Deutschland and beyond

Living in Germany

Mantelsonntag

Tomorrow is Mantelsonntag- literally translated as “Jacket Sunday”. In Germany, all of the stores are closed on Sundays, but on this one, the stores will be open with special discounts on coats, winter clothing, and most clothing in general. I should be receiving my monthly stipend money any day now so needless to say, I’m pretty excited for tomorrow. In other news, this week has been great, probably the best so far (and here’s why):

The Weather: YES we are back into fall and momentarily taking a break from winter! The trees have changed to colors other than just green or a weird yellow, the temperature has been in the 50s sometimes even the 60s the past few days, and this weekend the market square is full of vendors. Since Halloween isn’t really celebrated here (and I’m really bummed about that) they tend to focus on All Saint’s Day (Nov 1). So there’s no school/work on Monday and the market this weekend is in celebration of that holiday.

Lacrosse: There’s a men’s team here in Würzburg, but no women’s team. However, the guys have been really great in helping me trying to get a team started. Monday was student activities day at the university. Somehow our table ended up in a not-so-prime location: in the corner with all of the Wohngemeinschaften (living communities which are usually religiously affiliated or conservative). However, we still drew a good amount of people over including lots of girls! Each one of the guys likes to think he’s solely responsible for this but I beg to differ… Anyways after about 10 minutes I finally had my ‘student activities day’ speech down which went something like this: Hi are you interested in lacrosse? Have you heard of it? Well it’s a sport and we don’t exactly have a women’s team here but I’m trying to start one. Here’s a list of our practice times/places and you should come try it out! No pressure, we have extra equipment for you to borrow’ and the other person was usually somewhat interested, somewhat confused. But, come practice Wednesday I had 5 other girls there! I think my first day as a coach went well, but I definitely have some vocab to work on. I’m trying to get established here as the official coach of the team, which is a little intimidating, but hopefully works out. Two of the girls are making flyers to hang around the university and once we can field at least a full team (12 people) then the real work begins. Wish me luck!

Market stall

Apartment: I finally got one! I don’t get to move in until February, but that’s fine by me. I’m renting the room of a girl who’s going to study abroad in Denmark next semester, and she’s leaving me her bed, dresser, tv, and dvd collection (yesss)

Friends: With the university finally starting up, the British teaching assistants getting settled in town, and the lacrosse project, it’s much easier to meet people/hang out. There are two British teaching assistants in my town; I’ve only met one so far but he’s really nice and we’ve hung out a few times. At student activities day I met a Canadian girl, and we actually went out to lunch Friday at this amazing Indian restaurant with a mutual friend of ours. The lunch buffet, complete with the best curry and vegetables I’ve had, was 7 Euros.


Travel! On Tuesday I leave for Cairo to see one of my roommates from BC for 5 days and I couldn’t be more excited! Expect a really exciting update (and great pictures) after I get back

In other news… I applied too late to receive an absentee ballot for the elections Tuesday, but everyone else should go vote! I’m actually kinda glad I get to sit this one out. The campaigns for governor of Illinois have been (unsurprisingly) dirty and perfect examples of why I think a two-party system doesn’t offer enough choices. So, fellow Illini, choose who you deem the lesser of two evils and hopefully things will start to look up.

Teaching is going pretty well at school, and we’re oh-so-slowly nearing the units on North America. We’ve just finished with Australia in the 8th grade and did a few days on the Rabbit Proof Fence (a film I actually had to watch for one of my sociology classes), and I’ve had some really interesting discussions with my students regarding fair trade and boarding school. I’m trying not to get frustrated when students say they wouldn’t pay more for items, even if the money went directly to the workers, or other things I may disagree with, and so far I’m succeeding. What I found really interesting, was the complaint from the majority of my students that they find their class sizes too large. Ideally, they think it should be somewhere around 15 students. They would like to talk more in class, not just read, and are envious of close student-teacher relationships, as seen in the article. They were amazed at the fact that we could email our teachers in high school for help, weren’t afraid to go talk to them, or even had the chance to get to know them better through co-curricular opportunities. I definitely took those things for granted, and I know as a high schooler, I wasn’t too concerned about things like that- I thought only parents worried about that stuff. (yes my dad was the one asking all of the questions on college tours about things no one seemed to care about- libraries, class size, etc). Turns out I was pretty lucky with the high school teachers I had after all.

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October 30, 2010 Posted by | Germany | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wolleyball

A little bit of background information on the German language: the letter W is pronounced as a V. So “wasser” is in fact “vasser” and so on. So, the Germans spell some words with Ws to be pronounced as Vs. Such as vodka. It’s actually labeled as Wodka. Somewhere along the line of all this v/w confusion students mistakenly pronounce English words with Vs in them as Ws. Like Wolleyball (although my personal favorites are wisit and conwenient)

So, I was invited to play Wolleyball on Monday evenings with some of the teachers. I didn’t go for the first few weeks since I was busy running around filling out forms but I’ve gone for the past 2 weeks. Now, I tend to think of myself as pretty athletic and able to jump right into most sports. most. tennis, softball, and volleyball are exceptions. I didn’t even make the 7th grade volleyball team- and they had two teams. So my confidence in my volleyball skills is not very high. Regardless, I show up the first week after agreeing to meet one of the student teachers there. Did I mention she’s a student teacher studying to teach English, History, and Sports? Okay just checking. Most people there are wearing kneepads and look pretty serious for our 5 on 5 game, already doing warm-ups and drills and I’m trying to remember bump, set, spike.

We start playing and I’m not the worst player there but definitely the second worst. I’m terrible. The guy next to me in our rotation is Mr. Super-Competitive and takes it upon himself to run over and play balls that are headed straight towards me, even when I call for them. And, he makes those frustrating sighs and shakes his head every time I miss a ball. Cmon, the rest of the people there aren’t exactly pros either. Out of the 10, there are I’d say 3 good guys and one guy who thinks we’re playing at the Olympics. He’s no less than 6’5, has a freakishly scary vertical jump, and shows no mercy when spiking the ball. (Luckily I was on his team the second week). He could be a long-lost cousin of my high school anatomy teacher-they look that much alike. So I figure we play a few games, that’s fun, go home, but no we’re playing actual first to 3 and wouldn’t you know it takes all 5 games to get there (we lost).  Now I haven’t really been working out since I got over here either so by the end of 5 games, I’m feeling so out of shape (compared to like 50 year old teachers, great) and my arms are bright red from hitting the ball. I’m definitely not a natural hitter so I’d say libero or setter are the two places where I make myself look least like an idiot.

Despite my obvious lack of volleyball talent, for some reason I go back the second week. If they gave out awards, I would definitely have earned the most improved player award (I think it helps that Mr. Olympian was on my team and Mr. Super-Competitive was not). I think I’ll continue to play and who knows, maybe by the end of the year I’ll be a semi-decent volleyball player?

In other news, I may be starting a women’s lacrosse team for Würzburg but it’s still too early to tell what’s happening. Looks like it’s shaping up to be a possibly athletic year?

October 23, 2010 Posted by | Germany | , , | 1 Comment

Highs and Lows

The past few weeks here have presented me with way more challenges than I thought possible in such a short amount of time but I think everything’s starting to even out. I’ll try and sum everything up in terms of highs and lows. (I’m starting with lows because really, everyone wants to end on a high note)

Lows:

– After 5 weeks of asking my name to be put on the postal box, it wasn’t, and I found out I haven’t been getting any of my mail. Included in that would be 1. my German bank account information and ATM card (-1) 2. my German train discount card (-1) and 3. a package from my mom (-1). I don’t usually crave oreos and peanut butter but as soon as someone tells me it’s on its way, I am checking the mail twice a day to make sure I don’t miss the package slip. Score: Germany 3 Colleen 0

– The changes in weather are nuts. Last weekend was in the low 70s and now I’m lucky if it hits the high 40s. As if the weather itself wasn’t bad enough, my sinuses have decided to revolt against me leaving me inside and sleeping most of the weekend instead of off having fun European adventures. Germany 4 Colleen 0

– I was supposed to get my passport back after 2 weeks with my visa in it. Instead, I got an email saying I needed a biometric picture (yeah I had to look that up online) and proof of health insurance. As far as I’m concerned, no one else had to do that. Thanks bureaucracy. So that left me a total of about 5 weeks, in a foreign country, without a passport. Germany 5 Colleen 0

– We’ll refer to this as “the washing machine incident”. I have somehow prolonged doing any laundry until this past week. I worked up the courage to ask about the laundry room (which is locked far away in a dark corner in the basement and consists of one, yes one, laundry machine). I was told it would take about 30 mins for a wash cycle, which is fine. I had 3 loads to do and the first load still wasn’t done after an hour so I figured something was wrong. A total of 90 minutes later it’s finally finished and I’m so thankful pulling my clothes out of the machine. Throw in the second load, head out of the dungeon, and run into the equivalent of an RA, except they’re all 50+ year old Fraus. She asks me if I intend on returning the key soon because she’s closing the office so I somehow have to find a way to speed up my laundry. Fast forward to an hour later, me frantically trying to open the door to the laundry machine, failing, and breaking off the handle. Great. Now I’m trying to put the handle back on the machine/am freaking out about my clothes in the machine/am wondering if I even get to do my 3rd load, and I know there’s nothing left to do but go find the RA/Frau. No one’s in the office, so I go across the hall and find her watching tv.

Me: Hi, Sorry to bother you, but, um, I can’t open the door to the laundry machine

Frau: *sighs because I’ve interrupted her show* The wooden door to the room (clearly thinking, you’re dumb, you have a key) or the door to the machine itself?

Me: No the door to the actual machine

Frau: Well I never do laundry here, no one really does, so I don’t know how it works.

Me: (Great why doesn’t anyone ever tell me these things) Ooookay…. Well can you try and help me?

Frau: Okay fine. (waddles downstairs, me trailing after her. Gets into the room, tries to open the door but the handle is cracked in two so obviously it comes off). What’s this?

Me: Oh it looks like the handle’s broken (Okay I’m a little reluctant to admit it was me because I don’t know how anything works and all I really want are my clothes. Do you have any idea how hard it is to go that long without clean clothes?!)

Frau: (now enters the phase where she treats me like I’m five. Including using a childish voice) Well it wasn’t broken this morning, and now it is, what do you think happened?

Me: (stuttering because this woman instills the fear of God in me) I-I couldn’t open the d-d-oor and I j-jjust tried to pull the handle a-a-and I guess I pulled t-t-too hard and um…. I’m really sorry… T-there was a (lack of vocab again kicks in…) a break in the handle, I-I mean it- it was already broken… *silence*

Frau: Well now you’ve broken the whole machine. I can’t open the door without the handle. You can’t get your clothes. The machine is ruined. We’re going to need a whole new one. Did you pay a deposit?

Me: What? I-I don’t know. I just asked to use the machine and they gave me the key to the door

Frau: Well you’ll probably have to pay for a whole new one. The Housemother will be in between 7 and 8 tomorrow morning so you’ll need to go see her then (on my day off.. really?). But I hope you’re ready to pay for a new one.

Me: oh… okay (then I run upstairs and proceed to have a breakdown based on all of the previous events and call my sister on gchat. except I can’t even do this in the privacy of my own room because I don’t get internet there so this is all happening in the middle of the hallway) Germany 7 Colleen 0

 

Highs:

– I now have my name on the mailbox and receive mail, including my bank information which I had to ask them to resend (+1), my train card is on its way (+1) but there’s still no sign of the package. Germany 7 Colleen 2

– I found the equivalent of a CVS (+1?) well I’ve stocked up on cough drops, Kleenex, and am getting no less than 10 hours of sleep per day this weekend. Germany 7 Colleen 3

– Got my passport back, complete with visa. Free to travel the world!! (+1) Germany 7 Colleen 4

– I get internet in my building! No, not exactly in my room but I no longer rely on public wi-fi in bookstores and the library to get internet access. Let the skype dates begin. Germany 7 Colleen 5

– Yeah I’ve really got nothing for the laundry incident. Except the fact that my sink’s really clean since I had to wash my whites by hand.

– I’ve gotten wonderful/hilarious email and facebook message updates from friends and family and they’re all great. Thank you so so much, all of you. Also I somehow got ESPN3 to work very sporadically last night and watched my first portions of a football game since last year, and I got to see BC almost take down FSU. But it was a great game to watch. (+1)

Final Score: Germany 7 Colleen 6

In spite of everything, I’m not ready to throw in the towel and come home yet. I was talking with one of my friends the other day and the truth is, this year is not a ‘study abroad’ round 2. There are no pre-packaged groups of Americans waiting to be your friends, no one to hold your hand and show you how to do things to get by. Moving to a completely different city, different country where you don’t know anyone is extremely difficult. I was very ready for the teaching aspect and I’ve actually found that to be one of the least challenging things. The hardest part, is making your own life out here for a year. But as my friend said, at the end of it I’m going to be ridiculously independent (even more so than before) and be able to appreciate everything I’ve learned over here.

October 17, 2010 Posted by | Germany | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Big One: Oktoberfest

Well I’ve chosen to spend the past two weekends attempting to hide my sorrows at Oktoberfest. “What sorrows could I possibly have to hide?” Just the fact that almost all of my friends have been reconvening in Boston for the two biggest football games of the year: Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, respectively. Luckily, I succeed in taking my mind off the games by getting dressed up in some traditional German clothes and surrounding myself with Germans/Americans/Australians/French/whoever was there.

So instead of this and this

I was with this and this

I’d say it’s a pretty fair trade off. So the first weekend, my friend Nadiya who’s currently doing a Fulbright in Kiel, came down to visit me on Friday then we went off to Munich together on Saturday. The train at 6am was packed and full of people in Dirndls and Lederhosen (traditional German outfits) and of course with plenty of beer. We were staying with my friend Basti who I met back in high school when our schools did an exchange program. We headed off to Theresienwiese aka die Wiesn aka Oktoberfest grounds around noon/1pm. Basti’s friend who worked in one of the tents … no longer worked there so we were on our own to try and get in. (this is not an easy task) But, after Nadiya sweet talked a doorman and Basti got a hold of someone’s bathroom ticket, we were in! (they give you tickets when you leave the tent to go to the bathroom so you can get back in, but I guess this person wasn’t going back). Also the term ‘tent’ is used loosely. There are 7 breweries in Munich, and each one has 2 tents at Oktoberfest. These tents are actually huge constructed wooden structures. They start putting them up at the end of July. (<– one of the ‘tents’ from the outside)

So Nadiya, Basti, and I spent Saturday inside one of the tents operated by Hacker-Pschorr (and hence Hacker-Pschorr beer) and had a great time. (Basti and I inside the tent)

Apparently one time wasn’t enough for me because I found myself on a train to Munich Friday afternoon. I was informed during the week that a junior friend of mine from BC studying abroad in Greece, Christina, was going to Oktoberfest this weekend. Not only that, but Friday was her 21st birthday. So I hopped on the train and found myself outside the Lowenbraeu tent 4 hours later. One of the best things about Oktoberfest is the ridiculous amount of people you meet (and they all tend to be rather eccentric). Here’s a brief rundown:

Italian kids: The second weekend (weekend I was there with Basti and Nadiya) is unofficially known as “Italian weekend” due to all of the Italians that come up. The first is full of…

Australians. And therefore unofficially known as “Aussie weekend”. We met a few Aussies and Italians on Friday night as well as some French people and Christina had “happy birthday” sung to her in no less than four different languages. The American version was started by…

Bob. Bob is a 50 year old American man who flew to Munich, spent no less than 200 Euros on Lederhosen, and was hanging out with everyone simply because “it was on his bucket list”. Luckily he had a soft spot for BC so we got along pretty well (despite the fact he went to a rival ACC school)

And last but not least… Germans: The Germans you meet at Oktoberfest cannot be claimed to be a representative sample of the overall population. In fact, a lot of the teachers at my school that I’ve talked with have never been to Oktoberfest. But, I have nothing but great things to say about all the Germans I met. They’re polite and make small talk with the Americans (when you’re with Americans) but once it’s found out you can speak German: look out. They want to know everything, how do you speak German so well, what are you doing here, let me buy you a beer, Prost (cheers) x 10, everyone standing on the benches and singing allllll the time. Being in the tent is a total time warp and before you know it six hours have gone by and you’re eating gebrante mandeln (roasted almonds).

Christina got us in on Saturday after we showed up at 10am and they claimed all the tents were already full. She pulled the ‘it’s my 21st birthday these are my friends’ speech with a waiter (which is who can definitely get you in) and we met some more great people back in the Hacker-Pschorr tent on Saturday. I couldn’t bring myself to leave Munich on Sunday early- Christina and her friends went back to take pictures at Oktoberfest but I miss Munich so much and the weather was so nice. I laid in the Englischer Garten and read before visiting Marienplatz and the Deutsche Bank…

I know I know I already have a ski-like winter jacket which I’m sure will be put to good use in the German/Austrian Alps this year. What a rough life. But since I pretty much spent all my money (that I brought) at Oktoberfest, I took advantage of the close proximity of a Deutsche Bank to withdrawal money from Bank of America without a fee. Thanks to the ATM, it gave me 100 Euros in the form of a 100 Euro bill. Great. So I chose to break it today by *sigh* buying a stylish winter coat (the real one is actually gray striped). I’m filing that as “necessary seasonal clothing” in my expenses.

(I apologize for all of the over-media-stimulation in this post. I feel I could talk on and on about Oktoberfest but pictures are better) Overall, two very successful and fun weekends. Now what next…

October 5, 2010 Posted by | Germany | , , , , , | 1 Comment