Language Problems for Everyone

I have gained a HUGE  amount of respect for international students and U of T, especially those who had to learn English to come here. I came in September with very little knowledge of Spanish, and 6 months into this exchange, it’s still a major struggle. That being said, I definitely feel like I’ve made progress, but that’s inevitable when in Spain, taking classes in Spanish and hanging out with Spanish-speaking people. That last one is key; one of the most beneficial things has been the effort not to spend too much time with English speakers, aka my exchange bubble. I went from hardly being able to put together a sentence to confidently talking to friends, shopkeepers, and even professors. I’m far, far from fluent, however. I still regularly mispronounce, mess up grammar, and fail understand what someone is saying every now and then, but it never gets bad enough to make conversation impossible.

One thing is for sure: even years of Spanish class back in Canada wouldn’t have moved me as far along as these few months here have. Although grammar books, worksheets and tape-recordings are good training wheels, spending time with locals is the only way to  become able to talk somewhat naturally.  That’s the one of the main reasons why all of those years of mandatory French class haven’t done much for most of us, and interestingly enough, Spaniards face a very similar problem with English.

English is taught here at school from a young age, just like French is to us. French is taught to us with the hopes of a bilingual Canada, and the promise of better job opportunities. English is taught to Spaniards with one big motive, absolute necessity. English is one of the most (if not the most) useful international languages and many jobs around Europe require it. Even in Spain itself, which is on the heels of the economic crisis, many companies, in the hopes of becoming more internationally competitive, are hiring only those who are well-versed in English.

The problem is that English is generally taught to Spanish students like French is to us. Keep in mind, I’ve never stepped foot in an English class here (it would be fun, though), but I’ve spoken to many of my Spanish friends and their opinions on this are pretty consistent. There’s too much emphasis on worksheets, lectures and tests and not enough practice for real-life situations, just like for us. I’ll skip the bigger-issue discussion about school system flaws in general blah blah blah and go right to the consequences. Spaniards are losing jobs. Because of a lack of English skills Spanish students, already suffering a crisis-affected job market, have it even worse when English-speaking foreigners come in and take the better jobs.

I’m doing my part by helping out some of my friends practice their English, but this is an issue far beyond my reach. I understand now that as difficult as language learning is, language teaching is much more difficult to do properly. However, young people here are very smart, and very dedicated, so I’m sure things will get better soon enough.

Until next time,

PS: If you’re wondering about the lack of pictures, I had an…um…eventful…weekend, and I lost my phone (which also happens to be my main camera). More on that and the Madrid night-life in general in another post …

Dublin

This past week I had a few days off from uni so I decided to visit my friend Kat in Dublin. She visited me a few weeks earlier in London so I happily returned the favour. She’s from U of T as well and she’s doing a semester abroad at University College Dublin. I can honestly say the city Dublin was not what I expected. I don’t know exactly what I thought it was going to be like, but I remember thinking it was a lot bigger and nicer.

Even though it’s still February, everything is starting to bloom already. UCD is a campus uni with lots of modern buildings and green space. There are even a few ponds – it’s all quite lovely!

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 1.11.28 AM

Making friends with the swans

I think I would have been perfectly happy doing an exchange at UCD. To anyone considering it, it has my seal of approval. And I’m a stranger on the Internet, so I know that must mean a lot.

Whilst there, I also visited Trinity College Dublin, famous for its library containing the Book of Kells. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the book, but the library itself is stunning. It reminded me of the Hogwarts, so naturally, I never wanted to leave.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 1.11.39 AM Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 1.11.55 AM

I would have happily sat and read in this place… but sadly, the library is no longer in use and all the books are untouchable archives.

The next day, we hit the streets. I think the best way I can describe Dublin is hip. I would love to spend at least a month there just so I can try out all of the restaurants, cafes, and pubs. This is one of the more famous Irish pubs in the city:

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 1.12.09 AM

We also wandered into the Irish Parliament house…

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 1.12.21 AM

And a medieval church…

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 1.12.36 AM

The best places are always the ones you don’t expect to go to.

And of course, before leaving Dublin, I made Kat take me to a proper Irish pub, with live music sung by a cute musician and all. I had a pint of Guinness and regretted it sorely. I don’t know how people drink that stuff (sorry Ireland).

Overall, Dublin was a blast, and if anyone’s considering visiting – you won’t regret it.

Next stop, Berlin!

Talk soon,

Veronika

Canadians in Berlin

Proud to be canadian_thumb[1]

Not having access to television sort of put me behind following the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. I was not really into the ‘Olympic spirit’ this time around. Usually I am always one for the Olympic Games and I am an avid follower every two years. Whatever following that I did do was either watching the replays on the internet or following my CBC mobile app with updates whenever possible. Of course, I did manage to watch the most important event of the entire games: ice hockey. For us Canadians, it all comes down to that. I was so happy and proud when both our men’s and women’s hockey teams won the Gold medal.

Yet there was one event, the men’s gold medal hockey game, which I will never forget in my life. I took a German friend of mine to a sports bar in the afternoon (not as early as 7am in Toronto, good on ya for doing it) to catch the most important hockey game for all Canadians, which arises only once every four years. As I walked in the front door, I forgot for a second that I was in Berlin, Germany- a country thousands of kilometres across the Atlantic Ocean away from my home. I thought I entered a Canadian bar.

IMG_4697

First of all, I was wearing my Toronto Maple Leafs toque. As soon as I entered, some Canadian dude, who already had a few to drink, put his arm around me and yelled out: “EH buddy, awesome toque you got on there, EHHH!” (the “eh” was of course accented for the joke between us two). I was not expecting such a welcome. I honestly thought I would merely arrive at some empty German sports bar in the middle of a Sunday afternoon to watch a sport that is not so popular (it’s all about Soccer here).

I arrived halfway through the first period, so the whole atmosphere was already in full swing. I walked into a sea of red and white. There were people with Canadian Flags wrapped around them, Roots jackets and sweaters, hockey jerseys, red plaid shirts and a Blue Jays ball cap. Hearing phrases around me such as “that’s a beauty Owen Nolan retro jersey you got on there!” or “oh yah bud, that was a big period for the boys eh!” or “I went to the Winter Classic this year!” really made me feel at home.

IMG_4702

... and a lonely Swedish fan

… and a lonely Swedish fan

Most of the people watching the game were from Canada. I met a group of travelling students from Toronto and we immediately struck up a conversation. From who I talked to, there were Canadians from Edmonton, Montreal and British Columbia. The amazing part, which I found really cool, is that some of the waiters and bar tenders were wearing something that was red and white or something that said ‘Canada’ on it. Quite a few native Germans wore Team Canada hockey jerseys too! To see my home country being so embraced and welcomed abroad warmed my heart. It was one moment in my life where I felt so proud to be a Canadian. Yes, I know that many of the spectators were in fact Canadian and hence the booming atmosphere, but the way we were greeted and supported by the locals was the best part of the whole experience.

As the game was winding down and we had the game in the bag with a 3-0 lead over the Swedes, our national anthem ‘O Canada’ suddenly erupted from us all within the bar. Singing ‘O Canada’ in Berlin with many other people on a Sunday afternoon was something I will never forget. I got the goosebumps during the entire song.

There is one thing I can say for sure about my year abroad thus far. As ironic as it sounds, being away from Canada hasn’t brought me further away from who I am, but rather brought me closer to my country. I am learning more about myself and Canada in these past months than I ever did living in Toronto for the past 21 years. People actually notice that I sometimes, unintentionally, throw in an “Eh” in my sentences. Many don’t know the rules of ice hockey, which is understandable, but knowing them makes me feel uniquely Canadian. I have, no joke, been told that I say “aboot” and not “about”, something I never would have noticed myself. I know what real ‘Canadian bacon’ tastes like and I miss it. I know what a ‘Double-Double’ is from Tim Horton’s. Being recognized as the guy from the huge land of Canada with vast wilderness and brutal winters makes me feel somehow special.

Flag raising ceremony

Flag raising ceremony

I would never trade such experiences away for anything and I am sure that I will continue to learn more about who I am and where I come from. To end this blog post and to echo the famous Molson Canadian beer slogan:

I AM CANADIAN!

Weekend culinary delights

This past weekend, I’ve finally decided to make use of the oven in my apartment. It is apparently very rare for apartments in Paris to have an oven, not to mention the full oven that I currently enjoy much to the envy of my culinary-savvy friends. I am not, by far, an excellent cook. Nor does my cooking expertise lie in the art of baking. However, struck by a moment of whimsy and with a friend who actually knows how to bake, I made quiche lorraine and crepes – which doesn’t use the oven, but let’s include it here to make the list look more impressive.

Quiche Lorraine - pretty good for my first attempt

Quiche Lorraine – I would say it’s pretty good for my first attempt

The result of two hours of mucking about in the kitchen was, in my opinion, surprisingly aesthetically pleasing and tasty. I fully believe there is something in the dairy products here that makes them so delicious. Speaking of dairy products, there is a popular cafe across the street from Sciences Po called cafe Basile that has the most amazing butter on their tartines (which is nothing fancy, just sliced baguettes with butter and jam on top, but very good!).

Crepes! I've mastered the technique of flipping crepes. It is very simple to make, and a lot cheaper than those 4 euros you have to pay outside...

Crepes! I’ve mastered the technique of flipping crepes. It is very simple to make, and so much cheaper than those 4 euros you have to pay to get one at a street stand.

More culinary efforts may follow in the future. Now that I have taken the first step, I might try my hands at making other traditionally French food. Maybe one day the smell of the desserts I have made will finally overcome the tempting smell of freshly baked bread from the boulangerie downstairs.

On another note, next week will be reading week for university students in Paris. Classes are starting to become emptier as the weekend approaches as people fly off to their destination of choice. I have friends who are going to Morocco, Iceland, Sweden – all over Europe. There are just so many places to visit, and only 7 weeks left in the semester! No doubt I should be working on my assignments due after the break, but I will be travelling to Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary instead! Photos to come when I return.

Until next time!

A Debate, a Dissection, & a Dinner

Hej hej!

More and more it looks like spring has come to stay here in Lund. The days are slowly getting longer, the birds have begun their early morning serenades, and I have managed to spend some time outside without having to dress is triple layers.

The final version of our poster.

The final version of our poster.

Since my last post, I have wrapped up the project regarding phenotypic plasticity. I began, and finished, another project regarding how climate change impacts aquatic biodiversity, and I am now working on a debate article addressing the multiple stressors affecting the health of the Baltic Sea and what should be done to ensure sustainability into the future. Writing this article has proved challenging, mainly because my partner and I have been given the position of fisheries experts. That is to say, we must produce an article, and prepare for a class debate, in which we will be defending fisheries’ rights to remain in the Baltic and continue fishing at roughly the same current levels. This is a hard argument to make considering the horrific affects many fishing industries have on aquatic environments (destruction of the benthos by trawls, by-catch, noise pollution, altering population dynamics, etc.). However, preparing for the debate has helped me realize some of the other issues preventing sustainable fisheries, such as the over-consumption of meat products by affluent nations, which is exasperated by the current consumer demand for low fish prices.  I am interested, albeit slightly nervous, to see how this all plays out during the debate. The other stakeholder groups that will be represented are Agriculture, Engineers, and the Green Movement.

Helsingør waterfront. Photo credit: tpsdave.

Helsingør waterfront. Photo credit: tpsdave

Outside of the classroom, I managed to take a ferry ride across Øresund into Denmark. I spent the day in the beautiful seaside town of Helsingør. To be exact, much of the day was actually spent at the town’s small aquarium where a white-beaked Dolphin was being dissected (note – this dolphin died in the wild and its carcass was found washed ashore). The dissection, as one can imagine, was rather graphic, but it was a great learning experience. Additionally, I was greatly surprised by the interest expressed by many of the children who where visiting the aquarium that day. As they gathered ever more closely to the dissection area (which was just an area of grass outback covered with a tarp) I thought for sure these kids would scatter once the veterinarian began his work. However, they proceeded to move so close that the organizers had to bring out chairs and tape to produce a makeshift barricade.

White-beaked dolphin.

White-beaked dolphin.

A final noteworthy event to mention from the past two weeks would have to be the lovely Valentine’s Day dinner I went to on the 14th. Now, I’m sure you’re imagining a romantic restaurant with couples at every seat, but it was actually a group event that took place in a friend’s kitchen. I think the size of the group fluctuated between 10-12 throughout the night. We ate, we sang, we danced, and we played charades. I’m normally quite indifferent to Valentine’s Day, but if it gives me the excuse to attend a party with the aforementioned items, then I must say that I’m looking forward to February 14th, 2015.

Yup, at 27 years old my mum still sends me Valentine's Day cards. I make fun of her for it, but secretly I'm very grateful.

Yup, although I’m 27 my mum still sends me Valentine’s Day cards. I make fun of her for it, but secretly I’m very grateful (thanks mum).

Until next time!

Abby

Tourists. Tourists Everywhere.

“The Door of the Sun” sounds pretty lame in English, but out here, “Puerta del Sol” not only sounds nice, but it’s also the name given to the most popular destination in Madrid. This means that it’s the perfect place to witness just how ridiculously rampant tourism is in this city.

Instead of stats and facts, I’ll share a couple of the things I’ve seen with my own eyes. Sol is right in the middle of Madrid. I catch the train to school there every day, so every day I’m running through dozens of  groups of old people with cameras, Hawaiian shirts, visors (even in winter) walking ever-so-slowly behind tour guides and pointing at things. For those among them who prefer not to walk, there are also these big, red beauties:

20140105_132657

I am almost sure that there are more tour buses than cars in Madrid

Most of the scene is pretty typical, but Spain is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and it didn’t get there by just sticking with the typical. Eventually, even the most passionate of tourists risk growing tired of the monuments, the restaurants and the souvenir shops. This is where the street performers come in.

20140105_133618

O hi…

You’ve heard of magicians and dancers, but Madrid likes to keep things a little more eccentric. One of the best examples you’ll notice at Sol are some lovable but somewhat out-of-place cartoon characters.

20140105_133600

Not quite Disneyland but it’s a start I guess.

 20140105_133951

Come take a picture with me kids, as long as you’re ready to pay!

But of course it’s not all for the kids! Adults can have fun too, and what’s more exciting and animated than a human statue!

20140105_13415620140131_17390520140131_173939

20140105_134059(0)

I have to admit that this last one did have me pretty impressed. It’s one of the many reasons why even 6 months into my exchange, I still like to stop for a little while at Sol and enjoy the sights. What I see makes obvious why tourism is Spain’s greatest source of income. As much as I might be getting bored of some of the gimmicky aspects of it all, it’s clearly a joy for tourists, and even for many of the locals. In any case, no one can deny that overall, Madrid is an incredible place, and definitely worth the visit.

Until next time,

Jonny K

Rediscovering London

Staying put for a long time can be difficult. I find that I get comfortable and forget to explore my surroundings. Luckily, two of my close friends came to visit me in London (one after the other) so I got the opportunity to rediscover the city that I live in.

First, my friend from Toronto came to visit. Because she had never been to London, I took her to some tourist attractions that I hadn’t been on myself since I was quite young.

Unfortunately, being a tourist isn’t cheap, but it was fun nonetheless.

Here’s a shot from the London Eye:

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 12.30.34 PM

And one of Westminster through the rain:

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 12.30.56 PM

Big Ben

My friend visited for a week and she still didn’t get to see everything she wanted to. That just shows that when you’re travelling, you have to plan out your time beforehand. Of course, getting everything done gets hard when it’s raining and all you want to do is sleep in! Nonetheless, we made it to Westminster, Covent Gaden, Oxford Circus, Picadilli Circus, Soho, and Chinatown. We even managed to go to Cardiff for a night. Talk about exhausting!

Before I could relax, my other friend, who goes to U of T and is doing a semester abroad in Dublin, came to visit for the weekend.

She had been to London before, so she was more interested in seeing the parts of the city that are less touristy. But we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop by Platform 9 and 3/4 at King’s Cross station…

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 12.31.33 PM

Off to Hogwarts I go!

Quite hilariously, there’s a man who wraps a scarf around you and then waves it around for a photo. How does one obtain this job? Must look into it.

Following our Harry Potter excursion, we got into the spirit of Valentine’s Day and got our own love lock in Covent Garden for charity.

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 12.31.59 PM

Kat and I

At some point or other (my memory is just jumbled), we took a cute stroll down Carnaby street, stopping in some shops along the way…

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 12.32.14 PM

Not sure what this is for but it’s awesome

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 12.32.23 PM

Rule Britania

These past few weeks have been absolutely exhausting but so much fun! It’s always great to see familiar faces, and I got to introduce old friends to new.

Now if only I could catch up on sleep… but with school work and play rehearsals, that doesn’t seem likely. Ah well.

Til next time,

Veronika

The Arts in Berlin: An Attempt to Scratch the Surface

One blog post simply cannot even come close to describing the art scene here in Berlin. Berlin has tons of museums, theatres, galleries, concert halls, classical events, performances, street art, concerts, special exhibitions … the list is literally endless. To cover and to see it all would be impossible no matter how long someone stays in Berlin, mostly due to the fact that this scene is always changing, always evolving. With this blog I will briefly discuss three events and how they relate to my personal experience with what I have seen in here so far in relation to the arts.

The Berlinale logo and I

The Berlinale logo and I

Action on the Red Carpet

Action on the Red Carpet

Firstly, this past week was the start of the famous Berlinale, Berlin’s International Film Festival. Like TIFF, Toronto’s International Film Festival, the Berlinale is one of the world’s leading film festivals in the world. Yesterday I went to see the action live on the Red Carpet with a really good friend of mine who is from Poland. I never saw such a spectacle in real life; usually just on TV back home. To actually see the actors and directors roll up in fancy cars all dressed up was quite the experience. It took place at Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, one of the most important and major intersection hubs within the city of Berlin. This week we plan to get tickets and see the screening of one of the films. I am really looking forward to seeing further what a film festival is all about! I have never done such a thing before.

Stars rolling up

Stars rolling up

Next. Musical street performers … they are all over the city. From performing live at open-air markets on the weekend, to simply on the side of the street, to playing in parks, to dancing within the subway stations, to even strolling through the public trains, changing cars as they go along- they are everywhere. What is amazing about such performances in Berlin, is the diversity of what they do. I have seen solo singers perform wonderful works. There have been bands ranging from three to about eight members. Those who are really talented, make a LOT of money. I saw once a guitar case filled with what must have easily been at least 300 Euros.

Musical group at Mauerpark, an open-air Sunday market

Musical group at Mauerpark, an open-air Sunday market

A trio band performig in the Tiergarten

A trio band performig in the Tiergarten

There are guitarists, musicians who play every type of brass instrument you can think of, harmonica players, drummers, pianists, and even some foreign instruments which I have never seen before in my life. In particular, I enjoy how they mix genres and try to create new, funky sounds. It is hard to describe with mere words, but these street performers create new alternative music which is edgy and always exciting. One must simply hear it with their own ears. Most of these performers look well off, as if they do it often for money or just for fun because it’s what they love to do. Yet some, I can tell, are less fortunate, and it’s all they’ve got. Quite a few homeless people trying to make ends meet, performing what they can.

Unique music in Berlin's Mitte district

Unique music in Berlin’s Mitte district

A drummer in the Prenzlauer Berg district

A drummer in the Prenzlauer Berg district

Interesting instrument

Interesting instrument

Guitarist playing at Mauerpark

Guitarist playing at Mauerpark

A guitar player under a bridge at Alexanderplatz

A guitar player under a bridge at Alexanderplatz

Finally, I would like to share my experience I had one night at the very famous Berliner Philharmonie. It is a concert hall, home to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.  The building itself is known for its amazing acoustics and its distinct architecture. I was blown away by the interior of the concert hall!  It holds a few thousand people and it looks breathtaking. The orchestra played very well and there was a famous female violinist who had a few solo performances too. One portion of the entire show included a massive organ that was super loud- I felt pretty rattled afterwards. I am normally not exposed to classical music, so this entire evening for me was a new experience and I enjoyed it. I definitely plan to see more such events in the future while I am still in Berlin.

The Berliner Philharmonie, simply breathtaking

The Berliner Philharmonie, simply breathtaking

Never Bored in this City

Second week of classes over, and as much as I want to pretend it’s not happening, work is starting to appear (and denying it only seems to make it worse!). Nevertheless, I get to take a break from readings to give you guys a shout.

The main thing to hit New York – besides the tail-end of the polar vortex – has been the

Superbowl Blvd.

Superbowl Blvd.

Superbowl (am I allowed to legally use its name now?). Times Square had been turned into ‘Superbowl Boulevard,’ and with the Big Game happening just across the Hudson River, people were definitely excited – heck, even I was looking forward to it. But wouldn’t you know it, the game ends up being one of the most lopsided events in history. At least Bruno Mars brought his a-game (as usual), and seeing the Seinfeld commercial filmed at the nearby ‘Tom’s Restaurant,’ was pretty cool.

 

 

Just wanted to mention a few places and faces that I was lucky enough to encounter this week –

  1. Boutique Barbershop


highly recommended for any New Yorker on the go
When I get to a new city, I always try to find some hole-in-the-wall spots; if anyone knows
me you might know about my favourite smoothie place at Yonge and Grosvenor ;). This happened when I went to Boutique Barbershop, for the most efficient haircut ever, both time-wise and space-wise. Definitely coming back.

 

 

 

2. The Met

When the weather was good a few of us decided to walk, through Central Park, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We gave ourselves two hours, and I only saw a fraction of what this immense public good has to offer. Definitely coming back here too!

 

3. Old friends, new meetups

totally unplannedLike I mentioned, I was compelled to come to the States after my exchange at Fudan University. Well it just so happened that one of my friends from the trip is working in Manhattan. We reunited, and went on a great tour in the financial district. And I just so happened to be wearing my shirt from the trip, hehe.

 

 

 

 

Looking forward to more nights in Butler Library this week, and there are two shows to look forward to as well; if you watch the Daily Show, tune in on Wednesday and listen for a distinctive laugh.

Happy year of the horse, and until next time – Sam