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.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Packing My Life Away

Well, after almost a year of planning and preparation I'm finally leaving. I depart from my house at 5:00 tomorrow morning, not to return until next summer. I have mixed feelings of nervousness, excitement, fear, and curiosity. I'm spending the rest of today visiting some family and friends and packing my single black suitcase with all of my personal belongings. Well, up to 75 pounds worth of personal belongings anyway.
Packing for this trip has made me realize just how much I actually own. It has been a purging experience as far as my closet is concerned. Thank goodness they just opened a Goodwill store in town.
To all of my family and friends, I'd like to wish you luck with everything you do this year. Thank you for all of your love and support. Don't forget, I'm only an email away.
Much love.