Pause.

Heya. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll notice that for the first time since coming to Germany, I’ve neglected to write my monthly Germany Thus Far post for February (17 months!). Going even further back, I haven’t had time to catch up on trips from last August up until now.

Frosty Forest

So what’s going on here? Quite simply, life has gotten in the way. By life, I mean studies, because uni is basically my life at the moment. With seminar papers, exams, my student researcher job, and general weekly studying, I just haven’t the time to devote to this space at the moment.

This isn’t to say that this is the end of So I’m Lost Again. Quite the opposite, actually. This post is to simply say pause. When my offline life is more stable, I will be back to catch everyone up on my trips to France, Frankfurt, and Austria, as well as my daily life in Konstanz.

I’ll see you all back here when I regain some sense of normalcy. Until then…

Cheers.

Germany Thus Far: 16 Months

It’s 2017. There’s a loud, orange man in the White House and I’m walking on water.

Ah, January. The month started off snowy and relaxed, with a post-holiday cheer in the air. I spent the New Year holiday with friends, and then had a weekend in Frankfurt (I’ll tell you more when I remember to get the pictures). Before long, it was back to Konstanz.

Around Konstanz

Snow greeted me in Konstanz, which is not entirely usual, because it stays relatively warm here due to the lake. I figured the snow would melt in a few days and the fog would return, but it didn’t! Instead, we had fairly decent weather of sun or clouds for a while, quite a bit more snow, and temperatures low enough that nothing melted.

In fact, the temperatures were so low that parts of the Bodensee (the local lake) froze thick enough for people to walk on. This never happens where I’m from at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri since the water is always moving through to the dam.

Walk on Water

So, I guess I got to walk on water for the first time in my life. And I became a beaver. Don’t ask.

Bodensee Beaver

In the Books

I’ve been prepping for exams and seminar papers. A lot more work to come in February. Thesis ideas are slow to come. January was too relaxed, and now it’s time for a furious study dash to the end of February and exams.

Speaking Denglish

This month’s Denglish report is… sad. I haven’t actually been able to practice and learn much German, because basically all of my German sessions were cancelled by the professor. I guess we have a new replacement professor though who will be taking over tomorrow. I’m glad for this, because I really need to learn everything I can as soon as I can.

Keep your fingers crossed that I can still make it up to the B2 level in the summer semester. Less English and Denglish, more Deutsch is needed for a job in … eight (!) months. That’s a frightening thought, so I’ll end this segment here.

Obligatory Political Thoughts

Hey, I’m studying politics. I can’t help myself. No, I didn’t watch the inauguration; I watched the Women’s March instead. I am shuddering as cabinet nominees go through their hearings, as Trump announces a Supreme Court nominee who is just as conservative as Scalia, as thousands of people have their rights and religions trampled on, and as the US President neglects to mention Jewish Holocaust victims on International Holocaust Remembrance Day (probably a nod to Neonazis).

My heart is singing when I see resistance and immigration lawyers volunteering their services, a former professor of mine going with students to a local protest instead of holding a lecture on immigration in the classroom, and a friend in DC exercising her freedom of speech even though security officers told her and other protesters that they couldn’t have signs.

It hasn’t been a month yet, but the world is watching. “America first” seems to be synonymous with “We no longer want to be a respected, let alone major, power in the world.” I hope that Democratic politicians can successfully organize and that Republican politicians find their courage. No ban. No wall. No Gorsuch.

Cheers!

Remembering, Not Cursing (Even Though I Want To…)

You lot didn’t believe you’d make it through this week without a political post from me, did you? As you can imagine, I’ve got some things to say about this so-called “president” that will be sworn into office in a matter of hours. Before I get anywhere near that unsavory topic, allow me to give you my memories on the last eight years with Barack Obama. Warning: It gets quite personal.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008. I wasn’t old enough to vote. I was in high school then, still living with both of my parents before they split up. I remember my father was getting ready for work that morning, running around like a madman, firing off expletives, a few of them racist, about how “we’re not having any [black] president.” You can imagine for yourself the word he chose instead of “black.” This aspect of him is only one of the many reasons that I’ll never talk to him again, but that’s another story.

Anyway, my father went off to vote that day. Middle-aged white man. Worked in heating and air-conditioning installation and repair his whole life. Fix-it man extraordinaire. Drinker of cheap American beer and smoker of Marlboro Light cigarettes. During the 1990s he managed to do well for himself, but he felt the brunt of the recessions and blamed Mexican immigrants for taking jobs just like many of the other Midwestern white men. He fit the typical profile of a conservative Republican. You can imagine that he was not pleased that Barack Obama would become the 44th president of the United States of America.

And as for me? At the time, Obama was simply “our first black president.” I didn’t follow politics then. I didn’t like or dislike John McCain nor Barack Obama. I knew that Obama’s presidency was historical, but I didn’t really take much notice of it beyond that in my own life at first.

Time went on. I got a job at the local supermarket. My parents split up (about time!). I moved out. Life went on…

Now, can you guess the thing that would really bring Obama into my life? Obamacare! I remember that was a very hot topic of debate. Shortly before I distanced myself from my father, the ACA debate entered American homes. He was so against the ACA simply because he didn’t think it was fair to force people to buy health insurance. At one point I pointed out that we are also legally required to have car insurance, and it’s a bit silly to consider cars more important than our own health. He said that car insurance was necessary in case someone else hits your car, but health care shouldn’t be required because there’s no reason for it. I’m afraid I still don’t understand that logic.

A lot of people were mad about the ACA. What then could possibly be something to unite the American people? Catching a terrorist. Sorry, I meant to say catching the terrorist. I was sitting at home with my aunt one night, when whatever was on the TV was suddenly interrupted. Obama came on and announced that we finally got Osama Bin Laden.

And tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11.  I know that it has, at times, frayed.  Yet today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.

The cause of securing our country is not complete.  But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to.  That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.

-Barack Obama, May 1, 2011

That was only weeks before I graduated from high school. Eventually, I went off to college in Virginia. Scene change!

When the Affordable Care Act was just starting to come into effect, I remember attending a presentation at the auditorium at my college. Full house, lights out, the glow of the slides illuminated the speaker. He had worked in healthcare administration for decades, and he read the text as well as particulars of the Affordable Care Act. He explained to us, with data, why he thought that the ACA would be good for the US. By the end of the night, I was convinced. There seemed to be substantial evidence that this piece of legislation would be monumental for the well-being of the country, despite the fact that it could have (and still could!) go a lot further.

Later, I went home for Christmas break and picked up a few shifts at the supermarket. I was working an opening shift at the registers one morning. It was early, not yet the 9am rush. The girl I was working with was around my age, about 19. As I filled up the candy stands, she whined about being sick, and pregnant. I asked why she didn’t go to the doctor if she’s pregnant and concerned about her illness.

“I don’t have any health insurance,” she said.

“Well, what about Obamacare?” I asked.

“I’m not signing up for that socialist ****. I’d rather be sick and pay out-of-pocket for my kid’s birth than sign up for that.”

Her response surprised me. I had never realized just how closed-minded folks were back home until I had spent some time away from it and gained some new perspectives. She, and millions of other conservatives, were simply unwilling to even consider Obamacare. And this was after the country rallied together in the wake of the death of the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks. I didn’t know it, but this was the start of a lot of division and eventually whitelash.

During college, I started getting into politics and environmentalism. When 2012 rolled around, I diligently filled out my absentee ballot. My uni held an election night event where everyone in the room was for Obama. I didn’t campaign for him because I wasn’t that far down the rabbit hole yet, but I breathed a sigh of relief when the announcement came that Obama won.

So. Second term now. This is where the story gets a bit more messy. We saw the government shut down during my junior year because our lawmakers are more stubborn than five-year-olds. We saw Obama postpone the Keystone XL pipeline multiple times (I railed against him for that one too often). We saw Obama react to the shooting of young black men by police. We saw the economy finally officially bounce back. We saw the imposition of the first “bathroom bill.” I found myself becoming more and more disenchanted with all of our government.

I always thought that Obama was a pretty cool dude. He seemed to be thoughtful, but it did annoy me that he took he middle ground more often than I liked. The time that made me the most angry was when I spent the entire drive from Missouri to Virginia listening to radio reports about Assad using chemical weapons on his own citizens, and Obama did nothing despite his don’t-cross-the-red-line talk. Still, I was ever only annoyed by his actions. I never felt hate for him. Not like the hate I felt seething out of white America in this past election.

This election reminded me just how spectacular of an orator Barack Obama is. And his wife, Michelle, also turns out to have earned my admiration. I’m sure they will do great things, after a well-deserved vacation. And of course, we can’t forget how much we love that Obama-Biden bromance!

The past eight years have been pretty okay. Now… Well, we’re about to make history again: straight from the first black president to the first freakishly tall Oompa Loompa. Oh, I do hope they’ll let me back into the country after I’ve published that description of Trump. If not, then sorry Grandma.

As this megalomaniac comes into office with his disastrous cabinet, the American people must be careful to remember their rights and the rights of others. We must refrain from hate.

In 1922, the New York Times published a profile of Adolf Hitler. They wrote the following.

Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.

In case you need reminding, I’m living in a country that normalized hate way back when. Hitler’s movement which was “not so genuine or violent as it sounded” doesn’t seem so far off from what we see today. Trump supporters claim that Trump doesn’t really mean all of the things he says. I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to imagine that Trump could just as well be keeping his supporters enthusiastic and preparing to achieve his own political purposes. Germany can tell you how that worked out for them in World War II.

They say history repeats itself. I hope that saying is wrong. In any case, Trump may have the title of president, but I won’t grant him the respect of calling him by it.

Okay, guys. Be kind to one another, and resist Trump and his hateful policies. I send solidarity and hope from Germany.

Yes, we can. Yes, we did. Yes, we can.

-Barack Obama, January 10, 2017

Cheers.

Germany Thus Far: 15 Months

Another month in Germany has gone by…

While I can obviously complain about the horrible weather and lack of snow in southern Germany in December, there’s also plenty to be happy about (like the fact that I have tons of snow now!).

Around Baden-Württemberg

I celebrated my birthday this month with some friends from the Uni. We made up five nationalities: Bosnia, China, Germany, Georgia (the country, not the US state), and of course the US. Thanks you guys for an entertaining night and the epic multi-lingual toasts / speeches that you gave me!

Christmas markets were also in full swing, and I got my fill of Glühwein. I certainly made sure to visit the Konstanz market as much as possible since I will be living elsewhere next year. I also made it back to the Ravensburg market and the very last day of the Ulm market.

Christmas Cookies

My Christmas was celebrated with my adopted German family. No snow, but lots of food and singing carols (which I will forever hate). All in all, it was a relaxing holiday weekend.

In the Books

December was a busy study month. From midterms, to take-home exams, to a few papers, I didn’t have much downtime. I would have liked to have gone out more, but that’s life as a Master’s student.

New on the horizon: a Master’s thesis. Right before the break, my study program (all five of us) had a meeting with our advisor to discuss the upcoming thesis registration. I need a topic, and a thesis advisor, plus a second grader. There are a lot of topics that I find interesting. Too many in fact. Now the game is to narrow it down from my list of twenty to just one and make a proposal.

Speaking Denglish

Over Christmas, German had my head spinning. I spoke so much German that I had difficulty forming proper sentences in English by the end of the night.

I also noticed several times over the last month that I’ve been forgetting English words that I should know. For instance, I was at lunch a few weeks ago being quizzed on German words, and discussing trickier words which sound alike. We landed on the topic of the wood chip stuff that you put around trees and flowers. I used to work in a garden center, so I should know this word. Only a few days ago did I finally remember that it is “mulch” that I was searching for.

So that was my month. In other news, my mother sent me my little sister’s senior photos. I can’t help but show off how cute she is. She graduates from high school in May!

C's Senior Photo

Cheers!

Happy 2017!

Happy New Year! It’s a cold one here in southern Germany.

Still, I got out at midnight to bring in the new year and enjoy the once-a-year explosives (because Germans don’t really use them in the villages any other time).

New Year 2017

It’s also been quite frosty every morning for the past week. New Year’s Day was no exception.

p1680294-edit

All of the trees looked a bit ghostly from the frost, but they were a wonderful sight when the sun hit them!

The weather started to change a bit yesterday, so… The Schnee is finally here! I’m so happy that Old Man Winter finally decided to properly do his job. I went out to play in it a bit last night, but it was too dark for pictures. Instead, I went out this morning to take photos with the sun.

Hope everyone is having a good first few days of the new year. Fingers crossed that 2017 is better than 2016 (although, the political indicators point towards another rough year).

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: 14 Months

November is about gone, and the new year is just around the corner. This month has been a wild ride. To be honest, I’m glad it’s almost over.

Around Konstanz

Several things happened this past month here in Konstanz. First, the weather has become quite gray and cold. Today, I was pleasantly surprised with some sunshine, but I know that the fog will descend again soon. November was when I started hating Konstanz’s winter last year as well.

On the other hand, the good thing about winter in Konstanz is that the Christmas market is going! Several weeks ago, the stalls were being built up. On Friday, I had my first trip there where I ate some delicious falafel from one of the food stands. (I have a falafel addiction….) I was also there again yesterday. The second time around, I bought some waffles which were more like crepes to me. I think that it will be a long time before I get over the fact that waffles and pancakes in Germany are just not as fluffy as in the States.

Finally, after a wait that was more than the one month which the Immigration Office mentioned, I was told my residence permit arrived! Thankfully, I didn’t need an appointment like last year (if I had to get an appointment, it would have taken several more months). Instead, I could go to the Immigration Office’s Service Center and pick it up in about five minutes (after waiting 30 minutes in line).

In the Books

Studies are moving along this month. I gave one presentation in my Political Economy of Asylum Policy seminar, and it went well. Now I am preparing for midterms which are coming up in the next month. I also have several presentations coming up in January and February which I should prepare for in the meantime. Okay, let’s be real. I’m going to procrastinate.

Speaking Deutsch

As usual, my German is getting better. In fact, my German is almost getting too good. When I tell people that I’m in a B1-level course, they seem to think that means that I am conversational in German. Yes, I can talk about some things, but my confidence is shaky and my vocabulary is still growing. I guess I’d better watch some more ZDF (a “free” German television network financed by the government, which charges all residents of Germany).

A Note on the Election

Finally, before I close this post out, I wanted to say something about the election. I know I speak for a good number of people when I say that the results of the American Presidential Election were disheartening at the least. In a time when the United States is threatened by climate change and fossil fuel projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline, by extreme wealth and income inequalities, by police brutality and militarization, by rampant racism, by unreasonable Islamophobia, by uneducated ableism, by homophobia and transphobia, by hypocritical xenophobia, by thinly-veiled misogyny and rape culture…this is not what we need.

As for anyone who thinks that these things are not happening / a problem in the States, please think about your white privilege and check out what people like Shaun King, the Water Protectors of Standing Rock (I follow Kandi Mossett in particular), Lin-Manuel Miranda, Brittany Packnett, Van Jones, and the folks over at Peace House are saying. Of course, there are many amazing community organizers and activists out there who are working to protect their communities from Trump and his party’s policies. Additionally, you can take a look at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch.

I know that for a lot of Trump supporters who are struggling to get by, jobs aren’t available, education isn’t affordable, and access to health care can be sparse. I understand that frustration. I too am upset by these things and the actions of the political elite. What I want Trump supporters to understand is that even if you believe you didn’t vote for Trump with racist, etc. motives in mind, you still hurt a big segment of this country which has been and is continuing to be attacked for who they are and the things that the white cis male elite has done to them. By choosing Trump, you legitimize his hateful rhetoric. When he comes into power, your support will legitimize his hateful actions as well. This is what we “left-wingers” are afraid of. Acts of hate.

Because I don’t want to end this post on such a depressing tone, I would also like to say that we are coming. We are going to fight your Republican-created gerrymandering, your climate denial, your discrimination and hate crimes, your threat to women’s reproductive health, and most importantly, the political elite of both the Democratic and Republican parties. We are woke, we are activated, and we are not waiting to “see what Trump will do.” We cannot afford to.

Cheers, wherever you are and whoever you are.

What Just Happened, America?

I haven’t slept much. Being in Germany means that it was 1:00 in the morning when the first polls closed on the East Coast. At 3:00 I was looking at the electoral map, still not doubting the very obvious fact that America was about to elect its first female president.

By 4:00, I was messaging my sisters and friends wondering what in the world was going on with some of the states going to Trump when I expected them to go for Clinton. I remember the jubilant feeling when my undergrad home of Virginia went blue. Then, all of those good feelings came crashing down as Florida went for Trump.

No. No, this can’t be happening. It was a turning point. As the hours went on, I felt a sense of dread creeping over me. By 7:30, Pennsylvania was called for Trump. It was over. I barely remember John Podesta coming out to deliver a statement before my head hit the pillow in defeat.

I woke up a few hours later feeling sick to my stomach. I kept repeating to myself, “What did we just do?” As I got ready for class, I repeated the question over and over, changing the phrasing and adding emphasis to different words. It was as if I expected a positive answer to materialize if I asked the question enough times. “What have we done?” I felt like crying, but I was too much in shock. I cycled to the uni, still asking myself what happened.

As I walked through the main area of the uni, Trump’s face stared at me from giant posters advertising some party. It’s a joke to everyone here. When I got to my seminar, I tried not to listen to what people were be saying. Of course, the professor opened by saying, “Happy post-election day,” adding a laugh at the end. Everyone except me laughed. I wanted to scream, to tell them it’s not a joke. All of our work, all of our progress, on civil rights, the economy, the environment… It’s all gone now.

People of color, the LGBTQ+ community, Muslims, women, documented and undocumented immigrants, the disabled, and other minority groups are going to have a rough 4 years, on top of everything that each of these groups has already dealt with through the election. The only people this election benefits are cis white males who are natural-born citizens.

I have never been more ashamed and embarrassed to be an American. At the moment, I feel physically sick. I have felt all morning as if I’m on the verge of an anxiety attack. I feel disoriented and lost as to what to do. I need time to myself before I decide how to move forward. There is a small voice in me that says it’s time to mobilize stronger than ever and join with other activists, but right now, I just need time to grieve.

As I, and millions of other Americans, take the time to understand the answer to the question, “What did we just decide,” I ask that all Trump supporters leave us to heal in these coming hours, days, and months. To do otherwise would be insensitive to a disenfranchised group of people you’ve already trodden all over with your hate. And yes, it is hate to support and accept Trump when he has said and done all of the things that he has.

In solidarity with all of my liberal / progressive brothers and sisters in the States,

Cheers, and take care of yourselves.

Germany Thus Far: 13 Months

October: the month that we are supposed to be decorating for Halloween. Instead, you see Christmas-themed products in the stores already. Yes, even in Germany they put the Christmas stuff out way too early!

This past month was also my transition from the summer holiday to a new semester. As you may remember, Germany starts their semesters later than in the States.

Travel

This month my grand travel plans consisted of walking or biking to the uni. Not too exciting. However, one exciting trip I took across town was for my residence permit. You can find out more about that bureaucratic nightmare here. Still waiting to pick up my residence permit.

You could also say another travel-related item this month was exercising my right to vote abroad. I faithfully filled out the bubbles on my ballot and mailed it to my voting authority. Last week I received confirmation that my ballot was in the ballot box! I hope that any American citizen reading this already got out or will get out and vote today. I’m interested to see how the world reacts to the winner of the highest office in the land.

dscn2497

Studies

On October 24, lectures for the winter semester started at the University of Konstanz. This is my third semester in the program. What this means is that it is the last that I will be taking a full load of lectures and seminars. In the final semester, I will largely be focused on my Master’s thesis.

This semester I’m especially looking forward to a seminar on asylum policy and another on welfare states, inequality, and redistribution. As I write this post, I’m actually taking a break from reading about party-voter linkages. Wow, that makes me feel nerdy to see those words on-screen…

German

I’m also starting a new German course this semester. I have reached a whole new level of achievement with my German because I am starting a B1-level course.

In just one year I have managed to learn a lot. During my A2/2 course last semester, I talked to a few students who said that they have been in Germany for two years already and were just finishing the A2/2 course. They had taken every course in order (A1/1, A1/2, A2/1, A2/2) in contrast to my skipping courses (I only had A1/2 and A2/2). This is not to say that German is easy for me. On the contrary, I find it quite the challenge.

Alright, October. That’s a wrap! Next time I write about October I will be done with uni. What a terrifying thought…

Cheers!

Staying: A Bureaucratic Story

My Residence Permit

Ladies and gentleman, let me tell you a tale. I once moved to Germany. The International Office of the university was extremely helpful. They had all of the paperwork that we needed together and reviewed it with us before we had our appointments at the Immigration Office. They also assisted us with registering with the city, which must be done within two weeks of becoming a  new resident of any town in Germany. During orientation activities, representatives from two major health insurance companies as well as representatives from banks came to the university for us to sign up with. This is required in order to get a residence permit.

With all of the application materials in hand, I went to the Immigration Office where the International Office also had staff to help the process along. I handed over my papers, and dutifully allowed the immigration official to scan my fingerprints. Then, I was informed that I would be notified when my residence permit arrived from Berlin.

A month later, I went back to the office to retrieve my newly-minted residence permit. Finally, I was the proud owner of a little card that would allow me to stay in Europe longer than the three months allowed to tourists. I was happy and legally residing in Germany until…

That residence permit had to be renewed.

A Wild Goose Chase

Obtaining my first residence permit was made to be easy thanks to the amazing International Office at the University of Konstanz. Unfortunately, they do not have the same services for students renewing their residence permits.

I knew that I would need to schedule an appointment. The papers that the Immigration Office give you when you apply in the first place state, “Please apply for your new residence permit approximately 6 weeks before your current residence permit expires.”

I contacted them well over 2 months before my residence permit was due to expire. They responded back telling me that the next available appointment would be October 10. That was one day before my current residence permit expired.

Here’s a bit of advice to anyone seeking a meeting with the Immigration Authorities of Germany: Apply crazy early for an appointment. Due to the influx of refugees, the workload in Immigration Offices has increased. The problem is, Germany hasn’t hired enough employees to help manage the workload. Therefore, if you want a meeting, you should ask early or you will overstay your residence permit.

Anyway, meeting date and time in hand, I set about collecting the documents I needed. I tell you, I have never been on such a wild goose chase in my life. The documents needed for a residence permit renewal are:

  • Application for residence permit extension
  • Current passport
  • Current residence permit with sheet explaining work allowance
  • Current enrollment
  • Current health insurance
  • Proof of financial resources
  • Biometric passport photos
  • Fee (€80)

Let’s walk through these one at a time, shall we?

Application

The Verlängerungsantrag, or application for extension, can be found in your local Immigration Office. That’s the easy part. Once you take the thing home, you have to fill it out. You’ll be asked about your background, what you’re doing here, and all that good stuff.

There are a few things that you might want to know. First, when you are asked for your eye color, “hazel” is not an appropriate response. The Germans apparently do not have hazel eyes, so you’d better settle for writing “green.”

Second, when you are asked about the size of your accommodation, you should write at least 12 m². This is the minimum, because living with less is apparently inhumane for normal immigrants, although it is okay to stuff an entire family of refugees into one little room. Criticism of the handling of refugees aside, you really need to watch this one. Note that this is meters squared per person living in your flat.

Current Passport and Residence Permit

This one is the easiest. All you have to do is bring the documents that you already have. Just remember to check that your passport is still valid through the entire period for which you are requesting a new residence permit.

Current Enrollment

The Immatrikulationsbescheinigung is pretty easy to get if you know where to go. At the University of Konstanz, you just have to go to the Studierenden-Service-Zentrum (SSZ), or Student Service Center. Ask for an Immatrikulationsbescheinigung mit Bestätigung über das voraussichtliche Studienende. In English, that’s a certificate of matriculation including the expected completion date of your studies.

The document is just a quick printout stating that you are enrolled. At the bottom, the woman preparing my certificate made a stamp, wrote down the day next year that is the end of my studies officially (forever!), signed her initials, and then slapped an official university stamp on it. Done.

Current Health Insurance

If you live in Germany, you are required to have health insurance. My student health insurance is about €90 per month, which is reasonable considering it covers the doctor, emergency rooms, the dentist, and the optometrist. In case you’re wondering, I have not had to use it in the emergency room. (Knock on wood, please.)

What you need is a current Mitgliedsbescheinigung, or membership certificate. The little insurance card that they give you is not accepted. What I had to do was contact my health insurance and request one of these certificates, which is really just a letter saying I have coverage.

I accidentally ended up getting this twice. I contacted my health insurance representative, and he sent me one… in English. I thought that was not going to slide. To be safe, I went to the office and requested another one in person. This time, I made sure my certificate was in German.

Proof of Financial Resources

Oh, dear. This one might have made me crazy. I will try to give you the most condensed version of the story possible. First, you should know that students are required to finance the entire duration of their stay up front. What this means is that you need something that says you will not become broke, homeless, and starving while living in Germany.

One way to do this is to get a bunch of financial documents from your parents or another person willing to support you showing that they have enough money or income to do so. If you do this option, it has to be renewed every two years of your time in Germany. This is not really an option for me, so I took the alternative.

The alternative is having all of your money put into a blocked account which dispenses a monthly allowance. How much money, you ask? The required minimum amount goes up beginning January 2017. It will now be €720 per month, which adds up to €8,640 for a full year. To help take the edge off, you can subtract from that total with a work contract. I happen to have a student job at the university, so I combined savings in a blocked account and a work contract.

This is all very good in theory. Here’s how it actually went down. I go to get a new blocked account from my bank, and instead find out that they do not offer this service anymore. The International Office at the university tells me a few options, and I chose to go to Sparkasse to set up my blocked account. I filled out my Sperrvermerk Bescheinigung, or certificate for getting a blocked account, and headed over to the bank.

The fee to do set up this account is €50, which annoys me because last year it was free to do at Commerzbank. I guess this is okay since some banks charge as much as €100. I handed over my Sperrvermerk Bescheinigung and passport. After lots of waiting while the bank employee tapped around on her keyboard, I paid the fee and handed over the money that I needed to block. Then, I received the documents that I needed. Check… almost.

I found out some time ago that there has been an ongoing dispute between the Immigration Office of Konstanz and the International Office of the university. the Immigration Office doesn’t like to accept contracts for student jobs as part of the proof of finances. A meeting was set between the International Office and Immigration Office to discuss this issue on the day after my appointment at the Immigration Office. This left me nervous, but I had to try using my contract since I didn’t have any more money.

Biometric Passport Photo

I thought passport photos would be easy. Wrong. The cheap photo booth that I used last year is unfortunately gone. I did some research and decided to try a local photography shop in town. After I found it in the winding streets of Old Town, the boy who was working was able to take my photo right away. I only had to wait ten minutes for the photos.

Simple enough in the end, but I have a word of caution yet again. Whenever you apply for a new permit, you must have photos that were recently taken. I did mine the week before my appointment. Furthermore, the Immigration Office will say to bring one passport photo. What they really mean is that you need two. One photo should be pasted into the application where indicated; the other photo will be handed over during the appointment and attached to a different piece of paper.

Fee

The fee to renew a permit is €80. If, like me, you find yourself with a late appointment, then your residence permit will expire before you get the new one. In this case, you will need a Fiktionsbescheinigung, or temporary permit, which will last until you get a new permit. The cost for this is €20. Really, I ended up paying €100.

Day of Reckoning

All documents, photos, and fees in hand, I arrived at the Immigration Office at the appointed hour on the day of reckoning. When I was called in, I sat down and had a small exchange in German to explain that I preferred English, although I do understand some German. Redundant, I know.

One after another, I handed over my documents. When we got to the proof of finances bit, the immigration official informed me that the acceptance of my contract would depend on the outcome of the meeting happening on the following day. I would be contacted later with the decision.

I signed some documents which stated that I understood I will have to leave Germany when my residence permit expires. I signed some others for various things not worth mentioning here.

At some point, I noticed that the immigration official had a rather thick stack of papers clipped together with my name on the front of it. For a moment, I was really freaked out by how much information they had collected on me already after just a year. Then, I though about how much information the NSA probably has on me, and I wasn’t bothered by it so much anymore.

After shuffling more papers between us, I had my fingerprints scanned again. I guess they wanted to make sure that I hadn’t changed them in the past year. After this, the temporary permit was handed over in exchange for my hard-earned €100. My job was done. All I had to do was wait.

Confirmation

The meeting about the student job contracts was held the next day. Fortunately, it worked out in my favor. I was informed by the Immigration Office that my application was being accepted and sent to Berlin.

In the coming weeks, a shiny, new residence permit will make its way from Berlin to my little corner of Germany down on the border with Switzerland. After it arrives, I will be summoned back to the Immigration Office to receive it. Thus, this story is to be continued….

*This information is based on my experience as an American citizen applying for a student residence permit.

Germany Thus Far: One Year

One year is a long time to be abroad; however, it does not feel like it has been so long. Thinking back over this past year, I’ve done a lot. I’ve climbed mountains, literally and figuratively, since I first arrived.

First Alps

Let’s break down some of this year’s events:

  • I navigated German bureaucracy (eek!) and received my residence permit.
  • I traveled to Ulm, Kempten, and around other parts of southern Germany.
  • I explored Prague, Czech Republic and southern France.
  • I saw the Alps for the first time. Then I climbed them. Oh, how I loved that.
  • I continually got to know my new home city of Konstanz. I have to admit it’s pretty cute for a German college town.
  • I celebrated holidays with traditions that baffled me. (See Christmas…).
  • I went sledding “for real.” Yes, there is a proper way to do it.
  • I attended the international wedding of two amazing friends I met in Belfast. *Insert warm fuzzies here.*
  • I started learning German and have made some considerable progress for someone who did not speak it upon arrival. Although, I have to say that my Denglish is much better.
  • I have become fairly used to life in Germany. That is, I’m not as awkward about Bretzeln, the Autobahn, interacting with Germans, or any of that other typical German stuff. Note that I said “not as awkward.”
  • Last but not least, I survived my first year of graduate school in Germany. Hurrah!

First Hike View

Somewhere in between residence permit paperwork and looking at the Alps across the Bodensee, I finally started to integrate. Going to the grocery store isn’t scary now. I watch some shows on ZDF alongside Netflix. I even got used addicted to the sparkling water that the Germans love so much. Seriously you guys, I cannot get enough of it.

I realize that as time goes on, most people I interact with are German, as opposed to my previous study abroad experiences where I mostly interacted with other international students. At the same time, I talk less and less to most friends in the States. To be honest, I’m okay with that.

P1640777

You see, moving to Germany and making it so far was not just a transition from the States to Germany. It was a transition in lifestyles and goals. Therefore, it is natural that some friendships fade and others blossom. I never felt that American, and I especially felt increasingly disconnected after my two previous experiences abroad. I feel really disconnected from most American now, geographically and ideologically.

Don’t understand? I am from Missouri, a red state, yet I am extremely far-left. I’d say I’m further left than most Americans on most, but not all, issues. So not only am I half-way around the world, but I also find it hard to agree with my fellow citizens on policy. Most of these ideas have been shaped by what I have experienced during my travels to several countries, in addition to my studies. I think I speak for many millennial expats when I say that we simply don’t know why the US doesn’t learn from other countries. Still, I digress…

As time goes on, I wonder how I got certain ideas into my head. For instance, my career goals are entirely different now. I thought that I wanted to work for an organization like the World Bank or International Monetary Fund. I still support a lot of their development initiatives, but I know that working in that type of environment would leave me incredibly unhappy. The sticky bit is that I am still trying to figure out what exactly I will do after I get my degree, but that’s okay. One step at a time.

Finally at the Astronomical Clock!

The funny thing is that since I have been here, my time horizon has shortened dramatically. I focus on one semester at a time, or the duration of one residence permit at most. There is no way to tell how long I will be here, although I hope it will be for much longer than my current residence permit.

Since I am not worrying about time so much, it has been easier to relax. I think a lot of stress in my undergrad career came from thinking about “life after college.” That is such a stressful way to think about a college career. Now my stress comes from “life through these end-of-semester exams.”

Cows in the Mountains

As I’ve stated several times before, this is my third study abroad experience. It’s also the longest time I have ever been away from Missouri and my family. Going home eventually will be nice, but it will only be for a visit. (Sorry, guys!)

I was hooked on travel before I came, and now one might say that I am hooked on living abroad. Here’s to my first year in Germany and many more years of living abroad.

Kosntanz Seenachsfest 2016

Prost and cheers!