Monday, January 29, 2007

Snow, Whirlpool, and Slovak roads

Hi to all,

Well, this past weekend I trekked up to the High Tatra Mountains in Slovakia. Those of you who wish to grab an almanac, this mountain range runs across the north of the country and acts as a natural border with Poland.

Winter has arrived in Slovakia. Snow accompanied the bus on Thursday morning as it made its four hour journey north and stayed throughout the night providing the perfect conditions for skying. So on Friday, my free day, I and twelve of my colleagues took a bus to the ski slopes. Since, this was my first time skiing I was promptly forgotten by my more experienced friends, though truth be told they did check on me, more often than not, looking down upon my sprawled body in the snow. After two hours of frustration though I achieved what I had hoped for. Actual skiing down a slope at speeds that made my Olympic fantasy come alive, shortly, before the practical concern of how to stop shattered my day-dreaming. With my bruised body, not to mention ego I left the Tatra slopes unbowed though and definitely undaunted. I have found I love the activity and plan on returning as soon as I can. Later that night I found the warmth of a whirlpool the necessary remedy to my aches and pains.

Saturday was the conference and I spent most of the day inside a lecture hall listening, taking notes and educating myself.

Sunday the bus that had taken us up to the mountains now returned us, though under tougher road conditions. For those of you in the U.S. road maintenance, in particular, snow removal is considered a priority in many states where snow is the common denominator during the winter months. This is not the case in Slovakia. Such maintenance and removal does occur, just not as frequently as expected nor as I had hoped, so many prayers where offered on the return journey.

This week my students in Political Science take their mid-terms examinations. I hope for their sake they will do better than how they did on my review today.

Until next time.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Middle East, Trains, and a retreat

Well, as is the case when there is too much to do, things are forgotten...

This blog for example. It has been nearly two weeks since I last posted and much has happened.

The classes that I teach are still good and I do still enjoy the subject matter and overall the students that file into my classroom everyday. However, I found myself in the delicate position of lecturing on the Middle East to my class of International Relations. To my surprise and a bit more to my shock very little is known, outside of the stereotyped and prejudicial views. In my attempts to mediate a bit more information on Israeli views, why for example did they refuse to leave the Golan Heights in negotiations in the late 90s; overwhelming sympathy for the Palestinian cause blocked my efforts. This was repeated when this week discussions on the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Iran resulted in similar reactions. Much of this I can justify in my mind and there were those few students who did know much about the region, its politics and troubles that did not come from the 30 second news clip the majority of their peers listen to. This is comforting. But, I am left with unsettled feelings that a generation of youth not very different from their American counterparts are walking into a future more globalized than when their fathers arrived, more enlightened in terms of available news sources and yet, apathetic.

Last weekend I took my first journey outside Trencin. Traveling by train (the only true way to travel in Europe, forget the bus) I made my way to Bratislava, Slovakia's capital and absolutely nothing like the disgusting and horrific image presented in the 2006 movie Hostel. I walked through the City Museum admiring the paintings, indulged in my love of Asian food at a wonderfully authentic Chinese restaurant and picked my way through several antique stores where the available items were more 19th century than 20th. The crown jewel, no pun intented, of my trip was a neat coffee place, owned by an ex-pat who has stuffed his walls with rows of books. Nestled down an alley, away from the hustle of the city and its tourists, this quaint little place provides the caffeine needed to read the final chapter in a mystery pulled from the shelf or the cozy smoke-filled atmosphere of the anteroom where intellectuals of all stripes can sit, philosophize, debate and laugh over a pint (yes, beer is also available).

In an hour I am off on a bus to the high Tatra's (mountains) for a retreat. A weekend of work and fun. I have been told much about this yearly excursion, heard more rumor than fact and look forward to it with anticipation. Winter has finally arrived with continual snow the last two days, and I am excited to finally wear a sweater and, if I feel so inclined, I might try the slopes tomorrow.

Until next time.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

In the Heart of Europe

It has been a few months. I have moved and started a new job. As promised to those readers in my last post in November I now turn my electronic pen to webpage and write once more.

I have decided to keep the blog name unchanged. Though my intention now is to write on my experiences in a foreign country and not so much my personal view of specific news stories around the world, I believe that here in Europe a 'worldspin' does occur. Different media, culture, and personal opinions provide a nice seasoning to the dish I hope to give to you, my readers, in the coming months.

A brief summary of my crazy life since I last wrote:

I accepted a teaching position at a university in Trencin, Slovakia last March. It seemed to be an ideal situation to find employment in the foreign city that was the birthplace of my wife and where much of her family still reside. And so it was that in December I moved. For those of you unfamiliar with Slovakia or the Slovak Republic as it is also known as; it was one part of the former Czechoslovakia. The nation peacefully split in 1993 and this small nation literally in the middle (heart) of Europe I now call home.

On December 20th I flew to Munich for my connecting flight to Bratislava, Slovakia. There in the airport with my wife we heard much to our chagrin ten minutes before we were to board our flight an announcement that the flight had been cancelled! (no explanation offered) This set off a mad dash to the Lufthansa service center where after waiting in line for 40 minutes were told that the next flight to Bratislava was at 9:30pm. However, a flight to Vienna was leaving at 6:40pm. We arranged to take this flight, booked in part, I believe since my wife's ticket from Istanbul, where she had been on business, had been 'business' designated and she spoke German throughout the entire conversation with the service clerk (to confirm my suspicion, a woman in front of us speaking English did not get this option, being told instead that the flight was full). Once booked we both prayed all our luggage would take the Vienna plane too. Originally, the University had arranged to have a person pick us up at the Bratislava airport. With our flights cancelled I had to call the gentleman responsible for this nice arrangement and tell him the situation. It was a bit awkward since by the time our new flight was booked and I called Michael, we were supposed to be at the Bratislava airport! All worked out. A driver was sent to Vienna and we got to Trencin in the evening, shortly before ten.

My university apartment is really nice. Much more than I expected. It is furnished, which I was told, but one does not really know what that means, you know? Well, it has everything: washing machine, TV, Internet, living room separate from bedroom. It is great. A five minute walk to the school, a ten minute walk to my wife's grandmother. I met with the Associate Dean on December 27 and discussed my schedule for the next term.

My second week has just concluded. It began on January 2nd and I must admit I love what I am doing. All the sections are roughly 12-25 students, which I find a good size to have group discussions and activities with. My fellow teachers are very genuine and helpful. Two of them are American as well. I do feel, however, that I am walking the delicate tight rope of not looking or sounding unprofessional or just plain stupid to my fellow colleagues (which in a way hinders the questions I am able to ask them) while speaking with authority in my classes and using techniques that I either 'feel' are correct or from friends and family (who are teachers) told me are fine. I have quickly realized two things. The first is that while the extensive knowledge is there in my brain on the stuff I am teaching, the specific pedagogical information is not. The second is the sheer weight of responsibility over these young minds many of whom are only four or five years younger than I am. A point I hope the vast majority of them do not realize.

Until next time...