Something New

A couple months ago I wrote about the first of my two internships and said I would write about the other later one when I had figured out more what it was. That second post never came. I started it a couple times and then stopped because it would have gone something like this:

“My second internship is really cool, I’m working in the school in Bad Kleinen giving out food to kids during their lunch break, mostly schnitzel, fries, and grilled cheese sandwiches. The hours are from 9am until 2pm (or earlier most days) and then I get the rest of the day off. I like the people I’m working with, but the learning curve is not really very high. Plus side is that I now know how a cash register works.”

This is now the second post, but it’s about (as you might guess from the title of this post) something new. As of today, my second internship is in an occupational therapy office. The first question I usually get from people both in Germany and the United States when I say occupational therapy (or Ergotherapie, depending which language I happen to be speaking) is “Oh, I’ve heard of that…what is it?” Until about a month ago I was among the people asking that question.

To be very brief, (and this is still a lot of impressions since I haven’t seen a ton of therapy in practice yet) occupational therapy is therapy for kids (some adults, too) who have some sort of problem with orienting themselves or other objects in the space around them. It’s working on motor skills, balance, concentration, and so on. When the actual methods were being described to me for the first time (by a girl in school who also is interning there a couple hours a week), I must admit I was a bit skeptical. “What do you do there?” “Oh, we play games, or sew, or build things, or paint!” Not exactly what Ms. Brown here thinks of as therapy that’s worth paying for.

Clearly, I have changed my mind, or else I would not have decided to start interning there. After I started my first internship with the disabled, I got the chance to see what occupational therapy is for myself. There are three people from the group that I am working with who go to the office once a week for therapy and as an intern, I get the option to go with. Always looking to learn something new, I thought going with would be a wonderful idea. The first time I was there with two people from my group-one blind, the other not. The goal that time was to first build a pyramid out of cans and then try to knock it down by throwing balls at it. Suddenly I understood the point of occupational therapy. Knocking down a pyramid of cans is not necessarily a simple task. What was the most interesting for me to see that day was the difference between the beginning of the session and the end of it. There was a noticeable difference that is difficult to describe but that was definitely positive.

After day one of officially being an intern, I am even more intrigued. For the first time I saw kids in elementary and middle school cooking and having to work at thinking about what they needed and in what order. Another girl (blind) standing on an oversized swing and enjoying herself.

Three months ago I had no idea what occupational therapy was. Now I’m officially an intern as an occupational therapist. Learning curve is once again high (as I can tell by my current state of exhaustion) but that is a good thing.

PS…Notice this is the second post in two days? That means I wasn’t lying when I said I’m starting to write again.

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Special Olympics a la German. And without the Olympics.

Starting a couple years ago, my dear sister Sophia became a volunteer for the Colorado Special Olympics ski team. (I’m not sure how well known Special Olympics is, but it’s an association for disabled people to stay active, do sports, even compete with each other in various different ways). I always watched in awe, wondering how she could interact with people that had various disabilities, and how she could enjoy the time she spent doing that even though it was sometimes FREEZING cold and the people she was with were not necessarily the speediest of people. Although I’ve always considered myself to be fairly good with people, I’d sort of crossed off working with disabled people because, well, to tell the truth, I was scared.

Then I arrived here. In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Where very few people live. Where jobs are not particularly numerous. I looked around, wondering what my internship would end up being. School? Random company? It was hard to tell. Then, one day I was sitting in class and it occurred to me that just across the street from my school was a home/workplace for elderly and disabled/blind people. “Hm”, I thought to myself, “That could potentially be a potential internship”. Soon enough, I spoke to friends at school about the idea. “My mom works there!” was the response from one of them who is particularly friendly. This led to a private tour of the grounds, and serious excitement on my part about the possibilities this whole thing could present.

A couple days later (after I convinced myself that the probability the administration would bite me was low), I went over and introduced myself. And now, since last week, I have an internship there three days a week. First impression? OH MY GOODNESS GRACIOUS I UNDERSTAND WHY SOPHIA DID SPECIAL OLYMPICS THIS IS SO COOL. Most of the people there work in the workshops during the day. And when I say work, I mean actually work. Although they are disabled and many of them are blind, every day big semi trucks come and take away the work they have produced, which includes the refurbishing of chairs, baskets, brush making, small ship parts, etc etc.

“But Katherine, since when do you know about basket weaving?” You are correct, my dear reader. I know nothing about basket weaving (although said friend, Max’s mother does…that’s where she works). And I’m not going to learn anything about basket weaving, as far as I know. The group that I have been assigned to is the group that is a bit more severely disabled than most of the people there. The work they do is a lot simpler (I’m not actually sure what it is at this point because they don’t have any at the moment), but it gives them something to do all day. Two or three of the people in my group are blind. One can’t talk. One is epileptic. All of them have their little particularities that I’m still getting to know. The ages range from about my age to mid fifties. My job is essentially to make sure that everyone is happy, that no one is fighting with each other, and that everyone is nice to each other. Not too bad, I’d say.

Last week I started working with the youngest person there (as I said, about my age) who is blind and also has something else, although I’m not sure what, on braille. He has a typewriter that writes for him, so I just had to look to see if what he wrote was right or not. I’d never walked around with a blind person next to me before, but now I have. I also went to a sort of occupational therapy with a couple of the people from my group, which was really interesting for me to see. I never really knew what it was, but it’s really cool to see how much they can do despite their disabilities/blindness. This week I’m sure more is in store for me, and I’m sure there will continue to be more good stories.

Moral of this post is that trying something new is often good. Even if it’s something you think you don’t like (this actually applies to food as well, I’ve taken to eating both mushrooms and olives since I’ve been here), because tastes change. As I read on a postcard today from my other internship which will get its own post, in order to be happy, you have to continually change. I like that. Mostly because it’s true.

Until next time,

Katherine

Transitions

This is not the Christmas post. That one will come in the next couple of days.

This is the “I’m moving into a completely different phase of my life in Germany” post, For more reasons than one.

First off, I have now been here for six months. Six. Half a year. And it feels like I just got here. I’m halfway through my exchange already. It’s a really wierd feeling to have been here for that long already, because I’m just starting to get settled. I know I’ve said that before. But I’m past the point of just “having friends” now. I’m to the point that I have some really good friends. And it’s sad that I’m leaving again in six months, so soon after I met them.

Secondly, I’m moving from the school part of my time here to the internship part. (This is sort of a life-change as well, as I will never again be a student in any sort of school except college). Thursday was the last day of school before break, and as the teachers and everyone figured that people wouldn’t really be paying attention anyway, it was a day of Christmas parties and cleaning the room before break. It was wierd for me, because it was also my last day. I think that it’s difficult to know what it will feel like to leave until you actually leave. And it’s sad, in this case. I had a really good time at school. I don’t remember if I mentioned this in one of my early posts or not, but the other kids were way more welcoming than I had expected and that’s not something that’s easy to leave. My German is a lot better than it was in August, (thanks to, among others, Mr. Paul Weiss who has a special talent for improving my accent), and I can truthfully say that the entire time I was at school I felt comfortable, and not like people were annoyed that the American was there or like I was just an foreign oddity. And now I’m leaving that. Leaving that comfort zone.

To go where? I haven’t written about my internship in…a long time, partly because it was still unclear what exactly I would be doing. But, the plan at this point is to work three days a week in a place that is right across the street from the school I as going to.It is a mix of a nursing home and a place for disabled people, some of whom live there and some who do not. There are also workshops in the back where the disabled people build and repair things-baskets, tables, etc, etc. I’m going to have a couple days to do different things before I decide exactly what I want to do and in which section I will work. I’m really looking forward to it, in any case. The other two days a week I will be here in Bad Kleinen working at the school, like I had originally planned to do five days a week. That will be a mix of tasks as well, and my exact schedule has yet to be determined as well.

As it’s Christmas, I think I’ll leave off here and go do Christmasy things. I hope Santa brings everyone joy and presents this evening.

HOHOHO!

Katherine

The world be large

I think it’s sort of a given that it takes a while to get to know your surroundings when you’re new in a place, no matter where that place is. Three months have officially gone by since I arrived here in Bad Kleinen, and I’m finally starting to feel like I know the way the system works well enough that I can get by.
That’s why I decided to stay in school until Christmas instead of starting my internship right away. I’m at the point where I know how the school works, I know the teachers, and I am getting to know more of the kids now, too. It’s at the point where I’m comfortable there, and leaving right now seems stupid because I just recently figured everything out. In addition, the teachers are for the most part healthy again, which means that class is taking place and I’m not just sitting around the whole day.
On the topic of my internship, suddenly the whole world seems to be opening up to me. A couple weeks ago I had an interview at an English school which went well, although the woman who runs the school does not have nearly enough to keep me occupied as much as I need to be occupied. Then last week I went to the normal Realschule (one level under Gymnasium) and had an interview/conversation with the social worker there who also runs the youth club here in town. Since I’m nowhere near qualified to be a social worker, that part of it is out for me, but she has a lot of other jobs as well (including baking once or twice a week, selling the food she makes…) and also said there would be opportunities for me to teach/tutor in English and French once or twice a week. A third opportunity has presented itself through my choir, where there is a woman who is also a teacher and who could also use help. The details on that aren’t as clear right now, but that is another possibility. It seems like there are other things on the verge of opening up as well, but I can’t say exactly what, so I won’t mention any of them right now.
All in all, I’d say my life is pretty good. It’s definitely a learning experience to figure out how the internship-getting process works and who to talk to, but it’s interesting as well. I feel like I’m figuring out how to navigate in the grown up world, and that’s a good feeling. Part of that comes from the fact that starting at age 18, you are considered to be an adult here. That means no parent signatures needed at school…you have complete control over your life and are expected to be able to handle it. It’s a little weird because I’m not used to that, but it’s good for me and I’d say I’m doing a pretty good job of handling it.

Two blog posts in two days. Score.

🙂