Programming in Oslo

It feels good to be back and posting on the UAH Honors SAGA blog. This post I will be focusing on one of my passions consuming a lot of my time in Oslo. On the academic side, I have been challenged with Senior level programming courses in Biologically Inspired Computing and Computational Physics. Coding has always been a passion for me and through my ME degree at UAH I have constantly felt the desire to learn advanced ML, AI, and randomization methods (Monte Carlo), and the University of Oslo gave me the chance. I have been able to keep my coding skills up by TA’ng ENG101 for three semesters (including the first Honors section!) but I felt it was time to further my skill set.

One aspect of programming Oslo that is like no other is the free wifi absolutely everywhere in public places and it’s super fast. This allows me to work on my projects with views like you can see below.

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Aker Brigge, Oslo Bay

It is amazing what a relaxing environment does for productivity. I try and do this at UAH, but Oslo has definitely inspired me to come back and spend more time studying in places like Monte Sano.

Biologically Inspired Computing focuses on Neural Networks and Machine Learning techniques. There have been two mandatory assignments so far and they have definitely challenged my programming skills. This is mainly because I had to receive special permission to take them, due to the fact that they are Senior level Computer Science classes.

The first assignment involved using a genetic algorithm (GA) to solve the traveling salesman problem. By essentially breaking the problem into genotypes and phenotypes, you can use a genetic-based reproduction structure to develop your family bloodline. The GA then produces new generations of children to optimize the results towards the optimal solution.

The second project I just turned in last week was a Machine Learning classifier for EMG signals. The assignment explores supervised learning with the implementation of a multilayer perceptron (MLP). The task at hand was to analyze data from electromyographic (EMG) signals to learn eight hand gestures from a robotic prosthetic hand controller. The algorithm used backpropagation to fill the neural nodes to refine a weighting system for the dynamic classification process. The confusion matrixes are filled with the results allowing for analysis.

Both of these assignments allowed me to learn in-demand algorithm knowledge, as AI / ML is the future of all computing. You can view my work for the course on my Github course page and there are reports included in both for an easy to read summary. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to experience this world-class course that is recognized for it’s rigorous but exceptional content. The applications in the field of robotics (my future career path) are endless and provide a solid foundation for future growth in programming. This is all I have for this week and in my next post, I plan on talking about Computational Physics!

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Updates coming soon!

I will be updating this blog more in the coming weeks but I have had an incredibly busy two months finishing up my internship and moving to Bremen with some traveling in between!

One quick thing to say though now that I am about to begin my studies at a German University: They say when you first get to high school in the United States that your hand won’t be held like it was in middle school. When you arrive to your American College they tell you it will again be more difficult because no one will hold your hand like in high school. Well so far my perspective of the German University system is that no one will even tell you your hand won’t be held, because no one is even present to tell you! It goes without saying that I am a huge fan of the independence here, yet a little frightened as I try to get everything settled to begin my semester.

That is all for now!

Part IV – Ayahuasca Ceremonies

Note: This blog is a part of a series on my journey to the Ecuadorean Amazon and it is a sequel to this blog – Part III Journey to Lagarto Cocha. I highly recommend reading that before you read this post below.

In this blog, I am going to share some details about the ceremonies I had the chance to participate in under the guidance of the elder shamans from the Secoya tribe in the Ecuadorean Amazon. Some of the content may sound unreal but I only request you to be open-minded while reading this. I gain nothing by lying to you and I report these experiences exactly as I experienced them.

Before I get into further details, here is a brief description of the sacred medicine. Ayahuasca is actually a forest vine whose name translates to ‘vine of the soul’. The sacred vine is concocted into a completely plant-based medicine used in different ways by various indigenous groups of the Amazon. The medicine is created from a combination of the ayahuasca vine (Banistereopsis Caapi) and chacruna or amiruka (Psychotria Viridis). The latter contains N-N DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) which naturally occurs in various plants and animals. Ayahuasca is used as a hallucinogenic medicine to undergo spiritual journeys as well as heal certain diseases!
Ayahuasca is NOT something to be taken for fun and it is absolutely NOT ‘just another drug’. It is a very serious medicine and has proper ceremonies and rituals done by experienced shamans who have undergone tremendous hardships. The vine medicine is taken for spiritual growth. If you ever consider participating in ceremonies, please read as much as you can about the practices and gain knowledge on ayahuasca. Please do this with experienced shamans in proper settings such as known retreat centers. Here is a great resource on Ayahuasca by the person who led this trip to the Amazon.

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In all of the ceremonies, I consumed yage which is slightly different from Ayahuasca because it is a combination of the Ayahuasca vine and yage-oco instead of chacruna.  Ayahuasca can induce more vomiting but yage is meant to be ingested after a vomiting ceremony so the experience is generally more primal. I have used Ayahuasca and yage interchangeably but they are not exactly the same substance.

So now that the disclaimer is over, let’s dive into what happened during these magical journeys. For each ceremony, we had to fast (no food and water) for 24 hours.

All three ceremonies had the same procedure without the sunrise renewal ceremony so I’ll explain what we did for the first and it’s the same for the other two. A small lodge was constructed just for the ceremony a little far from the tents. Sticks were arranged in a rectangle with even spaces to hold the tarp above the ground. The hammocks were tied to them in a neat horizontal arrangement. In the evening, all of us participants dressed up nicely to emulate the celestial beings seen by the elder shamans in their visions on ayahuasca.  Some of us had face painting from a plant pigment too! Here is a picture of the ceremonial lodge with hammocks taken by my friend and mentor, Jonathan Miller Weisberger, in the morning after a ceremony! Every ceremony was conducted at night.

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The First Ceremony

Before each ceremony, we had to lie in our hammocks and just meditate quietly until it was time for us to be called for drinking the brew. In this duration, we had to set an intention for what we wanted to see or learn in the journey. As I learned from experience later on, these intentions had a significant effect on whether the ‘trip’ was going to be challenging or not. You may have heard that set and setting are the keys to having pleasant experiences with psychedelics. In this case, the setting was flawless as we were in a protected part of the Amazon, Lagarto Cocha, which was several hours (by canoe) away from any signs of civilization. The set in this situation was the internal mindset which had to be positive for a pleasant journey before consuming ayahuasca. I set an intention to increase personal growth and become a better person for this ceremony.

The shaman sat in the hammock nearest to the fire. The forest sounds were absolutely enchanting. The extravagant chirping of the myriad of insects is still imprinted in my memory. Mosquitoes were buzzing around me so I had sprayed a lot of eucalyptus oil repellant on my clothes. After lying on my hammock for about an hour, the brew was fully prepared and we were being called by name one at a time to drink it. I felt nervous and excited at the same time as this was my first time with any psychedelic (I had not even tried cannabis). My name was called and I walked towards the fire where I bowed to the shaman to receive a small cup of the medicine. I drank it very quickly as the taste was very bitter. Here is a picture which is similar to the cup I drank from.

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I slowly walked back to my hammock and waited for the effects to come. After about 40 minutes or so, I could literally feel a rush of blood to my head. Thoughts started coming to my mind faster than ever before. I was entering an altered state of consciousness. I could listen intensely to the forest sounds and they were multiplied in magnitude. The forest became a living being now. While I was not able to directly communicate with the non-human life that surrounded me, I felt at peace and thought of the great forest as a protector. I had no sense of time during this and any of the mind journeys.  In the Secoya tradition, the chanting and singing to invite forest spirits begin at 3 am during the ceremonies. So when Don Cesareo began to hum beautiful tunes and chant in the Secoya language, Paicoca, I realized it was 3 am. These songs of healing are called icaros and you can find a beautiful example of one here: Ayahuasca Icaro. The effects had worn off by then but I was just amazed at the experience I had. Some of my fellow participants took more cups of ayahuasca but one was enough for me at that time. Then I just rested for the night in my hammock and listened to the life in the great forest until the sun’s rays shone on my face. I was absolutely starving and was so grateful to have a bowl of oatmeal and watermelon for breakfast. Starvation greatly increased the gratitude I expressed for food.

The Second Journey

My intention for the second ceremony was centered on finding out whether my loved ones were doing alright. Since I had no way of contacting them from the deep jungle, I was worried if everything in the life I had temporarily left was fine.

The great shaman, Don Cesareo, led this ceremony too. After I drank the first cup, the same effects began again after about an hour. Initially, it felt great as I was happy and surrendering to the sacred vine. However, the trip took a turn and it was challenging. I felt like I was going to die soon after the effects began. My mind entered a state of anxiety and paranoia. I was afraid to die early and my energy levels were also low. Since we had to refrain from food and water for the whole day before the night ceremony, I was dehydrated so the feeling of impending death was all too real to me. This part of the trip was a struggle as I thought I was holding on to life. I was too afraid to surrender to and accept death so soon. Memories of my past were flashing in my mind. The people who are extremely important in life such as my parents and some close friends also came to me in those flashes. Finally, my friend, Jonathan, who was assisting the shaman came over to check if everyone was doing fine. I admitted that I was feeling dehydrated and he blew some copal incense smoke on my face and gave me a drop of Rescue Remedy. A few minutes after that, my anxiety was significantly reduced and I was calmer.

My name was called for another round of drinking the medicine and I went for my second cup. The forest felt more alive than ever. I experienced the grandest cognitive dissonance I had ever had. The main thought in my mind was the fact that ‘there is so much I do not know’ which is still true. It is incredibly difficult to describe such a beautiful experience in words but I will try my best. Don Cesareo started singing around 3 am. He was vocalizing sounds of many different animals such as cicadas, crickets, snakes, and jaguars. My respect for the amazing man was greatly increased and so many thoughts of appreciation were racing through my brain. The whole forest was filled with such amazing music and it really felt as if I was connecting with the animals of the great Amazon through their music. I was thinking of how mainstream culture has (for the most part) discarded the teachings and cultures of indigenous forest-dwelling people. They have such a vast body of ecological and spiritual knowledge which is only transmitted orally so once the elders such as Don Cesareo are gone, the loss would be akin to burning libraries. I will return to this topic in my final blog (Part V). Here is a picture of me with Don Cesareo after the second ceremony.

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At the end of the second trip, I felt truly elated. Never before in my entire life had I been so grateful just to be alive in the moment. I felt as if I was absolutely in the present moment! I remember looking at my hands and just thanking the universe that I was alive. This was also a result of me holding on tightly to life during the first part of the ceremony. Gratefulness for everything that had happened in my life and the people that have supported me, especially my parents, was magnified like never before. The feeling of love and compassion for the existence of all life grew inside me and tears of joy were trickling down my cheek. I cannot express in words how this felt but all I can say is the feeling was the most beautiful sensation I had felt in my life. This quote summarizes my second trip better than my own words.

“I feel part of the environment, not separate from it, as though I’m at home rather than visiting—as though I’m tapped into some eternal omnipresence beyond the transient physical forms.”
― Michael Sanders, Ayahuasca: An Executive’s Enlightenment

The Final Ceremony

The last ceremony was conducted by an 80-year-old shaman named Don Basilio. I was extremely excited to participate in this one. I had mentally prepared myself to drink three cups beforehand. I made an attempt to realize my purpose in life on the last mind journey of my Amazon visit. Here is a picture of Don Basilio (on the right) in a conversation with Don Cesareo. 21016068_1308858985889974_1362955796133245835_o

This time, I actually had a mosquito net over my hammock to prevent any insects from biting me. Once I drank my first cup and was settled in my hammock, I closed the zipper of the net and I found out a few minutes later that there were three mosquitoes inside the net! The universe has a strange sense of humor indeed. I was hesitant to open the net to let them out because more insects would enter. So I waited for the medicine to kick in while the ‘three mosquitoes’ were buzzing around my ears. While I was waiting, I thought of killing the mosquitoes but I resisted the temptation because the act of killing any life would possibly have an impact on the trip. I wanted my mind to be filled with love and kindness. As naive as that sounds, I tried to make peace with the mosquitoes. I told myself that I had nothing against them and hoped that they would not bite me.

Then the mind trip began and I started mildly hallucinating. My mind was still focused on not getting bit by my insect friends. My thoughts were racing again and the forest was a grandiose being once again. Mother Earth was speaking to me through the music of the birds and the insects.

My name was called again for a second round and I had mentally decided to drink at least 3 cups in this final ceremony. I got up, drank the medicine, and waited in my hammock. Don Basilio started chanting calmly so it was around 3 am. Very soon, I was in another world altogether. I received very strong visions which led me to question reality. This experience confirmed some of what I had read in Jonathan’s book, ‘Rainforest Medicine’. I cannot share the details of these visions but I will say that they opened my mind to so many possibilities. I still remember many of the details so they were very different from any dream I ever had. I still have not completely understood what exactly they meant so I hope to in the future as my life goes on. My perception of reality was drastically changed.

An amazing quote by Aldous Huxley, author of ‘A Brave New World’, describes what I learned from the third trip.

“It’s a very salutary thing to realize that the rather dull universe in which most of us spend most of our time is not the only universe there is. I think it’s healthy that people should have this experience.”
― Aldous Huxley, Moksha: Writings on Psychedelics & the Visionary Experience

I finally went for my third cup after this exhilarating experience. No visions came but just like the second trip, my gratitude for existence and connection to the environment was enhanced. I thought of what I wanted to accomplish in my life and how I have the desire to help in making our world more sustainable and just leave the world much better than I found it. I was feeling excited about the life ahead of me and also thinking of how difficult it will be to achieve some of my goals. Morning came like a saviour as I was extremely hungry. I was still hearing the mosquitoes buzzing but surprisingly, I did not get a single mosquito bite! I had somehow successfully avoided being bitten by my friends.

To summarize, these experiences allowed me to take a deeper look at who I am, what I need (not want) in life, and peek at other ways of living a life. I will write more on the topic of indigenous knowledge, cultural beliefs, and interaction with our planet in the next and final blog of this series. Thank you so much for reading.

Food & Hammocking

Welcome back to my Norwegian experience! It has been a beautiful two weeks here in Oslo and on one of the few bleak rainy days (today) I am here sharing a few highlights.

I have always enjoyed entertaining and with Oslo being one of the most expensive places in the world to eat out, making homemade food for friends is much cheaper. Thus far I have held waffle, smoothie, and tropical dessert parties for everyone. I have also made quiches, mango cheesecake, and banana nut bread to share. A few pictures can be seen below of my culinary adventures in Oslo:

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Smoothie Night with Jordan (center) and Genissis (right)

 

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Jordan’s Birthday Party

 

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The supplies for creating the 9-layer pina colada parfait for tropical night

 

In addition to enjoying good food & friends, I have started all my classes and am getting used to the education format here. It tends to be more project-based with a large amount of weight placed on the final (>80% typically). Once I have a few projects to talk about, I will be sure to write a blog post on them, since two of the courses I am taking are internationally recognized for their academic learning outcomes. When I am not in the classroom I have found time to enjoy hammocking while the weather was still warm and sunny in Oslo.

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Matching hammocks after a hike to Vettakollen overlooking the city

 

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Went back to Ekebergparken (from my first blog post), but this time explored and found a spot overlooking the bay

 

That should just about wrap it up for this week’s blog post. Stay tuned, Oktoberfest Oslo is happening this weekend and I am sure there will be lots of great pictures from it. I think there might be homemade Bavarian pretzels in my future. Until then, stay safe and keep on adventuring.

 

Initial Experience in Oslo, Norway

The past few days have been an absolute whirlwind. I cannot even begin to tell you the adventures and friendships I have already made while here in Oslo. I will do my best to give you a synopsis of the beginning of my fall semester in Norway!

It all started with a total of 24 hours of flights including delays, layovers, gate running, lost luggage, and time changes. I was thankfully able to have a few relaxing moments on the journey, including meeting up with an old friend during a layover from the National Youth Science Camp I attended a few years back.

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Alexandra and I in ATL

Once I arrived in Oslo, Norway and waited a few hours for my baggage I was finally able to start my journey. One huge benefit when it comes to Oslo is the incredibly diverse transit systems that are implemented throughout the city. I would come to find out later that this is invaluable, however just coming off 24 hours of flights, it was difficult to navigate the city properly. After much trial and error, I was finally able to pick up my keys, and head to my apartment for the semester!

I chose to live in an area called Grünerløkka in the central part of Oslo. The area was once an industrial mecha in Oslo that has recently been turned into a desirable modern part of the city. The student house is actually inside of an old grain silo that was converted into apartments.

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Grünerløkka studenthus

I will go into detail about the rooms in a later post once I have finished decorating the apartment!

The first week was filled with nonstop orientation activities. I could go on forever about the friends that I made during the week, although it would fill a short novella. I think the following two photos sum up the week beautifully.

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Welcome Ceremony at the Old University of Oslo Campus

 

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Ekebergparken Park Overlooking the Bay (Only a 15-minute tram ride from where I live)

 

This past weekend I decided to go with some friends to Göteborg, Sweden for a quick Saturday excursion. We took the bus for only $35 roundtrip and a quick 3-hour ride to spend the day. It just so happened that the cultural festival was that weekend along with EuroPride 2018, which provided a lot of activities to complete during our visit! Here are some highlights from the trip:

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Enjoying the Nautical History of Sweden

 

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Appreciating the overcast 60-degree day with Jack (left) & Austin (center)

 

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Relaxing after a long day of walking the city

 

Well, that about concludes it for this weeks blog post! I have lots more to share, but I plan on saving certain experiences for themed posts in the future. Also, keep a watch out for my more technical side, as my courses have started this week and I plan on doing some photography magic with the advanced programming skills I will be learning. Until then, have a great week!

 

How to get to Hamburg (or really anywhere) on a budget

When I decided to study abroad in Germany I of course wanted to be able to have time to travel and see more of the country and continent. Currently, that is tough to do with a full time job and not much money. However, it is very possible. Here is one example of a weekend trip done right!

First of all, you need to actually be able to get to your destination and luckily Europe has got this figured out! You have a few options:

  1. Buses (budget friendly and wide range of destinations)
  2. Trains (usually faster, but a little pricier)
  3. Planes (budget airlines are great, but you can only go where they’ll take you)
  4. Cars (for absolute freedom)

Of course, in the US your only “real” option is a car unless you’re made of money or in a place that actually has buses and trains. But here, I can (and have) used every option on this list except for number 4 (because cars are completely unnecessary on a continent that actually has reasonable prices and time schedules for options 1 through 3).

So, to get to Hamburg I could have paid 39 Euros each way for a train ride that would have had one connection and taken 2 hours and 31 minutes. But I chose the direct bus- it costed 12 Euros each way and took 2 hours 30 minutes (savings of a minute and 27 Euros).

Next, you need somewhere to stay. For accommodation you also have several options:

  1. Couchsurfing (free but requires at least a week of prior planning)
  2. Hostels (cheap and for the young, adventurous types)
  3. Hotels (for those with deeper pockets than most)

I of course, chose option 2. I have read plenty of travel blogs discussing hostels and how great they are so I was honestly really excited to try one out. I booked a night in a backpacker youth hostel in Hamburg for 30 Euros for the night and had a great experience!

So there it is! A weekend in Hamburg for 54 Euros. Not too shabby. Stay tuned to hear about my adventures there!

So Long, Seoul, But I’ll Be Back!

It’s been about a day and a half since I’ve returned from my seven week adventure in Seoul, South Korea. In the 28 hour journey it took to return to the states plus the time it’s been since coming back, I’ve had a some time to reflect on being in Seoul and my feelings overall from the entire experience.

As I think all of my previous posts conveyed, I truly enjoyed myself while in South Korea. Of course, there were a couple days amongst my time that were more challenging and disappointing, but all of the pros that came with this wonderful trip outweighed those.

The most important aspect of this study abroad for me was having the ability to speak in Korean everyday and to deepen my understanding. I am so lucky to have been able to accomplish this task. I’m certainly not fluent in Korean, but I understand so much more  in comparison to when I arrived and have gotten that much closer to being able to comfortably go out on my own without any communication problems with natives.

With that being said, I look back on my experience in Seoul, South Korea with highly positive feelings. As a 13 year old, this is something that I never would’ve thought I could accomplish, it always felt like something completely out of the realm of possibility for me, but here I am with fond memories that will never leave me of a city that I never wanted to leave. I’m very thankful to have been rewarded this experience as it only pushes me and my determination to return one day for good. 🙂

I’ll leave my final post with a couple of my favorite pictures from the trip. And while my experience abroad has ended for now, the feeling of happiness sure hasn’t! Signing off!

 

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*Taken atop the mountain of Ihwa Mural Village, overlooking central Seoul.

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*Taken at Banpo Han River Park. The words at the top of the frame translate to “We will always shine like this.”

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*Taken at Namsan Seoul Tower, a tower that looks directly over all of Seoul. It’s situated near the famous Gyeongbokgung Palace, and is known not only for its incredible view of the entire city, but also for being a romantic spot for dates and couples. It features a “lock bridge” where you can buy a lock at the gift store, decorate it, and attach it to the railing that goes around the tower. This tower is also the shooting location of a very popular K-Drama “You Who Came From The Stars” (I’ve seen it – worth the watch!).

Here’s an example of the view at night from the top of the tower!

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벌써 떠나는 시간인가?

Hey everyone! Have you been finding fun ways to beat the heat of the summer? It’s been quite a boiling season here for South Korea; we’ve hit triple digit heat several days in a row, and it doesn’t show evidence of cooling down any time soon.

Besides becoming a lobster underneath the Seoul sun many a time, I’ve done a lot since my last blog post. Mainly, I’ve been in the classroom studying for finals that are to take place this week. Wednesday ends them all, so let’s hope for good marks!

In addition to that, I’ve been on several exciting and also confusing adventures. One of which is when a friend and I decided to visit one of the gates of Seoul. Here’s a fun fact; there are eight gates in Seoul, four main ones and four lesser. They’re named according to the directions they’re located in. So the four main gates are 동대문 (East Big Gate), 남대문 (South Big Gate), 북대문 (North Big Gate), and 서대문 (West Big Gate). The neighborhoods that these gates are nestled within are also named after the gates, and the neighborhood that Yonsei University is in is actually Seodaemun-dong! Unfortunately, only the gates for the East and the North are still currently standing; the West Gate was torn down during the 1900’s and the South gate was damaged by a fire. Here’s a picture of what the East Big Gate looks like!

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Another really interesting thing I had the opportunity of doing here was going to the Trick Eye Museum! It’s an optical illusion museum that’s located in the neighborhood Hongdae, about 30 minutes southwest of Yonsei University by Metro. I had actually learned about this museum through a music video way back in 2011 and have wanted to go ever since. It was really interesting! One ticket got you entry into an ice playground as well as the actual optical allusion museum as well. Here are a few of the pictures I captured!

 

Looking back on everything, it does make me feel quite a bit sad to be leaving behind what I’ve basically come to recognize as a new life for me. There are some things I’ve missed from the United States and that I will feel a sense of relief returning to, but I know that I could definitely fare without them if need be. In a short seven days, I’ll be bringing my collection of memories, funny stories, new K-Pop albums, new clothes, and contacts of new lifelong friends with me back to the states, and while I’ll definitely be happy to be back to familiarity, it will still feel a bit bittersweet in the end. I know that I should be looking on the bright side of things, as I’ve always tried to do. In just this short time I’ve improved my Korean so much, I’ve opened up, I’ve become more comfortable with myself and being in unfamiliar situations, so these are all intangible things that I’m bringing back to be proud of. It only fuels my determination to come back in the future for sure. 🙂

That’ll be it for now! I’ll let you guys know once finals are over my final thought towards my entire trip and its culmination. Until then! Peace!

Tschüss!

Wow, where did eight weeks go? As I write this, I’m sitting in my backyard back in San Diego, California. Instead of the sounds of pedestrians, cyclists, and the Straßenbahn (street trolley) down the block, I hear crickets, the pool pump, and the occasional car going down the street.

Leaving Germany

I was surprisingly sad to leave Germany. Not that I didn’t enjoy my time there, but I’d thought that eight weeks would last a lot longer than they did. The sudden arrival of my last day took me by surprise.

On my last day, I took the U-bahn and Straßenbahns as often as I could, knowing I’d miss them. I visited the five-story bookstore on Königsallee one last time. I grabbed a final ice cream at a street cafe with a few friends.

I gave crocheted presents to my classmates. Maybe I was going home, but these small works of my hands would stay with my friends – and later travel with them back to their homelands.

Finally, I went to a German-Japanese Stammtisch with one of my Japanese classmates. We gathered at the Japanese Garden in the Nordpark for a picnic and view of the lunar eclipse. I met a very interesting German gentleman who spoke inspiringly proficient Japanese, but with a very distinct Kansai accent. まだ足りない, he said. “Still not [good] enough.” Coming from someone much more proficient than I, his words were both comforting and discouraging.

We also met the same German gentleman I’d spoken with at the cat cafe. My classmate and I chatted with him about Germany, Japan, America, and many other topics as we waited for the lunar eclipse.

Finally we found the moon. It was red and incredibly dim. It looked kind of sad, just as I was to be leaving Germany and so many newfound friends.

Coming Home

On Saturday morning, I turned in my keys and lugged my suitcase down the four flights of stairs. I took my last U-bahn to the Hauptbahnhof and said goodbye to Düsseldorf from Platform 15 as I waited for my ICE train to arrive.

I took the train to the Frankfurt Airport, where I had a hectic time getting through all the extra (literal) steps required to check in, find the correct security checkpoint, and reach my gate. Next was a nine-hour flight to Portland, Oregon. The in-flight meal was a last nod to Germany: a sausage and a mini pretzel with a generous amount of mustard.

Finally I arrived in Portland. I was back in the USA! As sad as I’d been to leave Germany, it felt like a huge breath of fresh air to be back in my home country. The people at passport control aren’t asking me to prove why I am here and how long I will stay. I am a citizen, I belong here. The airport staff expect to speak English, and will not look down on me for speaking in English. They are mostly friendly, but even the grumpy ones are grumpy in my mother tongue, and if they choose to be snarky with me I know how to respond. (I am not at all trying to imply that customer service in Germany is usually condescending or grumpy. But when it is, it’s twice as stressful because it’s unfamiliar.)

A four-hour layover and three-hour flight later, I was back in San Diego. I walked down the same hallway and went down the same escalator as always to the baggage claim in Terminal 2. And as per tradition, when my family picked me up we went straight to In-N-Out for protein-style Double-Double cheeseburgers with whole-grilled onions and no tomato.

How’s my Deutsch?

I’d been thinking for a while about how I could directly show my progress in German. I’d considered writing a blog post in German, but that isn’t really edifying for non-speakers of German. Instead, I made a video with some last thoughts about Germany in order to record me speaking German somewhat spontaneously. It’s not an incredibly cohesive or comprehensive conclusion, and it’s full of mistakes, but it also shows how far I’ve come from the beginning of my eight weeks in D’dorf. When you only learn a little bit day-by-day, it’s often hard to see progress. But hopefully someday I’ll be able to come back to this video and think, “Wow, my German has gotten a lot better since then.”

(Click the CC button in the lower right-hand corner to turn on English subtitles.)

Thanks for following my German learning adventures! Hopefully it won’t be too long until my next visit there.

Tschüss!

HighLights from High Places

I spent a lot of time this week far off the ground.

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On Monday I visited the Rheinturm, the tallest building in Düsseldorf at around 170 meters. At the top was a 360 degree observation deck, from which I enjoyed the beautiful view of Düsseldorf from above at sunset.

Düsseldorf Kirmes

On Friday I experienced a jam-packed train for the first time on the way to the Düsseldorf carnival on the Rhein. A classmate and I treated ourselves to some fleeting aerial views of the city from the high spinning carousel and one of the pendulum rides. Our other two companions enjoyed some more leisurely views from the Ferris wheel. Not long after dark we sat down together to watch the big firework show marking the end of the carnival’s run.

The Unforgettable Kölner Lichter

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Saturday’s adventure was perhaps my most memorable in Germany so far.

I went on an IIK-excursion to Köln, Düsseldorf’s rival city to the south. After taking in the city from above from the Köln Triangle Panorama, we split into groups of four to play a sort of tourist scavenger hunt around the city. The hints, of course, were all in German. For the most part, we relied on our reading and inference abilities, but when we got stuck we asked passerby for guidance. After the game, we relaxed in one of Köln’s many bars as some students tried Kölsch, the city’s famous beer. Then we had some free time to explore the city.

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“Linner”. This is about the size of a whole pizza at the UAH cafeteria.

My teammates consisted of a friendly curly-haired teacher from Spain, a young cardiologist from Turkey, and an enthusiastic gentleman from Finland with a deep booming voice. After touring the famous city cathedral, we conversed over pizza in a sidewalk cafe. It was quite interesting hearing the differences in communication style between German learners with very different mother tongues. For example, the lady from Turkey sometimes sprinkled in English verbs, conjugated as if they were German. Our Spanish teammate had a relatively strong accent and made frequent grammatical errors, but she got her point across every single time and understood everything that other people said to her. In contrast, Carry, our Finlander, spoke quickly but frequently backtracked in the middle of his sentences to correct small errors. And me? Like Carry, I tend to be a little bit perfectionistic with my grammar. Unlike Carry, however, I tend to wait until a sentence – or at least a full phrase – is fully articulated in my brain before I speak, resulting in the occasional long pause.  Since these pauses aren’t as conducive to a flowing conversation, I’ve been striving to be a little bit more like Carry and let the words flow knowing I can correct them if needed.

At about 8:00 we claimed seats on the grass near the river before it grew too packed. People from all over Germany had come to see the famous Kölner Lichter.

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Then we waited for over three hours, since the show wasn’t until 11:30. I finished crocheting the cowl that I’d started on the train. By this time, I was tired from rushing around and being on my feet all day, and it wasn’t very comfortable sitting in the grass. Was this firework show going to be worth it? I’d seen fireworks yesterday.

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Usually I’m not even a huge fan of fireworks. A bunch of noisy red and blue splatters that leave behind giant trails of smoke like scars in the sky. But once the show finally started, I’d forgotten all my tiredness and aching and was happy I’d come.

There were five rounds of fireworks, each representing a different era and style of painting. There was a narrated introduction for each.

As the narrator said over the booming speakers, the fireworks were like paintings in the sky. Dynamic, transient paintings, with vivid brushstrokes sweeping across the sky, bursting, swirling, falling, and finally fading.

This show wasn’t some extravagant splashing of colors across the sky; there was intention behind every detail. Each color earned its place, and each little spark of fire rose, bloomed, and faded in a different way. The music was not simply an amplification of the rhythm of explosive sound but a beautiful auditory accompaniment that complemented and supported the imagery of the fireworks.

I didn’t get any good pictures of the fireworks. The packed sea of people and my dying phone battery made taking photos rather infeasible. But even if I had, I don’t think photos or even videos could do the lights justice.