Germany Thus Far: One Year

One year is a long time to be abroad; however, it does not feel like it has been so long. Thinking back over this past year, I’ve done a lot. I’ve climbed mountains, literally and figuratively, since I first arrived.

First Alps

Let’s break down some of this year’s events:

  • I navigated German bureaucracy (eek!) and received my residence permit.
  • I traveled to Ulm, Kempten, and around other parts of southern Germany.
  • I explored Prague, Czech Republic and southern France.
  • I saw the Alps for the first time. Then I climbed them. Oh, how I loved that.
  • I continually got to know my new home city of Konstanz. I have to admit it’s pretty cute for a German college town.
  • I celebrated holidays with traditions that baffled me. (See Christmas…).
  • I went sledding “for real.” Yes, there is a proper way to do it.
  • I attended the international wedding of two amazing friends I met in Belfast. *Insert warm fuzzies here.*
  • I started learning German and have made some considerable progress for someone who did not speak it upon arrival. Although, I have to say that my Denglish is much better.
  • I have become fairly used to life in Germany. That is, I’m not as awkward about Bretzeln, the Autobahn, interacting with Germans, or any of that other typical German stuff. Note that I said “not as awkward.”
  • Last but not least, I survived my first year of graduate school in Germany. Hurrah!

First Hike View

Somewhere in between residence permit paperwork and looking at the Alps across the Bodensee, I finally started to integrate. Going to the grocery store isn’t scary now. I watch some shows on ZDF alongside Netflix. I even got used addicted to the sparkling water that the Germans love so much. Seriously you guys, I cannot get enough of it.

I realize that as time goes on, most people I interact with are German, as opposed to my previous study abroad experiences where I mostly interacted with other international students. At the same time, I talk less and less to most friends in the States. To be honest, I’m okay with that.

P1640777

You see, moving to Germany and making it so far was not just a transition from the States to Germany. It was a transition in lifestyles and goals. Therefore, it is natural that some friendships fade and others blossom. I never felt that American, and I especially felt increasingly disconnected after my two previous experiences abroad. I feel really disconnected from most American now, geographically and ideologically.

Don’t understand? I am from Missouri, a red state, yet I am extremely far-left. I’d say I’m further left than most Americans on most, but not all, issues. So not only am I half-way around the world, but I also find it hard to agree with my fellow citizens on policy. Most of these ideas have been shaped by what I have experienced during my travels to several countries, in addition to my studies. I think I speak for many millennial expats when I say that we simply don’t know why the US doesn’t learn from other countries. Still, I digress…

As time goes on, I wonder how I got certain ideas into my head. For instance, my career goals are entirely different now. I thought that I wanted to work for an organization like the World Bank or International Monetary Fund. I still support a lot of their development initiatives, but I know that working in that type of environment would leave me incredibly unhappy. The sticky bit is that I am still trying to figure out what exactly I will do after I get my degree, but that’s okay. One step at a time.

Finally at the Astronomical Clock!

The funny thing is that since I have been here, my time horizon has shortened dramatically. I focus on one semester at a time, or the duration of one residence permit at most. There is no way to tell how long I will be here, although I hope it will be for much longer than my current residence permit.

Since I am not worrying about time so much, it has been easier to relax. I think a lot of stress in my undergrad career came from thinking about “life after college.” That is such a stressful way to think about a college career. Now my stress comes from “life through these end-of-semester exams.”

Cows in the Mountains

As I’ve stated several times before, this is my third study abroad experience. It’s also the longest time I have ever been away from Missouri and my family. Going home eventually will be nice, but it will only be for a visit. (Sorry, guys!)

I was hooked on travel before I came, and now one might say that I am hooked on living abroad. Here’s to my first year in Germany and many more years of living abroad.

Kosntanz Seenachsfest 2016

Prost and cheers!

Germany Thus Far: 11 Months

My eleventh month in Germany has come and gone… while I was in France. Oops! While I’ll get to France later, I still wanted to backtrack and write a little bit about August in Germany.

Studies

I finished up my exams in July, and August was the first month of the semester break. I spent a lot more time playing than reading, and I will just leave my study update at that.

German

I thought my German was getting better. Then, I went to Switzerland and understood absolutely nothing (though, that is more because of the Swiss accent than it is because of my German). The Germans still tell me that my German is getting much better. I suppose that is to be determined at the end of the break after several months without a German class…

Travel

Here is the real substance of this blog post! August was a whirlwind of a month in terms of getting out and about. I started August by heading to Switzerland to see an international couple, a Swiss and an American who met while we were all studying abroad in Northern Ireland, get married. I was so happy to have been able to share that day with two very special friends. I hope that I get to see them in Edinburgh, their new home, in the future.

The next big event was the Konstanz Seenachtsfest (night festival at the lake). The city center was closed to traffic and flooded with people. A village of food and beverage stands had popped up by the lake. People merrily drank their beer while listening to music and waiting for the fireworks. Finally, they started. I was really impressed by the fireworks over the water and the accompanying music that was perfectly aligned with the bursts of light.

Kosntanz Seenachsfest 2016

When the Konstanz fireworks ended, another round of fireworks started on the Swiss side. They weren’t as good. After the Swiss fireworks ended, people started to get up to join the party or grab another beer. Suddenly, the Konstanz side shot off some more fireworks and dramatically triumphant music burst from the speakers. I think they made it clear who won that showdown.

About a week later, I grabbed my hiking boots and went to the mountains. It was a bit warm, but at least it was cloudy. A small mountain by Immenstadt was selected for the day. It did not take long before I found myself surrounded by cows. I have seen cow bells at Flohmärkte (flea markets), but this was the first time I saw a lot of cows wearing them. For the entire hike I could hear the sounds of cow bells, as they were in fields all the way up the mountain.

Cows in the Mountains

When we were about ready to head back down the mountain, we saw a sign for a Käserei (cheese maker). With all the cows, we figured why not get a bit of Bergkäse (mountain cheese). I knew that they made the cheese in the form of a cheese wheel. I was surprised to see the size of the giant boards on which cheesemakers set the cheese wheels.

Finally, as I stated above, I closed out the month with a trip to France to visit some friends (also who I met while in Northern Ireland), which I will write more about all in good time. We spent about half of the time on the countryside of southern France. On the first day we visited Avignon. Near the end of the trip, we spent two days each in Marseille and Lyon.

Lynnae in Avignon

So this is how I spent my eleventh month in Europe. Not too shabby.

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: 10 Months

It has officially happened: I have entered into double-digits. Ten months have gone by with me living in Europe. A German recently asked me if I had gone back to the States at all. I told her no. Then, she asked if I missed the States. Not particularly. Finally, she said I must like it in Germany then. Of course!

Studies

I guess you could say that I am now technically half-way to my Master’s degree. I still have a few term papers to finish, but lectures for the summer semester have ended.

This semester has gone better than the first, but still not as well compared to what I used to be able to crank out with a lot less effort at my American undergraduate university.

Although it is now the semester holiday, I have some work to do. I have two jobs at the university. One of the jobs is working for one of my professors as I have previously mentioned. The other is a translation job (to English!) for one of the departments on campus. I hope it goes well, although I’m sure it will be slow at first.

German

With the end of my second semester and ten months in Germany comes the achievement of completing the A2/2 level course! To recap, I had tried to self-study a bit before my arrival and managed to get into an A1/2 course in the first semester. I kept up with the class in addition to my studies and was able to jump up to the A2/2 course for the second semester. Now I can enroll in a B1 level course!

For the people who don’t understand these letters and numbers, I’m referring to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. A is the novice level, B is the intermediate level, and C is the advanced level. The ratings are divided with 1 being the lower rank of a level and 2 being higher. The university I attend further divides the A range so that A1/1 is the most basic course and A2/2 is the last A course.

Travel

I didn’t really get out much since the semester was winding down. However, I had an American friend in Konstanz who I showed around. We did a bit of exploring in the forest nearby and walked along the lake, but nothing over the top.

Konstanz from the Forest

Then, just this past weekend, I left town to head north. I spent the weekend enjoying an (Old Town Festival) and miniature Seenachtsfest (loosely translates to Night on the Lake Festival).

The Altstadtfest had some lovely food. There was all of the typical German foods, many of which I cannot eat. However, I was able to find some pork-free Dinnete. There was also something strange and not typical German that I can only describe as turkey pieces on a stick with Laugen (bread) wrapped along the length, then with either sweet and sour sauce or Sriracha sauce. I totally went with Sriracha. I also indulged in some Indian food, always a favorite of mine. Finally, I ate the best falafel I’ve ever had, made by some Syrian refugees serving up their favorite foods.

To finish the weekend off, we had Seenachtsfest at the small lake in this town. Everyone lined up on the shores to watch the fireworks. The music was … interesting. It began with Frozen‘s Let It Go (a German version might I add), moving on to a song from Tarzan, and finishing with the theme music from Pirates of the Caribbean. Quite a mashup, but I guess it was a family event after all.

There we have it. Ten months of not dying while abroad, and even managing to have some fun while working towards another degree. I hope everyone who has already been on summer break for a few months is enjoying it as much as I finally am.

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: Nine Months

June has been quite strange here in southern Germany. Summer was supposed to come, but all we got was rain. Some places got flooding, but there was nothing serious in Konstanz at least. However, the level of the Bodensee (Lake of Constance) raised quite a bit, which made for some interesting walks by the lake.

Flooding at Bodensee
If you look at the water, you can see the banks of where this canal in Konstanz usually runs.

Studies

The semester is winding down, and I have exams next month. I was asked recently if I am worried. I replied, “It’s Germany. Of course I’m worried.” Exams here are not at all what I’m used to in the States. There’s plenty of work to do for sure…

Alongside studies, I took a campus job and left my off-campus job. I’m excited to start this new one, as I’ll be serving as Managing Editor for European Union Politics, which, if you don’t know, is a major academic journal. Since the hours are not quite enough, I applied for a few other jobs at the uni. Hopefully I get a positive response soon!

German

German is still as frustrating as ever. On the other hand, I’m apparently becoming a little more German in a cultural sense. Recently, I found myself surrounded by German engineers. As I ate some pretzels, I noticed that almost everyone was drinking beer. Of course, to top it off, we were all watching the Germany vs. Poland game in the Euro 2016 football championships (soccer, not the American football). It was an incredibly “German” situation.

The past several weeks I have found myself watching some of the Euro 2016 matches (congratulations to Iceland on their Earth-shattering victory tonight!), which is quite odd. I have never watched football, not even during the World Cup. Am I turning European? Maybe. The symptoms continue, as one of my German friends remarked that my complaining is somewhat German in nature. Another friend told me that my irritation at people not following the proper protocol in the grocery store is also more of a German trait. Add in the fact that I was once told I can sometimes be more harsh and serious than a German… Maybe I am turning a little bit German! (Still don’t like beer, though…)

Travel

This month I didn’t need to go anywhere, as I’ve been working on some essays and a seminar project for which I give a presentation at the end of this week. Luckily for me, there was a huge event in Konstanz to attend this month.

The Flohmarkt (flea market) that only happens once a year here in the city center started up for about 24 hours. I went on a Saturday evening and started in the city center, moving south, across the border into Kreuzlingen, Switzerland. On Sunday, I continued exploring the market on both sides of the Rhine.

There was so much to see and good deals to be had. I managed to get a few tops, all for less than €3 each. On Sunday, I had the luck to spot a bike and bought it for about €25. So, now I have my very own bike. It needs a bit of work, including new tires, but I’m quite happy with the price. To get a nice bike in Konstanz that doesn’t need any work, one will pay in excess of €100, though I’ve seen nice mountain bikes and what not go for quite a bit more.

That’s June then. Nothing over the top, but enough to blog about. I guess it’s a good thing because I have a busy month of exam-prep and exams coming up, followed by a visit from an American friend and a wedding soon after at the beginning of August (in which an American is the groom)! All the Americans coming!

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: Eight Months

May marks my eighth month here in Germany. In Virginia, I would be enjoying lovely weather and good times in downtown Staunton. Back in Missouri, I would be enjoying the relaxing roll of thunder every few days. Alas, Germany doesn’t seem to have many thunderstorms, or maybe they just come later. Aside from wishing for storms, it turned out to be a pretty good month.

Studies

Lectures in May were interrupted by a plethora of public holidays. In fact, there have been four holidays this past month! Since I know little about Catholicism, I cannot tell you the meanings of all these days. Still, I was happy to enjoy some longer weekends.

Bodensee May Sailboats
The lake, as enjoyed on one of several May holidays.

This month I also only had one presentation for my block seminar. I’ve decided that block seminars are not so useful. I don’t feel like I learn very much compared to a good lecture. On the other hand, a block seminar is still better than a lecture with a professor who doesn’t really teach you anything. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.

To top the month at the uni off, I had an Econometrics midterm. In the interest of not jinxing the results, I have decided to refrain from speculating on how it went. I will have to wait for the results to really know I guess. I just don’t understand how these professors make decisions about how to grade your answers…

German

I feel like my German class this semester is not moving at the same pace as last semester. I think I’m getting better, but speaking fluidly is still really difficult. Vocabulary is my biggest challenge right now. If I hear a word I’ve learned, I am much more likely to know it than if I have to think of it myself to use in a sentence.

Travel

It was a YUUUGE month in travel for me. Sorry, I couldn’t resist using a Bernie “YUUUGE.” Anyway, it was huge because I finally got to go to Prague, Czech Republic. This city was actually the first city in Europe that I ever developed an interest in. When I was younger, I shared an opinion common with some of the locals in Missouri. I thought travel was just something you did for vacation, international travel was only for the rich people, and these faraway places were too different for me to be able to get along.

To make it even worse, I just did not want to go abroad, especially after hearing about how Europe is full of snooty French people, Nazis, and Brits that sit around drinking tea all day and plotting colonialism. That being said, Europe was the place I had the best perception of… You don’t want to know what ideas I was taught in school about Asia, Africa, or Latin America. Sorry Australia, but everyone seems to forget you. Thankfully, the European stereotypes have been (mostly) false.

Anyway, I became interested in Prague when I was 16. Now, at the age of 23, I finally made it there. Before you say, “That’s not such a long time to wait,” consider that 7 years is 30% of my life. Posts (because a single post is not enough space to talk about this amazing city) to follow.

Prague Clocktower

Also while in Prague, I got to meet up with some MBC students who were there for May Term. Then, the following weekend I watched them graduate via live stream, as the final graduating class of Mary Baldwin College. Next year, it will be Mary Baldwin University. It’s weird to think about the name change, but I guess it will be quite a while before I make it back to Staunton and have to confront the new name firsthand.

Cheers!