Brussels 2.0

November 6th-8th, 2017

Perhaps the best knowledge one can obtain is those from lessons learned the hard way.

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Salon Nachmittag in Alsbach-Hähnlein

November 26th, 2017

Taking advantage of the Rugetag in Darmstadt, I took the closest tram passing through Bessungen after the morning’s Gottesdienst and headed off to Alsbach.

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Passing through the mountains I was overcome with peace to my thoughts as I sifted through ideas, notes, and conversations preparing for my next biofuels article.

Vaguely remembering the area from the time I had gone hiking here a handful of times with IGM and with colleagues from Merck I found the infamous sight that reminded me I was not far from the “Salon”.

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Feeling at home back at Barbara’s I had the opportunity to meet her husband Jörg and discuss their tradition of hosting a “Salon” afternoon for over 8 years. Breaking out their journal they explained to me that in olden days before women were able to work they would get together for tea and cake in the afternoon to discuss various intellectual topics. Collecting dozens of conversations their book included everything from taste testing tea their guests brought from around the world to what soon become an intensive discussion about understanding how difficult cultures celebrate during the holidays or for a special occasion.

This conversation became interestingly flavored by a group of students from Morocco who explained the traditional gathering of 100s of extended family and friends for a wedding and the exchange of fruit and vegetables from their local region. Although they celebrate birthday’s acknowledging someone’s milestone was something unheard of to them. Despite our differences, we somehow seem to find common ground over sharing food and laughter with one another as I was refreshed to meet other students having the same desire to immerse themselves in the German culture in seeking to develop relationships with natives and foreigners alike.

An alternative to “Turkey Day”

November 19th, 2017

Despite the rush and thrill of the adventure living abroad, I am reminded of the longings of home whenever I have the chance to catch up with friends and family and hear about what’s going on. With that being said, I have learned to appreciate the process of developing new relationships and becoming more comfortable with a foreign tongue as the Goldilocks feeling of a new environment fades away. Ironically, I was warned that this would happen at countless travel meetings and by friends who had returned from their own adventure. However, despite the hints, I never quite understood what it meant until I experienced it for myself.

As many took this day as a time to reflect on what they are thankful for I was personally reminded of the power of how we choose to perceive our world. Certainty they always say you can either see the glass half empty or half full but how does this saying fit into our daily lives? From my experience, I have found that looking at the glass half empty is to miss out on the opportunity that the present provides and that looking at the glass half full is to have trust in yourself. Surely, we cannot control what happens to us but only how we respond to it. Indubitably our behavior has a tremendous impact on the decisions we make on a daily basis which ultimately determine the quality of our lives. Having faith, on the other hand, means being able to follow through with a decision long after the feeling has left no matter how challenging it might become. Putting the two together has led to a wonderful series of events that have ultimately led me to discover a more confident version of myself with a very entertaining, supportive and loving group of international students, teachers and members of the local community.

Following through with a promise I had made months ago, I phoned home for a very special request to take my grandmother’s family recipe to the world stage followed by a long list of guests who were all curious to discover what Specialties from North America were all about.

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Taking a trip to the local grocery store with my German mother, so to say, we hunted down Ricotta cheese and delivered all the ingredients I needed to prepare a feast with a few gentlemen from Mexico followed by an obligatory cup of tea.

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Building up an enormous appetite from the day before , I woke up early with the birds to make my way over to Margarette’s old Fachwerkhaus with a tram, a bus, and another bus.

Arriving about an hour before the Mexicans I got started on the dough trying my best to find my way around a new kitchen only to feel quite alarmed to find cups and tablespoons to measure with from the host’s time in Philly.

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To my disbelief, Germany DOES have chocolate chips however, they’re extremely hard to find, only sold in specialty stores similar to a Stop n’Shop, and are shaped like skittles coming in about 200g packages.

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Meanwhile, the Mexicans arrived with their precooked taco meat and started to prepare their one for a kind homemade guacamole.

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As the cookies left the oven to cool I knew I surely wasn’t the only one eager to start with dessert.

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Chocolate Chip cookies or as the Germans call them, “American Cookies”, weren’t the only sweets to be found as I discovered a special pinnapple drink being prepared over the sink.

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Just as things started to heat up in the kitchen, literally, the paparazzi arrived with her camera fully loaded to document USA-Mexican relations being rebuilt on German soil.

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And yes, I also wore a special apron, but it was only used to stay clean, or at least that’s what I like to tell myself as I reflect upon our meal.

Just in time I was able to recruit help from around the world as guests from Bulgaria, Syria and India arrived all eager to learn how to make a Ravioli.

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Unfortunately, I quickly learned that not all traditions are so easily accepted by others as Margarette and I added more flavor to the kitchen with our argument over letting the portions of ravioli rest in her living room. Being banished to the garden we made trips back and forth laying a fresh coat of flour on a bench covered by some hand towels.

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With a hardworking crew churning out the family recipe I made my way back to the stove where I prepared the final touches to our feast.

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And so as one tradition is remembered another is learned as Alfrado and I brought the food out to our hungry guests who demanded we explained ourselves.

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Needless to say, everyone enjoyed their meal exchanging laughter and joy.

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Some who were brave enough even went up for seconds…

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Despite not taking part in the comforts of home I am thankful that I have the opportunity to share these comforts with others and develop new traditions as we learn and celebrate with one another.

Even before the feast ended, plans for the next one were arranged as Margarette plans to host Specialties from India early in December.

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Bönnigheimer Stromberglauf

November 18th, 2017

Despite my doubts about thinking how in the world I would make it to a race kicking off in the middle of a Weinberg, I made the last minute decision to stay committed to the feelings I had after Jog n’Rock and put my legs and investment to good use.

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After taking a bus, a train, another bus and putting some good ol’ elbow grease to use I arrived at the Winery just in time to pick up my bib and to warm-up.

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Recently my training has been consisting of building up my aerobic base as I am working towards May’s Marathon in Mannheim however, being quite new to the sport  I’ve recently learned to incorporate lactate threshold and interval training which proved to be quite beneficial in hopping back into my first 10k since the summer.

As the Bambi-Lauf went off I could feel the pressure in my thoughts starting to build as my heart raced faster with anticipation. Soon I made my way to the starting line where I was sectioned off with a group of runners similar in skill and waited with an eager sense of patience as the other groups ran ahead of us.

Fighting to make room I found a good pace to keep and kept my head up to stay focused. Clearly not accustomed to the faster pace right after I reached about 5k I noticed my splits starting to become slower and slower as I made my way to the farm/village for another lap.

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Followed by some cramps I knew that I would have to dig deep down in my thoughts to make up for lost time and secure my original pace. Leaving my phone and headphones behind my ears became in-tune with the runners around me who all sounded and looked exhausted. If you look waaay in the back you can spot the wild American.

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Taking a chance I decided to lead the pack I was around with striving to maintain a competitive edge and break down my competitors’ mental strength by picking up my last few splits to my original pace.

Almost breaking 45:00, my body became overwhelmed with the ordeal I had put it through as soon as I crossed the finish line and stopped to catch my breath. Catching my attention was the man who finished behind me who patted me on the back to congratulate me and asked me to take a photo of him with his Verein. Making our way over to a table of fresh water and Apfelsaft I learned a valuable lesson as there was no beer or pretzels to be found but knowledge about how I can continue to improve my training.

 

 

IOG – Regionalwochenende

November 3rd – 5th, 2017

Earlier this summer I had the good fortune of getting to know a unique group of engineers studying at the TU who are focused on improving the access to clean water for rural communities in Africa such as those found in Tanzania and Uganda.

Initially interested in their works from a night class I took in Providence a few years ago along the topic of international development I threw myself into what has become an intensive yet fulfilling way to practice my German.

Developing an alternative way to boil water from solar radiation, SoWaDi is currently preparing to return to Tanzania next year with an improved design of their disinfection plant. Being able to contribute to the technical team’s progress with my previous experience in various interdisciplinary and intercultural roles I have also been able to learn a lot about sustainable engineering practices throughout our collaboration.

If providing clean water access to the third world wasn’t enough, AG Bildung, the group’s department specializing in local outreach and education to promote and facilitate the understanding of sustainable practices, has provided a plethora of opportunities to engage with the community on a deeper level. Currently, I am assisting the group in collecting statistical data around the topics of clean water access to GDP to develop an interactive world map that can be utilized to hold sustainable development lessons in schools across the greater Hessen area.

In the meantime, I have been learning what it takes to teach in a foreign classroom by assisting a retired engineer who holds a technical workshop for fourth graders in Bessungen.  Recently, the children just finished making their LED Christmas trees, just in time as the city plans to open up their Weihnachtsmarkt next Monday!

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Along the lines of patience, learning to develop new relationships been one of the biggest challenges I have come across living abroad. What I find most intriguing about language, however, is that it serves as a window into how various cultures perceive the world differently. For example, in Chinese, the word for “crisis” is composed of the characters symbolizing “danger” and “opportunity”. Fortunately, the Germans being more precise with their language have differentiated the two, however, taking this lesson with a grain of salt this means that our world can be perceived differently despite our circumstances. Simply put in every challenge there is an opportunity to grow.

During an intensive weekend with the group, I was reminded of this lesson as we took the opportunity to make our ideas come to life. It also helped that any hope of turning back was eliminated by the fact that we were all stuck together in the middle of the Odenwald simply making trusting one another a must.

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What I have found to be most intriguing about intercultural communication is learning to understand how different cultures perceive problem-solving. It was no surprise that I spent the whole morning with SoWaDi planning a serious strategy to execute what became an exciting hour hanging out in the sandbox.

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All jokes aside, the group made huge steps in understanding how to improve their pipe bending process as their initial demo in Tanzania proved that kinks in the copper pipe were problematic to the plant’s functionality. In a few months, the group will be reconstructing the plant utilizing a few other design changes to prepare for the next onboarding to Tanzania.

With AG Bildung fun was had outside the sandbox reenacting a skit that is being developed to teach schools about international engagement in developing communities. Taking on the role as the moderator I quickly learned that understanding both sides of the story is crucial in facilitating a compromise between groups who are both demanding your assistance.

Besides business, as usual, the weekend was an incredible an opportunity to get to know my Kommilitonen better as we cooked our meals together and concluded the evening by a warm fire and cold beer in hand.

Thank god I went to boy scout camp.

 

 


 

Biogasanlage Lorsch

November 3rd, 2017

If traveling abroad has made anything certain it is that there is only uncertainty in trying to predict where your curiosity might lead you to. As it all makes sense to me now, when these events played out I felt uncomfortable feeling out of control but at ease knowing that it would all make sense to me in due time. Stepping out of my comfort zone earlier in September not only lead me to meet an incredible group of locals and exchange students but has also opened up a plethora of opportunities to step further into the German culture.

Enjoying the evening atmosphere by the city’s castle after concluding a discussion held to plan out the next few month’s activities with Darmstadt’s International Generations I made my way to a local cafe to further enjoy the company of the group over a few drinks and appetizers.  Not only did it our meal turn into a spontaneous German lesson but along with a notepad full of all of my neighbor’s tips and tricks I also left getting to know a gentleman who has been contributing his skills as an engineer throughout his career and now into retirement in a local energy cooperative who’s members privately fund renewable energy projects in the community.

A few weeks later I was driving off to Lorsch, a village situated between the mountains of the Odenwald and Darmstadt, to where I was given a private tour of the cooperative’s biogas plant that turns locally harvested maize into energy that’s used by 100s of homes throughout the area.

Get the full story about Germany’s buzz over maize at Advanced Biofuels USA.

Brussels & The European Bioeconomy

October 9th-12th, 2017

Known for their waffles, fries, and beer despite other motives I made my way up to the heart of the European political scene before the roaster’s song as I was greeted by the more familiar tune of my neighbor’s Saturday night indulgences.

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Taking the “pro-tip” I found at the bus-stop I miraculously slept soundly on another green bus trecking across the autobahn until the cargo had to be unloaded in Cologne waiting upon the next connection heading north to London.

As soon as I arrived in Brussels I quickly found myself disoriented in an unfamiliar city stunned with the refreshing feeling of being an outsider not knowing a lick of French or Dutch despite what my bloodline might tell.

For hours I miraculously seemed to be really successful at walking in circles as I attempted to find my way to Hostel Bruegel from the North Station.

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Too afraid to ask anyone for directions in the “red-light” district I made my way back to where I started and decided to ask a young woman using her phone that seemed to be miraculously connected to the Starbucks WiFi my phone felt so foreign to if she could give me directions. Shocked by my abrupt appearance she immediately told me she didn’t know where the location was although I had not mentioned it. I proceeded to ask her what she was doing with a pocket-sized computer in her hand and if her friend Google would be kind enough to answer my question instead. With a sigh of embarrassment, she looked up the address and pointed me in the right direction out of the train station.

And so I embarked on my journey once more with a fresh hope of finding my hostel hours after I arrived to then what proceeded to become some sort of social experiment as I asked dozens of strangers off of the street the same question all initially hesitating to give me one ounce of their attention away from their hand-held computers.

Making my way in and out of shops, crowds and my frustration, my focus was taken away by the admiration of the old city architecture which seemed to have become popular grounds to hang out at.

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My salvation soon came when I ironically found myself at the grand gardens of the Monts des Arts where a whole family came to my rescue pointing towards a bowling alley where I found my temporary home stuck between Brussel’s old and the new situated next to a cathedral.

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Settling myself into my new home I spread my sheets and laid out my clothes for the morning as my bunkmate discussed his life story with me shortly after introducing himself. Chowing down on bread and butter and slurping a little milk carton given to him as a breakfast replacement for leaving the hostel early the next morning he explained that he came to the city to interview for as a cook, however, in the meantime was developing patents for AI technology. Apparently, he would have been a millionaire by now if his ideas weren’t stolen.

Longing to clear my head after what I had just heard I continued to explore the city finding my way back to the conference center just a kilometer away from crazy bread dude as dusk broke across the skyline.

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Forgetting to bring a towel I dried myself with my bedsheets the next morning as I prepared to dress for success in attending the European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology and the Bioeconomy’s (EFIB) workshop held for a project supported by dozens of universities and industries alike across Europe who are utilizing generic-engineering to mitigate Europe’s dependence on foreign palm-oil which is used to produce an array of products manufactured by their international oleochemical industry.

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As I got myself situated in the front row a quirky gentlemen rushed in through the door and proceeded to jump in line taking the hand-outs that were laid on the table in front me. His accent catching my attention sounded similar to Deutsch but I could not quite put my finger on it. Ironically taking the empty seat next to me we soon introduced ourselves and I soon learned that he traveled from the Netherlands for the conference as we both spoke in broken German to each other.

After pondering presentation after presentation that was given I found a way to squeeze in a quick question for every speaker forcing to inject myself into the conversation guided only by my curiosity that seemed to be more confusing than French. As if the call for lunch wasn’t enough to break people’s patience I was interrupted by the team’s principal scientist leading their genetics portion of the project who not only answered all of my questions but gave me a run around of ideas to think about over the catering.

As if I had thought I had heard it all we gathered back in the conference room divided up into random teams to give an input to what we thought about the social, economic and scientifical challenges the team is currently up against flavored by our various backgrounds. Intercultural and interdisciplinary communication was certainly at the forefront driving conversation between groups and the moderator as we used our imagination to envision what the future might hold for the group.

Clatching onto the conference center’s WLAN (Wifi in Europe) I caught up with friends and family after the workshop as I knew heading back to the hostel would mean tracking back on the Oregon Trail so to say.  With warnings of a strike at the train station the next day I felt like I was walking through a military encampment with patrols stationed throughout the city.

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The next morning I filled up on toast and coffee being served at the hotel for breakfast and made my way downtown for the first day of the conference. Zooming past the check in with my press pass I acquired the day before I was tempted by a bit more scrumptious treats being served in the exhibition hall where I spontaneously met people of all sorts of backgrounds all coming together under one common purpose: the desire for Belgium chocolate filled croissants.

From listening to policymakers to entrepreneurs it was clear the Europe was demanding a greener future as they make plans to develop the world’s first circular bio-economy utilizing waste as a feedstock for the manufacture of products that we take for granted today from the Pandora’s box also known as oil.

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Sifting through my recordings I wondered around the city afterward searching for inspiration. Stumbling into the plaza of the Grand Palace was where everything seemed to come together as my mind was taken away by the mystic bliss the lights seemed to portray glistening in the night sky.

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The story goes that before these buildings were renovated into decadent chocolate bétiques and restaurants they belonged to a range of guilds whose progress was burned down during a city fire but pride remained as they used their wealth to erect the lavious courtyard that is found today.

Despite other motives as previously mentioned I couldn’t be caught dead leaving Brussels without trying an authentic Belgium Waffle; of course, convinced to order it smothered with my choice of Nutella and ice cream.

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The fun and games soon came to an end as I miraculously slept through my morning alarm who was smart enough to think I would wake up before the rooster’s call to make the first bus out of the city leaving for Germany. Scurrying out of the hostel with my breakfast bag I made my way to the south train station where I left Belgium in style on an ICE preparing to depart to Cologne.

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