to the LTV office! I had decided to dress up for my first interview, so I was wearing slacks and heels. 3 problems: it was raining, so the bottoms of my pants legs got incredibly wet on the way; it was really cold, and dress slacks are not very warm; and heels are actually terrible for walking between buses and offices. I probably lost a total of an hour because of the heels, between walking slower than necessary for comfort’s sake and narrowly missing my bus on the way home because I couldn’t run to catch it!

The interview went really, really well. I enjoyed it a lot, and it was not as difficult as I had thought to conduct an interview in German! It’s mostly listening when you’re not the one being interviewed, anyway! I was greatly assisted by the voice recorder I was able to borrow from the library. I’ll have fun tomorrow transcribing the 1.5 hours of raw interview recordings I’ve accumulated this week!

I was exhausted after the 5-hour ordeal all of this ended up being… my feet were wet and freezing cold, and my plight with public transport had worn at my nerves, especially after I missed the bus on the way home, and I did really not want to cook dinner, so I met up with Felicitas, grabbed dinner, and caught up with her a little bit. 

On Wednesday, I have Spanish class at 11:10, so I headed there after looking over my notes from the previous week. We learned the ordinal numbers, on our way to being able to formulate a plan for our week! I really enjoy that class. My professor is really enthusiastic… this week we actually got to formulate questions to ask him in Spanish, and we learned that his wife is German, he has lived here since 2001, and he has never formally studied German! The class is very interactive, which is nice considering that my other classes are either lectures or seminars (which, because they’re in German, means they might as well be lectures for me… they move too quickly for me to participate much!)

My Spanish class is right near two big libraries, one of which has a Mensa (dining hall) in it, so normally after class I head to the Mensa, eat lunch, and then spend about an hour and a half catching up on work in the library. Luckily, there’s a bus stop right outside the door, so I can take the bus a few stops to my next class at 2:50: Applied Limnology.

Limnology is the ecological studies of water bodies (normally lakes), and this class is pretty interesting if a little too scientific for me. Also, the professor is a bit of a flake… 2 classes so far have been cancelled, 2 have been given by guest lecturers because our professor couldn’t be there, and the very first class of the semester only lasted 10 minutes because he was double-booked. What? How do you double-book yourself the day of your first lecture… when you are the lecturer?? 

Anyway, it’s normally almost dark when that class ends at 4:20, so I head home. This week, I relaxed by catching up on some of my shows before doing a little bit more work on my outline. Then, I headed into town because I was meeting some friends at the City Theater for a play! We had gotten tickets at a really good price, and it was fun to experience some culture and see the gorgeous theater, which I had never visited before. The play itself, Emilia Galotti by Lessing, was… interesting. I didn’t know the story (I don’t think I’ve ever read any Lessing) so I was trying my very best to follow it… to this production’s credit, it seems like the source material is a little bit sick in the first place, but the staging was very modern and in some cases a little bit disturbing. Nevertheless, it was a fun evening with friends that I had to cut short by rushing home, because I had to wake up bright and early on Thursday for yet another interview!

Thursday morning, I had an appointment with Christian Korndörfer, the department chair of the Environmental Department in Dresden. He’s very well-known and important here, and I was only able to get an interview with him because my host dad knows him, so he was able to get me his cell phone number and tell him a little about me so he wouldn’t screen my call! I got there a little early because of a misunderstanding, but in the end the interview went very well! I’m starting to get the hang of it… hopefully I’ll be able to line some more up in the next few weeks!

After the interview ended, I decided to head to my landlord’s office to see if I could resolve the issue with my residency permit. The office is kind of far, but I’m glad I decided to go… I had already set up an appointment for myself on Friday to finally pick up my permit, and I needed the signed agreement before then! In the end, I walked away with a form that myself, my roommate, and the landlord need to sign… so I needed to return on Friday to get the last signature from the landlord before heading to my appointment!

I just barely had time to run home and take a shower before meeting some friends at the Mensa for lunch. I ate quickly so I could afford to head to the copy shop before class to print out the readings… it’s much easier to follow class discussions in my geography seminar if I had the articles in front of me. In class, we discussed catastrophe management strategies, specifically using the example of earthquakes in California. One of the readings was an excerpt from a book, originally written in English, called “The Ecology of Fear,” which sounds really interesting… I might have to pick it up at some point.

After class, I dropped by my apartment to pick up my computer before heading into town to meet Felicitas. She found a café right near the Kreuzkirche, near the main square, that has all glass walls and free internet… somewhere you can get work done while actually remembering that you’re in a beautiful German city! Clearly the best use of my time right now is writing this blog post instead of improving my outline…. but I’ve made a lot of progress so far! The structure of each chapter is really coming together. I’m getting ready to head to my final class of the week, which is regrettably from 6:30-8 on Thursday evenings…

Tomorrow, I’ll get a nice, early start… I’ll need the best train connections I can get to be able to make it to the landlord’s office and get to my Bürgeramt appointment on time! With any luck, I’ll be the owner of a brand-new Aufenhaltserlebnis before noon tomorrow.

situational irony

I came here to study water management. It seems I got my wish because it has rained every day since I arrived.

The first week, people kept saying, “It’s supposed to clear up by Monday. Yeah, on Monday it will be really nice and it’s supposed to be warmer, too!”

I don’t know what I expected, but it is now Thursday, and the weather has been the same ever since.

On Tuesday, I checked the weather forecast, which predicted that the rainy, gray nastiness would clear up by today.

So I guess when I went out today to jump through the first of many bureaucratic hoops necessitated by German life, I expected that it would, in fact, be pleasant. Which is why I wore Toms and, for the first time in a week, left my raincoat at home in favor of a regular jacket.

I won’t say I regret anything, though. Now I’ll always be able to remember that first thing I did after I became an official resident of Dresden was to run through the Altmarkt in a downpour, proceeding buy the first umbrella I could get my hands on.

Here’s to having lots of water to manage for the next 10 months!

2.0

The cat’s out of the bag, or at least enough is certain and decided-on that I feel good about sharing this now!

GUYS. Guess who’s going back to Germany this fall?

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THIS GAL!

That’s right… I recently received word that I got the DAAD fellowship I applied for in the fall!  This scholarship will support me for 10 months (a full academic year!) as I complete an independent study at a German university. I opted to base my project around my senior thesis (I’m studying river management and the EU Water Frameworks Directive), and I will be working and studying at the Technische Universität Dresden!

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If you look really closely, you can see Dresden in the very eastern corner of the country… find Prague, and then look directly north. If you can see the details clearly enough, you’ll notice that Dresden is right on the Elbe River, one of the rivers I’ve been studying in my thesis research.

If you were a follower of this illustrious blog when I started it 2 years ago, you’ll remember that I spent a semester in Freiburg. Dresden is pretty much on the opposite side of the country from Freiburg. I loved Freiburg and Baden-Württemberg, and it would’ve been cool to be back there again, but I’m ready for a new adventure. The faculty at TU-Dresden has been very accommodating, and I’m excited to experience a different part of the country! 

Dresden is the capital of the state of Saxony (Sachsen), and it is a major scientific and industrial hub. It is also renowned for art and its infamous role in Hitler’s regime and World War II. The city was largely destroyed by the war. During the Cold War, it was part of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany)… this is the scary/exciting part for me, because even 15 years after reunification, the eastern part of the country is sometimes seen as lagging behind the west in terms of infrastructure, language, etc. So not as many people (especially older people) probably speak English as their western counterparts. Better opportunities for me to practice my German skills, I suppose.

Anyway, I am really excited for this opportunity! I will be in Dresden for two semesters, from October 1, 2013 – July 31, 2014. If you want to meet me in Europe somewhere, I’ll have an academic break for Christmas/New Years, and the semester break will be in February and March, so I’ll be freer for travel then! Or you can come visit me in Dresden!

This is a really exciting opportunity and even though I’ll be far away, I will be bringing back the blog to keep everyone updated! Get excited!