Paige's Return to Deutschland!

Hallo Berlin! This blog will be a place for friends and family to get very occasional snip-its on Biggs' life in Germany.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Frequently Asked Questions

Recently I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about my European vacation – I mean grad school experience. The following FAQs should provide a bit of information about what I am up to. If you already know all this stuff then just skip to the bottom for some info about Amsterdam.

What are you studying?

I am doing a Masters of International Health (MSc). International Health is a new discipline that deals with factors that affect the health of all human populations - with a special focus on poverty-related health problems in low- and middle-income countries ( My degree will be from the Charité and Humboldt Universities in Berlin.

Why are you in Amsterdam if your university is in Berlin?

The Charité University is my home institution. In the end, I will spend about half of my class time there and the rest at other European partner institutions.

What is the structure of your program?

The program is divided into the following segments:

  1. Core Course – After the 4-month course in Berlin, I received a diploma in Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
  2. Optional Modules – This is what I am currently working on. I need to accumulate 25 credits, 10 of which need to be outside of Germany. As a point of reference, a two week class will give me about 3 credits. Thus far I have finished 6 credits in Berlin and 6 credits in Amsterdam (provided I pass the test on Friday). I will accumulate the other credits at partner institutions in Brussels, Berlin, London, and Bergen, Norway. If you would like to know where I am and when, you can check out my google calendar. (This requires opening a google calendar account and typing in my name.) I will also have my status posted on this blog and facebook.
  3. Thesis – I am doing my thesis in Hungary. I did most of the research before coming to Amsterdam. I will be heading back to Hungary on Saturday for month to write like a mad woman.
  4. Work Experience – In order to receive my degree I need a year of work experience in a middle or low income country. I have 3 months from Nicaragua, 4 months from Hungary, and thus I will need to work 5 months after finishing with course work. I am open to go anywhere in the world that needs me. Really anywhere. If any of you are friends with Bill and Melinda Gates, or any other influential people in global health, tell them there is a qualified applicant looking for a job starting in mid-March.
Would you recommend this program?

I am happy with my experience thus far. If all goes according to plan, I will have managed to get a masters degree in half the time and for half the price as it would be in the US. Oh, and I also get to live in some of the most incredible places in Europe and meet people from all over the world. Yeah, that part is pretty awesome. The quality of teaching varies greatly from lecturer to lecturer. Yet, I think in the end, any shortcomings in course material will be made up for by life experience.

This program works for me but I think that most people would have a hard time following it. There is almost no advising or help from the university. You have to do everything on your own: from researching classes on the internet, applying to each institution separately, transferring money to each university, arraigning travel, finding a place to sleep in each new city, etc. You also don’t have a stable place to live for a couple of months. That can be challenging. There are, however, other international graduate schools that are more structured. Just doing a google search will pull up a few.

When will you be done?

If all goes according to plan, I will finish with course work in mid-March. Then I have five months of work experience. That would put me somewhere in August.

When are you coming home?

Hard to say. That’s why all of you should come and visit me. Actually, that’s a bit of a Hollywood invite because I don’t really have a stable home for the next couple of months. But, I do have a week off from February 10th to the 18th. If you want to come travel here, that’s a good time. I will meet you anywhere that is either warm or has good skiing.

I have a ticket to Eugene on the 9th of April. I am not sure if I will use it or not, it just depends on my work opportunities. Yet, I plan on being back in the North West at some point in August for my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary. I will be home for at least a week.

How’s Amsterdam?

Amsterdam is still treating me well. The city is incredible; the architecture, the canals, the amount of old school bikes everywhere, the awesome art museums, and the high percentage of English speakers are just some of the many attractions. I have of course been studying the ugliest part of this society – prostitution. Thus, my view of Dutch people is perhaps not so rosy.

I think people are kind of lonely here. My assessment of the loneliness is based on the fact that prostitutes remark that sometimes clients come to them because these men just want someone to be nice to them. I don’t think people are mean to each other but it’s not super warm. For example, I sense that Amsterdamers are surprised to see me smiling when dancing, talking, and walking down the street. People smile here too but it’s just not super cozy.

My perceptions could also be a bit altered my weekend. I took the train to Osnabruck, Germany, to visit my friends Cora and Clemens. You might recall that Clemens was my roomie for the first month in Berlin. We spent the weekend eating spicey food, dancing, speaking Spanish and German, and catching up (with a guest appearance from our buddy Ulf). It was great. Maybe after feeling a bit of the Latin American love, anything seems a little colder.

So, that’s life around these here parts. This week I will be visiting some more museums, get a jump start on my thesis, and probably squeeze in some salsa dancing. Life is good.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

It’s not all warm fuzzies…

It’s funny how much life changes in just one year. Last Halloween I was sitting in my office at the Center for Food Safety in Washington DC, wearing a mad cow disease costume, and frantically putting together a grad school application in one night. Then one year later I am in Amsterdam at an Irish pub dressed as little red riding hood with grad school classmates. Wait a new country you ask?
Yup, I will be in Amsterdam, actually a little outside, for the next four weeks. I am taking a course on Sexuality and Health. I signed up for this class because of course the topic is interesting and the timing was also good. It’s nice to have a month where I focus on something different before heading back to Pecs to wrap up my thesis. I am writing a paper here about mapping of prostitution in this test city which is 50 km north of Amsterdam.
Prostitution is fascinating. I mention to anyone here what I am doing and I have a captive audience. Nevertheless, yesterday it really struck me what I am dealing with. Two other students and I are working with this organization called TAMPEP - Transnational AIDS/STD Prevention Amount Migrant Prostitutes in Europe Project. Last night Pui Sai, Inken, and I went to the redlight district of a nearby city with a TAMPEP representative. First we did interviews with a public health nurse and then with a brothel owner. The brothel owner was a very friendly man. He had two daughters and got in the family business of renting rooms to prostitutes. He runs it like a business and avoids the mafia.
After the interviews we visited a prostitute in her room to educate her about safe sex. This girl spoke some German so the TAMPEP representative could communicate to her how to put on a condom, dental dam, etc. There are more details that I won’t mention here. I can send you the paper if you want more information. Anyway, as we were about to leave I found out that the girl was from Hungary. Eighty percent of the prostitutes are immigrants and the majority of the girls come from central Europe because of the expansion of the European Union. These girls are trafficked around europe and sometimes don't even know which country they are in. The fact that this girl spoke some German means that she probably worked in Germany before coming to Holland.
After the interview I lost it. It wasn’t crying with sobs or the hiccups. It was quiet and subdued. I am not Hungarian and I don’t speak Hungarian. In fact, all I could say to the girl was thank you, good night, and good bye. Nevertheless, I have been living there the last two and a half months and I feel some kind of connection with the culture. We couldn’t really talk to this girl because she needed to get “back to work” which is probably a sign that her pimp is keeping tabs on her. We didn't ask her how old she was but I think it was safe to say that she was probably around my age or younger.
So, this is my life these days. When I am not learning about prostitution I am speaking Spanish with my roommates. They are really nice girls. Two are from Spain and one is from Columbia. I also am eating a ton a vegetables. In fact, the last time my eyes watered was tears of joy after checking out the produce isle in a Dutch supermarket.

The following is my contact info until the 25th of November. I would imagine that it takes about the same time to get mail here as it does to Germany – about one week from the US.

Ms. Paige Beckley
Fideliolaan 34
1183 PM Amstelveen
Skype: paigecbeckley
Cell: 011 31 (06) 152 440 52

From the 26th of November until mid December I will be back in Hungary:

Farkas Lili
Pécs 7632
Kerényi Károly u. 2/b
Cell: 011 36 20 200 7837