Study Abroad

“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 :/

One Month in Hamburg

And so it is.

Exactly one month ago at almost this time (8:43 AM) I was in flight over Hamburg, Germany, about to touch down.

My program lasts for 10 months, so this means I am into my first ten percent of the time I’m going to spend here. If this were a race, my GPS watch would read the same thing it does when it buzzes at the ninety percent mark.

I did a lot this month, and if I multiply that amount by ten, I will end up with a very full, full-filling time here!

However, this post is less about the cataloging of time and more about what one should and does accomplish in the first month of a study-abroad program (I could number this, but I don’t want to give the false impression that the things need to be in any particular order):

  • settle into the new living space. If it’s a dorm, like mine, this includes getting used to the morning cleaning routine so that one can take a shower without disturbing the house-keeper’s order and getting used to the kitchen etiquette and floor-mates so that one can enjoy meals outside of one’s room.
  • figure out the local transportation. The best thing to do is navigate one time from “home” to the station/stop and one time from the stop back “home.” It’s okay to get lost; don’t be afraid to ask for directions/help.
  • figure out other transportation. If a bike is available, figure out the routes to the Uni and make sure the bike is prepped for nighttime riding. Driving with lights is such a relief from the harrowing experience of the threat of not being seen by car drivers and other bicyclists (not to mention, driving without lights of a certain standard is illegal in Germany).
  • attend orientation events. For me, the VDAC organizes a seminar within the first weeks of arrival so that students have a chance to get to know other scholarship recipients and learn from each other and from program alumni some of the key methods of initial survival in German culture and bureaucracy. Orientation events are also held by the universities for international students and first-time students. There are usually elaborate programs that one should try to attend at least a few events of. One of my favorite events wasn’t even university related, but rather involved a pub night with the other German Lit. MA students.
  • do some initial traveling. While it would seem more advisable to settle into one’s new “home”-base first, the time before classes begin is the most free time one has (other than the semester break) and it helps to get a larger perspective of the country one is visiting, and the role one’s new city has within that space.
  • take care of university registration issues-pay tuition and fees, notification of local address, internet and online portal logins, library cards, and of course, class registration
  • figure out how to use university services like printers, the libraries, and the cafeterias
  • figure out where the local get their food. Start shopping there. Find out where the most inexpensive food can be found in the area, start finding out where the kind of food one likes most can be found
  • buy local cell phone service if this hasn’t already been taken care of this issue in home country
  • be officially registered as a legal habitat of the area. This includes the residence permit and the visa
  • create a budget. Figure out funds and how much to devote to groceries, toiletries, clothes, travel, and leisure. Don’t forget things like school tuition and fees as well as sport/gym memberships
  • visit at least one museum and at least one “high-brow” cultural thing such as a classical music concert, a play, or a public reading
  • (since I’m a runner) figure out at least two good routes for daily running. One can be an out and back course and the other a pleasant don’t-have-to-repeat-everything-on-the-way-back route.
  • go to class. Seriously, this may seem obvious, but there’s also the constant consideration, at least at the beginning, that it doesn’t matter if one attends class and no one will miss one. But if anything, having a reason to leave one’s room should be taken advantage of
  • make plans of what to do over the coming months so that when classes and studies are not pressing, there’s something to do.
  • try to hang out with people who speak the language of the area as much as possible. It’s okay to
    hang out with other foreigners, and it can be very helpful to have people going through the same situation to talk to, but try to get as much integrated into local life as possible. This is a cultural-exchange opportunity, not (just) an observational platform
  • recognize that there are good and bad days, psychologically, just like there are good and bad days with the weather. Try to see the positive in the bad days and soak in the good ones. For me, personally, I noticed that while the second half of this past month has been overall good, especially since classes started and I’ve been kept busy by schoolwork, I still wake up some mornings and wonder what I’m doing here, or whether I belong. I have learned to recognize that if I want to be here, I belong, and finding the feeling of belonging with other people comes with the time one leaves one’s room to interact with the other people in the living space, the other students in the classes, and the other people in the city. It’s only a matter of time before they become used to me just as I need to get used to them.
  • Take pictures! Write! Try to document time abroad for future self, family, friends and possibly others
This is an old post-office building near the university. With the ivy growing on it, it is thus far the most beautiful thing I have seen so far.

This is an old post-office building near the university. With the ivy growing on it, it is thus far the most beautiful thing I have seen so far.

… and as you can see, I’m trying to do this last thing regularly! Cheers.

Liebster (blog?) Award

Yesterday, I was nominated for the Liebster Award by saraybennet. I can only put the link for her wonderful blog “Glittering Wanderlust” here and hope that you click on it and read at least one or two posts about her adventures abroad in Spain. Thanks for the nomination! Liebster Award

So, let’s get started. First off, what’s the Liebster Award? When I first saw it, I had to think of the superlative form of the word “Lieb” in German. Liebster is a way to refer to your favorite… so I could start a sentence with  “Mein Liebster Kuchen” and you’d be about to hear about my favorite cake.

But really,

The award aims to expose new bloggers and help mark their blog in the blogging world. 

And the rules are as follows:

  • Post the award on your blog. check
  • Thank the blogger who presented this award and link back to their blog. (whoever designed these rules wants to make sure that we have manners) check
  • Write 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 5-11 bloggers who you feel deserve this award and who have less than 200 followers.
  • Answer 11 questions posted by the presenter and ask your nominees 11 questions.

I decided to answer the questions first, because I figured random facts about myself will be enough of a draw to read to the end of this post (not that I’m innocent of long posts, generally)

Questions from “Glittering Wanderlust” (seriously love the name of that blog!)

  1. What is your favorite way to spend a rainy afternoon? On WordPress with a cappuccino
  2. Do you prefer to travel to warm or cold locations? Prefer mild climates, but I like to explore in shorts and t-shirt
  3. What is the top item on your bucket list? this changes. Right now, it’s the Hamburg Marathon
  4. What is the strangest food that you have ever eaten? Where did you eat it? Labskaus, actually, and it’s a specialty of Hamburg (though can be found in Norway, Sweden, Dennmark, and, oddly enough, Liverpool. It looks like this:

    "Labskaus" im Speisestübchen Eva-Maria Bilder Restaurant Speisestübchen Eva-Maria

    The mush under the egg, sunny-side-up is a mix of salted meat (can be corned beef), potatoes, and onion in beet juice. Then on the side one usually gets roll-mops (herring), pickled beets, and gherkin. A lot of salt and vinegar, the weirdest mix ever… but it tastes quite “not-bad.” I’d even go so far as to recommend it.

  5. Do you like solo or group travel better? I like being in transit solo better, but I enjoy actually being in a place better in groups.
  6. Would you ever go skydiving? If the opportunity presented itself, yes.
  7. What is your dream job? A professor who is also paid to write on the side
  8. Who, if anyone, inspires you to travel? My imagination
  9. Who do you admire most? My mother
  10. What is your favorite book or movie? Right now, The Lord of the Rings books AND movies are occupying a lot of brain space, but I’m also enjoying Wir neuen Deutschen as well. I’d like to do a blog post about it soon.
  11. Do you write your blog with or without music? Since I’m listening to music now, it’d be a lie to say that I don’t. Yep. Listen all the time when I’m doing any pleasurable writing or reading. If I have to read political history in German, I’m less likely to be listening to music. Right now, “Rolling in the Deep” is playing (though not because I picked it.)

Now, instead of posting my facts about myself, l’m going to mention nominees and questions, and then answer those questions myself.

I nominate Rural Running Redhead, pscapp, trying to get faster even as I get older, Cadence Runner and run fast, puke left for the Liebster award and to answer the following questions. I’ve asked them because they’re the folks (sorry, not sorry about using that word) whose response posts I (and maybe others) would like to read.

  1. How much did you run from Oct. 13-19?
  2. Do you have a set time you try to blog, or does it just “happen?”
  3. When you are ready to blog, do you make yourself a drink first? If so, what kind?
  4. What is something you would like to accomplish before the end of 2014?
  5. If you have children, which of your traits are you most happy that they picked up?
  6. Beach or trail run?
  7. If you (and anyone else you with you) were given a travel stipend and a week off, where would you go?
  8. Which language do you think sounds the most beautiful?
  9. What kind of movie would you like to star in?
  10. (for the laundromat-savvy) If there was one machine almost done, and you needed to do a load, how long would you wait for the person to show up before you (nicely) took out their laundry so that you could do yours?
  11. Do you blog with the hope that others read your blog, or do you really not care?

All these questions are optional!

My answers:

  1. How much did [I] run from Oct. 13-19? 47.8 miles
  2. Do [I] have a set time you try to blog, or does it just “happen?” I don’t have a set time, but usually do it when I’m not distracted by anything else pressing.
  3. When [I am] ready to blog, do [I] make [myself] a drink first? Yes, usually a coffee or tea
  4. What is something [I] would like to accomplish before the end of 2014? Feel at home, to some extent in Hamburg. Set a half-marathon PR. Have at least 20 pages of notes for my MA thesis
  5. If [I] have children [which I don’t], which of [my] traits [would I be] most happy that they picked up? My conscientiousness and thoughtfulness
  6. Beach or trail run? Trail
  7. If [I] were given a travel stipend and a week off, where would [I] go? Moscow
  8. Which language do [I] think sounds the most beautiful? I think the Khoisan languages sound neat, but I really like Brazilian Portuguese
  9. What kind of movie would [I] like to star in? I’d love to get the training to be in a martial arts movie with a powerful philosophical message
  10. (for the laundromat-savvy) I would wait 15 minutes
  11. Do [I] blog with the hope that others read [my] blog, or do [I] really not care? I do have a set audience in mind for my blog sites, and I do kind of hope that my posts get read. Yet in the end, it really only matters to me that I can go back and read them myself.