Work, travel, and those darn trekking poles

It’s Friday!  Thank goodness, I am so ready to take a nap after work today.  The days have been quite busy, so I’m ready for a more relaxing weekend.

I’ll first have to tell you of course about my latest travels through Germany.  Last Thursday I boarded a bus for Heidelberg, a beautiful German city on the Neckar River.  I could have honestly spent the whole weekend sitting on the bank of the river with a book and stretched out in the sun.  I am definitely going to have to live near water wherever I end up in the future!  Heidelberg was beautiful.  The castle was a fascinating ruin, one that has been well maintained since its partial destruction during wars with France back in the 1600s.  I was in Heidelberg for a DAAD conference which brought all of the RISE interns together for a weekend, so I was with other students from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. for the weekend.  It’s funny how quickly people can become friends because they are all thrown into a new situation.  I felt like I kept migrating from group to group, meeting people and spending a few hours with them before all of a sudden finding myself with other people.  Everyone was really great though, and it was refreshing to understand everything that was said for a weekend. (:

Heidelberg was beautiful, but I think my day in Strasbourg, France stole the show during this trip.  I decided to head to France for a day because, well, who knows when I’ll be in France again!  It was a gorgeous city.  The cathedral was the most impressive I’ve ever seen, the night life was lively (and I could buy ice cream after 8pm!) and the town had a very charming character.  It looks like I’ll have to learn some French now that I so poorly tried to speak with mostly non-English speakers over there.

Now for the more serious stuff.  I work at the Institute for Geography at the Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg, specifically with a group of cultural geographers.  Two of these researchers/doctoral students are currently involved in a project concerning the local refugee population.  Apparently there is a refugee center in Tennelohe, just a kilometer or two from where I work.  I would have no idea, however, because the refugees are not often walking around Tennelohe.  According to my colleagues, refugees must first reside in these refugee centers for three months without leaving.  Once their refugee status has been confirmed and those initial months have passed,they can move to a decentralized area such as an empty hostel.  They eventually have the option to move out of the refugee center, but only if they are able to find housing.  This of course is a difficult thing to do when one does not speak German.  Thus, the separation between refugees and locals is prominent because of varying degrees of social and physical mobility.

**Update* I previously wrote that a job would be necessary to pay for the flat, but now am told that refugees receive a stipend from the government so that they can acquire a flat even if they haven’t found employment yet.  I guess that’s what happens when half the conversation is in German – I’m bound to miss a few points!

While on the topic of the university, I suppose I should tell you what I’m actually doing at work.  My position is as a research assistant for a PhD candidate at the university.  This student, Julia, is currently investigating causes for the out-migration of populations in rural dry forests of Ecuador.  Julia has asked me to complete a land-cover change analysis between two time periods to determine where previous agricultural plots have turned back to forest due to out-migration.  The research is not in German (although I have used my Spanish), but everyone at the institute is speaking in German all the time, so I am definitely getting exposure to the language.

By the way, I figured out the mystery of the hiking poles!  Unfortunately the story is pretty unexciting.  I thought all of these people were going to hike awesome trails nearby, but it turns out most people just use these hiking poles for “Nordic Walking,” a form of…walking with hiking poles, but to work every part of the body.  Apparently it can burn  a ton of calories and really tire a person out when done right, but my roommates told me that about 95% of people don’t actually have a clue as to how to Nordic walk.  Guess I’ll stick to soccer then!  (I am now practicing with a women’s soccer team on Tuesdays and Thursdays.)

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