Thursday, 26 August 2010

Foto Friday....Köln Balloon Festival

Köln balloon festival at the RhineEnergieStadion. It was spectacular.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

There's a Better Way: Saving on Food as a University Student

The following is a guest post from Jena Ellis.


While this may not be particularly true of university students in Europe, the stereotype of the American collegiate scholar is one who drinks cheap beer--more like water--and eats Ramen noodles, perhaps the cheapest microwaveable meal available. There is also the legend of the "Freshman Fifteen", which constitutes the alleged fifteen pounds a first-year student is supposed to gain as she navigates the world for the first time without mummy and daddy.

As someone who graduated from university not too long ago, I can attest to the fact that these stereotypes are by and large true. I myself ballooned a little over fifteen pounds, and my friends did the same if not more. Of course, a lot of these weight gain travails can be associated with drinking heavily for the first time, or even the stress induced by having to set your own study schedule without the structure imposed at home.

But there's one culprit to university student weight gain on which I'm going to focus--and that's cheap food. We all, of course want to save money. And saving money is a prime mode of activity for college students. Whatever is cheapest, whether its food, alcohol, textbooks, or clothing, we'll go for that first. And this is a great thing. Unfortunately, in the case of food especially, cheap food tends to be of low quality and low flavor.

Take Ramen Noodles for example. Can't get any cheaper than that. But the problem with Ramen is that its taste is very one-dimensional. What's more, it's really quite terrible for you. While Cheap as Chips has suggested to get off your lazy butt and learn to cook (wise advice, I may add), sometimes, for whatever reason, working on those culinary skills is inconvenient as a student. So what then?

My advice--what really turned things around for me during those college years of no money and junk food--is being a little bit smarter and more selective at the grocery store. For one, go to the smallest grocery store you can find, because the more options you have at a Mega Store type of environment, the more likely it is that you'll buy things you don't need.

Another thing to avoid is big brand name college staples. I'd often resort to Ramen Noodles, frozen pizza, Mac 'n Cheese, and other commonly known frozen or nonperishable food items simply because that's what I heard university students eat. If you do a little more searching, you can find things that are just as cheap but are a whole lot healthier for you. Most importantly of all, they have flavor.

Flavor is a huge component of consuming food that satisfies you. If you eat flavorless food, you'll want to eat more of it. And the more you eat the more weight you'll gain. One place I looked is in the ethnic food aisles. Japanese, Indian, you name it, tends to have more flavor than your standard, quick prep fare.

In the end, it can't be emphasized enough--check the labels for nutrition content, and check the prices. You'll be surprised by what flavorful bargains you can find if you just do some searching. 

This guest post is contributed by Jena Ellis, who writes on the topics of Online Certificate Courses.  She welcomes your questions and comments at her email:

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

When will I be fluent in German?

I have had the two opportunities to change to language context that my brain is living in. The first time was when my parents shifted the family from Singapore to Australia. From a language perspective, I went from a multi language location to a singular language location, a place where the primary language is Mandarin to a place where the primary language is English.

In recent time, I relocated with my wife and our two kids from Australia to Germany. Both locations are dominated by a single language, however as you can appreciate, the language are quite different. I guess that I am little bit lucky as the German and English have the same heritage.

Both experiences are quite similar, except I was only about 10 years old when I shifted to Australia. Now that I have just pass 40, I am find that the relocation to Germany to be a bit more difficult. As a child, I was able to absorb the new language a lot faster and be able to use the new found langauge faster. I also believe that as a child, I did not have the pressure to acquire the new language and to use it. The pressures of getting it right is significant greater now that I am an adult.

I tried to listen to news on German Radio and found that I am constantly translating the small snippets of words that I recognised into England so that I can get a gist of what the news story was about. This is increasing frustrating and I was never fast enough. Only when I can listen and not understand it without initially performing a translation will I be truly fluent.

I would love to hear your stories or experiences on living in a new country where the primary language is not native to you.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Getting access to cash while travelling

It is the middle of the summer holiday travelling season in Europe. The freeways are close to capacity as everyone gets on to road to their holiday destination.

I have just returned from England on a summer holiday. It was a great trip, and the family really loved it. It all went smoothly except for one thing, I miscalculated our access to cash. There were a couple of causes for these, I forgot to bring or remember the PIN for our international ATM cards (very seldom used at home) and did not withdraw enough cash before departing. When we discovered this, the family was not very happy.

We tried to get cash from a Bureau de Change in London via my credit card, but I didn't have enough identification. I usually would provide my German driver's license as my identification as I don't possess an ID card. The Bureau de Change did not accept this as it does not have expiry date on it. My only other alternative form of identification is my passport, which I did not bring along (who would be stupid enough to take their passport with them on a visiting trip into London! It could easily be stolen or lost.) 

Furthermore, the Bureau de Change informed that they would a whopping 12% surcharge for using my credit card! At the time, I was getting a bit frustrated and would have taken the hit on the high surcharge. Not being able to do much, we only visited places in London or purchased items that would accept credit card. Luckily, shops and tourist attractions are more likely to accept credit card than in Germany.

The next day when we visited Southend, I visited a travel agent with a Bureau de Change. I also made sure that I had my passport with me. When I ask them if I could purchase some British pounds, they said no. They said that there was a law against directly purchasing cash with credit card in England. I wasn't an expert so I accepted their decision. However, we came across the idea that I purchase some traveller's cheques in British pounds and then immediately cash them in at the same spot. It was a sensational idea as it allowed access to cash. After the lovely lady at the Bureau de Change check my identification and the necessary transaction, I walked out of the travel agent with some British pounds in my hands. The family was happy and we went to the beach for some lovely fish and chips.

Furthermore, the overheads for the traveller's cheques were quite low. It was a lot lower than the 12% surcharge. The travellers cheque cost 3% per 100 pounds to issue and the same amount to cash them.

I have learned some lessons from this trip. Always make sure that I have enough cash in the domination of the country I am visiting, before I depart. At least, make sure that I understand the methods for access to cash.