Sunday, January 8, 2012

From the Desk of Teachah Gracie:

Once upon a time, probably in my Introduction to Japanese Culture and Society class, which was full of curriculum requirement seekers, anime junkies, and very few of us in between, I learned that a true haiku always makes a reference to nature. Or maybe it was to a season?

Once upon another time, probably from my own experience or maybe from some novel, I learned that following all of the rules makes you pretty boring. With that being said, I present you with some original haikus that may not be very Japanese but have 5/7/5 syllables, more or less (seriously, sometimes more, sometimes less).

Good morning, students,

How are you today? We are

Fine, fine, always fine.

I’m speaking English.

You are speaking Thai, I think?

Isaan? Loa? Chinese? Not sure.


You like my skin white, nose big.

You are lovely, too!

Mattayom one nine,

Loud. Crazy. Sometimes amazing.

My little monsters.

Have you eaten yet?

Before there’s time to answer,

Fruit, snacks, noodles, kanom.

Happy Monday!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Very Parisian Christmas

When I was in second grade, our class did a unit on French art and culture, with a special focus on the Impressionist painters. I couldn’t have cared less about the historical context at the time, but I was mesmerized by the images of the paintings we studied, especially those by Monet and Renoir. My teacher brought in baguettes and brie cheese several times, which we ate in the garden outside, listening to her read Madeline and dreaming of picnics along the Seine. Ever since then, I have dreamt of visiting Paris during the springtime, strolling in the in front of the Eiffel Tower with the coolest beret ever perched on my head. Well, I finally made it there, but not during the spring. It's the most beautiful city I've ever seen.

I spent this Christmas in Paris with my friend Elise, as I had put off buying a plane ticket home until prices were at the point where I could have taken two trips to Paris for the cost of a round-trip flight. We flew in on Christmas Eve (myself at 9 AM, Elise at 8 PM), and left the morning of December 28th. It was a strange Christmas, but a very good one all the same. My trip to Paris was by far one of the, if the, best trip I have ever on. I’ve been to some pretty amazing places in the last few years, but those trips never went as smoothly or were so relaxing.

I was really nervous about being in Paris by myself for a day, although I have no idea why. After my passport fiasco in Prague and the ensuing craziness until arriving in Budapest, I thought could no longer be fazed by travel nerves, but I was wrong. Maybe I was just anxious about being away from my family on Christmas for the first time? Anyway, I was kind of a mess when I arrived at de Gaulle, mostly cause I was so excited I couldn't fall asleep, then overslept and took a taxi to the airport looking like a hot mess. After a train ride into the city, I wandered around Montmartre a bit with my huge backpack looking like a confused version of Dora the Explorer before arriving at our hostel, aptly named “Le Hostel.” That is only one of the reasons why I loved it so. Located one block from the Anvers metro, our window had a spectacular view of Sacre Coeur that took my breath away when I drew back the curtains for the first time.

After freshening up a bit -this is Europe after all people, you can’t wear sweatpants in public here and get away with it! – I made my way toward to the Louvre for some quality time with the world’s art treasures. The Louvre was perfect to see alone, because it is really, incredibly huge and I kept getting lost. I can’t imagine trying to keep track of someone in it, especially if you like to look at artwork at your own pace. In short, I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon, especially on Christmas Eve. I’m not sure if the reason I enjoyed the Mona List so much was because it is truly a great work of art or because I had built up so much anticipation, though.

I won’t go through the trip in too much detail, so here are some highlights...

Coming out of tunnel while on the Metro and seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time. Thought process: like wham BAM hey EIFFEL TOWER WOW. Eating the most creamy, smooth goat cheese I’ve ever tried at La Coupole on Christmas Day. Coming around the corner at Trocadero and seeing the Eiffel Tower light show - then having a mini-picnic with champagne with that as our dinner entertainment. Accidentally tagging along with a French tour group at Versailles into off-limit areas...then getting escorted out of the room while 250 + tourists look on. Trying to get a picture of yourself in the Hall of Mirrors without a bunch of other tourists walking in front of you (which is impossible, btw).Gazing at the different brushstrokes in Monet’s paintings at the L’Orangerie. Biting into a multi-colored macaroon at Laduree, and testing numerous French perfumes I can’t possibly afford at Guerlain and Annick Goutal. The smell of decades of old books at Shakespeare and Company; biting into a Nutella and banana crepe while gazing up at Notre Dame. Waking up to the sun rising over Sacre Coeur and Montmartre. Eating at least two more crepes, because hey, why not? It’s Christmas after all. Completing the ‘Tour de Chocolat’ dessert tray with a pear topped with Valrhona white chocolate whipped cream. Exploring a new city with a new friend and feeling so lucky that you have the opportunity to do so!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Eve in Copenhagen is vaguely reminiscent of what being an extra in Apocalypse Now or Saving Private Ryan must have been like – exciting, but loud and uncertain, with the slightest chance that you might not make it out alive. Unlike in Pennsylvania, people here can purchase full-size fireworks. As much as I love the Danes, their ability to put away large quantities of alcohol already scares me a bit. Adding large explosive objects is maybe not the best idea? Come New Year’s Eve, my street was full of revelers in tuxedos and sparkly dresses, setting off fireworks in the bike lanes and allowing me to see fireworks from 100 meters away. Was it beautiful and wonderful? Yes. Was I convinced a firework was going to come flying through my window? Yes. Happy 2012!

Entries about my Fulbright project and Christmas trip to Paris are coming tomorrow, but for now I wanted to post something I wrote a while back about the meaning of the Fulbright program. Funding is under threat of being cut in the United States. Did you know that the Danish government provides more than half of my grant money? Thank you, Denmark, but I don’t think that’s quite fair to you. You may agree or disagree with some of the things I say here, but I just wanted to express my opinion about the value of my experience – it is more than just being an “academic tourist,” as some have critiqued it. I’d also like to add that the sum of my experience is far more nuanced and complicated than what I’m describing here. It would honestly take me days to try and fully explain what I’ve learned and gained from my time in Copenhagen.

I’ll try to elaborate on this more later. In the meantime, something that I am better coming to understand is that a Fulbright experience is not always something clear cut – one cannot always say: today I accomplished this, I learned this, I resolved this. What I do here in Denmark is not necessarily something that will be completed in 10 months, although that is not to say I do not plan and hope to have something concrete to show from my time here.

The purpose of the Fulbright program is to foster understanding between Americans and citizens of foreign countries. I don’t believe that the need for Americans to connect with people from other countries has lessened in the years since the program was created, although the reason for fostering those relationships may have evolved with the times. Some might ask why Congress should continue to fund the Fulbright Program if America is no longer concerned about going to war with Europe? This is why.

Americans are told that they live in an increasingly interconnected world – and while this may be true digitally and even personally for some Americans, many of us will never have the opportunity to truly interact with people from around the globe. Ironically, we live in a nation whose actions have the ability to impact the entire world. For that reason, it is vital for Americans to try to understand and relate to our international neighbors.

And this is where the Fulbright program makes an important contribution. Upon the completion of their grant periods, Fulbright recipients bring back a level of understanding and experience within their host country that you would not be able to gain through a year of simply travelling. Depending upon their project, Fulbright scholars learn, teach, and work in the institutions of their host country, interacting with the native people and other international scholars in ways that a tourist could never hope to achieve.

Not only do Fulbright scholars bring back understanding of other cultures, but also an understanding of how those other cultures can influence America for the better. Fulbright scholars also have the potential to help the citizens of other countries understand what knowledge Americans can bring to the figurative table, in both a more personal manner and a less intrusive one than our government has often taken in the past. It is part of our role to put a face to America while abroad, or conversely, give our fellow Americans stories and images that illustrate our host country on multiple levels.