Archive

general

63318_door_closed_lg

I haven’t lived in an apartment very long. I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in a house, and from there I moved on to dorms, the occasional hostel, and back home. I’ve been living in this apartment  since June and, safe to say, have had my fair share of hiccups already. My place is perfect for my needs – a 350 sq. foot studio with a deck for myself and my 10-lb chihuahua. I’m totally happy with it, except for one small problem: it’s brand new.

Why is a brand new apartment building a problem? Hiccups. There was that time, or four, when the fire alarm went off in the wee hours of the morning, with no actual fire. Then there was that other time when the carbon monoxide alarm went off while I was in the shower, and I almost ran downstairs in a towel.

Recently, however, I had quite the amusing incident. Amusing, embarrassing… a little bit of both. The other night I was making some tea. I have an electric kettle, and I happened to also be running my fan and have the lights on, which appeared to be too much for the meagre electrical capabilities of my unit; my fuse blew. This is nothing new for me – over the summer I blew the fuse an average of twice per week. So I did what I always do – went down to room 101, where the fuse box is, and opened the door. This time, however, instead of finding an empty unit… the lights were on. There was a pot on the stove. While my brain registered that someone had clearly moved into this unit, which used to be empty, my body couldn’t stop opening the door, and I found myself face-to-face with the brand new resident of unit 101, who had apparently forgotten to lock his door. I doubt he’ll ever make that mistake again, and while he was both gracious and understanding, I’m fairly certain my face had turned the vague shade of a tomato.

Lesson learned? Knock on doors before entering. Also, don’t make tea after dark or when running the fan.

In September, I wrote a bit about the reverse culture shock of coming home from my big adventure and trying to re-create my life. Since I stopped writing those posts, it’s safe to say that I did successfully find myself again in California. I stopped watching hours of television during the day, started working at both jobs, took an art class, and even reconnected with friends I’d grown to love before I left. In the intervening months, it’s safe to say that I haven’t done much else – I’ve started adhering to a workout plan and took over the marketing at the wine shop, but besides that and my friends, not much has been happening. Until now.

gradschoolNow, dear readers, I have finally made myself a plan, and it certainly does feel good to be working towards a goal once again. Not only have I decided to train for a half-marathon, but I am applying to grad school. That’s right, this is actually happening. On February 20th, I start my official GRE prep class, and, until then, I am learning long, complex vocabulary words and writing personal statements for postbaccalaureate programs.

While I would never claim to enjoy studying, throwing myself into something, working towards a specific, concrete goal, is downright exhilarating. I’ve had these pre-made GRE prep cards sitting under my bed since I moved home in 2011 and I never made it past the C’s because there wasn’t a specific goal at the end of the GRE. Now, there is a goal, and it feels great to dust off my study habits.

So, here’s to starting again, and taking the first step on the long path that is a big-kid career.

I’m not someone who watches television very much. In fact, when I say “television,” what I mean is “I don’t often watch my computer,” because I don’t even own a television. I’m not morally opposed or anything, just too indifferent to spend my time and money on buying a television and cable service and doing all the upkeep and whatnot that it requires. Plus, there really isn’t a good place for one in our house, unless we got a giant flatscreen and put it over the fireplace or something, but that seems almost sacreligious. Like, the fireplace is such a homey, cozy spot, modernizing it with a tv would sort of defile it. Anyhow, I think this “not watching much tv” thing came from my first year of college, when I was rowing. Since socializing outside the team was near impossible (we had practice at 4.45 am every day, and regattas on the weekend, leaving only mealtimes and class to pack in all your socialization and friend-making), so many of my Friday and Saturday pre-practice or pre-regatta evenings were spent watching Greek or Gossip Girl, or some other lame show that made me wish that I was also out there living my life, making friends and poor decisions, rather than just sitting there and watching other people do so. After a year of this, I felt sad and pathetic. Worse still, I was BORED. I think boredom, when you are blessed with a great brain and surrounded by fascinating and brilliant peers on a gorgeous campus is one of the worst crimes imaginable.  Anyhow. First and sophomore years marked my departure from television. I vowed to start living and experiencing, rather than simply watching. Predictably, this meant that I started partying a lot. I’m still pro-partying, so long as it’s not to excess. I think it really is one of the best ways to experience friends and acquaintances without all the weird falsenesses and pretensions of “coffee dates” or whatever. When you think about it, partying is one of the few times when most everyone present is truly present – focused on the people around them rather than what’s for dinner tonight, or how much they dislike their job, or whatever it is people spend their time thinking about. But, if you are busy living your life 24/7, I have found, you end up exhausted, and after three months of no television (you can’t stream in Europe and the Middle East) I have rediscovered my love of hulu and projectfreetv.

I’m a fan of HBO, as a network. I’ve never actually had it, but I like a lot of what HBO has done – made sex acceptable dinnertime conversation with Sex and the City, helped kids with autism sing, dance, and raise money with Autism, the Musical, and even gave everyone a little vampire softcore  with True Blood, to name a few. Lena Dunham’s new series, Girls, I think, is pure genius.  No, it’s not all that original, and in fact the comparisons with Sex and the City run deep. It focuses on one young woman, who is a (n aspiring) writer living in New York City with her three best friends. The four personalities even have similarities- there is a hardworking and earnest prude, the gorgeous and over-sexed blonde,  the tries-too-hard-to-be-liked-and-follow-rules student, and the hardly-has-her-act-together writer and main protagonist. While they have their various loves and lovers, the main theme of their friendship is central.

As you expect on HBO, the sex scenes are multiple and graphic, but unlike the porny perfection of SATC or True Blood, these actresses are refreshingly real, and portray all too well the insecurities and inexperience of their youth. Hannah, our protagonist, is downright curvy, and we get to see her in every state of undress. Although the friendships are a bit underdeveloped as yet, what really rings true about these young women are their relationships to themselves, to men, and to the new world of the professional workplace. We see Hannah get herself into and out of a number of downright humiliating positions, but emerge with the resilience of someone who certainly has double my self-esteem. Interestingly, Adam, Hannah’s love interest, is the most sexualized character – in the first five episodes he hasn’t appeared wearing a shirt, and never leaves his own apartment. While I’m not one for analysis, I would be curious to hear what an English or Film major would say about his sexualization and near-imprisonment, as we almost always see him through the door or window. The relationship between Hannah and Adam probably resonates with most women between the ages of 18-30, and paints a pretty clear picture of the sad reality of dating a hipster manchild.

attractive? yes, but still a refreshing choice as sex symbol.

At one point during the pilot, Hannah tells her parents, “I think I’m the voice of my generation… or at least a voice, of a generation,” and it couldn’t be more true. Girls is certainly just as white as SATC, and it portrays a different kind of upper-middle-class existence. Although Hannah and co. don’t wear couture, they are graduates of a small, liberal arts college who receive support from their parents. While this is clearly not abnormal in many cultures, there are very few families who can financially support their children through and after college, in a city like New York. I wouldn’t claim that Hannah Horvath is the voice of my generation, but I think that Lena Dunham has done an incredible job creating a show that so aptly captures the reality of the slightly aimless recent graduate.

The word connotes boredom, monotony, monogamy. I used to be so pro-commitment that I was confident I would marry my high school boyfriend. Five years later, I can’t even decide which color I prefer my hair. For a while, I admired this less-dependent, more capricious version of myself. I felt more confident, I was at liberty to pursue whichever inane impulses flitted across my brain, and dismissed anything that required much forethought or contemplation.

Am I actually limiting myself by being footloose and fancy-free?

Lately, however, I’ve come to realize that my inability to commit hasn’t made my life more interesting and carefree, but a bit more dull. A little less exciting. More quotidian, run by the need to pay my rent and plan for my so-called “future.” I find myself thinking, if only I had taken that gap year in college, or decided to be an au pair in Italy, or joined the Peace Corps, I would be having an amazing adventure. The application process, the planning, the idea of thinking a year or two in advance, however, always stopped me. The thought, what if something better comes along – what if I’m struck by the notion that I’m actually meant to be a painter or potter or playwright – always stopped me from taking the next step. The fear that I actually didn’t know what it was that I wanted, that I would change course midstream and find myself stranded and unable to fight the current, brought me back to reality.

And yet, every moment in my life that I reflect upon with pride, that marked the beginning of an exhilarating, mind-blowing, self-defining and perspective-expanding journey, has been marked by commitment. Applying early decision to Wellesley College. Accepting an internship in Switzerland. Embarking upon a three month trip.

While I was informed, I plunged into a relatively unknown abyss. Although those experiences are marked by nostalgia and homesickness, hatred of Massachusetts snowstorms and the Swiss’ insistence on using dairy in every single meal, I’ve never looked back. I’ve never reflected and thought, god, I wish I’d spent that summer lifeguarding at home, like the past four years. The times when I waffled, where I let my indecision make the decisions, are the times that I’ve been most disappointed in myself – my lack of a real career back home, that trip to Colombia that I never took, my absolutely average academic performance the first two years of college. So now, I’m ready; I’ve decided that it is officially time to commit, to take the plunge, and (hopefully hopefully) do something absurd, like move to India.

Is my desire to go everywhere the same thing that kept me stuck in one place?

So this is the crossroads. An opportunity is in front of me, and when I first contemplated it, I wasn’t certain that I was interested. Forty-eight hours later, I am so desperately in love with the notion that I know I’ll be heartbroken if it doesn’t come to fruition – not so much for the moment (although that is clearly a huge component), but for my future self. I can already feel my middle-aged regrets seeping in, and I’m putting it in writing lest my adorable house and amazing dog and that boy back home who I have a huge crush on tempt me to stay the carefree course.

There are so many positive aspects of international friendships. They open your eyes to sides of the world you never considered, and often open homes and hearts as well, introducing food, culture, art… But, there is a downside to international friendships that sometimes makes me wonder if we should ever leave our hometowns at all: the goodbye. 

When I interned here two years ago, I remember realizing halfway through the session that I would be leaving, and that the magic of that beautiful month would soon be over. I swore I would never return to Caux, because it was already breaking my heart to anticipate that goodbye. Five of us took that train down together, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the group. Sometimes just walking through the Montreux train station takes me back to that moment, the tearful hugs and kisses, and I remember looking into those eyes and wondering if I would ever see them again, if I would ever love that deeply again.

My train to Milan was so lonely, so sterile and underwhelming, after a month of intense discussions, tears and laughter. I’d like to think that I’ve come a long way from that summer, that the past two years have taught me something, that not every goodbye is forever. Caux has become a home away from home, a place where I know the boys in washup and the village bartender and most of the staff by name. Since that first summer traveling, I have actually stayed in contact with some of the hostel friends I picked up along the way. But, despite all of this, the goodbyes haven’t become any easier.

Because for every friendship re-ignited, for every person I go to visit, there are so many more that get lost, forgotten. The notion that you may legitimately never see someone again, ever, is all too real. Sometimes I feel that the internet and Skype are a horrific trap, a trick of modernity, because you may see someone’s face and hear their voice every day, but that doesn’t mean you will ever see them again. Facebook allows you to re-live those moments, keeping the memories so much fresher than a faded box of snapshots that you lose under your bed two months after you return to reality, and slowly forget.

Last night, as some friends and I were going for a late-night dip in the lake, it hit me that this may be my last summer here, and that I could very well be saying goodbye to this place, these friends, and this wonderful country for years, if not forever. I’ve already become nostalgic for this summer, the friendships made, the wine drunk and mountains explored, this castle that feels so much like home.

We have something of a tradition here at Caux. When someone gets on the train to go down the mountain for the final time, we all gather to see them off. We wait with them as they put their luggage on board, and then stand and stare at them until the train starts to move (which always takes longer than you expect), blowing kisses and waving, trying to talk through the thick window. And then we run– as if we can somehow change their mind, their plans, their plane tickets– and we watch them disappear. We know we can’t change these things, but we try anyhow. Maybe it’s for them- so they depart laughing at the image of their friends futilely running after them- but it might be more for us, for those wishing safe travels, so that we know we did everything within our power to make them stay. 

I arrived in Switzerland just over a week ago. It has been a lovely change from the UK, with mostly beautiful weather, although thunder clouds are threatening now. The focus has mostly been on working, and the communications team has been busy creating our plan for the summer, crafting social media strategy, learning to draft press releases, and proofreading conference material.

Thankfully, the house has slowly started to fill up, as interns, conference teams, and department heads have begun to arrive. One of my fellow Comms Assistants and myself took advantage of a day off last Sunday and hiked down to Montreux, a 5-mile trek straight down the mountain that I had never experienced before, and brought us within feet of grazing bulls, cows, and goats.

It doesn’t do justice, but check out those horns!

It was a stunning hike, although our legs were shaking and we were more than ready for a dip in Lake Geneva by the time we reached Montreux.

A few nights ago, we had our first “variety evening,” and I experienced a genuine Swiss yodel for the first time.

As always, the view of Lake Geneva from Caux is absolutely incredible. Last night, we watched the sunset (which doesn’t begin until 8.30 or 9 p,) from a balcony over wine and chocolate, and I cannot remember a more beautiful experience.

Bizarrely, I realized that yesterday marked 20 days out of the US, meaning that I will return to California in just under two months’ time. Although two months is still a long time, this trip seemed immense when I embarked, and I already feel that my time here is speeding by. Regardless, I am happy to see friends and coworkers from summers past, and am thoroughly enjoying hiking in the Alps and swimming in the lake.

What makes a trip successful? Is it the fantastic sights seen, the friends made, the food consumed?  Or is it the mountains climbed, the challenges conquered, the definition of oneself in the midst of the unknown?

Could living in a place like this ever bore you?

I ask these questions not because I have an answer, but because I have experienced a certain disappointment in my travels this time around, which I mentioned earlier, and which still baffles me. My time in London and Edinburgh was phenomenal, and Switzerland is as lovely as ever, so why am I disappointed?

My first international experience was the absolute opposite; despite my horrific journey, I experienced highs higher than I knew existed. I felt like I was upside down half the time, and was baffled by everything around me, from the different languages, accents, and food, to the method of hand-drying. Despite the fact that I was utterly solo, had not a friend to my name on the continent, I never felt alone, fell tragically in love, and made friends in every hostel and city I visited. Now, now that I know all of those I am working with and am only staying with friends, I feel more isolated than ever. Is this simply the result of 20/20 hindsight? Am I seeing the perfections of my first trip, when at the time I felt the sweat of the Milan heat and the blisters from lugging my bag from hostel to hostel? Or, do I simply feel complacent, and disappointed in myself that I am so within my comfort zone?

This brings me to one of my favorite theories in economics: the idea of diminishing marginal returns. Basically, once supply and demand meet, demand falls off. This is because you get fewer returns per extra unit consumed once you pass a certain threshold (on a graph, that point where price demanded meets quantity demanded). This makes sense; while eating, for instance, the pleasure you get per bite decreases dramatically once you are already satisfied. But, does this theory apply to traveling? Do we get bored once we have already seen something of the world? Does the wonder ever cease?

I think that, perhaps, it does, though I am not saying that you should only ever travel once and then become housebound. Yes, the Alps are just as beautiful as they were my first time here, but I come with the expectation of being awed, because I have been. My first time here, I had no expectations, and so was struck as by a tidal wave with the beauty surrounding me. If I come with those expectations, the impact will, naturally, be less.

A competing theory comes from psychology: cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance essentially says that we look back on something, and if the outcome doesn’t match our expectations, we feel discomfort- embarrassment, shame, regret—and therefore change the way we feel about it, or our expectations, in order to reduce those feelings. One example from a psych class I took said that students were more likely to say that they liked a class after they had enrolled in it and began it than beforehand, because they don’t like the idea that they are wasting their precious time or that they guessed wrong when registering for the course. Essentially, pride.

So, my question is this—was my first trip really the incredible experience that I remembered it being, (was I perhaps suffering from cognitive dissonance that attempted to make up for my horrific voyage?) or do we experience diminishing marginal returns while traveling? Truthfully, I would really hate it if I needed a bigger and bigger adrenaline rush every time I went somewhere new. I want to experience awe and wonder the same way I did that first time that I crossed the Atlantic, but if I need to experience something comparatively incredible, I’m going to have to find Mt. Olympus by the time I’m 30.

My answer to both questions is, yes, but not all is lost. I think that I do tend to remember the rosy memories, and to forget the exhaustion that I felt after spending three nights in an airport, and that I made friends because I was desperate and miserable, not because I was surrounded by beautiful, amazing people. I made the experience that I wanted to have. Because of this, I expect every experience to be incredible, and forget the hard work that I put into it to make it incredible.

Thus, I have vowed that I will make this trip just as incredible as that first one. I will push my comfort zones, and I will make new friends, and I will find that adrenaline rush, hopefully all without missing three flights in a row and losing all my luggage. The experience was of my own creation two summers ago, and it will be of my own creation this year, as well.