Monday, December 3, 2007

December 1-3

On Sunday I went to a marché de Noël (Christmas Market) in a town called Montreux. It's only about 20 minutes away by train. I was reading on the train on my way there, so I wasn't paying close enough attention to the announcements. I ended up getting off at at Vevey, the town between Lausanne and Montreux. So, I walked around there for about 30 minutes for the next train to come. The view of the mountains was beautiful from where I was at though, so I wasn't too annoyed.

I met my French conversation partner in Montreux. We walked around with some of her friends for a while, then they left and I stayed longer. I found one Christmas present that I needed to get. I was there more for the ambiance than the shopping though. There were so many neat things to see and buy and eat. They were selling a lot of hot wine, chestnuts, waffles, and cheese. The market consisted of rows of little chalets lined up along the lake. The vendors were mostly selling crafty things and decorations. There were a lot of ornaments and decorations made from wood, ceramics, and glass, as well as several stands selling soaps and candles. For some reason there was an "Ice Age 2" theme, so there were a bunch of statues made from evergreen branches in the form of the characters from the movie. It was pretty cool. There was also an American Indian band from Ecuador. It was really neat music. I considered buying their CD, but it was a little too expensive.
I went back to Montreux on Monday, but for a very different reason. One of my Materials Science classes took an Industry trip. We visited a small company called "Decision." They use composite materials to design boats. The company dynamic was very different from what I experienced at DuPont. This was also the first time I've traveled outside of Lausanne without taking the train. We took a huge double-decker charter bus. I'm not really sure why we took such an enormous vehicle though, because we only had about 24 people. It seemed a bit excessive, but I'm not the one calling the shots. Better too big than too small I guess.

November 26-30

I spent a good part of this week working on traveling plans for the Christmas break. I was also on the phone several times about my visa. I did all the paperwork before leaving, but I didn't get the mark in my passport. I naively didn't realize that you needed this BEFORE you entered the country. Luckily, with a US passport, I can stay here for 3 months without a visa. Sadly though, my 3 months is up in about a week and a half. So after talking with the consulate general in Chicago, I thought I was going to have to make a quick trip to Lyon, France (3 or 4 hours away by train, but the closest consulate of Switzerland) to get the stamp in my passport. Everything worked out though, so I don't have to go. I have my residence permit now too, so it's all good, I'm not going to be deported or anything. That's a relief. Actually, with a US or European passport, you can pretty much go anywhere in Europe with no problem. If your passport is from Asia or Africa though, it's a bit more difficult. I really am lucky, because I've realized what a pain visa's can be after talking to some of my friends from Beijing. They have to get a visa for any country they want to visit and I can pretty much roam around free with no question. It doesn't quite seem fair, but I don't really know the politics behind all of that.
I got to play with babies this week! Actually it was a 3-year-old boy and a 16-month-old girl, so they weren't really babies. It was fun to be around kids though. I was having tea and cookies with their mother at their home one evening. The little girl is working on walking right now. She's not quite there yet, but she's close. She held my hands and walked with me. Her mom was kind of surprised, because I guess the little girl doesn't really like anyone except her family. That made me feel pretty good. For some reason, dogs and babies have a tendency to like me, but I'm not as popular with the kids once they start talking. When my sister and I used to babysit together, she'd always take the older kids and I'd always take the babies. Little boys really like her. I think it's because she is more active and I am kind of quiet.
I've also been watching more TV then I like to admit. It's really only on the weekends though. I've been watching some Internet episodes. This weekend I started watching "Ugly Betty." Not a bad show, but it reminds me a lot of "The Devil Wears Prada." It's basically the same root story. Betty's personality reminds me of one of my friends.

November 18-25

This week was the first time since coming that I've REALLY felt homesick. There were times before when I was missing certain things, but I never really wished I was home. This week was different. Had I still been residing in the US, it would have been the first time of the semester when I would have gone home. All of my friends back at ISU were on Fall break and spending the whole week with their families. It was my first Thanksgiving away from family, I that made me kind of sad.

Even though I was away from my family, I was not without Thanksgiving. In fact I may have had more Thanksgiving than I would have if I had still been in the States. I took part in two dinners, and was invited to another that I was unable to attend. Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) I had a Thanksgiving dinner with a group of international students that I meet with. As one of two Americans I had the opportunity to explain the history and some of the traditions of Thanksgiving. I also offered to bake pumpkin pie for the dinner. I made it from a slice of real pumpkin that I bought at the market. The baking and the dinner were both a lot of fun. It was a neat experience to be able to explain the significance of Thanksgiving. I don't think that's something I've ever had to do before. It really made me think about the holiday more, and the importance of "giving thanks."
Since there is no Thanksgiving holiday in Switzerland, there is also no "Black Friday." I can't say that I missed that. It's definitely not one of my favorite days of the year, both in principle and because I don't like shopping in crowds. Instead of waiting in long lines for a sale at 5:30 in the morning, I instead spent my afternoon in Geneva touring the DuPont facilities there. The tour was for any female students at EPFL and was hosted by the Equal Opportunity Office. I didn't realize it was an all female tour until I met with the group and noticed the demographics. It was interesting to experience the professional life of Switzerland, since mostly I've just been experiencing the academic and religious sides of the culture. The two most notable facts from the tour: DuPont is VERY dedicated to safety (they have a company wide rule about holding the handrail when taking the stairs) and the Swiss take salary confidentiality very seriously.
Most of Saturday was spent baking apple pies with a classmate for Sunday. It was my first opportunity to teach someone to make pie. Since coming to Switzerland, I have made 7 pies. It seems than once someone finds out you come from the US, there is a preconceived notion that you are have the innate talent of making apple pies, thus, when I am invited to dinners, I am often asked to make apple pie. Sunday I had another Thanksgiving dinner. I, along with 5 other exchange students from the US, hosted this dinner for some of our Non-American friends. There ended up being about 20 people in attendance along with a bounty of food. It was fantastic. Along with apple pie, I also made green beans with French-fried onions (but not in casserole form) and stuffing.

Sunday morning, before the dinner, I attended a new church. It was an international church, meaning it was in English. Each canton in Switzerland supports a protestant and a catholic church. Since these denominations are state-supported the pastors/priests are essentially government employees, and there jobs are pretty secure. The congregations are becoming rather old, and the churches don't seem to be reaching out well to younger generations. I think this is a serious problem, and I think it emphasizes one of the important reasons for separation of church and state. The church I attended is not a state-supported church. It is non-denominational, and is a satellite congregation of a church that is located a couple of towns away. The congregation started meeting in Lausanne a year or two ago. They don't have there own building yet, so they rotate between 3 rented spaces for the Sunday morning services. This was really my first experience of being part of a church that was not associated with a church building. Before, in my vocabulary, I've always used "church" for the building and not the congregation. It was an interesting new perspective. I really enjoyed the atmosphere and I found the message thought-provoking. It seemed like a place where I could build community. The only drawback is that it's quite far. It took me over an hour to get there. I don't want that to be my deciding factor, but it is something that has to be considered.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

November 17

Today was a fantastic day. It counteracted all of the Monday mishaps. This morning, I met a friend downtown to go shopping. Every Wednesday and Saturday morning there is an open market. I had only ever seen the produce stands before, so I was under the impression that they were the extent of the market, but I was wrong. There was a whole open area for the meat, cheese, bread, and antique stands. It was fun to walk around these while waiting for Elizabeth. I saw lots of interesting things. I bought a slice of pumpkin to use for my pie.
The first place we went after the market was Salvation Army. Yes, that is right, there is a Salvation Army here. It was interesting and was full of really cool things. Some of the things probably wouldn't be seen in US Salvation Armies, but since Switzerland is a very ecological country, everything is reduced, reused, and recycled. For example, half-bottles of soaps and detergents; very practical, but likely not seen in the States. There were also quite a number of jelly-type jars on the shelves. Another surprising find was some Chemistry lab glassware that I pointed out to Elizabeth. She kindly informed me that it was actually a bong. Interesting.
During our shopping adventures, I found a really beautiful scarf for a really good price. Elizabeth also found a great long green wool coat at a second-hand store for only 10 Francs!
With the excitement of both of our good deals, as well as the beautiful sunny weather and general joyful bustle of the market, we were both in really good spirits. We bought lunch from a bakery vendor and then returned to my house to have hot cocoa and watch a movie. We also roasted chestnuts. This was a first for both of us. I bought them last weekend, but I just hadn't gotten around to using them yet. Some of them had gone bad, which was unfortunate, but the ones that were salvageable were quite fantastic. All in all, it was just a really nice, relaxing, fun day.

November 13-16

On Tuesday nights I go to a bible study in French. It is called "Groupe des Disciples," and we are studying the New Testament, specifically Jesus' teachings to the disciples. This past Tuesday night's discussion on forgiveness was really good. Maybe it's because my French is improving and I'm understanding more. That is probably partially true, but I think also that I just had a lot to think about in regards to how it related to my own life. So forgiveness has been on my mind quite a bit this week. Forgiveness is very simple and very complex at the same time. It is something that I need to practice more in my own life.
Wednesday, I put my nose to the grindstone and caught up on a bunch of studying. It was beneficial and necessary, but not too exciting. This past week felt more like a normal week as a student, much more like ISU. Some of the novelty of being here is starting to wear off. Not that I don't like it, I'm just starting to feel more settled in and less like I'm on vacation.
Thursday I had a Thermodynamics test. The first test for this class didn't go so hot, but then again, that was only my fourth week of classes in a foreign language. I think this test definitely went much better. These tests actually don't count though, only the final exam. Thursday evening I met with some classmates for a crepes party because two of the guys in the group had birthdays last week. It was a lot of fun. We had crepes with ham and cheese, strawberry or blackberry jam, Nutella, or just plain sugar. We also played some Foosball (baby-foot). It was fun to see some different student housing arrangements, as well as interact with some of these people more. One of the girls in my class and I have begun to become pretty good friends, and it was good to talk to her about some of the difficulties of long distance relationships. This is something that she has experienced as well.
Friday morning, I met a woman for tea at her home. She is in charge of one of the international student groups that I'm in. The group is having a Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, and as one of two students in the group from the US, I offered to make a pumpkin pie. I'm really excited about this, because I'm going to make it from real pumpkin! Anyway, I went to this Karin's house to borrow some pumpkin pie spice from her. It was really nice to visit her home to drink tea and chat. She has two small children, and it was really nice to be around them. I think it is the first time I've really interacted with kids since leaving Nebraska. Karin is from Northern Switzerland and therefore speaks Swiss-German, English, and then French. Her husband is from the US and speaks English and German. Karin's a pediatrician and she said that the latest research says that it's better to speak to children in just one language at a very young age, so the kids speak Swiss-German. I wasn't really sure what to say to the kids, since I don't speak the same language as they do, but at the ages of 3 years and 16 months, they don't do a whole lot of talking themselves.

November 11-12

I want to learn Indian cooking. I've already begun to experiment with curry, but I want to expand my knowledge. I'd been thinking about this past week and then on Sunday evening (November 11) a friend of mine from India invited me to dinner. It was fantastic. I want to explore this more. I also met with a few people in the evening to work on planning a Thanksgiving dinner. I'm in charge of green beans and apple pie. I'll also be teaching one of the other people in the group how to make apple pie. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to buy the crust or try to make it. Buying it is less fun, but I don't have a pastry blender, rolling pin, or Crisco, so a pre-made crust might be a bit more practical.
Monday was truly a day of mishaps. It started out while I was preparing my lunch in the morning. I was slicing some cheese and the wire of the cheese slicer snapped. I'm pretty sure that it was not my fault. It was just old and I just happened to be the unlucky one using it when it broke. I bought a new one to replace it though. Then later, while walking downtown, a pigeon flew right up in my face out of nowhere. It was terrifying and I'm sure I looked ridiculous as I flailed around to avoid it. The next mishap happened while I was heading to watch Stargate with a couple friends. I had something to put in the mail. The mailbox is on the corner about 50 meters from the bus stop. I forgot about it as I was passing by, then remembered and turned around to put my mail in the box. As I was walking back to the stop, the bus came and since I was like 10 meters away, and no one was actually waiting AT the stop, it didn't even slow down, it just went right on by, even though I was jogging to get to the stop. If it had stopped, I would have totally been there before it could have even opened the doors. I was a bit annoyed, I'd never had this problem before. The final mishap happened while I was getting ready for bed Monday night. I broke my toothbrush. Seriously. Have you ever heard of such a thing? The handle just snapped! Since there's this rubbery grip on it though, the two pieces are still connected, but it's more difficult to hang on to. What a day!
So, this is going to come as a big shock to all of you I'm sure, but I'm kind of a nerd. After I broke my toothbrush, I got to thinking about the structural and material properties of it. I drew a Free Body Diagram in my head accounting for the points in which I apply force to the toothbrush and the couple resulting from the brush pressing against my teeth. Then I thought about the Young's and shear moduli of the molded plastic polymer that is my toothbrush and I considered the forces required for elastic and plastic deformation as well as critical failure. From all this, I decided that I must grip my toothbrush too forcefully for it's design. I kind of knew this already, because I had a dental hygienist tell me one time that I brush my teeth too hard and should hold my tooth brush differently in order to brush more gently. Since I am cheap, and the bristles of my toothbrush still have life left to them, I'm continuing to use the broken-handled toothbrush. Although it is slightly inconvenient because it is somewhat more difficult to hang onto, this may actually be better for my oral hygiene. Due to the nature of how I must now hold the toothbrush, I'm applying less force to it. Also, the shorter handle creates a shorter moment arm and applying the same force on this shortened moment arm creates less torque and less force being transferred to my gums. As I said before, I'm kind of a nerd.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

November 5-10

I've been doing quite a bit of cooking, since I have the time. I've really enjoyed it. I've been trying out new vegetarian dishes, sometimes with new ingredients. This weeks new ingredients were eggplant, zucchini, and curry. I've had all of the before, but not often, and I've never cooked with them, except for zucchini bread. It was interesting. I really liked the eggplant, but when I was trying to fry it, it had a tendency to soak up the oil, and then get soggy. I didn't really like that. Any tips? I also made some fantastic curried carrot soup. It was great on a cold day.
Saturday, November 10, it was snowing. It was very pretty, but I wasn't quite prepared for the beginning of winter yet. It snowed a lot more up on my hill than it did in downtown. It all melted though when it hit the ground.
I went to the market in Centre Ville in the morning. I really like open air markets, and I wondered if it would still be going on this late in the year. It was. I had fun just walking around an looking at things. I ran into a friend of mine, almost literally. It was nice to see her. We, along with a couple other Americans, are going to be hosting a Thanksgiving dinner the weekend after Thanksgiving. I'm looking forward to that.
When I returned home, I spent the day making travel arrangements for my family's trip, and then made my carrot soup. It was a laid back day, but I think I accomplished a couple things.

November 4

I went to a Methodist worship service today. The building is relatively large and pretty old. It is built in an Anglican fashion (or so I was told). I believe it is the only building like it in Lausanne. Also, it is the only Methodist congregation in Lausanne. I thought that the building would reflect the congregation size. I was wrong. The building is actually shared by several congregations of differing denominations. There were only about 20 people in attendance at the Methodist service. Mostly retirees I believe. It was a nice service with an interesting sermon, but there really wasn't anyone else there my age. It made me miss Collegiate UMC in Ames.
I was curious about how communion would work. It was a Methodist church, but it was also in wine country. I was curious if wine or juice would be served. It was juice, I was actually a bit surprised. It wasn't Welch's obviously; I think it may not have been straight up grape juice, maybe cran-grape. It was served the same way that communion was served when I visited St. Francois. Everyone went up to the front and formed a circle. Then the servers walked around with the bread and a common cup to each person. The pastor addressed everyone by there name. I was wondering what he would do when he came to me. I thought he would probably just not say my name, but say "this is the body" or something like that. No, he actually just flat out asked me what my name was. I've noticed that when serving communion, people often whisper, or speak in quiet voices, but not in this service. The servers spoke in normal voices or at least normal amplitudes.
There was a flute accompaniment for all the music instead of a piano or organ. That was neat. Some of the songs were familiar, but the words were all new. It was kind of fun to sing in French. While we were studying poetry last semester in my French class, I learned that the last letter of the last word of each line of the poem is pronounced. Usually the last letter in French words are not pronounced. It's kind of hard to explain in writing. Anyway, songs work the same as poems. The pronunciation is a bit more phonetic. Sounds more like Latin or maybe Spanish, than it does French.
I talked to a man for a while after the service. Pretty old guy. Retired teacher. I think he taught in a primary or secondary school. Maybe music, I think he said he studied music. He told me some interesting things about Switzerland and some stuff about churches. I guess every canton is basically in charge of it's own denomination. For example, the biggest denomination in Vaud, the canton in which I am living, is Vaudois Reformed. This denomination is supported by tax and government money and the pastors, I believe, are government employees. Interesting. Independent denominations are supported by the denomination though. Methodist congregations are not common in Switzerland. Neither are catholic churches actually. For the most part, people attend some form of Protestant Reformed church. Turns out the Cathedrale, the very large, old cathedral in Lausanne, is actually no longer Catholic. I believe it is Vaudois Reformed. I didn't realize that. I had just assumed since it was called a cathedral, it must be catholic.
It was nice to go to this church this morning. It started at 10. I think a lot of services start at that time, because I often hear bells like 10 minutes before 10:00 on Sunday mornings. I think that the ringing of the bells is to call people to the service or something. It's not a song or melody or anything. Just ringing bells. I kind of like it. Bells seem to be quite prevalent in many parts of Swiss life.

November 1-3

Wow, I've gotten a bit behind here. Well I'll take this opportunity to catch you up. Mostly I've just been doing school (gets busier and busier every week), with a little reading, knitting, and movie watching on the side. I won't write about all that though, I'll just write about the more interesting things I've been up to.
Saturday November 3, I went on a wine tasting tour with the Xchange student group. The email I received said to be at the train station at 11:20. I arrived about 11:15, and I then realized that the train to the city we were going was departing at 11:20. It was like 11:18 when I arrived at the platform, and I couldn't find anyone I recognized. I figured they must be on the train already. Since my passage had been purchased with the group, I didn't have an actual ticket, and thus couldn't get on the train. The train left, and I was disappointed, but not too bad, because I had only paid 5 francs (about $4.50). I thought maybe I could just take the next train, but I didn't know where to go after I got to the town, so I decided not to do that. So, since I was already at the station and ready to go, I just decided I would take the train someplace else. I watched a guy playing a harp for a while, then I was going to the entry of the station to buy a ticket. When I got to the entrance, I saw someone I recognized! The group hadn't left yet, 11:20 was the meeting time, not the departing time. The train next left at 11:48.
It was a really fun day. Yeah, I paid 5 francs for my passage and everything I ate and drank all day. At the beginning, everyone received a wine glass, and that was the entrance ticket. I might have visited like a dozen or more "caves" or cellars. I won't lie, I drank a bit too much wine. I wasn't like, falling on the floor drunk, but I was definitely feeling the effects of the alcohol a little bit. I really had now idea what my limit was, and the proprietors just kept bringing the wine. At the last few places, I didn't drink anything. I also made a point to drink water periodically and eat too.
There were so many delicious things to eat. For the most part, everyplace had something to eat. I had several kinds of soup, including pumpkin, carrot, and leek (not all the same soup). I also had cheese, bread, a bit of chocolate, roasted chestnuts (fantastic), little pastries, and mini-sandwiches. Each thing was small, but the grand total was quite a bit. And it was all free!
The specialty of the tour was tasting the Borru, or the new wine. Since the grapes were just recently harvested, the wine has only been fermenting for about 3 weeks. They let people taste the borru and explained the processes a bit. It was kind of carbonated and acidic, interesting to try, but not something you'd really want to serve. White wines are the speciality of that region, but there were also quite a few red wines. I also tasted "ice wine," which is a dessert wine. It was a very sweet white wine that is served chilled. It was alright, but it was a bit too sweet for me.
So this may sound strange, but I think my French improved after I'd had a few glasses of wine. I told this to a Canadian guy I met, he said it was probably because I was more relaxed and confident. He also said my cheeks were rosy. That's when I realized that maybe I should hold back. I wasn't trashed, I just realized that if I were to drink much more, I probably would be, and I didn't want to get to that point. I hope you all don't think less of me for this, or think less of my morals or principles or anything like that. It was a neat and educational experience in a safe environment. I learned a lot about wine as well my alcohol tolerance, but I don't plan to do it too often though.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

October 26-31

Happy Halloween!
Due to an influx of American culture, Europe has recently been celebrating Halloween. This change has come about in probably the last 10 years. Trick-or-treating is not too popular yet, or at least not too productive since there are few people that hand out candy. Halloween parties, on the other hand, are becoming more and more popular for adults and children alike. People dress up and get together to have a good time in an age-appropriate way. Candy corn is and unknown obscurity here, and it wasn't until I shared some with some of my friends here(compliments of a care package for my awesome former-roomie!, did I realize that, you know, it doesn't really even look like corn.

Speaking of food, I had my first Swiss fondue last night. Not my first fondue ever, just my first since coming here. There was a free dinner for the exchange students. It was fantastic, and not only because it was free. (Fondue from a restaurant runs at 20-25 francs/person.) After a while though, the white wine taste of the cheese gets a little sickening; too much of a good thing I suppose.

To continue with the food theme, I had Pakastani food for the first time on Saturday. It was terrific. A friend of mine from my Mechanical Engineering classes invited me to her home in Geneva for a Birthday dinner. There were about a dozen or so other students, mostly MechE's, there as well. It was nice to get to know a few of my classmates a little better. It was also nice to communicate almost exclusively in French. My friend had asked me to bring an apple pie, which was fun for me because I got to make another pie (not quite as pretty as the first.) It was also nice, because before she asked for the pie, I was not sure what would be culturally appropriate to bring. It's apple season now, so I had purchased some really cheap apples (about $0.70/lb). Since I had a bunch of apples left over, I made some applesauce (compote in French) on Sunday. It was delicious.

In other news, I've arranged to do an internship with a professor here. For the next 10 weeks I'm going to work 6 hours per week on a research project under his supervision. For the other half of the internship, starting next semester, I think that I am going to work for two PH.D. students in a Turbomachine laboratory. This semester's project is part of a larger initiative to recreate the "Dufaux 4." The Dufaux brothers were aviation pioneers from Geneva; essentially the Wright brothers of Switzerland. Their original aircraft is on display in a transportation museum in Luzern, Switzerland. I intend to visit the museum in the near future. If you want to read more about their plane, you can check out this link:
The project I'm collaborating with is called "Faux Dufaux." ( My part is going to involve computer modeling of the "Dufaux 4" airfoils. There is a lack of quantitative information about the aircraft, since the Dufaux brothers were more entrepreneurs than they were scientists. Before designing airplanes, the Dufaux brothers owned a motorcycle business, which is ironic, because before their debut as aviation pioneers, the Wright brothers ran a bicycle shop. Apparently two-wheeled transportation inspires people to build airplanes. I really enjoy biking, I wonder...
Anyway, to get back to my point, it is unknown whether the wing design used on the plane was original or existing technology. It is more likely the latter. I am going to use information collected from a laser scan of the nearly 100 year-old biplane to model the two-dimensional wing profiles and compare them with other airfoils from the time. I'm pretty excited about this project. I will eventually create a report and presentation of what I learn, in order to earn credit from Iowa State. Ironically, this internship is for my French degree, not my Aerospace Engineering degree.

Other than that, my week has been pretty laid back. I watched a couple movies, did some knitting, took a few walks, ran a bit. I'm continuing to improve my French. I have good French days and bad French days. Usually the bad French days are also the days I have trouble staying awake in class. It's tiring to think in another language, and my French comprehension is closely linked to how much energy I have. It's a vicious circle, but it's getting better and better all the time.

Friday, October 26, 2007

October 21-25

I opened a Swiss Bank account on Wednesday. Yeah that is just fun to say. I spoke in French the whole time, except when I was signing documents, they were in English. I thought in regards to my money, I probably shouldn't be signing things that I don't completely understand. The teller was very nice and very helpful. She told me that I spoke French very well. I think she was just being polite. Also, the two tellers at the bank really liked my passport. I think it was the first time that they had seen a new US passport. It never occurred to me that not every country has a passport that is decorated with lots of colorful photos. They took turns flipping through looking at all the pictures while my stuff was printing. They called Mt. Rushmore "Hollywood", though, but I decided not to correct them. Not really that important. The teller who helped me set up my account is going to be coming to the US for a few months to improve her English. She doesn't know where she will be going yet, but she seemed excited.

A friend loaned me a booklet that was published by the RZIM (Ravi Zacarias International Ministries.) It was written by Paul Copan, a lecturer and writer with a a PhD in Philosophy from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The booklet is entitled "Is everything Really Relative?: Examining the Assumptions of Relativism and the Culture of Truth Decay." The author poses questions and examines the logic of the principles of Relative Truths and Absolute Truths. Basically, he seeks to crumble the foundations of Relativism. I'm curious what others opinions are about these schools of thought. Do you believe that everything is relative and what is true for one may not be true of another, or do you believe that the only truths are absolute? What is absolutely true? How do you define tolerance? What are your feelings about religious pluralism? These are very difficult but interesting questions to think about. I'm curious to discuss them. After I have some more time to reflect and further research what I've read, I'll write more about how I would answer these questions.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

October 20

This is the first weekend in a while that I haven't ventured somewhere. It was kind of nice to just relax here in Lausanne. There is a place here where bikes can be rented for a 20 franc deposit that is returned when the bike is returned. So, really it's not renting, because it is free if the bike is returned. I was going to do this, but it was really windy. I went for a walk by the lake instead. It was very pleasant.
The family I am living with invited me to have Raclette with them for dinner. Raclette is a cheese that is native to the canton of Valais. I visited this canton a couple weekends ago and had Raclette while I was there. The cheese is melted and served with boiled potatoes, pickles, and dried beef. It is different than fondue, because the cheese is not soupy, just melted and put on your plate. It was very nice of them to ask me to join them. I had purchased a bag of very cheap apples on Friday, so I decided that I would make a pie for dessert. I decided just to buy a crust. I've never used pre-made crust before. Nor have I ever baked a pie in an oven that is so small and in degrees Celsius. Also, I didn't have American measuring devices, so I just estimated. It's okay to do that with pies though. They aren't an exact science like cakes or other baked things like that. I was a little nervous about how it would turn out, but it was great. It was the prettiest pie I've made. I drank Tisane, a calming caffeine free herbal tea that is drunk in the evenings. It was wonderful. The family liked the pie as well, which I was happy about. Tartes are common in Switzerland, but they are a bit different than pies. There is only the bottom crust and they are wider. They are also thinner and not as sweet. It is mostly just fruit baked onto a thin crispy crust. So far I've had plum, walnut, and strawberry. They are delicious, but not the same as a traditional American apple pie.

October 14-19

I was quite busy this week. I'll start with Monday. I visited friend who is from ISU as well. We watched a movie and I borrowed a book from her. It's really nice to have something to read on the Metro and the bus, and I couldn't find any fiction at the libraries.
Tuesday evening I started a bible study. It's called "Groupe des Disciples." The premise is to study the new testament and the themes that Jesus was trying to teach his disciples. It was really pleasant. There were about 6 or 7 of us and we met at the leader's apartment to eat dinner together. Over tea and clementines, we discussed the Gospel. We are going to meet every Tuesday like this, and then some weekend, we are going to have a retreat in the mountains.
Wednesday I discovered that I really like coffee, well French style coffee anyway. I met a classmate from my French class at a cafe to practice French. She is from Oklahoma, and has lived in Europe for about 7 years now. I'm the only other Midweterner that she has met. Anyway, I wasn't terribly fond of American coffee and the Europeans I've met have a very low opinion of it. French coffee is quite strong, almost like espresso, and is served in a very small cup. It is often served with milk or sugar. I like it either way, black or with sugar and milk.
Wednesday night, I was going to go to another bible study. I found the street, but I couldn't figure out what building it was. The signage here for streets and buildings is rather subtle, and I have yet to figure out the logic in the numbering scheme. After about 20 minutes I gave up and headed home. I was disappointed, but mostly because I couldn't find where I was going. I don't know if I'm going to participate in this study, since I'm already doing one on Tuesday nights.
Thursday afternoon I met with a professor about working in a Turbomachine lab. He showed me around and talked to me about the projects that are going on right now. It was very interesting. I have to do an internship for my French major, and I'd like to do it in a lab here, so I'm exploring my options.
I also had my first test Thursday afternoon. It was for Thermodynamics. I thought I understood the material pretty well, but there were a couple places on the test where I got stuck with the Math. It was kind of frustrating. The exam isn't graded though, the only effect is has is that if I do an amazing job, it will count as a bonus. I'm not counting on that though. This is my only class that has an exam before the final exam. For the most part, the only grade is the final, which is kind of a daunting prospect.
Thursday evening I met with my usual Thursday group. We had a traditional Swiss dinner of Rosti and some meat with a gravy sauce. Rosti is like hashbrowns, but it's not cooked as crispy. For dessert we had a nut tart. The Swiss style of using silverware is intriguing to me, and I haven't quite gotten used to it yet. It is customary to hold a knife in one hand and a fork in the other for the entire duration of the meal. I've never seen a spoon set out on a table. The knife is used to push the food onto the fork. I've tried to use my silverware this way, but I can't get used to it. I rarely use my knife, except to cut things, then I set it back down on my plate like I have done my entire life. If I saw someone using their silverware the other way, and I didn't know if was customary, it would seem a little rude to me. It's interesting. After dinner we had a Swiss trivia contest. I won! It's a good thing I read wikipedia so much. I won 400 grams of Swiss chocolate. I was excited.
Friday was a lazy day. I slept in and then went to campus to meet with another professor to talk about lab projects. I have quite a few options, I just need to make a decision. After talking to him for about an hour, I went to the library to check out some movies. This weekend I got Jurassic Park, The Truman Show, and The Village. I'm watching movies that I've already seen first, after I finish those, and my French is better, I'll start watching movies I haven't seen.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

October 13

I traveled with a friend from India to the city of Fribourg today. Fribourg is located in the neighboring canton of Fribourg (imagine that.) The city is on the language border, so to the east, the language is Swiss-German instead of French. There are four official languages in Switzerland. The main language is German. It is spoken in a large portion of Switzerland that is called Suisse-Allemand (Swiss-Germany). Suisse-Romand is the French speaking portion. French is the second largest language. Third is Italian, which is really only dominant in one canton, Tessin. The fourth and significantly less common language is Romansh. Romansh is really only spoken in one small canton, Grisons. For the most part citizens of Switzerland learn their regional language first, followed by German and French. If German or French are your native language, you learn English before you learn Italian. So, the people of Tessin and Grisons usually know four languages, and the Suisse-Allemand and Suisse-Romands usually know three. It's not as important that they learn Italian, because the Suisse-Italiens know both French and German, and likely English. Many people pick up Italian though. Wow, that all probably made no sense.
So, back to my original story, I went to Fribourg. Fribourg is very old. The city recently celebrated it's 850th year. There's a lot of medieval architecture. I visited several 13th and 14th century buildings. The most impressive was the St. Nicolas Cathedral. Construction of the cathedral began in the late 1200s. It was very beautiful, but also kind of tacky. Each individual piece of art or architecture was beautiful, but the whole composition was a little too much. My favorite part was the tower though. We walked up 368 stairs to the top and the view was breathtaking. It was really terrific.
My travel advice for visiting a European city:
Start at the cathedral, especially if you don't have a map. They often have free maps at cathedrals, and most large cathedrals have a tower that you can pay a dollar or two to visit. It is definitely worth the money. Take your free map up with you and use it do decide where you are going to go in the city. Looking at the entire city this way will give you a better idea of the distances, and what you want to see. Maps can sometimes be deceiving, and I've found that things are generally closer together than I think. Looking at the map and the city at the same time is very helpful.
After we visited the cathedral, we walked down by the river. It was a gorgeous day and a lot of fun to take pictures there. It was very relaxing to go from city to nature so easily, and the sound of the water was calming. While we were walking, we ran across a couple herds of sheep. At one point, I was petting one and it started licking my hand. Then it bit me. Yeah crazy, but pretty funny. I was bitten by a Swiss sheep.
After all our walking around we decided to relax at an outdoor cafe. I had some cocoa and a croissant. It was really pleasant. When it started to get dark and cool off, we headed to the train station to return back to Lausanne. It was a fun and relaxing trip.
When I got hope, I had a very fun phone call. My cousin got married that afternoon, and I was a bit sad that I couldn't be there. My dad called me from the reception though, and my family took turns passing the phone around. I think I talked to about 15 people. It was great, almost like I was there with them. Communication nowadays is terrific. It's so easy to move far away because communication is so easy. With email, IM, Skype, blogs, etc., I sometimes forget that there is an ocean and several countries between me and all the people I love.

October 12

I was going to go sailing today, but I took a wrong turn, walked a long way toward what I thought was the right harbor, figured out I was wrong, turned around, and missed the boat. I arrived at the right harbor about 15 minutes too late. I was disappointed, but I'm sure I'll have the chance again. I might be a good thing I missed it, because at that pointed I really needed to go to the bathroom. The only public restrooms that I could find around there did not have toilets. Instead they had a square of porcelain on the floor with a drain in the middle. They looked like the bottom of a shower, but there were two raised places to set your feet. If it had been a serious emergency, I would have used them, but I decided to just make my way back to campus.
At the library, I checked out the "Back to the Future" trilogy. I think I can check out books at pretty much every library in Switzerland, or at least the canton of Vaud. (A canton is like a state. Vaud is the canton where Lausanne is.) The libraries that I have visited so far have been pretty specialized though. For example, all of the books at EPFL pertain to Science, Math, Architecture, and Engineering, and all the books at UNIL pertain to the majors there. I want to find some fiction books to read during my transit time, but I have not succeeded yet. EPFL does have a very small Science-Fiction section, but none of them really interest me right now. The DVDs are all science fiction too, but they are free, and there are quite a few that I've either seen and liked, or am interested in watching. I watched "Signs" last weekend. I watch them in French, with the French subtitles. It's actually pretty helpful. I'm starting with movies I've seen though, so I have a better idea what's going on. When my French is better, I'll move to the new ones.

October 11

I had two rather spiritual experiences today. First of all, I went to a taizé worship over my lunch hour. Taizé is a style of worship that consists of "sung-prayers." These prayers are only a line or two long, and they are sung and repeated several times, a capella. I read about the, and it made me think of Midweek Chapel, a similar thing that Collegiate UMC, my church in Ames, does on Wednesdays over lunch in the Memorial Union chapel. I used to go to Midweek chapel regularly when I was in Ames. I was late getting to this worship though, because I was eating lunch and one of the guys I went hiking with sat down with me, so we were chatting. Also, the worship was happening on the UNIL campus so I had to walk over there. I got there about 20 minutes late. I was actually considering not going in, I just planned to find it so that I know where it happened for next week, but the singing was very beautiful, so I decided to go in. I was only there for about 10 minutes before it was over. It was really nice though, I meditated a bit. It was very calming, centering, and mystic.
Experience Number 2: I was meeting with the group of people that I meet with every Thursday night. It is a group of international students and it is loosely affiliated with a student Christian group. We were meeting outside St. Francois, a church/bus stop in downtown. I was about 15 minutes early, and it was a bit chilly out, so I decided to go in. This was not my first time inside, I've actually been in several times. I even attended worship there once. There's going to be a organ concert Friday night at St. Francois, so the organist was practicing (at leas this is what I assumed was taking place). It was really wonderful. The music was really amazing. Some was kind of somber but some was also kind of upbeat and light. There's an organ concert every, or every other Friday night. Tomorrow night's organist will be the "in house" organist for St. Francois. Since this is a very old, historic, landmark church, they have hired a very talented professional organist. It is definitely an experience I will always remember. I actually considered just staying there, and not meeting the others, but I changed my mind. I went outside to meet with the others, and tow of them had shown up. I told them about the music and they came in and we stayed a bit longer, until one more person joined us, then we went walking around Ouchy, down by the lake.

Ok, so this last story was not spiritual, but it was really funny. We left St. Francois and walked to Palais de Justice, which I believe is the courthouse. There was a lawn there and a small park with some trees and benches. There was also a very nice view of the lake, since we were still uphill from it. There was a few people there with there dogs. One couple had a dog that looked like a doberman, or about that size anyway. It was dark, so I couldn't tell for sure. The dog was running around the lawn and they were playing fetch with it. Instead of using a stick though, they were using a green laser pointer. Hilarious! They would just shine it around the lawn and the dog would chase it. I've done this with cats before, but they generally figure out that they are never going to catch the light, and they tire of it pretty quickly. This game, on the other hand, went on for at least 20 minutes, maybe longer. It was the laziest game of fetch, on the owner's part, that I have ever seen. The dog liked it though. I actually don't think he was really that interested in catching the light. He was just enjoying running around.

October 8-10

I went to a dinner for the Mechanical Engineering section Wednesday night. It was good, but really awkward. I'm glad Gwendolyn, the other American in MechE, was there. We sat with a professor and a secretary from the section. I guess Gwendolyn has this professor, but due to confusing scheduling, she's missed 2 of the 3 lectures. The professor works in a production and robotics lab and the secretary works in the Turbomachine lab. Anyway, I asked them if it is possible for bachelor students to work in the labs. I need to do an internship for my French major. This could be working in industry or doing a supervised project in a lab. I explained the idea to them, and it sounds like I going to be able to do it.I think that I'll probably just be working on my own project under the supervision of a professor, but that's cool with me. They both gave me their contact information, and I'm going to email them this weekend. I was checking out the turbomachine lab website, and I've actually already visited it. I think I'd prefer that over the robotics lab, it's more up my alley. Yeah, so I'm really excited about it right now. The food was tasty. They were showing a movie afterwards, but it was the Simpson's movie, and I wasn't that interested in staying, so I decided to go home. So I had the most bizarre metro ride home. It turned out that the secretary that I met was taking the same metro, so I was talking to
her. Then i noticed that we were moving quite slowly after leaving a stop. Then, the train stopped completely, and the conductor came out and slammed the door very loudly, I jumped because I didn't see him. He stomped to the back of the train, and then we started going the opposite direction, back into the tunnel we just came out of. All of the sudden all the lights went out. It was a bit freaky since it was about 10 at night and we were in a tunnel in a metro. Don't get me wrong, the metro, and the whole city are very safe, but still. Luckily they came back on and the conductor came back, but he was not very happy. We sat there for another minute or so, then we slowly made our way to the stop. After that it was fine, there must have been an electrical problem, and he just had to restart everything. Yeah, very strange.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

October 6-7

The last remnants of summer are fading away. The trees are changing colors and the evenings are becoming cooler. I've always loved the smell of autumn. Something about the earthy aroma is very comforting to me. It's grape and pear season now, so I've been buying them often at the grocery store. I've also many new stands popping up to sell roasted chestnuts. It makes me miss the smell of Bavarian roasted almonds in shopping malls. I've always associated that smell with Christmas shopping.
Yesterday, I took my first trip in Europe that I had planned myself. I decided that I wanted to go to Rhine Falls before it started to get too cold, so I just went. Rhine Falls is the largest plain waterfall in Europe. It is near the small town of Schaffhausen in the Swiss-German part, not too far from Zurich. I invited a couple friends and the three of us headed out early in the morning. We arrived in Schaffhausen around 11 am, and hiked 3 km to Scholss Laufen, a castle on a cliff above the falls. We had brought sandwiches and ate together outside the castle. The walk along the river through the trees in their fall glory was very pleasant.
The Rhine Falls are not very tall but quite wide. For one Franc, spectators could get very close to the falls. It was amazing. The shear amount of energy stored in that water was breathtaking. I was also amazed at the fact that the turbulence in the water seemed to subside shortly after the falls. The water not too far downstream seemed quite placid in comparison to the falls. Rainbows could be seen in the spray. There was also a lookout in the middle of the river, that could be reached by tour boats. We opted not to take the boat.
After taking a great many pictures, we took a train to Winterthur. This train was small, more like a metro. At Winterthur we got on a larger train to go to Zurich. It was actually a double-decker train, and we sat on the upper deck.
When we arrived in Zurich, we really had no real plans, which I was surprisingly comfortable with. We had a few suggestions from guide books and other travelers, and a few vague ideas about what we wanted to see, but for the most part we just went exploring. We did not have a map outside of my travel guide, and this was not a particularly great map. We searched in several of the train stations, but never did succeed in finding a free map of Zurich. One of my travelling companions tried taking a picture of a map on the wall, and using his camera to zoom in as we were searching for places, but this was not particularly useful.
In Zurich we visited two churches, Grossmunster and Fraumunster. At Grossmunster, a cathedral, we paid 2 francs to climb the 188 stairs to the tower. The view was amazing; we could see the whole city. Zurich is much flatter than Lausanne, so I think this might have been the highest point in the city.
Fraumunster was just across the river from Grossmunster. In my opinion Fraumunster was the more beautiful of the two. There was a smaller room attached to the main sanctuary that looked like it might be a chapel of sorts for smaller ceremonies. New stained-glass windows were recently put into this room, but photography was not allowed. The windows were beautiful. They were quite a different style than the stained-glass windows that I'm used to. The sections were less defined, and the colors blended together more. They made me think of a watercolor painting made of glass. The ceiling in this room was also beautiful. It was very high and painted white with colored stars. It sounds tacky, but it was actually very beautiful.
After visiting the churches, we went in search of some interesting streets we had read about. One was defined as "Tacky" and the other as "Funky." The tacky street sure was tacky, but also very fun. It reminded me a lot of State Street in Madison, WI. There were many kebabs and other cheap food stands, as well as bookstores, a world market, and other fun holes in the walls. I was mildly disappointed in the funky street. There wasn't a lot of action, but it was 6:00 in the evening. I think if we had been there later, or not on a Sunday, there would have been a bit more action.
After eating calzones at a snack stand, the three of us found the train station and headed back home. It was a very fun day, and it was great to get to know a couple people better, but I sure was tired when I got home. I promptly kicked off my boots, drank some water, brushed my teeth, and headed to bed.

Friday, October 5, 2007

October 1-5

I joined a program called Tandem. In tandem, people are paired up with someone who's maternal language they would like to learn. It's a program for conversation practice to improve
language skills. It's loosely regulated, basically the partners just choose how often, how long, when, and where they meet. I went to the meeting for Anglo-Franco- and Germano-phones. Everyone had to pin big white cards on their shirts that said "....... Chereche (looking for)......" You filled in the blanks with the language you speak, and the language you want to improve. Then you walk around the room and find someone with an opposite card. My partner's name is Erika. She is from France and she's studying Geology at UNIL (the other university.) She's very nice, and her english is great; much better than my french. She's been to the US several times. Her dad's job requires him to travel a lot. He speaks 5 languages. Amazing! She also spent 2 weeks one summer in with a family friend near Boston.
Anyway, after the info session. We went back to her apartment and made crepes! She really didn't measure anything. This is something she does often I guess. Basically it's just flour, a little salt, an egg, and a bit of milk; add water if not runny enough. They were very tasty. The first one I had was with ham and cheese, then cranberry jelly, then just sugar. You can really put anything in them. They're a bit like tortillas in that sense. I miss tortillas.
Erika lives in a building of studio apartments. Most of the people there are students. Her apartment was very nice, but very small. I think the whole thing, including bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, and living room, is smaller than my first dorm room was. We sat out on the balcony for a little bit and drank tea. A couple of the neighbors joined us. I didn't really catch most of what they were saying. Turns out there are some words/phrases that are different in Switzerland than in France. That's' good to know.
Erika and I are meeting every Friday for lunch to practice our languages. She's intrigued by Thanksgiving. It was rather difficult for me to explain Thanksgiving and Black Friday to her in French. She wants to learn how to cook sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie.
After that we went to "boire une verre" (go out for a drink). It was the first time that I had ridden in a car since I left Nebraska. I had a small beer. It was called kreiche, and was made of cherries. It was alright, but not terrific. Interesting though. I also ate a piece of something that I can't spell, but is native to the Alsace area of France. It was a thin crispy crust, with oil and some spices. I think it sometimes has cheese on it. I guess in a very broad sense it was kind of a thin crispy version of Pokey Sticks (for all you Iowa Staters.)
It's been about 22 degrees Celsius here this week (around 72 degrees Fahrenheit). Beautiful weather. It has rained a few times this week though, but they were very nice rains.
I met with my Thermodynamics professor. I thought I was having a lot of difficulties in that class. He thinks I was exaggerating. It's encouraging to know that I was doing better than I thought. All of my professors are very understanding and willing to help. I suppose my professors at Iowa State were the same way, but I never really took advantage of Office Hours. I think that is something that I will do more when I get back.
I went to my first "Discotheque" on Wednesday. I danced. Can you believe it? Me, dancing, at a club, on a school night! It was fun, but I didn't stay very long. I wanted to catch the last bus home. I missed it by about 2 minutes, and had to walk. Luckily I had a couple friends going the same direction, so I only had to walk alone for half of it. It took me an hour.
Last night I went to a cafe with a group of international students that I meet with on Thursday nights. We all had "chocolat chaud" or hot chocolate. It was nothing like Swiss Miss, it was much more delicious. Wow, it was really amazing. It was thick, we had to use spoons to drink it. It was kind of like warm pudding and the whipped cream on top was real whipped cream. None of that Reddi Whip stuff. Wow, just thinking about the hot chocolate makes my mouth water. It was heavenly.

Monday, October 1, 2007

September 30

Sunday was my first experience of the Swiss Alps. Xchange planned a trip to a town called Martigny. By planning, I mean that I paid 30 francs, got on the right train, was given my pass to the “Foire de Valais” (Valley Fair) and told to find my way home sometime. Even with the lack of organization, and possibly because of it, the trip was great. I didn’t actually know anyone that was going, but I met some people in the group on the train. I was told that we were going to a cow-wrestling event when we got into Martigny. I assumed this meant that people would be wrestling cows. I was wrong; the “Combats des Reines” was actually fighting between cows (not bulls). I didn’t really like it all that much. Maybe it would have been different if I had known the rules. From what I watched, several cows were led into the ring and let loose. Sometimes, if two cows got close to one another, they would bash heads for a while. Otherwise they just stood around. I think they would take the losing cows out of the ring after a while. Again, I didn’t know the rules, so I was just guessing as to the procedures. All of the cows wore giant bells on their necks. I don’t think they really liked the collars. When they would fight, the bells would make a lot of noise.

I only stayed at the cow thing for about 15 minutes before heading into the fair with a guy I met from Boston. We walked around a building for a little while. It was basically Country Fair meets Home Shopping Network. There were a lot of things to buy. Some were homemade, and others not. There were a lot of product demonstrations that reminded me of infomercials. Sadly there were no free cheese-tasting booths.

I some how lost the person I was with. I think he had heard about free cheese and headed toward a different building (seriously). At that point I met up with three other students on the trip. One was from Mexico, one from Brazil, and the last from Germany. I had ridden the train with the German that morning. We went to find Raclette, which is a cheese used in fondue. We bought some, and it was served melted on a plate, with two very small potatoes and a tiny pickle. It was delicious, but not very filling.

We decided that the fair was kind of uninteresting for anyone not wanting to spend lots of money, so we set off to go visit a chateau that we could see up the mountain. It was very old, but I think kind of small as far as castles go. After about an hour of hanging out with these guys, I found out their names.

We sat in the shade outside the castle for a little while to soak in the view. It was gorgeous. It was surreal but it also seemed so natural just to be sitting on a mountain, on a Sunday afternoon, in the shade of a castle, speaking French with three other people, while French was not the native tongue for any of us. It’s something that I will never forget.

We left the castle and decided to hike through the vineyards. It was not easy, but it was great. My legs were very tired afterwards. I think it may be the first time that I’ve been in a vineyard. I’ve seen them before, but I’ve never actually walked through one. We ate some grapes. Yes, I know this is stealing, but it was hard to resist, and we didn’t take that many. I’ve finally gotten used to grapes with seeds in them, and these grapes were absolutely heavenly. They will make some great wine someday, I’m sure.

When we finally made our way back to the train station, we found out that we had about an hour to wait before the next train. We went into a café to play foosball. I was not terrific, but luckily my partner was. We each bought a game, and that killed the time before we headed back to Lausanne.

September 29

I attended worship at St. Francois this evening. It is a very old Evangelical Reformed church downtown. It is not Cathedrale, that I have been taking pictures of, because that is in fact a Catholic Cathedral. I actually go to St. Francois at least twice a day, because the main downtown bus stop, where I transfer from metro to bus or vice versa, is located right outside. I thought the service started at 17h, but it really started at 17h30, so I had some time to kill beforehand. I bought a crepe form a charity stand. It looked like a boy/girl scout troop because they had similar uniforms, but the money was for an international relief charity. I've wanted to buy a crepe from a stand or creperie for a while, and this seemed like a very good time to do it. It was quite tasty; it had strawberry jam in it.

The service at the church was a neat experience. There were about 25 people, largely women above the age of 80. I was definitely the youngest, and possibly the tallest person there. I wasn't sure where to sit when I got inside, because the pews pointed 3 different
directions. One section faced towards the altar, another section towards the middle, where there was a pulpit type thing, and the last towards the organ, opposite the altar. I chose the middle. I was wrong. The pastor came and told me that the service would face the “heart,” which meant the altar. I don't know why it was called the “heart.”
The hymns were very old, but I liked them. The organist was fantastic, and the music sounded absolutely beautiful in that building. I may be the first time that I’ve heard an organ played in an all-stone structure. After the scripture readings, there were intercessions by the organist. They were a bit melancholy, but I liked them. Some of the low tones resonated beautifully. It really was very spiritual for me, kind of mystic.
Communion was strange. I think I need to learn the Lord's Prayer in French. It had never occurred to me before. For communion, everyone went up to the front and made kind of a half circle around the altar. Then the pastor came around with the bread. It was my first common cup communion. The cup was just passed around the circle, but there was a guy there that kind of followed it. I think he was probably carrying a cup of 'non-alcoholic' fruit of the vine. The cup was the same, but it had a ribbon tied around it. Also, it was backwards to me, because the communion wine was white, but the other cup, that I
assume to be grape juice, was red.

I really liked the experience of this service, but I don't think it is really a place where I could build community. I'm glad I went though. It’s neat to attend new worship services.

After the service, I met a friend and we came back to my place, fixed some dinner, and watched a movie in my room. It was fun. We watched “She’s the Man.” Not exactly quality film making, but very entertaining nonetheless.

September 28

I went to a Movie Night sponsored by a Christian group on campus (GBEU). It was marketed towards International students. We watched “October Sky,” one of my all time favorite movies. It was great. It was also pretty cool to watch that movie because the 50th anniversary of the launching of Sputnik occurs this week (October 4). I met some really great people. There were about a dozen people there and they came from Greece, Burkina Faso, California, Finland, China, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, and India.

Two students that I met from China live near me in Lausanne, so we ended up taking the Metro and Bus together. It was neat. I think that their English teachers must have been from the UK because they spoke with British accents.

It’s great to meet so many people from all over the world. I learned some interesting things about China. China has three time zones, but only one of them is used. The people in the east just start working earlier than the people in the west. Also, one of the students expressed her concern about how many people in China go off to other countries to study and then return to China to work. She didn’t think that this was bad, as she is doing the same thing herself; she just questions whether things learned in abroad are appropriate for China. For example, economics and politics in Western Europe are quite different than China. How can that knowledge be put in to practice in a positive way for China?

Another interesting fact: Studying for the GRE is quite popular in China because a lot of students hope to go to the US for Masters and Doctoral programs. The section that Chinese students study the most, and therefore do the best at: Grammar. This also happens to be the area that American students do the worst in. Interesting, considering the GRE is given in English.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

September 24-27

The past couple days have been rather difficult. I've been kind of lonely and felt a little isolated because of my living arrangements. When I was new at Iowa State, I was lucky enough to be living in close proximity to a group of wonderful people. Now, that I'm not living with other students, it's been rather more difficult to meet people.
I'm not an extremely energetic or extroverted person, so sometimes it's difficult for me to initiate conversation with people I don't know, especially my peers. I have a somewhat easier time with people 20 or more years older than me. For anyone over 80, it's a piece of cake.
It was difficult at first to meet and make friends with the people in my classes for two reasons. First of all, my French vocabulary kind of keeps conversation down on a very elementary, and rather uninteresting level. The second reason is because each class only occurs one time, and the Swiss students have a very prescribed program of study. This means that everyone in one major will have all the same classes with other students in their major who started the same year. In short, they all know eachother rather well. It's difficult to be an outsider coming into that.
After the first week here, I was worried that the only way I was going to be able to meet people was by going to clubs and soirées, as both are a popular pass time for students. I had mixed feelings about that. I don't really dig the ''party scene'' (not that I am actually that familiar with it). Large groups of people I don't know and dancing have a tendency to intimidate me.
I've had to stretch my comfort zone quite a bit this past week, but I think it's been good for me. I'm feeling much better about being here than I was a couple days ago. I realized that in order to meet people, I was going to have to take the initiative, as difficult as that may be.
I try to start conversation with people I sit next to in lecture, which is good for me socially, but also because they generally have a better idea about what is going on than I do. I've also joined a couple student clubs here at EPFL. Before I got here, I signed up with a group called Xchange, which is made up, for the most part, of current and former exchange students. Through this group, I was paired up with a ''Buddy'' in my major. He's letting me use his Thermodynamics book, I appreciate that. This group has pub nights every week, but I haven't gone to any of those. Maybe I will someday, but I'm not really what you would call a ''party-animal''. I think I'm going to go to the mountains with Xchange on Sunday. The trip that's planned sounds like a lot of fun. And it's the Swiss Alps, need I say more.
I also joined a group called Callista. It's an amateur astronomy club. The people in charge of it are masters students in Physics. I met a girl from Mexico at this meeting. We ended up riding the Metro back into town together. It was very nice. A couple times each semester, Callista drives up into the mountains for better observing. I look forward to that.
Yesterday, I went to a picnic for a campus bible group called GBEU. I went with the only other mechanical engineering exchange student from the US. We met at orientation. The picnic and worship following were wonderful. It was like being back in Ames at Faithspring. It was my first time worshiping in French, but not my first worship in another language. It reminded me very much of worship in Juarez, Mexico. It was very powerful for me. I think I'm going to get more involved with this group. They are going to start meeting on campus for lunch a couple days a week, and I think I might join an more in-depth bible study with them. I look forward to getting to know the people better that I met last night. There are two worship groups within GBEU, the one in French that I went to last night, and an international group that is in English. The international group is having a movie night tonight. I'm going to go to that.
It's nice only taking a few classes. Not that it is easy, because it is in French after all, but it gives me time to do things other than study; joining clubs for example. Also, I think I might go to a Discofit class once a week. It's an aerobics class that I imagine is similar to Jazzercise. I wanted to do Yoga, but the beginner's class meets at the same time as one of my lectures. I don't think the two times of doing yoga on the terrace in Mexico, and the one sunrise yoga that I attended at ISU are enough for me to hop into the Advanced class. Maybe next semester.

Monday, September 24, 2007

September 23

So I ate meat today. I've been kind of torn about whether or not I'm going to eat meat while I'm here. I was invited to eat dinner with the family that I am living with. Florence knows that I am vegetarian, but she explained some things about Swiss agriculture to me. I had explained to her son before that the most significant reason that I don't eat meat is my distaste for the United States industrialized agricultural system. The system is different here in Switzerland though. It's not the monoculture that it is in the United States, and the role of animals in agriculture is very different. There are no feedlots, and eggs are very expensive, which leads me to believe that poultry production is very different as well. For the most part, if not entirely, animals are free-range. Also, the packaging of meat products is more strict. Each package has to be labeled with the place the animal was raised, what it was fed, and how old it was when it was slaughtered. This makes it much easier to know where the food you are eating is coming from. I think I am more OK with meat if I know, and approve of where it comes from. I'm still trying to figure things out though. If I continue to eat meat here though, I think I will limit my intake for the sake of reducing my environmental footprint, because even free range chickens use more resources than plants.

September 22

Today there was an event called Night of the Museums (La nuit des Musées.) People could pay 10 francs and go to any museum in town, which is quite a deal because some of the museums cost 10 francs themselves. This went on from 2 pm until 2 am or something crazy like that. Also, public transportation was free all day, although I have a pass so it didn't really matter for me. I visited the museums with my friend from Iowa State. I think we ended up going to like 6 or 7 museums. It was a lot of fun, but I was beat afterwards.
When you paid the 10 francs, you were given a bright yellow necktie, and this became the ticket into the museums. It was pretty awesome. It was interesting to see the different ways that people were wearing their ties. I felt like emo or punk or something wearing a necktie. I'm glad I knew about the Night of the Museums, because otherwise I would have been very confused by the neckties.
There were also concerts from 10 pm until 4 am, but I decided not to go. Maybe it would have been a good way to meet people, but I didn't want to have to walk home by myself that late. I know that there is a late night bus, similar to Ames' Moonlight Express (it's called the Pyjama,) but I really don't know how it works or where it goes or anything like that. I should figure that out before I decide to stay out late.
I got hit on today by a guy at one of the bus stops. We were sitting, waiting for the bus, and this guy asked us if we were from England. We made small talk about being students here and things like that. Then he told me I was really pretty, and that I should go out and get something to drink with him, and then I could practice speaking French. Apparently, offering to practice speaking french is the way that guys here try to pick up foreign girls. A different guy, who ironically enough was named Romeo, tried to pick my friend up at the metro stop earlier the same day with the same line. I told this guy that I'd only practice with him if my friend came along too. I don't think he really liked that idea, which was fine with me.

September 21

I visited a museum today. It was rather inexpensive. There were several museums in a former palace. There’s a museum of Archeology and History, Geology, Money, Zoology, and Modern Art. I didn’t go into the modern art museum though, because it cost more. Some of the museums were more interesting than others. I didn’t really like the Zoology museum. It was like a zoo of dead animals; a little creepy. There was a jaw of a sperm whale though. It was kind of terrifying because it was so huge. It kind of gives Moby Dick some context. It’s hard to imagine an animal so enormous. My favorite part of the museum was the Geology section about rocks and minerals. I feel kind vain about this, but I liked it mostly because it was pretty. I kind of want to decorate a room in natural rocks and minerals. I think a big piece of quartz with a light bulb behind it would make an awesome lamp.
After visiting the museum I went to Ouchy. Ouchy is a port town just south of Lausanne. Essentially, it is now a part of Lausanne; it’s no longer a separate village, just a part of the Lausanne metro area. It was really beautiful down there. I sat on a bench by the lake and watched people while I ate my baguette. There were many skaters and rollerbladers there. Also, there was a giant chessboard. I watched a couple people play for a little while. It was interesting.
Evian, France is just across the lake from Ouchy. There are boats that travel around and across the lake. I want to take one sometime. I think it would be a lot of fun. People can also rent pedal boats and rowboats by the hour. Sailing is very popular here as well. There were a lot of swans, gulls, and ducks on the lake. The swans are bigger than any swans I have seen. They really are beautiful birds.
It was so amazing to sit down by the lake. It was like a place that I’ve only ever seen pictures of a dreamed about visiting.

September 18-20

I started classes on Tuesday. My two classes Tuesday were Thermodynamics and a humanities class called Media, Communication, and culture. At first it was very difficult. I had no idea what was going on. There was a girl in Thermo. That helped me out some. That was nice. Also, I introduced myself to the professor, and he was very helpful and eager to aid me as he could. I appreciate that. My humanities class was a big lecture. For the first year of humanities, students take four different courses. Each one is only half a semester and is not that intensive. It is mostly just a seminar for students to see what areas they like the best. Then in the second and third years, students take the two humanities classes of the four that they liked best. Those classes are more in depth. I will be taking Music History for the second half of the semester. Since the professor of this class was a communications professor, her PowerPoint was very clear and helpful for taking notes.
Wednesday, I had Electrotechniques. For the most part it was a review of what I have already done in Physics, which was nice for the first day. I think it will be a valuable class, especially for Nondestructive Engineering applications.
Thursday, I had my first class for Intro to Materials Science. This is another first year course, but it transfers back as a required course for AerE, which is very nice. After my materials class, I had a recitation for Thermodynamics. Usually, each course only meets one time a week for about three hours. For each hour there is a 15 minute break that many students use for having a smoke. Two of the hours are lecture and the third is a recitation. During the recitation, the professor passes out problems that students work on together. There are also assistants present to help out as needed. There are no assigned problems to work on outside of class, so I’m learning to study differently.
I didn’t have to buy any books for this semester. That’s very nice. I did have to buy two polycopiés though. Basically they are just packets, (like mini-textbooks) that professors put together of printouts of all of the notes they will be using. For thermo, my Xchange buddy loaned me his book. He’s a master’s student now, and doesn’t need the book. The bookstore doesn’t really have a buyback program though, so he’s stuck with it. It was very generous of him to loan it to me.
I have yet to seen any marker boards; all of the classrooms that I have seen have chalkboards. There are about three chalkboards stacked together, and when the professor has filled one, he can slide it up and write on the one behind it, this way he doesn’t have to erase everything all the time. I think chalkboards are superior to marker boards. One might argue that they are messier, but I don’t really believe that is true. Dust is just as prevalent for dry erase markers as it is for chalk. Also, with chalk, the professor doesn’t have to waste 5 or 10 minutes trying to figure out which marker works. I appreciate that.
It became easier and easier to understand the French as the week went on. Now that I have my books and my polycopiés to study, it will be even easier. Not that it is easy yet, just easier.
I have another class on Monday; Composite Polymers. I’m excited for this class. I’m intrigued by composites and look forward to learning about them. I will also be starting my French class next week, but it isn’t until Thursday.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


I will be posting some photos here on my blog, but there will be more available on Flickr. To view my photos, please visit:
There isn't too much there yet, but I'm working on it.

Bruce Munson is world famous

While I was on campus for orientation, I had some time to kill, so I went into the book store. I walked to the back of the store (I was just exploring) and one of the first books I saw was "Fundamentals of Fluid Mechanics" by Bruce Munson. For those of you who do not know Bruce, he is a retired professor from the Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Department. Bruce and his wife Barbara are wonderful people. I met them at the church I attend in Ames. I was delighted to see Bruce's book all the way over here in Switzerland.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

September 15-16

After lunch on Saturday I headed to <Centre Ville> (downtown) to try to buy a cell phone. I got a really cheap pre-pay phone. It is not cheap to use it, 0.38 centimes a minute. text messages are only 0.10 though, so I will probably text more.
In the evening I met the other student from ISU, Elizabeth, and we went to a grocery store downtown. Most things are closed on Sundays, and Monday si a federal holiday, so she wanted to get a couple things to last her until tuesday. We went back to her apartment and then walked around the lake some. It is funny to me to see cows, sheep, and fields within the city. The agriculture is very different here, and much more diverse than Iowa. It is so wonderful.
We thought about going to a movie, but it cost 17 francs (about 15 dollars) so we changed our minds. We ended up going to a bar with one of her roomates from Canada. It was my first experience of alcohol. It was very interesting. It was surreal to be sitting outside, drinking a beer, while chatting with interesting people, all while in Switzerland. I'm still in a state of Euphoria about everything new.
I don't want to be drunk. I think too many people appreciate drunkeness instead of appreciating alcohol. I do not want that for me. Drinking socially and occasionally is one thing, but partying is a completely different scene that I really have no interest in.
On the bus back home, a man walked on with his buddy. He was apparently drunk, and had vomited all over himself. The other people on the bus clucked their tounges and shook their heads at him. I do not ever want to be in his situation. I commend his friend though, for staying with him and getting him home.
I went exploring today. There are several beautiful churches in Centre Ville. I didn't go in any of them, because I was there after their visiting hours had ended. I plan to go back though, maybe next weekend. I want to attend their services sometime.

September 12-14

I'll start rambling about my adventures now, starting on Wednesday. Please forgive me for spelling and grammatical errors. The spell check I'm using is for French, not English.

I fell asleep before the plane was off the ground in Omaha, and slept all the way to Dallas. I didn't have to wait too long in Dallas. I ate lunch at Popeyes. I had red beans and rice with a biscuit. The flight to Zurich was good, but I only slept for one hour. I think I was just too excited to sleep. I ate vegetarian meatloaf for dinner on the plane. Kind of a contradiction of terms. It was alright; better than I expected. It kind of tasted like a bean dip actually. The lady I sat next to was going to visit her mother in Zurich. She has lived in the US since 1966, but her mother (who is 96 years old!!) still lives in Switzerland. She was nice, but she got a migraine, and then threw up. Luckily it was in the bathroom. I felt bad for her, she was kind of miserable for most of the time.
The two people who sat in front of me were a couple from Arkansas. Sonny and Linda. Sonny owns a pick-your-own berry farm. They were going to Lausanne to visit there son (who is working here for 5 years), daughter in law, and two grandchildren. They had 3 suitcases that were all half-full of gifts and toys. I rode the train with them from Zurich to Lausanne as well. Very interesting people. Sonny was quite talkative. The sun was rising as we passed over London. It was very clear and I could see all of the city lights. The horizon was redder than I've ever seen it. It was one of the most beautiful things that I have ever seen.
I had some tea with my breakfast. It was awful. It was too strong (probably trying to cover the flavor). It looked like coffee. When I arrived in Lausanne I had to wait about an hour at the station because I ended up taking an earlier train than I told my landlord I would. Also, I was not sitting in the part of the station that she thought I would be. It was ok though, I watched people while I waited. The first person who ever talked to me in Lausanne was a strange man who came up to me while I was standing outside with my bags, and asked me in French "Am I the one you have been waiting for?" He was trying to hit on me!! Very strange indeed.
Florence, my landlord, had an appointment after she picked me up, so her son, Christophe drove me to the apartment. I like it a lot. The view is beautiful, I can see the city, the lake, and the mountains. The family is very nice and have been very helpful.My french is not terrific
yet, but they speak english. I find it much easier to understand the two sons French.
I ate lunch with Christophe, unpacked, took a shower and a nap, and then walked to a grocery store. I bought Nutella, apples, bread, cheese, pasta, band-aids, and a hair dryer. Then I went home, listened to music for a while, ate some dinner, and went to bed. I got up early Friday morning to go to campus. I took a bus and the metro (train) to get to campus. When I got on the bus I asked the driver how much it cost, because I thought that I'd have to pay on the train. I was actually supposed to buy a ticket at a machine at the bus stop. The driver told me to get off at the next stop. I thought he was kicking me off, but actually he got off with me and showed me how to use the machine. I was shocked that he did that. It was very generous. When I got back on the bus, a nice man expained to me a little better how things work.
When I got downtown, I was supposed to take the metro to campus. I walked around for almost half an hour looking for it. It's a good thing I left really early! I almost took the wrong train, it would have taken me far away from where I needed to be. At the last minute, I thought I should check upstairs at the metro stop, and sure enough, the train I needed was up there. I had orientation, but my schedule did not list a building for the first part, so I had to search around and ask a couple people where to find it. I finally found it. I made friends with a girl named Gwendolyn from Carnegie-Mellon in New York state. She's a Mechanical Engineering student as well.
I ate lunch at the campus restaurant. It was surprisingly reasonably priced. Cheaper than a cafeteria lunch at ISU. I ate pasta with vegetables. There were carrots, brussel sprouts, yellow beans, and a vegetable that I didn't know, but found out later was white asparagus. It is apparently common around here. After orientation, I walked down by the lake. It was beautiful. Very picturesque. Everything is still so surreal. I can't believe that I can look out my window and see a beautiful lake and mountains anytime I want. After walking around the lake, I took the metro downtown to by my metro-bus pass. Now I don't have to by tickets every time.
I came home and talked to Florence for a while, and made some dinner. I had some delicious
yogurt. The food here is great. It's not pumped full of hormones, fertilizers, preservatives, and pesticides, so it looks more real. Also, the milk comes in liter boxes (like a giant juice box) and doesn't have to be refrigerated until after it is opened. This is very strange to me. I like my milk ice cold, so I don't know how I feel about this.