Testing 1-2, Testing 1-2-3

Hello from London again, folks!

It’s been a while since I’ve written, so this first post back will be kind of a summary of the last few weeks. Despite my radio silence, I haven’t been twiddling my thumbs.  My visit back home was wonderful and also quite packed.  Highlights included (mostly in chronological order):

 

Getting a surprise pickup from the airport from my brother Franz. My luggage was delayed which caused a bit of a ruffle in my plans for getting back to Michigan that night, but we made the most of it– espresso nap at Franz’s apartment and then a quick costume change before I accompanied him to a work Christmas party.

 

Receiving a ‘Welcome home!’ from my Grandma Berkemeier, who passed away (shortly after this cherished hug) on December 22.  Although our hearts were sad to see her go, we were filled with peace knowing that she was able to celebrate Christmas with Grandpa Berkemeier (who passed away when I was in 6th grade).  ‘Give us a reason to celebrate, and we’ll celebrate!’ she used to say.  So celebrate we did.  St Mary’s Star of the Sea was still beautifully decorated for Christmas and though it is the largest (by space) Catholic church in Jackson, I dare say we did a good job of filling the pews and the air with her favorite pieces of music.  Oh… and there was butter pecan ice-cream at the luncheon. 😉

Grandma Berkemeier

Top left: pictures of my grandparents. Bottom left: Grandma’s casket with a cross carved by my cousin Justin and a bouquet of rose. 79 to be exact: 9 children (red), 42 grandkids (pink), and 30 great grandchildren (white). Right: From her funeral at St Mary Star of the Sea, Jackson, MI. [Funeral photos courtesy of my cousin, Liz Calhoun.]

Swinging by A2 for a quick visit with some amazing friends.  I was also invited to sit on the other side of the RMJ interviewing table.  This was a revitalizing experience that reminded me of the intentions of the fellowship, the goals that I began making when I embarked on this journey not too many months ago, the progress I’ve made since then, and the many moons I have to still cover.  Congratulations to the 2015-16 fellow, Allison McDonald!  You will all be in for a treat in following her adventure next year.

 

Cheering loudly for my sister Gretchen as she received her Master’s diploma in Clean and Renewable Energy from the University of Dayton.  You go girl! Such a role model for me!!

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Gretch with some proud parents 🙂

 

Spreading some Christmas cheer with good ole’ caroling. Of the 20 or so friends and family that participated in the shenanigans this year, I believe Joan Campau won the “longest journey” competition: home from Panama, where she has been serving in the Peace Corps since Feb 2013.  Such a treat to see her in person!

 

Hosting Christmas festivities at our home this year.  We managed to prepare an Americanized wigilia (Polish Christmas Eve dinner) with the favorite dishes including pierogi (dumplings stuffed with potato, cheese, etc that are then boiled & fried) and barszcz czerwony (beet soup).  Attempting to pack 15 of us around the dining room table produced a scene fit for television.  Despite the chaos that inevitable comes with having the house brimming with people, it was so wonderful to be surrounded by the people I love.  Slumber partying on the living room floor also brought back fond memories of scheming with my older siblings to stay awake until Santa arrived.

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Watch your elbows! That might be someone’s face you are hitting…

 

Ringing in the new year with my boyfriend Ben Brelje (UM Aero Engr — BSE ’13, MSE ’14) and his family. Such wonderful people!  And especially generous in giving me study time to prep for exams…a and b nye

 

(The less than exciting part)

Exams were waiting to greet me <48 hours after I arrived back in London.  As if jet-lag wasn’t enough to combat, King’s College London has an exam system that is about as foreign to me as any of the experiences that I have yet had over here.  I’ve grown used to the UM Engineering (honor code) un-proctored exams so to be circled by people with INVIGILATOR stamped on their brightly colored vest was… well, different. It was also a bit nerve-racking because the exam took place at a convention center that was 50 minutes away from campus.  (Not too bad of a commute, considering how large London is.)  Furthermore, we took the exam with students that had exam lengths that were of different lengths than ours.  Imagine trying to concentrate in a foreign environment when you jump with the sound of the loudspeaker:

One hour has now passed. Those students taking one hour exams must now stop. You are reminded that continuing to write after the exam has finished is a violation of….

And then after 1.5 hours… and 2 hours. FUN.

Oh well. Not worth being anxious about a situation that can’t be changed.  I just chock that up to experience.  Though entering a new discipline has been challenging in more ways than one, I have learned so much.   I look forward to continuing to learn in my remaining months as the RMJ fellow, not only via structured lectures but also through kitchen chats with my flatmates.

Here’s to many more exciting adventures in 2015! xx (<– One of the British ways of signing off that I’ve adopted. Kissing is more ‘proper’ than hugging I guess haha.)

[Featured image: A winter sunset from Waterloo bridge. No photo editing, folks. I’m not pretending that London skies are always this clear, but when I can see the sun, it has a tendency to take my breath away.]

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Hello from Michigan!  Classes are finished for the 1st term, and I am fortunate enough to spend the next few weeks with family and friends in the Midwest.  As you may have noticed with the post dates, I’m a bit behind on writing… Alas, there are only 24 hours in a day, but as I have been often reminded: write now, cherish the gift of memories forever.

Since we are less than 1 week away from Christmas (!) I’ve bumped this post a bit higher on my priority list. Over the last few weeks (or really months, since Londoners don’t have Thanksgiving to delay the anticipation for Christmas) I’ve been soaking up the spirit that warms a cold chapel during a candlelit Advent caroling service… that shimmers in lights adorning Christmas trees in city squares… that radiates from a mug of mulled wine or tin of minced pie.

Advent Scenes

(10:30) Covent Garden, (12:00) Banner advertising candelit advent carol service at Guy’s Campus with mince pies afterward!, (1:30) Admiring the ceiling of Westminster Abbey before the carol service began. This is the one photo I managed to snap before my neighbor was chastised for doing the very same thing. Oops. :/ (3:00) Outdoor 30′ tree in Covent Garden, (4:30) Near Hyde Park, (7:30) Proper Coffee! Served at the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, (9:00) ~30′ paper Christmas tree near the Southbank Center, (Center) Nativity at KCL Guy’s Chapel

 

 

It is truly something to behold, and while I think I’ve done a good job of participating in and appreciating the Wonder, I guess it blends into the scenery after a while?  Driving away from O’Hare with “Season Greetings” written in lights on the Blue Line train traveling next to us, traveling into a (comparatively) unlit city center was a bit… odd.

I’m not saying London is some holy land– it works the commercial end of the holiday season just as much, if not more than the average American city– but this Advent season makes it quite clear that the UK countries are officially Christian (England = Anglican) while the US does not have a state religion.  Interested in whether or not this was representative of the citizens in those countries, I did a quick census consult. Fun fact:  59% of UK citizens and 76% of Americans self-identify with a Christian religion.  Hmm.

Oxford Street Christmas Retail

 

Monty the Penguin

This incongruity doesn’t just have an effect on December festivities, though. It also shows up in the bioethics classroom.  Take for instance organ donation, a topic I considered for one of my papers this month.  Views on organ donation vary quite a bit between different religious (or ethnic) groups ranging from a “commanded obligation” to donate to (essentially) an obligation not to donate. (See UNOS Theological Perspectives for more info.)  Should these religious views be taken into consideration in determining bioethical practices?  This is up for hot debate among bioethicists and my interest in the intersection of philosophy, theology, and healthcare has placed me smack in the middle of this debate.  Though I think I’ve derailed the post enough, this topic will certainly be returning in future months. 🙂

Until then, Merry Christmas & to be continued…

(Featured Image: One of many Christmas trees & ice skating rinks in London– this one happens to be right next to my KCL Strand campus!)