Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bring it arounnnnnnnnnnnnnd towwwwwwwwwwwwwwn

(Yes, that was a Spongebob Squarepants quote. I like to cite the wise old sages in order to get my point across)

Today we're discussing something that has been plaguing this former Chicagoan: How to get around Madison without a car. My old stomping grounds had a grocery store every three blocks or so. My old neighborhood had an EL station a ten minute walk in either direction. My old neighborhood was mapped out like a grid, every street intersected cross-streets at some point, if Google maps told you to turn at a certain intersection, you walked straight until you found the other street. This was the life I led for four  years. I could get from the very edge of the South Loop to Millennium Park in fifteen minutes flat. I could reach the House of Blues in 20 minutes. I could reach Target in three. Yes, the old neighborhood was a good neighborhood.

Now I'm the new kid on the block. It's not so easy being new, especially when you've heard explanations such as "Oh yeah, Madison's real easy to figure out. It's like a funny-shaped bicycle wheel, where the Capitol is the center and the streets are all weirdly curved spokes". Yeah....helpful. Yesterday Google Maps told me to walk straight down the street I live on, turn right, walk for five minutes, turn left, turn left, and turn right again. told me to go back to my street two blocks later. This fifteen-minute detour caused me to bust into my first meeting for my program, sweaty and out of breath in a room of pristine girls who probably learned all of their makeup and fashion skills from studying/living in France for the past year. (/rant) That's me! I love to make a good first impression. (We'll follow this up with the joke I made about a Senegalese parable today and yep...I'm definitely the international development girl. The "Afrique de l'Ouest" kid.)

The point is, I'm trying to figure out my way around Madison. I don't have a car, I do have a bike. What I've found:

Look at those sweet bikers not getting hit by the bus next to them!

  • Biking is SO MUCH SAFER and easier in Madison. I'm not afraid that every single bus on the road is going to hit me. I never biked in Chicago, everyone I knew who biked had been hit by a car. At least once. Mostly twice. Madison has these wonderful WIDE bike lanes that aren't expressly made for buses to hog as extra stopping space. People actually NOTICE bikers instead of merging into them. I road my bike down the busiest street in my area and wasn't even a bit nervous! Ask me again how I feel when it's -15 degrees and icy. I may have changed my mind by then.
  • Illinois is flat. Wisconsin is not. There are hills. What took me 5 minutes walking in Chicago now takes me 10. "Oh? It's only .7 miles away? Pshh...piece of cake" "...What? Those .7 miles are known as 'Bascom Hill'?" Yeah, it's happened. Luckily for me, biking toward campus is relatively downhill, so I don't get too sweaty until I'm on my way home. 
  • Grocery stores are far away and usually expensive for one reason or another. This may just be the neighborhood I happen to live in, but the closest stores to me are a Whole Foods or a Co-Op. I'm all for healthy eating, I think it's great when people can choose to buy organic and locally grown. I'm also a poor graduate student. The sad part is, this actually doesn't kill me as much because Wisconsin doesn't tax on food, and I hail from the land of 11% sales tax on all purchases. Really, my grocery bill at Whole Foods is about the same here as it was in a Jewel Osco in Chicago. This store is about 1.1 miles away from me, so I'm pretty much doing the long haul with very limited grocery purchases a couple of times a week. Have considered biking, thought about it rationally, have stopped considering biking,
It really is a great city to live in. Of course, I'm saying this in August, when my apartment stays at a toasty 81 degrees and my flip flops are still acceptable footwear. I'm sure I'll adapt and learn to love this place even though it's going to be EVEN COLDER THAN CHICAGO WINTERS OH MY WORD WHAT HAVE I DONE....ahem. No, seriously though, Madison is a cool place to be. Everyone is really friendly when you get lost and need to ask for directions. People care about health and the environment. I actually haven't even seen that many smokers (of cigarettes...) out and about these parts. Madisonians care about their surroundings, and they want you to care about it too. I think I'm going to like it here, once I don't have to stare at Google Maps for an hour every time I want to go somewhere.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

And we're off!

Guess who took a break from saving lives to visit her baby sister! 
Orientation started yesterday. Needless to say, I am fairly overwhelmed at the moment. I remember this experience from undergraduate, being fed countless pieces of information at once and trying to soak it all in. It's a different sort of overwhelmed, they aren't telling me how financial aid works or what to do if you have a problem with your roommate, but they're still telling me things that I should know. Everyone in the group is nice so far, it's such a small program that I'm really confident we'll all get to know each other fairly well. I'm looking forward to the coming weeks, especially once classes start.
I've never had any problems with language before, especially French. Even if  it had been awhile since I'd really had a good conversation in French, the minute I was with people at my level I bounced right back. It's taking me longer...I'm searching for words that I know are there, but far away. It's hard because I'm not used to other people being better. I think I'm the youngest in the program, that's something I definitely am used to. It's hard for me to start new things, I get frustrated that I need to ask for directions, that I don't know the easiest way to do things, that I don't even know where I'm going to buy my groceries all the time...Of course I'm not exactly alone, I have my family friends (who are really more family than anything) and the Boyfriend's family. I've even found little connections to my far away home in Minnesota. I'll adjust, definitely. I can see how this program will be great for me, but I can also see the things which will bug me. It seems as though most people took some sort of a "break" from school before starting the program. While most of this was getting full time employment, I'm worried that I'll feel the burnout of too much school before they do.

Yesterday I had my meeting with the director du program, I told him that I want to finish in 1.5 years by doing my internship over the summer, and he was very confident that it could be done. I have to keep remembering that I'm not really here for "school" so to speak. Sure, I'm taking classes and acquiring knowledge, but it's more of a training on how to conduct business in French. The internship is just another thing to put on my resume, another way that I can learn to interact in a professional manner globally. I'm excited for that. The director also advised that I register for the foreign service test this coming spring, particularly since I'm planning on being done with the program by December of 2012 (assuming the world still exists).

Oh la la...que la vie change rapidement! More blogging about my experiences in Madison now that I have internet! I have plenty of topics to discuss regarding my new life, but do not want to make one gigantic blog post.

PS: Update on living simply. Yesterday my mom and sister drove up from Chicago/Boston in my sister's case, for a short visit. They took me grocery shopping and we accidentally bought this:


Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Boyfriend Voice

In the car with a few friends on an impromptu grocery trip, one of my friends was relaying a story to us about an awful manicure experience. "And then I thought I should write a horrible review, but *boyfriend said "no, honey, that's too harsh." At which point, her boyfriend chimes in from the back seat "Hey! You made me sound like a frat boy!" And it was true, my friend had used a typical "boyfriend voice" that I'm afraid we're all guilty of using when telling stories about our loved ones. This was a new experience for me, I've heard and even used The Voice before; however it was the first time the imatatee was within earshot. It got me wondering....why do we make our boyfriends sound so dumb? I know for a fact that if my guy and I were engaged in a battle of intelligence, he would for sure come out on top. The guy's a genius, which is all I ask for because he can fix my computer. He is by no means dumb, and yet I apply The Voice, making him sound as though he's got a wad of chewing gum in the space where his genius brain should be. Is this simply because in most of these stories I'm supposed to sound "right" and he's "wrong"? Furthermore, do guys have a girlfriend voice? Do I sound as ditzy in his stories as he does in mine, and is it an accurate interpretation? I must further investigate this strange phenomenon. Clearly being an Official Grad Student has given me the mind of a there a grad student Voice?

Ps: I have successfully moved, but due to a crazy internet company story (which I may blog when I don't have to type on my Blackberry keyboard), I am without internet until HOPEFULLY monday night at the latest. Never fear, my one reader! (Yes, that's you boyfriend guy)