Monday, June 29, 2009


Savasana -- my favorite yoga pose. On my back, feet open, palms open, heart open. My breath is slow and I can feel the warm Suisse breeze from the window -- I'm embracing the moment. It's only 8 p.m., yet the sun is not entirely low in the sky and I'm grateful that I'll get to enjoy the daylight until 10 p.m. I've been enjoying the chance, now that I'm free from school and have a relatively regular work schedule, to practice yoga and go on jogs along the Rhone and through the parks in Geneva. I'm remarking the differences between here and Brighton, England, where I spent late nights drinking cider outdoors in delightfully old pubs, or Baltimore, Maryland, where nights would be spent hosting dinner parties and drinking wine in the garden. I'm incredibly thankful for the chance to experience these different ways of life.

There's so much time for exercise and quiet reflection as, after 7 p.m., the stores and restaurants close and the streets begin to empty. It may be inconvenient for those unsuspecting newcomers (luckily I was warned in advance!), but it's in keeping with the philosophy of allowing for a nice life for all citizens. Minimum wage here is high enough to provide a comfortable lifestyle, despite the high cost of living...although I'm still not sure why a bag of groceries (40 francs, enough to last a few days...and you do need to bring your own reusable bags as expendable ones are bad for the environment) cost more than twice that of my phone (15 francs, and surely a luxury in comparison to food!). Perhaps cell phones really are a necessity these days.

My trip here from California was relatively uneventful. I enjoyed reading papers from the lab of which I am now a part on the way to Amsterdam and a nice nap on the plane to Geneva...until I felt something extremely hot on my leg and heard a yelp from beside me. The woman next to me had spilled coffee on herself and me and I was extremely sympathetic as I had done the same (my roommate can attest to it!) and burned my leg a few months earlier. She was a professor at the University of Geneva (where I was headed!) but spoke only Japanese, French, and a little English. Unfortunately, my knowledge of Japanese was nonexistent and my French consisted of "bonjour" and "merci" at this point, but somehow we managed to communicate and she gave me a tour from the air as we approached the city. I experienced the extreme generosity and openness of the people of Geneva (the majority of which are immigrants or visitors), as she quickly ushered me to meet her husband, who was picking her up, and insisted that she take me to my dorm. She left me with a map, an invitation to dinner, and a hug...what an incredible opening to my visit to Geneva!

I am extremely lucky to have found a place to stay in Geneva, let alone a place that is clean and only costs $555 a month. There is apparently a 0.4% vacancy rate in the city and
it is extremely hard to find housing (as I realized when trying to acquire a room from the US, all the while harboring nightmares about spending nights on a park bench). The all-girls dorm that I am staying at, the Foyer l'Accueil, is run by extremely friendly nuns who are eager to speak in French (luckily, I am picking up key phrases). Everything (from directions at the train station to food labels) is written in three of the four official Swiss languages: French, Italian, and German, and sometimes (as on the currency), Romansh, an old language, similar to Latin, that was spoken by Roman occupiers long ago. It is rare to find someone who doesn't speak at least 3 languages (my PI speaks 4!) and I am constantly amazed by the diversity of the city that puts knowledge of all of these languages into practice (in these two short weeks I have met a representative from all of the inhabitable continents...although meeting someone from Antarctica would now hardly take me by surprise!).

Work has taken up the majority of my time during the week and I am enjoying it immensely! Everyone in the lab has been extremely supportive -- even holding meetings in English, as my French is extremely limited
but ever expanding, as I strive to learn to use a French version of Excel (although I have yet to find a use for "trier, masquer, afficher" in everyday conversation!). I feel like I am learning a lot from my PI and mentors and, with any luck, will be able to make some progress on this clinical DTI project before my time here is up!

Last weekend I was able to enjoy a walk along Lake Leman -- only a 20 minute
walk which took me through the main shops along the river. The view of the clear, bluish-green water juxtaposed against the surrounding mountains was stunning and I kept being jarred into the realization that I was finally and actually in Switzerland. I experienced European gelato (magnifique!) and spent too long enjoying the swans and a few ugly ducklings riding the wake on the water. I was also lucky enough to arrive in time for fete de la musique, an outdoor festival that went on all weekend and showcased hundreds of bands and music of every type. An unforgettable experience, to be sure!

These two weeks have absolutley flown by, as time seems to do when a routine becomes set, and I feel that I am settling in to Genevan life very well. I am very much growing accustomed to shopping before 7 and taking my espresso with cream and my beer with lemonade. And most importantly, I'm taking the advice of Zachary -- a wise man I met while on a hike up the Saleve -- and staying open to new places, new friends, and new experiences.

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