Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hello Châteaux: Cold, Wet, and Totally Lost at Bourscheid Castle

Donneschdeg, 28 Januar.

Let's begin this post by quoting the Rolling Stones, who in their infinite wisdom informed the world that "you can't always get what you want." Like, say you want to bake a cake but you realize you don't have any flour. Or you have a crush on somebody but they don't like you back. Or you just want to go see a nice castle but everything goes wrong and it's cold and it starts to rain and you get lost in the woods.

With that last example particularly in mind, let's talk about Bourscheid Castle! Known as Buerg Buerschent in Luxembourgish, this castle dates back to the eleventh century and is one of the most picturesque châteaux in Luxembourg. (At least, according to my "Castles of Luxembourg" pamphlet.) This past weekend, some friends and I decided to check it out.

The map to which we ought to have paid a bit more attention.

If you see this beautiful view, then you are NOT ON THE RIGHT PATH.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Notes from the Classroom: Westward Expansion

Denschdeg, 26 Januar.

Between all the blog posts about castles and hiking and going to Christmas markets, you may have forgotten that my real reason for being in Luxembourg -- and the thing that takes up the vast majority of my waking hours -- is teaching. Which, as it turns out, is going pretty well!

Today, I finished up a two-week lesson about Westward Expansion and its role in American history with my 4e class, a group of students in their second year of studying English. The previous week, we had discussed the regions of the United States, both official (southeast, northeast, midwest, west, and southwest) and unofficial (Bible Belt? Tornado Alley?), and I had introduced students to "The Fifty Nifty United States" -- a song which then stayed in my head for 36 hours. (You've been warned.) I wanted to talk a little more about the U.S., but through a lesson focused on reading comprehension, and decided to talk about Westward Expansion after finding some cool resources online.

Last week, during our first lesson, I introduced the concept of Westward Expansion. We began by looking at the same map of United States regions that we had examined before and by thinking about how drastically the country has expanded from the thirteen original colonies. The students were then introduced to the story of the Louisiana Purchase and how dramatically the addition of this new territory changed the landscape of the United States.

With this group of students, who feel the need to take constant notes but are only in their second year of learning English, I have found that fill-in-the-blank exercises (with the "answers" provided on PowerPoint slides) keep them actively listening and participating without overwhelming them. Fill-in-the-blank exercises can feel a little childish, however, and I struggle to keep the lesson at their language level without making it too simplistic for their intelligence level.

Do you have suggestions for teaching this kind of content? Let me know in the comments!

One of the most influential images that I remembered seeing when studying this period of American history was John Gast's "American Progress." This 1872 painting depicts a timeline of Westward Expansion and provides a really interesting jumping-off point for discussions about the period. (How did the settlers view themselves? What were they bringing to the West? At what cost?)

My students aren't talkative on the best days, but the idea of analyzing a painting seemed to have them stumped. So we started simple. "What do you see? Describe the painting to me."



A flying woman.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Fulbrighter in Luxembourg, in Disney GIFs

After months of anxiously waiting and telling people that you "aren't quite sure" what you'll be doing next year, finding out that you have been accepted as a Fulbright grantee feels a lot like this:

Of course, the excitement period can only last so long! There's so much to be done -- sending in your visa paperwork, figuring out housing, and - of course - packing. What do people wear in Luxembourg? How fancy do you have to dress for school? Oh well, best pack everything!

You head off, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and arrive in Luxembourg, two flights and 10+ hours later. It's mid-morning in Luxembourg, but in your jet-lagged head, it feels more like 3 or 4 am.

Jet lag is a pain, but you're prepared. You've done your research: Luxembourg is officially a Francophone country and you've been brushing up on your français. You expect the streets of Luxembourg City to look a little bit like this:

But before you can open your mouth and show off your French skills, you notice that Luxembourgish people tend to greet you with a phrase you've never heard before.


Moien? What is Moien?!

Ohhhh. Right. Lëtzebuergesch. One of the three official languages of Luxembourg and, apparently, the one that all native Luxembourgers prefer to speak. You were feeling pretty good about your language skills ... but now you realize that everyone around you speaks approximately 1.5 million different languages.

At times, it feels like you could not be more inconspicuous.

Despite the inevitable language barriers, you find your way around your new city -- learning how to find bus times, where to grocery shop, and exactly how seriously Luxembourgers take jaywalking. (Very.) But just as life in Luxembourg is starting to feel a little bit more "normal", you take your first in-country day trip ... to a real life fairy tale castleIt is a life-changing experience.

Meanwhile, in your responsibilities as a Fulbright grantee, you've begun to wonder what exactly the Fulbright Commission saw in you. What business do you have leading discussions in university-level English literature courses? Or teaching high schoolers about American history?

Even after the first couple of weeks at your new school, you're constantly forgetting the names of teachers you work with. You're always running into familiar faces on the street (it's a SMALL country, guys) but the interactions always go like this:

And in this crazy multilingual atmosphere where everyone is constantly switching languages ... you feel like you're beginning to lose the ability to speak English!

Between teaching and grading and planning lessons and attending embassy events and travelling for Fulbright meetings and keeping up with friends and family despite a six-hour time difference ... it can all start to feel a little overwhelming!

But gradually, life as a Fulbrighter in Luxembourg begins to make more and more sense. And one day -- when someone mistakes you for a local and asks for directions or when your students turn in awesome essay responses -- it all clicks.

The longer you spend abroad, the more you appreciate the perks of life in another country. Of course, you miss your friends and family in the U.S. (And Target. You really, really miss Target.) But you start to realize that an international career just might be the one for you. 

Sure, Luxembourg might have its quirks ... but do you ever want to leave?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Musée Méindeg: the Musée de Maquettes des Châteaux et Châteaux Forts du Luxembourg in Clervaux

Méindeg, 18 January.

Good morning and happy Monday! Today on the blog, I'll be introducing you to my new favorite museum in Luxembourg, the Musée de Maquettes des Châteaux et Châteaux Forts du Luxembourg. Located in Clervaux Castle in northern Luxembourg, this museum is home to twenty-two models of Luxembourgish castles and fortified castles.

The museum brochure promises "a travel through time and dimension for the whole family, for the history lover, and for all those with a passion for scale models!"

I'll let you chuckle over that for a moment.

In all seriousness, the museum is an impressive piece of work. Each castle is presented, often along with the surrounding village, at a precise 1:100 scale. In addition to the models themselves, posters provide information about the location, history, and current status of the castles.

Do you recognize Buerg Fiels, or Larochette Castle from my October 2015 visit?

Information about each of the castles is presented in French, German, English, and Dutch. ("That's sooo Luxembourgish.") However, the posters give the names of the castles first in Luxembourgish. As it is relatively rare to see Luxembourgish in writing, this wound up being one of my favorite parts of the entire museum!

For example, did you know that in Luxembourgish, Clervaux is actually Klierf? Or that the Château de Beaufort, which I've visited on two separate occasions, is more accurately known as the Buerg Beefort?


I've visited Beaufort Castle twice (in November 2013 and October 2015) and loved seeing the scale model!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Hello Châteaux: A Day in Snowy Clervaux

Sonndeg, 17 Januar.

Ever since the first snowflakes hit Luxembourg way back in October, I've wondered what this country would look like under a blanket of snow. This week, as a warmer-than-average December finally gave way to decidedly chillier temps, I finally got to find out!

The snow began on Thursday, coating the sidewalks and rooftops of Esch while I was teaching at the lycée, and has continued falling on and off for the past three days. Apart from work, I have spent the majority of the last couple days at home, enjoying the weather from the comfort of the Maison Kohlenbierg. (Can we agree that, no matter what country you're in, there's nothing better than curling up under a blanket on a snowy day?) Yesterday, however, Catherine and I decided to brave the cold to check out -- what else -- a castle.

Bundled up in our most wintery gear, we ventured north to the Ardennes region of Luxembourg and to the sleepy town of Clervaux.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Moien, 2016!

Dënschdeg, 12 Januar.

Moien! I am back in Luxembourg and wishing you all a Happy New Year, or e glecklecht neit Joer. (Maybe. Luxembourgish is really not my strong point.) Either way, I hope that your January is turning out swell and that you haven't written "2015" on any important documents of late.

Can you believe that it has now been four months since I first arrived in Luxembourg? It feels like yesterday, even though the memory of my first, oh-so-jetlagged car ride to Esch-sur-Alzette is beginning to fade. I still have over six months left until I say goodbye to Fulbright and to Luxembourg, but I know that the next couple of months are going to fly by. Even though we have only just come back from the winter holidays, I know that January will be jam-packed with exams at the university and new classes at the lycée and last-minute dinners with roommates. February, full of meetings and new roommates and the first academic holidays of the year, is already just around the corner.


It might be easier to ramble on about the challenges and highlights of 2015. But it's the new year and it is time to look ahead. (Even if the idea of planning past March 2016 gives me heart palpitations.) It is time to start reading grad school entry requirements, skimming job descriptions, and -- of course -- making resolutions. I have a lot of resolutions, per the ushe, and don't anticipate any of them to stick around long. But maybe typing them on this blog will make them more likely to come true. Who knows?!

In 2016, I am going to take better care of myself. Get plenty of sleep. Eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer gaufres. Exercise. Moisturize. All that good stuff. After all, I'm no spring chicken. (Seriously though, it only took one university student asking if I was 24 to mentally catapult me right into Little Old Lady Land. Eek!)

In 2016, I am going to read more books. (This is a long one, but perhaps my favorite. Stay with me.) I have loved to read for almost as long as I can remember and books figure prominently among my earliest memories. Even as my parents took us to the stuff of fairy tales (literally -- growing up in southern Germany has its perks), reading allowed me to travel further and to explore worlds beyond my imagination. It was at once comforting, distracting, and exhilarating. At some point between high school and college, this changed. As much as I enjoyed what I read for classes and research papers, books became inextricably associated with work and the concept of "reading for fun" outside of summer vacation became somehow foreign. This May, when faced with a stretch of four months in the wilds of northern Virginia, I turned back to books. At the beach after graduation, I devoured Anthony Doerr's All the Light we Cannot See and Irène Némirovsky's Suite française in a weekend. I renewed my library card and spent hours browsing the local library's selection before heading off to babysit. I checked out The Count of Monte Cristo. (I didn't finish it, but instead rewatched the movie. Nobody's perfect.) Now that I am settled in Luxembourg and the novelty of having access to Netflix in a foreign country has (mostly) worn off, I am recommitting to spending more time in front of a book than in front of a screen.

In 2016, I am going to be timely. No more of this "catching the last possible train to get me to Belval" business. No more delaying emails or responding to text messages two days later. No more setting four alarms because I know, I just know that I'll continue sleeping after the first three. No more procrastinating on blog posts and post-dating because I fell asleep on Tuesday night and had to finish the post on Wednesday.

In 2016, I am going to learn new things. First up? Lëtzebuergesch. It's going to happen. I'm going to learn it. It's been typed on this blog and it's going to happen. (Maybe.)

In 2016, I am going to make decisions. Not great decisions, or even good decisions (although that would be ideal). Just ... decisions. Decision-making -- that painful act of committing to one option and simultaneously rejecting all other possible alternatives for eternity -- has got to be among my biggest weaknesses. I hesitate when buying JAM, for crying out loud. Unfortunately, with the end of my Fulbright grant just over the horizon, I have a sneaking suspicion that I am drawing ever closer to a period of very important decisions. What do I want to do next? Where do I want to go? How do I want to spend the next fifty years year six months of my life? I don't expect to wake up tomorrow with a clear vision of my future and I doubt that I'll know what I really want to do before this year is out. But I bought raspberry jam yesterday without thinking about it. And maybe I can make a few more decisions, too.

And there you have it. My New Year's resolutions. They're not particularly earth-shattering and they probably fail to meet every requirement there is for practical goal-setting ... but hey. They're mine and I'm going to stick to them ... ish.

I am particularly excited to see what new adventures 2016 will hold. Although I cannot even begin to imagine what lies beyond July 2016, I hope that the next six months will provide me with enough travel, adventure, and excitement to last the rest of the year!

Since I've been here, I figure that I have done more exploring within Luxembourg than just about anyone I know -- including some Luxembourgers, who have shown mild confusion at my enthusiasm for their country's every nook and cranny. Although my Fulbright Bucket List is coming along nicely, there are still several places in the Grand Duchy that I am itching to visit. Next on the list? Clervaux, a town in northernmost Luxembourg with a castle and famous photography exhibition. Bourscheid, a one-thousand-year-old castle smack in the middle of the Ardennes. And Schengen, the town on the border of Luxembourg, France, and Germany where the Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985. And ... well, a whole lot of other places!

Although I'll be spending the majority of my time in Luxembourg (per the terms of my Fulbright grant), I do have a few dreams of international travel ... especially when friends and family come to visit! There are so many beautiful places that are hardly more than a hop and a skip across the border in France, Germany, and Belgium. I would love to visit Nancy and Reims in northeast France and seriously cannot wait to spend some time in the picturesque villages of Alsace, just an hour or two south of Luxembourg. And although I've spent more time than I ever imagined on trains between Luxembourg and Belgium, I've yet to visit Antwerp or Ghent -- two of the country's most popular cities. And why not dream big? London (to see the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour, and another thing or two). Rome (to visit my housemates, who have made refusal to visit them in Italy virtually impossible). Salzburg (to listen to The Sound of Music soundtrack, duh). Copenhagen (to like ... do whatever you do in Copenhagen, I guess). Who knows?!

PS. On a semi-related note ... want to contribute to my book list? I just finished Paula Hawkins' Girl on the Train and Robert Edsel's Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. If you have a recommendation, I'm all ears!