Germany Thus Far: 5 Years

As the sun sets on the day that I write this, it has been a full five years since my flight touched down. It was my first time in continental Europe, in Germany, in the land that I planned to spend the following two years studying without any trips back to the States.

In the past five years I have held multiple positions as a student worker while completing my coursework, completed my Master’s degree, held three different positions at two companies, and achieved permanent residency (plus a German driver’s license, for what it’s worth). I’ve learned quite a bit about myself, reckoned with some of my past, and recognized that there is still so much more to release as I pave my own path forward.

Alongside my own seasons, the world around me changed just as quickly, if not more starkly by comparison. It feels like a distant memory, but the last summer I spent in the US was marked by the laughable Trump campaign for US president, the heart-wrenching refugee crisis which is still not properly resolved in the EU, and numerous wars and attacks on democracy around the world. I felt, at the time, that we were living in a dark period of modern history. Today I would laugh if the thought of how much worse things have become did not make me despair.

Five is an arbitrary number, but it is a way by which I can mark the passage of time and the progress that I have made in my own life. I rejoice at the educational and professional successes I have had in the past five years, while also mourning the loss of time with my grandparents in their twilight years as well as missing out on important events in the lives of family and friends. Last year I imagined how much more I would achieve in 2020 and how joyous this arbitrary marker would be, but as the past months went by, well, things didn’t exactly go that way.

This year my grandfather passed, a pandemic put the world into lockdown, and the pandemic caused most of this year to be spent in a home-office set-up. Even my escape of traveling was thrown out the window as vacation plans were cancelled, and new ones were made in a pandemic-friendly manner before needing to be revised several times. It’s hard to say that this year was particularly successful or exciting, but I guess it was a nice dream to have had.

In any case, here are some take-aways, arbitrarily presented in groups of five for your reading pleasure.

Frauenkirche in Dresden
Frauenkirche in Dresden, with the statue of Martin Luther out front.

Five new-to-me places in Germany I’ve been in the past year that I can recommend

  1. Heidelberg: Very cool city. Went to the weirdest bar, but had the best time.
  2. Steineberg: It’s a mountain. Walked through a lot of cow pies to get there.
  3. Wolfratshausen: Surprisingly nice old town. Went by bike from Munich as part of a longer tour. Maybe will go by car next time.
  4. Bad Tölz: Stunning historical city center. Was also part of the bike tour. Definitely going by car next time.
  5. Dresden: Surprisingly nice city, despite everything the Munich people say about the East. I can honestly say in a non-sarcastic way that I really liked it.

Five things about living in Germany that I still can’t let go

  1. Getting a driver’s license is so complicated. Just converting my US license to a German one was already 20 times more of a pain than getting a driver’s license in the first place in the US, and I apparently had it way easier than someone getting a new license from scratch.
  2. Separating trash: It’s such a complicated system. I think it’s already been beaten to death by other expats on the internet, so I’ll let you Google this mess yourself if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
  3. Rundfunkbeitrag: Every three months every household has to pay this fee for publicly-financed radio and TV. At first I was annoyed, because I didn’t listen to German radio or watch German television, so why the hell should I pay for it? Now I am wondering, why do Germans have this low-cost on-demand version of German publicly-financed wannabe Netflix, but Americans get charged exorbitant rates for commercial-riddled cable TV? I’m both annoyed and in awe now.
  4. Everywhere you go, the birthday song is sung in the native language – except in Germany. They sing “Happy Birthday” in English. Why guys, just why?
  5. The ungarisch (“Hungarian”) potato chips one can purchase at the grocery store are just so good. I guess I will never outgrow some junk food obsessions as an American, but these potato chips are amazing. Hungarians might say it’s not Hungarian-flavored, but whatever it is, I like them.

Five ways I’ve changed since coming to Germany

  1. I don’t drink soda much at all anymore. And I eat healthier. And I am healthier. Maybe it’s just a side effect?
  2. I’m quieter. Operating in an environment where the language isn’t one you speak confidently seems to have a dampening effect on your enthusiasm to be social, or at least it does for me.
  3. I cross the street correctly now. I never really lived in a city before, but now that I’m here I’ve learned the German way of always crossing at a cross-walk and waiting for the light to change. And if you break the rules I have to glare at you because you’re setting a bad example for children. Very German of me to be so judgemental, isn’t it?
  4. I don’t overwork myself. American culture gives us the idea that we have to be available for work 24/7. I certainly tried to start simulating that at university in the States already. Now, I just say that I work my 40 hours a week as long as there’s no deadline that required overtime (which is rare). I can highly recommend not checking email outside of work hours as a way to improve your sanity.
  5. I talk funny. For real. Germans have told me that while I have an American accent, I don’t exactly sound like other Americans. Meanwhile, people from Missouri tell me that I “sound funny.” It seems that my accent has washed out over time, and my grammar is sometimes influenced by German grammar (which I suck at, but some of it has rubbed off on me anyway).
A tunnel in the trees

Five things I’ve learned about myself

  1. I’m surprisingly totally fine with this whole not-seeing-many-people thing. I thought I would go nuts, but I’ve settled into my routine at home. As long as I get to go outside at least once a day, I’m quite happy.
  2. My body can do some things. This past year I completed a 30-day yoga challenge, gave myself a month-long running challenge (which I failed but still got further than I thought I would), gave myself a month-long swimming challenge (which I rocked despite not liking water), and cycled a good chunk of the Isarradweg on a four-day cycling tour. I never thought I was particularly athletic, but wow.
  3. I suppose I can file this one under “relearning,” but I have discovered the joy of reading again. I used to read quite a lot before university, but I had forgotten my capacity for sitting down and just reading for hours and hours. Let’s see how much I can manage to read in 2020 with all this newfound time at home.
  4. At some point during university you think, “Yep, I was pretty stupid in high school.” I thought maybe it was just a thing that happens once you transition into the so-called “real world,” but no matter how old I get I realize that I still have so much more to learn. Future me will likely think current me is dumb, too.
  5. That perfect dream job most likely isn’t something you will end up doing. If you asked me during university what I thought I would do for work, I would have never guessed product management. Over the past few years, I realized that people don’t work those dream jobs. People just find a job that you have the skills for and for which someone will pay you. Cynical maybe, but I admit that I feel lied to by the American system.

Five hopes for the coming years

  1. I really hope I can attend the graduation ceremonies of both my little sisters, as they’ll be finishing their Bachelor degrees in the next few years. Good thing they weren’t graduating during this pandemic year, or I would have certainly missed it.
  2. I’ve been wanting to go to the Faroe Islands almost as long as I’ve been in Germany. Every year I think it will happen, but it doesn’t. I just hope that when the pandemic is over and it’s responsible to do so, I’ll get the opportunity to finally go and lose myself in the landscape to my heart’s content.
  3. I’d be fooling myself if I didn’t say I’m looking forward to finding a bigger flat some day. If anything, I need more space for all my plants. Can anyone else relate? Proper bike storage would also be appreciated.
  4. Paying off my student loans: I think I can do this in the next 2-3 years if I continue to manage my finances strictly. This is maybe something that people from almost any other country can’t understand, but anyone who has attended a US university without a significant amount of privilege knows how much stress this can put on you and how many things you pass up just to be able to make these expensive payments.
  5. Lastly, I hope that I finally get enough of a fire in me to push through and get a grip on German. It’s something that I didn’t focus on so much since I started working, but I know I need to.

I suppose that’s enough from me.

Cheers, to five years!

Germany Thus Far: 3 Years, Can It Be True?

It was shortly before my three-year anniversary of living in Germany when I realized it was coming up. It doesn’t seem like I’ve been here that long, but the calendar says that it is true!

So in the past year, what are the most significant things I’ve done?

1. Got a Job in Munich

Since I handed in my Master’s thesis in early September last year, I also had to get a job. I started applying in July of last year and was very lucky with timing, as I then started working in October.

The challenges of transitioning from academic life to work life are enough to begin with. Add in that I somehow did it in another country, succeeded in changing over my residence permit, and moved to the city (I’m not a city gal), well… That’s pretty impressive for me personally.

Do I love working more than I loved studying and doing research? Nope. But hey, I guess that’s part of your first few years working; you learn what you like and what you don’t.

2.Visited the Family

It was September 2015 when I moved to Germany, and throughout my entire Master’s program I could not afford to make the trip back home. Therefore, going home last December was the first time in over two years that I saw my family in person. It was also the first time in two years that I used US dollars, that everyone I spoke with had a Midwestern accent, and that I was surrounded by American flags everywhere I went. Yes, I suffered from reverse-culture shock.

LOZ

It was a nice little adventure to go back home, although it was the dead of winter. At least my Grandma can’t be upset that I always miss the holidays since I finally made it for Christmas!

3. Distortion in Copenhagen

After several years of A telling me about Copenhagen and how great it is, I finally went. The first few days were filled with bike rides around the city to do all the touristy things. The second half of the week was all about the electronic music festival.

While it’s true that Copenhagen is quite expensive, the city has a great vibe, amazing architecture, and delicious food. I even had my first bagel in several years (my life without bagels is very sad, indeed). Copenhagen is pretty spectacular, one of the few cities in which I can see myself living happily, albeit probably broke.

4. Another Trip to the US

So the trip that I was not planning to make was to head back home in the middle of summer. Living away from home when someone in your family is in poor health is pretty tough. I eventually got to the point where it didn’t make sense to keep stressing in Germany when I have a regular paycheck that can get me over the ocean to check in with my family in person.

Although it’s not what I planned, I now remember how flaming hot and humid Missouri gets in the summer, and why Missourians actually need air conditioning. A more pleasant part of the weather was walking barefoot through a summer storm to pick up my aunt’s car.

Family’s all okay now, too, in case you’re wondering.

5. Isle of Skye

The first trips I made to Scotland were back in 2014, and I documented them on the blog. (Read about them here and here.) Those two trips led me to falling as much in love with Scotland as I already was in with Ireland. One thing that A and I have wanted to do for several years now is to make it to the Isle of Skye. This year was the year to do it.

We rented a car and attempted Ben Nevis before going on to the Isle of Skye. That trip was an absolute dream, and the cool weather was dearly cherished after a brutally hot summer in Munich. I’ll eventually write about it here, but for now, I’ll just say that I can’t wait to go back to Scotland again.

Learnings

So those are the big things, but my international adventures are not the entire takeaway. Here’s a short list of some things I learned this year.

  1. Skiing is not for me. Tried that in Austria on a company ski trip, and the conclusion is that I will just skip straight to sledding and hot cocoa.
  2. I need to put the plant down, and walk away. I now have… seven plants? I think it’s seven, maybe there are more… Having a green thumb doesn’t go away just because one moves abroad!
  3. My German has gotten better. In fact, a few weeks ago I made a trip to the foreigners’ office and spoke in German during the entire appointment with the Munich bureaucrats.
  4. I need to plan a lot of hiking trips. Since I didn’t painstakingly plan out any options, I didn’t end up going on any. I tried to be a bit more relaxed, but it seems that being a planning freak does lead to more adventures into nature.
  5. Legal residence doesn’t get easier with time. In fact, the bureaucracy is so large that it even lost my file, resulting in multiple temporary permits and a long wait until they find my file before they’ll process the application that I already submitted. Never-ending story, this residency thing.
  6. December is too short, and there are too many Christmas markets to visit. Last year, I tried very hard to experience some new markets because I have had a love affair with them since my personal discovery of Christmas markets back in 2014. This year I will have to map out every one that I want to visit and be a bit more calculated in my excursions (and my Glühwein fund).
  7. Forcing myself to live in a city does not mean that I will learn to like it. Nine months into living here, and 12 months into working here, Munich still isn’t my favorite place. If anything, it’s more of a headache. If only I could find Munich-style jobs in the mountains….

Seven seems like a perfectly arbitrary number at which to pause here. So I guess that’s a wrap on year number three in Germany. I don’t really have a lot of plans for the next year yet (apart from Christmas markets), so let’s see where life takes me!

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: Months 21 & 22

Since things have been quite busy in terms of my study load, I decided to lump two months together when I realized that there was no way I’d write about June on time. To be clear, those two months are June and July. Oh wow, that’s most of the summer gone already…

Around Konstanz & Southern Germany

In the first part of June, I did quite a bit of cycling. It wasn’t unbearably hot, but still nice enough weather to summon you outdoors. On one Saturday, I went cycling along the coast of the Bodensee with A before we went for a swim in the cool lake water. After swimming, we realized it was getting closer to 8, so we cooked dinner and then took some wine and glasses back to the beach.

Bodensee Sunset

We had intended to just drink some of the wine while enjoying the sunset. It was certainly a surprise when, across the lake near Meersburg, a firework show started up.

Fireworks vor Moonrise

This went on for about five to ten minutes. Near the end, I glanced to the right and noticed a light above the horizon. At first, I thought it was the sun for some reason, but then I realized that the sun had set to the left and had been below the horizon for some time already. It only took me a few seconds more to realize that it was the moon rising up from behind the Alps and scattered clouds there. We stayed a while longer and enjoyed the moonrise before finally deciding to cycle back home at a quarter to 11.

Moonrise

Several weeks later A and I went hiking at a place called Eistobel. The hike isn’t particularly strenuous, and there are several opportunities for taking a swim along the path (although the water is freezing!). However, what Eistobel is most known for is its waterfalls. I understand that the waterfalls are especially beautiful in winter when they freeze, so I may need to return during a colder part of the year to get the full experience.

Eistobel

Also that weekend, I saw my first ever hedgehogs during an evening cookout. A pair of the adorable little guys just decided to join us in the yard, probably drawn by the warmth of the fire and the abundance of slugs (a meal for them) in the nearby bushes.

At the end of the month, I spent some time at the annual Konstanz Flohmarkt (flea market). According to the local news, there were about a thousand stands at this market. It’s every year in June for a full twenty-four hours, along both sides of the Rhine and across the Swiss border into Kreutzlingen. I didn’t buy much, but I did pick up some antiques for one of my little sisters.

July has been much less exciting. The heat waves have ended with cold spells before igniting a new heat wave. As I write this, the past several days have been cold, rainy, and gray. I even had to get a pair of fuzzy socks out to keep my feet warm. Now the thing with these drastic weather changes, as any good Midwesterner would know, is that they bring strong storms. It’s been quite a month for a storm lover (meaning me!), and there were even multiple instances of small hail!

Hail Kz

The few exciting things this month, apart from the weather, have been dinners. The first dinner was at the house of my professor, who is also my advisor and now former-employer. In case you didn’t know, I quit my student job to focus my last few months on my thesis and job search. The dinner was a relaxing break, and I got to put my experience of making fruit bowls to good use.

The second dinner was to say goodbye to a good friend and fellow student in the program. He moved to Mannheim this week to pursue a PhD. I wish him all the best in his continuing studies, and I know he will see us all again.

That dinner was the first time I really thought about my friend group here splitting up. I realized that he and I are the two who will be leaving Konstanz at the end of this semester. And for me, that means having to once again search for a new friend group in the city where I will live next. Or being a hermit, which is entirely possible although not the plan!

In the Books

On the study side of things, there is good news. Lectures have ended, and I only have one exam next week. Luckily, this exam isn’t required coursework, so the pressure isn’t so high. I also finished my colloquium presentations on my thesis, which is a huge load off of my shoulders.

What is left is to get moving on my thesis, write everything up, and hand in the final document at the beginning of September.

I also officially started my job search in this past month, which has meant writing lots of cover letters and getting frustrated with myself for not speaking better German. The jobs in my field usually prefer people with excellent German skills. The ones which don’t require German are often either too senior for me, or I am overqualified for the position. I’m trying to apply for all of the jobs that I can which are in my Goldilocks zone (and interesting to me), but that means that I may not end up going to the city which I am most hoping to live in. Let’s see.

Speaking Denglish

I’ve been trying to push myself a bit more with German. I do have to say though, that doesn’t mean a whole lot considering learning improving my German has taken a backseat due to my thesis. Annoyingly, I keep stumbling across confusing things such as the strange forms of Junge which are part of an entire class of nouns previously unknown to me and the fact that Fladenbrot (flatbread) is not at all what I think of as flatbread. Sure makes it difficult to try cooking something new. But hey, finding ingredients has been a challenge since I arrived for many of my favorite dishes, ehem, Mexican and Southwestern cuisine.

Before the Storm at Bodensee

So that’s my June and July here at the Bodensee. Hope you all have been enjoying summer! Oh, and by the way, happy Game of Thrones return!

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: 15 Months

While I can obviously complain about the horrible weather and lack of snow in southern Germany in December, there’s also plenty to be happy about (like the fact that I have tons of snow now!).

Around Baden-Württemberg

I celebrated my birthday this month with some friends from the Uni. We made up five nationalities: Bosnia, China, Germany, Georgia (the country, not the US state), and of course the US. Thanks you guys for an entertaining night and the epic multi-lingual toasts / speeches that you gave me!

Christmas markets were also in full swing, and I got my fill of Glühwein. I certainly made sure to visit the Konstanz market as much as possible since I will be living elsewhere next year. I also made it back to the Ravensburg market and the very last day of the Ulm market.

Christmas Cookies

My Christmas was celebrated with my adopted German family. No snow, but lots of food and singing carols (which I will forever hate). All in all, it was a relaxing holiday weekend.

In the Books

December was a busy study month. From midterms, to take-home exams, to a few papers, I didn’t have much downtime. I would have liked to have gone out more, but that’s life as a Master’s student.

New on the horizon: a Master’s thesis. Right before the break, my study program (all five of us) had a meeting with our advisor to discuss the upcoming thesis registration. I need a topic, and a thesis advisor, plus a second grader. There are a lot of topics that I find interesting. Too many in fact. Now the game is to narrow it down from my list of twenty to just one and make a proposal.

Speaking Denglish

Over Christmas, German had my head spinning. I spoke so much German that I had difficulty forming proper sentences in English by the end of the night.

I also noticed several times over the last month that I’ve been forgetting English words that I should know. For instance, I was at lunch a few weeks ago being quizzed on German words, and discussing trickier words which sound alike. We landed on the topic of the wood chip stuff that you put around trees and flowers. I used to work in a garden center, so I should know this word. Only a few days ago did I finally remember that it is “mulch” that I was searching for.

So that was my month. In other news, my mother sent me my little sister’s senior photos. I can’t help but show off how cute she is. She graduates from high school in May!

C's Senior Photo

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: 14 Months

November is about gone, and the new year is just around the corner. This month has been a wild ride. To be honest, I’m glad it’s almost over.

Around Konstanz

Several things happened this past month here in Konstanz. First, the weather has become quite gray and cold. Today, I was pleasantly surprised with some sunshine, but I know that the fog will descend again soon. November was when I started hating Konstanz’s winter last year as well.

On the other hand, the good thing about winter in Konstanz is that the Christmas market is going! Several weeks ago, the stalls were being built up. On Friday, I had my first trip there where I ate some delicious falafel from one of the food stands. (I have a falafel addiction….) I was also there again yesterday.

The second time around, I bought some waffles which were more like crepes to me. I think that it will be a long time before I get over the fact that waffles and pancakes in Germany are just not as fluffy as in the States.

Finally, after a wait that was more than the one month which the Immigration Office mentioned, I was told my residence permit arrived! Thankfully, I didn’t need an appointment like last year (if I had to get an appointment, it would have taken several more months). Instead, I could go to the Immigration Office’s Service Center and pick it up in about five minutes (after waiting 30 minutes in line).

In the Books

Studies are moving along this month. I gave one presentation in my Political Economy of Asylum Policy seminar, and it went well. Now I am preparing for midterms which are coming up in the next month. I also have several presentations coming up in January and February which I should prepare for in the meantime. Okay, let’s be real. I’m going to procrastinate.

Speaking Deutsch

As usual, my German is getting better. In fact, my German is almost getting too good. When I tell people that I’m in a B1-level course, they seem to think that means that I am conversational in German. Yes, I can talk about some things, but my confidence is shaky and my vocabulary is still growing. I guess I’d better watch some more ZDF (a “free” German television network financed by the government, which charges all residents of Germany).

Cheers!