Academics Abroad

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen… Goodbye?

wordpress asks you to “share your story” here, when you go to write a post. But isn’t there some sort of rule against posts that are too long? Any story I chose to write ends up including way too much detail to be a “short” post. So, I won’t share my story, but I’ll share the drafts to it.

I’m going to spend the next several posts recapping my last weeks in Germany during my study-abroad time. I spent some time in Germany after leaving Hamburg, and already I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my experiences there. I guess four words sum it up:

work hard, play hard.

People often describe their experiences as “adventures.” As much as the phrase is used (dare I say overused?) the newness, excitement, sharp gusts of dangers during extended stays abroad for work or study  do justify the use.

I’ve been on an adventure, and it will take me several posts to describe it all.

As I started this post, I was diving away from the city that hosted me for 10 months. I can’t really wrap my head around the difference between how I felt when I arrived, and how I feel now, but I need to acknowledge that I’ve changed while being in the city, and my experiences through the VDAC have changed me.

I am am stronger. This is to be expected. Obstacles, bureaucratic and otherwise are more difficult when in a country of different customs, habits, and language. If I’ve trained to run on mountains, of course hills will be easier. I’ve learned to be polite, but direct, when requesting things and to be patient, but know my rights. This came in handy today, such as when I had to make sure my transcript was ordered, reflected my recent status as a graduate, and was sent to the right office. The old me would have accepted that it would take a while and figured the bureaucracy would work itself out. The new me was able to walk out with the envelope that I could and over to the intended party.

What I didn’t expect is that I’ve become a better listener. When I first arrived, I was so occupied with my own plans, my dazed experience, and comparisons to the U.S. Throughout the year, however, I’ve been complimented by many close to me that I listen more to them, and am easier to talk to. I don’t know if I should feel insecure about how I must have used to be, but I am grateful to recognize that my experiences have made me secure enough in my own experiences and strengths to be more open for others. I think part if it is that I’ve learned not to jump to conclusions about people, and let them talk it out.

I want to write so much more, but I already said I would use several posts to catch up, and so I won’t give you too much to handle now. I just want to say that I don’t think leaving Hamburg is “good-bye.” Rather, it’s a chapter in my life that lays out the foreground for much of my future life (I hope), especially if I get accepted to a PhD program there. We shall see, and I’ll keep writing.

In the meantime, here are some photos of Hamburg/Berlin, where I spent the last weeks with my family after they came to join me!

The Berliner Dom

The Berliner Dom

Need I mention what this is? I took the photo while siting in public transportation, so it's not the best quality.

Need I mention what this is? But I’m sorry I took the photo while siting in public transportation, so it’s not the best quality.

My brother in front of the statue of Neptune in Altona, Hamburg

My brother in front of the Neptune fountain in Altona, Hamburg

The old Nationalgaleri where an exhibition of impressionist and expressionist artists were presented, side by side

The old Nationalgaleri where an exhibition of impressionist and expressionist artists were presented, side by side

10% Left to Go- Nearing the end of my VDAC Hamburg stay

Coupled with Thanksgiving, yesterday’s Independence Day marked the second day where I, without a doubt, would rather be in the U.S. than here. But that’s all okay, since there was a performance night at my dorm and people were partying. I also had a paper to write, and that can be done here as well as there if I can’t go out anyway.

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July 1st marked nine months in Germany. Ignoring the possible metaphor I could set up with conception and birth of a baby, let me just reflect a bit on what this means. First of all, it means 10% left. November 2014, I wrote a post about my first month here, and the things one should have done during one’s first month studying abroad. I noted how weird it is to divide one’s time into sections and grant it value based on which section it was, but I stayed true to my word and managed to metaphorically put the last eight months into one dazzling piece of uncut, multifaceted mineral. I did a lot of very exciting, life-affirming things, had a few rough spots (it ain’t living if it’s perfect all the time), and overall really enjoyed myself while being here.

However, 10% is the image on my TomTomRunner when I’ve set myself on course for a goal and I have 10% left of the time or distance I set out for. Usually at this point I kick into a high gear and elevate or hold through the end of the race. I suppose that’s kind of what I’m tempted to do now, with one month left.

I’ve got the academic end covered, with a hectic week of presentation, term-paper, and exam to complete. Once I’m left gasping for air on the shore of the first academic break I’ll have since Summer 2013, I’m going to take care of the last things on my list-a list I created for myelf, based on the suggestions of dozens of well-meaning Germans and people who know Hamburg, when I first got here. I still want to do some sort of water sport on the Alster, even if it’s just to paddleboat. I still haven’t been to the Heidepark (a sort of amusement park) yet, and I want to visit the Auswandere Museum. Seeing as I wrote my thesis on migration narratives, I think I should visit the museum that dedicates itself to the documentation of one of the largest points of migration in Europe.

That’s about it, though. I’m open to other suggestions, but I can honestly say that I think I’ve really taken advantage of the opportunity to live and study in Hamburg. That is not to say that I don’t notice or learn something new about the city everyday. Yesterday, for example, coming back from my run, I noticed the General Konsulat for South Korea. I’ve run past it at least four times a week for the past nine months, and the building is so inauspicious that I never noticed it until now. Things like that are welcome surprises. I also am in love with the roses in bloom all over Hamburg.

I’m trying to come up with some good things to talk about to close out the year here… but I’ll save those for after finals.

Hope everyone has a good week!

Some legitimate wandering- Braga, Portugal

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It is likely that there are more words to type out here than I have the time or energy to let flow from the jumbled collection in my mind through my fingers, but I will try a little.

2015-04-16 15.41.33The collection is jumbled because I haven’t thought of a way to summarize my trip. I guess I could say that I went for a conference based on one of my chapters for my thesis (it’s amazing what a 20 minute time limit and weeks of digestion can do for an argument; I almost wish I could rewrite the darned thing, but not really). On the other hand, I also went to see Portugal and learn something about a country I had never seen before. In fact, I haven’t been to a single country south of France, so I’m pretty limited in my world view. Ultimately, I suppose one could say I traveled, as we discussed at the conference, to learn a little about myself… but also to forget myself.

While in Braga, Portugal, which is/was the un/official catholic center of Portugal since the Middle Ages (there was a church almost on every corner), I learned to forget preconceptions, worrying about how I presented myself, how to greet and say goodbye to strangers or people who I spoke animatedly with for hours at a time. I also learned that it is possible to travel with very little funds, and that not having change rattling around in one’s pocket makes traveling more relaxed because one doesn’t have to worry about collecting souvenirs for others. Souvenirs are only pieces of displaced memories that perform the same work as photos, and photos are free. I took many photos, but also learned to leave my camera in my pocket and resist the urge to pull it out, taking in the images only for myself.

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Some things I noticed about  Braga is that the Portguguese like their lemon trees, roundabouts, tiled facades, and churches.

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What surprised me about Portugal was how strong the recent EU crisis and recession hit their country. I hadn’t been aware that the wealth of a city or country would reflect so strongly in its buildings. I found a ghost town just north of Braga’s university campus, and was struck by the contrast of natural beauty and dilapidation.

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This trip was different than my longer trip to Hamburg to study abroad because in Braga I was able to forget about myself. I think my first weeks in Hamburg were the same way, but eventually academic and social responsibilities brought me back to myself in a way that traveling to Braga let me release for a little while again.

I can understand how traveling can be addicting. One does not have to claim a productive presence as long as one does not stray too far outside the expectations of the culture. Not knowing the language is an excuse for any step out of line, and most people that are not irritated at themselves will be helpful and want to make sure you’re okay, are able to enjoy their country. I think people like tourists to some extent, because they validate the choice to live where one lives. One has to accept that if other people will travel to be where one lives, one lives in a pretty damn good spot. Of course, I don’t mean to say everyone should like tourists or look for validation. I just used the opportunity to think to a larger audience than myself for a while. Thanks for putting up with it.

Hope you’re having a good weekend and that the next week brings you something exciting!

“It’s Alive!” or, “how I spent the last three months”

This time last month, I had just submitted my total draft for my MA thesis. Now, the thing has been edited, defended, corrected and edited some more, and submitted, officially this time! Yes, yes, you may congratulate me. Thanks.

Unfortunately, that’s all I have to show for three months. Sorry folks.

No, wait, that’s not entirely true. I have three essays that you’d like to read? No? Okay.

I guess I can tell you about some other cool things though.

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I saw the Main river. It’s definitely worthy of being called “Main” (though in German it’s pronounced like [mine].

For one thing, there was the trip to Mainz in February.  2015-02-20 15.20.44 2015-02-20 12.54.29 2015-02-20 16.10.52 2015-02-20 09.58.36 2015-02-20 09.56.312015-02-20 16.11.09Invited by the VDAC Club in Mainz to a political conference they organized, I was impressed by the beauty of the city even if it was cold and wet. Like Nuremberg, it was a significant city during the time of Holy Roman Empire. That’s part of the reason why there are golden horses just prancing around.

2015-02-20 15.35.18Gutenberg was also here, so if anything, the city is well-known because of the man who invented the movable-type printing press. A fun fact we learned on a tour was that no one actually knows what the guy looks like so the face is a little blurred and androgynous.

But Mainz is also the capital of Rhineland-Pfalz. This means that there’s politics (we got to visit the rheinland-pfälzischen Landtag) and wine (Rheinland is well known for it’s grape fields and vinification); I think it’s a splendid combination.

Unfortunately, I spent the weekend in Mainz shortly before submitting my thesis, so a wee bit went over my head, but I cannot emphasize enough how well-organized the seminar was. Even though I am a literature student, the material comparing German/EU and U.S. politics was interesting enough for me to follow, simply by virtue of being familiar with both locations. There was a session on speech-writing and rhetoric, which explained some things I’ve noticed in German literature. For example, did you know that the strive for less emotional writing was an active decision to present things in a more rational way following WWII and the Holocaust? The people had learned to fear politicians who spoke too much to the people’s emotions. There was also a session on migration in the U.S. and Germany, and I was pleasantly surprised that I could use some of what Professor Dr. Thunert explained in my thesis.

We were also invited to lunch by the Mainz woman’s club, so I had my first Spundekäs (a type of cheese dip) with a pretzel. In hindsight, I would have ordered something more filling, but this was good! If you’re ever looking for something to go with a cool German beer, Spundekaes isn’t all that bad (it’s really good, actually).

Finally, I have to mention the wine tasting. It was my first time, and I never would have known that five sips of wine would be enough to get a room from quiet to really, really chatty. I learned about the different types of wine, why cheap wine isn’t necessarily bad (it often means less middle-men), and that I like sweet wine. It’s good to know!

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Going home reminded me how I’ve taken Florida lighting and green so much for granted.

So, what else? I got very used to the German library cataloging system, found a great appreciation for the Hamburger coffee and tea, and was able to keep my sanity with the German habits of not-too talkative and giving me space.

I did end up going home to defend my thesis. It’s a bit rough trying to wrap up a phase of studying while abroad… there’s so much hassle with fulfilling requirements and such. I’m glad I went home, if anything, to tank up on family love and successfully defend my thesis, but now I’m really happy to be back in Hamburg. I don’t think I would have finished my thesis if it weren’t for being able to hang around in Hamburg during January and February and balance my extreme writing sessions with trips out into the city, exploring churches and taking walks along the Hafen. Now, I get to be here without the academic stress! (classes don’t count. Those are fun).

I am signed up for five classes (four German lit, one English lit) and I’m looking forward to seeing what the Spring brings. It has to include a boat trip around the harbor, a bike tour on the Elbe, maybe a visit to one of Hamburg’s many famous musicals? Who knows? If anything, there’s Easter this weekend, my birthday (ha ha, also on Easter), and the Hamburg marathon coming up at the end of the month. Frohe Frühlings Tage! (I’m loving the daylight savings, it means that there’s more time to explore the city in the afternoon before it gets dark).

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How do you say “up” in German? Originally I wanted to make this an überdate, but that wouldn’t have been linguistically appropriate. So I’m giving you an auf-date.

But first, a few notes about the fascination with “über.” Basically, it’s because it has an umlaut and an umlaut is just another kind of accent… and accents make everything sexier.

… though it is possible to go overboard

At any rate, it’s common knowledge that the German language involves umlauts (and actually, the part of the fascination with über comes from Nietzsche’s übermensch, but this is neither the time nor the place). But after dealing with the language long enough, one doesn’t think twice about umlauts. Do you think twice about the letter “g”? Didn’t think so.

But what takes longer getting used to is that these umlauts make the keyboards in Germany funky. The image below shows the differences.

I lug my laptop to and from the states for my academic work, so it’s easier to get through my writing assignments, e-mails, and papers. But occasionally I find myself at the library, on German computers, and I struggle through everything I type… though admittedly, when writing in German, those keyboards are convenient. The “z” is used more than the “y,” and it’s handy to have the key to press rather than a key-combo and finger-twister to produce umlauts on the screen.

But whoa, way off track.

This post is supposed to be an update and basically an apology that I’ll have to be a little scarce producing for this blog. I am currently challenged by finishing up the German winter semester and producing my MA thesis (and three papers) by the end of February. Once it becomes apparent I can’t finish by March, I may return earlier. Otherwise, I have to focus and spend more time in my room, which means I’ll have less to observe anyway. (just kidding, VDAC! I still plan to take advantage of all the cool things I can experience here! most recently, it was a slam competition in this gorgeous building:

Hamburger Laeiszhalle Saal

). I just can’t write about them all.

The good news is, I have a whole semester break and summer semester to comment on after this ordeal, so there will be enough forthcoming that I don’t have to give up this blog quite yet. 🙂 In the meantime, post questions about what you’d like me to comment on (there’s so much to talk about! A little focus helps), or what you think about the umlaut (or accents). Don’t you think it’s sexy?


Observation of the Day: German PhD Application

I was humming along through my third semester of MA studies, getting together application material for continuing studies at schools in the U.S. and Germany, and I then I find out something that shifts the trajectory of my life a bit. This shift has to do with difference between PhD applications in Germany and in the U.S.

In Germany, the value of one’s MA degree (the GPA) determines entry into a PhD program. This makes sense, I guess, since the application officials want to be sure one knows what the heck one is doing, the officials have quantifiable information about the applicant,  and there’s no danger for MA senioritis and having accepted students who don’t end up completing their MA studies. (why don’t we consider that in the US?) In short, in Germany one may not apply for a PhD until the MA is completed.

On the other hand, in the U.S., students in their last year of MA studies are already applying for PhD programs. I remember sitting in my Spring courses and congratulating fellow MA students (who had just submitted their theses) for being accepted to programs in California, New York, and Chicago.

I can still apply for U.S. schools, but since being in Germany, I am convinced that this is where I want to continue my studies. But I can’t apply by Jan. 5th 2015; rather, I wait until Jan 2016.

What am I going to do with this unexpected gap year? Well, stay tuned as I figure that out myself.

Any suggestions? Post them in the comments! I know I’m going to have to find work of some kind, since I’ve got some loans waiting to be paid off :/

Cultural Observation of the Day #2: Holes

By holes, I mean specifically the holes found on the side of papers in Germany. Also, I should probably have tried to save one cultural observation for tomorrow, to get a sort of routine started, but I was thinking about the spices yesterday and the holes in paper today… plus, I’m sure I’ll notice something else to comment on soon.

One would think that office supplies around world are the same; at least, I think the U.S. supplies are pretty darn good and practical for anyone and I’ve made it through my BA with what the U.S. has to offer. I am especially thinking of the way there’s wide-ruled and college-ruled paper, and how I felt accredited, somehow, when I used college-ruled paper while in college. My writing was always neatly equally measured in height. Then I came to Germany and discovered that everyone writes on graph paper–not just the engineers, but the literature students too. Apparently, the Germans like their writing to be neatly ordered in height and width.

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so much for order. My notes have never been properly orderly.

Had I been more economically enterprising as a youth, I would have imported these notebooks into the States for my Algebra-Calculus classmates. I could have made three dollar profit and still sold the notebooks for less than in the U.S.

As one can see from the picture, the holes are differently numbered and spaced than in the U.S; this particular notebook has four holes in the pages. Sometimes there are two, but usually four.

I bought two of these notebooks during the first week of classes and have been storing all my papers in the notebooks (one for Russian language, one for everything else) for four weeks now. Needless to say, there’s a limit to the practicality of that process. I decided I needed to start storing the papers in a more, shall we say “dignified” (for the paper, I mean) way.

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I tried to take a picture which includes the binder (Ordner), the dividers with their holes (practical in that they can work in any binder in the world), and the TWO-hole-puncher (not three hole, ahem).

Because of the logistics presented by the paper, it would have been silly to try to put them in in my U.S. binder from Office Depot. Instead, I rode by Staples (yep, they’re here too, though surprisingly German-fied by the Advent Calendars scattered all over the store) and picked up a binder (called Ordner since the function is organizing more than binding), some dividers, and a hole-puncher. I wanted to get the fancy brand name one, but my sense and budget told me the Staples version was fine. Good thing that the German staplers are the same as in the U.S., so it was easy to buy replacement staples (at Staples).

Now because of my new binder, I have the imponderable joy of organizing my notes and reading material and putting them on my shelf at the end of the day. Maybe, it’ll be so delightful that I get another binder for my thesis notes!

Now, aren’t you happy you learned something about the differences in school supplies?