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.