Allgemein

What a phone call can do- preparing for study abroad

Yesterday, I had a delightfully long phone-conversation with an alumni of the program I am studying abroad with. I’m normally not a phone user (I’m one of those people who gets bored talking to invisible people), but finding out some things about where I’m going, from someone who sounded like he wish he could go again, was nice. Of course, he had to warn me about a few things, like making sure I fulfilled my obligations and attended everything I was invited to (it’s what happens when you’re sponsored to study in another country!), but mostly, I was happy to listen to him tell me about public transportation stops, the university campus, what the dorm situation was like, and how to take care of things like insurance. 

Since first contacting this former student, I had already found out a lot of details, like the name of the main building I’d be studying in and how to get my insurance. However, I didn’t have the pleasure of really imagining myself in Hamburg yet, and talking to the guy made everything seem much closer, much more real. I can imagine myself there now and envision how I’ll store my dishes in the locked pantry cubby I get, or how I’ll get off at the station in the evening and walk to my dormitory. He gave me a lot of great tips as well about how to plan for meeting with other students going to other German cities through the VDAC, or how I can arrange to travel with a student I’ll have met to some of the seminars I’m going to. 

So the phone call was nice and I’m wrapping my head around the idea that I’ll be studying in a “foreign” country soon. 

Another thing I started doing this past week was looking up what classes I’ll be taking. Students can study language for free as well, so I’m excited to be able to work on my academic German and brush up on some Russian (even more vital these days than when I first started studying it five years ago). I was also encouraged by the local chairperson of the VDAC in Hamburg to look up the orientation schedule for international students and check out some events I want to go to. I can’t wait to find out about how I can get involved in sports like soccer while over there, or to take a tour of the Schanzenviertel by night. 

There’s a lot a phone conversation can do to get wheels that have been turning for some time now finally on the track. I have a little over three weeks now. Albeit, I have the very pressing matter of preparing for my MA oral comprehensive exam, but I also have started to get things together to put in my suitcases and I’m looking up warm, water-proof jackets for while I’m there. Now that this is September, the time before I leave suddenly feels much shorter than it did five days ago. It’s a bit stressful right now, preparing and studying, but it’s a good kind of stress because I’m beginning to look forward to the experiences that await me in Hamburg! 

 

Transitions

Transitions occur in math, science, politics, etc. But they are things people go through internally as well. They can take up to an hour, day, week, month, or year. Rarely are transitional periods longer than a year, but that is difficult to determine because the start and end point of transitioning are so ambivalent. Right now, I am going through the second or third transition since finishing up my BA, and it’s a less comfortable situation than it may sound. Since finishing my first year of Masters studies and submitting the grades for the students I taught as a TA, I had a few weeks of side jobs and projects before going to Europe, a trip that was more hanging out and helping out than a real cultural exploration or a real vacation. I made a few observations there that I will update in a bit, but right now I want to talk about the transition I have right now from being a student in the US to being a study-abroad student in Germany. 

It’s a few weeks since I got back from Europe, and a few weeks (well, perhaps more like a month and a few weeks) until I go again. However, when I go again, I go for living and studying, and not just vacationing. Because of that, the preparation takes longer than just a few days before the trip. When I left for Europe back in May, I packed the suitcase the night before with some shopping for socks and small things during the week before. I packed with the awareness that I would return to a place that had all my things and that I could buy anything while over there to satisfy the little things I wanted to make vacationing more paradise-y. Now, I need to prepare for a trip where I need to be ready to complete the second part of my Masters studies, go through my comprehensive exams, and write and defend my thesis. I also want to join a soccer league and find some fellow runners to make my way into the Hamburg Marathon (if I’m lucky). On top of that, I need to fulfill my responsibilities to the VDAC that brings me to Hamburg and financially and socially supports me. The first weekend, I am already expected to attend the first VDAC convention of the year in another city on the Elbe–Dresden. These things are all material and supply heavy and mean that I need to be well-prepared. Of course, I can buy things in Hamburg, just as well as I can buy here, but my financial situation will be a bit shaky at the beginning and I need to save my money. 

So while waiting for that situation, I stabilized my situation here. I still live at home with my family, and I still occupy the same room I’ve had since I was 6. There was a lot of stuff swimming around in boxes under my bed, in my closet, and in the shelves, that I collected over the years. A lot of things survived a pretty big clearing out last year when we started transitioning my room into a guestroom and study. With this study-abroad, I am spending the longest gap away from home than I’ve ever spent in my life. I think the longest I was away from my family were the first three weeks of college. Now, I am leaving for more than two months. To others, this may seem short; to me, this seems long, though not as long as it could potentially be. Let’s just say I’m conditioning myself slowly to being alone in the great, big world. 

Because of the length of time I am away, I realize that it would be selfish to expect my room to be left unused and all the things left to stand where they are. Being a bit OCD, I also wouldn’t want things to sit around and collect dust anyway. Because of this realization and the realization that I will go to a PhD program soon after completing my VDAC program, I know that I will likely never live in this house in the same way again. The things I collected over the years also can’t just stay here, and I don’t want to have to take so much with me wherever I end up going. So, between reading works from my reading list and taking care of some bureaucracies in relation to being a Masters student and studying abroad (for example, I still need to figure out how I register and get credit for my classes), I cleaned my room. I am fairly documentation-friendly, so one of the most time consuming tasks was going through literally stacks of papers, notes, mementos, and cards that required patience and reason to work through.

Picture stolen off google, but it pretty much looks like a section of my room did. The cups of coffee were necessary.

I write “reason” because while many of the things that I saw again burst upon me with memories, happiness, nostalgia, or soft sadness, I needed to use the cooler half of my wits and remember that the memories that the mementos bring would be there with or without the physical reminder. I thought for a while that I would want to have whole scrapbooks for my children to look through to understand and get to know their mother better, but one of the more significant things I learned from spending a lot of time alone with my mother this summer is that the most powerful way to get to know someone is through time spent together. The more time people spend together, the more conversation happens, and the more things are brought out of the other person’s memories into one’s life. So, I was able to take four long boxes that roll under the bed and turn them into two; a lot of the containers around the room that I collected knick-knacks in are now cleared. 

I already started to collect things that I don’t use here in Florida (because most of the time it’s above 80 degrees and enough humidity to dampen paper) like warm clothes and power converters in a box in my closet. I am also slowly categorizing things in my head that I will want to bring over to Germany, like my Tagesdecke, alarm clocks, shoe organizer… I have a room in a dorm over in Hamburg reserved for me the moment I arrive in the city, but as anyone can attest, a bed, a shelf and a dresser leave something to be desired when it comes to actually spending time in the room. However, unlike my first few years at college, I don’t intend to bring cars-full of stuff with me. I am taking this trip as a chance to live more lightly, to carry less baggage with me, so to speak, and be more aware of experiences and how I spend my time than the things I spend my time with.