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!

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