Archive for the ‘Friends’ Category

The beauty of the international academic lifestyle is not in the distance from friends and family. It is not in the intellectual stimulation and the chance to hobnob with the best and the brightest in one’s field (although this is surely not a downside). The beauty is in the chance to travel. Last year brought me Detroit, Marrakech, Houston and Atlanta (one of these is not like the other…). More recently? A European Association for Population Studies meeting in Vienna, Austria. As a demographer, I couldn’t help but notice that the average age of the out-and-about population was 65… but wow, what a beautiful city! Perhaps the most fascinating thing about it was that this place used to be the center of an empire! And now, they are left with so many magnificent buildings… and so few national and municipal offices to place in them. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find that the Ministry of Silly Hats had some fabulous office behind one of the high-ceilinged, elegant façades!

At any rate… the meeting was fantastic, and professionally enriching and promising. The company proved to be the perfect combination of engaging and “rocking out.” And I was able to stick around for some nice touring after the meetings.

I offer you a (semi-) grand tour of the place and my people:

Stephansdom, the religious center of the city.

Hundertwassehaus, a mid-century example of imaginatively artistic public housing. Take note, Scandinavia!

“Pizza, Pasta, Schnitzel”– Only in Vienna!
"Pizza, Pasta, Schnitzel"-- Only in Vienna

I could never have believed that good food and drink could have been so inexpensive in Europe! From the 3€ half liters of wheat beer to the 6€ schnitzel to the 1.80€ wines… a frugal-man/woman’s paradise!
The happiest man in Wien

While impressive, in some cases the scenery paled in comparison to the glow of young love (Arieke and Maarten, engaged to be married in 2011!).
Hofburg, A&M

And of course my feminist cockles were warmed by the frequent reminders of the one, the only: Maria Theresa! The only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the last of the House of Habsburg.
Maria Theresa

But lest you (post-) modernists despair, Vienna does well to cater to the modern art aficionado as well. We saw a fantastic exhibit by the controversial Otto Muehl. What a risk to exhibit his work! I would have loved to be there at the opening to hear the apology letter read.
Museum Moderner Kunst & Kunsthalle

And in the spirit of radical artists, we also strolled by the Vienna Secession Building. Wiener Secession

On a sidenote, kick me for not taking photos of the Soviet monument (the Heldendenkmal der Roten Armee) on the Schwarzenbergplatz. Idiot idiot idiot. Well thank the internet for being such a good archive of photos. It certainly got my history nerve to itching.

Well, getting back to the grandeur of the empire

…and back to the typically touristic photo genre. Upper Belvedere, W & J

And no trip to Vienna would be complete without a visit to the Opera House.
Wiener Staatsoper

But I must admit… I missed it! I know, scandal!
Staatsoper Tour

Unfortunately, my flight home clashed with the State Opera House tour.
Staatsoper Tour, Backstage

So I ran off to the airport, while my friends toured the famous building. Back- and fore-stage! Staatsoper Tour

Staatsoper Tour
But I have sworn, hand-to-god, that I will make it back! Not just for a tour, but for an opera! A real life opera! And there are certainly some winners in the upcoming season… Indeed there are some chances yet.

Cheers, from Vienna!

(Ps- Please enjoy a few more photos on Flickr.)


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So much is going on that I need to just get you up to date in one fell swoop! So here we go…

1) The elections: the “libertarian lite” VVD party won (31 seats), followed by Labor (30 seats) and then… gasp!… the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam PVV (24 seats, up from 8!). There was no majority, so coalition talks started with the VVD, PVV and the centre-right CDA (that lost big, from 41 to 20 seats). Those talks fell apart last Thursday, opening the door for new talks between the VVD (“libertarian lite”), Labor, D66 (also a “libertarian lite” party, but more left wing) and the Green Party. It’s unclear if these talk will succeed as the VVD and Labor (and D66 and the Greens) have some very different ideas about how to run the economy. But let me tell you, I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard that talks with the PVV were over. For now. But I’ll take it.

UPDATE: Ok, apparently as soon as I posted this (literally… like 2 minutes later) news came through that the talks between the VVD, Labor, D66 and the Green party failed. Now what??

2) The World Cup!!! Netherlands has played two of their three group play games. The first against Denmark was a 2-0 win… one of those goals as a DK own goal, oops. I watched that match in a bar downtown and it was super fun! The place just erupted when the Dutch scored! It was so loud in fact that you couldn’t even hear the vuvuzelas on tv! Haha. The second match against Japan was a nail biter. NL won 1-0, but there were a few scary shots on goal by the Japanese toward the end of the match. I watched this match in the airport in Denmark. I think I was probably the only Dutch fan there (I was certainly the only conspicuous Dutch fan, decked out in orange). A few people clapped when the Dutch scored, but I really let out a “Yeahhhhhhhhh!” with an enormous fist pump. Apparently Denmark was not the place to root for the Netherlands, given the Danes’ loss to NL in the previous match. Oh well. The Dutch are successfully through to the elimination round, but do have another match on Thursday.

Oh, and apparently the US are playing in this tournament as well? I did see the first match against England, but I’ve basically forgotten about them as I’ve been swept up by Oranje fever!

3) Why was I in an airport in Denmark, you ask? Well, last weekend I headed up to Lund, Sweden for the Nordic Demographic Symposium. It was good fun, professionally and personally. I gave a talk that was well received and was able to catch up with all of my friends and colleagues from Stockholm University and Statistics Norway. The only disappointment, the folks in Southern Sweden really weren’t as enthusiastic about the royal wedding as I had hoped. Indeed, on Saturday afternoon Crown Princess Victoria married her personal-trainer-turned-sweetheart. Although the ceremony was private, there were a number of public events in Stockholm and people turned out in droves to see the Princess and new Prince. I had hoped to score a tea-tray or coffee mug with a photo of the royal couple (or something equally tacky… royal china?), but the demands of the conference and world cup watching left little room in my schedule. Tyvärr.

Prolineserver 2010,
Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons (cc-by-sa-3.0)

4) Nearly 2 weeks until I head to the States for the big move out! OMG, I am hyperventilating. But I am very excited to see friends and family!

5) I saw the Hold Steady at Melkweg last night. Again, a great band in a small venue! These guys are such rockers! Their songs are all about rocking out and being young and living like they’re no tomorrow and loving every moment of it. A typical theme might be, for example: being 16 years old, at a music festival and it’s hot and dusty and everyone’s drinking, smoking and maybe even doing drugs (if that’s your thing) and you’re having the time of your life and you love EVERYONE and particularly that guy over there with the messy hair (wow, he’s cute) and the Hold Steady are on stage totally rocking out and they are singing a song about being 16 years old, at a music festival and it’s hot and dusty and everyone’s drinking, smoking and maybe even doing drugs (if that’s your thing) and you’re having the time of your life and you love EVERYONE and particularly that girl over there who is checking out you (wow, she’s cute). To me, this is the Hold Steady. And I think they’re fantastic.

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Last Friday the 30th was Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day), the Dutch national day. It is celebrated every year in honor of the queen’s birthday… well, actually the queen’s mother’s birthday. One the first acts of the current queen, Beatrix, when she was crowned was to declare that Koninginnedag would remain on April 30th to honor her mother. But really I think it was strategic– you’re more likely to have nice weather at the end of April than in the middle of January, on Beatrix’s birthday.

The centerpiece of the Koninginnedag experience is the Vrijmarkt, a nationwide garage sale. On this one day of the year, you don’t need a permit to sell things, so people flock to the streets to sell their old junk. I find this to be totally weird– to celebrate the queen by trying to get rid of old children’s toys, clothing and vhs tapes. But people are crazy about it– heading out days ahead of time with chalk and tape to mark off their space on the sidewalks. And those vying for primo real estate even camp out the night before to be certain that no one steals their spot.  And great effort is made to get the kids out there selling so they can get some extra pocket money– centrally located parks and streets in Amsterdam are set aside for the kids. Our downstairs neighbor’s daughter made 90 Euro selling cake! Now that’s some serious pocket money!

Apart from the Vrijmarkt, the day is just one big street party. Everyone dons some orange and hits the streets for shopping, eating, drinking(, smoking), and general merriment. This year Wouter and I, along with his brother, sister-in-law and another good friend, hit the canals on a party boat with a group of about 60. This thing was massive, built to hold 100, complete with many kegs of beer, crates of wine, small snacks, a DJ and two toilets (OMG, thank goodness!). We toured the main canals of Amsterdam, blasting dance music and generally making a spectacle of ourselves. I cannot imagine a better way to spend Queen’s Day!

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Flickr Koninginnedag 2010 photoset.

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Back from my conference in Texas– very productive, saw some very interesting presentations and met up with colleagues from all over the world. I didn’t have much time for touring, but what I saw of Dallas was nice: had some tex-mex and visited the 6th Floor Museum.  The Museum chronicles the life and death of John F. Kennedy. It’s a bit embarrassing– I didn’t make the connection between the “Dallas” where my conference would be and the “Dallas” where JFK was shot and killed until our waitress recommend the museum as a must do.

I was amazed how iconic I found the Texas School Book Depository to be– I recognized it immediately, blocks away, as we walked toward the museum. And the grassy knoll! It’s just there, looking exactly the same as the photographs (although the grass wasn’t in great shape).  The museum was incredibly moving. The exhibit walks you through Kennedy’s life, the campaign, election, politics and crises of the first years of his presidency… and then all of a sudden the pace of the timeline slows and you are guided, frame-by-frame, through the events of that day: the news paper articles announcing the visit, the itinerary and purpose of the Texas trip, photos of the arrival in Dallas on Air Force One, invitations to galas, stills from that single, solitary film as they took the hair pin turn, passed the Book Depository and the knoll, JFK falling forward, Jackie crawling over the trunk of the car, speeding to the hospital, lay outs of the hospital, an original print out from the AP tele-text machine, and then suddenly you are standing in the corner where the gunman knelt and then shot and killed the President. Wow. To experience it minute by minute. Wow.

Well, back to the present day– I was very grateful that I had scheduled another week in WI after the conference. Most of my European colleagues are stranded in Texas or in their connecting cities until further notice. Oh man, how terrible for so many stranded travelers! I’m so thankful I have a comfortable and homey place to stay. And poor Iceland! It’s surely been a tough couple of years for them.

This whole air-travel debacle is really enhancing the sense of distance between Amsterdam and me. I am not feeling very optimistic about my return trip next week. But even more so I realize how dependent I am on the ability to quickly travel between the United States and Europe. So many of my family, friends and work colleagues are here in the US! And an increasing proportion of my family, friends and work colleagues are in Europe. The decision to divide my life with an ocean was very much contingent upon easy air-travel. And clearly that is not something to take for granted.

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Last Friday was the PhD defense of a Dutch friend Frank. He is former university-mate of Wouter’s brother and sister-in-law and, along with Wouter, they have been a tight knit group ever since. He finished his PhD thesis in Innovation Studies several months ago, but to make things extra special, he scheduled his defense for his birthday.

From Doctorandus to Doctor

It may be hard to believe but the Dutch PhD Promotion ceremony actually makes me consider starting my degree again in the Netherlands. The ceremony is incredibly formal, fairly succinct and the party that follows approaches the level of a wedding reception. The scale and grandeur of the event is a fitting marker of the accomplishment of completing a doctoral degree. The brevity is a nice testimony to the fact that you’ve been working your butt off for years so Pip-Pip! Bring on the degree! And, from my perspective, it’s a whole lot of fun! Well, maybe not for those few minutes the PhD candidate must face down the squad of academics firing questions at you. (Although Frank seemed to have a good time.)

So… how does it all work?

Several months before you expect to get your degree you must finish your thesis and send it off for approval of your committee. When you get the “OK,” you are officially done with the analysis and writing! Now you can look forward to becoming your own personal party planner. First you have to book the room and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to get a slot some time in the next 6 months. At Utrecht University, where Frank did his degree, there is one room. It is beautifully wood-paneled and covered with fancy paintings of all of the PhD’s who came before you (all men). At the head of the room is a portrait of Beatrix, Queen regnant of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Indeed, Her Royal Highness watches over each and every PhD conferral. Posh.

Where Arieke will be promoted to PhD!(4)The Queen!

The next order of business is to begin consulting with a printer. Every PhD thesis is printed as a book. And these aren’t those big, ugly, black leather-bound tomes of old. These are normal books, with professionally designed covers and layouts, complete with ISBN numbers. Perhaps no one would ever order one of these puppies from Amazon.com, but it’s nice to know that when you’re done with your PhD you’ll have a professionally published book of your very own, along with copies to hand out as “required reading” to your friends, family and future graduate and undergraduate students.

Toasting to Frank's latest masterpiece!

As the day approaches, you send out invitations (and books), brush up on the chapters (some of which you probably finished 6-24 months ago… doh) and rent your tuxedo! That’s right! For the gents, tuxedos. For the ladies, formal dress somewhere in between conference attire and ball gown. To be more specific, the man’s costume is a “smoking,” which, according to Wikipedia involves a notched lapel and is “accepted by some as a legitimate … less formal alternative [to a shawl collar or peak lapel, although,] despite some precedent, it is disdained by purists for its lounge suit derivation.” You had no idea, did you?

I don´t think the Paranimfen are taking this seriously.

The event itself takes place over exactly 45 minutes– no more, no less. First the audience (your friends, family and colleagues) fills the room. Then they are instructed to stand as the representative of the university, your committee members and your discussants (faculty from other universities around the country and abroad, who will ask you questions) enter the room. They are clad in full on academic dress– togas/robes, silly hats, ruffled neck thingies (a la Ruth Bader Ginsburg). And last in you come with your backup– two friends or colleagues called Paranimfen, also dressed in tuxes or gowns. The purpose of these two people is mostly ceremonial, but officially if you are asked a question you’re unsure of or cannot answer, you can confer with your paranimfen (a la “phone a friend”). I am told that back in the olden days, these PhD promotions sometimes came to blows, so the paranimfen had your back if a fight should break out between you and your discussants.

Frank flanked by his Paranimfen

After bowing to the panel, you take your place at a podium and the paranimfen are seated. And without any formalities, the discussants launch in with questions (moderated by the representative of the university). This might seem a bit blunt or abrupt, especially given the setting and costume, but they’ve only got 45 minutes to lay into you so the academics are really chomping at the bit at this point! And so it goes, back and forth, a bit like a tennis match, until three-quarters of an hour are up and then an official time keeper busts in (also in full-on academic/Renaissance Faire garb), slams a big stick into the floor and announces that time is up.

At the podium, at the ready!

The audience stands, the panel files out to deliberate your fate in the other room. Again, given the time constraints, this usually only takes 5-8 minutes. But I’ve heard from my sources that the panel typically does debate about whether the candidate’s responses are sufficient to merit a PhD. I’m not sure if anyone fails outright (one would hope that your trusted advisor wouldn’t let you get this far if you weren’t going to pass), but I guess it’s not a given that there will be a unanimous decision. Meanwhile you and your paranimfen pose for staged pictures.

Frank's adoring fans.

The panel returns, again the audience stands and now you and your trusty paranimfen present yourselves in front of the university representative. At this point, any chance of suspense is quashed by the dead giveaway of success/failure– whether or not your advisor is carrying a red diploma holder. There is some formal talk and then your advisor hands over the diploma and everyone claps. Now to placate friends and family who have no clue what your dissertation was about (do you think they even cracked the cover of that book you sent them? Ha!), your advisor give a Laudatio, alternately praising your work and teasing you for any number of foibles attributable to graduate student– showing up late for work, turning stuff in late, drinking too much at department events, falling asleep in lectures, etc.


And then times up, everybody break! There is much hugging and hand shaking and everyone proceeds to the reception. Now here’s where things start to look like a wedding. There’s a receiving line. Champagne. Wine, beer and juice. Mini deep fried tasty things served on platters by young men in tuxedos. Then it’s on to dinner for the nearest and dearest (and committee members), where toasts are made and gifts are given to paranimfen and academic advisors (akin to bridesmaids and groomsmen, I suppose). Later everyone who didn’t make the short list for dinner shows up and there is more drinking, toasting and singing of silly songs (again alternately praising your work and poking fun). As folks get more raucous, the elder generations and important professional contacts begin to exit (hopefully). And finally, many hours later, you find yourself at some dank dance club, singing along to Lady GaGa and/or the Village People at the top of your lungs. Hopefully by now you’ve changed out of your tuxedo or ball gown, but if not you’ve probably gotten a lot of free drinks.

The receiving line.

Well, if you’re still reading, hopefully you now understand my deep seeded jealousy of the Dutch PhD conferral process. It’s not too late! You too can jump ship and start again over here. I just recently saw an advertisement for a doctoral student position called “PhD Student Predictive Markers.” (One gene to predict that you’ll be a PhD student FOR LIFE.)

"My my, what excellent work I´ve done here!"Gefeliciteerd Frank!

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… and Arrivals

My good friends Tom and Betty just returned to their Swedish second home a couple of weeks ago. They split their time every year between Stockholm and Wisconsin and have certainly become role models for me with regard to living as an expat. As we switched positions last week– me coming to Wisconsin, them heading off to Europe– I found myself a little envious. Sure, I’ll be back to the Netherlands soon and Sweden only a little while after that, but they have Sweden now! Sigh. Lucky.

I got an email from Tom about a week after they arrived– a little update for friends and family about his first week back in his “Svenska Hem.” He always hits the ground running, catching up with old friends, seeking out previously unexplored spots in the city, starting up speaking Swedish from the moment he steps off the plane. Of course, they’ve been doing this back-and-forth for more than half a decade, but I’m just filled with admiration! It always takes me a few days (sometimes weeks) to remember how to live in the Netherlands or Wisconsin when I make the transition. It’s a bit easier coming West, because I have more friends to call and more favorite spots to check out. But still I always feel like I just don’t fit in immediately upon arrival– the city changes, friends have their own lives and things have continued on without me since I’ve been gone.

Maybe part of the problem is that I think too much about how I fit into the lives of the people and places around me. I set myself up as the traveler being reintroduced, trying to pick up where I left off. Maybe Tom’s excels at the transition because he focuses on how the things going on around him fit into his life. With regard to the comings and goings of expat life (or any sort of nomadic living), perhaps it’s important to remember than where ever you go you are the common denominator.

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