Aug 12, 2014
Perspectives from Deutschland
Posted in: Miscellaneous
Guten Tag from Deutschland! I’m writing this from my dorm room at the University of Marburg. In the morning, I will walk for twenty minutes to my German language class, down a steep hill with a beautiful view of the Altstadt (Old Town) and the 14th century Landgrave Castle. Then I'll pass the train station, cross the Lahn river, and enter a building across the street from the 13th century St. Elizabeth’s Church. It’s pretty surreal.
I was a blogger until very recently, so hopefully you haven’t forgotten me, but here’s a quick review: I majored in physics and graduated in June. I’m currently on a one-year Fulbright Scholarship in Germany. After this, I’ll move back to the US for graduate school in astronomy at Caltech. While at MIT I did research on pulsars, which are violently exotic stellar corpses that emit two beams of radio light and spin around like lighthouses. Here in Germany, I’m switching wavelengths and subject matter: I’ll be using infrared data to learn how the Milky Way formed.
But before I can do any of that, I need to learn some German. Fulbright agrees, so they’re hosting me here in Marburg with ~35 other grantees for a six-week language course.
We’ve one class session so far. I can now say: “Hello, my name is Anna. I study astronomy. I am from the USA. What is your name? Where are you from? A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z, ü, ë, ä, ß. I come, you come, he/she comes, we come, you (pl.) come, they come.”
(Also, I think that the word for “excuse me,” entschuldigen, sounds like a sneeze.)
Learning a new language is a blast, but my favorite part of this program has been meeting the other Fulbrighters and learning about their projects. A pianist is going to Berlin to study contemporary performance, an engineer is developing cochlear implants, a biochemist is doing research on multiple sclerosis, a painter is working on a series of paintings of German puppetry, a journalist is comparing editorial decisions in German news with those in American news, an anthropologist is developing a computer system he started five years ago that can improvise music and jam with a live human player…it’s overwhelming and astonishing.
Sadly, we can’t hang out all the time, because we’re busy getting our lives in order: paperwork so that Germany doesn’t kick us out of the country, setting up bank accounts, trying to register new SIM cards, making arrangements so that we don’t end up living in a box on the street in our host cities. And so on.
So, that’s my life update! And now, since it’s our 10th anniversary, a little retrospection on the blogs and what got me through MIT before I review verb endings and call it a night.
One of my fondest memories from MIT: 5pm, Marlar Lounge, second floor of Building 37. At the end of that day’s astrophysics colloquium, I was standing at the front asking questions. Prof. Dumbledore walked up and introduced me to the speaker, his colleague. He said, “this is my friend Anna.” I thought, friend?! And then it occurred to me that Dumbledore was not my mentor in any official capacity; he hadn’t taught me a class, he wasn’t my advisor, I wasn’t doing research with him. But we still hung out in his office, and I still cultivated a relationship with him. He still supported me and gave me advice that helped me through difficult times.
MIT was really hard, but it would have been a lot harder without relationships like this. Starting freshman year, as I made friends and arranged to meet with professors, I had without realizing it begun stitching together a support network. In retrospect, I realize how important it was to find people to click with who were at a more advanced stage in life, because at the end of the day my pset buddies often lacked the same longitudinal perspective that I lacked. And eventually, when crises came, I was grateful to have that support network there; a little perspective (well, a lot of perspective) was often exactly what I needed.
When I was a high school student, the MIT admissions blogs gave me perspectives – many different perspectives! – on college life. They had a big influence on my choice to apply and ultimately to matriculate. I hope that the accumulation of ten years of perspectives have been as helpful to you as they were to me.