Friday, 31 August 2012

Remembering Florida I

I used to live in southern Florida (south even of Miami – yes, there’s more than just swamp and beach down there), something which surprises every single person I tell. Nothing about me screams ex-American.

But if you pay attention there are whispers: my ‘r’s are rounded and soft, which may also be put down to the Scottish heritage but probably stem largely from the soft US dialect; I "misspell" words such as colour/color on a regular basis; and last year I infuriated my translation teacher by translating a German word as ‘obligated’, rather than ‘obliged’. There’s a difference apparently – who knew?

Honestly, though, that’s pretty much it apart from a couple of welcome marks on my personality and the odd hazy childhood memory. Thank god my grandma captured that last bit on film when she visited us back in the first few months, or else I might think it was all just a strange and lucid dream…

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Meet me (dancing? if you can call it that…) and my younger brother, Niall (pirate hat). If he finds this, he’ll hate me (SORRY!) but I don’t care. Don’t we look like obnoxious rascals? We almost certainly were.

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Not all the time though. We could be utterly delightful when satiated with food, though Niall is already showing an irritating habit he has of just not being interested in food. People like that just freak me out. Niall, I think you’re broken. I also think I spy a pot of Nutella at the right… pure bliss.

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As Germans from the most traditional part of Germany, we were utterly baffled by American Christmas. Plastic trees? No snow? You can see that Niall and I just don’t really get it in the photos above.

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There’s another thing which a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old didn’t “get”, but thankfully my grandma did: the unique beauty of southern urban Florida.

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My Mum appreciated it too!

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Niall and I were far more interested in hunting for alligators in the everglades.

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And here’s the lady herself, the one behind the camera! My beloved grandmother who just turned 92. Here she is, standing on our roof-terrace.

Next time, you can look forward to a Yellow School Bus, and playground acrobatics! If you subscribe you’ll get notified immediately – and you know you don’t want to miss out on hearing all about my odd little life.


Find part two here.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

52 weeks is a long time to be away

My friends are abandoning me and for once, I couldn’t be happier about it. Three of my good friends from way-back-when (that is, sixth form) are preparing for, or embarking on, their years abroad and all are planning on blogging the hell out of the experience:

You might know about my beloved thespian Ellie, who’s studying German and Italian at the University of Bristol, and who has just spent her first week working at a prestigious theatre in Düsseldorf – it sounds absolutely incredible. After six months in the state of beer and lederhosen (and much else, thank goodness), she’ll be shifting southwards to Bella Italia, where she’ll hopefully also work in a theatre, though one with a distinctly more southern flair! You know you want to read all about it, so click here. I love her to bits and pieces so please do go give it a look.

Victoria is off to Italy, but not as a student of language (or at least, not primarily, since I assume it will take a relatively prominent role!). She’s not just an incredible singer; this girl is a student of Music at the University of Newcastle and, for the coming year at least, a student of song itself at a conservatory in Parma. Interested? I know I am. Click here to read more. (She’s in Florence at the moment, learning Italiano.)

And last but not least: Lucy, who studies German, Spanish and French (the crazy girl does three languages!) at the University of Southampton, will spend the coming year teaching English at a school in mid-northern Spain. If you want to read about her life in Soria, click here.

How do I know these girls? Believe it or not, three long years ago we were all in the same French class at school. Now look how far we’ve come. It brings a tear to my eye…

But enough of that. It’s interesting that they depict so clearly the three different options available to students in the UK who go abroad:

  1. Like Ellie, you could find a job or internship. The obvious benefit is that you can pretty much do whatever you please as long as you can arrange it yourself, which means you can do something that will further your future career, or just something you’ve always wanted to try. You even might get paid! The downside is the lack of stability, and the fact that you have to plan it all yourself. This is really the in-at-the-deep-end approach; not for the faint-hearted, but fun nonetheless.
  2. Like Victoria, you could study abroad at a foreign university. This is great because you can study without the academic pressure, and provided your home university is in agreement you can study pretty much whatever you want. This is probably the easiest way to meet people your own age, and because of the familiar format it’s not too daunting. There is one massive downside of course: you’re still a poor, unemployed student. But that’s what part-time jobs are for!
  3. Like Lucy, you could work as a language assistant with the British Council. A very popular option for many because there is a solid support network, it’s pretty much arranged for you (well, more so than the other two anyway) and you get a salary. It’s also great for people who are interested in teaching, and it’s common to stay with host families which really immerses you in the culture. The downside is that you won’t have total lingual immersion since you’ll spend a considerable amount of time teaching precisely that language which you’re trying to avoid; your own!

That brings us to Fiona, German and Linguistics, University of Oxford…


Unsurprisingly, this has all got me thinking long and hard about what my plans for next year are, when I’ll be taking my year abroad. I’m somewhat torn between the freedom and independence of work and the comfort and opportunities of study. What isn’t unsure is that, as I’m a fluent native German speaker, I want to devote whatever I do in that year to my love of Scandinavia, not German.

Whether that means studying Scandinavian Studies at a university in Berlin; internship-hopping around Oslo and Stockholm; or finding a voluntary position in downtown Reykjavik, I’m not quite sure. I guess we’ll have to wait and see!


Thursday, 9 August 2012

Solution in a Teacup

My jewellery box was overflowing, cheap, and ugly. Every time I had to dig around for the second of a pair of earrings, or disentangle a ring from a necklace I wanted to wear, it would really stress me out. Not Big Stress, but the petulant kind of “well, fine then, Universe, I guess you just want me to be ugly today” shrill irritation.


So I decided to turn to tumblr for inspiration and rectified the situation with a £2 set of teacups and saucers from a charity shop, and some superglue from my Dad’s toolbox.


I think that finding beauty in the ordinary or the plain, or creating beauty from the ugly and the flawed, is something which I really go on about quite a lot (and on and on and on and on and on). Perhaps looking back at some of those past posts, it’s not quite immediately apparent how they show finding beauty… but it’s a series of small choices.

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Imagine you are watching your favourite television program, or reading your favourite book. You’re looking at the life of these characters and you might think that they and their lives are unattainably perfect. Nobody actually curls up in bed, with a cup of hot cocoa, candlelight and a good book. Nobody actually cooks a full meal when they come home exhausted from work. Apart from anything else, it’s all a lot of effort. Right you are! But do it anyway.


To me, it’s a deliberate and defiant act. When I talk about making something beautiful, I’m not talking about the superficial appearance or aesthetic impact of a thing, though that is usually the outcome of beauty. Beauty is proof that there is meaning, and purpose; it’s a testament to the will and the heart of women and men. A doe tenderly stepping through a twilit clearing cannot be described as beautiful unless observed, because beauty isn't inate in the material world. Its genesis is in man.

To make or find something beautiful is proof that we exist and can improve our lot in life. It’s a symbol for the daily struggle to find Self in the wide sea of everyone, and it’s something I rely on for sanity and the small slivers of happiness I can create.


Symbols and twilit deer aside, I think that making or finding something beautiful is a sign of affection for the world. So I did exactly that, found something prety, and made something beautiful. Do you like my teacups?