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!

Germany Thus Far: Seven Months

It’s lucky number seven. Let me tell you, I did not feel so lucky with all the work I’ve done in this past month. At least the sun is shining, and summer is on its way! So, April…

Studies

Studies have been my seventh month basically. Classes started on April 11. Classes this semester include Econometrics (because my undergrad courses did not cover as much as what undergrad Germans learn), Political Economy (economics department), International Organizations and Political Economy (politics department), and a seminar on Behavioral Economics. On top of my classes for my degree, I’m also taking two language courses: German and Spanish.

I’m so happy to be in a Spanish class again. Spanish is, after all, what led me down the initial path of travel and study abroad. I do not need this class, which seems like overkill in an already busy semester. However, language classes are the part of my studies that keep me sane. I will  continue to stick with ’em.

What is the outlook this semester? Busy already. I already gave three presentations and have a midterm coming up at the end of May. I have four papers to write over the course of the semester and two remaining presentations to give in my block seminar. I just hope that this semester goes better than the last.

DSCN2310

German

My German is getting better. I find myself understanding more when I watch movies or TV shows in German. I might not get all the jokes, but at least I generally know what is going on. I’ve also had a few conversations in German (outside of my class) that went surprisingly well.

Travel

This is the thing I did very little of this month. I have not even taken the time to explore nearby. However, since one of my friends from Mary Baldwin College is in Prague doing a May Term abroad, I will go to visit her next weekend! Prague has been at the top of my list since I was 16 years old. I think it’s about time I visit.

So that’s been my month. Posts on Prague to come.

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: Half a Year In…

That’s right. Half a year. Six months. In honor of that stunning amount of time, I wanted to write an extended “Germany Thus Far” post. Just to warn you, this post is more reflective than it is story-telling.

*  *  *

Sitting on the ferry a few days ago, I looked out at the mountains. They’re still snow-covered even though daffodils and an assortment of other flowers are popping up all over Konstanz. I was listening to a podcast discuss reactions to the recent terrorism in Brussels. A sound clip of Obama’s reaction played.

“I understand, when we see the sight of these kinds of attacks, our hearts bleed because we know that could be our children.  That could be our family members or our friends or our coworkers who travel to a place like Brussels.  And it scares the American people.  And it horrifies me.  I’ve got two young daughters who are growing up a little too fast, and I want them to have the freedom to move and to travel around the world without the possibility that they’d be killed.”

Barack Obama, 23 March 2016

For some reason, I had a knee-jerk reaction to his comments. I immediately wanted to respond to him, to tell him that the “possibility” of which he speaks doesn’t matter. I have a grandmother who especially worries a lot. However, no matter how much she, or the rest of my family, or my friends, or anyone else worries, I’m not going to go back to the States.

If we allow ourselves to live in fear of the “possibilities,” then we will never experience the world. I for one would not feel fulfilled if I were not where I am today. This fear that leads us to restrict ourselves, to be isolationists, is exactly what the terrorists want us to feel. By giving in, they win. If anything, I will stay here in Europe just to stubbornly defy the wishes of terrorists.

This fear that people have about terrorist attacks, Syrian refugees, Muslims in general… It’s ridiculous. Statistically speaking, since 9/11 only three refugees in the United States have been arrested on terrorism charges, and no refugees have been successful with terrorist plots. Want more statistics? I am more likely to be killed in a car accident back in Missouri than I am to be killed by terrorists here in Europe.

My point is this: Fear cannot control our actions. I have not let it control my choice to move to and stay in Germany. I didn’t let fear hold me back from studying in Northern Ireland. I didn’t let fear hold me back from spending May Term in Mexico.

Going back even further, my 18-year-old self didn’t let fear hold me back from moving half-way across the country for college, to a state where I knew no one. When I think back over all of my accomplishments and challenges in life, I realize that while I may have been worried or even terrified, I never chose not to do something because of fear.

That’s when it hit me.

*  *  *

Ever since I came to Germany I have been stressed about one thing or another. How am I going to manage this presentation? Will these student loans ever defer? Will I ever understand German? Will I get the money I need for my second year’s residence permit? Why am I not understanding x political theory? What happens if I fail? What happens if I decide this isn’t for me?

So many questions and not enough answers. I worry all the time that something will not work out. I do not want to have to go back to the United States, and I do not want to look like a failure. When I was thinking about how stupid it is to be afraid to travel based on the rare chance one might be killed in a terrorist attack, I realized how much of a hypocrite I am.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter what happens with graduate school. Yes, there are consequences and outcomes to my actions, but in the end, life goes on.

So what if I get sent back to the States? It’s not a death sentence. I could just work three jobs at the same time again (or one higher-paying job), and then return to finish the program, albeit late. Sure, I might be pretty unhappy about having to leave, but I’d have the possibility to return.

So what if I decide graduate school isn’t for me? I have my days, but so far I am sticking with it. A lot of the reason is I feel like I’m not good enough to be here. It takes daily reminders to myself to remember that I’m here mainly because I worked hard to be here, not because I was lucky (though I’m sure luck and white privilege were also factors). I did get accepted, not rejected, into the program after all.

So what if I fail? While wonderful friends can reassure me as often as they want that I will not fail, I very well could. I could keep letting impostor syndrome tell me that I will never understand these theories. It could be the case that I bit off more than I can chew with this particular educational path. But so what? Graduate school is hard. People fail sometimes. At the end of the day, I still have a Bachelor’s degree and a set of passions that I could apply to earn a living.

I have been so busy worrying about all the “what if’s” in my life that I’ve managed to allow myself to have, hands down, the worst semester of my academic career. If I were to apply the same fearless approach I have towards living abroad to the other parts of my life here in Germany, then I’d be a lot better off.

*  *  *

If you’ve been following along on this blog, you’ll recall that I counted ordering what I wanted at the bakery as a victory. There are a lot of little things here that are more difficult because there’s a different language, or a different set of residence laws, or a different education system. Even the things I find easy in Missouri become difficult when I try to do them in Germany. If the easy things are hard, try imagining how much more difficult the hard things are.

Still, as I think back over these first six months, I know that things wouldn’t be nearly as difficult if I were to just overcome my hesitation. I need to use the same bravery that I have walking up to the edge of a cliff to start chucking out some (most definitely horrible) German sentences.

To be honest, whether I fail graduate school or not, I think that my most critical concern with being in Germany is whether or not I can learn the language and get along in everyday life.

So far I’ve managed to get along at bakeries, grocery stores, public transportation, restaurants, etc. I also found a part-time job to help with the financial worries. I have even managed to do alright with socializing while at a table full of Germans. I think I have the basics all together, I just need to start applying speaking German to all of these situations.

I know it takes time, but I’m so impatient. I just want to be able to speak German, you know, effortlessly and without hard work. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Instead, I’m stuck reminding myself that I have to stop being afraid to speak horrible German. To begin, let’s see how many times I can confuse der, die, and das in one day….

*  *  *

In reflecting on these past six months, I’ve done a lot of really cool things. I went sledding down a mountain. I climbed to the top of a really tall church. I went hiking in the Alps. I adjusted to living in a city older than my home country’s government. I celebrated holidays new to me, and different to me. If ten years ago someone would have told me I would be doing these things, I’d have laughed.

P1640777

While all these things are great (and I mean epic!), I have to think back about why I originally decided to come here. I came for the education, of course. I also came to Germany because I want to actively live the globally-oriented life I was fostering at my undergraduate college for four years. Professionally, I wanted to gain experience living abroad and grow a network in Europe. These are compelling reasons, but there’s something deeper when I really think about my motivation.

I didn’t want to take the safe, steady route after I graduated. I didn’t want to just settle for a “real job” in the States. I didn’t want to make myself work at a secure job with retirement benefits just to pay off my student loans and have the promise of “someday I’ll travel.”

Instead, I chose to seize the moment. I put all of my energy into graduate school applications and never even looked at a job ad. When I found out I was accepted, I put all my time into working summer jobs to finance my time here. At the end of the summer, I put all of my financial resources into the big move. In other words, I went all in.

Along with the guidance and unwavering support of friends and family, I’ve managed to move abroad successfully. Regardless of what happens, I’ll always have some great experiences to remember and stories to share for the rest of my life. I’ll always know that I broke down some pretty daunting barriers to make “the German graduate school dream” happen.

*  *  *

It was winter last year, when sitting on my bed I looked over some program requirements. “This is it,” I thought. The University of Konstanz. For a moment, my breath caught and the world stood still. This one felt right.

I checked the admission requirements, and I fit them all. I looked the city up on a map. Approving of the location, I went to the two professors I most trusted and asked their opinions on the program. Hearing that they both thought it seemed to be a good fit for me, I started my application.

I can pinpoint several pivotal moments in my life. At the time, none of those moments seemed particularly special. I simply made decisions, not knowing how life-altering they would be. The moment that I decided to come to Germany I had an inkling that I may be off my rocker, but I seized the moment and went for it anyway.

To my Baldwin sisters who are graduating in less than two months, I hope you find your own moments. To all of the other wonderful people in my life who are undergoing incredible changes, stand by your moment. Go all in. It’s worth it.

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: Five Months In

February has been both long and short at the same time. The days have felt long as I studied seemingly constantly. On the other hand, I’ve been so busy that the weeks have flown by. I’m surprised to find that the bulk of winter is now gone and spring will be here soon. My fifth month was packed, but quite boring to write about for the most part.

Studies

As said, this month was the end of my first semester. I had my last week of lectures, took exams, and wrote a little bit about my thoughts on the first semester. As most of my friends and family who keep up with my experiences here have probably already read about it, I won’t bore you by repeating myself.

German

My German doth improve. As does the number of explanations I give about the English language. Yes, I can complain that German is a strange language. I find myself stymied by all the rules, incessant commas, and confounding cases. Don’t even get me started on  gender.

At the same time, I must acknowledge that it is not so hard that I cannot manage small conversations with native speakers. According to some recent conversations, my German has improved “a lot.” I am skeptical of the “a lot” bit, but I will concede that it has improved.

The more I delve into the German language, I find that I compare it to others. I compare it to my scant knowledge of Spanish and abundant knowledge of English. What I notice is that Spanish seems to have relatively clean and simple rules.

English on the other hand makes no sense. For example, have you ever stopped to wonder why English sprinkles “do” throughout its sentences? I notice more and more irregularities that I cannot explain when I speak with non-native English speakers. I guess it is true that living abroad can teach you more about your home than you otherwise would learn.

Cheers!