Study 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

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Things I find myself doing that remind me I’ve spent a year abroad

I’ve only just gotten back from Germany, so clearly I will have a bit of jet lag (six hours time difference). But there are other differences in my behavior that make me stick out from other U.S. Americans like a sun-burned man in Ireland.

  • I write the date as day/month/year versus month/day/year
  • I use 24-hour time when telling people when to meet
  • I bring a shopping bag to stores and get weird looks when I use that instead of a cart or a basket, and I don’t go to get a cart because I don’t feel like looking for a coin that fits in the slot to release the cart from the cart in front of it.
  • I look for a way to stop the flow of water during the flush of the toilet. In Germany, there’s usually a way to raise the lever or push the slab used to flush a second time to make the water stop when the waste has gone down; it’s an effective way of saving water.
  • I want to separate my trash into paper, packaging, or waste. Thankfully, this is something the U.S. (at least public administrative buildings) are getting better at accommodating. It shocks me how much is thrown away here, much more than it did before I left.
  • I get confused when the teller or cashier is talkative or friendly… it’s almost overly friendly.
  • I need a dollar and start looking for a coin (at least, those do exist. Conversely, there is no such thing as a 1 Euro bill)
  • I avoid going to a public restroom because I think I’ll have to pay, and I don’t have any money on me. Not having to pay is something I appreciate!
  • I say “Tschüß” reflexively when saying good-bye to people. I may keep that.
  • edited to add: after finally getting used to the German keyboard, it seems that I’ll have to learn to get used to the English one again… especially when typing in German.

These are just a few things I’ve caught myself doing, but as the week goes on, I’m sure there will be more. Hopefully, nothing too embarrassing!

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!

Transportation within Germany

I spent some time a while back expounding on the transportation options within cities in Germany. Stockerkahn rides in Tubingen are just another option.

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I love these colors. Of course, Stockerkahn is really only available in Tuebingen, but it’s use for mobility justifies inserting it into this post

However, now I want to devote a few words to the options for traveling between cities in the country.

Until a few years ago, the Deutsche Bahn held the monopoly on long-distance travel throughout Germany. This meant that things like organized carpool (made more possible by social media nowadays) and trek busses were not authorized. Instead, one could choose between riding, driving, or flying… of which riding the train was most usually the least expensive and most convenient option. Virtually every city is connected by train in Germany, and most small villages (literally one-road towns in the rural areas of Germany) are within a half-hour bus ride to a train station. However, with the expiration of the Reichsbahn came the introduction of “Fernbussen,” often much less expensive than the rail tickets. With different lines in competition like Meinfernbus, Flixbus (now joined with meinfernbus), Postbus, Berlinbuslinien and others, whose rates can be compared at busliniensuche.de, the prices range from 8-30 Euro for trips from Hamburg to Berlin or Hamburg to Munich.

However, riding with the rails can be inexpensive too if one times it right and is able to take advantage of special deals. For example, most standard trips have savings-prices (Sparpreise) that can make a trip that usually costs more than 100 Euro cost 29 or 49. There are also “Laendertickets” that are valid for travel for five people within the German Land. This ticket is most practical if you’re traveling with others and don’t mind using the Regional Bahn, as opposed to the famously speedy ICE. It’’s a nifty ticket if you’re also planning a day-trip somewhere within the Land, since it works for the entire day, including return trip. If you want to travel with multiple people throughout Germany, there is the “Queer Durchs Land” that costs a base amount, and then a small up charge per added person on the card. This ticket also makes the most sense when one has a group one is traveling with and wants to travel through more than one Land via RE.

Finally, there are the discount cards one can apply for. Costing upwards of a hundred Euro, the Bahncard 25 and 50, priced respectively and awarding discounts of 25% or 50% are a good investment if you plan to take multiple trips throughout the year and would like to take advantage of the quicker trains like the IC and the ICE.

Having traveled throughout Germany a decent amount now, I can’t say that I favor rail lines over bus lines, but traveling individually, the bus may be more comfortable (especially since it often has free Wifi and adjustable seats). On the other hand, trips mit der Bahn and with multiple people provides a good deal of memorable experiences. The landscape views are also usually much better on routes accessible by train alone…

The scenic Rhine Valley train line in Germany runs between Koblenz and Mainz and offers views like these. If your #Eurail pass is valid for Germany, you can also use it on this track!: Europe, Eurail Pass, Valley Training, Offering View, Charms Riverside, Rhine Valley, German Wine, Valley Route, Charms Town

“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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Snow, Soccer, and some Kalter Hund

Since I stopped being productive on my thesis about three hours ago, I decided it was time to update my blog. You’re in luck, since I’ve actually had a pretty eventful weekend!
First, there was this:

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To you, this may seem standard winter. To me, this was a winter wonderland!!

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Sunrise in Hamburg… in the snow. Like how Germany has parking lots for bicycles?

I woke up Friday to find a slight dusting of snow on the sidewalks and the trees. But it melted by the end of the day, so I could only enjoy it for a few hours.

Then, yesterday, Saturday, what started as a normally cold morning turned into a snow day. It started snowing and didn’t stop until the late afternoon. I haven’t seen snow since I was three or four, so this was an exceptionally exciting vision! I ran in snow, went grocery shopping in snow, took out the trash in snow, made a snowman in sand (jk, also in snow), and when I woke up this morning, I was still in snow!

Now most of the snow is melted and I got to experience getting wet slush in my shoes, but it was worth it!

As for what I’ve done to take advantage of being abroad lately, let me talk a bit about joining a soccer team here.

As the Germans showed during the world cup, (can I remind anyone of that semi-final against Brazil? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLZUKqpXYzU) they have a rather good national team, and they are huge fans of soccer. And just like there are pick-up games of tag-football and basketball in parks all over the States, one can find a game to join on nearly any outing out in the city of Hamburg (assuming one walks near an open space and the ground isn’t frozen).

As someone who grew up in the US, I’m actually not sure how I got into the sport already at the age of five (maybe because as an active little girl in the States, one really only chooses between tennis and soccer?), but I do know I had fun with the sport from the start- I also haven’t stopped playing since. Yet while I always found opportunities to play in the States, be it for city recreation leagues, for high school, intramural leagues at college, or nightly pick-up games on the tennis courts (since my school couldn’t afford lights for the field we had), I’ve never played it the way I do in Germany.

One of the first decisions I made when coming to Germany on my study-abroad exchange was to sign-up for something that would a) get me involved with a group of native Germans, b) keep me active in the community somehow, and c) give me a group of people that would remain the same even when everything else was different nearly every day.

To meet these requirements, I was considering auditioning for a play that was being put on by some Universitaet Hamburg students. I also considered joining and being active for the left-wing student government party (I was told I’d be the only U.S. American who ever held a conversation with them when approached about it… I guess they’re used to the U.S. capitalist loving, commie-hating stereotype?). However, the option that really captured my imagination from the beginning was signing up for a soccer team, or Verein, as they are called here.

I’m going to assume that most readers will know what the Bundesliga is. It’s the level of competition at the state level. What may be new to the reader is that there are lower levels than even the 2nd Liga. One has Landeliga, Bezirksliga, and then the lowest (to my knowledge) is the Kreisliga. Any team has the mobility to move up in Liga between these different levels, but it usually is determined between series of seasons and not just a single season.

I unwittingly initially contacted a team manager in the lowest Liga, but its practices and home field happen to be located closest to where I live, so it’s a fair exchange. Plus, this means I came onto the team (after an expedited trial period) as a fairly well looked-upon player. I also can leave my dorm five minutes before practice, which is quite practical given my busy schedule and my late Mondays at the Uni.

So, something unique to my experience of the German soccer system (which is not that much different than travel soccer in the states) was the practice of moving the practices and games indoors during the winter, and of hosting tournaments. Today, my team played in a tournament (sans moi, because I have only just started running and playing again)

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Here’s my coach setting up the computer for arranging the tournament line-up. You can see the sweet trophies too.

But, because my team also hosted the tournament (in which ten teams played each other for the glory of not winning a gold spray painted pineapple– this was awarded to the fourth place finisher), we used the opportunity to raise money for the summer training camp as well. Thus, I came early today to help set up the hall where we played, I stayed to provide some team support (and tried to do some work in between) and I brought something to sell.

Even though I don’t eat sugar (sugar had been a mental and physical health issue for a while and after trying sugar-free for the year 2014, I decided to make a life-long thing), I was asked to bring a cake. Fine, I guess I can do that. I don’t have to eat it.

But after trying and failing twice to bake brownies at the beginning of this year, I decided to make something that did not require an oven.

On the first day of my stay abroad, I was given an interesting cook book by the nice lady who picked me up from the airport and helped me do a bunch of important, first week Hamburg things (see here). She is a club member of the Woman’s German-American Club in Hamburg, and she had participated in a German-American exchange herself. Inspired by that time and her love of baking and cooking, she wrote a cookbook written in both German and English. She generously gave me a copy.

Honestly, I initially didn’t think I would use the cookbook much. After all, I don’t really cook a lot from recipes (lately, my cooking consists of heating up soup with some scrambled eggs and boiled semmel-knoedel) and I can get any recipe I imagine online. But after glancing through it, I found a lot of traditional German dishes that actually looked easy to make, I also found one for Kalter Hund. I remember my mother talking about this dessert as one of her childhood memories, so I decided to try it. The cookbook was especially helpful, because even though I can read German quite fine, being able to see the measurements in the U.S. system gave me a better idea of how much of each ingredient I needed.

2015-01-24 10.14.59It’s really easy, and while I didn’t try any, my Kalter Hund looked really good and it was the most popular thing on the table.

To make “Kalter Hund,” or “Cold Dog,” one needs: 5 oz.s of Coconut fat (or Crisco), one egg, 1 cup sugar, 1 tbsp vanilla sugar, 4 tbsp cocoa powder, 1 tsp run flavor (I used vanilla extract) and 5-6 oz.s of butter cookies.

It is done by:

  1. In a small pan, heat the crisco or coconut fat until just melted. Put to the side.
  2.  In the meantime, beat egg with the sugar and vanilla sugar, add cocoa. Slowly work into the lukewarm crisco as well as the rum-flavoring. Stir until smooth.
  3. Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap or baking paper [another one of those German cultural differences in baking].
  4. At the bottom of the pan, place an individual layer of the butter cookies. Spread the chocolate mixture overtop. Repeat this process until the last layer is chocolate. Spread this last layer of chocolate evenly.
  5. Chill for a few hours (the pan, but you can too). Preferably, chill overnight. The total preparation takes about 45 minutes (without chilling) and prepares at least enough for 12 delicious servings.

Kalter Hund Rezept There are different ways of preparing this, but this version came out really well. (the image is not mine, I stole it off the interwebs here because the picture I took did not come out well). I was told it’s delicious.

So ja. That’s my update. Hope you all had a good weekend!

 

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 :/