Month: December 2014

In Review

My WordPress Reader has lately been filled with posts in which bloggers comment on their year 2014 and talk about what they hope for the year 2015.

While I am a fan of keeping private matters off the web (after all, the internet is not an ideal location for diary entries and clouds are not thick enough for nude selfies), I see a strong value in the work done to reflect and look forward. Ultimately, putting things in perspective is one of our defining actions as humans; our ability to think about moments in time and not just re/act “in the moment” is a distinguishing factor (as far as we know and can tell) “separating us from the animals.” Species-ism aside, I think that while such a post may be slightly boring for most readers, it’s hugely beneficial for the writer. The writer can articulate pride, anxieties, and issues that otherwise are left to float in champagne glasses that reflect the lights of fireworks in the sky. Plus, posting about it causes some desire to remain accountable about one’s goals.

So here are my articulations. I actually feel a bit apprehensive of starting a new year, because I fear that nothing can top the one I just had.

I feel like I accomplished so much to be proud of and have been blessed with so many positives, that I worry 2015 will be anti-climatic. On the other hand, I realize an equal number of things that I am not so proud of and have to work on, and those may be the things I want to improve upon in the new year.

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A Good Year – my best five experiences of this past year

5. Teaching university freshman. While this seems ages ago, I am grateful to have successfully completed two semesters of teaching. Since I plan to enter academia and have many more “first days of classes” where I have to learn all the student’s names and second-guess my authority every other minute, this experience will be something I can always look back on with pride. I especially enjoyed being able to design the syllabus myself and chose the works and pace my classes worked at. I kept a teaching journal, so I know there are a lot of things I need to improve upon, but I learned that I can feel comfortable in front of the classroom, and that makes me happy.  Honorable mention: I presented at my first conferences! One was inter-school, so the audience was not intimidating. The other was international! I try not to let that accomplishment inflate my ego.

4. I play forward for a German soccer team!! Of course, not the German soccer team, and not even a huge one. But, I am part of a group of women who play soccer competitively, and I’ve been placed in a great position. Usually relegated to midfield or defense (of course, no less positions that the forward), I have been given responsibility for the team’s success in a way I’ve never had before and, as my confidence slowly grows, I kind of like it. Honorable mention here (since it’s sport related) is running my first trail race in February and securing a PR in the half-marathon.

3. Sugar-free 2014. While it has been a struggle (sometimes more challenging than other times–especially at the beginning and around Christmas), I managed to cut out all sugar out of my diet. I did eat fruit and dairy, so I guess it’s not all sugars, but I cut out the majority of what one would consider sweet food. Catalyzed by a decent amount of self-loathing about how undisciplined I am around chocolate, and news from health professionals that I could be a happier and healthier person (and a better runner!) without it, I stopped eating sugar. No matter the benefits in physical and mental well-being I’ve gained from this move, the discipline I was able to hold is a source of strength from which I will be able to draw upon at any point in the future. I plan to continue being sugar free in 2015, but with a little less vigilance.

2. Based on the promise of my thesis prospectus, I was given permission to write a thesis. I am such a nerd, but I am really excited to be writing about my topic. I am comparing two novels (one English/one German) and examining the use of voice in the “migrant novel.” A better articulation about that here. I also passed my MA oral comprehensive exam. Now the “only” things in the way of my MA degree are completing my courses and the thesis. This work will be defining for my year of 2015.

1. Topping this list, of course, has been my first months studying abroad in Hamburg. This time last year, I didn’t even know if I would be studying abroad, and I remember being able to study abroad through the VDAC as being my main New Year’s wish on Dec. 31st 2013. Wish granted! I’m a student in Germany!!! I continue to be one through the end of the summer term 2015. Through this experience exploring another culture and possibilities than the one I grew up in, I learned a few things about myself that have made me a much different person than I was a year ago. While I hope I don’t have to experience such another transition anytime soon, I feel okay about having the chance to start the new year as more free-spirited and continue exploring.

A few hopes for the year 2015 (but not telling you my specific new year’s wish because I’m superstitious that it then won’t come true):

I hope I complete my requirements for the MA in time so that by the end of July, I have my degree!

I hope my brother successfully earns his BA degree.

I hope to attend another conference and to actually publish an article (or two) in academic journals.

I hope I will be granted a teaching position Fall 2015 as a adjunct somewhere while I wait to be able to apply for PhD programs. In a way, I’m glad I couldn’t make the deadlines for US applications for Fall 2015, because now I’ll have a bit of breathing room post-MA thesis, and maybe have the chance to get more experience teaching something like literature.

I hope I recover from my latest running injury in time to train for and complete the Hamburger Marathon.

I hope the move my family is planning within Florida (planning for retirement, empty-nests, etc.) goes well.

I hope my family and friends make it healthily and without major catastrophes through 2015 to 2016.

I hope the world has a better year than 2014. I realize that while my personal year has been incredible, for the rest of the world it has not.

Here’s to a good year 2015.

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A little bit of southern: A trip to Nürnberg

Despite being barely the size of Texas, Germany is a highly populated country with a largely diversified cultural and linguistic makeup. A lot of this is historically determined and would need a semester or two to explain, but it’s safe to say that Germany is much more than the stereotypical food and entertainment present at Octoberfest. Oktoberfest isn’t even celebrated in a lot of Germany.

I am studying abroad in Hamburg, so I did not experience the twirling dirndls and huge mugs of beer. Instead, I got the tour of the Hafencity and Sunday morning fish-roll at the Fischmarkt (but yes, also a few mugs of beer). Yet, it’s easy to forget that what I experience in Hamburg is not necessarily “German.” Rather, it often belongs to the special brand of “northern German.” I generally like this special brand, but I am grateful for the opportunity to see some southern Germany as well during my study-abroad year.

For the second seminar organized by the VDAC (fondly referred to as “V-dac”  by a lot of my fellow U.S. students), we were invited to spend a weekend in Nürnberg. Known as Nuremberg to non-German speakers, this beautiful, old city has a complicated, fascinating history- both good and bad. Since it is more than a thousand years old, one has to consider its significance far beyond the 1930s and 40s, though the city presents enough opportunities to remember and reflect upon the more recent history as well. Our stay here was arranged by the Nuernberger Frauenklub, and they organized a wonderful trip, including a cute welcome bag from St. Nick and a little gift in front of our doors on St. Nikolaustag on the 6th.

We stayed in the youth hostel of Nuernberg. It’s one of the coolest hostels I’ve ever stayed in… actually part of the fort at the top of the hill that gives Nuernberg it’s name. Formerly the emperor’s horse stalls, the building had been remodeled and renovated into a state funded hostel. I would chose sleeping here over a hotel in the city anytime… even if it did mean hiking up the hill to get back to the rooms from the city. Those sleeping in the upper stories of the hostel got a terrific view, but even sleeping on the second floor, I was in awe of being able to stay here.

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Since it was part of the entire collection of buildings from the Burg, we were actually not far from it.

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We were given a tour of the city by a very knowledgeable native Nuernbergerin from the Frauenklub. This tour opened our eyes to the wealth of history left in the buildings not destroyed by bombings in World War II. There are a lot of churches (more evangelical than catholic… surprisingly in southern Germany), bridges (Nuernberg is like the Venice of Germany), fountains, patrician houses and the house of the famous painter Albrecht Duerer. Nuernberg was an important city for the Holy Roman Empire during the Middle Ages, often referred to as an unofficial capital, since, among other things, because the Imperial Diet Reichstag) and courts met at the Burg. We had the opportunity on the second day of our stay to actually see the Burg from the inside and learn a little more about its history.

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Our guide explaining the significance of a certain building.

We also had many opportunities to go on the world-famous Christkindlmarkt (and I thought the Hamburger Ratshaus one was impressive!). I bought so much Lebkuchen for family and friends back home. I think at least five kilo of my luggage weight came from the weight of this delicious German Christmas cake/cookie.

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I also used the opportunity to drink a hot toddy at the international partner city Christmasmarkt, and watched a traditional Feuerzangbowle be prepared at another stand (seeing as it was used with sugar burned over rum, I wasn’t about to drink it though. But I heard it tastes delicious!

As already alluded to, however, Nuernberg’s history also has a dark side. I am grateful that we were given the chance to see both, since in the States we usually think of the city as being the location of Hitler’s Reichsparteitage prior to the war and then hosting the War Crime trials after the war. My fellow VDAC students and I were brought to the Dokumentation Center where the history of Nuernberg as the location of these two events and many of the events (deportation of Jewish people, communists, “gypsies,” dissidents) surrounding them was explained in a very well-done exhibition of the German population’s participation in these events. It was a sobering experience.

Overall, the trip was wonderful and perhaps even more enjoyable than the first VDAC trip to Dresden. It was more laid back and we all knew each other better. I look forward to the next seminar and getting to know a new city in Germany!

Vorweihnachtszeit: St. Nikolaustag und Advent

I’m heard from a few people that when one thinks of Christmas, one cannot avoid thinking of the Germans. This is because so many of the world’s Christmas traditions originated in Germany. There’s the Christmas tree, coal for bad children, coming on a sleigh…

Yet, I’ve discovered that a lot of what makes Christmas in Germany special is that it is really a whole season, not just a day or two for Holy Night and Christmas Day. It actually starts on the first day of Advent, which is the first of four Sundays before the 25th of December. As the word describes, Advent recognizes the waiting for the birth of Christ. It is, of course, observed in church, but many German households also host an Adventskranz and sit around the table on the Sundays before Christmas with traditional German Christmas cakes and pastries, such as Stollen, Spekulatius, Lebkuchen…

Adventskranz

Photo from an article in the Hamburger Aberndblatt paper describing the Hanseatic origins of this tradition.

Another way Germans spread out the season over the whole month is with Adventskalendern. Throughout the month of November, I saw these calendars all over Hamburg. Nearly every store had a collection of them somewhere. I’ve seen these in U.S. stores too, but not nearly with as much variety (or quality) as they are in Germany. One can put out forty Euro or more for a calendar of especially good chocolate or creative design. Yet most calendars are in the 10 to twenty range, and are usually filled with chocolate. Tasty. Yet they can also be filled with cereal, perfume, lotion samples… I also like how various German establishments (like the university of Hamburg) hosts a web-based, interactive calendar.

The terrific online German-English dictionary Leo.org also supports an Advent calendar each year, and I look forward to opening the calendar each day to read a slightly off-beat poem or story.

So the calendars and Sunday celebration of Advent herald the Christmas season. There’s the Weihnachtsmaerkte to go to and Christmas shopping stress to get through. Yet another German tradition that I think makes the season in Germany especially special is the observance of St. Nikolaus Day. Celebrated on the 6th of December, St, Nikolaus is known world-wide for his charity and for being the precursor to the modern day Santa Claus. His feast day is celebrated differently all over Europe, even differently within Germany, but the way I’ve learned it (the north German way) is that he comes overnight to all the children and puts something in their boot (Nikolaus-Stiefel), which is placed outside. If the child was good, s/he gets sweets or other things like “Apfelmuss and Mandelkern, essen kleine Kinder gern.” If s/he was bad, s/he gets coal (or a stick, Rute).

I didn’t get a Rute. Greeted by the women’s club of Nuremberg during my stay for the second VDAC seminar, I got a huge bag of an assortment of chocolates, and traditional German treats like Lebkuchen (gingerbread, but not) and Dominosteine (one of the most delicious things ever) given to me out of St. Nikolaus’ bag. Then, on the morning of the 6th, I opened the door of my room that I shared with three other students (alum of the program) to find four little chocolate santas with our names on them. It was very cute, made me feel like a kid again, and started the day in Nuernberg just right. Thank you, Nuernberger Frauenklub, and thank you Germany for making the pre-Christmas season fun to participate in, despite being away from home.

Not that I can complain about that anymore, since I am writing my post from my room in the States. It’s good to be back with my family and our traditions, but now I can see that no one does Christmas like the Germans.