Integration

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a couple weeks. Maybe you even wondered why, and hoped that I would write something (that’s what I like to think at least). I wondered why I didn’t want to post. Why I didn’t have anything to write all of a sudden. Writers block, in a way. Or only thinking about things that I would prefer to write in a journal where the entire world won’t see it. Being the person I am, I don’t just take things for what they are. I have to interpret every little tiny detail of my life (in this case why I didn’t feel like blogging) to determine its potential consequences on my future and that of others.
My conclusion? I’m more than halfway through my time in Germany now. As of today I have been living with my host family for six months (and it’s my half birthday!) so I’m used to the way they live. I’m used to getting around the area. I know what I can and cannot do. I’ve started my internships. I’ve made friends. I’ve had Christmas. And, I’ve been away from the United States long enough that my references are a bit old.
That being said, I would still not consider myself to be completely ‘integrated’ into Germany/German culture. I’m still the Auslander (foreigner) who speaks good German but says ‘what’ a little too often for a real German. And who has an American accent (strangely enough the accent is usually more or less inexistent the first time I talk to people…if only it would stay that way). I still get asked about how it is on the other side of the pond. What I think about our military involvement in this and that. When the primaries are in different states and who is going to win the presidential election. Whether I eat McDonald’s a lot. And so on and so forth. Then again, I guess I should define the word ‘integrated’. If it means I’m in a good mood most of the time and know my way around and have made friends and feel like I have a life here, then yes, I am integrated. It’s just the fact that I’m still a foreigner that makes me feel unintegrated. It’s an odd feeling because in a way I sort of like it. I’m something new and different. I get looks from people that say to me “Wow, I could ask her so many things, but I’m a little shy and concerned that she has an accent because that’s intimidating, plus I have so many things I’m wondering that I don’t even know what I’m wondering”. I am regularly complemented on my ability to speak and understand German. In short, I get more attention because of it. But attention is tiring after a while. There’s a part of me that really wants to go back to my life in southeast suburban Denver where the streets are too wide and the grocery stores are open twenty four hours.

What all that has to do with why I haven’t wanted to write for the past couple weeks is still a bit unclear to me. But I think the longer you live in a place, the less the things that might be weird to a newcomer appear weird. Rather than being the foreigner, I’ve been trying to allow myself to become German. Just for a couple months. Trying to let go of the part of me that is American and trying to embrace the German part (I’ve actually thought sometimes that I would have made a good German, had I been born here. I quite like the lifestyle for the most part). It’s just hard, because, well, I grew up in the United States.

Katherine

Twenty One Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Germany

1) The Germans watch television in German. Obviously. The amusing part is that they watch American shows (the favorites are “Two and a Half Men” and “How I Met Your Mother”) that are dubbed. And for some reason, they always hire the same two or three people (OK, a few more than that…) to do the dubbing. So rather than hearing Charlie Sheen, it’s the same voice as Brad Pitt in some other movie.

2) When participating in gym class, it is important to know more about the sport than how to play. This became clear to me in October or so when I had to take a written test on soccer. The rules. The size of the field, goals, diameter of the middle circle, names of all the different lines (in German). When the German Soccer League was founded. Who the president of the League is, and how long he has been president. You get the point. Essentially, things that I don’t know the answer to. Let’s just say it’s a good thing my grades during my time at school didn’t count. I got 24 of 51 points. With cheating.

3) German trains do not live up to their super-duper on time reputation. I would say approximately half the time my train comes late. Given, it’s only by about five minutes most of the time, but still.

4) If you’re going to play the song “Hangover” incessantly on the radio, it would be good to know what it means. Please.

5) According to a certain percentage of Germans, the United States is warm. “Have you seen snow before?” “Yes, I live in Colorado, we have mountains.” “Oh, but I thought it was warm in the US!” “That’s Florida.” I don’t blame them for not knowing we don’t have snow in Colorado. But the WHOLE United States? Come on, guys.

6) I think the tradition of a 4pm cake and coffee is a good one.

7) Living in the US, I was aware of the fact that my knowledge about American pop culture (movies, music, actors, who’s married to who) was less than adequate. Is it normal that the Germans also know more than me?

8) In my defense (to number 7), the Germans watch different shows and know different American music from Americans. I think, at least. I don’t get the feeling that “Two and Half Men” is a big thing in my homeland.

9) Your eighteenth birthday in Germany is a big deal. In the US, turning eighteen means “cigarettes, voting, and porn” (otherwise known as sex, drugs, and rock and roll). In Germany, it means that as well. But it also means, for the most part, that you are completely independent from your parents. You’re an adult now. Do what you want. None of this “as long as you live under my roof you’ll live by my rules” nonsense. I don’t know if I like that or not.

10) I was watching the Super Bowl a couple days (nights) ago. I laughed when the commentators explained what the electronic yellow line on the field means. It made me feel educated despite my lack of knowledge of American culture.

11) Speaking of the Super Bowl…I think commercial spots here cost less than 4 million per thirty seconds. I saw the same ones over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.

12) Germans drink out of bottles. Drinking water out of the sink just doesn’t happen. I don’t know why. I have to remind myself to drink water, because when it’s bottled, for me that means it might as well be soda. Also, water with bubbles is lovely. I don’t know why Americans don’t like it.

13) I’ve gained weight since I’ve been in Germany. About twenty pounds, to be exact. When I tell Germans this, they laugh and say that doesn’t make sense because Germans are less fat than Americans. However, I read somewhere that the percentage of fat Americans is something like 65.7%. Percentage of fat Germans? 65.5%. Better watch out, Germany.

14) In Germany’s fatness defense, they have REALLY good bread. Even the French think it’s better than french bread.

15) One of the songs I play(ed) in my oompapa German band has lyrics. They go more or less like this: Franz went to the beer tent/ Because he likes to drink so much/ The beer was nice and cold/ a few more lines that I don’t remember exactly what they say…/ When he arrived in the morning, Franz was doing well/ But in the evening he lay under the table. Yup, that’s German beer culture for you.

16) In movie theaters, you get reserved seats (they all cost the same though). And the popcorn is usually sweet.

17) In tenth grade, my math teacher, Mr. Saracino, taught me SED (Saracino’s Enlargement of Dot Theory). It goes something like “If you are drawing a graph and the line doesnt go through the dot like it’s supposed to, make the dot bigger”. I used this theory on a math test earlier this year. It didn’t work. I guess that’s an American theory.

18) Why would the school’s English teacher think it’s a good idea to read the original version of Macbeth with the twelfth graders? Even I don’t understand Shakespeare without thinking about it. And I thought the point of learning English was to be able to use it. As far as I can tell, no one talks like Shakespeare’s characters any more. Probably never did, it’s too poetic. All I can say is that my classmates are lucky the internet and things like SparkNotes’ “No Fear Shakespeare” exist.

19) Whoever made up German and English was incredibly mean with the verbs “to become” and ‘bekommen’. Bekommen means “to get”. And in German, ‘to become’ is ‘werden’. One of the girls I tutor in English can attest to the incredible meanness of this fact.

20) Germans are good at making windows. Why Americans haven’t caught on to the ‘closed’, ’tilted open’ or ‘all the way open’ style of windows, I will never know.

21) So far, I’m the only one I know here who likes Dr. Pepper. And lemonade doesn’t exist here. And root beer is NOT alcoholic.

That’s it for the moment.

Oh, and since when are Tupperware parties a thing? I thought that was like…1950s America. There’s more Tupperware here than I’ve ever seen.

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

Achieving Insignificance

As I was sitting on the bus going to school this morning, I started to think about happiness. What makes a person happy? Why do people love doing what they do (hopefully)?And what I came up with is the title of this post. As cheesy as it may sound, people are happiest when they can let go of everything that may seem important (work, school, getting into college), and allow themselves to embrace human insignificance. This seems like a bit of a random thought for a blog about someone taking a gap year in Germany. But I think it’s actually quite relevant.
The insignificance part of this concept is fairly easy to grasp. It’s about swallowing your pride and allowing yourself to admit that in the great scheme of things, you are a spot of dust or smaller, and the universe is expanding, so you are not getting any more important.
For me, this year, my insignificant feature is the fact that I just don’t come from here. There’s the language part. I understand about 99% of everything, but I’m terrible at faking it if I don’t know what’s going on. Swallow your pride, Katherine. The Germans speak better German than you. There’s the German bureaucracy. Don’t know how to fill out a form? Swallow your pride and ask. There’s the little cultural things. Is it really true that making noise on a Sunday is looked down upon and possibly illegal? Better ask. If I have two commitments for two different bands do I need to call and apologize for not being there? Ask or live with the consequences. And yet, for those of you who have been following my blog, you will note that I am incredibly happy here. Despite all the little tiny annoying things I don’t know. I should be annoyed with it by now. I should want to scream out that I’ve been here for six months already. But I don’t. I like being forced to admit that I don’t know. It’s admitting that I am insignificant. Sure, German is my third of four languages. Sure, I’m generally a pretty intelligent person. But intelligence doesn’t mean anything. I don’t want to be told I’m at the top or to feel like I am because, quite frankly, that’s boring.
The achievement part is just as important. Without progress, insignificance is fairly depressing. Without knowing that I can speak better German than I could when I got here six months ago, I think I WOULD feel depressed. What came to mind as I was thinking about this this morning was a mountain climber. Or a skier. Or a sailor. Or a swimmer. From the top of the mountain, you can see everything. And you can see how big everything is. And you feel…insignificant. But in order to feel insignificant, you had to work. You don’t just step out of your car onto the top of a mountain. Climbing it takes effort, time, strength. A sailor can sail out to the middle of the ocean and feel insignificant in the great scheme of the world. But getting there wasn’t easy. Sailing the boat wasn’t easy. A swimmer can swim fast. Win Olympic medals. And yet I have yet to see an interview where a swimmer does not talk about becoming one with the water. Once you get good at something, you are no longer the main character. The main character becomes the water, the mountains, the music. Or, in my case, the language.
It’s sort of counterintuitive that anyone would do anything in order to feel like a nothing. But it’s definitely a pattern. Anyone who has ever done anything they love can vouch for that.

So go, my friends. Work at something you love. Hard. To the point that you don’t matter anymore. To the point where you have achieved insignificance.

My Opinion about the German Language

It’s difficult. Although I understand most everything at this point, I still find it difficult to talk sometimes because the Germans have such a wide variety of verbs. Everything that the Germans say is so…specific. I have a friend who told me she thinks its rather cute that I use the phrase ‘es gibt’ (there is) so often, because it’s not really a very common phrase in German. They prefer to use longer, more complex verbs that specify exactly what they mean. For example, when people ask me how long I am going to be here, they don’t as when I’m GOING back, but when I’m FLYING back. The verb ‘to fly’ is a rather simple one that I know, but there are many others that I have yet to learn. Basically, my vocaulary isn’t as good as it should be yet.

When I was living in France, my epiphany about language was that in different languages people don’t only use different words, but they also say different things. That goes for German as well, and I think knowing the language is really helpful to start to understand the culture. Germans are stereotypically very precise and punctual. Therefore, they have words to say EXACTLY what they mean rather than more or less (i.e. there is). And you can add different prefixes to verbs as well which also changes the meaning. Quite practical, really, but it’s not particularly easy to learn.

Katherine 🙂

2 weeks already?

It’s amazing how quickly time is going right now. I’ve been super busy on the one hand but on the other I’ve had a lot of time to relax and a lot of my busy-ness is due to the extreme quantity of fun there is to be had.
On Saturday I went to the castle Neuschwanstein (the one Disney modeled their castle after) with the school for the whole day. It’s about a two hour train ride away from Munich and then it’s on top of a mountain. It was really touristy-mostly Americans and Asians, but it was good to see anyway. The tour was only about 20 minutes long and no one thought it was really worth it because we didn’t get much history of the castle or information about Ludwig, but I got in for free (under 18!!!) so it didn’t matter for me. Better than actually being in the castle was being able to walk around the gardens and up on the mountains and being able to see the lake. The tourists didn’t go there and it was shady and therefore lovely.
School is going well right now too. I’ve met a lot of people from all over the place and in addition to being able to talk in German I’ve been able to use some French and listen to (not speak) a little Spanish. I really like being in a place where speaking multiple languages is the norm. The class part of school is fine, too. The teachers are not the same from week to week which I dont totally understand but for the most part they are really good and I feel like I’m learning.
I got a message last week from my second host family. I’m going to be living near the north sea in a tiny town called Bad Kleinen. There are about 3800 people in the whole town. Not what I’m used to, but then again, neither is living in Germany. The parents seem really nice. They have 3 kids, but two have moved out already. The one who is still there is a 14 year old girl. I’m looking forward to something different.
I’ll post some pictures soon, because I think it’s getting to be that time, but I don’t have them uploaded yet so you’ll have to wait 🙂

18 days!

Until yesterday, this whole thing didn’t seem real. Living in Germany for a year was more of an abstract idea that sounded cool than a quickly approaching event that is a little terrifying if you think about it too much.

Then I got my first host family. For the first seven weeks of my exchange, I’ll be living in Munich with a family of three, two parents and a nine year old boy. (I’ll explain why Munich instead of Bonn momentarily). Suddenly, there are real people that know I exist and that are waiting for me on the other side of the ocean. People with an email address and a phone number and an address. Now everything is real, I can confidently tell you that I am going to Germany.

Today, I got another email with my itinerary for the language school part of my exchange. If I have any doubts about my German-speaking capabilities, I won’t by the time I turn eighteen. German class Monday-Friday from 9am until 6pm. Sounds tiring. Luckily there will be some excursions mixed in on Saturdays and evenings. It looks like I’ll get to go to Salzburg and Neuschwanstein with the group and also get tours of BMW, the Deutsche Museum and Allianz Arena. I’m lucky.

In other news (such as why I’m suddenly going to Munich), the group has been split in half, and half of us are now going to language school in Munich, and the other half in Frankfurt. I guess CBYX found a school they like better because it has more levels of German. Fine with me, I have friends in Munich 🙂 . Other slightly random thought: I’ve been wondering whether my birthday would fall during the end of language school or the beginning of my longer-term host family stay. Looks like it’s both. The last day of language school is August 19th, and we leave to go elsewhere on the 20th (my birthday). Just in case you were wondering.

That’s all for now, folks. The excitement continues to mount.