Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Worldwide family events

I’ve returned from my intensive week of ceremonies, back in London but quite exhausted from moving around so much. Though I’m disappointed to have been in the US during all of the post-Ireland-referendum-panic last week, perhaps it was for the best. After all, it was good to get away and get a little perspective during the very heated debate that’s been taking place.

But this I can report: as with most EU matters, no one in the US is even vaguely aware of what’s going on with the Ireland referendum or with the Lisbon reform treaty in general, as it has received basically zero media coverage.

I started my travels Friday the 13th when I flew to Zurich for my youngest brother’s high school graduation ceremony on Saturday. My family moved to Switzerland two years ago from the New York area, and my youngest brother went with them and finished high school at an international school there. It was a beautiful day for it, held at a reception hall on a hilltop overlooking the lake. The ceremony was long, but very interesting.

After the keynote speech, performances and bestowing of a seemingly endless litany of awards, we finally got to the presentation of the diplomas. However when they started my family and I all gave each other a pained look when we realized that they would be reading a three-minute long bio for each of the students before they handed them their diplomas. With 86 graduating students, we knew we were still going to be there for awhile!

However it actually turned out to be really interesting. If they had done that at my high school graduation in Connecticut I think people would have just left. After all, those bios would all start sounding pretty similar after awhile! But the bios for the kids at this international school were actually quite interesting. For each kid the told you which country or countries they were a citizen of (surprisingly a majority of the kids had dual citizenship), where they had lived before coming to Zurich, what they did while they were there and where they were going to after that. The bios were incredibly varied. Particularly interesting was the fact that there didn’t seem to necessarily be a correlation between the country the kid came from and the country the kid was going to university in (except for Americans). They had a flag for each country a student was from going around the hall on the wall. I enjoyed trying to find the flag each time they said a student's citizenship.

Also interesting was the way the bios highlighted the difference between the American and European education systems. While the kids going to American universities were “going to attend,” the kids going to British or continental European universities were “hoping to attend,” because European universities still wouldn’t have made acceptance decisions by June. Also, there was a sizable number of kids who were taking a gap year, doing their year of military service (required for countries such as Israel and Switzerland) or something other than university. In fact, I could say almost half of the students weren’t going directly to university after the graduation. This was a stark contrast to the US, where gap years are very uncommon. I remember that when I graduated high school in suburban Connecticut, 94 percent of the students were going directly to college the next year. I have to say I think the European system makes much more sense.

It was cool to be in Zurich while the Euro 2008 games are happening in Switzerland. On Friday night there was the Italy-Romania game in Zurich, and after that we went to the fan zone to watch the France-Holland game. The whole city was decked out for the games, with even a massive circle of statues in the Hauptbahnoff with major players from each of the teams. That was I wasn't expecting to see! Sunday night I watched Switzerland's last game on the monitors set up in the city center (they were already out of the running by that point). 

Although they won the game, there wasn't much celebration that went on. But after Turkey won the later game, it was quite a different story. I happened to be on Longstrasse, which is a pretty Turkish neighborhood, when they won. First they all started driving up and down the street honking their horns and waving Turkish flags, then they all poured out into the street dancing and singing. The following week, when I was in Boston Friday night, Turkey won another game and this time they were driving up and down Newbury Street where I was eating dinner, honking their horns and waving their flags. It amused me that the same thing would happen all over the world. But what amused me more was that nobody had any idea what was going on, since Americans don't follow the Euro championship. Everyone in the outdoor section of the restaurant I was at seemed quite alarmed. I told my friends we should tell them all that Turkey just invaded Greece.

My whole family flew together from Zurich to New York on Monday, in preparation for my other brother’s wedding in Boston the next weekend. They headed up to our house in Connecticut to get ready and I stayed in New York to see my friends and work two days in my company’s New York office. I was a little nervous about this time spent in New York, because each time I went back to New York for a visit last year something disastrous happened. The cumulative effect was that I finished out last year absolutely loathing that city where I had previously lived for so many years, and I had even thought about just going straight to Boston and not even spending any time in New York. But actually it was a quite pleasant few days. I was able to see most of my friends, and made it through unscathed. There was even an hour or two when I was walking in the West Village and remembered what it was I had liked about the city. Don’t get me wrong, there still wasn’t even a small part of me that wanted to move back. But, perhaps it isn’t as awful as all that. It has some redeeming qualities.

On Thursday we drove up to Boston to prepare for the wedding. My sister-in-law grew up outside Boston on the South Shore, in a really nice little town right on the water. I went into the city on Friday and Saturday and stayed with my friend Marc in Cambridge. I lived in Boston for a year back in 1999, during my freshman year at college when I attended Emerson University, which is right on Boston Common. I had a great time there but the school wasn’t academically challenging enough, so I transferred to New York University after that, and hadn’t been back to Boston since 2000 believe it or not.

It’s changed significantly since I left. The Big Dig is complete so the major traffic problems that were plaguing the city when I lived there are for the most part resolved. Actually when I was there walking around it hit me just how little I got to know the city when I lived there. In fact I’d say the only part I’m really familiar with are the couple blocks around Boston Common. This is funny since with every city I’ve moved to since then (and there have been a lot), I’ve made an almost obsessive effort to get to know the city in and out before I go, studying the map and trying to walk my way around the entire place. I think it didn’t occur to me to do that in Boston coming as I did from suburban Connecticut. After all, who would look at a map in the ‘burbs? I suppose I just followed other people around, so very unlike me today!

The wedding went very well. It was beautiful weather and everything went off without a hitch, bride and groom remaining in very good spirits. It was pretty intense seeing my brother get married, especially since 25 is a relatively young age to get married where I come from (as opposed to the South where they marry at 18). This was the first time I’ve been in a wedding party, it was a lot of work! But good to keep occupied, otherwise you’re just sitting in that church forever doing nothing. I think a particularly poignant moment came in the ceremony during the vows. My brother’s new mother-in-law is deaf, and so both he and his wife Natalie used sign language to say their vows to each other. He seemed to get it right, although I would have no way of knowing if he screwed up! It was a very touching moment.

As if all these ceremonies weren’t emotional enough, the next day me and my dad dropped my youngest brother off at his dorm for college! Granted we were just dropping him off for orientation, which fortuitously happened to start two days after the wedding in Boston. He’s going to Suffolk University, which coincidentally is right next to Emerson College on Boston Common. In fact his dorm is right next to my freshman year dorm (pictured). For me and my dad, who will both be in Europe when he gets dropped off to start college for real in September, this was effectively the “college drop off” moment. I found myself getting a little sentimental, and then was amused because I remembered when my parents dropped me off for college in the next building over just nine years ago, and my mom was tearing up. At the time I thought, man what’s the big deal? Now I know!

So now I’m back in London, and quite exhausted. It’s good to be back.

1 comment:

Jane said...

Sounds fun! Sorry I missed you in NY!