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.