Friday, July 29, 2016


On a ship, especially a traditional sailing ship, there is a lot of work to be done by hand. It is a place where most people's pockets are predictable. A pocket knife, a flashlight, an extra piece of string. In some cases a lip balm, hand cream and sunscreen.

A less universally applicable tool, the Marlspieker (Marlinspike) can also be found on the belt of many working sailers. Especially on mine. This tool is simple, either of metal or wood. It is commonly used to pry open wire or ropes for a splice, to open knots or to give the user a better grip when tightening knots.
Recently I learned that there are many variations of this tool, each with a different purpose and each with a different name 

As an Alaskan, I already had a nice selection of pocket knives. But a few months ago, a dear friend gave me a wonderful gift: a handmade Fitten, (fid, in English) which a young sailor of his called a Knotenaufmachstäbchen (little knot open stick... or something.) It is practical for everything and is probably my favorite tool, aside from my pocket knife. 

Here is a picture of the finished product. My very own :) it is well-loved and has been very handy in a number of situations. It is also very practical for vampire slaying. I couldn't have received a more perfect gift. Thank you, T.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Mutual Inspiration

I had an epiphany last week. About a key element in relationships, both between friends and partners. I am calling it mutual awe and respect. (Working title) The idea that I have cannot quite be expressed with the vocabulary at my possession, but this is as close as I could get. To start, I would like to explain how I define respect and awe.

To respect a person is to...
...listen whole-heartedly.
...not interrupt.
...not judge, no matter what. in them, both with your secrets as with their capabilities.
...communicate and understand their need to do so. 
...not criticize, but to support and suggest. and to offer help. 
...believe their words.
...motivate and encourage. them your true self. honest.
...feel safe with them.

To be in awe of a person is to...
...have so much respect for who they are, how they think/act, that you neither judge nor scepticize.
...value their opinion.
...ask for their advice and consider it fully.
...see their strengths and not judge their flaws. when you watch them in their element.

Something has recently started developing between a friend and me, in a way that gives me happy butterflies in my tummy. The future of this friendship is something time will show me. But for now this friendship has become important to me because of the ease of communication. We communicate in an honest, easy-going way that I have never experienced before - and would now like to experience with every person I know. There are no mixed messages, because messages are communicated in detail instead of being hidden in context. There is no pressure to text back or fear of missing something when there is no cell service for a week. Overall, this has made me consider what elements of the relationship between two people are the most important for me. 

Mutual Inspiration. 

It is impossible to be friends with someone you do not fully respect. Because you start to judge them, they start to annoy you simply by being, and you do not maintain honesty with them. Sure, maybe you can be Facebook friends with someone you don't respect - but is that really a friendship? 

Being in awe of someone changes how you treat them. You respond positively to every word they say. You listen more intently because you trust in the value of their words. You are open to asking them questions because their opinions and ideas are important to you. Imagine some famous person, like Obama, and imagine how you would talk to this person if given the chance. Whatever you are imagining, it probably doesn't include any anger, sadness or fear (of that person - we're not talking about fear of embarassing yourself here). On a more realistic level, you probably have a friend or two that you are in awe of (even if it is not absolute). That person that you ask for advice when you get stuck.

These two things alone are the building blocks of getting along. When you respect and are in awe of a person, they bring out the best in you. You no longer focus on judgement or criticism, but on growth and enjoyment. Inspiration. And when this become mutual, it strengthens the bond to an unbreakable level. And this. This is what I mean. Every relationship or friendship of mine that has fallen apart has lost either respect or awe in one or both directions. And the very best friends in my life are people who tell me I will rock whatever I choose to do - and I tell them that THEY will rock whatever they do. And neither of us is lying. Because we believe in our opinions.

The connections that people develop are much more complicated than we can really describe. This is just one idea in a field of factors that make a difference. But when you are hanging out with friends or loved ones, consider whether you respect them. Are you in awe of them? Do they respect you? Are they in awe of you? Are you inspired by their presence? Can you inspire them?

(If you've read this far you should know that I love you. It means a lot to me to have people in my life who are interested in what I have to say. Thank you.)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Seeing the folks -OR- Copenhagen, repeated.

On the last weekend of May I met my Alaskan family in Copenhagen, Denmark. They were touring through Europe and had just come from a bike trip in France. I was wading through presentations at school. Instead of joining them for the full adventure, I agreed to a long weekend in my favorite European city.
The nice part about family travels has got to be the hotels... Gee, it's nice not to pack my own sheets!

The adventure began, as it should, with a burger. My train arrived late and my loving family picked up a bacon cheeseburger from the hotel restaurant. YUM. No wait! This adventure began on a train. More importantly, on a train on a ferry. The train from Hamburg to Copenhagen boards a ferry in Puttgaden, on the northern tip of Fehmarn. I got all giddy as soon as we drove onto the ferry. I believe I have mentioned that I like boats, right? I quickly stalked our ferry through AIS on the Marine Traffic website.*

(The grey skies leaving the Puttgarden ferry terminal that couldn't dissuade my cheery mood.)

Well, Friday morning began with family breakfast at the hotel buffet. They had a water/juice dispenser that was operated by an iPad... We made jokes. Then we headed out into the beautiful city. Rather delightfully, we started with a boat tour around the harbor, which I had never done before. Look, pretty ships:

Post-tour we wandered and took pictures of pretty things. Most of the city within walking distance of our hotel was familiar to me, but experiencing a place with new people is always a new experience.

On Sunday we headed to an exciting place: the Viking museum of Roskilde. This museum was a wonderful tribute to the lifestyle and craftsmanship skills of the Vikings of Denmark. Around a central square there were little shops demonstrating things such as rope-weaving, carving, boat-building. There was even an area for guests to make their own miniature Viking boats for the little pool. I was fascinated by the model ships on display. I was positively giddy with excitement.


(Left: one of the models that captured my fascination fully. Right: littleperson boats.)

(One of the restored Viking vessels that was sunk during an attack on the Roskilde harbor.)

On our last night together we wandered into the meat-packing district in search of food. The first few restaurants we checked were completely full. In the end, we landed at restaurant with loud music and very basic, long tables. We went up to the counter to order, not quite sure what was going on... The food was delicious. I mean, delicious. A few slaps of meat on a tray, some side dishes in cups and the house-brewed beer. Ugh. Yum. 

All in all, a delightful break from the bustle of school and this foreign culture I've melded with. Travel is a beautiful way to free your mind of the cage your life has on you. To relax, enjoy, and experience the purity of something new.

* go to to stalk just about every ship you can find, including the sweet little Fridtjof Nansen. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

What exchange students teach you.

In 2005, my family hosted their first exchange student. Today, I work with 60+ exchange students a year. And let me tell you, you learn a lot! Society seems to tell us that it is our job to educate those younger than us and to pass on the knowledge that we have gathered thus far. But what do we learn from them?

Last weekend was the End-Of-Stay camp for the AFS students in Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia. The 25 of us, 20 students and 5 volunteers, met in Augustusburg. Augustusburg is a quaint town south of Chemnitz and is build on a hill. At the top of the hill is s beautiful, simple castle that has its own museum, restaurant, theater AND youth hostel. (Gosh, Europe is pretty cool sometimes) Anyways, working at these different AFS camps teaches you about organization, the balance between rules and respect, and intercultural differences. But I have learned the most by observing and optimizing the communication between people.

Exchange students rarely have a full comprehension of the host language. And everyone has heard the term 'culture shock'. We know it is hard to communicate with someone who doesn't speak your language fully, or to communicate in a language that you have not perfected. We instinctively try to fix the first problems we see: We add a dictionary to the conversation. We switch to another language. We find someone to translate for us. We simplify our vocabulary and even our topics. These are things that any person can do. Honestly, that part is easy. But how do you communicate a topic to a student or family that has to arrive in their minds just how you meant it?

The message: Communication is a two-way street. 

This may seem logical, I know... But the young people that we work with are often put into boxes by their host families or even by our volunteers. This year I had a lot of families that believed their students weren't trying to integrate into the families: they weren't cleaning the bathroom or joining in conversation at the table. But was the student not listening or was the family not communicating? Or was something lost in the communication that went the other direction?

As a volunteer, it is important for me to protect our students and families. The first step is always to understand both sides of the story and improve the communication between the two. Because let me tell you, 7 out of 10 problems can be solved by patience and commication! 

So here is what I have learned: the interpretation of a message is affected by many factors. And the message itself is never the goal of communication. The correct interpretation is. So sometimes, by altering the message, a more accurate interpretation can be achieved.

When a host family thinks the student isn't integrating themselves, there are a few solutions: 
1. Convince the family to notice other behaviors - perhaps the student is integrating themselves and the family just didn't see it because they were looking for other signs.
2. Tell the student how the family feels and tell them to adapt their behavior (there are a few tricks that we teach students that help with this).
3. Lead the students to discover the lack of connection with the host family themselves and help them find internal motivation to change their behavior. 

(Tactic 3 is by far the most effective - although host families sometimes start to claim that we never discussed the issue with the student.)

Anyways, what I am getting at is this: When what you are trying to say isn't being heard, the best option is to adapt how it is being communicated. Not to give up or pass the blame to the other party. 

All around me, I see arguments, disagreements or issues that are often left unresolved. They are left because the patience is gone, the message hasn't been interpreted. 

I know this is a bad example, but I find it effective. When it comes to sex, asking for consent is a vital step. But just as much as asking for consent, giving it is equally important. If you know your partner doesn't speak your language, do you give your consent using the language they don't understand? No. You adapt the message to help them understand it. And the same applies to when you are saying no. You use body language, inflection, whatever is necessary. And that's perfect! Because only once both parties understand each other can the fun times continue. 

Why don't we do the same when we get in a fight? (Or rather, before.) Well, it probably has something to do with the mutually beneficial fun times that don't usually follow an argument. Without an incentive or a positive outcome we lose patience more quickly. But take a breath. Follow my handy steps for communication optimization:

1. Relax. Clear your mind. Listen to your thoughts.
2. How do you want your message to be interpreted? What is your goal?
3. To whom are you communicating? What about them could impact their interpretation?
4. How have you communicated it so far?
5. Try something you haven't tried yet: show sympathy, ask for help, ask what they don't understand,  explain it logically, draw a picture, act it out, ask a third party to help, try new vocabulary, explain the background story, explain the importance of understanding the message, use an example, try a metaphor, etc.
6. Observe the reaction. (This is important)
7. Has your message been interpreted correctly? If no: repeat steps. If yes: yay, have a hug.

Over the years I have experienced a number of interesting conversations where I have been able to apply or observe different methods of communication. And recently, the importance of this simple message has had a huge impact on my life. It has helped me find a calm place in me during conversation. It has helped me detach from the knee-jerk reaction that miscommunication sometimes brings with it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Home, sweet home.

For every traveler, the concept of home carries a certain weight. Some say that home is where your family is, or where you were born or where you cease to feel like a guest. I once saw a TED Talk about identity and nationality. When we ask where a person is from we only really learn what their passport can tell us. The speaker said that we could, instead, ask where a person is local. Where can you walk down the street and feel like a local?


I was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. I feel like a local at my favorite breakfast stop or when I ride my bike down the Coastal Trail. 
I spent a year abroad and lived with my host family in Hoyerswerda, Germany. There, I feel local when I get Döner across from my school. I feel local when I sit at the bakery and drink coffee. 
The summer of 2013 I moved to Leipzig, Germany and started school there. I feel local when I get Brötchen in the morning or when I lay in the park and read my book in the sunlight.
In 2014 I came aboard the Fridtjof Nansen as part of the crew. I feel local when I walk up the gangway with my bags. I feel like a local when I take a late-night trip across deck to the bathrooms. 

When asked where I am from I say I live in Leipzig. When asked if I get homesick I usually say 'Yes. Constantly.' Because in Leipzig I miss the boat and on the boat I miss Alaska and in Alaska I miss Hoyerswerda. 

In the end, the defining factor in feeling at home lays with the only constant in every place: You. 

A home is not found, it is made.

So look around and notice the little things that make you feel like a local, regardless of where you are. The familiar pillow under your head, the sun-warmed stones under your feet, the taste of your favorite food... This place is be your home, because it is where you are.