Month: October 2014

Things to do on a Friday night in Hamburg

On a Friday in Hamburg, there are several routes to take:

The Cultural Route or

The youthful/social Route

I’ve done both, and both are enjoyable for multiple reasons. My second weekend in Hamburg, I took the social route and went out to the Sternschanze quarter in Hamburg. During the day, this looks like a rather run-down area , rather boring actually with some kiosks and greasy fast food closets. There are a lot of bars, but they’re usually empty during the day. In the evening, this is the “happening” place for the less well-to-do people of Hamburg. The “well-to-do” head over to Hafen-City and get to sit in fancy white lounge chairs with blankets and watch the ships roll by on the water. Us students and left-wing idealists head over to Sternschanze and drink a few beers, attending open air concerts or the occasional evening demo. After that, some people head home while others make it over to Reeperbahn (the “red-light” district”) or some neighboring city centers where there are clubs and parties. I haven’t explored either of those yet, and I may never, because I’m a Victorian (not necessarily Oscar Wilde\) at heart, but they’re a good way to round out the evening. There’s also house and dorm parties put on by students to attend on the weekends as well, and all it takes is to bring along a bottle of wine to be warmly welcomed, meet some new people and have a pleasant evening.

This week, I took the cultural route.

After plans I made with a good friend fell through, I was forced to reconsider my plans for my Friday evening. Originally, it was going to be: go to a museum with my friend until the museum closes at 1800, then head over to her place for supper, conversation, and some Tatort. Tatort is probably the most unifyingly German thing. It’s a household name for a show that follows police detectives investigating a murder in one of many featured German cities. A different team/city is featured every week, and an original episode appears once a week, every week [except during the Sommerpause] on Sunday at 2015. I was looking forward to it, however, when I got the call from my sick friend, I spent a little while in the school Mensa on my iPod with a cappuccino, and thought about what I could do that would be equally enjoyable. I decided to visit the museum anyway, and as a follow-up, take full advantage of my Uni Frei Karte. I’ve had this for the past two weeks, but it took me a while to be in the mental space to figure out what to use it for. Snapshot_20141025

The Universitaet Hamburg (UHH) offers a cultural treat for the first three months of first time studies at the university. Basically, anyone just starting at the UHH is encouraged to take advantage of everything Hamburg has to offer, culturally, to its residents. This includes theater, music, art, museums, and ballet. The Frei Karte works with a valid UHH student ID to get into most Hamburg museums for free, and into most performances/events for free if there are tickets left half an hour before the show starts. Sometimes shows are sold out, and then one goes home slightly disappointed (or just heads over to Sternschanze), but most of the time, there are very good seats left. In fact, the play I decided to attend today at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus still had enough tickets an hour before the performance that the lady at the Kasse (ticket office) just gave me a ticket… eighth row, near the middle. It was a perfect spot!! It was a ticket that usually would have cost me 50 euro, and I got it for free. That alone was enough for me to enjoy it.

But let me backtrack to what I did before that.

The cultural route for me last night included a visit to a museum (the Voelkerkunde Museum) and a play. The Hamburg Voelkerkunde Museum (museum for ethnology) is actually the fourth largest of its kind in the world. It’s a beautiful museum. It goes through the early civilizations of the whole world, including New Zealand and Tibet, and it’s impressive in the amount of detail that goes into the displays. Entire gates and buildings are constructed to show how the people once lived and how the cultures survive today. I was able to sit in a Maori meeting house, Native American saunas… so much that I can’t list everything here. I was allowed to walk through worlds that I’ve only ever read in books and it was a wonderful experience. I didn’t get to go through all the exhibits in the 1.5 hours I had, but since the museum is not far from the UHH, I can return at any time.

Voelkerkundemuseum-hamburg

I would visit this museum even if it wasn’t free, but the fact that it was made the experience even sweeter. I should mention that I didn’t even need to show my Frei Karte, since Hamburg museums are ALWAYS free to EVERYONE on Fridays after 1300. I know what I’m doing after my Friday seminar from now on.

Not only is the museum fantastic, the building itself is absolutely beautiful. This is the lobby.

After visiting the museum, I spent some time in the lobby deciding what to do next. I was hesitating about doing something else, wondering if I should have a quiet evening at home and get a head start on preparing for classes next week, but then I just decided to head over to the Deutsches Schauspielhaus, which, with its location near the Hauptbahnhof was the closest and most easy to find theater, and see if there were any tickets left for Wassa Schelesnova. I could have headed over to the Thalia Theater and seen Jedermann, but I didn’t feel like spending a long time to find the location. When I arrived at Hauptbahnhof, I spotted the Deutsche Schauspielhaus right away.

This is the facade of another beautiful building with an interior that reminded me of the past. The high ceiling of the theater had a painted mural of a god in a chariot rolling through the sky. There were reliefs on the box sets and curtain frames. It was beautiful just to look at this from the red velvet covered seats.

I stepped into the ticket office and asked how the Uni Frei Karte would work. The man behind the desk looked to see if the performance last night was accepting the Karte (something I hadn’t even considered would be a potential obstacle), confirmed it was, and then told me I would be able to show my card half an hour before the showing and pick a ticket up, if there were any left. This was about 1830, so I decided to bridge the time with a pretzel and a beer (a wonderful combination) and a walk. I saw the other side of the Hauptbahnhof (not the nice shopping district leading to the Alster), but rather the gambling, foreign food market, sex-shop side. I decided this wasn’t where I necessarily wanted to be on a dark Friday evening, and only spent a little time exploring, opting to go into the theater early. Turns out, as before mentioned, getting a ticket was no problem and I was able to attend a wonderful play.  I’d like to be able to see more with the same actors, and for the next two months, I can.  I also want to attend a ballet or two, some orchestra productions, and a lot of different museums. This weekend I’m making a plan for how to do this.

Finally, for those of you who were concerned that I am too much of a cultural snob, I did spend the rest of the evening after getting home around 1030 celebrating a dorm-mate’s 18th birthday. In Germany, 18 is the legal age for everything, including driving by oneself, drinking hard liquor, and signing all ones documents. I joined in on the party and got to know some of the people I live with here a lot better. It was a great way to end a good evening.

So that’s that. Another long post, sorry. But I think I’ve slowly covered all the main aspects of life here as a foreign-exchange student. Things are starting to settle down, and I am developing routines. A big positive smile from me to you this Saturday morning. Hope you have a good weekend.

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Liebster (blog?) Award

Yesterday, I was nominated for the Liebster Award by saraybennet. I can only put the link for her wonderful blog “Glittering Wanderlust” here and hope that you click on it and read at least one or two posts about her adventures abroad in Spain. Thanks for the nomination! Liebster Award

So, let’s get started. First off, what’s the Liebster Award? When I first saw it, I had to think of the superlative form of the word “Lieb” in German. Liebster is a way to refer to your favorite… so I could start a sentence with  “Mein Liebster Kuchen” and you’d be about to hear about my favorite cake.

But really,

The award aims to expose new bloggers and help mark their blog in the blogging world. 

And the rules are as follows:

  • Post the award on your blog. check
  • Thank the blogger who presented this award and link back to their blog. (whoever designed these rules wants to make sure that we have manners) check
  • Write 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 5-11 bloggers who you feel deserve this award and who have less than 200 followers.
  • Answer 11 questions posted by the presenter and ask your nominees 11 questions.

I decided to answer the questions first, because I figured random facts about myself will be enough of a draw to read to the end of this post (not that I’m innocent of long posts, generally)

Questions from “Glittering Wanderlust” (seriously love the name of that blog!)

  1. What is your favorite way to spend a rainy afternoon? On WordPress with a cappuccino
  2. Do you prefer to travel to warm or cold locations? Prefer mild climates, but I like to explore in shorts and t-shirt
  3. What is the top item on your bucket list? this changes. Right now, it’s the Hamburg Marathon
  4. What is the strangest food that you have ever eaten? Where did you eat it? Labskaus, actually, and it’s a specialty of Hamburg (though can be found in Norway, Sweden, Dennmark, and, oddly enough, Liverpool. It looks like this:

    "Labskaus" im Speisestübchen Eva-Maria Bilder Restaurant Speisestübchen Eva-Maria

    The mush under the egg, sunny-side-up is a mix of salted meat (can be corned beef), potatoes, and onion in beet juice. Then on the side one usually gets roll-mops (herring), pickled beets, and gherkin. A lot of salt and vinegar, the weirdest mix ever… but it tastes quite “not-bad.” I’d even go so far as to recommend it.

  5. Do you like solo or group travel better? I like being in transit solo better, but I enjoy actually being in a place better in groups.
  6. Would you ever go skydiving? If the opportunity presented itself, yes.
  7. What is your dream job? A professor who is also paid to write on the side
  8. Who, if anyone, inspires you to travel? My imagination
  9. Who do you admire most? My mother
  10. What is your favorite book or movie? Right now, The Lord of the Rings books AND movies are occupying a lot of brain space, but I’m also enjoying Wir neuen Deutschen as well. I’d like to do a blog post about it soon.
  11. Do you write your blog with or without music? Since I’m listening to music now, it’d be a lie to say that I don’t. Yep. Listen all the time when I’m doing any pleasurable writing or reading. If I have to read political history in German, I’m less likely to be listening to music. Right now, “Rolling in the Deep” is playing (though not because I picked it.)

Now, instead of posting my facts about myself, l’m going to mention nominees and questions, and then answer those questions myself.

I nominate Rural Running Redhead, pscapp, trying to get faster even as I get older, Cadence Runner and run fast, puke left for the Liebster award and to answer the following questions. I’ve asked them because they’re the folks (sorry, not sorry about using that word) whose response posts I (and maybe others) would like to read.

  1. How much did you run from Oct. 13-19?
  2. Do you have a set time you try to blog, or does it just “happen?”
  3. When you are ready to blog, do you make yourself a drink first? If so, what kind?
  4. What is something you would like to accomplish before the end of 2014?
  5. If you have children, which of your traits are you most happy that they picked up?
  6. Beach or trail run?
  7. If you (and anyone else you with you) were given a travel stipend and a week off, where would you go?
  8. Which language do you think sounds the most beautiful?
  9. What kind of movie would you like to star in?
  10. (for the laundromat-savvy) If there was one machine almost done, and you needed to do a load, how long would you wait for the person to show up before you (nicely) took out their laundry so that you could do yours?
  11. Do you blog with the hope that others read your blog, or do you really not care?

All these questions are optional!

My answers:

  1. How much did [I] run from Oct. 13-19? 47.8 miles
  2. Do [I] have a set time you try to blog, or does it just “happen?” I don’t have a set time, but usually do it when I’m not distracted by anything else pressing.
  3. When [I am] ready to blog, do [I] make [myself] a drink first? Yes, usually a coffee or tea
  4. What is something [I] would like to accomplish before the end of 2014? Feel at home, to some extent in Hamburg. Set a half-marathon PR. Have at least 20 pages of notes for my MA thesis
  5. If [I] have children [which I don’t], which of [my] traits [would I be] most happy that they picked up? My conscientiousness and thoughtfulness
  6. Beach or trail run? Trail
  7. If [I] were given a travel stipend and a week off, where would [I] go? Moscow
  8. Which language do [I] think sounds the most beautiful? I think the Khoisan languages sound neat, but I really like Brazilian Portuguese
  9. What kind of movie would [I] like to star in? I’d love to get the training to be in a martial arts movie with a powerful philosophical message
  10. (for the laundromat-savvy) I would wait 15 minutes
  11. Do [I] blog with the hope that others read [my] blog, or do [I] really not care? I do have a set audience in mind for my blog sites, and I do kind of hope that my posts get read. Yet in the end, it really only matters to me that I can go back and read them myself.

Fun with Beamte

So that was fun.

Today, I got official permission to live in the beautiful city of Hamburg.

Bezirksamt Altona-Hamburg

After a short sub-way ride and decent walk through some of Hamburg’s famous schietwetter, I made it to the building that hosted the multiple offices for important stuff. The only thing I was interested in there was the Wohnsitz Anmeldung, basically, residence permit.

While waiting in line at the reception, I overheard the woman in front of me be told that she had a 2.5 hour wait. I was happy that the local chair-lady of the VDAC had made us an appointment.

That is, I thought she made me an appointment until it turned out that only one was made for the other US student. I didn’t have one. Yet my German skills came in handy here (and some tips from my mother) and I started saying that I was a little annoyed about this and that I couldn’t understand it and that I hoped I wouldn’t have to wait now. I knew I had an appointment and I said I refused to have to come back again or wait. After huffing like that for a bit, I was told I was at the front of the line, given a form to fill out (to pass the time) and then asked to take a seat in the waiting area.

That was all fine by me and I got set to fill out the form, not able to complete it before being called to a desk. [note: In Germany, as I’ve experienced it, most bureaucratic offices have systems where you go to a reception area, tell the person what you’re there (at the particular office) for, asked if you have all relevant forms, and then given a number. The numbers are based on first-come, first serve as well as based on which official will be dealing with cases like yours. There’s usually an electronic sign in the waiting room which has flashing numbers on it, and a ding usually reverberates throughout the room when a new number is called. The room to which one is called is also flashed, and it’s generally a very orderly system].

At the desk, I handed over my passport and my Mietvertrag (rental-agreement) and the nice young lady in charge of me got set filling out information online while I finished filling out the form.

The Wohnsitzmeldung costs 10 Euro, but when it came time to pay, rather than handing it over to the lady, I was given a card and sent to a machine outside of the room where I inserted the card and paid the amount. It’s as if the German bureaucracy wanted to make it clear that the certain Beamtin was not the one handling my money… it was going straight to the state.

Another thing that surprised me about this process was the fact that I was asked for my religious affiliation; specifically, I was asked whether and in what faith I was baptized. I noted my surprise to the lady and she told me that it had to do with tax purposes. I think that in the U.S., since state and church are completely separate, it doesn’t matter what religion you are when you apply for residence.

About five minutes into the process, I was pleased to be handed a sheet of paper to look over for the accuracy of the info. It looked alright to me and I said so.

That was it!

Woo hoo. The other US student and I (we hang out quite a bit, though he and I didn’t arrive together today because I was running late) decided, after such a successful experience, we would take care of the last bit of bureaucracy while in this country. We had to get our “Aufenhaltsgenehmigung,” or “visas.” In Germany, one is allowed to stay in the country for up to three months without being a citizen. Any time after that, one must apply for permission to stay in the country. This is pretty standard across the globe, I fee, but I don’t know.

I do know that it’s a bit of a pain to get an Aufenhaltsgenehmigung. In order to get the Aufenhaltsgenehmigung, one has to have a registered residence. That’s why we couldn’t do the visa until today. One also has to have a valid reason to want to stay in the country (either work or education). Often, this is a Catch-22, because in order to get work, often one needs to have permission to be in the country. In order to get that, one needs work… and so forth.

The steps to get Aufenhaltsgenehmigung:

  1. Be in the country legally
  2. Have reason to be in the country (study or work; likely asylum as well)
  3. Make it to the local town hall and go to the “Auslaender [foreign]abteilung”
  4. Wait in line to be given a number
  5. Show proof of being in the country legally (passport)
  6. Have proof of residence
  7. Have all the documents that show you’re allowed to be in the country (for study: matriculation document and proof of funding of studies). For me, this meant having proof of the VDAC scholarship.
    1. As mentioned in a previous post, Germany has insurance Pflicht, so in order to study, one needs proof of insurance, so this document is also necessary
  8.  Have form “Erforderliche Unterlagen fuer die Antragsbearbeitung [required documents for the application process]” filled out
  9. Have a passport picture for the final product: the visa (this is something unique to Germany and (?) Europe. In the U.S., pictures are taken at the relevant offices. In Germany, one is expected to arrive at the office with ones own photo. There was a machine outside the office).
  10. Be given a number to wait to give all these documents to someone who plugs it into the computer…
  11. Pay 110 Euro to be allowed to stay in the country
  12. I have yet to see how this adventure continues

My fellow U.S. American and I were able to complete the first steps pretty easily. The Bezirksamt wasn’t far from the Ratshaus (townhall), and the Ratshaus was where we were supposed to go.

Germany has some pretty town halls. And this is only one of many in Hamburg, since each “Stadtteil” has its own. The “real” Hamburg Ratshaus is also its parliament, and that’s a pretty impressive building

This is the official Hamburg Ratshaus. The day of the photo, there were Chinese dignitaries in town. The Germans are hospitable people and don't mind giving up their flag for a day

This is the official Hamburg Ratshaus. The day of the photo, there were Chinese dignitaries in town. The Germans are hospitable people and don’t mind giving up their flag for a day

Yet, after that it went pretty down hill because he (my fellow American) didn’t want to wait what seemed like more than an hour, and I didn’t have my Versicherungsvorzeichnis. I will have to come back to the office at some point and complete the process.

Oh well. The lady at the reception had something up her… anyway, so I don’t mind coming back to deal with someone else. I burned off some steam going to IKEA (which, like I mentioned before, isn’t far from the Alona subway station) and drinking some free coffee.

Now, I have to get to class.

A quick update on WHAT I’m taking

I realized that I spent time talking about taking classes without mentioning how the classes are structured or graded.

One can attend Vorlesungen or Seminare (lectures or seminars).

Vorlesungen are literally lectures that one could find in many larger universities in the U.S. I had little experience in lectures because I went to a small, public liberal arts college where the classes are capped at 30 and one always had some kind of discussion. By the time I made it to a larger university, I was in graduate school and the classes were structured a lot like I was used to. Basically, for a Vorlesung, the professor stands at the lectern for 1.5 hours and gives a presentation on the topic of the day, leaving some room for questions or inquiries. It’s very formal-ish and little contact occurs between the student and the teacher. It’s a one-way information transfer that takes some getting used to. Thankfully, I’m only attending one of these as an overview of German-language literatures from the 1600 to the present. I just took an oral exam (MA comprehensive) that required me to figure out this overview on my own, but I figured a little formal instruction to fill in some gaps I may have left wouldn’t hurt. Plus, I am not going to be responsible for anything except coming to class (no tests or papers), so it’s an hour and three quarters well spent every week, I think.

Seminars here are similar to those in the U.S. I don’t know how they are for the undergrads, but I’ll talk about those designed for MA students here.

The graduate course seminars in the U.S. run three hours for once a week. Here, they run 1.75 hours for once a week. Obviously, they seem incredibly short and somehow the same amount of learning has to be done. Where? At home. The seminars in the US leave a lot more room for teachers to give students contextual background of the material and to figure out a few confusions. Here, students are expected to do that on their own and come into class already prepared with things to contribute, not wait for the moments to come up with something. I haven’t actually done anything yet, but I know that I have to do a lot to prepare for my classes in the coming week.

As for how things are graded at the end, basically, here in Germany, there are three options for taking classes: full-participation and exam/paper at the end; full-participation; and simple sitting-in. To get the equivalent of three graduate credits in the U.S., one needs to earn 7 Leistungspunkten, that is, “effort points.” These 7 points are granted only if the requirements for participation are filled (i.e. missed less than three times, prepared a Referat, presentation, etc.) and a term paper or exam is written at the end. 2 Leistungspunkten are given purely for participation. I can read the texts, come into class prepared to talk about the texts and prepare one presentation and that will give me some credits. No Leistungspunkten are given if one just sits in the class and listens, but it can still appear on ones transcript.

Once grades are given, they are given for the quality of the participation, the Referat, and the paper. They are given on a 1-5 scale with 1 being the highest (an equivalent of an “A”) and 5 being the lowest (an “F”). I have heard that “A”s are more difficult to receive here, but my ambition is going to make me try!

As for course load, graduate students are generally expected to take 4-6 classes. It depends on the semester and on how much they’ve already taken.

I am taking three classes for 7 Leistungspunkten, two classes for participation credit (2 Leistungspunten) and two Russian language classes that I haven’t quite figured out how credit is given yet. Language courses in the German university are still something I need to figure out, so I’ll come back to that in the future.

Also, I’m taking one “German as  Foreign Language” course in something about academic writing, for which I needed to take an Einstufungstest, language skills classification test, and I have yet to see how that will be as well.

For now, hope these tidbits of info were interesting.

Tschüss!

Two (to Three) Weeks in Hamburg

What? These past two weeks have been some of the longest in my entire life. There’s something to be said about the conception of time and how some people will tell you that the more different things you undertake, the slower time seems. Conversely, routine is the quickest aging mechanism, and yet, surprisingly it is routine that keeps most of us sane and gets us through life, so I won’t say that any method is more desirable over the other.

I will say, however, that different days everyday are unavoidable when moving to another country. Just the act of seeing new things everyday, even if it’s not the last time you see them, makes everyday seem new. Also, one does a lot more getting lost, and thus more seeing new things. Over the past three days, I’ve gotten lost thrice and seen new buildings, coffee houses, and bell constructions (there’s a bell series on the facade of one of the buildings in the Hanse Viertel that plays the “Ode to Joy” refrain on the hour; that was a nice surprise).

I really can’t list all the different kinds of things I’ve seen, but I wish I could because Hamburg truly is a city that one can fall in love with.

It’s balanced by a fine northern German bourgeoise attitude though. Since I usually spend my time in former East Germany and/or in Berlin, I am used to people being much less “nobility” conscious. I realized yesterday while “getting lost” that I live in a rather well-to-do neighborhood, and that the people who live here driving Feraris and BMWs are probably thinking of me as the “poor student.” This attitude carries over when I ask people for a little direction help in the street or on the bus and I feel patronized a lot more than I am used to in the States.

But I don’t blame people for labeling me as “poor” or “helpless,” because that’s how I’ve been/am. After arriving in the country with about 500 Euro and receiving my first scholarship stipend of 600 Euro, 300 were paid right away as collateral for the state of my room. Then 100 for “moving-supplies” (read, a mini-spree at IKEA–but I really needed a good lamp, yo!). I paid 200 for BahnCard50 and a train ticket to Dresden for the official VDAC opening seminar (that will be reimbursed hopefully soon). I also paid my Studium-Geburen (student taxes that are a joke of a tuition) of 250 Euro. Are you following with the math? I had 250 Euro left after those important purchases. Then, I used about 100 Euro for a new pair of running shoes that I DESPERATELY (you have no idea) needed:

These don't look like they've seen 605 miles, but they have.

These don’t look like they’ve seen 605 miles, but they have.

And 90 Euro for, wait, what’s that thing called? You know, one of those things that you need in winter in Europe but would look ridiculous wearing in Florida, even if it’s their coldest day? Oh yeah, a good “fall/winter” coat. Yep.

So how much money does that leave me with?

Not a lot.

Good thing food in Germany is very inexpensive. Some of the interesting conversations I’ve had with “natives” and other “foreigners” are about the price of food in Germany compared to in the US, and how this balances with the price of rent. It turns out, you can eat really well in Germany and still be homeless, but you can have a huge house in the US and still be starving.

That being said, I’ve had to really watch my food budget. Basically, I worked out that I can spend 2 Euro a day if I spend about 20 a week on basic groceries like apples, oats, yogurt, carrots, ham, cheese, some other fruit source, and occasionally some lettuce. 2 Euro sounds like nothing in the States, but here I can get a decent meal in the Mensa for 2-3 Euro plus a coffee in the student run cafe on campus (that I may, or may not, have been going to a lot; it gives me some sense of familiarity in my day), plus! I can also get a roll for dinner to have with my ham and cheese.

This miserliness is hopefully only temporary though. Next month, I pay my rent (wonderfully subsidized by the local German-American Women’s Club) of 125 Euro and then I basically have the rest of my stipend to save for travel and have a little more luxury with my budget (read: the occasional beer, perhaps?).

I’ve heard it’s bad manners to talk about money

Pretty sure talking about money is up there on the list with standing on your chair while drinking iced tea.

but I figured that it’s definitely part of the student experience and the study-abroad experience. Money is especially an issue when you are cut off from quick funds at the ATM machine (walking for hours to fund the ATM that has a partnership with you bank is not quick; also, note that Bank of America ceases to have a good relationship with Deutsche Bank, so it really isn’t more helpful to open an account with them before coming to a place like German. I have to pay a charge plus the exchange rate when extracting money now). Not to mention, if you’re not familiar with the exchange rate of the currency you’re using, it can be a bit of shock to see how much purchasing power remains the same despite paying five dollars for every four Euro. So finances are an issue while abroad, and it’s something to be prepared for when going.

But my life has moved beyond the realm of the free-observer of German culture and life and into that student-life, particularly.

I had been attending the orientation seminars the first two weeks and been among students. I also had been going out in the evenings to some of Hamburg’s best “pub”-quarters like Sternschanze or some pubs near the campus. [note: I’d like to write about the German “pub” culture sometime and how it’s much more similar to Britain’s than something like the “party-culture” in the U.S. is] Not to mention, I was in the process of submitting my MA thesis prospectus, so I was definitely academically involved. I just hadn’t been going to classes.

This week was the start of classes (again, my tardiness in posting means that I’m already into my third week here, but you don’t mind, right?)

Damn. It’s weird to sit in rows with other students facing a teacher or professor who will be the task-driver for the next few months. I haven’t done that since May, so I think, besides everything else I need to get used to, I need to get used to this again as well.

I was surprised to notice that classes are structured much like they are in the US graduate classes. The professors gave us a chance to introduce ourselves and our reasons for wanting to be in the class. Then organizational matters like online-webboard logins and class structure/layout were discussed. I don’t know why I expected something else to happen (maybe because I was in Germany or something) and I thought I’d have to get used to how things were done here, but really, I think I can handle this. I think the one major difference is that there’s less work expected during the semester from the students. I’m used to having a term paper be the main evaluation of a course, but that has been combined with weekly assignments or sets of annotated bibliographies or projects on the side. Here, unless one has to do a presentation (Referat) as part of the participation for the class, one is not responsible for anything except keeping up with the reading material and writing the paper at the end. Of course, one is expected to contribute to class discussions, but how to prepare for that is left up to the individual.

Only one of my classes is a “Vorlesung,” lecture. So I only spend my time in one of these for about 1.75 hours a week. The rest of the time is standard class setting with tables and chairs.

Another difference between classes here and the US (which I had been told about but actually only came across in two of my seven classes [no! that’s not a lot of classes. It’s only seven meetings of 1.75 hours once a week, so it’s not like seven classes in the U.S]), was the fact that teachers ask for input on how to run the course and which works to read. I’m used to having professors tell me “read these three works by the middle of the semester.” I’m not used to them giving me the freedom to suggest another work that may work well with the subject of inquiry. I think that student-input requires a trust that the students here have a better base knowledge of all subjects, which supports my theory that Germans generally leave school with a better Allgemeinbildung (general education).

Despite mentioning two big differences, I’ve already mentioned a lot of other smaller ones and could continue discussing them. But there’s time. 🙂 I’m here for another ten months. I also have some work to do, despite nothing being due next week, so I’m going to get on that as well.

First, another long-ish run on the Elbe is in order.

Happy Weekend!

First Week in Hamburg, Germany

This post has been waiting a while to be written, (and it’s therefore been more than a week) and I’ve got drafts scattered all in my different notebooks, but it’s a late post since it’s a pretty hefty post and covers some intense experiences I’ve had, not all good.

Hamburg lay out before me on the morning of my arrival in the half-light of early morning, green plains, some darker green forests, a lot of curving and straight lines symbolizing streets and sidewalks, and lots and lots of lights left over from a night of normalcy for the city.

This is a beautiful city with a famous comforting orange glow

I touched down with feelings of numbness that had started before I even left the airport waiting room in Miami, and tried to feel happy about being here. It didn’t help that I desperately needed caffeine after a nine hour flight into the wee hours of my Florida body-clock.

Let’s start with the practical things since arriving in this foreign country.

I got to take care of a few things right away after meeting a very nice lady from the Women’s Club of American-German Exchange in Hamburg. The first things was the check-in into my new room at one of Hamburg’s many student dorms (dorms here are scattered throughout the city, rather than on a campus…which doesn’t completely exist here either). The check-in process was relatively quick. Too quick almost. I was allowed to pay my first rent and a collateral for the state of the room, drop my two suitcases off into my room, grab my laptop and some important documents, and then was herded quickly out the door again. I wasn’t to see the dorm again until later that evening.

After check-in, I was herded (a lot of herding going on, since I was kind of brain-dead) to the bank to open my bank account and forced to deal with serious questions that made the difference of paying 2 Euro 50 or 3 euro 50 each month. I went with the 3 euro 50 because I figured whatever the extra Euro was for would be worth it.

Then, I got to visit a university-affiliated insurance agency to find out if my US international insurance would qualify me for German university studies (I’m in a country where insurance is Pflicht, required). Turns out, I didn’t have all the documents and would have to come back. [I eventually got it all cleared up, but it involved some stressful e-mailing and worrying]

So, insurance was a “on-hold” matter, but I then had to go to the train station and book my ticket for Dresden, which was an organized seminar arranged for other VDAC students like me. My guide didn’t know which train I needed to book, and assumed that because seats were reserved, the assistant at the desk for the Deutsche Bahn would be able to look up a name and voila. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case (as I could have told my guide without even knowing how these things work) and so buying the ticket was another thing that needed to wait. At least I was able to buy my student discout BahnCard50 that basically takes 50% of all train tickets.

It wasn’t long into this whole business when I realized that my guide was new at introducing students through this program to Hamburg, and that she was working off a list that had been given to her by someone else. I think she and I were both glad when everything was taken care of.

We both went out to lunch  near the campus (to which she invited me) and I tried to relax and grasp the fact that I was in Hamburg. Instead, I was unhappy that I was about to be left alone on campus without a proper bag for all my stuff (remember, I only took what I needed since my backpack was still full of other stuff), encouraged to sit through a few orientating seminars put on by the campus (one was on how to access wifi [called WLAN here]), and had not even been able to wash my face since arriving from my overnight flight.

Needless to say, I only made it through two seminars and half of the campus tour before I decided to head home. On the way home, I stopped by a MediaMart to pick up a hot water kettle (sub-consciosly, I knew I wouldn’t want to have to go to the communal kitchen every morning for coffee or every evening for tea) and the internet router that no one told me to bring with me (my dorm didn’t get wifi until a few days after I arrived). Of course, as to be expected when being left to find ones way back home alone, I got lost and had to ask a few people for directions. Thankfully, I met a nice Hamburger (I could hear it in her accent) and made it home safely. There wasn’t much time left but to unpack stuff and send a few e-mails before I crashed in my freshly made bed.

So that was my first day. The second day I woke up with more things to take care of. I started by going to IKEA {there’s a really nice, new one not far from where I live!) to buy some things to organize my new “home” with and rounded up the day by going to seminars… a lot of them. There was a tour of the pub-quarter at 9 PM, but I wasn’t in the mood for alcohol and went home to go to bed early for the second night in a row. I did, however, manage to take care of getting to know my area a bit, getting my insurance clearance, registering for the online portal and school wifi, and other stuff. I was busy and able to handle a lot.

The question is, whether I was able to handle it all emotionally.

Emotionally, things were not as productive or positive.

This is a kind of friendly/non-threatening way to depict the way I was feeling for many mornings since being here.

No one told me how spoiled I’ve been in my life. Never before have I had to face such feelings of desolation or displacement, despite traveling often between countries and having spent three and a half years at a college away from home.

I spent my first week in Hamburg feeling displaced even though I knew I wasn’t “displaced.” I was right where I was supposed to be and yet I still felt strange to others around me and to myself. It was as if my ability to handle emotions had shut everything down and I was only working with the right half of my brain. I know Germany, I’ve been here before, but never have I been here a a pure individual. I was a daughter, a sister, or a friend. Now, it was just me.

At first, I thought it was just initial shock. I knew I was pushing my psychological limits by taking an exam the day before my international flight, so I figured the numbness was just me working off my shock. It wasn’t until I was in Dresden the first weekend (though, I rationalized how I was feeling there too, because I knew I hadn’t had enough time to settle in Hamburg and already I was in another German city) that I started to worry. I knew Dresden even more than I knew Hamburg. It was a place I had been three or four times. Yet I looked at beautiful buildings with the same distance I would look at them on google images on the internet.

I was doing things that I usually never did, like going out in the evenings to have drinks with the other Americans, or making ridiculously witty comments to relieve some of the frantic thoughts I was having about myself the entire time. I was completely free, but I wasn’t caring about where I was, who I was seeing or what I was doing.

When I got back from Dresden after a train ride during which I was able to be witty, conversational, polite and generally a pleasure to travel with, I broke-down from the pressure of keeping up a front. I called my parents for the first time since arriving (I hadn’t been able to do so, before then) and explained how I was feeling, and how lost I was.

At some point, my mother was able to calm me down my telling me that I was normal. This, how I was feeling, was normal given the circumstances and while it’s uncomfortable, painful, and scary, it’s not something to be scared of. Given my circumstances of extreme stress (exam), stress release (I passed), travel, and a huge life-change (alone in a “foreign country” with a lot of stuff to deal with at once), my body (mind) was protecting me.

So that was Sunday. It’s been a few days since then during which I’ve attended some orientation programs designed specially for MA students of German literature (the university orientation system is nice! One of the few things in which the university provides a hand to hold for the students during their application process and studies), found some sort of running mojo, cooked a few times in the communal kitchen, slowly met more and more students and built some sort of “relationship” with them. I went out for drinks for the third time in my life and actually enjoyed it, and got together a few times with a distant cousin who played a large role in making me feel valued and welcomed, and like myself, in this city . I’ve had several phone conversations with my family, done a lot of e-mailing, reached out to everyone and anyone who I thought could help me (including a counselor through my university), and generally am holding on until all these “first times” of first time eating in the dining hall (Mensa), first time going to the library, first time visiting a professor’s office, become routine.

Some of my best moments this past week were discovering a running route I can stick to that takes me along the Elbe river, finding out what sort of person I am, learning new things about the capabilities of people and communities, getting excited about the courses I’m taking and finding out that I am in fact in a city that is perfect for my focus of study, finding my way to the university by bike, exploring Hamburg and discovering what a wonderful city, it in fact, is, and sticking to my personal covenant of no-sugar for a year.

This is truly a great city and I can’t wait to feel “normal” again so that I can appreciate it for all it is. Right now, I’m trying to keep busy and slowly I have more and more spaces of time where I feel like my old self. I know I’ve been here for 9 days now, but I also know it takes a while to “arrive” after the physical touch down on “foreign” soil. I know I’ll look back on this first week and see how much I’ve grown because of it, but right now I can’t help but be annoyed at my brain. I think I’m ready to handle things now, brain. You can relax again.

So ja. That’s that. I’m sure I missed a lot to talk about, and there’s a lot left to cover, but I’m here for year, so we’ll get to that. For this go around, I just wanted to give readers a verbalization of what it really means to be abroad, and that a fair warning is indeed in order.

I ain’t no skinny b*tch, but I also don’t have buns, hon’: Some Notes on Body Image in the USA today

There’s a movement away from wanting to be “thin” or “skinny,” and I think that’s a good thing. Yet this movement seems to be taking us to the other extreme. We have songs about big butts and magazine covers with women who can hire chefs and trainers to keep them slim, but what about the rest of us? The ones with some fat jiggling here and there, but not necessarily in “all the right places”?

This post is a sort of attempt to address a growing concern I have for the US, and I wonder how body image is addressed in Germany. While abroad, that’s one of the things I’d like to find out.

I am not going to attempt to unravel the great knot of health, fitness, beauty advice and see just what  it is that girls are “supposed” to do nowadays, because I know that  a) I am not going to unravel anything, perhaps just loosen the knots a little and b) there is nothing anyone should “suppose” to do, except for maybe be kind to others, be kind to oneself.

These thoughts were brought by my runs  shortly before I left (dear radio stations: no runner should have to hear the same song twice within one workout hour) and the current hits topping the music charts. The one that come to mind (and that I’ve had to listen to most frequently) is “All About that Bass” by Meghan Trainor.

I must say that this is a totally catchy tune and really enjoyable to listen to. Some of the lyrics are even enthusiastically empowering, especially “every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top”; just the question is, to whom and at what cost?

Good lines:

“Yeah my mama she told me don’t worry about your size”

“I see the magazine workin’ that Photoshop
We know that shit ain’t real
C’mon now, make it stop”

“You know I won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll
So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along”

“I know you think you’re fat
But I’m here to tell ya
Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top”

but then there are some not so good lines, like in the skinny girl bashing:

“stick figure silicone Barbie doll”

“them skinny bitches that”

There’s also some boy stereotyping about what boys “really like”:

“Boys like a little more booty to hold at night.”

“‘Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase”

All about sex, as if that’s the magic act that validates how we look. Being happy with one’s body should not be grounded in how it can please someone else:

“And all the right junk in all the right places”

“I got that boom boom that all the boys chase”

“a little more booty to hold at night”

What we should be singing about:

Being healthy, alive… boys and girls being allowed to love any part of the body of their boy or girlfriend. There’s no such thing as universally sexy.

Rather than talking about how the body we have is/matches some set idea of what’s sexy, whether skinny or curvy, we should be saying that because it’s our body, and we live with it and work with it, we’ve learned to rock it. It’s the things our bodies can do that are important, and if we develop good habits of what we do with our bodies, our bodies will begin to reflect it.

Celebrating the things our bodies can do and the resulting confidence is what makes us sexy, no matter what the size.

Just some thoughts.