Thursday, August 06, 2009


August 3, 2009
Youth Hostelling International Hostel
Rue Rothschild, Geneva, Switzerland

I'm sitting in the lobby. The Hostelling International Hostel I interned at in Chicago last year definitely wins on comfort - this hostel has a sort of "garden" feel to it -- wooden benches in the lobby area instead of couches, and no communal kitchen (though they do offer meals, free breakfast included!) The people at reception are really nice though, and when they asked me if I had an HI membership, I said no, (and added) "even though I worked at an HI hostel in Chicago last summer!" The girl at the desk nodded to her coworker and said, "we don't have membership, either", and they joked about how membership should be included in employee benefits next year...and then she said, "Bon, on va lui charger le prix de membre, quand meme", (Or, "Well, we're going to charge you the member price, of course). I got 2 CHF off my stay - sweet!

So I'm checking out my room, getting my bed ready, and a girl sharing the room walks in with two huge bags, and looks happy to set them down.

"What language?" I say

"English, French, or Spanish", she says back to me, before pulling a pair of gold-sequined sneakers out of her bag, along with a book titled Beginner's Dutch. I could tell this was a girl I was going to like. "Gabriella" is Australian, the daughter of South American parents, and is in Geneva for a Model UN conference (meeting in the actual UN, no less) before heading direclty to Utrecht, the Netherlands, to study international human rights law for a yare. Two minutes later, in walks my next rommate, Heidi from Hong Kong, who is apparently reporting for an international news syndicate on a Tibetan peace conference being held in Geneva that the Dali Lama is visiting. Today!

Shortly after, Gabriella and I had the following conversation, which was the highlight of my day:

She was explaining how much she had to pay on baggage fees, as she's coming here for a year, and just flew Easy Jet (one of hte cheap, inter-European airlines) from London. She said she had to take everything out of her bag in the London airport and re-pack it because of weight limits. I told her I had to do the same thing once in Dublin, when I was flying Ryan Air to France. And after bringing two big tubs of peanut butter all the way from America, I had them confiscated at security because they were "gels", and couldn't be brought in my carry-on.

"How many times have I flown, I asked myself, and I still messed up!"

"It's such a stupid rule", Gabriella replied, "the same exact thing happened to my Vegemite!"

That as a classic moment. People, I think I've found my soul mate. Finally, someone I can commiserate with about these things!

Geneva is my kind of place, at least as far as internationalism goes. Walking down the street next to the train station is even more exciting than walking through Albany Park, Chicago -- here you can have food from ANY (and I mean ANY) nationality you want.

In addition to its food, Geneva has gorgeous historical buildings, chic and glossy businesses, a vibrant cultural scene, and is perfectly nestled between mountains and water. You can tell why people might want to meet here to talk about peace and reconcilliation.

Gabriella and I got some Chinese/Thai food for take out and ate it in a beautiful park right next to the UN building, where her conference will be this week, and right down the road from the grad school that I am going to look at tomorrow. I told her a little bit about the places I was coming from and giong to, and that I wanted to study international conflict transformation. Needless to say, we clicked. She's 21, too, but has a few years before she finisheds her degree, because she's doing two at once, and will be a Human Rights lawyer by the time she's finished. She was a wonderful first person to meet. Extroverted, fun, and energetic, and at the same time slightly intimidating -- she is extremely bright and determined, that is clear. I was reminded by meeting her (and the 100 other Model UN students staying at the hostel), what kind of people I am "competing" against, so to speak, in this field, and ma feeling a little bit small about this whole new graduate school application process. Sure, in Grand Rapids (even sometimes in Esslingen), it's a cool thing that I can speak French, English, and German, but in Geneva that is very run-of-the-mill.

In any case, I like the girl. Tomorrow I will visit my frist graduate school in this big process, and see what I am up against. Feels a little scary, because I'm all of a sudden a small fish in a very, very big pond, and I haven't practiced swimming (aka writing applications and papers and all that) in a little while.

Day after tomorrow, I get on a plane and head back to the United States, wehre there will be someone I know waiting for me when I get off the plane. That's a feeling I can't wait to have -- to be welcomed home by someone who knows me.

Hope to see some of you there!

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