Blogger Interviews: Abbie and Emilie

I’ve been really excited about writing this post for a while, because it doesn’t involve much writing on my part, and I get to feature two other blogger-friends of mine who have been on the other side of the world since this summer. When I was working on my undergraduate degree, I attended one of the Study Abroad fairs and grabbed several brochures and magazines for studying, volunteering, and sight-seeing in other countries through my university. Most of the information I picked up was for Egypt, South Africa, or Western Europe, since those are places I’ve always wanted to explore. Although I don’t think I would be able to do a whole semester in a different country (I’m too afraid of missing things), I wouldn’t have minded a two-week experience.

Abbie in Malawi, and Emilie in Istanbul

Abbie in Malawi and Emilie in Istanbul

I met Abbie, who worked as a Resident Assistant while she was in college, through my sister and her friends. She is currently in Malawi (in southeast Africa), teaching at a secondary school, and posts on her blog, Traveling and Teaching: Living and Learning. I got to know Emilie through all of our related activities and mutual friends while we were at YSU together, and got to work with her during my graduate internship. She is studying abroad in Istanbul, Turkey (at the same school where Sarah spent last year’s fall semester!) and blogs at overandout while preparing to apply to graduate schools. I asked them a few questions about their experiences in their respective locations…

Abbie's Form 2 Students

Abbie’s Form 2 Students

1. What made you want to travel to this location?

Abbie: I wanted to come to Malawi because I already had such a strong connection to this community as I had previously traveled here in 2010. I’m back in the same part of Malawi and working with the same NGO (non-government organization) as before. This time instead of two weeks, I’m here for a year.

Emilie: I chose Turkey for a number of reasons. For one, Turkey is one of those mysterious countries that it seems no one really knows anything about, and this obviously attracted me. I wanted to meet the people, eat the food, find out for myself if those silly stereotypes that people believe about the middle east are true. A second reason is because Istanbul is quite literally the center of it all. Half of the city lies in Europe while the other half is in Asia. It’s a mix of people from all over the world, 15ish million of them, all living in this crazy, historic, fascinating city. This also makes it easy/quick to travel almost anywhere in the world, with the exception of North/South America, of course.

View from the upper balcony of Hagia Sophia

View from the upper balcony of Hagia Sophia

2. What has been one of your favorite experiences?

Emilie: One of my my favorite experiences so far has been having a HUGE traditional Turkish breakfast with a wonderful, sweet family I met here through some people at home. We had never met before I came to Turkey, but they welcomed Ed (the other YSU student here with me) and I into their home, showed us all over the European side of the city, and have been so generous and kind to us. A few weeks after we arrived, they invited Ed and I over to spend the day and eat with them. It was the most incredible breakfast I’ve ever had, quite possibly the best meal I’ve ever had. Not only because of the food, but the company also made it unforgettable. I only wish I would have taken my camera… rookie mistake, haha.

Abbie: One of my favorite experiences actually happened the first weekend I was here. One of the girls, Alice, who hangs around the lodge/NGO where I stay frequently asked to take me on a tour of the village. As we were walking she asked what my surname was and I told her. She started to smile and talk in Chitumbuka to the other girl walking with us. I asked her to explain and she told me that my surname is the name of her sponsors. What that meant was that my parents sponsor her education. On top of that, I am her math teacher at her secondary school! Alice took me to see her house that is made of mud and sticks and has a thatch roof. Her family welcomed me and offered me a seat on their front porch. Alice told her brother that my parents sponsor her education. Her brother began to tell me in broken English how grateful they were for the sponsorship because by bettering Alice’s life with an education, it’s also bettering her family’s life, as well as the village. Education here is the only way out and a lot of the times it’s not possible because of money.

Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Zambia

Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Zambia

3. Have you had any trouble adjusting to anything?

Abbie: Everywhere I go I stick out like a sore thumb. When I go to the market, when I walk through the village, when I do my laundry in my back yard I am entertainment for most people. As I walk down the road, kids from everywhere will yell “Mzungu!” meaning, “white person.” I’m unable to be anonymous here and that has probably been the most difficult thing to adjust to.

Emilie: Ah, well, living in Istanbul has required quite a bit of adjusting. Not only is the culture overwhelmingly different, moving from small-town Ohio to one of the most overcrowded cities in the world was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. The traffic, the pollution, the (not always reliable) public transportation, lack of greenery, it was all pretty frightening at first. Now, I appreciate all of the differences for what they are, I’ve stopped expecting Istanbul to be just like Ohio, and it’s finally starting to feel like home. I guess if I wanted everything to stay the same, I wouldn’t have come. But I definitely know now that I can’t live without nature, it’s just so depressing!

Cappadocia

Cappadocia

Check out Sarah’s post about her impromptu cave camping trip in Cappadocia!

4. What is one thing you wish you could bring home with you?

Emilie: The one thing I wish I could bring home is the incredibly cheap produce. Seriously, the fruits and veggies and fresh bread are sooooo cheap here, and the quality is so good (assuming you know what you’re looking for). There are bazaars all over the city every day of the week full of vendors selling fish, produce, cheese, just about anything you could ever need. The bazaars and the produce are something I’m really going to miss.

Abbie: One thing I wish I could bring home with me is the kitten I recently got for my house! She is ADORABLE! Her name is Kim Jong Kitten and she eats all the nasty critters that lurk in the corners of my house. (she was named by a PCV friend). Also, I want to bring home ALL THE BABIES!!!!! They are soooo cuuuuute!

 

I wish I could share all the gorgeous pictures these girls have taken. I’m so jealous of each of their journeys and I hope they both continue enjoying themselves. I can’t wait to read more about them! Thank you, Emilie and Abbie! 🙂

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“Who Do You Think You Are?” — No, Really.

Life just gets more and more hectic, doesn’t it? Between classes, thesis, worrying about PhD applications (I’m a finalist at one school – invited for an all expenses paid on-campus visit in 2 weeks!), trying to be a good Dame, and everything else I have to do, it seems there’s no time in the day. Certainly not enough time to take for yourself.

The idea of taking time for yourself, of understanding yourself, is partly where the idea for this post came from…

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Who do you think you are?

I’m not asking this sarcastically, I’m asking this in earnest. Who are you? And why are you who you are? How did you become this person?

Now, the answers to these questions are complicated. In fact, there’s more than one answer. There are many. But, seriously, think about it. Who are you? Is who you actually are different than who you think you are?

I think so. No, scratch that.

I know so.

It’s no secret on here that I’m studying to be a historian, and that I, well, love history. So it should come as no surprise to you when I tell you that your history — your family’s history — is a big part of you and why you are the way you are.

When I was in seventh grade, I had to research my family tree for Social Studies class. At age 13, I knew nothing about my family tree. Talking to my parents and my grandparents yielded some information — enough to present on my poster for class — but not enough to satisfy my interest in my family tree.

This project started a 10+ year odyssey of family tree research that will probably never end.

My interest and, at times, obsession with genealogy (the proper name for researching one’s family history) has largely been a personal venture and not one that I publicized to my friends. I mean, I admit to being a nerd in high school, but I sort of figured that admitting that I had a subscription to Ancestry.com wouldn’t help my popularity any.

I wasn’t always dedicated to genealogy either, in spite of how much it interests me. Researching your family tree isn’t easy. It takes time, patience, hard work, perseverance, luck, and a little faith. Because of this, genealogy isn’t a constant for me. I pick it up, I put it down. I’ll work feverishly for months and then not look at it again for months or a year.

So, imagine my surprise and my envy when genealogy took America by storm.

Two years ago (in the Spring of 2010), Lisa Kudrow, the actress who played Phoebe on Friends, decided to help launch a new show on NBC called Who Do You Think You Are? — a program, already several years old and very popular in the UK, that followed celebrities as professional genealogists helped them trace their family trees.

The first season followed 8 celebrities: Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Lisa Kudrow, Emmit Smith, Brooke Shields, Spike Lee, and Susan Sarandon. The second season followed: Vanessa L. Williams, Tim McGraw, Rosie O’Donnell, Kim Catrall, Lionel Richie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, and Steve Buscemi.

Each celebrity discovered something about their family, and in turn something about themselves, that they previously did not know. But, the message of the series is that it isn’t important who you’re related to. It’s about how we perceive ourselves in reference to where we and our families came from, and how that knowledge changes us.

It’s about the sense of guilt Sarah Jessica Parker felt before she knew whether her ancestor was an accuser or a victim during the Salem witchcraft trials, the sense of amazement of Brooke Shields when she learned she was a direct descendant of the French royal family, Matthew Broderick’s disbelief when he helps solve the mystery of an unmarked Civil War grave, or the sadness and anger of Kim Catrall when she learns the fate of her wayward grandfather.

The third season of Who Do You Think You Are? is currently being broadcast on Fridays at 8pm on NBC. If you’re not home at this time (don’t worry, I’m not usually either), you can catch the episodes on NBC.com or on Hulu. Here’s Lisa Kudrow’s (the show’s executive producer) preview of Season 3:

Of course, everyone’s family tree will not be filled with such “extraordinary” tales. There are many celebrities whose stories don’t make it on the show because they’re not interesting enough. My family tree certainly isn’t this fascinating. But that doesn’t matter, because your family tree doesn’t have to be full of royalty or heroes or famous people to be important and interesting.

You wouldn’t be here without that family tree.

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So, think about it.

Who do you think you are?

I can tell you who I thought I was.

I was Joni. White girl with curly brown hair and freckles from working-class Ohio with college educated parents and working class grandparents who were all born in this country. I was Slovak and Lebanese and Croatian and something called (as my Mum puts it) “Heinz 57”. When my Gram would talk about how one of her ancestor’s married a Native American woman, my cousins and I thought you could quantify that — like we’re 2% Native American somewhere in that Heinz 57 mixture. Now I know that it doesn’t work like that.

Because your ancestry isn’t so simple.

With a lot more digging, a lot more questioning, several hundred dollars worth of subscription fees to Ancestry.com, and a whole lot of luck, I know a whole lot more.

Because who I am is about  a lot more than simply ethnicity percentages. It’s also about more than those ancestors that are long dead. It’s about those still alive.

I am 25% Slovak. I am 25% Lebanese (perhaps originally Syrian). I am 25% Croatian. But I’m not Heinz 57.

I’m English, Welsh, and Irish. My Gram’s ancestors were original Americans. From Jamestown, Virginia circa 1620.

You learn through the genealogy experience that it’s not all about the ethnicity, not all about where you’re from. It’s about how your family got to where you are.

It’s about the journey.

And you learn the strengths and hopes and dreams and character traits and struggles of these people who you wouldn’t be here without.

I learned that it took a lot of bravery for my Grandfather to survive a German POW camp, that it took a lot of bravery for his mother to cross the Atlantic Ocean by herself at 14. I learned that my Gram’s family were some of America’s first settlers, starting in Virginia and New York, moving to Maryland, then to West Virginia and Pennsylvania. I learned there are historical markers at some of the places they lived.

Your ancestors are not simply names and dates on a page. They were live people living in a present that only happens to now be the past. They passed on ideas, traditions, traits, and wisdom that, whether you realize it or not, is somewhere in you and in your family.

So.

Who do you think you are?

Who are you, really?

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If you’re interested in researching your family tree, the internet is your best friend and Ancestry.com is the best website to get started. Although I said that I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on their services, you can use the website for free to access basic information. My suggestion is to use the free services and search some of your grandparents or great-grandparents. If you find a lot of information and want to know more, I suggest trying out a subscription for a month or two. (There’s a 2-week free trial too!)

Happy Hunting! (And don’t forget to watch Who Do You Think You Are? on Fridays at 8pm on NBC! You won’t regret it!)

“Be Careful, Or You Might End Up in My Novel”

My fellow Dames and I have been having an informal conversation of late regarding doing groups of themed posts on the blog to keep things organized and interesting. The first theme discussed is the concept of having goals in life, whether short or long term ones. I didn’t originally plan on writing a post on this particular goal tonight, or perhaps even at all, because when I was casually thinking about my goals this one wasn’t brightly flashing in my brain — even though it is a goal of mine and a very important one.

I’m a very introspective person. I literally spend my time in the past, researching and thinking about how people lived, what and how they thought, and why they did the things they did. It’s probably, in a way, why I read so much. Or, maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe I’m a historian because I’ve read so much my entire life — I’ve trained myself to ask those introspective questions. But debating something like that is sort of like asking the question: “What came first? The chicken or the egg?”

My love of reading has always been topically broad — from political thrillers and science fiction mysteries to dramatic love sagas and stories about the bonds of friendship. More recently, though, my readings of choice have gravitated more and more towards historical fiction related titles. Perhaps, then, you could say that my love of reading and my love of history are complimentary and that neither fall into the Latin concept of old that reads “Post hoc, ergo procter hoc” (After it, therefore because of it).

With this devotion in mind, then, it isn’t so far of a leap to understand why my goal is to eventually write a novel. Or two. Or ten. 🙂

Seriously though. I’ve had a desire to write a novel for a while, but it’s something that I vacillate back and forth on, never having quite the right idea, enough time, or enough will power to just do it.

But, I think I may finally attempt it.

Because I have all kind of infinite spare time, right? Over the next 6 months my two main necessities are to a) write a Master’s thesis and b)apply and get into Ph.D. programs, so where could a novel possibly fit in? I don’t know either, but, hey, they do say that the busier you are, the more you accomplish.

So why the sudden decision that this would be my goal to write about?

The universe was sending me ideas today. Ideas for that ever elusive novel. As well as further inspiration to actually pursue it.

I think, in a way, that my anxiety and outright fear over writing my thesis and pursuing a Ph.D. has made me, not surprisingly, think about alternatives. Things that I may be able to do if my plans don’t work out the way I want them to. If you know me well, you know I’m all about plans. I’m prepared. I’m the girl who walks around the amusement park or Disney World with a map firmly in hand, because I have to have a plan. And a plan for the plan. And a plan in case plans a and b don’t work. I know, it’s crazy, but I never claimed to be sane.

Back to my point though. This morning while I was getting dressed, I was watching this documentary on PBS about a terrorist attack in India several years ago. The program included interviews with the survivors, who were very candid about the terror and the other more surprising human emotions that they experienced in the time they were held hostage in two besieged Mumbai hotels. (Here’s a link to the program in case you’re interested: Secrets of the Dead – Mumbai Massacre)

The observations these people had about life and death, about risk and bravery, about love and faith, and about hate and forgiveness gave me some wonderful ideas that I plan on exploring very soon.

I recognized that this program, which I hadn’t even seen in its entirety, had started something working in my brain while I was driving to campus. But, being so busy that sometimes I can’t even see straight, I filed the nugget of idea away in my head for perusal later.

But, the universe wasn’t done with me today.

Tonight, on Grey’s Anatomy, Alfre Woodard guest starred as a beloved novelist who needed brain surgery. She refused, however, to consent to the surgery until she finished her latest book. While some may find the story line sappy or may not care at all, and while I didn’t identify wholly with the show’s characterization of her as a novelist, something in it made me stop and really think. Even though my path is directed towards a Ph.D. and a life as a historian, I don’t want to give up the idea that maybe one day I’ll eventually write a novel.

A professor once asked me whether I was “writing the next great American novel yet.” Not yet.

But some day.

So, what do you think about my plans and/or inspiration? What are some of your goals?

Nothing on TV, you say? Turn on PBS! – Part 1

Note: This post is an addendum to both Jeannette and Abbie’s posts from last week about this Fall’s TV schedule and the Emmy Awards.

There are 2 parts to this post, because there’s simply too much to talk about!

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What do you think when you hear the phrase PBS?

I know, I know. Some of you are groaning right now, saying “Please don’t write a blog post about that boring channel Joni!”

Don’t worry, I would never purposely bore you. That’s why I’m going to tell you why PBS isn’t boring, and why you shouldn’t only think of it as the channel that broadcasts Sesame Street.

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Do you like Drama? Maybe some Romance? Mystery? Murder? Political Thrillers?

Then Sundays at 9pm should be your night and Masterpiece (previously Masterpiece Theater) should be your show!

Masterpiece is divided into three sections: Classic, Mystery, and Contemporary. Masterpiece Classic is broadcast from January through April, Masterpiece Mystery is broadcast in the summer and fall, usually through October, and Masterpiece Contemporary is broadcast in the late fall through December. So, basically, there’s something to watch almost all year-long!

By far, the best program from Masterpiece this past year was Downton Abbey. In fact, if ratings and the Emmy Awards had anything to say about it, it may be the best program in the history of Masterpiece. Broadcast over four weeks in January of 2011, Downton had already been broadcast in the UK (where it was filmed and produced) in the Fall of 2010 to rave reviews.

Downton follows the Crawley family at their home Downton Abbey. The Earl and Countess have 3 daughters, and no sons, so when the Earl’s cousin who is set to inherit the estate and the Earldom dies on the Titanic, chaos ensues. The series explores how the lives and world of the Crawley family and their household staff changes as the new heir descends on the Abbey. A mysterious servant arrives, a maid is keeping a secret, the Countess and her mother-in-law are conspiring against the Earl, a Turkish diplomat dies in a compromising position, and world war looms on the horizon.

Downton’s popularity earned it multiple Emmy Awards last week and has been renewed for 2 more seasons. New episodes air in January.

Other Masterpiece Classic programs to check out:Upstairs Downstairs, Any Human Heart, and South Ridingall broadcast in Spring 2011.

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If you like murder mysteries, then it is “elementary” that you tune in to Sherlock.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are back and better than ever, but this time they’re solving murders in present-day London. Three episodes were broadcast as part of last year’s Masterpiece Mystery season, and more are coming in the future. I highly suggest you check this out!

Masterpiece Mystery is rife with programs, many based on the mysteries of Agatha Christie – Poirot and Miss Marple. But, also check out the Inspector Lewis, Zenand the forthcomingCase Histories.

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Finally, Masterpiece Contemporary rounds out the Masterpiece line-up. Although it features far fewer programs than its counterparts, watching Masterpiece Contemporary is a great way to wile away cold, winter Sunday nights. Check out:

God on Trial –  Broadcast in the Fall/Winter of 2008, this 90-minute production follows a group of Jewish concentration camp prisoners as they place God on trial in absentia for his abandonment of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. This brilliant and profound drama depicts the simultaneous faith and loss Holocaust victims experienced during their horrific imprisonment.

The Last Enemy – Does Big Brother, like George Orwell depicted in 1984, really exist? What if it did? After spending years in China, obsessive-compulsive genius Stephen Ezard comes home to Britain for his brother’s funeral. But not all is as it seems. Mystery and danger abounds as Stephen is roped in to becoming the spokesman for the new government Total Information Awareness program that tracks every citizens every movement. It is supposed to protect you, but is a world where nothing is private and you cannot ever disappear protecting or controlling you?

This Fall, check out Page Eight about a veteran British spy who stumbles across a conspiracy that may destroy the British government. He’ll have to figure out what to do about it though, before he falls victim to it himself.

Also, look for the 50-minute long Song of Lunch starring Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson as former lovers who meet for lunch 15 years after their relationship ended. The production is based on the poem of the same name by Christopher Reid.

Next time, I’ll talk about some of the other programs you can see on PBS.

For now, turn on your local PBS Station – you may be surprised by what you find!