Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Where are you and where are you going?
Seppia
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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Seppia » Mon May 28, 2018 4:07 pm

I did an H1b visa twice and both times it was exactly as Jacob described.

With American LEOs in general:

- don’t make jokes/play smartass
- make sure you don’t make jokes / play smartass
- really, don’t make jokes nor be a smartass
- look at them in the eyes
- give short, to the point answers

You’re good to go.

This is really the same approach you need to have when at CBP (a process which I’ve gone through around 100 times for work) when entering the states.
Example of a successful interview

you Hello Sir
Leo Hello, what is the purpose of your trip?
You I’m here to do business
Leo What kind of business?
You I work for an Italian company selling foodstuff to American importers and retail chains
Leo What kind of food?
You Pasta
Leo What’s the name of the pasta you sell
You De Cecco
Leo Oh, De Cecco pasta, I know that
You It’s a great pasta
Leo Where are you staying?
You Hyatt Grand Central
Leo How many days are you staying in the country?
You I’m flying back in around two weeks, on June 10th.
Leo Four fingers right hand on the scanner
Leo right thumb on the scanner
Leo please stand closed for a picture
*Stamp*
*stamp*
*stamp*
Leo Have a good day
You You too sir thanks a lot

End

Don’t divert from the questions, don’t speak too long, be simple, clear and to the point

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Astra
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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Thu May 31, 2018 9:03 am

Thank you guys for calming my nerves on the whole interview thing - I'll prepare to put up a boring and trustworthy appearance and hopefully get all my stamps! Still waiting for some forms to arrive by my Host Uni, this is taking way longer than anticipated, and I fear with all the visa application procedure I might not make my intended starting date of July 1st. It's not dramatic if I miss it, just another delay due to inefficient paper pushing, when I'd rather be doing experiments. And I'd really like to experience July 4th in America ;)

Scientifically, preparations are going well. I'm assembling a large sample library that will serve as raw material to set up the method and as samples for the actual measurements. Important to secure all documentation and have plenty of raw material - already thinking about the publication here. I have some other, unrelated projects, which I'll either hand off to (hopefully) capable colleagues or hibernate for my time in the US. Time will tell which projects I can finish till my dissertation in summer 2019. One thing is for sure: I have no shortage of ideas to pursue, just not enough hours in the day to work through everything on the bench!

In other news, my grant application was officially accepted on a full budget, meaning I get some research funding plus 23k $ / 6 months in "living expenses" - should prove more than enough to survive in America. My goal is to spend less than half of that and pocket the rest (I don't need to show what I spent on living, as they assume "normal" expense levels).
jacob wrote:
Mon May 28, 2018 1:11 pm
More importantly than watching the natives will be to gain a new perspective on your own country/culture from the outside looking in.
Indeed. While backpacking all over Europe and Southeast Asia, I never experienced culture shock per se; perhaps this is me being generally open and non-judgemental and also excited to discover new mentalities. However, upon returning home, I could not help being overwhelmed by the utter "Germaness" of the Germans (or the "Swissness" of the Swiss). All the annoying habits and unwritten scripts are called into question by contrasting with a different culture.

@Seppia: Bringing De Cecco pasta to the people and staying in the Hyatt Grand Central. You are living the dream ;)
@Jacob: Let's agree to disagree about the best design for a can opener

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Astra
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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Fri Jun 08, 2018 9:48 am

Scored a cheap flight from Europe to Cincinnati (388$). However, it takes 23h in total, with a long layover in Reykjavik, and it's executed by discounter airline Easyjet, so I'm prepared for pain! Ideal opportunity for an exercise in suffering! (Hella stoic!) No, I'm actually fine with long transits as long as I have a good book and don't need to buy airport food...

Preliminary packing List
I’ve been thinking what to bring on my 6-month exchange to the USA, keeping in mind that I am there for summer, fall and winter in a seasonal climate in the Midwest and I am making zero trips back home to exchange inventory. The goal here is to not take too much, yet I also avoid having to re-buy things that I would have at home (waste!). Due to airline restrictions, I am limited to 15 kg in the check-in baggage – but I can move some to the carry-on, or wear some of the heavier items for the flight. I am staying in a shared house with a furnished room and equipped kitchen (remains to be seen what exactly that means in the States).

Check-in (suitcase, 15kg max)
• Underwear and socks (two week’s worth, plus 3 pairs of woolen ski socks)
• Gym/cozy clothes, thermal underwear, tights
• Undershirts/Long sleeves (wear under T-shirts in winter)
• Short sleeve shirts
• Blouse/Flannel shirts
• Hoodie, warm sweater, blazer
• Pants + Shorts, two belts (hip, waist)
• Dresses
• Swimsuit
• Winter Longcoat, Softshell, Rainjacket
• 2 outfits for formal occasions
• Sandals/Sneakers/ dress shoes/ hiking boots (winter)
• Winter gloves, hat, scarf
• Shampoo bar, hairbrush
• For travel: toothbrush/toothpaste, deodorant, makeup
• Mooncup, safety razor (take razorblade out?)
• Prescription medicine (bring doctors note!)
• First aid kit
• Utility knife, REX potato peeler
• Travel towel
• Cotton shopping bag
• Indoor sleeping bag (?)
• Lab coat + shoes, badge lanyard
• External hard drive with data and libraries, scans of all paperwork
• Some jewelry, photographs
• Chocolate to bribe everyone into liking me

Carry-on (in day backpack, 10 kg max)
• Wallet, $300 in cash (ask for small bills), credit and debit cards
• Document folder (passport, visa documents, travel itinerary, plane tickets, student card, address list, Uni paperwork…)
• Sunglasses/extra eye glasses
• Cellphone with charger, powerbank, mp3 player, headphones
• 1 book (which one will it be?)
• 1 change of clothes if they lose my suitcase
• Science notebook, personal journal
• Pen, graphic pencil, marker
• World Outlet adapter
• Drinking bottle, snacks (dry fruit, crackers, nut mix)

Things to possibly get/swap there: bicycle?, clothes line, shoewax/shoestrings, soap, loofa sponge, more towels?, scissors, glue, tape, coffee mug, lunch box/containers, laundry detergent, laptop, books (swap/library)

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Kriegsspiel
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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Kriegsspiel » Fri Jun 08, 2018 12:42 pm

I like Cincinnati, a lot of that area is very European (especially right across the river in Kentucky).

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by jacob » Fri Jun 08, 2018 1:29 pm

http://earlyretirementextreme.com/how-t ... itcas.html --- is exactly what I brought for what was initially going to be a 3 year stay in the US. I think I had a higher weight limit than 15kg .. in fact I'm sure of it. I don't even think my vastly oversized suitcase is within the cargo limits anymore.

I was quite set on not buying much of anything beyond that. I had recently spent half a year moving a book collection from Switzerland to Denmark one backpack full at a time, so I swore not to repeat that mistake. That vow lasted almost a year. When DW and I moved together (after 6 months), all I brought was my suitcase and a small box of new acquisition. After that, I stupidly began to buy books.

Don't buy books!

Don't buy books!!

Don't buy books!!!

PS: Bring more cash if you can. When I arrived, I only brought about $150 or so (I forget, but it wasn't much). For my rental, I needed a $600 deposit, so I withdrew $500 from my old Swiss account and used my cash for the rest. Unbeknownst to me, there was a $500 monthly limit on my Swiss visa card for foreign transactions. I did not know that! This basically meant that I ran out of money completely about a week before my first pay day and thus had to eat rice and only rice for the final few days.

PPS: If you come to the meetup, we can probably donate some cups, plates, ..., dish towel, and other annoying "essentials" to you. You could also try to see if the freecycle.org in your destination city is any good. Most households have way more of this stuff than they want and are generally happy to give some away.

Seppia
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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Seppia » Fri Jun 08, 2018 2:35 pm

Kriegsspiel wrote:
Fri Jun 08, 2018 12:42 pm
I like Cincinnati, a lot of that area is very European (especially right across the river in Kentucky).
Funny you say that, my experience has been the opposite.

The only two good things I can say about Cincinnati are:
1- it's very close to the bourbon trail.
2- I met Kerry King in a bar there (I may still have the pic somewhere).

I had to go there many times (Kroger is headquartered there) and always found it to be one of the least interesting large cities in the USA.

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Kriegsspiel
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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Kriegsspiel » Fri Jun 08, 2018 3:26 pm

It's really just pockets of architecture in that area. Areas of Covington, Over-The-Rhine, Mt. Adams, some of East Walnut Hills all made me think of Germany. Most of Cincinnati was built by German immigrants (they have a really big Oktoberfest there too), and has one of the largest historic districts in America.

Seppia
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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Seppia » Fri Jun 08, 2018 4:02 pm

See why I love this place? Learn something new every day.
Thanks bud for the info, I'll look for those areas next time I'm there.

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Kriegsspiel
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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Kriegsspiel » Fri Jun 08, 2018 6:46 pm

On a tour of the Rhinegeist brewery, I found out that when they started up, they got all the brewing equipment second hand from Germany. They bought two warehouses in OTR and knocked out the wall separating them to put in their brewery. Granola Shotgun has a post with pictures of it here.

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Chris
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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Chris » Fri Jun 08, 2018 11:17 pm

Haha, no, you won't find a REX potato peeler in your furnished US kitchen, unless the furnisher paid a visit to the best salesmen in the world.

You might consider also backing up your data in the cloud before leaving, in case your bag is lost.

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Astra
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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Sun Jun 10, 2018 3:10 pm

Thank y'all for your input!

My packing list was in fact loosely based on the Blog's suitcase list - I conciously decided to ditch the pressure cooker. My duromatic is ancient, and has both the constitution and weight of a small tank. It still works great, I just change the rubber ring every 5-7 years. I found this nostalgic ad from the 80ies (the ad says "For a cute couple, that wants to get married" Because, as the holy matrimony, Kuhn-Rikon is for life!). However, judging from the design of the spring-loaded pressure valve and classic bayonet lock mechanism, my model is even older, as it looks like the original design of the Duromatic from the 50ties. What a great invention!

I'm serious about breaking my book-buying habit too. Getting rid of much of my collection over the last few months has been really eye-opening. I've moved many times within my city over the past years; every time the pile of book-boxes has gotten bigger. I used to have an organizing system, but I stopped when I went over ~1200 books. Mind you, I did not buy all of these, I had some given to me or picked them up on streetcorners. I just can't see a good book getting thrown out. There is also something very interllectually narcissistic about having a home library: look at me, I'm so well-read, I have smart books and thoughtfull books, so I must be an interesting person. Perhaps coming from a poor, low-educated background really made me want to apperar clever via my book collection. With my PhD defense nearing, I realized that a big move is in the future for my postdoc, there is no way I'm renting a container to move hundres of books over the Atlantic! I've now come to accept my posession of books as temporary - I read them, enjoy for a time and then pass them on. Also I have that romantic ideal of having few posessions - not in a Internet-Minimalist "look I only have 101 things"-sort of way, but in the spirit of letting go of material symbols. If I'm not going to re-read in the next few months, keeping a book around is really just for showing off. If I really absorbed the knowledge, and can discuss it intelligently, I don't need to have it displayed on my shelf for impression's sake. Incidentally, the last book I bought with money was the ERE book last November. I might gift it to a co-worker who might be open to the topic.

I read good things about Cincinnati and it's cultural heritage, history of parks and German anchestry. It seems pretty nice, but then again every city is showing it's best side on the internet ;) Importantly, all seems pretty walkable to me (I've heard some horror stories about other cities). My room is a 10 min stroll trough a park away from the lab, and it's a 30 min jog to famous Over-the-Rhine area and the riverside walk. Pretty pumped to visit Spring Grove cemetery (it's a landmark project in the history of park architecture and a major inspiration for NY Central Park). Let's see how the German architecture, beer and Oktoberfest withstand my critical inspection... :D

The REX peeler really is the best! I grew up with it and was horrified to learn other countries use inferior peelers or *shock* a knife to cut away globs of potato along with the skin. Seeing that it's light and handy, I will take mine along then. As the greatest salesman said: "They are made in Switzerland, they are not made in China!" Apart from that, I'm sure I can pick up some more kitchen supplies if the need arises - it's not like there's any scarcity of that stuff!

Data Backup: Good point Chris, I wouldn't want some underpaid airport help loosing the labor of my last 5 years ;) My data is also backed up on our lab server (which I can access via VPN), a mirror in a separate locaton and an additional harddrive at home (should any place burn down or become inaccessible). I'm somewhat sceptical of free cloud services like Dropbox, Google Drive and iCloud, and only use them for "unimportant" stuff, certainly not sensitive data or personal documents. Although there would only be like 5 people in the world interested in stealing my scientific data anyway, and without the (paper) lab journals it's hard to make any sense of it.

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Astra
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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Mon Jun 11, 2018 7:15 am

I recently read How Much is Enough? Money and the Good Life (2012) by Robert and Edward Skidelsky and was surprised to not find it mentioned anywhere on the forums. So here’s a brief summary and some thoughts:

In this book, economic historian Robert Skidelsky and his son, philosopher Edward Skidelsky team up in an effort of reconsolidating economics and humanist philosophy. Robert Skidelsky is known for his lavish work on economist John Maynard Keynes (who is pretty well known around this forum). Keynes postulated in 1930 that based on growing output, industrialization and efficiency, people in 100 years’ time would only have to work 10h/week or less, and would finally find the free time to answer their true creative callings (Essay: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren). Capitalism is seen as the temporary means to an end of providing for all our needs. Edward Skidelsky’s previous work revolves around the question what the good life is and what circumstances and means are required for it.

Looking at today’s work week in developed countries, it is obvious that Keynes’ prediction has not come true. Despite technology making us more efficient than ever, we work almost similar hours as 80 years ago, people with high education even more so. We lead stressed lives that revolve around money, consumption and financial decisions. While the authors still see capitalism as the key to the good life, they assert we (and politics) have not made it a priority over the last years. Growth for growth’s sake both on the societal and political level is not only pointless but also harms our long-term happiness and the environment.
While dealing with similar themes as JLF, the Skidelskys take a more macro view and carry certain philosophical threads farther. If you think of the ERE book as “why and how can YOU do this”, How much is enough? is more about “why and how can the whole economy do this”. The book is written in clear and accessible language, lays out the macroeconomic data in easy-to-understand graphs and surveys the central problem from multiple angles, including societal, individual, political, economic and ecological. There are chapters dealing with the historical questions how we got this way, with what to do with all that potential free time and examining what the good life and being happy actually entails. Many ideas run in parallel to the ERE book: utilizing social capital and resources instead of money, letting go of “keeping up with the Jones’”, free time doesn’t mean you’re doing nothing, but following your passions, problems with the education system, consumer culture and insatiability, the satisfaction of doing things yourself, the growing wage/wealth gap, and they discuss having a 5h work week vs working 100% for a few years to retire early. Our economy that endlessly produces gadgets and fuels desires has led us to forget about our basic human needs. Politics focus is shifted from providing a good life to all citizens to increase the BIP. People have become proud workaholics, and don’t even know what to do with themselves in their time off. Will this change in the future, or will we consume ourselves out of our own insatiability? As a solution, the authors offer that society has to curb its insatiability for more and that politics should introduce a form of basic income.

I enjoyed learning about Keynesian economics (which I was previously not familiar with) and the philosophy of the good life. I think How much is enough? will be of interest to anyone thinking about the bigger picture of FI and compliments the ERE book well. If you worry about what would happen to the economy if everyone ERE’d, read this book – this future may not look as gloomy as you think!

EDIT: Here's an RSA interview with the authors summarizing the main points.

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by ira_kart » Wed Jun 13, 2018 3:49 am

Astra wrote:
Mon May 28, 2018 4:21 am
Interview techniques
Is this backed up by experimentation?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_lang ... ing_deceit

Hope you get convinced after reading this small entry in Wiki. Please do not try to be making jokes/clever/sarcastic. You know most authorities like their "power" and want to feel that way when dealing with commoners like us. If they feel they/something they represent are made fun of, it will not make a good impression. Having said that, all these Visa officers show their "make someone feel good" of their American roots (more like the peach Vs coconut - American Vs European comparison) on first contact but you know due to some pressure either at their home on that morning/on the way to office/at office, we may turn out to be their vent.

Whatever Seppia shared in bullet points about these interviews are to be sculpted on stone :). Make visual eye contact, respond to the point (nothing less and nothing more -important stuff to follow) and smile and voila you will make it in no time. Good luck and share your experience. I used to include "Sir/Madam" while addressing them during the interview as a mark of respect to their authority, not sure about others, but I do the same when dealing with any authority in general, may be due to my Indian-ness and following the Old school tradition.

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Astra
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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Wed Jun 20, 2018 10:13 am

J-1 Visa Interview at US Embassy

I had my Visa interview and it went well! Everything better than expected – I'll try my best to recount it here in hopes that it is helpful for anyone going through the same process in the future!

Preparation: I dressed rather conservatively for the appointment (not all black, no provocative jewelry or t-shirts, tattoos covered). I arrived 10 min before the interview time and waited before approaching the embassy. Even though I arrived on time, there was a lot of waiting in lines (approx. 45min total waiting time, 20 min talking to people).

Side note on DS2019 Getting my DS2019 from the Host Uni took almost 2 months, and in the end it had to be delivered by Express FedEx! Get this process started early - the Host Uni had lots of requirements and regulations of their own for J-1 Visiting Scolars. Also, you'll need the SEVIS number in order to fill the I-901 and start the Visa application itself! Also, you MUST have the original physical DS2019 document mailed from the US with you at the Visa interview!

Documents I brought with me: Passport, I-901 confirmation, DS2019, SEVIS payment confirmation, Visa fee payment confirmation, invitation letter from Host Uni, letter of my home Uni supervisor about expecting me back, funding confirmations from grants, CV, list of publications, most recent paper, research summary for lay audience, confirmation of health insurance, appointment letter. All of these were recommended by a friend or two, all of them having gone through the interview and some having their visa declined because they were missing an item (for example a research summary). So I wanted to be extra safe and took everything I could think of. In the end I only needed the first 5 items listed.

Window 1: Handed in I-901 confirmation (online Visa application with photo), DS2019 (J-1 form from Host Uni), passport and receipts for the fees I paid (SEVIS fee 180 $ and Visa application fee 200$). The lady asked about my reason for traveling (research), where I was going (Cincinnati) and when I would be leaving (10 days from now). I was handed a pamphlet about “Rights and Protections for Temporary Workers” and told to read it. It was the same you're supposed to read when sending in the Visa application. She packed all my documents into a folder and gave it back to me with a card that allowed me entry into the security check.

Security check: I had to remove all electronic gadgets from my small backpack, including cellphone, calculator, mp3-player, USB-stick, harddrive, headphones, watch and even charging cables. I was on my way to work, but if you have the chance, take as little of these things as possible, Incidentally, I forgot that I had a pocketknife with me, but it was no problem, I was allowed to leave it outside and reclaim it later. The security staff was very friendly and relaxed. Pass through a metal detector and the bag is scanned, similar to airport security. The electronics stay with security until you leave the embassy. The cleared bag can be taken in with your documents to the Visa building with lots of counters.

Window 2: The lady scanned my I-901 and asked me some security questions to confirm identity – birth date, address. I was asked if I ever had another name or passport (no). There was some confusion about my birthplace (I was born in a different country than my nationality), but was quickly cleared up. The lady asked about my research, I gave very short answers lacking detail, avoiding the term biochemistry in favor of cell biology (both are somewhat accurately describing my work). She asked who is funding my research (government agency plus a small foundation). She asked about my degrees (BSc and Msc, PhD in progress) and language certifications (I have none). I had to sign my DS2019, which I had forgotten. Finally, she took my fingerprints of both hands.

Window 3: Moving on, the next lady was in a good mood and joked a bit about her office cubicle, so I joked back. She asked me a few questions about my PhD, and I made it clear that I would have to return from USA in order to finish my degree. She asked me if I read the pamphlet and if I had any questions (I had none). She asked me about the length of my stay (6 months). She asked me if someone had explained the 2-year Home Residency Requirement (I read about it online. I have no doubts my country will waive the requirement, especially if I'm getting a post-doc fellowship from the science foundation). She filled some of the DS2019 and stamped some things and said: “Your visa has been approved, you will receive your passport within 5 days. Goodbye”

Exit: I received my electronics back and one guard walked me out of the embassy before I got my knife back. I'll receive my passport back soon in the normal mail.

classical_Liberal
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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by classical_Liberal » Wed Jun 20, 2018 10:42 pm

Congrats on the visa, welcome to USA.

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Astra
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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Wed Jun 27, 2018 3:51 am

After all the farewell parties, tying up loose ends at home, packing bags and imagining all the crazy what if scenarios, there was only one decision remaining: what was the book - the only book - I was taking with me: some fiction to keep me entertained during the long trip? Something to prepare me for American mentality? Something scientific, to keep my mind sharp? Something about finances, an area in which I still have much to learn?

Finally I ended up taking an ancient yellowed paperback copy of Robert M. Pirsig 's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I originally picked it up from a "Free" pile in my neighbourhood because I thought it was a motorcycle travel book with a handful of philosophical observations sprinkled in. And it is - bit it's also so much more! I'm only on chapter 11 yet, but it gripped me right away with the fusion of American landscape descriptions, mechanics lingo, philosophical musings and critique of the scientific method. I'm just getting started on this "Chautauqua", but I'm certainly along for a long, windy ride!

I'm writing this from Stockholm, en route to Cincinnati via Rejkyavik... I'm glad to have some strange markings on dead tree flesh to stare at for hours and keep my mind engaged!

Seppia
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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Seppia » Wed Jun 27, 2018 9:23 am

This is so cool.
Best of luck for this next adventure, the States are amazing, it will be an experience you'll bring with you your whole life.

One suggestion: kill you inner ERE voice and spend money to visit the USA, as it has some of the most amazing nature on the planet.


There are tons and tons of beautiful places, but make absolutely sure you do not miss:

Yellowstone National Park
Canyonlands + Arches + Zion + Bryce national park
A trip to a caribbean island to do some scuba diving or snorkeling: Bahamas if you like sharks, Cayman Islans or BVI is money is no object, smaller islands of Turks and Caicos are my overall favorite (Grand Turk and Salt Cay).

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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by black_son_of_gray » Wed Jun 27, 2018 10:33 pm

Welcome to the States!

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Astra
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Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by Astra » Wed Jul 18, 2018 4:31 pm

Ad astra per USA!

Yes, I am still among the living. It took me some time to get settled here and start my research work. First of all I have to say that people are amazingly friendly and open, I’m somewhat overwhelmed with everyone’s positivity. Here’s some of my experiences in the US and things I found curious, in no particular order…

Getting around: I spent the first few days mostly walking around, exploring the city on foot like I always do. The city, however, is not really laid out with pedestrians in mind, with the exception of the many parks and the campus itself. It seems people drive to their various destinations (shops, restaurants, parks, even the gym) and then get moving there. If sidewalks exist, they are often unkept and almost never shaded by trees (this depends on the neighborhood though). In the residential areas, the streets are lined completely by parked cars, sometimes on both sides. I’ve never seen so many cars. It was very hot, so I dressed appropriately, donned hat, sunglasses and a small amount of sunscreen on my face. I enjoy acclimating to the heat, it also helps with the jetlag to be out in the sun. There is public transport, but it needs some figuring out on my part, since the timetables and transit map are not hung out at the bus stop – there is merely a sign with the bus number. There is also a bike rental system similar to Chicago (with different stations, where you can check out a bike and return it somewhere else). However, the cost is quite steep (8$/day) and the bikes are heavy 3 gear affairs (not ideal in a city full of hills!). A newly made acquaintance gifted me his yearly membership, so I can use them for free now, thus I can’t really complain. Still keeping my eyes open of a decent secondhand bike for some serious getting around. Another way to get around is going somewhere with friends, and having them pick me up, because apparently everyone has a car here ;)

Shopping: This should not come as a shock to anyone, yet still it shocked me how much processed garbage there is to buy in an average supermarket. Corn syrup, stabilizers, artificial colorings, flavours, sweeteners and sodium glutamate galore! Most of the things that come in a bright package I would not even categorize as sustenance… yet there’s a certain morbid appeal to them, something inside me that just wants to pig out and see what the hell a twinkie is. There is an overwhelming choice of some products (cornflakes, pickles, steak sauces, shampoos, toilet paper, cookies) and a relatively poor selection of others (herbs and spices, chocolate, olive oil, tea, apples). It’s almost a source of entertainment to stroll through endless corridors, on the prowl for the most absurd products (my favorites are: artificial butter flavor to spray on your popcorn, high-protein instant-mac&cheese for bodybuilders, bacon croutons to put on salad, and pickled pigs feet). In my shopping bag so far I’m sticking with veggies, brown rice and similarly unprocessed foods. My kitchen is not equipped very well, so I’m keeping with simple dishes and salad for the time. Haven’t had the courage to try bread yet. Also, can someone please tell me how come mustard is so cheap?

Meeting people: It’s been surprisingly easy to meet new people, both locals and other internationals. The locals feel honored that someone came all that way to their city, and take pride in showing me their favorite places. The internationals take interest in my home country and other places I lived and enjoy an opportunity to share experiences (aka rant about the American way of life, lol). I’ve been out to bars and restaurants way more than at home, but it’s still all within my budget and I’m glad I’m trying new things and making friends. Plus, I’ve also had lots of free activities to offset an occasional dinner out (hiking trails, free Museums and concerts, board game night, local library events).
Water: One positive thing walking around is that many parks or public buildings feature free water fountains for hydration on the go. The water has a strange taste, fluoride and chlorine maybe. I wonder if this can be used to water plants or make bread (without killing the yeast). I hope I’ll get used to the “swimming pool” taste. Otherwise I’ll have to invest in a small water filter at home.

4th of July: fun, but not as wild as expected. I was invited to a nice private BBQ party that had WAY too much food (I was encouraged to take leftovers, which were enough for about 6 meals for me). Unexpectedly, people did not drink very much alcohol and went home around 8 pm. Nobody wanted to come see the fireworks over the river with me, so I headed out on my own. This strange behavior might have something to do with the fact that the 4th was on a Wednesday. Although I feel like people in Europe still sit around drinking wine till 1 am and get up to work at 6 or 7 am (as long as it’s not every day).

Research facilities: I was somewhat astonished by the state of the lab. Compared to my previous lab it’s cramped, chaotic, antiquated, windowless, hyper-climatized, with no organizing system whatsoever, and somewhat dirty. I guess I just didn’t expect a world-class research group to be operating out of a space like this. But I will adapt – perhaps it’s just the initial shock. My new colleagues on the other hand seem to be extremely qualified, competent, and helpful, so I am reassured I can fulfill my research goals here.

Living situation: Before arrival, I rented 1 month in a “furnished” room in a shared apartment. The furnishing turned out to be one stained, naked mattress in an otherwise empty room. Good thing I brought my sleeping bag! On a positive note, the apartment features a kitchen, so at least I’ve been able to cook my meals. I’ll be moving by the end of the month into a different shared room, which features a bed and desk as well as a chair. Life in luxury!

black_son_of_gray
Posts: 321
Joined: Fri Jan 02, 2015 7:39 pm

Re: Ad Astra per Aspera [Journal]

Post by black_son_of_gray » Wed Jul 18, 2018 6:06 pm

Astra wrote:
Wed Jul 18, 2018 4:31 pm
Water: One positive thing walking around is that many parks or public buildings feature free water fountains for hydration on the go. The water has a strange taste, fluoride and chlorine maybe. I wonder if this can be used to water plants or make bread (without killing the yeast). I hope I’ll get used to the “swimming pool” taste. Otherwise I’ll have to invest in a small water filter at home.
As an American, my experience in Germany is almost a mirror image. I thoroughly enjoy the country, but I guess all Germans are camels because there are 1) no water fountains anywhere... you always have to pay a euro for a bottle, and 2) good luck finding a restroom, and when you do, you have to pay.

America is surely the land on the well-hydrated and freely-peeing.

As for water taste, this varies dramatically from place to place. An easy and free thing to try - leave some water out in a glass overnight and try it again in the morning (e.g. see here and related queries). It might be enough to avoid buying something.

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