The International Liaison

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June – a rare moment where Quinnipiac University is quiet. Students, faculty, and staff enjoy a break after a long spring semester. But for Nicole Kurker-Stewart, the assistant director for international students and programs, it’s time to meet Quinnipiac’s next class of international students.

Sitting behind her desk in a small office on the second level of Quinnipiac’s Athletic Center, the 28-year-old described her job.

Timeline

“A lot of it is doing the immigration paperwork for international students,” she said, sitting arrow-straight in her office chair. She continued, “so issuing the initial I-20s, maintaining the I-20s while they are here, and doing work authorization.”

An I-20 is one of the key documents for international students in the U.S. This three-pager is both the first step toward a student visa and – besides the actual visa – a must-have at the port of entrance.

“Aside from the immigration aspect,” she continued after a brief pause, “it’s also programing for the students, we do two to three events each semester for the students and in addition to that, we have what’s called international education week.”

This week takes place every fall. Campuses across the nation become the stage to celebrate the global aspects of studying in the U.S.

Kurker-Stewart continued and explained the part of her job that finally puts faces to the names.

There’s an international student orientation period each semester, “which runs for a week in the fall and a couple of days in the spring to get the students acclimated.”

Getting to know the students is “very fun, it’s very rewarding. Because a lot of times there have been multiple emails and I’ve seen their passport picture, but that’s (it). They don’t know who I am, so it’s nice to finally have them here.”

“Introducing them to the campus,” she added, “making sure they’re going to be set up OK. It’s fun; it’s one of the better parts of my job.”

Orientation comes with a special element Quinnipiac offers its incoming internationals.

“We do what’s called global partners,” Kurker-Stewart said. “Current students – they could be international, they could be domestic – and they volunteer to help incoming students transition into Quinnipiac.”

Kurker-Stewart works in a team that is dedicated to international education. The Office of Multicultural and Global Education (OMGE) takes all international students under its wings. But it’s also the place to go for American students who want to study abroad.

Andrea Hogen is the director for global education. As Kurker-Stewart’s boss, the 40-year-old oversees the academic international activity on campus.

While Hogan directs Quinnipiac’s efforts to grow and maintain a global student body, Kurker-Stewart acts.

“As far as maintaining our relationship with the Department of Homeland Security (is concerned),” Hogan explained, “I’m in charge of that, but Nicole is doing the day-to-day operations – immigration advising, cultural adjustments for students, and resolving issues of helping the students to live here.”

Documents and folders seized Hogan’s desk. Describing Kurker-Stewart as “organized, diligent, and dedicated to her work and the students”, she admired how her employee could handle multiple tasks at once.

Talking about organizing life at the OMGE, Hogan remembered the events of one night shortly before the start of a semester. The airport pick-up of an incoming student didn’t follow standard procedures.

“I’ll never forget,” she said. “I got a call, maybe at midnight, from our bus company, saying, ‘We don’t have the student, where is the student?’ “

She paused, and then continued interrupted by laughter, “I didn’t have their reservation. So I texted Nicole – at midnight – and she texted back, saying, ‘I have it, I can forward it to you.’ ”

“She forwarded it to me,” Hogan said, “and we could resolve the situation, and got the student to campus.”

Kurker-Stewart outlined the reasons why the OMGE has decided to offer their global partners program.

“It’s not new that we’ve had international students, but it’s new that we’ve had these growing numbers. There are certain needs that the international student population has that become more visible.”

The international student population at Quinnipiac as of the beginning of the fall semester 2013
The international student population at Quinnipiac as of the beginning of the fall semester 2013

Since Hogan and Kurker-Stewart are on their own when it comes to working directly with international students, orientation-week has evolved into a hectic time.

“We would end up taking students to get bedding and that kinda thing,” Kurker-Stewart said, “and we figured (we would need support).”

And the Quinnipiac community was the pool the OMGE went fishing. On Wednesday, April 30, 2014, training took place to better prepare global partners for their jobs.

Standing comfortably in front of the small group of next semester’s global partners, Kurker-Stewart pointed to cultural differences they might encounter when interacting with people from other backgrounds.

What global partners should be aware of is “about social competency,” she said in her calming voice. “And these (examples) all come from stories that actually happened here.”

She turned slightly and pointed toward the projection of a presentation, then continued. “Physical contact, for example. We had a student from Brazil, who said that everybody was extremely cold and mean here. They don’t smile. They don’t hug. But then again, you have somebody coming from Asia, for example, and it’s different, it’s just a different concept.”

Pointing the Quinnipiac community in the right direction when it comes to dealing with people from foreign cultures is one of the tasks on Nicole Kurker-Stewart’s agenda. But the global partners program needs some maintenance behind the scenes as well.

Besides developing an application form, raising awareness on campus for the program, and collecting incoming applications, there is also the process of reviewing the candidates, and notifying the new global partners.

Beyond getting global partners up to speed with their new role in the student community, Kurker-Stewart needs to keep an eye on everything. “I’m checking in with people throughout the semester, and then at the end, which is really important, I’m getting the evaluations, the feedback from students who were global partners.”

The OMGE wants to know what worked and what didn’t. And they are open to incorporate suggestions for the next year.

With a surprised smile, she stopped explaining her involvement with global partners and said, “I left out matching people, that happens as soon as we know the numbers, which is usually by June.”

The group should be balanced. While the duos should have a common thread to make the connection easier, it remains a goal to create a diverse group.

“We’ve got global partners who’ve studied in Spain for this semester,” Kurker-Stewart said, “so we’re gonna try to match them with incoming people from South America.”

One student will spend the summer in China, “so we’re gonna try to match her with a Chinese student. They have things in common. That’s what we are trying to do.”

But success is not always guaranteed. “Sometimes it works out,” she said, “sometimes it doesn’t.”

Creating a place for the community to foster cultural competency is the driving force behind another initiative powered by the OMGE – the Hola Café.

Aileen Dever, associate professor of modern languages, explained. “Hola stands for Hispanic and International Organization of Leaders in Action, and what we wanna do is to spark interest here in the United States, in this particular university.”

The casual gatherings in the campus cafeteria are supposed to get people “talking about intellectual topics,” Dever said. “And really going beyond the surface, finding out about other cultures.”

“We want to have themes,” she added. “For example, we talked about what does the topic of love mean in different cultures. How was it represented, in terms of colors, in terms of literature, in terms of how people regard each other. So we had the Chinese perspective, we had someone from Norway; we had lots of different perspectives.”

Dever has known Nicole from her time as an undergrad. Having her as a student in Spanish 301 and 302, the professor said, “she had a deep interest in languages, which ties in to the work she is doing here.”

“She is a liaison between the international students and the university community,” Dever added. “She helps students understand what a U.S. institution is like, and the opportunities that are available to them. She is a resource for them in terms of information. And I think also someone whom they can trust, and feel very comfortable with.”

Dever sat comfortably in a tan leather armchair on the upper level of the cafeteria. With a quick glance out the window, she began to reminisce.

“Any dealing that I’ve ever had with Nicole is always been positive. Because she truly is looking at it, ‘OK, this is what we wanna do, how are we going about doing it’.”

“She is one of those can-do people,” the professor added. “Not, ‘OK, here are all the obstacles’, no, ‘OK, this is what we wanna accomplish, how can we do it’. That I find wonderful about Nicole.”

When the path an international student shares with Quinnipiac comes to its end, some arrive at a crossroads. Thousands of miles away from home, but with freshly developed roots in the new world, students need to find their bearings.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is one resource students can use to guide them. Available to all international students, OPT provides the opportunity to add up to one year of work experience – without a need for a new visa – to the international student experience.

Incomplete paperwork is the only reason why OPT could be denied. While universities with a larger student body tend to leave the work to the students, “Quinnipiac tends to be more involved in the process,” Kurker-Stewart said.

“We do one-on-ones,” she explained. “We ask the student to be prepared with all these documents. We issue the I-20, and we put everything together, take a copy, and then the student mails it out.”

One of the students currently going through this process is a Malayan law student, who is approaching graduation and wants to add work experience in the U.S.[*]

With dozens of documents next to her on the table, she sat in Kurker-Stewart’s office for her one-on-one meeting on Monday, April 28.

One of the first topics during those OPT meetings is the start date for the OPT. But besides finalizing some details in the paperwork and collecting all documents, Kurker-Stewart guides students through the legal jungle.

Traveling is one of those areas where students need to know their responsibilities. Turning away from the computer screen in front of her, she faced the student and asked, “Well, do you have travel plans?”

“The safest bet is to say,” she continued immediately, “if you’re going to be traveling on OPT, it’s best to do so once you have a job, once you have the EAD card (Employment Authorization Document). The most diligent time to travel is between when you finish and when you get approved (for OPT). It doesn’t mean that you can’t. Some people do and have no problems. But you could.”

“And what do they do? the student chimed in. “They kick you out of the country after you’ve actually arrived?”

“When you come back in?” Nicole returned.

She nodded. “Yeah, what would they do if they rejected me?”

Kurker-Stewart explained that there’s room for errors if an immigration officer has not received training in OPT. “They would look (on page one of your) I-20,” she said, “which will still say May 20. They’re supposed to be looking at page three, which will say ‘on OPT’.”

The young Malayan looked concerned. “That would happen in the foreign country or in the U.S.?”

“That would be when you’re trying to enter,” Kurker-Stewart responded, “so when you’re going through customs in the U.S., in JFK or wherever.”

She added that “it’s only happened to two of our students in the four or five years I’ve been here. So, if you do travel while you’re on OPT, in addition to all the usual stuff – the I-20 and the visa – you would wanna take the OPT card and a job offer letter, and usually people don’t have a problem. It’s just something to keep in mind. Cause the system is not perfect.”

OPT marks the end of a student’s journey at Quinnipiac. The part that closes the circle for some international students elicits mixed emotions in Kurker-Stewart.

“Especially with the students I know better,” she said, “it’s a little sad, but it’s exciting. It’s just neat to see where they are going. If I know the student well, I usually say a few words.”

“A lot of them go on to get doctorates or become big shots in their countries. So it’s fun to say I know them,” she concluded with a smile.

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* Name taken out as per request of the student

Missing the Fun

Tens of thousands of people roamed the streets of downtown Cologne, Germany, on the night of Monday, April 21, 2014. A soccer game that had taken place earlier that evening had elicited the colorful celebrations.

Soccer is the element that electrifies this city. Although 1. FC Köln haven’t been competing for national titles, not to mention European titles, this club is at the center of the talk of the town. The stadium is practically sold out every time, and red and white pennants, flags, and other items that demonstrate the love the people of Cologne have for their billy goats (as they are kwon nationwide because of their mascot) can be seen all over town. There is a certain fascination attached to the club that goes beyond tradition and titles from the past – past as in the 1960s and 1970s.

People painted the town red because a 3-1 victory over mid-league rival Vfl Bochum had sealed both the club’s promotion to the first division (called Bundesliga) and the second division championship.

I can’t tell when exactly my interest in this team began. I know that the first game I’ve ever attended took place in 1993. They played Kaiserslautern – a team they had made it a tradition to lose against. And that’s what they did that Saturday afternoon (0-2).

But it must have been something about the atmosphere that boosted both my father’s and my own interest. It wasn’t the same stadium, and at that time attendance wasn’t even close to what it is nowadays. But from that moment on we couldn’t stop going to see them play. The 45-mile drive couldn’t stop us; neither could their mediocre play.

By 1998, the visits had become more frequent. The season wasn’t going well. Celebrating their 50st anniversary, Cologne got relegated to the second division for the first time. Being both one of the last “founding fathers” of the Bundesliga to have stayed in the league without interruption and its first champion back in 1964, the summer of 1998 was a major change.

I got my membership with the club as a birthday gift from my parents just weeks after this relegation. And we decided to get season tickets for the following season.

The 16 years that followed have been a roller coaster ride. Last week’s promotion was the fifth one. Only time will tell if it’s the last one. Which would be what fans would deserve. The number on my membership card is 4,250 – the club has just announced their 60,000st member this week, and aims to break the magical barrier of 100,000 soon.

The club went through a rough time beginning a few months prior to the last relegation. After heaving experienced a splendid first half of the 2011/2012 season, things went downhill after the Christmas break.

While the players forgot to collect points, the club’s president resigned. The manager was sacked weeks later – the coach didn’t last much longer. Despite hectic efforts to get the ship back on course, the its sinking could not be prevented.

But a new crew was aiming for salvage. A new presidential team, a new management, and a new coach were only the beginning. Most of the older and expensive players that had caused the trouble were told they could find new homes, regardless how difficult and costly that might become for the club.

Last season became a transitional one. With one more change, yet another new coach, the current season was supposed to be the one that would bring the team back to where it belongs.

And the season went fine. When I left my post with the end of the first half of the season, they were on top of the league. The lead wasn’t enormous, but it was looking good. And the teams consisted of a healthy mixture of young, talented players and experienced players that could make the difference.

I was in the library when it happened. It wasn’t a question if they would make the promotion anymore. It was more a question of when it would happen. Too stable a season had they played, too shaky had the rivals’ performances been.

Thanks to some fortunate results over the weekend, it was clear: win that game and the party could begin. Both the promotion (first two teams go up directly, while the third placed team has to face the third last team from the first league to decide who ends up in which league) and the second division championship would be theirs – not that the latter would matter all too much.

I’ve been there for each of the five delegations and all of the four promotions – either live in a stadium or on TV. This was a premiere. Six hours behind and occupied with a demanding (but enjoyable) semester, soccer had been relegated.

That was exactly what I had been telling myself all the time: It’s just a game, and it’s not defining what I do with my life or where I’ll be doing it.

Yet, I was surprised to find out how easy it was to let go and just let an app notify me when goals were scored or conceded. But at that Monday afternoon, I had one eye on my phone, waiting for news while doing my writing.

Seeing the photos popping up on Twitter, the ones that showed the frenzy once it had become clear that they would be playing in the Bundesliga again, made me realize that I had missed this moment, this fun.

Although a side of me wishes I had been there, I know that I have won my own moments and my own fun here, doing what makes me happy.

Back to the Roots

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As we near the end of the semester, a chance to take a quick trip back to the beginning was handed to me through one of the many assignments that pave the way toward summer break.

Do you still remember how it all began, how I was introduced to Quinnipiac?

Right, the marvelous summer of 2007. My very first trip to the U.S was indeed marvelous and life changing. From Newark airport, I began a slow descent into the heart of Manhattan. I could probably have walked without losing any time, but the bus ride I had chosen brought me to Grand Central eventually.

Despite some 15 hours in transit, I felt energized when I sensed the pulsating streets of downtown Manhattan under my feet.

But I hadn’t reached my destination yet. Registering all the wonders of life around me, I headed for Grand Central Terminal. The train ride to New Haven gave me a first chance to observe life in America.

I stood in front of Ezra Stiles College at Yale University a good two hours later. This was it – I realized in that moment that the adventure had begun.

The six weeks in the Elm City impacted me much more than I would have dreamed when I first thought about applying.

Just a few minutes after a taxi had dropped me off at 19 Tower Parkway – yes, I still remember the exact address –, I met the young man who would become my roommate and a dear friend.

I had thought I was arriving late (flight delayed three hours, bus ride took another three instead of 40 minutes), but a few more people arrived around the same late hour. The five or six of us were escorted to the housing office. Somewhere on the campus, another student arrived and added himself to the group.

Iván was his name as I learned when we heard that we would share a room and received our keys. We walked through the quiet summer night to the place that was supposed to become our home for the summer – Pierson College.

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The short glimpse of the city that I was able to catch during those few minutes sufficed to make me see the beauty New England had to offer. This feeling quadrupled the moment I saw Pierson’s red-bricked façade.

The weeks flew by. Similar to this experience here at Quinnipiac, the beginning was the hardest part. I recall that – after the cheerfulness of being at such a prestigious university had passed – the differences to home started to sink in. I was glad that it was just a six-week program.

But my feelings changed again. I enjoyed the program, the academic challenges, the exploration of the English language, and the atmosphere on campus. In fact, I was sad when it was time to say good-bye.

I hadn’t seen Quinnipiac in person when I had made the decision to come. But my impressions from that summer, together with the warm words I had heard about the school from my professors at Yale, sufficed to make me comfortable with the idea to spend this next chapter of my life there.

I’ve seen bits and bobs of both New Haven and Yale since I’ve arrived – especially in the beginning. But it wasn’t until yesterday that I rediscovered the love for them both.

I was surprised how uncomplicated the process of finding a story for my final project for Broadcast Journalism was. Coming from three similar projects throughout the semester, I had anticipated to get denied access to events and people at least once.

But when I found the Yale Sustainable Food Project, everything went smoothly. Except for the weather forecast. The warning that there might be rain in the air throughout the afternoon made me nervous about the shoot on their farm – an outdoor location.

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It was cold and windy, but there was no rain. Seeing the cherry blossoms enriching the landscape of the city and the old houses in that neighborhood brought that feeling of the summer of 2007 back. The two and a half hours on that farm, exploring what they do, shooting video, and meeting new people made that day special.

With Joe back at home to be there for his mom, my usual “partner in crime”, I was glad and relieved at the same time to hear that another classmate was willing to help me get all the equipment to the desired location.

There was something for everyone. Kathy had no experience with operating a camera and saw what she might have to get used to in the future. And her company and the chance to share this experience with someone made it both easier and more fun for me. A big thank you!

In-between all the final projects, I just wanted to get this one out of my way. Now, I might even have found an idea for my master’s project. Maybe it just took a chance to leave the library once in a while and get out there, maybe it was the reminder on 2007, maybe it was a combination, but I’ve reached a point where I feel about Quinnipiac the way I felt (and still do) about Yale back in 2007.

Roar!

 

The two months I had already spent within the Quinnipiac community had familiarized me to seeing people touring the campus. That didn’t happen at my university – at least not in a way that I would have noticed. And we had been warned that Saturday, March 29, 2014, would be a special day for the university – we should expect thick traffic and an increased number of tours all day long.

But the undergraduate admitted student day still surprised me.

Light rain was in the air when we approached the main entrance to the northern parking lot. Cars had already formed a line. A public safety officer signaled everyone to keep going.

A bit further down Mount Carmel Avenue, Joe was finally allowed to steer his car onto the parking lot. We had passed the business school building. We were even way past the athletic center. With lavish lawns in front of us, Joe singled in on the parking spot that a public safety officer had assigned to us.

Joe said that he had never parked so far away from campus. Truth be told, it took us maybe two minutes to cross the parking lot and reach the business school, which houses the school of communications. Back at my undergraduate institution, it took me ten additional minutes to complete the way from the subway stop to the building that I had to reach.

We estimated the number of people that might or might not roam the campus today. Just imagine: Quinnipiac has roughly 5,000 undergrads. Broken down to the four years, that makes 1,250 students per year. If only 50 percent of those show up to day and bring parents and one or two siblings, you’ve got a pretty packed campus.

A first few tours could be seen as we came closer to the entrance to the school of communications. Rain was still light.

I was even a bit surprised that we were relatively left alone while learning all about backtiming, thumb suckers, and other terms from the world of broadcast news.

But the day had just begun. The routine trip to the cafeteria in-between Broadcast Journalism and Media Law and Ethics opened my eyes to the action on campus.

I counted at least five flocks of people in the triangular of school of communications, library, and student center. A tour guide tried to gather his people and fought for everyone’s attention. The library was the next stop for them.

Great. Move people – you guys block every single of the seven doors that stood between the cafeteria and us.

It wasn’t better inside. The salad bar, my usual stop, was fine. But the other stations were buzzing. The seating area, once reached, mirrored the scenery. But we found a table, eventually. Having picked a seat with campus view, I followed the continuous stream of tours that brought the weekend campus atmosphere to life.

On our way out of the student center, we squeezed ourselves through the waiting masses that listened to the guide’s explanations about the university’s dining services.

Just a few moments later, we waited patiently for the group of maybe twenty people to clear the narrow entrance to the school of communications. Perfectly timed, we were able to slip through during the brief gap until the next group was ready to exit the building.

Phew, back into our classroom – finally. This admitted students day was quite a party. But the best was yet to come.

Our classroom had one distinctive feature. Besides being located almost dead center in the building and besides being loaded with technology, it had glass fronts that enabled everyone passing through the building to see what’s going in in the room.

While we analyzed journalistic practices as seen in “When the Levees Broke”, a documentary about hurricane Katrina, and talked about HIPPA, FERPA, copyright issues, and privacy issues in journalism, the spectacle began.

The only problem was: It wasn’t us watching. We were the subjects of interest. People stepped close to the glass fronts, staring at us. They listened and stared.

One group left and the next one took over without delay – a perfect relay. Yes, come on closer. We love being stared at. No, sir. Please don’t leave so soon. Keep watching for a minute or two. Ain’t it interesting enough in here for ya?

It felt like groups stopped by the glass front on an ongoing basis during the entire class.

I’ve ever wondered how it must be for an animal in a zoo exhibit to live with all the staring people. We had to show off and live with the stares as much as they have to. Just be careful, folks, don’t get to close. You never know when a tiger bares its claws – roar!

Greetings from Home

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I had been waiting on a letter for weeks. Mom had told me that she had penned a few updates about home. I checked my mailbox daily, but found it empty most of the time – except the occasional commercials, of course. I wasn’t surprised, however, that the letter hadn’t completed its journey after some five weeks.

The reason for that needs some explaining.

What is the main criterion for paper purchases? Right, it should be as inexpensive as possible. But when someone dives into the ancient world of fountain pens and liquid writing ink, the rules of the game change.

Most inexpensive paper products have one characteristic in common – poor paper quality. To be fair, as long as ballpoints or pencils are used, no one will notice that.

But laying down lines with liquid ink makes the difference clear. The ink bleeds through to the back of the side – making it impossible to utilize both sides of a sheet of paper. And the line spreads, which makes for a very unpleasing visual experience.

However, there are still companies out there that care about fountain pens and paper quality. And although most of them are based in Europe, it’s actually much easier to get hold of such items from U.S. retailers. That increases when we are talking about purchasing writing ink in bottles.

So, while still being in Germany, I had ordered some paper and ink samples from a U.S. online retailer. It wasn’t the first time. It shouldn’t take longer than five to 10 days for a package to make its way over the Atlantic.

Five weeks had passed before I had a notice from customs in the mail, telling me that I could pick up a package at our local customs office. With such small orders, packages shouldn’t be kept there, but all right.

I was, however, quite surprised to find myself confronted with questions about the nature of the colorful fluids contained in small plastic vials.

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When did it happen that people stopped coming in contact with fountain pens?

I explained to the customs officer, that what she saw were samples of different writing inks and a few inexpensive fountain pens. The ink samples could be used with those pens, but they could also be used with every other fountain pen. So, they were not necessarily tied to those specific pens.

She seemed skeptical, almost as if I had shown her moon rocks. But she was satisfied and completed the paperwork.

With that experience in mind, I’m no longer surprised to experience delays in the delivery process of letters or packages between Europe and America.

But when I found this lovely postcard in my mailbox, I was surprised.

It originates from Sylt, a small island in the North Sea. My parents had just returned from a one week vacation on that island – meaning the card had completed it’s journey in record time.

It was a surprise that made me smile.

As for the card, it shows a seagull that represents the director of the tourist board. The little guy sends greetings to the reader. Being typical creatures for that part of Germany, they are often utilized to advertise for such islands, resorts, or individual restaurants or hotels.

Thanks, Fiete, I enjoyed seeing your surprise greetings in my mailbox.

This One’s From The Heart – Part IV

 

Part 1: This One’s From the Heart – Part I

Part 2: This One’s From the Heart – Part II

Part 3: This One’s From The Heart – Part III

And now the conclusion…

It was a rainy Wednesday in the New Haven area. Joe and I had just completed a reporting day. What had started in the morning in Hamden with a visit to the Public Works department had brought us all the way to East Haven. A church that listened to the name St. Clare was our destination.

I still remember the nervous heartbeats of that day. The announcement that I had to take on the challenge of JRN 524 Broadcast Journalism had caused mixed feelings.

I wasn’t particularly keen on exposing myself on camera. And all the clunky equipment establishes a barrier that makes some people shy away.

But I was keen on learning all about shooting video and experimenting with different camera techniques. In addition, I was excited to get to know professional editing software.

Although I saw the negative aspects clearly, I was glad that I had to take the class – I wanted to learn, and I wanted to leave my comfort zone behind. *

Joe: “Can you see anything? The snow bank blocks my sight. I can’t see a thing.”

Me: “Sorry, nothing but a white wall.”

Joe: “Guess, I just have to be extremely careful…”

When we had finally left the church’s parking lot, the pressure of the day began to fade.

Me: “Phew, that was actually exciting and fun. I think I’m gonna like this class much more than I had anticipated. And I find it surprising how open some people are, how willingly they talk to you on camera.”

Joe: “Yes, didn’t I tell you? That woman in the pink sweater? She was amazing. And that guy at Public Works? He wouldn’t wanna stop talking. It’s fun. But I’m more worried about how we are supposed to get Final Cut to work…”

Me: “We are gonna be fine. Trust me, Final Cut won’t be a problem. It’s just a matter of getting used to it. We’ll learn by doing it. I’m actually excited to learn how to operate Final Cut.”

The conversation kept going while Joe steered his car up North – back to Hamden, where Final Cut was waiting.

Joe: “You know what, I’m hungry. Let’s eat something before going to campus.”

Me: “Sure, I haven’t had anything since breakfast. Any idea where and what?”

Joe: “You tell me.”

Me: “Me? I don’t know any places I could recommend…”

Joe: “Wait, I’ve got an idea. You like wings?”

Me: “Like in chicken wings? Sure.”

Joe: “Great, I have just the right place in mind. It’s a chain, which I try to avoid, but they are special.”

Me: “Why is that?”

Joe: “Buffalo Wild Wings. It’s a sports bar with lots of screens and sports events you can watch while eating. And their wings are delicious.”

So we stopped at Buffalo Wild Wings and continued talking about sports.

Earlier that day, Joe did a phenomenal job diverting me from my worries about the upcoming St. Clare blood drive by giving me my first lesson in Baseball 101.

But the oddest thing happened at Buffalo Wild Wings.

I glanced around. Joe hadn’t exaggerated. There were screens all over the place. They were so big that they could divide the screens into quarters and screen four different events simultaneously.

I didn’t notice it at first, but when we had completed our order, I inspected this one screen closer. No way… I knew that the Champions League round of 16 took place today. But I was surprised to find European football screened at such a location.

Me: “Joe, watch. That’s a live match.”

Joe: “Where?”

Me: “Top right corner of the screen dead ahead. It’s football, or soccer as you might say. The competition is called Champions League. That’s a tournament where the best national teams from across Europe compete to find Europe’s best team.”

Joe: “Who’s playing?”

Me: “Two good teams. The guys in red are Arsenal London. They are currently on top of the Premier League in England. But I doubt they will stand a chance against Bayern Munich, the guys in the black jerseys. They are en route to the quickest German championship in history. They are fifteen points ahead of Dortmund. Bayern won the Champions League last season – they played Dortmund in the final, which took place in London.”

Joe: “So, Bayern are a good team?”

Me: “Probably the best team in the world at the moment. Won the triplet of Bundesliga league title, national cup, and Champions League last season, and they have just gotten themselves a new coach, Pep Guardiola, who was in high demand before he signed up with them. He won some fourteen titles during his four year stint at Barcelona.”

Joe: “Tell me a bit about what is going on there at the moment.”

Me: “Absolutely, now it’s my turn to make you more familiar with European sports. Well, Bayern will most likely dominate ball possession. 70 percent and above isn’t unusual for their style. What Arsenal have to do is to destroy their game, meaning they focus on their defense and try to keep a clean sheet.”

Joe: “That’s what I heard about soccer. Sometimes they just wait and do nothing.”

Me: “Unfortunately, I have to admit that it’s true. It’s gotten much more common for teams that face a much better opponent to focus on a passive gameplay. It’s frustrating for fans and those better teams alike. Chelsea London won the Champions League in this style two seasons ago. If those defenses work and the active teams aren’t on top of their game, it can get boring. The best thing is if the active team scores early because that means the game has to open up.”

I was cut short by the action on screen. Bayern had just scored for the first time. Talking back and forth about both American and European sports, lunch went by quickly.

I enjoyed the journalistic endeavors of the first half of the day, but I also enjoyed how we took turns in bringing our sports closer to each other’s hearts.

I was on campus when the following text conversation happened last Wednesday.

Joe: “Where will u be around 2 p.m.?”

Me: “Library. Study group questions, blog posts (urgent), first notes for final projects, you name it.”

Joe: “Hahaha me, my mom, Kathy and you are going for lunch and we’re picking you up around 2/215. Then we will bring you back home/to the library.”

Me: “I’ll let you know how it goes.”

Joe: “No choice.”

Joe: “You’re coming with us to New Haven for Pizza.”

Since resistance was futile, I packed up and left my comfortable library chair when I had received the go from Joe. I walked over to the meeting point we had agreed on – the bookstore.

I hadn’t even fully realized who was standing in front of me when I received a big welcome hug from Sherrey, Joe’s mom.

Still surprised me, although I had received similar treatment on my second day in the country when the leasing agent of my apartment complex welcomed me the very same way.

“Nice to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you. Thanks for being such a good friend to my son.” She said quietly.

From then on, it was anything but quiet. Joe’s mom began asking me questions as soon as we had turned around in front of the bookstore. Joe had told me beforehand that I would know where he got his voice from once I had met his mom. But I knew from whom he had his openness and welcoming warmth.

This soothing mixture of curiosity and familiarity marked the ride to New Haven. The closer we came to the Elm City, the more I was ready to leave the study world behind me and enjoy this break.

I felt at home during that lunch. Enjoying my first New Haven-style pizza, I followed the quick exchanges between Kathy and Sherrey and shared some of my own background information in-between.

Sherrey: “Tell me more about your family, Kathy.”

Kathy’s eyes began to sparkle when she began sharing.

Kathy: “Well, I’m married with kids. Frans, my husband, is from England. We have two boys, Justin and Cais.”

Sherrey: “Two boys? How old are they? What are they doing? Where are they? Still at home?”

The conversation stayed afloat for minutes, until Kathy and Sherrey had exchanged all the details. The arrival of two big pizza plates resulted only in a brief pause of the talk.

When we left the restaurant, I realized that two hours had passed since I had left the library. It was a lengthy lunch break, yes, but one that made me feel more comfortable in my new environment.

When I waved goodbye to Kathy in front of the restaurant, I knew that the best is yet to come.

* Disclaimer about dialogue and some details in this post: Not accurate, but that’s how the situations felt for me and how I have them in my memories.

This One’s From The Heart – Part III

 

Part 1: This One’s From the Heart – Part I

Part 2: This One’s From the Heart – Part II

And now the continuation…

Food is a delicate topic across the globe – especially for those of us who have just stepped into a new environment. Names, smells, flavors, even entire food items don’t match with what’s in one’s memories.

Me: “What exactly are Pop-Tarts, Joe?” *

I stood in front of hundreds of small blue boxes that all looked the same. I knew the brand, but the product depicted on the box looked unfamiliar. On first sight, they all looked the same, but they weren’t. I read “strawberry” on one box, “raspberry” on another, “chocolate fudge” on yet another one.

Joe: “You’ve never had them? Well, they are usually for breakfast. It’s pastry with a filling. You can either eat them right from the box or, which is what I would recommend, toast them. They are pretty American.”

Me: “OK, I’ll think about it. Don’t look too healthy, though. Besides that, I don’t have a toaster.

Joe: “Fair enough. You don’t miss all too much. And yeah, there are healthier options out there.”

We continued our round through the aisles. The cart was still empty. When we passed the tea section, I was taken back in time.

I was studying the tea boxes. The aisle was much quieter than the rest of the supermarket. I was looking for a specific type of tea – Earl Grey, my favorite. I had picked the least expensive one the first time around, but couldn’t get comfortable with this brand’s taste.

“Florian?” I heard a woman’s voice calling. At first, I didn’t realize. Why would someone call me? I didn’t know anyone in here. But the voice came closer and sounded familiar. I heard it again. I left the tea-world and turned around. Who was that?

A familiar face came in sight. I was surprised. What are the odds that I would meet someone I know in a supermarket in a town that was still new to me.

Me: “Hey, Kathy. That’s a surprise.”

Kathy: “I know. Nice meeting you outside the classroom. I’ve just stopped by to get some essentials. I don’t really like this kind of supermarket. The lighting is so bright, which makes me uncomfortable. And they don’t have a good variety.”

Me: “It’s a bit confusing, I agree. But I found some bread that looks familiar.”

I fished a rectangular package out of my little basket.

photo 1

Me: “See, that’s bread I can relate to. It’s not exactly what I’m used to, the taste is still a bit off, but it comes pretty close.”

Kathy: “I hear you. When we lived in England, it took me a while to adjust, too. No worries there. It will get easier.”

Me: “It’s something about the smell. It’s hard to describe. I’m more used to the smell of freshly baked goods. Here, it smells like a chemistry lab.”

Kathy: “You know? There are much better places to shop for food. There’s one a bit closer to New Haven. It’s a bit more expensive, but they have dedicated sections for food from around the world. I go there to find cornish pasty for Frans. I’ll have to send you some links.”

Me: “That would be nice, thank you.”

“Excuse me.” The polite interruption by another shopper reminded us that we had blocked the teas on display.

Kathy: “Uh, before I forget. I just talked with Frans about this. We would love to have you over for lunch or dinner one day. He’s out with Sikorsky a lot at the moment. But it should be better in March.”

Me: “Wow, that sounds great. Thank you, I would love that.”

Kathy: “Great, I’ll keep you posted. I gotta go know. It was nice bumping into you here. Have a nice night.”

Joe pulled me back into the present.

Joe: “Over here are all the coffees. Can be a bit overwhelming at first.”

Me: “Don’t worry. I’m not into coffee anyway.”

We continued our trip through the vast resources of the supermarket.

Joe: “Soda. That’s familiar to you right?”

Me: “Yeah, different name, but the world is pretty Americanized in that area. But you’ve got quite a lot of options here.”

Joe: “Ha, just thinking of something… Root beer. Do you know what it is?”

Me: “No, I mean, the name rings a bell, but never tried it. I don’t even think that it’s sold in Germany.”

Before I had a chance to ask for more information, Joe continued.

Joe: “Never? Whoa, that’s gonna change – today! It’s a soda, you’ll love it!”

We continued our shopping spree and arrived at the checkout counters with a cart that was filled to its brim.

Joe walked to one of the mini fridges positioned in-between the checkout counters.

“That’s still on me,” he said to the clerk, handing him a bottle. “He’s fresh from Germany and never had root beer before. I thought what would be better to make him familiar with the country’s food than to let him try root beer.”

After he had the bottle back in his possession, Joe passed it over to me. “Enjoy, Flo. I’m excited to find out what you say about it.”

I had learned of some typical American foods and had been familiarized with procedures in here. It’s always the little things that make the difference. How to weigh fruits and vegetables properly, what’s a decent cereal option, how to operate the self-checkout system, and how to get all the stuff home, to name just a few.

Thanks for making the transition into my new environment so much easier. The safety net just got stronger.

To Be Continued…

* Disclaimer about dialogue and some details in this post: Not accurate, but that’s how the situations felt for me and how I have them in my memories.