Saturday, November 16, 2013

When people ask me where I live...

I'm going to show them this map.  Or make my hands into a diamond shape and tell them there's a cut out part.  I think I can be forgiven for saying "I'm from DC" when you look at such a map.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Personal Finance Friday

Hey everyone, happy Friday!

Recently I entered the new world of student loan debt, a place that I, nor anyone in their right mind, actually wants to be.  I borrowed 18k from the government, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.  I chose an in-state school and got in and out within four years, nothing too expensive.  Around the internet this week I've seen some ridiculous things.  First I saw an image on reddit that shows the ridiculous debt of the person the poster was marrying.  Almost 100k with some loans over 10% interest?  UGH, HOW AWFUL.  I'm sorry for showing you this.

THEN I found out that a person can be even MORE in debt.  Consider a four year private college and then four years of 70k per year medical school.  Jesus Christ.  Can you imagine such a thing?  Again, I am SO LUCKY that I got in and out of James Madison before they doubled the interest rates on student loans.  I just barely made it out alive.

So how am I handling my new "debt crisis?"  Well, I paid my first bill off okay.  I'm not earning much every month here being an Au Pair in Austria, but I don't spend much either.  I intend on paying off my loans as smartly as possible, "snowballing" (as the pros say) is my main goal.  That means paying off the smallest loans with the biggest interest rates as fast as possible.  I've got my eye on one of those loans right now, and it's going down in less than two years if I have anything to say about it.

In addition, I'm using this website called, reviewed here by one of my favorite websites, Lifehacker.  It doesn't really DO much, but it provides clear visuals to explain the reduction of my debt.  I had another option ready, Student Loan Hero, but that dumb thing costs $5 per month.  Who the hell do they think their market IS?  We're poor!

Not my loan

I hope you like it, if you're into that kind of thing.  I'm also looking at some other miscellaneous websites about personal finance...Here's a bunch 'o' links!

  • Credit Card Churning - People apply for a ton of credit cards and use all their perks and then cancel them right before the annual fee kicks in.  I don't recommend this for the lighthearted, I don't even think I could do it myself unless I had real grown-up money.
  • Wall Street Survivor - This is a game to help you learn how to invest and learn about finance... I really want to play it, but I think I'd need a free weekend to spare.  Seems cool, regardless.
  • Mr. Money Mustache - Ok I know nothing about this website, I just saw it linked on the personal finance subreddit and bookmarked it immediately.  Apparently it has sound advice and good podcasts.  We'll see!
  • The Motley Fool - I had weird deja vu when I followed the link to this site for the first time.  Oh right, the headquarters are located in my hometown!  How cool!  This is another learning website that has a good assured I'll be looking into this one as well. 

That's all I've got for you today, FINANCE LOVERS.  I hope this has has been educational or mildly entertaining!  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cultural Observations: Vienna

I've been living in Vienna for seven weeks.  I feel like this is a good time to point out some of my observations of the lovely Viennese culture.

1.  Ketchup ain't free
I don't know why this is so strange to me.  Every time I go to McDonald's (which has been like, twice, don't judge me), I forget that important fact when I get my meal.  This means pulling out my wallet again and looking like a dummy while holding up the line.  Aggravating stuff.

2.  Bewegung
Bewegung is German for "movement," and it's something the family I live with likes to do after a big meal.  I don't understand this one either.  We've just eaten a gigantic meal, the last thing I want to do is go outside and hike around in the fresh air.  However, I am coming around to the idea of this one.

3.  Jack Wolfskin = North Face
Jack Wolfskin is the Austrian equivalent of the American North Face jacket brand.  You see them EVERYWHERE.  Just about ever traveller on the metro has one and they come in just about every color.  It's pretty interesting.

4.  "Wurscht"
Wurst, the proper pronunciation of the word above, as you may know means "sausage."  However, the Viennese dialect has integrated this word into their daily conversation to mean "I don't care/It doesn't matter to me."  Do you want to have chicken or steak for dinner?  It's sausage to me.  I love using this phrase but it certainly took a few weeks to remember how to say it properly.

5.  Vienna is clean
So clean that I have to italicize the word.  Loic visited from Paris, a well known "dirty" city and was astounded by the cleanliness of the streets.  Seriously, in the metro and on the ground, there is no trash.  It's amazing.  Also, it doesn't smell like pee everywhere like some cities *coughparis*.

More observations will come as I notice them,
bis dann!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Around the Internet

If you know me in person, you know I like to read a LOT of articles online.  I am a news junkie.  I use feedly (after Google Reader bit the dust), an RSS service that collects the recent posts of all my favorite blogs into one page for convenient reading.  I follow over 100 blogs and news sources, anything from world politics reports to recipes, and if I don't get through ~500 blurbs a day, it starts to add up.  I was away for the weekend and my current to-read (well, to look at and decide if I want to read the whole article) is over 2.500.  Yeah.  And I hate marking something as read if I haven't read it... There could be something interesting in there that I could miss!

But I digress.  I'm introducing a (hopefully weekly) list of articles that tickle my fancy and I want to share with someone.  Let's just do this.  If you're really interested in what I read, look at my media fingerprint.  This comes from an extension I have added to Google Chrome, it analyses the articles I read and then sends me biweekly suggestions of articles they think I'll like.  I've only had one email from them, but I think it is awesome so far.  The graph in the following link is especially cool.  Yay, data!

An interesting profile of the beloved brand Sriracha- Quartz.  They don't spend any money on advertising, so how is this sauce so damn famous?!

This video absolutely killed me.  "I am worried about my grade" embodies the laziest students in college who come in to office hours on literally the last day to try to fix their failing grade.  Ridiculous.

Why Young Americans Should Work Overseas- I keep reading articles like this and I'm often impressed by the facts laid out; the reasons are truly compelling.  Honestly, this article exaggerates the dearth of opportunities in the US- it makes it seem like there are literally zero jobs out there for those with degrees in humanities, not true.

Ok, that's all I have right now.  Enjoy!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Lange Nacht der Museen and LOIC'S VISIT

As my friends and family know, I am in a long distance relationship with an amazing guy named Loic.  He lives in Paris, working as a programmer for a game company.  For all those wondering, we met online.  I am not ashamed of this at all, because he's the best person I've ever met and continues to surprise me.  I'm lucky to have met him.

We first started talking in late November of 2012 and have been dating since December.  We first met in person in May of this year, shortly after I graduated and right before the beginning of the Munich catastrophe.  If you followed the Munich story, you know that I stayed with him for a month in Paris while I tried to figure out my visa situation. Unfortunately I had to return home to the US in August, and worked here for a month before we got to see each other.  Finally, after two months, we were reunited for a long weekend in Vienna.

Something only my close friends know about me:  I'm a planner.  I like to imagine things in the future and organize events as best as I can so I can effectively daydream about them.  Lists are one of my favorite things.  The Lange Nacht der Museen is literally translated:  The Long Night of Museums, and occurs all across Austria annually.  This year coincided with Loic's visit, October 5th.  129 Museums were open from 6pm-1am Saturday night, and that's only Vienna.  I paid about 11 euros for the opportunity to go to almost every exhibit in Vienna for seven hours.  Luckily, to maximize efficiency, I made a list.

We attended:
  • Albertina:  To see Gottfried Helnwein's hyper-realistic portraits.  This stuff is fucking amazing.  Larger than Loic's Parsian apartment sized paintings- with every little hair individually painted in oil and acrylic on canvas.  See below for one of my favorites.  The picture here doesn't do it justice- you must see it in person.
(Just to give you an idea of the scale/realism of the damn thing)

  • Staatsbibliothek Oesterreich:  The State Library of Austria.  Heralded as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, these few rooms are truly breathtaking.  I took some pictures on my phone the previous time I was there, but again... you have to be there

  • Heeresgeschichtliches Museum:  Military History Museum.  A ton of people forget that Austria-Hungary was one of the strongest empires in world history for over 600 years.  More to the point, the assassination of one of the royal family members was the spark that ignited the first world war.  Really mindblowing if you remember this.  We looked at Franz Ferdinand's car and tasted a popular Austrian dish called Kaiserschmarrn:  basically shredded pancakes with stewed plums.

Honestly I wish we could have done more last night.  We finished up around 11:30 and I just could not go on.  We had to make a few pit stops here and there, for water, wurst, and espresso to keep us awake.  You know, the important stuff.  I would certainly love to experience this night again, it's super cheap for an unimaginable list of world class museums, some with fun extras like the Kaiserschmarrn.  We really should've hit up the schnapps, chocolate, or coffee museums, each of which provided free samples.  Oh well.  Next time.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Brice and Salzburg

I know.  I'm a terrible blogger.  I'll keep it up for a few weeks then completely lose interest under the guise of being "too busy."  Lots of things have happened in the past month, and here's a rundown.

Most importantly...I HAVE A NEPHEW.  My sister had Brice Aiden Stalvey on September 21st, 2013.  I know he's family and everything, but this kid is adorable.  Not all weird looking like I was when I was born.
Everything seems to be going well over there in the states, mother and baby are both home and my nephew is already a week old.  It's crazy how time flies like that.   I don't really have much else to say about it at this point because the news I'm getting from home is pretty sparse, but I'm taking that as a good sign.

While all this was going on, I was in Salzburg for the day (after traveling to Linz with the family) with a dying phone that had no minutes and no internet connection.  Yeah.  Smart of me.  Honestly though, there was nothing I could do about it.  In any case, Salzburg was lovely and I met with an old friend of mine, Matej, from my exchange trip in 2009.  We had a nice breakfast together in the city and discussed all that had changed in the past four years.  When he left, I had the opportunity to explore the city and accomplish pretty much any sightseeing I wanted.  Did you know the inner city of  Salzburg is small enough to cover on foot within a day?  me neither.   I remember it being much bigger.
I'm glad I live in Vienna.  But that's an entirely different post altogether
Matej and I

View from Mirabell Gardens
Anyway, that's all I've got for right now- obviously I've got much more to write about, but it will come in the following weeks.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Vienna Bound!

Hey everyone, it has been awhile, but I felt like I should update you all while I kill some time waiting for my flight!
That's right- I'm in the air again...for what seems like forever.

I'm at Ronald Reagan National Airport right now sitting in the American Airline's Admiral's Club.  Did you know you can buy a daylong pass for $50?  SO worth it for me once you see my schedule for the next day.  This means as many free (alcoholic drinks) as I want, snacks, WiFi, and I think I even saw a cheese plate go by a second ago!  WOOO.

So here's the plan.
DC to New York
New York to London
~7 hour layover~
London to Vienna

Then finally, once I'm in Vienna, I will meet with my new family and start my au pair adventure!  I have a lot of nervous feelings right now, but hopefully they will subside soon.

Bis dann!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Munich Part 4: The Incident, Second Half

Gotta write these quick!

One Tuesday I came home from my German class (sidenote: I adored my German class.  I'm pretty sure it's the only thing that kept me sane while I was in Munich) to five children instead of three.  Okay... that's cool... I can handle a playdate as long as the mother was around too.  Until she wasn't.  As I caught her running out the door with the twins to a birthday party, I was told to watch the three six-year olds closely, not to leave them alone.  I didn't even know their names, if they had eaten, or if they would be picked up while I was there alone, and by whom.  I asked feebly when she would be returning; she just got in the car and drove away.

The rainy afternoon started innocently enough: they didn't want to play with me, but I had to keep an eye on them, so they spent a lot of time hiding around the house together while I pretended not to see them.  This eventually evolved into a game of hide and seek with me involved (yay! inclusion!) and we eventually settled down into the living room.

I tried to organize them into playing games, the visiting children (also twins, boy and girl) were very sweet and obedient and tried everything I offered.  We colored, played board games, and made paper airplanes and origami.  My own ward was disinterested in anything we were doing, and wanted to go outside to play.  He had been a brat all day to me, and I told him that since it was raining, we would be staying indoors that afternoon.  He ignored me, got his rainboots on, and went straight outside.  It's hard to wrangle three six-year olds into one room, even harder to deal with one who was being disobedient in front of his friends.  I told the other two not to follow his lead, and that I would be calling his father for his actions.  They watched me solemnly and warned their friend to be good, that the au pair had the phone in hand.  He ignored them.

I called the father, a reasonable man that everyone else in the family feared (this was another interesting dynamic that I had observed and said a lot about them, but that is another story).  I apologized profusely, I didn't want him to ever think I couldn't control a six year old.  He told me to put the kid on the phone, I held it up to his ear and the child said nothing.  I took the phone back, apologizing again.  I felt like a pile of poop.  I couldn't do anything right, his children had no respect for me.  I went back inside, he followed.  That was the end of that.

A snack and a couple hours later, the only real resident of the house was still being a jerk.  To me, to his friends, I don't know what was wrong, but I tried to stay positive and kept wondering when the mother would come home.  Then it happened.  The event I have been leading up to this throughout this whole story.

I was looking at a book and I look up to see this six year old waving a drawn three inch pocket knife in my face.  This was a knife I had confiscated earlier from his bed while I made it, I had decided it was too dangerous for him, and I gave it to his mother.  How he got it back I don't know.  I can only assume she returned it to him.  I was sitting and this thing was at eye level, less than two feet from my face.  He was thrusting it at me just beyond reach, but enough to scare the absolute shit out of me.  I put my hand up slowly to defend myself, and he continued.  I told him to stop, that what he was doing was dangerous, and to give me the knife.  I was terrified.  I had seen this kid do six year old things- ride a bike clumsily, fall down, and have undeveloped hand-eye coordination.  Not to mention him intentionally injuring me before.  I don't know how I got up and got the knife from him, but it involved a quiet calmness instilled by my fear.  I took it away and walked out of the room.

I told him I was calling his mother.  He threatened to do it first.  He took the phone while I looked for the only phone number I had- the father's number.
He mimed calling his mother.
"Mom?  Bekka hit me."

I was done there. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Munich Part 3: The Incident Part I

And now...back to the highly anticipated story of...Munich.  This week- The Incident.
This particular part of the story has been very difficult to write and talk about.  I think you'll understand why.

The kids has already expressed their violent tendencies directly and indirectly to me by this point.  I will not detail them all here, but I will give an example to set the context.  The youngest, when I forbade him from climbing an eight foot ladder over the fence, had to be taken by the hand back to his mother.  Obviously pissed, he slapped and scratched my arm to the point where I could see blood.  When we reached his mother, who was conversing with the father of a sweet young girl who had come to play, she brushed me off and pretended not to notice her son's- I'll say it- evil tendencies.  This was obviously a common theme in the house.

Some days later, I was teaching the eight year old daughter piano, and the youngest insisted on hitting his sister and distracting us both.  I put my hand on him, I'll admit it, but not in a violent way in any shape or form.  I merely held him at arms length while the girl finished her song.  Not long after, the mother came upstairs and raged at me in German (so her children understood as well) that I had pushed her son.  She threatened to throw me out of the house if I ever laid hands on any of her children again.  I assured her that I would never do such a thing, it would never be allowed in my house either, and I was honestly frightened.  Maybe this is why the old au pair got thrown out?  Maybe she hit the kids?  Or maybe the youngest lied to his mother like he had just done about me? He knew he could manipulate her into doing whatever he wanted.  This was truly frightening.

After one week of working 47 hours (reminder- the legal limit is 30 per week), I was fed up.  I had talked to the mother before about the importance of keeping a contract, and she simply wasn't respecting it.  It would be different if I felt like a member of the family, if I loved the children, or was treated literally any better, but I wasn't.  I was doing more housework every day than being with the children, and I never did anything good enough.  Literally every day there would be a new criticism.  I decided that I needed to get out of there.  I just didn't know how yet.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


A slight deviation from our normal broadcasting, but I just read an EXTREMELY inspiring story about a young man who just finished walking 3,000 miles in less than 90 days with absolutely no money.  This guy relied on the kindness of strangers and his own willpower to achieve his goals across several states IN THE MIDDLE OF SUMMER.

Truly amazing, check it out.  America On Foot
Vote for his story here once per day
Reddit AMA here

Monday, August 5, 2013

Munich Part 2: Rumors

Note:  I wrote a middle part between the first post and this one that isn't quite as tantalizing.  Let me know if there is any interest in reading it and I'll put it up.

Well, by this time, I wasn't too happy with this Munich family.  The kids didn't listen to or respect me, the mother didn't help and often made me feel lazy despite working more than I was legally contracted to, and the father was literally not present most of the time.  I hated it there.  This wasn't normal homesickness, I wasn't pining to be back with my parents (sorry mom and dad!), or to be with my boyfriend.  I simply did not want to be in a place where I was treated like a maid when I was supposed to be a part of the family.  I held my head up, however, and wouldn't let it get to me.  I kept telling myself, "Only x more weeks. You can do this."

Then I started to hear some strange things about the family and their relationship with their children and previous Au Pairs...

First, I had a good au pair friend who took care of two boys of her own, six and eight, just like mine.  The eldest were best friends and had gone to a birthday party together before I had gotten to Germany.  My friend's eyes got wide when I told her who I was working for, and she very gently and diplomatically told me, "Ah.  I've noticed he's very bossy with the other children."  I laughed and affirmed it to be true, he took after his mother.

Second, I heard that another one of my good Spanish au pair friends' mother wouldn't talk to the mother of my household (S).  I knew they were both from Spain, and since it's nice to hang out with other ex-pats, I suggest to my Spanish friend that we get them together.  Strangely, I was met with "Don't mention my name...don't mention my host mother's name to S..."  I thought that was really weird, but didn't press it.

Later, I heard what happened.  I was told by one of my friends that the aforementioned eight year old I cared for had bullied our Spanish friend's ward so badly that he had to change schools.  This was scary stuff.  I had seen this young boy fighting with his siblings and hurting them, but I merely separated them and tried to keep him under control.  This kid had problems.  Evidently it couldn't have been solved civilly either- the mothers were feuding as well.  This caused some alarm, but I kept repeating my mantra.  I could do this.

In an unrelated story, I met a very nice girl on the tram late one Saturday night before I left.  She turned out to be the 18 year old neighbor of the family I was working for.  Our interaction went something like this:
"What family are you working for? I might know them!"
"The x family, do you know them?"
"Oh..." (long pause) "Yeah I know them, I live right next door!  I knew their last au pair, but I don't know if I'm supposed to tell you what happened to her."
(of course I had to know what happened to her!)"You have to tell me!"
"Well, one night we came home and she was crying in the driveway.  She was from Poland and they had thrown her out of the house.  I don't know why they did it, but she said they were so mean to her and not giving her enough to eat."

At this point, I was shocked, but she didn't know anything more to tell me.  I could only wait and try to figure things out myself, but I learned without a doubt what must have happened in the next few days, and why I had to leave when I did, with the police on my side.

Read Part 3 here

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Story of Munich: Part 1, The Beginning

So you may or may not be aware that I am back in the states for a month.  This is not really by choice, but rather the result of a stressful period of time in which I realized I had to come home due to visa complications.  My original plans would have allowed me to stay in Europe to March, travelling from Paris to Munich to Paris to Vienna.  Obviously this did not go as planned.

It has been a few months since the Munich Incident.  I have been avoiding discussing it with most friends and family lately, as it is an extremely long story and one that upsets me a lot.  However, I'm putting it down here at the suggestion of my mother, and in the hopes that it will provide some sort of closure for me.  Here is The Story of Munich, subtitled:  My horrible experience as an Au Pair for the worst family in the world.

I went to Munich to work for a family* with three children, the two eldest, a boy and a girl, were eight year old twins and the youngest son turned six while I was there.  I was all set to work for them for three months, before which I would visit my boyfriend in Paris and after which I would work in Vienna, Austria for six months.  Everything was organized online and I arrived four days after graduating college.

The family seemed nice online, and in person they seemed okay as well.  I was excited to practice my German and live in one of the most well known cities of Europe.  I had my own room and bathroom to myself, that I was supposed to upkeep.  My contract cited working 30 hours per week, a pay of 260 Euros per month, one day off per week, and three evenings.  (All of this information is available in the European Agreement on Au Pair Placement of 24 November 1969, if you care).  None of this was followed.

I had been there a week before I heard that the children had a break from school for two weeks.  I also heard an offhand remark that the whole family would be going to Italy without me.  No problem, I thought, just give me the dates and I can make arrangements to go back to Paris so I won't be alone in a foreign city for a week.  I hadn't met anyone yet and was excited to go see my boyfriend again.  Well, I didn't hear when the family was leaving until about two days before they did, meaning I had to make very last minute (read: expensive) arrangements to get to France.  Still, no problem, I was so excited!

Read part 2 here

*not sure if I will name the guilty party here yet, though they would deserve it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

In Paris!

So, probably the best thing to do at this point is to IGNORE COMPLETELY the previous few posts made on this blog.  I am not deleting them, but really they are more relevant to what was going on a year ago in my life.

This is the current state of affairs in Bekopia (since a year ago):
  • Graduated James Madison University with a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs and Political Science
  • Four days after graduation, I flew to Paris to meet my boyfriend (Loïc, we've been together for seven months)
  • Travelled to Munich to work as an Au Pair (this sucked, and warrants a seperate post altogether)
  •  Moving to Vienna in early August to start another Au Pair opportunity, fingers crossed that this won't completely suck

So what you should ultimately draw from this post is that I am CURRENTLY LIVING IN PARIS!!  Basically this is the young American girl's dream.  I have a wonderful French boyfriend and the only thing keeping us from complete bliss is the unbearable heat.  As I type this, my feet are immersed in a green basin full of water, in the hopes that it cools me down in this apartment without air conditioning.  Seriously, I don't know how Europeans deal with it.  We should be getting a fan this week, inshallah.

So right now, my goal for this blog is merely upkeep.  I want to keep posting, I really do.  Ideas for posts include observations about the French, German and Austrian cultures, and, as before, articles that I deem interesting.

Au Revoir,