10 Ways Grad School Abroad Isn’t Always Sunshine and Rainbows…

It’s really not always sunshine and rainbows. In fact, I haven’t seen a rainbow in quite a while. The sunshine… It’s variable. But the weather isn’t the point. The point is that graduate school here in Germany is pretty testing sometimes, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

To make my point, here are the ten ways graduate school is making me crazy. Or trying to kill me. I’m not sure which yet.

No. 1:  Writing Crazy Things Is Normal

I was reading an academic journal article yesterday. I download them in PDF formats and highlight important things as well as make in-text notes. Yesterday, I read something surprising in the results of a study, started a note, typed “For cereals?!” and went on my way. I didn’t think about how strange it was that I had typed that (or even had that reaction in general) until I was scrolling back through the article after I finished reading. And this isn’t the first time something like this has appeared in my notes. I’m losing it, guys.

No. 2: Why Am I in This Class?

Have you ever taken a class where you thought, “I’m not learning anything. This class is a complete waste of my time, not to mention boring!” Just because I’m abroad and “that life” is supposed to be fancy and wonderful doesn’t mean I escape those classes.

There are 14 weeks of classes in this semester. Say I attend this one class every week for 1.5 hours. Based on that, I’m spending 21 hours sitting (trying not to scream) through a class that I can’t stand.

No. 3: Is This Professor for Real?

Anyone who has ever attended college has had at least one of those professors who they think is straight up out of their mind. They’re everywhere. Twin and I even had one in Northern Ireland that told us Topologists make Applied Mathematicians like him look sane. (Math joke! But really, I know a Topologist and he isn’t that crazy. On the contrary, he’s pretty cool.)

But back to my grad school experience. I have multiple professors that I think might be off their rockers. Sometimes they are lecturing and all I can do is think, “For cereal?” Okay, I normally just think, “What the…” but I was trying to make a theme here!

No. 4: That Mensa Scares Me

The Mensa is the equivalent of the cafeteria or dining hall. Food! I’m usually excited for that. My main complaint? Even when the menu is in English, I have no idea what I’m eating, and it is expensive. It’s €3 for a meal. (For reference, my weekly shopping bill is about €10-€20, not including chocolate.)

I mean, I guess it’s great to try regional and international foods. Just not when it’s the sub-par version, because chances are I’ll never give it a second chance. Also, with dietary restrictions it’s hard to know if there’s milk or red meat in that weird looking thing I can’t pronounce. I just can’t handle thinking about my food safety so much when my brain is already fried…

No. 5: You Want Me to Read How Much?

Speaking of fried brains… Two-hundred pages a week for this class? Seriously? But you only discuss each article for 10-15 minutes in class, if at all. You say I still need to read it? Okay. Please excuse me while I go have a nice cry for 10-15 minutes per article. (I don’t actually read every word of every article, but I do at least try to skim most of them.)


No. 6: They’re Serious about This TAN List

A TAN List is this crazy thing that the Konstanz University requires you to use. It’s this list of numbers, and you have to use one of the numbers to register yourself for a final exam. (Side note: These crazy Germans register for exams, not classes.) I spent all break trying to understand this. Then, trying to figure out where to get these numbers. Then, trying to figure out where the place on campus is to generate them because I don’t have two numbers to generate a TAN List online. (Yes, it’s all very confusing.)  I just wanted to know how to generate a TAN List when I didn’t already have two numbers.

On the first day back after break I asked a classmate, “Where do you get a TAN List?” He replied, “You have two numbers on your enrollment confirmation that you can use to generate them online.” “Oh.” Inside I was thinking, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”

No. 7: What Grade Did I Get?

The Germans have a grading scale very different from that of the States. I’m used to getting points off, which yields a percentage, which translates to a letter grade, which becomes my GPA. Okay, saying it like this, Americans sound like the crazy ones.

Our craziness aside, Germans have a point scale ranging from 1 to 5. One is a perfect score and is nearly impossible to get. Five is a failing grade. What I want to know is, what do these numbers actually mean? How much better is a 2 than a 4? Do the professors just look and papers and exams and go, “Yep, that’s a 2!” Someone explain this to me, please.

No. 8: Is the Semester Over Yet?

Classes started in October. That’s late for what I’m used to. Then we went to Christmas break. Now we’re still in the same semester. My exams are in February. Summer semester starts in April (the month I was finishing Spring semester at Baldwin) and ends in July.

I feel tricked coming back from the holidays and still being a month away from final exams. I can only imagine how weird it will feel to take exams in July…

No. 9: I Will Not Get Out of Bed

At least this is what I say every morning. I wake up and think about all the work I have to do. All the reading, the classes, the papers, the preparation for exams… Nope. I won’t get up. Especially since I was up late trying to understand that one theory. Or maybe I wasn’t able to sleep because I was thinking about how I don’t understand those other five theories…

Physically, graduate school is testing me. I feel tired almost always. Even when I’m well-rested, it’s a challenge to stay focused on everything. I try going for walks, running errands, and switching to another task when I find myself unable to sit still and focus. I guess it’s not all bad. Without this problem, I probably would have a hard time ever posting on this blog.

No. 10: The German Education System Is INTENSE!

It’s true. My classes are hard. The one midterm exam I’ve taken was harder than any exam I’ve ever taken. They expect you to be incredibly independent here. My professors and fellow students seem to think at a level way over my head.

I often found high school so easy that it was the most boring thing ever. In undergraduate college I had to seek out the courses that I found to be interesting and challenging. Even then I maintained good grades without a ton of effort. Now, I often feel like I’m way out of my league.

Sometimes I even go as far as to question the quality of education I received. My undergrad college is an amazing place, but could they have better prepared me? I’d be lying if I said I don’t sometimes question if I even belong in graduate school.

At the end of the day, I’m here and trying to make the best of it. I haven’t given up. I’m still working towards my degree. Still, I think it’s important for everyone to know that living abroad doesn’t mean that I love every second or that graduate school is a breeze.

For any Germans reading this, I hope you found it comical. In any case, I promise to also write something positive about your higher education system in the future!


Among the Clouds

About a week and a half ago, before Old Man Winter officially descended upon Germany, there was a gorgeous weekend. That meant hiking!

I went hiking in the Bavarian Alps, near the Austrian border. From the closest town, it was about a half-hour walk to the beginning of the trail.

We started walking up a steep hill into the woods. Half-way up was a lake, full of freezing cold snowmelt water. We kept going and then finally the ground flattened out a bit. The trees were starting to thin out and I could see the massive stone wall that I was supposed to be going up.

When I was told that there was even more mountain above that to hike up, I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” These Germans aren’t kidding about their hiking.

As ascent number two began up the rockier, steeper part of the mountain, the sun creeped behind the clouds growing just below the top of the rock wall… Wait, clouds? Below the top?

Once you get that high up, clouds become fog. Cold fog. Not only that, but the air thins out a lot. Needless to say, I was getting a bit demotivated, especially because I could not breathe well, nor could I see very far ahead of me.

We got to the top of the rock wall and sat down for a rest. We started to walk a bit further, and suddenly, the fog began to clear. Looking back, I could see the town far, far away in the valley. I also realized that we were above the tree-line, meaning that the air was so thin that the trees would not even grow up there.

First Hike View
Looking back towards the town. Yeah, I hiked a hell of a long way…

In leiu of trees, there were mountain goats running around. I immeadiately thought of Twin, and her obsession with the “horny goats” at Slieve League last year.

Where we ended up in the end is called Kirchdach Sattel or Kirchdach Saddle. The elevation (which I read from the trail marker thing) is 1,919 meters (6,296 feet) above sea level. The elevation at Hinterstein (where we parked) is about 880 meters (2,887 feet). According to my calculations, I climed about 1,039 meters (3,409 feet) in one day. Oh, did I hurt the next morning.

Lake at the Top

Apart from the weather clearing up providing sweeping views, I had another surprise at the top: the border. The highest point that we went to actually had a marker for the border with Austria! It was pretty neat to face one side and see only Germany but turn around to see just Austria.

Austria in Background
You can see Austria in the background as I perch literally on top of the border. Two places at once, anyone?

That’s my tale about the first time I hiked above the tree line, also known as, “my first real hike.”


Two Radically Different Days

Last weekend my friend and I decided to take a last-minute trip to Dublin. That’s fine, but only if there isn’t a really important game and a Passenger concert that same night.

I’ll be honest with you all. I really didn’t like Dublin. It just wasn’t my type of city, I wasn’t impressed, and it did not live up to its reputation in my mind.

Besides the horrible traffic and copious amounts of taxis, I was disenchanted with the architecture, unappealing bridges, and chaotic mix of modern and historic buildings that seemed more of an eye sore to me than a harmonious mixture.

I’ll try to keep it light, and tell you the few good things about the city followed by a much better second day for the weekend.

When we arrived, the city was super crowded. After finally settling in, we went straight to the Temple Bar District for some sorely-needed food. After eating we took a look around at some of the iconic bars in town.

The Temple Bar
The Quays Bar

They look nice from the outside, but inside, the Temple Bar wasn’t that exciting. In fact, I think that the Crown Bar in Belfast is much more gorgeous. Even Lavery’s and Filthy McNasty’s bars in Belfast are more tasteful. Needless to say, if this is the best the Republic of Ireland has to offer, I’m disappointed.

So now I’ll tell you something I did like: The Old Library at Trinity College. I love to read and I was especially excited to see all the old books and the lovely interior.

We walked around the city some more and happened upon Dublin Castle. I was expecting something massive and old with a beauty to rival the Edinburgh Castle. But no, it wasn’t like that. Only a very small part was those things and a lot of the castle seemed to be pained over in weird colors.

The garden wasn’t exactly what I would call a garden either, so I was further disappointed in that. The brick snakes in a Celtic pattern were interesting, but did not make up for the fact that the castle grounds fell so short of my expectations.

Trying so very hard to be happy…
Shoe photo of the weekend!

Moving on… We ran into Twin and another international student while in Dublin and had dinner with them. The rest of that night we were wandering around town trying to find a place to stay. We failed at this which put me in a very bad mood. My bad mood was not at all helped by the rude people in the city either…

So, no, I didn’t like Dublin. You couldn’t pay me to go back there. I felt very uncomfortable for some reason from the moment we got there, and the things I saw didn’t really make it better. I also felt like the city was completely disorganized.

No, I didn’t have the best experience considering we slept in the car that night, but I also wasn’t too happy before we realized there was not a single place in the city to stay. But hey, I’m human, and I don’t have to love every place I visit. Also, cities aren’t really my thing. I’m happier surrounded by trees any day. Which brings me to day two of our trip: Wicklow County.

We went to the Wicklow Mountains National Park and hiked 11 kilometers. That’s 6.8 miles. I was exhausted to say the least but the views were stunning. The first half of the hike was a bit slow but it really picked up later.

We hiked past a few loughs, past a small waterfall, and up a mountain onto a boardwalk. Here are a few highlights of the natural beauty:

Poulanass Waterfall
Some mountain goats are hanging out in the grass there. They blend in well.

On the way back, we also checked out some eerie ruins which I have since learned make up Glendalough, St. Kevin’s monastic retreat. The graveyard there had headstones dating back hundreds of years and there were even some recent ones, suggesting that the cemetery was still in use today. I was most attracted by the round tower from the 10th century. Really though, the ruins of the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul were the most awe-inspiring.

Inside the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul.

All in all, our day outdoors was much better than our day and night in Dublin. The best part: the weather was clear. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and although it was cold enough that I saw ice for the first time here, I can’t really complain. Moral of the story: Always skip the big cities you aren’t sure about and head straight for the wilderness, if that’s your thing that is.


Scotland: The Prequel

I finally made it over to Scotland, but only for a day. I have another, longer trip to Scotland this weekend. Since Taylor, another Midwesterner, and I all have a free day on Wednesdays we decided to take a trip over to Scotland. We got up early and took the ferry over, and then went by bus to the town of Ayr.

So what can you do in just one day in Scotland? It turns out quite a bit. First, we ran around town for a little while until we could catch the next bus to where we wanted to be. It was a really quaint town with very old stone architecture. There were quite a few little modern touches that you could see around if you looked.

Note the twinkling lights above.

After we enjoyed a tea and coffee break in a small shop, we headed down to the bus station and figured out which bus we needed. It didn’t take too long before we were off. The problem was that we didn’t know where the stop we needed was, so we asked the woman behind us. She kindly pointed it out when we got near it. People here are so approachable…

The bus ride seemed to take forever but was made better with a peanut butter sandwich made with love (thanks, Twin!). Then, at long last, we arrived!

At the main gate we bought our tickets for entrance into the park, and the person working at the front helped us figure out the last bus we could get back to Ayr in order to catch the coach back to the ferry. It was earlier than expected, and we had less than two hours at the castle. Still, we saw quite a bit!

The park itself is absolutely breathtaking. Culzean Castle was also much better than the one in Donegal County in my humble opinion (but don’t tell the Irish that).

First, we toured the inside of the castle. It was set up as the last inhabitants who lived in it had left it. They filled it with oil paintings, shiny furniture, and immaculate ceilings as any good castle owner does. In the basement of the castle we even got to tour the old servants’ work area, including the laundry room and the kitchen.

A castle with a view.


After getting our fill of the castle tour, we headed out onto the grounds to have a quick look around as we reluctantly made our way back to the bus. The view from the back side of the castle absolutely floored us.



Eventually we made our way back to Ayr and decided to explore the town. First, we went down to the beach. The wind coming off of the sea was very cold so we didn’t stay too long before moving on along.



Then we walked into the town to find this little gem. I was able to see it from a little way away so I followed its general direction until we got there. It was gated off so we couldn’t get any closer but it’s St. John’s Tower, the only bit left of what used to be a church at this site.


Then, my incredibly superior sense of direction which kept me from getting lost in Oaxaca kicked in and I was able to get us back to High Street. On the way we found a small river with a view. Then we found some clock towers back at High Street as we walked back towards our shuttle pick-up.



Last, but certainly not least, after being in the United Kingdom for over a month, I finally got my first fish and chips from the country! It wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t horrible either. The fish they used was Cod and this seems to be quite common. However, Twin, a self-proclaimed fish and chips critic, vehemently claims that Haddock is much better.


On that note, I’d better be off! I’ve quite a lot to do and so little time before I run away to Scotland for the weekend. Of course, there will be a blog post to follow that as well.


Gaelic Signs & Mountain Climbs

I’ve been pretty quiet about what I did last weekend. No one really knows so I suppose I should share with everyone. I took an amazing weekend out with Twin and two Germans in the Republic of Ireland! We spent the weekend in County Donegal, first arriving along the coast in the southern part of the county. The countryside was lovely, the music was chill, and the company was perfection.
All the colors!

As we went along this coastal route, we started to see more and more Gaelic writing in the towns until the road signs switched over to Gaelic as well. After driving along for a bit, we took a little detour down to a random beach. Twin, of course, got excited about tide pools, and I ran off across some rocks.


We got moving again pretty quickly, as we wanted to have plenty of time to explore the cliffs, and we also still had to drive up to the hostel that night. So, onward to the cliffs we go…

What cliffs am I talking about? Probably not the ones you are thinking of. We hiked along Slieve League (less famous than the Cliffs of Moher, but impressive all the same).

Amazing first view…
I loved how you could see the clouds at the top!
Taking a break…
Looking away from the sea you got another really humbling view.
Looking back down the path.

We had a really grand hike. Then we had to make it back past all these sheep in the road towards our next destination.

Twin’s “horny sheep” as mentioned in the guidebook.

On our drive we were also lucky enough to see our first Irish rainbow!


This was followed by my first sunset on the ocean, and, let’s be honest, I was barely awake at that point. (So yes, I stole this photo from a friend!)


At long last we finally arrived in the area where our hostel should be. But we couldn’t find it. When we stopped for petrol we asked the man working inside the petrol station if he could tell us where it is. He said it’s just a few blocks down.

Well, we weren’t in the city; it was really more of a highway. Blocks refers to some weird building or section of a building on my campus, so we didn’t really know what that meant. After driving and realizing that we had most certainly passed it we turned around only to find that the hostel was literally the next thing after the petrol station.

Not sure if that’s just how they say it here or if he thought we were really dumb tourists. I think he was making fun of us, though it’s hard to tell. These Irish are an interesting lot.

Anyway, we made ourselves some tortellini for dinner and finally crashed. When we woke up in the morning and looked out the window, we saw that we were actually right at the base of Errigal Mountain. So, after our quick breakfast, we packed up and headed to a nearby car park that Twin had found out about.

The mountain is quite lovely. We also had fantastic weather for climbing it; however, I was not digging the bog at the bottom of the mountain. Stupid me, I only brought one pair of shoes and they were soaked probably not even ten minutes in.

Errigal Mountain

So what do you do when you get fed up with the horrible mud plus shoes equation? Well… this happens:

My shoes are useless in mud here…

Yeah, I hiked it barefoot until we got up to the rocks. And happy little Twin just kept going with her waterproof shoes. Note to self: Chucks are not made for the mud. They’re alright for the real mountain hiking, just not the bog.

…but my shoes are okay here.
Halfway up.

Once we hit the rocks the climb got much better! It was quite exhausting, but not more than I expected. The temperature was strange though. At first we were hot, and I kept shedding clothes, until finally near the top, I had to start putting them all back on. Except for my feet. I gave up on those and just let them go numb with cold, then everything was all good.

Finally, we did conquer the mountain! It was nice to look down and see how far we had come. It was really interesting to me to think that my body was able to pull myself across the mud and up this massive rock. After reveling in this fact, all that was left was to enjoy the view…

Poor shoes…

When we had finished at Errigal Mountain we spent some time at Glenveagh National Park. It was a nice place but it wasn’t anywhere near as exciting as the other things we had done that weekend. The castle was interesting, but to be honest, I was more than a little freaked out about the decorations. The deer art reminded me a bit too much of the hunting culture back home.


So that’s my weekend in a nutshell. I have to say that was definitely the best weekend I’ve had since I arrived here. My upcoming four-day trip to Scotland will probably be even better!