Friday, January 27, 2017

World Traveler to Masters student in northeastern France - Part Deux learning France!

Arriving in Lille to attend school has been an adventure, to say the least.


To be a graduate student from America attending a French university has been filled with some unbelievable issues to overcome (administrative matters). Here are the top ten issues that American grad students might experience.

  1. Getting "registered" at the university has been a long, and sometimes tumultuous problem. The French clerk at the university (did I say "clerk") decided he wanted me to produce a "certificate" from CampusFrance. Problem: He is just a clerk, who wanted to make his own rules up and ask for a certificate that has NEVER existed from CampusFrance. This man was such a jerk, that he shut the door to his office in my and my counselor's face - RUDE right? Okay, no problem! My counselor here takes no enemies...and within a week I was registered. I can say one thing for my counselor and that he is an amazing man who works tirelessly for his international students. I am very fortunate to have him on my side here in France. Same goes for my research professor in Belgium...truly amazing men.
  2. You must have a "stamp" in your passport from the French office of immigration and integration (OFII) if you plan to leave/return to France after three months. The stamp costs 60 Euros for students. Problem: the appointment was suppose to be scheduled for me before thre three months. I wanted to come home for the holidays to the states, however without an OFII stamp, I will not be able to return to France. Solution: Make multiple trips to your assigned regional OFII office and make friends with the front desk workers. Chances are they will make arrangements to help you out in your return to France without the stamp, and then make sure your appointment is scheduled.
     
  3. French grading system....all I can say about it, is that it is bizarre.
    Credit: from http://www.foreigncredits.com/resources/grade-conversion/
  4. Classes are condensed, which is not a problem, however it quickly becomes an issue when the university states that you get a week to study for their examinations, and you end up with only three days. Problem: in the U.S. most professors will offer study guides that focus on the most important lessons to understand for final examinations. French professors do not offer such guidance. Solution: contact your French professors and hope that they can give you some advice (most will and few will not). Another solution is to stay in the U.S. and pay the ridiculous costs of college to learn the material throughout a semester of 12-15 weeks opposed to the 5-6 weeks in France.
  5. Housing has been great at the University of Lille. The international residence "Reeflex" is a newly constructed residence hall that features meeting areas, a gym, laundry, study rooms, and even an awesome staff on hand to help you. You have a choice between a 18 square meter room, or a 23 square meter room with private bathroom (my choice). Problem: the rooms can get very cold in the winter. I do not know if the walls are well insulated, but the windows have retractable louver systems that help block some of the cold air. Lighting in the rooms are not that great either. Solution: wear layers of clothing (including a knitted hat and gloves to bed) and buy a desk lamp for studying.
  6. Insurance is a little different also. First you need to purchase medical insurance from a French insurance company. Thankfully, it was only about 600 USD for a year (MUCH cheaper than ObamaCare). But you ALSO need to have "liability insurance" (about 36 USD) if you plan to do research at another university as a second-year Masters student. Solution: obtained both from same company in Paris. Easy online and great customer service.
  7. Research is not completed at the same university you take your classes. For instance, I took all my classes and examinations here in Lille, however my research will be done at the University of Ghent (Gent) in Belgium. Some of my peers are in Germany, Sweden, Russia, Armenia, and Switzerland for their research projects. Then, after research and thesis has been completed, you return to Lille for your defense. There is NO graduation ceremony, but there are private celebrations afterwards.
  8. Learning about the European mass transportation systems is very frustrating.

    Airport in Paris (CDG) for example...at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, they have signage that will take you to hallways and other buildings in the airport, and then stop directing you to your final destination (e.g. getting on to the CDGVAL shuttle to get to the hotels near Terminal 3).
    Trains: Getting a train in Lille depends on your destination. Why...because there is Lille Flanders train station and two blocks away there is the Lille Europe train station. So you need to learn which trains are out of which station...NOT an easy task.
    Metropole stations have kiosks where you can buy subway train tickets...sounds easy right? Yeah, NO! You press the Union Jack flag for English, and everything regarding the descriptions of the various tickets are still in FRENCH! This is not unique to the Metropole, but pretty much everywhere you go in France. "English" is used to translate a title to English while the directions are all still in French. I learned to focus on the train numbers as those will help to get you transferred correctly. Metropole also has buses that you can hop onto that take the same Metropole pass (make sure you get the "complete" pass because some ticket choices are just for the train). To make it a little more complicated, (because this is the French way) they offer Metro tickets just for night or multiple nights, for 1 day, 2 days, or up to 7-days, and for 4 hours...WTF France? Oh, not to mention the "ZAP" passes for those who are only using the Metro for 2-3 stops from your origin.
    Buses: so if you do not want to spend 80 Euros for a train ride you can take a bus for only 10-12 Euros. I wanted to take a train to Paris to fly home for the holidays however they wanted 80 Euros for a one-hour trip, compared to 11 Euros for a 2 hour-15 minute bus ride. Bus it was, and  I highly-recommend "Ouibus" compared to Visilines. Ouibus have luxury buses and all the drivers I have experienced have been professional and great (compared to the scary guy from Visilines bus who vaped the whole way from Paris to Lille).
So if you get anything out of this - it is that as Americans traveling, we need to understand we are NOT in the America and other countries have different ways they work. Having no expectations will set you up to a better experience, as when you travel thinking everything is like home, you are setting yourself up for a major disappointment. Vive la France!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Problems of a World Traveler: Part Une

Arrived in France - 04 Sep 2016

Sunday morning at Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Aeroport in Paris is definitely something everyone should experience. I can only imagine what it is like on a weekday!

Prelude to my arrival.

My student visa arrived on 28 Aug, and so my cancellation of my flight on 31 Aug was needless, but I felt that it was not going to arrive when it did. So I booked another flight out from Reno to Phoenix, Phoenix to Dallas, then Dallas to CDG. My airline was American - BIG MISTAKE!!!

Problem 1: Phoenix flight is overbooked so people (like me) with Group 4 tickets had to "check our carry-on".  This is common sense, which American Airline employees apparently lack...but would you not ask people who are just flying to Phoenix to check their bags to ensure bags are delivered properly. You see where I am going with this right?

Mood at this point of the trip: Confused

Problem 2: Phoenix was over an hour late...not what someone wants to experience when their lay-over was only for 50 minutes. Tardy plane = missed plane. Okay, this is getting better by every airport I arrive at. So, I ask where my luggage is. I explained her AA staff asked me to check my carry-on so I have nothing now. She checks her screen, and tells me that my baggage is downstairs, 'in the dungeon' were her words. I asked her why are they there? She had no response. Then I asked her an easier question..."Will my baggage arrive with me in Paris?" Assured my baggage "SHOULD" be there. Oh, thank you American Airlines for your compassion, professionalism, and dedication to making my life hell.

Mood update: Frustrated and annoyed

Problem 3: American Airlines (AA) decided to fly me to Chicago O'Hare to spend the night at a Comfort Inn (far cry from the Hilton). I was to leave the following day at 3:40PM to CDG. Great, except I have no toothbrush, tooth paste, night shirt, change of underwear, comb, brush, makeup....you get the point! So I have to buy a charger - only $49.99 at Chicago O'Hare, and of course few personal hygiene items. My shuttle loaded with other AA flyers in the same boat but WITH their baggage are bitching left-and-right about how they will never fly AA again. I get it, but no one is perfect - right? The kicker is I was not asking for perfect, just a safe and comfortable trip.

Mood by this point:  Pissed off

Spent the night at this Comfort Inn, after this idiot at Dallas tells me there is a Hilton right at the airport. Oh, American Airlines....I have no words right now! The motel I am at is on the Bed Bug Registry website = a night of checking the bed every 15 minutes. My legs itched all night at the thought!

Mood Update: If I were the Red Queen, I would be yelling 'off with their heads'.

Flight to Paris actually takes off on time. Impressed. The flight attendant and the gal next to me made the flight very pleasant. So thank you Evy of AA and my seat partner Beth for an enjoyable flight!

Problem 4: Landed after some turbulence that made me nauseous. Got to baggage claim...carry-on is there...good sign. Wait for it.....yup, no checked baggage - nothing, nada, zelch, zero. Go to American Airlines Service Desk and spoke to a kind lady named Lucie. Lucie states on Sunday that my bag should be delivered by Tuesday. I explain my situation in that I am starting school on Monday and going on two mandatory field trips to the Le Boulonnais and Ardennes for six days starting Monday. How am I suppose to go anywhere if I have nothing???

Mood: I better stop here before I say something ugly again about AA. More to follow.


Thursday, June 9, 2016

Spare Time Rules...Geology Scrapbooks In the Making

One of the best things about being out of school (until August anyways) is that I can do the things I have not been able to do for quite some time. One of the long-listed items is to put together some scrapbook pages of all my geology trips I took while at Modesto Junior College and University of Nevada.

Great memories that come along with photos taken of other students and friends hiking to some geologic structure, setting up camp, or cooking in a easy-up while its pouring rain outside all need to be preserved. As a geologist, the first thing collected is normally rocks and/or data from observations and measurements into a field note book, but there are so many memories I have that I need to save them in fun pages and albums.

Coming from a time when we shoved our Polaroids and 35mm photos into plastic sleeved albums, I have learned that those memories faded and some simply deteriorated beyond recognition. Fortunately, there are new and really fun ways to preserve our memories. One I found is using crafty machines like a Sizzix Big Shot or a Cricut (my daughter got me for my birthday), that uses dies to cut shapes and designs. Also I have learned to visit sites that inspire such as Pinterest and Scrapbook.com.

The greatest thing is using such modern techniques and equipment is that they are archival-quality, meaning your photos will not yellow or fade, and inks will not bleed through (a big problem I found with pics from the 70s and 80s). Another, is the fact that there are always something available for your skill-level. You do not have to be an artist, just need a little creativity and time to play.

I realize that there are far easier methods of keeping memories and making them into books such as using Shutterfly and other online services, but what fun is that? Scrapbook.com has more than you need to develop some cool scrapbook pages. They even have a Pinterest group you can follow for inspiration.

I am in the process of turning my "office" where I have been studying til ungodly hours of the early morning for the past three years, and with the help of my woodworking hubby, transforming it into a crafty room where I plan to create geology trip scrapbook pages and other fun little projects I have been wanting to do for quite a while. Wish me luck. Will post some finished items soon!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Grad School in France




Last April, as I was preparing for graduation and life after college, I met up with my academic advisor to talk to him about grad school. I am the first person in my family to attend a four-year college and earn a degree, and as such, I had no idea what was involved in going to grad school, or if I should/could go to one. What I did know, you could easily put into a nutshell. I knew that as a mature adult graduate with a B.S. in Geology, I would competing with my MUCH younger peers. I also knew that as a person with a Masters degree, I would have much more opportunities available for employment, and that I would be eligible for better paying positions. What I did not know, was how to apply to a grad school and what I needed to know before I applied.

Thanks to Dr. John McCormack, one of my favorite professors and academic advisor at UNR he steered me into what I felt most passionate about - paleontology. Fortunately, there was a professor at UNR who is a paleontologist,  Dr. Paula Noble, however she left on a sabbatical to France during my senior year. I wanted to take her micro-paleontology course, however it was only offered every other term, and I missed out on the opportunity to take it before her sabbatical. Dr. McCormack took the time to explain to me how to investigate grad schools, and professors that I would like to study and do research with. He recommended that I email Dr. Noble in France as she was due to return to the U.S. for a few weeks, and told me to speak with her. I emailed Dr. Noble, and she agreed to meet with me when she came back to UNR to work with one of her doctorates at the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) lab.

During our meeting, Dr. Noble had asked me if I had considered studying abroad, specifically in northern France. I told her I had not yet considered grad schools outside the U.S., but I have dreamt of going to Europe someday to live, since I was eighteen years old. I traveled to Great Britain and France in 1978, and loved both countries, however I felt the ancestral connection in France, which I felt quite comfortable in. 
 
Lille in northern France (Google Maps)

My mother's family (both maternal and paternal sides) came from France in the 17th Century to help settle Nouveau France (later known as the Canadian province of Québec). My thirteenth great-grandmother, Marie Anne Campion was one of the Les Filles du Roi, of King Louis XIV, married my great-grandfather, Mathurin Dubé, 3 September 1670 in Québec. Mathurin, was son of Jean and Renée Suzanne of La Chapelle-Thémer, Vendee, Pays de la Loire, France. Thirteen generations later, descendants are found all over Canada and the United States. 

Dr. Noble and I spoke about my options, and I took a few months to mull it over. I decided that the opportunity given to me was one I could not pass up. I am so grateful to Dr. Noble, and my soon-to-be professor Taniel Danelian at the Université de Lille 1 (Sciences and Technology) in Villeneuve d'Ascq.  Both have worked with me to secure acceptance as a M2 grad student this coming Fall, and to start my process with the Consulat Général de France, in the hopes that I can obtain my student visa and permission to attend Lille. Although there is much involved, it is worth it. I am excited and looking forward to my life in France as a grad student. 
http://www.lavoixletudiant.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Universit%C3%A9-Lille-1.jpg
Photo credit: http://www.lavoixletudiant.com/etudes/la-poursuite-detudes/les-universites-du-nord-pas-de-calais-picardie/29869/universite-lille-1-sciences-et-technologies/

University education in Europe is quite different than that in the U.S., and I will be writing more about that in a subsequent post or posts. Although, my time as an undergraduate is over, new educational goals as a grad student are just beginning. My life in the France during my time at the Université de Lille will be full of new experiences and adventures, which I cannot wait to write about and share with others. Taking trains and public transportation will be in itself a new experience, as in the western U.S., we drive our automobiles everywhere. Living in a non-English setting will be fun and a challenge as I have only taken French for two semesters. Thanks to the Rosetta Stone Software company, I will be spending much of my summer learning French. 

On Se parle plus tard - will talk to you later!




Thursday, May 26, 2016

"Disgraceful"...really? No, it is criminal.

You might have already heard about the University of Oregon's Lambda Chi Alpha's frat party at Lake Shasta on Slaughterhouse Island that allegedly 1,000 students attended. The party is not the problem, it was the aftermath left behind.

Students left trash, tents, a cooler with the Greek letters (Lambda Chi Alpha), U of O flip flops, feces, used tampons and condoms, and etc. on the island. Their university officials called it "disgraceful" and that they do not support the event. The national Lambda Alpha Chi fraternity has "suspended" the U of O chapter. Really? Suspended. Disgraceful. Sorry if  I offend anyone here but this was way beyond disgraceful and I believe those students should foot the $10,000 cleanup that taxpayers are now left with. One comment I read from a reader on the Huffington Post website regarding this story stated that $10,000 seemed too much for the clean up. I kindly replied to her post explaining that this cleanup was on an island. Boats had to be used to transport workers and the trash they collected. Workers also had to be paid for their time. But more importantly, is that the cleanup of human feces, menstrual blood, and semen is nasty. Proper suiting up and protection is needed for those having to clean this up, as human carry nasty bugs that workers who do this type of cleanup (my son being one) must protect themselves against. Disposal of hundreds of dollars of tents, camping gear, and other equipment along with disposal of human waste is not cheap.

This was posted on Facebook by an individual, and these pictures are worth a thousand words.


I am sure that the university and the national fraternity are both counting on the public 'forgetting' about this incident, and letting it just blow-over. I hope that this is not what is actually going to happen, because such mentality simply allows such horrible behavior from students.  Such disrespect for our public lands from these students is not only appalling, but it is unforgivable. Animals don't leave behind scenes like this, and sorry if I offend, but I blame the parents who never bothered to teach their children respect and consideration for our land or how to behave as decent adults.

I see these pictures and I can only image that these kids were the typical "entitled" youth I saw at my university everyday.  No respect. No accountability. No common sense. I feel sad when I see these pictures, as there is no excuse at all for such behavior and disrespect towards our Mother Earth. She provides for us, and we should protect her. Children need to know that when they use public lands, they must leave it cleaner than they found it. Parents need to teach their children how to be stewards of the land. Had this been one of my own, they would be spending their summer volunteering at Lake Shasta cleaning up after other campers and people visiting the lake. It would be a summer well-spent and one that would teach to think twice next time they find their self in such a situation. Teach your kids to be leaders - not followers.

I was also raised by a father who taught all his children how to respect the land and care for Mother Earth. We always cleaned up after ourselves. I have camped as an adult many times, and never have I seen anyone in a campground or national forest leave such trash and filth behind.  I don't feel that calling this situation a "disgrace" is even close. I for one, will not easily forget this situation and I hope that the U of O takes action against these criminals. Littering is illegal and I think they should take the time to prosecute those involved.

Here is the law from the Penal Code...

 

Penal Code

PART 1. OF CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS [25 - 680].  ( Part 1 enacted 1872. )
TITLE 10. OF CRIMES AGAINST THE PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY [369a - 402c] (Title 10 enacted 1872. )
 
374.4.
 

(a) It is unlawful to litter or cause to be littered in or upon public or private property. A person, firm, or corporation violating this section is guilty of an infraction.
(b) This section does not restrict a private owner in the use of his or her own property, unless the littering of waste matter on the property creates a public health and safety hazard, a public nuisance, or a fire hazard, as determined by a local health department, local fire department or district providing fire protection services, or the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, in which case this section applies.
(c) As used in this section, “litter” means the discarding, dropping, or scattering of small quantities of waste matter ordinarily carried on or about the person, including, but not limited to, beverage containers and closures, packaging, wrappers, wastepaper, newspapers, and magazines, in a place other than a place or container for the proper disposal thereof, and including waste matter that escapes or is allowed to escape from a container, receptacle, or package.
(d) A person, firm, or corporation convicted of a violation of this section shall be punished by a mandatory fine of not less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) upon a first conviction, by a mandatory fine of not less than five hundred dollars ($500) nor more than one thousand five hundred dollars ($1,500) upon a second conviction, and by a mandatory fine of not less than seven hundred fifty dollars ($750) nor more than three thousand dollars ($3,000) upon a third or subsequent conviction.
(e) The court may, in addition to the fine imposed upon a conviction, require as a condition of probation, in addition to any other condition of probation, that any person convicted of a violation of this section pick up litter at a time and place within the jurisdiction of the court for not less than eight hours.
(Amended by Stats. 2006, Ch. 416, Sec. 8. Effective January 1, 2007.) From http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=PEN&sectionNum=374.4
 
For more on this story see Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lake-shasta-trashed-oregon_us_574511dae4b055bb1170a098 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Sierra Snow...in May!



Last March, meteorologists reported that the El Niño ocean surface temperatures were changing rapidly and that El Niño weather patterns were weakening,  and also by next Fall we may experience the opposite of El Niño weather, called La  Niña. 

Today, while driving from Reno, Nevada to California on Interstate 80, we encountered a May snow storm that dumped snow in the high Sierra and delivered cold temperatures as well as near-white-out conditions. High wind conditions slammed snow onto us and fellow travelers, causing slower traffic conditions, and Amber Alert Message Board warnings to carry chains.

2015 was reportedly the warmest year on record (since humans started recording temperatures), and this year seems to be basking in the El Niño's complex weather patterns...hence, snow in May.

Many friends and acquaintances have recently mentioned that they are "ready for the summer", however, I personally like cooler temperatures, rain, and snow storms. In the wake of severe drought conditions in the western United States, which we are not out of the woods by any means, even with May snow, I would think people would be more concerned about precipitation levels than "summer fun".
U.S. Drought Monitor forCalifornia
Graphic: David Simeral, Western Regional Climate Center.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln in partnership with national and federal agencies have a drought monitoring website at http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/ that shows current conditions of drought throughout the United States. In the eleven most western states, over 43 million people reside in some level of drought, and to date California is the hardest hit. California literally represents all levels of drought conditions, from no drought to exceptional drought (D4) conditions. As of today, California's drought map developed by David Simeral of the Western Regional Climate Center depicts the severity. Nevada is close with up to Extreme Drought (D3) conditions.

We do not know what the next few years will offer in the way of precipitation, and today's snow was welcomed. I feel that any amount of precip equates to the proverbial drop-in-the-bucket, and every drop matters to Californians and Nevadans alike. I hope that those 43 million people realize that despite the wonderful snow pack we received this past winter, we still need to conserve our water, and find ways to reduce our water usage. My husband and I decided to eliminate the waste of water on ornamental lawns at our place in Reno, for a natural landscape with drought-resistant plants. Not only a huge improvement of the house's curb appeal, but our water usage is much less. Win-win for us!

Our house before we moved into it in 2013.

After adding a walkway, repairing driveway and sidewalk, and installing natural landscaping, 2016.


I am all for a little "summer fun", but I am so grateful for today's precipitation in the form of rain and snow over the Sierra Nevada.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Finally...graduation is here!

As I walked to the Paul Laxalt Mineral Engineering building on campus to take my final Final exam as an undergraduate, I pondered how many times I made this same walk the past two years, and how time has flown by.  The Final was at 8AM for Environmental Geochemistry, which is basically the chemistry that involves groundwater and the hydrologic cycle. Tough class with an amazing professor, Dr. Simon Poulson.  The day was beautiful, as I walked north from the parking lot south of the Alumni building. White lawn chairs were being placed for the graduation ceremonies on May 13 and 14 on the quadrangle.  The grassy quadrangle at University of Nevada, Reno is lined with old elm trees that were planted in 1908. The quad itself was labeled as a "Jeffersonian academic village" by the National Register for Historic Places. The lawn is today called the "Mother Quad", a once-forbidden area for undergrads back in the late 1800s, fortunately, everyone can use Mother Quad nowadays.

Taking the Final was as nerve-racking as any other Final exam, however this one was special because I knew it was my last as an undergrad. Walking out of the classroom after turning in my Final packet, I realized that all I had left was to walk and receive my diploma (actually its a rolled up piece of paper saying it is an IOU for a degree from UNR to be mailed in June).

What a feeling!

How I got here to this place, to this time has been along and amazing journey. One that I have to admit was peppered with doubt, fear, frustration, success, happiness, and strength. It was not a journey I took alone. I was supported and uplifted by so many people who encouraged me when I wanted to throw-in-the-towel, or when I doubted myself. People like my mom and dad, who never gave up on me and who always told me how proud they were of me and what I was doing. My mom was there in the audience when they called my name and as I walked across the stage. My dad was in Heaven looking down and rooting me on. I carried some of his ashes in a blue crystal heart pendant as I walked because it was one of his dreams to go to college. I wore this necklace a lot at school, and especially when I needed his strength.

My mom and dad in 1952.


My sister has always been supportive of my goals as well as my two children. My professors and research professors endlessly gave of their knowledge to drive and encourage me to ask the important questions.
My sister, Rosie and I at graduation...yay my hair is blue!

My friends were all full of encouragement and support. Sometimes offering a swift kick in the butt if I needed it (occasionally I did). I might have physically walked alone at graduation, but I walked with so many people who were by my side in spirit.

Thanks to...
   Professor Eva Mo, Professor Garry Hayes, Professor Noah Hughes, Dr. Susan Kerr, Dr. Stacia Gordon, Dr. Angela Smilanich, Dr. John McCormack, Dr. Paula Noble, all my professors at UNR (you ALL were the best!!!), Rick Kauffman (my research buddy), Mike St. Clair (someone I could always vent to), Dustin Holcomb (great study buddy and fellow IPA connoisseur), and all my classmates and study groups, my family, my friends (Teresa and Kathy especially),  and to my Heavenly Father who never let me forget how blessed I am.