Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Revised Weekly Language Goals: Review

I think I've reached a plateau in my language learning. This always happens to me at some point during the journey (it did with French and later Italian), and usually occurs when life becomes busy. Well February has been more than busy, because I have spent/will spend 3 out of the 4 weekends abroad (Paris, Vienna, England), and as I currently am not entitled to paid holidays, I've had to make up the hours. All that to say I am slacking seriously with German, but looking forward to resetting the motivation in March (although that's already looking to be very busy too!).

Anyway on to this week's review, which will be short and sweet...
  1. Done. I have the radio on whenever I walk to work, and I of course make sure I watch at least 2 programmes in German every week. I particularly like Karambolage on Arte because the programs are very short and they're all about explaining the German and French culture and way of life to the foreigner.
  2. Done. On the conversation front, things are going quite well and it feels like I can hold up my end. I now use words that I have subconsciously learnt from reading.
  3. Done. I wrote an email to my MIL as usual, but decided this time to really pay attention. I'm starting to move past the stage of being unable to communicate, to the stage where I have the vocabulary and know how to construct simple sentences, so I have decided to be stricter with myself and work harder on avoiding mistakes.
  4. Done. I am still reading the book above, which I bought in Vienna. It's a normal novel for adults and is similar to the kind of books in English that I would normally pick up, so that makes it hold my attention. However my reading speed is much slower, and I will probably only finish it in another week.  Still, I am learning lots of new vocabulary which gets imprinted in my head, because I see the words being used repeatedly.
  5. Done. I did my one chapter and managed to assimilate it. In fact I think that because I am working hard with the reading and conversation exchange, each week the chapter/grammar exercises seem easier. Kind of like the book is slower than my actual progress!
  6. Not done. This is where I am really slacking. I can't seem to find the time or the motivation to do this to be honest. I might have to review this goal soon (maybe reducing the frequency), because I feel so bad whenever I realise I haven't achieved it.
I felt the week was a total flop, and was rather sad about how February seems to have gone, but writing this makes me realise I'm still making a lot of progress. And to be fair, doing 5 out of the 6 things on the list can in no one's books be classified as being an abject failure. There are a few more days to go before we finish the month, so I'm going to try to work hard and finish February on a high.

Wishing everyone a lovely week!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: The Belgian Edition

It is just over 3months since I packed up my life in Paris and decided to move here, so for this month's 15-for-15 post, I've decided to talk about Brussels; the good, the bad and the downright strange.

On my walk to work

 Grand Place

One of our many Tuesday meeting snacks

Snow glorious snow!

The Bizarre (to me)

Children drinking coffee. The Nigerian/British/Parisian "bush geh" that I am, was shocked the first time I saw this happening, but it's apparently quite normal here. I was like is this a good idea for some of our already hyper children? My colleague just looked at me as if I was weird and started to pour out the coffee...still not convinced about this though. 

Kisses: I am British and we do NOT do kisses, so Paris was already enough of a culture-shock, but I had to recalibrate again my brain when I moved here. The first thing that surprised me was the men (cheek)kissing each other! In Paris, this only happened in woman/woman or man/woman duos. And the fact that Belgians give one kiss instead the Parisian two has almost put me in (as Ibibiogirl says) a hot of pot ogbono soup a few times. So many awkward situations have resulted from this, such almost lip-kisses (with colleagues and my boss!) and my cheek hanging out in the air as I waited for the second kiss!

The "Bad"

Belgium is a small trilingual/tri-cultural country which is deeply divided along linguistic and geographic (north-south) lines; the French speaking Walloon in the south, the Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and the tiny German community to the east. Brussels being the capital of both Flanders and Belgium is in a weird position, since it's smack bang in the middle of Flanders and officially bilingual but in reality, French is the lingua franca here. This drives the Flemish community crazy, as everyone knows how important Brussels is to Belgium and even Europe. So they decided with lots of compromise, discussion etc. that the solution was to have 3 bus lines (one for Brussels and then one each for the French and Flemish communities), and different library networks, schools etc. You can imagine how confusing this can be for the newly arrived expat who learns that her bus/library pass works in certain places and not in others...I was so mad because this cost me so much money in the beginning.
Even the hospitals in Brussels have 3 different funding systems! My hospital for instance is completely francophone and was funded by the French community which is now trying to force us to choose the bilingual funders (from the capital, Brussels). This would in theory be a good thing as it means we'll have more resources, but the trouble with being funded by them is that we will have to become completely bilingual; accept Flemish children, re-write all our stuff and get bilingual staff. However, the law also says each person has the right to choose what language to live/work etc in....so freaking complicated and pointless for an outsider looking in.

A few weeks ago, I myself experienced the animosity that exists between the Flemish and French communities, when I called the Flemish university in my good deeds post. The guy on the phone refused to speak French even though I could tell he understood me! In the end I asked if we could speak English and it was only then that he started responding.

The Good 

Snow, and so much of it! Coming from Gravesend where it hardly ever snows, Brussels is a welcome change because I really really love snow and the way it makes the world look. Luckily for me, my work which is only a 20minute bus-ride from my flat seems to be in a particularly snow-prone and beautiful area of Brussels. 

Learning new Belgian words and using French in a different way. Now I say things such as "gai" and "chouette" which sound very informal and almost childish to my Parisian ears. I'm also learning to say "GSM" instead of "portable" (mobile phone), and "à tantôt" instead of "à tout-à-l'heure" (see you later). The funniest thing though is the fact that the Belgians say "je sais" (I know) instead of "je peux" (I can). So for example, instead of saying "tu peux me donner..." (can you give me...), they say "tu sais me donner..." (do you know how to give me...). In the beginning I wondered why they seemed to spend so much time asking me if I knew how to do even the tiniest things! Luckily a colleague explained it to me, and I realised it's really just like Yoruba where we sometimes replace the verb "to be able to", with the verb "to know" e.g. "mi o mo bi wo se'n je ijekuje" (I don't know how to eat rubbish), to mean I don't (can't) eat rubbish. Yeah, Brussels is making me into an amateur linguist ;) On top of this, the fact that everything is both in French and Dutch is helping me learn Dutch and by extension German by osmosis.

Work. I am learning a lot about psychoanalysis! There is a different school of thought in France where psychoanalysis is being discouraged but here in Belgium, it is neither encouraged nor discouraged, although they say that there are no scientific bases for it. However at my hospital, it is very important and in fact our whole philosophy is based on psycho- analysis and therapy, so I'm having to learn very quickly. Luckily we have regular seminars, meetings and training days.

I also love the family setting at work, for instance, at Xmas there were presents for children and adults alike, the children are well cared for and the staff go out of their way (bringing/buying stuff for the kids, looking up info on their days off, etc). We have lots of parties and are always celebrating something, for example, they celebrated my first day there with wine/cider/champagne...I was like what manner of place is this?! The management also trust staff noting their own hours, and they feed us loads! Eating at work is encouraged, and I sometimes have breakfast, lunch and sometimes even dinner there. This really helps me with budgeting and saving.

It is hard-work, working with the kids physically and often-times emotionally too, but I love the job and I can see why no one seems to leave the hospital (one of my colleagues has been here for 30years!)

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Decisions That Changed My Life: The Teenage Epiphany

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

A few weeks ago, a friend Urigi asked her blog-readers to share experiences that have inspired, or been a defining moment in their lives. I wrote a very long comment, then decided that I'd like to share that comment on my blog.  Here it is...

As a child I was intelligent; coming 3rd in Nigeria at 11, in the National common entrance examinations for instance, but also very lazy. As soon as I got into secondary school, my grades basically plummeted , mostly because I couldn't be bothered with the classes and/or studying. I just really wanted to be left alone in peace to read and read and read! They eventually became so bad that my father had to resort to bribing me with cash for every A I got. As an original money-loving naija babe, this incentive made a huge difference, and I started to work hard ;)

Anyway around the age of 15, I suddenly realised that I didn't want to be like my evil cousins who lived with us and had done their WAEC/JAMB at least 9times since I knew them. One in particular always seemed so stupid and uncouth! Even as a kid, I knew that a lot of the stuff she was was either illogical, ignorant or just plain untrue. At the time, I thought this was due to her ignorance and it really motivated me to be different. I wanted to know more about the world and wanted to breakaway from that ghetto of mediocrity. I had ambitions; to become exposed, to experience other cultures, learn foreign languages, to visit other lands....to broaden my horizons. And I knew that I could only do this if I had an education.

That term at the end of SS2 (penultimate secondary school year in Nigeria), I woke up and promised myself that I'd do better the next year. And I did. I cleared my WASSCEs/NECOs and got a very good score in JAMB; enough to study geology at FUTA. And although I never went to university in Nigeria, this experience taught me that I had the power to dictate the direction of my life. Since then, my life's motto has become very similar to the sentiments that the English poet William Ernest Henley tries to convey in verses 1 & 4 of his poem Invictus.  I realised that I really am the master of my fate.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Revised Weekly Language Goals: Review

This week's review is going to be different, it will be a 2-in-1 summary as I didn't do a review last Monday, and I think two detailed reviews in one post would be too long. So anyway, here goes...

Last Week...
I was once again on fire with German! I'm not sure why this was, but I really made an effort and I saw the results. I met Hanna as usual and was able to have an actual conversation with her, then I read the much harder children's book she'd loaned me. It was a very good book, I guess written for older children, and was therefore very very challenging for me to read. Luckily the stories were riveting, so I couldn't give up or put it down. So good in fact was the book, that I've decided I'd like for my children to read it one day. The great thing about this is that I was able to learn so many new words.

In terms of the other skills, listening to German radio has more or less become second nature to me now, and I am understanding or at least recognising more and more words. I was even able to get some information about German Airline strikes and warn T who was scheduled to be travelling, about this. I was so proud of myself! I also wrote my MIL an email, did my weekly chapter and practised on Duolingo at least 5 times during the week.

This Week...
Was the total opposite! I wrote my MIL an unusually long email, did my weekly chapter and a lot of listening to radio. I also watched quite a bit of children's TV with T on Saturday, as well as the clips my Conversation partner sent me and a documentary on Youtube. Apart from this however, I feel like this was a very lazy week for me German-wise. I did hardly any Duolingo practising, did not read a whole book (read bits of another children's book and started my first novel on Saturday). And to make matters worse, I was sick down with the flu/running a fever and had a sore throat on Monday when I met Hanna for conversation exchange, so honestly didn't do very well with actual conversation. I wasn't very motivated to talk with my laryngitis, and was really slow in understanding anything she said to me...the poor girl must have been so frustrated! Still, I'm not too discouraged about my lack of progress because I've just spent 5 days in Vienna and had German around me all the time, on TV/supermarkets/public transport/everywhere, including at the basketball match I went to on Saturday.

I guess I'd just had as the Germans say "die Schnauze voll" (was fed up). This week I am once again very motivated and looking forward to working hard to catch up, especially since there won't be any travelling and/or illnesses "die Daumen drücken" (fingers crossed).

Anyway that's it for this week's edition ;)  Wishing everyone a lovely week!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Ma Vie Amoureuse: The Valentine's Day Edition

This is my weekend off when I'd normally visit Vienna from Friday to Monday, however I arrived here last night because all the valentine's day celebrating couples had basically caused Ryanair and all the other airlines to massively increase their fares. I had no choice but to use up one of my precious annual leave days to make sure I could get the cheaper ticket for yesterday, and because I was leaving earlier than normal, I had to make sure I finished all the things I needed to do at work. On top of this I've been quite ill, so I decided to skip my weekly language review post this week. Ironic isn't it, that I caught the flu over the weekend, just after having put up the post about being in a better state health-wise. Apparently this is what happens when you start working in paediatrics; my colleagues keep telling me that I just need time to strengthen my immune system. On the plus side, I think I've discovered the troika that is the ultimate cure for flus: rest, fruits and fluids in massive quantities, and anti-inflammatories. I recovered very quickly and I'm happy to know that I'm slowly developing immunity to every virus or bacteria known to man.

Ok, on to today's topic. It's the big V this weekend (valentine's day to those who have been living under a big fat rock), so I thought I'd share the story of the one and only time I "participated" in this feast of love and lovers. Hang on a minute Clara, I hear you say, only once? But Clara you are 30, how is this possible? Well I am here to divulge all. See I was that geeky girl that had zero interest in boys all through secondary school; I can remember even getting a letter from a neighbour boy and being very embarrassed about it. I was 16 at that point and hadn't even noticed that said boy was on the same planet as me and attended the same church! I remember reading it quietly in my dormitory, then laughing at his poetic use of language, I believe one of the lines was about feeling obliged to reveal his emotions "just as women had to reveal their pregnancy after 9 months." In the end I think I shared the letter with one or two friends then destroyed it. To my eternal shame, I then went back home and either fled or completely ignored the poor boy each time I saw him. 

Later, newly arrived in England, I went to school for the first time and met Dave who told me he lived near me, volunteered to help me settle in and would walk almost home everyday. It was only in our second year of A levels that I found out he lived nowhere near me, and that he'd actually had a crush on me. Me I just thought all English kids were kind and well-brought up lol! Apart from Nick, my very close friend with whom I went swimming and who I had a brief crush on, this was the extent of my amorous life until I turned 22 and went to live in Stockholm for the year. I arrived in August, met  Finnish H in September and started my first ever relationship almost immediately. Now there is a stereotype about Scandanavian men being cold emotionally, but I think the poor boy met his match in me. I remember the first time he told me that he loved me, and the horrible silence that followed, before I managed to gather myself and reply very primly "thank you." I am not the demonstrative of people, so as you can imagine, we were never on the same page in that aspect of things.

Anyway February soon rolled by, and I recall walking back from Uni after classes and seeing all these dressed up men, rushing around with varying sizes of bouquets. I clearly remember wondering who had died? Imagine my surprise when I got home to find H waiting for me by my door (having not called me to ask about coming over), holding a single rose. My people I looked at the boy strangely and asked him why he was there? Anyway long story short, he reminded me that it was valentine's day and we needed to do something yada yada yada.... I sha felt so bad about the whole thing that I rushed out the next day and bought him an inappropriately expensive perfume, in order to assuage my guilt. After that, I made sure I always sent a short "happy valentine's day" message to whoever I was dating, but that is it. I honestly never want to experience that feeling of guilt and embarrassment again.

Oya over to you blog-fam. What are your most memorable valentine's day stories? Please share. Thank you/Oshey/Merci/Grazie/Danke Schön!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Gesundheit im Jahr 2015

I have been looking forward to turning 30 since I was about 8, because for some weird reason, I felt that this was the moment when girls became women. It is for this reason that I gave myself the deadline of 30 as the age when I'd put childish things behind me and grow up. One of those "childish things" was for me, my unhealthy lifestyle. So as a bona fide over-planner, in anticipation of this, I carried out a trial run in 2013. However, as you may remember from my new year's resolution post, I failed very miserably. Now, two years later, I'm motivated, better prepared and very determined.  It is now or never. 

Since I got back to Brussels on the 5th of January, I've been working hard to ensure that I achieve this year's health and fitness goals. These were to:
  1. Increase my fitness levels 
  2. Give up caffeine and sugary, fizzy drinks while also increasing my water intake
  3. Minimise junk food and up my fruit/vegetables consumption
One of the sub-goals was to make sure I walked for at least 2x 15mins each day. Well I'm pleased to report that I am walking a whole lot more, and I often see on my phone that I have exceeded the daily goal number of steps. The walk from the bus-stop to my hospital for example, is through a hilly stone-paved path that is actually a bit difficult to do, and I used to struggle/get out of breath. But, no longer! In fact the same route now seems easier and shorter. I guess I'm getting used to it.

In other news, I haven't had any fizzy drinks since I got back from England on the 5th. This is a huge huge deal for  me, as I was addicted to and used to guzzling down litres of coke every week. It might be a bit precocious to say this, but I think I might just have succeeded in kicking the habit for good. In fact I seem to have completely lost the desire to drink Coke/other fizzy drinks. Even when we had a (soft drink) celebration at work, I chose to go with a smoothie. I still drink wine/palm wine/cider sha, I am NEVER going to give those up...

I also wanted to reduce my caffeine intake drastically. Considering that I used to drink 5-6 cups of very sweet coffee per day, this was going to be a tall order indeed. The initial plan was to replace my work coffees with unsugared tea, but before carrying out the swap, I decided to do some research into the benefits of drinking tea over coffee. Surprisingly, all the studies I read actually said that drinking coffee is not bad for you. In fact they all went on to state that both tea and coffee have health benefits in terms of the antioxidants they provide. As a result of this, I've decided not to completely cut out coffee. Instead I have swapped a few of the daily cups of coffee for tea, and whenever I have coffee (or tea), I make sure that it is black and unsweetened. The good thing about all the tea/coffee I drink is that it helps me reach my daily fluid intake goals. 

I've also rediscovered a new love for water, and no longer need squash, juice or anything else to mask the taste or flavour it. It goes down well unaided. 
Rice/spinach/vegetable dinner

In terms of food, my overall eating habits have improved too. I try to make healthier choices, while ensuring that I am not depriving myself. I try for instance not to eat any junk food or snacks, except for a slice of cake during my conversation exchange. However, I also eat whatever is offered at work,  including stereotypically unhealthy food such chips. I just make sure that the serving size is appropriate, and try to consume as much fruit and veg as possible. And because I no longer snack on junk, I often find myself hungry and needing to eat more. This is practically an aberration for me! I used to go hungry for very long periods of time then overeat. Now I fill up on fruit/veg, eat more regularly and use a smaller plate to reduce/avoid overeating.

I've noticed improved overall health. The most obvious area being my digestive health; I've noticed that I no longer get my random episodes of nausea. The second improvement I've noticed is in my dermatological health. My skin is clearing up slowly but surely. No more teenage acne, and even my eczema and psoriasis are behaving themselves in spite of the lack of special attention. Truly miraculous!  In addition to all of this, my period was much easier this month; practically pain-free, with minimal bloating and hardly any new pimples. I'm putting this down to the increased exercise and (warm) fluid intake. The biggest unexpected benefit though is that I have been able save quite a bit of money from the ban on (relatively expensive) junk-food and fizzy drinks. This is great, as one of my new year's resolutions was to save a certain amount of money this year. 
New improved weight ;)

And just to finish, I thought I'd mention that the new healthier lifestyle has also led to me losing weight. I lost (and have kept off so far) about 1kg in the first 2 weeks! The thing is I have always found it hard to gain or lose weight, and have been more or less stable at 50-51kg over the last few years, so I was surprised to see that eating healthy and mildly increasing my activity levels could lead to such changes in my body. It just goes to show right...?

Anyway, the results have been encouraging, and I am very motivated to continue. Now I just need to add getting enough sleep to the mix, and I'll have found the elixir of immortality and eternal youth!

Postscript: In the interest of honesty and full disclosure, I must say that I've had 1 Coke zero since writing this two weeks ago. However, in other more positive news, I have been making sleep a priority and getting 7-8hours of sleep per night, as well as doing about 10,000 steps daily. On top of this, I have seem to have completely stopped eating and even lost the desire to eat "unhealthy" desserts, except for dark chocolate, which is often served during our weekly meetings at work.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

My Weekend in Paris

I was so happy to be back, even though the city felt both strange and familiar to me...

The number one thing I noticed, which I did not and will never miss is French inefficiency. I went back this weekend mainly to see friends, but also to do one or two administrative things. Can anyone guess how many I managed to get done? Zero, yep you heard me right, zero, zéro, null, odo rabata...!!! It was such a waste of time, energy, effort and emotions!

See before I moved to Brussels, I went to my French bank TWICE to tell them about the move, and to change my details as well as my assigned branch/agency. So imagine my surprise when I arrived in Paris on Saturday morning and rushed straight to the bank only to be told I couldn't close my account because it was still being held at the other branch! I mean, knowing that French banks only open between 11-1 on Saturdays, and not at all on Mondays, I had planned my journey (leaving my house at 6am!) to get there in time. Of course by the time the good lady took her time to "check" things thoroughly and finally got round to telling me this, it was already 12.15, too late to get to the other branch before they closed. I was furious, and I swear I just wanted to break down and cry! Still, I remembered that shouting in situations like this (in Paris at least), never changes anything, so I respected myself and jejely left without killing anyone. Luckily I am scheduled to go back in March for my sister's graduation. Hopefully, I'll be able to sort stuff out then.

The second thing I wanted to do was to get a "certificate of work" from my previous job. The thing is, when one moves within the EU, one needs this certificate to be able to register with the social security system in the new country. Without this registration, access to services is impossible and one is obliged to pay out of pocket each time you need/use anything e.g. medical care. This can become very expensive, very quickly, and as I am currently not covered, I basically spend my days praying not to fall seriously ill. I have written the French, but they keep saying they've sent it (to all the wrong addresses!), so I'll again have to physically go there to try and sort things out. Another couple of things added to my already long list of things to do when I go back in March. God help me!

Now, on to the much longer list of things I really enjoyed and  now desperately miss: MY FRIENDS, the beauty of Paris, the ambiance, the food, the beautifully presented delicious desserts, that feeling of being chez moi, sitting on/meeting friends on the steps of Opéra Garnier, lunch by myself at my favourite restaurant, free water in restaurants, good Nigerian food...!!!
Yummy frozen yoghurt
I took this dessert along, to dinner with friends
 Some pounded yam with real efo riro and egusi, and some palm juice

I honestly can't wait to go back in about 4weeks.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Revised Weekly Language Goals: Review

I was on fire with German this week! I'm not sure why, but I must have made a subconscious decision to really go for it. I worked my butt off, and more importantly never missed even one day of studying. The encouraging thing about this is that I've noticed a huge leap in my comprehension, and I am more and more at ease with the language. I just really hope I neither backslide nor get distracted over the next few weeks...

Anyway on to this week's review, which will be short and sweet as I'm writing this on the bus, on my way back from Paris...
  1. Done! I literally spent hours listening to the radio this week. I also watched a couple of documentaries, one about immigration/becoming/learning German, and was mostly able to follow them.
  2. Kind of done. Unfortunately I don't think I'll be seeing one of my conversation partners in the future, so I either have to find another person, or be satisfied with just a once-weekly exchange. I'm still thinking about this, so we'll see... In other news, I saw Hanna on Friday for almost 3 hours and I again spoke a lot more German. I feel like something has finally popped in my brain, and I have found my German voice (although the ears are sadly still missing). 
  3. Done x2! I wrote an email to my MIL, and the words simply flew off the tips of my fingers. Of course the whole thing was riddled with mistakes, but she understood (and I, her reply), and the important thing is that I now feel very at ease using the language.  I also published my first blog post in German this week. I did this while learning French, and I am sure it helped immensely with vocabulary acquisition, so will definitely be repeating this from time to time.
  4. Done! My conversation partner kindly brought me a couple of children's books on Friday. I chose 2 and took them both along with me to Paris, where I read the first and started the second. I have also been doing a lot of singing of the old Disney songs in German. I particularly like "Won't say I'm in love," from Hercules.
  5. Done! I did my one chapter, managed to assimilate it, then went back to revise all four previous chapters. 
  6. Done! I did an hour on Monday, then basically forgot about this until Friday morning when I began to do exercises first thing in the morning and last thing at night. This now means that I am bathing in a constant sea of German.
The week was quite successful, at least when compared with the debacle that was last week.  The funny thing is that the harder I worked, the more I realised I needed to learn, and the more motivated I was....I guess peaks and troughs are normal in language learning.

Wishing everyone a lovely week!