Friday, September 10, 2010

An Ending and a Beginning

Well, it's been about five months since I walked the streets of Mostar. Currently, I'm sitting on a Mac in the campus lounge at NYU Abu Dhabi, listening to classmates sing Jesse McCartney on Rock Band and trying to process the sheer awesomeness of the past week. As could be inferred from the previous post, I had the best intentions of posting pics of graduation, the start of summer, my family's visit, and our last day in Mostar. However, time got away from me again, and by now I think anyone who's interested has pretty much seen those pics and heard those stories. And so, here it is...closure. As much life as I experienced and as much as I learned in BiH, it was time to move on, and I'll say again that I would never have dared to dream of such an unfathomably wonderful place to move on to. My blog for this part of life's journey is located at http://parallellifeabudhabi.blogspot.com. I can't promise that my infrequent posting habits will improve in the future, but if ever there was a place for optimism, it's NYUAD. Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Welcome to Exam World

My apologies in advance for neglecting to post during the next few days. The impending exams have made my brain turn my lovely, logical world into this.  
 Thank you, sanity, for deserting me when I need you the most.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May the Fourth Be With Us

As any IB student in the world will tell you, today is the first day of May 2010 examinations. Ahm...*coincidentally* it also coincides with International Hug An IB Student Day. We know it'll be over soon, and we know it'll ultimately it's not THAT big a deal. Just bear with us as we grapple with the IB monster one more time. Give us a hug, some positive energy, and a cup of coffee, just for goodness sake don't be the hundred and first person to ask us how the exam went.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Prozor-Rama Jezero

A couple of weeks ago I went with Hilary and Isabelle to a monastery about 80 kilometers from here. A day out of town...$0. A few hours in a springtime paradise...priceless.




Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Whole New Written World

Although it's been temporarily put on hold due to exams, I've officially begun studying Arabic. I don't want to repeat the experience of living in a country without a functional knowledge of its local language, and I know my procrastinating self well enough to force myself not to waste time! In fact, my only purchase during the Candidate Weekend in Abu Dhabi was an instruction book; Doug from Yuma and I spent a few minutes looking at them in the bookshop at Marina Mall and then, very optimistically, bought them in an "I will if you do" kind of agreement. I figured I should make a start now while I'm near some native speakers who can correct me, and it's fun but challenging. I can already glimpse the beauty and subtlety possible in the Arabic language, and its a bit sad to know that I will never be able to grasp the language in all its complexity.

But the boundaries of my knowledge are still light-years away. At this point, the letters still look like smiley faces and my handwriting like a kindergartner's. Several weeks ago, I Stumbled Upon a site giving instructions for writing one's name in Elvish, and in a burst of dorkiness decided to write my sister a whole letter in LOTR language. At least writing the characters is good practice for Arabic, right?

Hilary and I made rice for dinner and somehow started trying to manipulate our chopsticks with our left hands. Call me crazy, but throughout this year I've resorted to taking notes with my left hand in lessons I find boring so that I have to concentrate more...and focus on the long-term goal of becoming ambidextrous. It's said that left-handed people pick up skills such as artistic techniques more easily than their right-handed counterparts due to the fact that the left side of the body is controlled by the right brain, which controls more creative creative functions than the logical left hemisphere. I think there's something to that, because a greater than expected proportion of people in most art classes I've seen as well as in UWC are left-handed. Two tests I've taken have told me that I'm naturally a left-handed person who was just instructed to use the right hand and adapted. That may be true, but I can feel the creativity I had as a child seeping away. The processes of seed germination do not inspire any poetry in me, and lately even my dreams have moved away from mythical towns to very logical, banal sequences of conversations and exams. And by this, I am completely convinced that it's time for IB and even UWC to be over...it can take my sleep, my health, even my sanity, but my subconscious?! That's over the line.

Monday, April 26, 2010

IB Alternatives

Like many IB students, thoughts of impending exams have made me consider what I might do with my life in the eventuality that...well, that my brain goes flying out the window of the exam room and my diploma with it. Cooking school has been one alternative since after two years in student residences I can make a wicked cake with nearly any ingredients and any cooking contraption known to man. I may have to knock "psychiatrist on the first mission to Mars" off the list, but I'm keeping the childhood fantasies of bookseller and zookeeper just in case. And, today, I had some affirmation that there's one eventual career I seem made for...teaching. Barbara agreed to let me take over first year English for the day so I could give them my perspective and review myself for the exams I'll sit next week. According to my firsties, it was a great success, and according to our two professional professors, I'm destined to end up teaching at some point although I should do it periodically throughout my life so as not to lose the initial enthusiasm. To be honest, I've suspected that for a while and am just trying to avoid academia as long as possible.
It's true, I enjoy being in authoritative positions immensely...maybe too much judging by the memories of playing "school" with Becca as a child but always being the teacher and always giving her real lessons and homework! It could be a good career for me...I get to tell people what to do, be recognized as intelligent, possibly travel if I'd stay with the global IB network and possibility of sabbaticals in the equation...all in all good for my ego and my imagination, if not for my wallet. Oh, yeah, and hopefully practice my patience, be innovative, and contribute something to society. In any case, it's back to the real of lowly unqualified student for now...no more power trips until I pass my math exam!!!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Surreal

Today was like a Salvador Dali painting...breaks in the routine, strange conversations, dead silence where there's usually chaos, the hint of a storm, and a headache. Last night, Ingrid and I were walking back from a concert at Pink and in a fit of spontaneity walked down 2 streets we'd never explored and sampled 2 new bakeries. My first year has a very elaborate plan for a utopian society, and we spent the better part of an hour tossing it around and thinking about possible pitfalls and eventualities. It was fun, and it makes me wonder what people with much greater intelligence than ours toss about amongst themselves. Since that concert I think everyone's been a bit off somehow. But sometimes you just have to have those days.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Life is "Beautiful"


May 2009
April 2010
Okay, okay...so some things never change, namely the wackiness of UWC students. And yet, despite the fact that I told Andy something to the contrary, I got a little nostalgic today planning our thank-you desert social for the faculty, studying Biology over drinks at the same cafe where I spent exam time with my second year Georg last April, and watching Shaked celebrate her birthday and be amazed by all that has happened in the past year...Sometimes it seems like enough for a lifetime. For myself, these two years have brought a countless number of experiences for which I am more deeply grateful than my over-worked mind can express in words. I didn't do very many things I regret, but there are too many people I wish I'd spent more time having serious relationships with and some assignments I wish I'd ignored. This evening, Yuly and Niv staged a cozy surprise party in the basement complete with food and a movie projector. Since we've long since worked through all of the comedies we own, we settled on watching La Vita E Bella. I never though I'd see a "comedy" about a concentration camp, but then again, life is often bittersweet. In any case, on days like this it's easy to believe...life is beautiful.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sustainable Sustainability

There are lots of names in the news, but this week one has a personal connection to UWCiM. Thuli Makama, the sister of my coyear Mfundi from Swaziland, was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in San Francisco this week. It's the equivalent of a Nobel Prize in the environmental world, and after several years of work even under personal and political threat she deserves recognition! For several years now, game parks in Swaziland have been responsible for enforcing laws against poaching and have been accused of doing so by brutally executing suspected poachers who may be innocent or be local people hunting only for survival. In an age of growing environmentalism, it's essential to look for comprehensive measures rather than simple or biased solutions. Although her work is not directly environmental, she has encouraged African policymakers to consider the needs and safety of local people when making enforcing environmental laws, and that will hopefully go a long way toward making sustainability efforts more...well, sustainable! Check out BBC's coverage of the award and watch a short video about Thuli's work to learn more.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sex in THAT City?

If you've been to the movies recently, you may have seen the trailer for the Sex and the City sequel to be released next month and noticed that Carrie and the gang are making the Middle East their getaway! An interesting choice considering the reputation the region has for dealing with the raunchy, but then again, it's only Hollywood. Although the fashionistas are supposedly vacationing in Abu Dhabi, from everything I've read the set was located in Morocco. And although I doubt I'll convince any die-hard fans, after seeing the trailer I can tell you NO, Abu Dhabi doesn't look like that...it's way more real and waaay better.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

UWCiM Take 5

Last week, our headmaster formally announced that we will have a fifth, albeit even smaller, generation of UWCiM students. This comes after another long and somewhat hidden debate over what the purpose of the school is, how it should be run, and who does/should benefit from it. As anyone who knows a UWCer can tell you, the program is by its nature demanding in every possible sense of the word, and that makes it difficult to build and maintain connections outside of the UWC "bubble." In more practical terms, although we're located in the middle of a town, it's difficult to learn the language, learn local customs, make an unbiased judgment about that wet-hair superstition, etc. While I'm of course thrilled that my firsties won't be walking the halls alone next year, I also see the perpetual struggles for existence that we seem to face as a challenge to think about what we could be doing better. With a new headteacher (congratulations physics professor Valentina Mindolevic!) and many new teachers as well as students, there will be changes. Here's hoping that they are positive and lead to an even more effective, more purposeful, wiser UWCiM than ever before!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

New York University Abu Dhabi

It's been in the news and in the making for nearly 5 years...is it a depository for oil money, a government pawn, a trophy for NYU's Manhattan campus, a Middle Eastern travel sponsor targeting unsuspecting students? I was prepared to believe any of the above, so it was a surprise akin to (if you'll allow me to be a bit irreverent) something between religious conversion and falling in love when I went to the March Candidate Weekend and was completely converted to a cause I see as anything but pointless and pretentious.

In astonishing ways, things fell into place. I expected to feel bribed during the elaborate and all-expenses paid selection weekend, but bizarre as it sounds, it was more like a courtship through a series of conversations. But first the basics: NYUAD is created to be a relatively small research university offering the same top-tier liberal arts and sciences degree as their Manhattan campus. More than that, it's toting itself "the world's Honors College," pulling the best students and faculty from many dozens of countries and nearly every continent. And even more than that, it has a vision of examining what the world will look like in the next couple of centuries in the context of various theories of cosmopolitanism, globalization, and cultural identity in hopes that students will be non-traditional leaders carrying civilization into the most ideal and sustainable future possible. And that's just innately exciting. This inaugural class consists of just over 100 students and about 40 faculty on a temporary downtown campus (permanent facilities are scheduled to open on Saadiyat Island in 2014, so you can imagine what a close-knit community it will be. It was glimpses of this network which blew me away, and what impresses me most is the extent to which personal sacrifices have already been made for this project. I didn't expect President John Sexton's legendary charisma and enthusiasm, nor the potential professors' candor in describing why they've decided to leave jobs at the world's top universities for this crazy endeavor, nor that chatting with Dean of Students Jim Larimore and other staff about living in Abu Dhabi would be so cathartic. From what I have seen, they certainly have the means to turn their idealism into reality.

It's also interesting to note that such enthusiasm hasn't always been present. There has been a fascinating evolution of opinion about the project as evidenced articles from several years ago full of cynicism and doubt to applause from organizations like the Human Rights Watch and an academic world which is supposedly calling involvement in this first generation a "less than a once in a lifetime experience." It's true, there is an undeniable aura of possibility pervading Abu Dhabi. For one thing, unlike in Dubai, the government prides itself upon it's long-term plans for economic and environmental sustainability, and with projects like the Cleveland Clinic's new facilities and the zero carbon emissions city of Masdar in the making, the future looks promising. It's an exciting time to be in such a truly cosmopolitan city where something unique is always happening (camel races, concerts on the Corniche, or sandboarding, anyone?), and the people are so diverse that on the beach I saw abayas, bikinis, and everything in between.

I am by nature I person who overanalyzes every aspect of every experience, struggles with decisions, and always second guesses even the ones I'm satisfied with. And yet, here I have no doubts. I have rarely been as sure of anything as I am that becoming part of NYUAD  is worthwhile. It was not even on my radar until recently, and the option sort of fell into my arms since I only applied after being nominated here at UWCiM. But it fits on so many levels that I can't deny the connection...not to mention that it gives me a chance to make use of the fact that UWC is such a similar community by drawing upon my experiences here. And then there are the full scholarship, study abroad, research, and other intrinsic benefits of being at a university like NYU!  It is a sacrifice in some ways, since I won't be serving with City Year in Cleveland as planned and will be away from my family for much of these four years, but I can't think of a better place to add another dimension to my identity. There are many more aspects of the city, the university, and the decision that promise to keep me on an intellectual and emotional high for quite a while...ask me and you'll have real difficulty getting me to shut up! I figured I'd start with this post in order to fill in those of you back in the States who haven't had more than pieces of the story until now and to hopefully start some conversations about what promises to be historic and, for the vast majority of people involved, life-changing.

By the time I got the offer of admission (and finished leaping around in circles and screaming in the park with Shaked), I was already at peace with the decision. About the only thing that would have changed my mind would have been getting struck by lightening on the way to the post office. I wasn't, so as of today the card is signed, sealed, and sent off. The commitment is made. I'm moving to the Middle East and couldn't be more thrilled...but I'm gonna need a new name for the blog.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Scrabble FAIL

Mattel has officially announced that proper nouns will be allowed in its new version of Scrabble. As a lover of change, I would say that the game's 60-year sameness streak calls for a little variety, but I would be thinking more of a 21st century color scheme or maybe some fun foam letter tiles. You can call it intellectual arrogance, but I pride myself on the ability to distinguish a common nouns from proper ones and to let Scrabble showcase an understanding of the breadth and nuances of the English language. Letting "Beyonce" and "Shakira" onto the board may boost Mattel's profits and bring a wider range of players onto the Scrabble scene, but I can see it having one of the following personal consequences. 1) It's an embarrassing showcase of my occasional apathy towards pop culture. or 2) It fosters a generational gap in which a competition between my mother and I becomes a contest determined by whether the names of the Monkees or the Backstreet Boys will wrack up more points. Either way, I think I'm gonna have to go with the traditionalists in condemning this one.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pop Culture Paranoia

Today I went to Tuš, Mostar's largest supermarket, and as I did my shopping I realized with some consternation that I have every last song they played over the intercom on my iPod. Now I'm not sure whether this indicates that Tuš has an impressively appealing repertoire, or that my tastes have been relegated to the elevator and grocery store variety. I'm hoping for the former, because although the eclectic environment of a UWC provides a great excuse for being slightly out of tune with pop culture, I don't think I'm THAT far out of touch!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Međugorje

Inspired by the nice weather and Easter holiday, Tobi, Evers, and I decided to take go to Međugorje for the day. The town might have a claim as the most famous in BiH...it certainly is among Catholics, who claim it as a holy site where the Holy Mother has repeatedly appeared. There isn't a great deal to be sign aside from this, the tourists, and the vineyards, but the Herzegovinan countryside is a lovely place to soak in the Spring. In English class, we've been studying Flannery O'Conner's portrayal of the grotesque in her short stories, and although I wouldn't describe this day quite so strongly, it was full of the unexpected.
Evers and I first struck out to catch the bus at the Cathedral, but it turns out we were waiting at the monastery, so after I bought a couple of postcards, the shop-owner in the background of this picture gave us a ride. Tobi had caught the earlier bus, which it turns out made him about 12 hours early for Mass.













Leaving Mostar behind....

...the last signs of winter and the first signs of spring
















In Medugorje, we had lunch with our friend Luka's family and to make sure we keep our intellectual skills up during the break we played a little MarioKart. It was Evers' first time playing a video game but I think she still hit me with more mushrooms than I threw. After a walk up to the family vineyard...













...we decided to pay our professor, who lives in a room rented from our librarian's mother, an unannounced visit. He was just arriving home, but in true Bosnian fashion we were still introduced to his neighbors and offered the customary homemade orah rakija, made from walnuts. (As a side note, it was only about 3pm but according to the local timetable, anywhere closer to dinner time than to sunrise seems a perfectly acceptable hour for a drink. When Tobi and I had both had a shot of the whiskey and a bit of white wine, we declined refills and were met with, "Hah. I win, then." And thus, we lost a drinking contest we didn't know we'd entered. How's that for grotesque?) Professor Boulting's neighbors are friendly couple with a sweet dog and a lovely garden! She moved from London two years ago, and he makes rosaries and jewellrey out of stone from the apparition hill. I'm still a bit in awe of these little international connections that keep popping up, but it gives the wide world a much more comfortable feeling. As further evidence, more than one person has already promised to try to put me in touch with  former students and friends in Abu Dhabi! After the Mass, he met us at the bus stop to send us on our way.  Maybe we're extrapolating too much, but Tobi pointed out that that sort of beyond-the-call of duty hospitality seems to be more characteristic of his generation (the ones that were coming down from Oxford and Cambridge in the early '60s). One of my favorite things about this region is that even towards the foreigners who can't pronounce "hvala" to save their lives, it's still very much a way of life. And that's no April Fool's joke.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Enamored Economics

Spring is here and I suppose love is in the air, although not in the typical sense. Milana's and my brains have been a bit under-stimulated as we discuss exchange rates and the current account in our Econ class, so she has turned  to creating the following economics-inspired pick up lines:

* You are my asset. (I can't help but ponder the subtle difference between this statement and "You are an asset to me," which she realized is what she meant to say.)
* In my eyes, you're always appreciating.
* My demand for you will never fall.
And last but not least, thanks to the paperwork accompanying final submission of our IB assessments:
*I'd love you even if you were a tax form.
 ...what has our education come to?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Globalvision

During the annual Model United Nations conference hosted here at UWCiM, we have a tradition of imitating Eurovision with our own set of performances dubbed "Globalvision." For the Americans in the audience who are unfamiliar with Eurovision, think European Union (plus Israel and Azerbaijan) meets American Idol...each country selects an artist and song to represent it, and then there is a televised competition in the spring in which viewers text to vote for the winner. Our version tends toward the irreverent and comedic, although there have also been some stunning vocal talents. A while back I posted about our Sound of Music girls' night in...well, we decided to mutate our love for the musical into a Globalvision entry, the result of which was a medley of all the favorites interspersed with some yodeling, Jeremih, and Black Eyed Peas...good times.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Zabranjeni" for a Reason

Thursday night was the eve of our final Internal Assessment deadlines, and I spent it in Sarajevo on the set of a Bosnian talk show called Zabranjeni (Forbidden) Forum. I can't say it's similar to Oprah or Jerry Springer or any of the others I'm familiar with. The premise is noble enough: to provide experts and the public a forum through which to discuss pressing but taboo subjects in modern society, but I'd have to say it falls short of its aim. Our question was: Are women the only victims of domestic violence, or to men perpetuate it against women as well? An interesting question, but the memories I'm left with are mostly of an egotistic talk show host, an aching back on the bleachers, Simone in the row ahead leaning against my knees and making it that much harder to sit up straight, the guest who insisted all women have a genetic and identical desire to get married as soon as possible and torture their husbands, and a caller who lamented that his life has been hell since his wife hit him in the forehead with a hammer eight years ago and who now claims he is afraid to take a shower or walk in the dark because she will turn out the lights so soap runs into his eyes or will come up behind him and try to kill him...seriously?!

Talking is always a good first step, but as any UWC student can tell you, it's just a pain in the brain unless someone with real knowledge and capability steps up and suggests a reasonable plan of action. When BiH society is ready to really address these taboo topics to raise awareness and find a solution, I'll rejoice. This time, I had to agree with our university counselor in saying that the only thoughts my mind when we left this forum were, "Oi vei, what a waste of an evening," and "I don't even care...just get me OUT!"

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Abu Dhabi in Pictures


The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is one of the most impressive structures I've ever seen and hands down the most stunningly beautiful. These pictures don't do it's size justice. To give you a frame of reference, the prayer room underneath the two largest domes in the first picture will easily hold 10,000 people. The mosque was just recently completed with materials imported from around the world, and it contains the world's largest crystal chandelier and rug, seen above. For those who are wondering, no, it is not required to wear the abaya and head covering everywhere in the UAE, but it is done out of respect when visiting mosques.
A model of Saadiyat Island, located off the coast of Abu Dhabi, on which architectural tributes to the Louvre, and the Guggenheim will be located along with the campus of NYUAD and other cultural attractions.
Evidence of the incredible expansion in the UAE...hopefully at a more sustainable level in Abu Dhabi than in Dubai! On the right is a view of the world's tallest building from Dubai airport. It's even more impressive up close, but since I saw it in the wee hours of the morning the first time, this is as close as I could get with the camera! To the left is a view of construction seen from the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi...we were told construction continues 24-hours a day, but only at night in the hottest months of summer.
And here is the Emirates Palace "hotel" itself, surely one of the most expensive venues in the world. Again, these pictures hardly do it justice, but suffice it to say that the Ferrari's and Lamborghini in its valet parking and the number of dignitaries who have stayed here are probably a good indicator of its opulence. As for the interior, they say everything that looks like gold is. We had a multiple-course dinner in their outdoor gardens on our last night, complete with the sound of the ocean, dancers, and view of the gazebos and fountains which kept me just waiting for a princess Jasmine to appear. It was an unforgettable experience but a bit surreal for this Midwesterner!
Despite the plentiful opulence, Abu Dhabi seems to be a lively and comfortingly less than immaculate city. It's a hub connecting North, South, East, and West in many ways, and an ideal place to make connections...like the one my coyear from UWC in Hong Kong and I made here.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

It's a SMALL World After All

Since becoming a member of the UWC community the world has gotten progressively smaller and I'm getting used to finding random connections between people on opposite sides of the globe. It was pointed out to me by my English professor last year that Americans tend to introduce each other by looking for connections among themselves. (ie - "Where are you from? Tuskeegee? Oh, I have an aunt that lives there!") This weekend, however, is becoming almost unrealistically exceptional...besides the airport and airplane connections mentioned in the previous entry, check out these other inescapable bonds pulling my world together:

-My coyear at Li Po Chun UWC in Hong Kong is here...we haven't seen each other since our interview in Chicago. The NYU people already know us because of the other UWCers who have attended previous selection weekends here in Abu Dhabi.
-There are 2 other UWCers here, and the hosts already know us from others who visited previous candidate weekends.
-The guy I'm sitting next to as I type this is from Plano, Texas, PESH, in fact...which means that 1) we know some of the same people (Margo that's you!) and 2)if I hadn't moved, we would have gone to school together.
-One of the local students from Abu Dhabi met some of the people from UWC Adriatic when they did their project week there.
-Not only are architectural tributes to the Louvre and the Guggenheim being constructed on Saadiyat Island along with the school's new campus, the Cleveland Clinic is also coming to Abu Dhabi!
-In Istanbul, I had a random UWC encounter when I ran into my biology teacher at the airport!
I'm pretty sure there were others I've forgotten to mention but the point is clear...that annoying and never-ending Disney song is coming true!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

UAE Part 1

So I just have to start by saying...this is, hands down the SINGLE coolest thing I have EVER done in my life!
Life is a series of moments, and in the last two days, these have been some of my moments:

- Having coffee in Sarajevo airport with a German woman who works with the youth theatre in Mostar.
-Drinking Mango Pomegranate Ice Tea from Starbuck's in Istanbul airport while reading Two Lives and waiting for my flight
-On the Istanbul-Dubai flight, sitting next to a guy from Kumanova, Macedonia on his way to Iraq. My friend Iva is from here and her dad works for the same company...and although it's a small town, I've been there! Most of the American responses he gets in Iraq are similar to, "Yeah, man...Madagascar! I know where that is!" so I hope I brought the score up for Americans and their geography.
-Being given VIP airport service at 2:30 in the morning...and getting some stares from people who looked like they were wondering why a girl in jeans and a sweatshirt gets a personal escort.
-Staying up the rest of the night with a Russian, a Chinese, and another American, getting my first views of the desert, a palace, and the tallest building in the world by night!
-Going to bed at sunrise after being brought room service I didn't even ask for...I literally did the throwing myself on the bed and jumping in excitement thing...it's just so freakin' cool! (pics to come)
-Coldstone ice cream on the beach while listening to the Latin Americans talk about what they were doing during the earthquakes
-Visiting the Emirates Palace after our escort made a call to get us inside the gates....by the way, this hotel is one of the most expensive in the world, and definitely one of the most impressive buildings I've ever seen and the fanciest I've ever visited (they style themselves a 7 star hotel)...pictures to come soon! There is also a small museum about Sadiyaat Island, where NYUAD's new campus will be located along with updated replicas of the Louvre and the Guggenheim.
-Swimming at the hotel beach and the world's longest gang of UNO while listening to karaoke so bad the songs were nearly unrecognizable
-BBQ chicken, sushi, hummus, and chocolate mousse all in the same meal...and all delicious
-TOO MANY introductions...like intro week as a firstie at UWC again. :)
....and SO much anticipation of tomorrow.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Going for First at FIRST

The last week has been a drag...there's no other way to say it. On Monday I was so confused I thought it was Tuesday, tried to go to lunch early, forgot to attend meetings I had been inviting people to all day, and ended up throwing in the towel and going to bed early. Somehow I made it, and now it's Project Week so everyone's in good spirits. The idea is that we travel around the region a bit with the aim of getting to know our "home" a little better and maybe doing some volunteer work to invest in it. The award for furthest travel goes to our Robotics Team, started by my first year Ingrid, who are now in Israel at a FIRST robotics competition.

I'm so incredibly proud of what she has accomplished...when I first heard the idea of making a working, competition robot I admit I was skeptical. Working with people of different nationalities we are familiar with, but add in the inexperience factor, local mentors and students with varied schedules and levels of English, devilish time restraints, and limited materials...well, let's just say, it would be hard to overestimate the significance of what they've accomplished!!! The team has made the news multiple times, and aside from building a wicked robot, they've nearly flawlessly accomplished the integration which is supposed to be our school's main aim.

Spirit of the United Neretva, have fun in the sun. And good luck today!!!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Born in the USA

This week is the Northern/Western/Southern Europe and North American/Caribbean cultural week. Yeah. The feast kicked off with some awesome sloppy joes, brownies, mac & cheese, and pasta salad contributed by the Americans, Dutch pancakes, Danish rice, and other treats, but they were rivaled by some very interesting country presentations. It's a pretty diverse group of countries being represented here, but one thing we all have in common is our "westernized" heritage and an abundance of stereotypes. So, we capitalized on these for some funny "man-in-the-hallway" interviews, the American segment of which is seen here.
Our response was a montage of American icons (Starbucks, Ronald McDonald, Obama...you know the type) ending with a declaration that although every country has it's contradictions, we are proud to be a country that allows people to be whoever they want to be...like these lovely people.












Gauge the sarcasm as you wish.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Welcome to the Pruture

Upon reflection, I realize that the statement that UWCers don't consider our schools to be a part of the countries they're located in is not entirely true here. One of our main aims is show that integration into the community of Mostar is possible, not in the sense that we try to tell anyone how to live or think we can solve all their problems, but in the sense that we take a genuine interest in building relationships and making this place our home. I'm sorry to say I personally have failed on many levels in that respect, partly due to the the fact that the internal struggles of UWC life are so intense that we get comfortably stuck in our bubble and forget the importance of letting it pop. Now that the future of the school is a little more solid than a question mark, we're looking both back and ahead to define whether we really do have a purpose here, what that is, and what carrying it out will look like in our daily lives. It's a complicated issue, believe me, and is leading to discussions ranging from whether international students should be obligated to learn local to whether our CAS (extracurriculers) are really approached in a way that will have a positive impact, from whether we as students need more pastoral support to whether we have a responsibility to focus on studying now so we can "give back" in the future, or to try to contribute something to Mostar and UWCiM now and to go back to our home countries later...and do we even deserve the scholarships we've been given?

This week is dedicated especially to bringing up these issues with the intention of making a unified mission statement but more importantly of recognizing what we can improve on and putting those realizations into action! This involves looking at the past, present, and future... we dub it the pruture. For us 2nd years, this is a metaphorical passing of the torch onto the firsties. We spend most of last spring fighting for the school to continue, and although it was an exhausting struggle, it drew us together and helped us grow up. Since they don't have to fight that fight, the first years are generally full of energy, optimism, and a will to initiate projects and represent the school with growing commitment integrity. To start off the week, we made this video to illustrate the fact that we have several viewpoints even among ourselves...and definitely areas for thought and improvement.

(I'm afraid the Internet connection's not sufficient for both uploading videos and doing research for lab reports, so...check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tFX-g6gs_8

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Shout out to my sista'

Today was sunny (nice for a meeting on the stage in Spanish Square), productive (no more Geography Internal Assessment), filled with the sounds and aromas of a Balkan cultural feast, and topped off with entertainment provided by my sister. The Austrians had never seen the sound of music, and we figured they're obligated. So the obvious thing to do was...make a girls' night out of it! Thanks for giving up your DVD Rebecca...just be glad you didn't have to hear us sing along.

Friday, March 5, 2010

You Know You Went to a UWC When...

This Facebook group gave us a good number of smiles this weekend, and reminded me how much of a bubble I do live in. Here's a sampling of the points that I've personally seen in action. I'll leave it to you to decide whether UWCers cross the line from college camaraderie to sect-like status...

1. You have seen Zeitgeist, Life and Debt, Who Killed The Electric Car, An Inconvenient Truth, or most likely all of them.
2. You have to bite your tongue to keep from introducing yourself like you did at UWC: "Hi, I'm [name] from [country]".
3. You can speak multiple languages yet your English gets "worser and worser each day".
4. Normal people DON'T get your jokes.
5. You hate to admit it but you miss mass e-mails.
6. Even if you were the slacker at UWC you study the most out of all of your other friends.
7. It surprises you how much younger the zero years get EVERY year.
8. You have to explain the difference between co-years and co-years, and first, second, and zero years to non-UWCers who always struggle to grasp the concept.
9. You know geography from travel itineraries, not a classroom.
10. You'd never get stranded in a foreign country, you'd just show up at your friend's house.
11. Dorm rooms seem huge now.
12. Anytime someone tells you where they're from you know more about it than they expect you to.
13. Foreign songs you used to hate because people played them all the time at UWC are now in regular rotation on your iTunes.
14. Your Newsfeed on Facebook is populated with articles from BBC, CNN, one random one from Al-Jazeera, and declarations of Skype appointments that will invariably not be met.
15. Shelby Davis paid for all or part of your education.
16. You see people who look exactly like your coyears/friends everywhere and go crazy for a moment before you realize there's no way that's them.
17. You procrastinate like someone is paying you to do it.
18. Anytime you meet another Udubber you automatically know some of the same people. Coincidentally you share an understanding of how crazy those people are.
19. You know that not everyone from Afghanistan is a terrorist but completely understand why someone might think that.
20. You know that Africans make some of the best DJ's.
21. You fast for Ramadan but you're not a Muslim.
22. There's a country that you hate now because of that one person from there.
23. You don't really know how to explain UWC to normal people.
24. You have mini-reunions every time you have a break from school.
25. You wear that dingy UWC Hoodie and/or T-Shirt with pride and anytime someone is going back to your UWC you send them with money to get you more UWC clothing.
26. You don't consider your UWC to be part of the country it's actually in.
27. You forget that the real world has time zones except when you need to call home. All of your UWC friends will definitely be awake when you call them.
28. You wonder why you can't get sick days in college.
29. You still expect there to be that massive plague of sickness at the beginning of every semester like there used to be in UWC.
30. You know that snoring sounds different in every language, as do cows.
31. You remember when one of your coyears/friends spoke absolutely no English at all but still tried to tell jokes...and you laughed.
32. "You respect your second years, you worship your Third Years."
33. You start making politically correct remarks not to be correct but to avoid even longer and more disagreeable meetings.
And last but not least...
34. You have an opinion about American people that somehow hasn't changed regardless of the fact that none of the Americans are anything alike.

Monday, March 1, 2010

PostSecret Therapy

Last fall, I applied to read English at Oxford on the off-chance it might lead to reading literature in the same hallowed halls as greats like Lewis and Tolkein. I made it as far as having an interview with Balliol College, which I consider in itself a great achievment! But I'm not gonna lie...some part of my pride was slightly hurt at being rejected. I mean, who wouldn't want the selfish pleasure of saying they turned Oxford down. The fact is, if I'd gotten an offer I would have wanted to accept it even though it's financially unfeasible and I'm pretty sure pedantic English literature expert is not the life path I want to pursue. Today I was browsing PostSecret. For those not familiar, PostSecret is a collection of people's secrets sent anonymously in the form of creative postcards and published in books, on their website, and even through a Facebook feed. I saw this postcard on their blog...it made everything better.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Yes Day

After watching Jim Carrey in Yes Man a few weeks back, Hilary and I decided to introduced to introduce some more spontaneity into our lives by having our own unannounced "yes days" from time to time. For those unfamiliar with the film, this basically involves saying yes to any opportunity that arises...no exceptions! I woke up this morning in an unusually good mood and decided this would be my first one. As I was picking out clothes for church, Hilary came in and turned my yes day into this...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Senior Pictures

Since neither Hilary nor I got to participate in this tradition during high school in the US, we decided to take advantage of Mostar's beauty and have our own photo shoot! Some of the results are seen below... It was a day of dress-up overall, since it's also the Jewish holiday Purim. Observers are invited to "drink until they don't know themselves," also symbolized by the wearing of costumes. For our college, it was Halloween all over again.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Crossing the Map Again!

As our English professor Jonathan Boulting said, Spring has betrayed us. But even the rain can't dampen my spirits because early this morning, I found out that my project week will involve traveling to Abu Dhabi in March!!! I applied to the new campus of New York University there nearly on a whim, but a limerick, several essays, and a research proposal later, I've been invited to attend an all-expense paid candidate weekend before the final selection. My head is still spinning, and just the adrenaline of this has been enough to get me through the day. Looks like I'll be adding country #21 and continent #4 to the list even earlier than expected...now I wonder whether I'll have to cover my tattoo?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Sun

...it came out again today, a nice way to wake up on the day of my final oral exam! It put everyone in a sort of ecstasy, and I just wanted to start chanting, "the sun, the sun..." like at the end of Ibsen's play. And just in case I was getting too platonic, some of us had a heated argument over the Israeli food Niv made us. Yikes...the result of combining people who don't like to be wrong can be spectacular...but much more interesting than doing my Geography Internal Assessment. :)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Old Wives Survive

Mostar has had just one sunny day in my recent memory, and since my fifth umbrella was snatched the rain has become increasingly oppressive. Now, I really shouldn't complain since I live about 5 minutes from school, but when a middle-aged woman began yelling in local on my way home from an English exam earlier this week, I was reminded that exposing oneself to the elements has its consequences in this culture.

For one thing, I don't own the high boots and stylish long coat which are an essential part of any Mostar girl's wardrobe, so I've already got one strike against me. Secondly, walking without an umbrella is associated with deadly wet-hair syndrome which inspires so much fear here in BiH. For those not familiar with Bosnian culture, let me explain. It is taken to be absolute fact even by the most intellectual of people that going outside with wet hair can lead to paralysis of the face and even death. Apparently, being exposed to warm water opens up the pores on your head, allowing cold air and wind to wreak havoc on your body. Now I understand that heat is lost through the head and feet, which is why I wear warm socks and hats in the winter. But I don't understand what medical facts support my housemum screaming at me in terror when I go to the canteen without slippers, the canteen ladies making us promise never to come to breakfast with wet hair again, or the most hopelessly rationale of my friends stand up for the lady on the street. My apologies to Bosnian friends who take offense, but I'm not convinced your doctor was correct when he told you the static from underwire bras causes breast cancer, and I'm not too tempted to add massive amounts of meat, salt, and oil to my diet even though you insist it's the healthiest diet and I have seen some impressive longevity within the culture.

My Dutch rommate tells me that I myself am a bit remiss in thinking that being out in the rain is likely to lead to a cold. Apparently, it's common practice in the Netherlands to send children out in the rain to make them stronger and healthier! And I must say, she gets the award for most wet hair and fewest sick days out of anyone I know.

I wanted to end this post by saying that when it comes to these wives' tales turned fact we'll have to agree to disagree, but since Isa and I are both home sick today...you'll have to draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Life of an Extended Essay

Several months ago, Hilary and I realized that the dreaded IB research paper, while not actually the most daunting of tasks, is such a prolonged and talked up process that its hold on us can actually be equated to that of a human life. I submitted my final draft last week, prompting the following funny but incredibly creepy analogy:

Our EEs were conceived last April after numerous presentations outlining the nature of our impending parenthood. Their genders were soon determined with the selection of subjects, and names were tossed about during the spring and summer in the form of topics and titles. We dealt with all the expected stages of morning sickness, nesting, and pure curiosity and intellectual anticipation, and by November the things had been born as first drafts. The were brought up over the course of the fall and winter in a community of editors, peers, and other supervisors. They spent the holidays with our families, pused the limits of our sanity, and caused many ethical dilemmas and sleepless nights. At times, they were more of a nuisance than a source of fulfillment or pride. And yet. By January, the end was insight. Although never perfect, the things could finally stand on their own, and there were thoughts of empty nests on our minds. Finally, on a rainy Wednesday, MY Session May 2010 English A1 Extended Essay was married to an examiner in a ceremony officiated by my headmaster, Paul Regan. I expect there to be a family reunion sometime in July during which I'll see the results of my fastidious parenting, but for the most part, it's good riddance.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Possibly Impossible Resolution

We had one day of sunshine yesterday, and it reminded Hilary and I that spring, and summer, and well...the rest of our lives, are fast approaching. To make sure we stay in touch, we made a pact that we're gonna keep tabs on each other next year and force each other to blog regularly. And then we figured, why not start now? So, Fates, bring on the blog-able experiences. Anyone who's still reading, you can expect at least one sentence every day. It may not make sense, and it may not be much, but it'll be there!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Life is Like a Box of Chocolates

...you never know what you're gonna get. I had a cup of tea with my English teacher the other day and told her that after living in the Balkans for two years, I may never be surprised again in my life, by anything! What I should have told her is that I've firmly come to believe the saying "never say never," because I had to eat my words less than an hour later.

Isabelle and I got home early and were sitting in a quiet house doing homework in our rooms. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door, and a Roma woman walked in asking us in local whether we wanted to buy some pajamas. Now, while this wouldn't have surprised me a bit on the street, we live on the top floor in the farthest corner of the house, so our room is about the least likely place for such an event to transpire! A little bewildered, we replied that no, thanks, we didn't need any pajamas, and the woman shrugged her shoulders and left Isa and I to stare at each other in stunned silence. We thought our encounter was over but a few minutes later, the woman was back speaking in German and then insisting, "Come here!" in local. We heard Hilary talking down the hall and then a couple of our Bosnian classmates explaining to the woman that this is a residence not a hostel and we don't all understand local language. Hilary had the biggest shock of anyone...she came home from school, walked into her room, and saw the Roma woman standing there tapping the shoulder of a friend who was taking a nap!

The woman soon left and no harm was done, but it is a bit of a mystery. All three of us had to open the front door with our keys when we came in, so how the woman entered in the first place is anyone's guess. It's an interesting story to tell...a reminder that the Balkans can seem like a land of anything goes, and good training in shock management for our first years.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mostar Moves

A decidedly not-so-positive impact of lots of RAIN! The river turned an uncharacteristic brown and caused damaging flooding on either side of Mostar...at one point it was just below the terrace you see on the right.

As I look for excuses to avoid my ever-present mound of schoolwork, I've spent more time than usual this week catching up on world news and reacquainting myself with Mostar. For a town which constantly bears the brunt of criticism for its bureaucratic fiascoes and slow reconstruction efforts, some things in Mostar sure change fast. In just over 3 weeks time, it managed to see the flooding of the Neretva, the stripping of the Old Bank by scrap-metal seekers, the introduction of a new cafe, restaurant, supermarket complete with Mexican and Italian food imports, shopping center, and possibly other signs of modernization and westernization that I'm unaware of. Now whether such commercial changes have a positive impact is another question. With political frustrations also building and economic and ethnic issues always present, I hope that the next few weeks see changes more in the vein of a new mayor or less corruption. I'm encouraged and confident that some progress is being made...our dance instructor Ashely Fargnoli succeeded for the first time in conducting a joint workshop with Bosniak and Croat girls from Mostar and Sarajevo...that's a bigger deal than you might think! Even some of the ever-present ruins down the street are slowly being cleared out or rebuilt. For better and sometimes for worse, Mostar is moving...I hope and pray it's at least mostly in the right direction.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Europe

And here's a map just in case anyone wants to get a general picture of the route of this winter Eurotrip. :)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Prague

Early Christian temple in the oldest part of Prague.
Cafe by the river where the famous artists and writers are known to hang out.
Examples of Prague architecture...there are so many styles EVERYWHERE!

Guards to the castle complex on top of a hill above Prague. This is where the infamous president works, and it's also where Obama made his recent visit. These guards have to stand completely still while they're on duty no matter what the tourists do around them...I couldn't bring myself to taunt them with a ridiculous pose (although it was really tempting), but I did snap a quick pic while someone else was there.
Tribute to author Franz Kafka, in his former neighborhood.


Call me easily amused, but one of my favorite sites in Prague was the clocktower in the main square. It features a 24 hour clock, an astrological clock, and is actually so elaborate that it's hard to get a reading from it! The best part is, it's mechanized so that every hour the figures carved into the sides of the tower start to move!!! The skeleton rings a bell and other figures shake their heads as the images of various saints move past the opened windows...the whole thing is a bit macabre, really, but enchanting! (And I promise, it's a bit more impressive in person!)
The picture's not great, but it's worth visiting the National Museum just for the beauty of the interior!
Admission is free on Mondays, so we took a while to wander around and make some new friends.
Interior views of St. Vitus Cathedral, which was under construction from 1344 to 1929...almost 600 years! It's located inside the castle compound, it's completed mostly in the Gothic style, and it's one of the most beautiful churches I've ever seen.


A sad indicator of commercial influence...those red panels feature the names of the insurance company that funded the window.
Cathedral from another angle
Front facade of the cathedral
City in the morning, from the hill by the castle!

To bring in 2010, I made a longer stop with my friend Karolina in Prague. Actually, several of us from Mostar met up to celebrate the New Year (also my birthday and Czech Independence Day) with toasting, fireworks, and of course lots of food...pretty unforgetable, but cold! Then, I stayed around for a few days and had a relaxing time seeing the city with Karolina and even escaping the cold at an indoor water park! By then, I was getting exhausted by the European city speed-tour routine, so it was great to chill with a family (and spend my first afternoon in a tearoom!) in a large and peaceful city.