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Arrival By Christine Parcells

I arrived in Berlin on a dreary Saturday night. I was less than thrilled to see it pouring down rain as I stepped off the plane, although thankfully, it stopped by the time I got outside.  It was very easy to get myself to the homestay in West Berlin that I had arranged through the German classes I would be taking. Graciously, the host provided me with a spread of food to choose from immediately, as all stores were closed. That first night, and the following, I think I must have slept 12 hours each as jet lag took its toll. 

I had two days to wander around Berlin before my German classes started. I don’t think I have been that silent in quite some time, but it was nice to take everything in and decompress before getting started on my project and class. I revisited some of the sites I had seen in a previous trips to Berlin. This time, I was able to see them in sunshine.  I had visited Berlin in April two years earlier and it was very cold and cloudy. Unfortunately, the warm weather has not lasted in Berlin and we have had one cold day after the next this past week, with scattered rain throughout. Cold weather is not the most conducive for wandering around and getting a feel for the city, but I had preparation to do before my first interviews that kept me inside part of the time anyways. 

By Wednesday, I had my first interview with a representative with the DAAD (German Exchange Service) at a striking square in the heart of Berlin. In this interview I learned the foundational aspects of German education and the prime motivations for this integral organization of Germany’s international education system. Thankfully, he provided me with several documents filled with facts and figures of German and international student mobility within Germany. 

Thursday followed with an interview at Free University with an assistant dean for international exchanges. As if it dropped out of the sky, Mr. Schepker provided me with a document that answered exactly some of the questions I had been planning to ask! It is a brand new report from the DAAD; the one drawback—it was in German and my German skills are far from being competent enough for understanding such a document. Thanks to the internet, there are various language tools at my disposal for translating the statistics and survey results. 

Next week: an interview at an Art university and a resident director of an American study abroad program with some more sightseeing and writing in between. 


Oxford 6/2/2009 by Patrick G. Wilz

MY FIRST MOMENTS ABROAD were enjoyed nearly a week ago—I endeavored to experience London before I began my research and am now thankful I'd done so—but this will be my initial response to Oxford, my home for the next several weeks. 

I hope it won't be too odd when I say that it has met every one of my expectations and—here's the curious part—it is almost exactly as I had envisioned. Looming spires are themselves an anachronism to the Starbucks and clothing shops which share streets and sometimes walls, but the craggy and weathered facades of the various colleges and cramped alleyways serve as a more potent advertisement of the city's age. Oxford and its inhabitants are both charming and inviting its cosmopolitan patronage.

Of course, I’m not the only foreigner here. Oxford pulses with skittish travelers and tourists snapping photos and pointing awkwardly at maps. The University must anticipate these visitors because in front of nearly every door there are signs that read, “NO VISITORS ALLOWED,” and ask that all cameras are returned to their cases. This restraint has made it difficult to manage access to archives and libraries here, but a bit of explaining has, so far, ameliorated all previous misconceptions of my intentions. 

It is, after all, finals week here and I don’t blame them for their heightened attention to regulation. I think it might have been George Bernard Shaw who first said that England and the United States are two nations separated by a common language, but I'm sure Oscar Wilde later repeated the same sentiment. Regardless, the point carries. Idiosyncrasies that are easily recognized in the States can be jolting when they aren't understood abroad. You'll never have a 'to go' order in the UK, but you'll certainly be offered a 'take away,' which is a good idea because they'll charge pence if you 'sit in.' These lessons have been painless, but unexpected. 

After two weeks here, I will enjoy the respite in Belgium with my fellow EU mates. A tour of Brussels and the European Union are sure to be a welcome change of pace from my daily research in Oxford. Until then . . . 

Best, Patrick G. Wilz