Can you believe that I have been in Germany for two years now? Seems like just yesterday I was breaking the news to my Grandma that I was going to be going far from home yet again. She wasn’t particularly pleased, but I think my family has all finally come around to the fact that I wasn’t meant to live the Missouri life.
Let’s review a bit what I’ve been up to. I stepped off the plane in Germany back in September 2015, and started my Master’s degree about this time two years ago. On top of my four semesters of study, I managed to visit Austria, the Czech Republic, Italy, France, and Switzerland – plus a lot of southern Germany. I also met some wonderful people in Konstanz from all over, and three of my closest friends are now pursuing PhDs because they’re super nerdy. Just kidding guys! Well, partially at least….
Studies themselves were quite a challenge for me here in Germany. The German language was obviously another source of frustration these past two years, although significantly less so now. Finances were also a struggle for me (I would strongly caution anyone considering graduate studies abroad if they have significant debt to be careful). Despite all of the difficulties, I was never deported and think that moving to Germany is the best choice I could have made!
I felt quite vindicated by my decision to move to Germany when I handed in my thesis last month. That same week I did a job interview in Munich at a start-up that I really wanted to work for. After nervously meeting the CEO and Head of Business Development there, I went back to Konstanz to do some exploring and discover the things I had not had the time to see in the past two years.
While rendezvousing around Konstanz, I got a job offer from the very same company. A few days later I signed the contract and was working on moving out of my student flat.
A little less than a month ago I started working there and things have been going great so far. I’ve been working on some challenging tasks and am really excited about where the company is heading.
Student life is officially over and “adulting” (AKA paying off my student loans) has begun. Meanwhile, the leaves have pretty much all changed colors despite the Indian Summer that we had here in Munich.
So what’s next? Adjust to my new work like, find an apartment, and a trip back to Missouri for Christmas!
I’ll keep this update short since my last post was already very reflective. I’m also planning to reduce the frequency of these Germany Thus Far posts to once every three months. My monthly life isn’t changing as quickly and there are not so many new things during my day to day which would warrant monthly updates.
With that, I leave you lovely readers to enjoy autumn (or spring for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere).
It may seem trivial, but I have long struggled to decide which season is my favorite.
When I was a child, I would have said summer. I didn’t have to go to school, so I would play in the backyard all day long. Summer also meant long trips to my grandparent’s place at the lake where I was free to roam the property.
When I turned 16 and got my first job, my love of summer turned to feelings of dread. I started to dislike summer almost as much as I dislike winter. Missouri typically has cold winters with a 5pm sunset. Since most of my winters have been spent in school during the day, there was very little time to enjoy the sun before it went down, especially after I started working.
It’s probably my loathing of winter which led me to appreciate spring so much. I always find it exciting when the days grow longer and I can spend more time outdoors.
But what about autumn? The coming of autumn meant going back to school, so I found this time of year very discouraging until I started university. And then everything changed.
It was during my university years that I started to be more confident in myself. I didn’t really notice it at first since I also struggled with self-awareness through most of my undergraduate studies.
During the changing of the seasons, from spring to summer of 2014, I left the country for the first time. Spanish, Oaxaca’s streets and markets, and the first inkling that I wanted to travel more accompanied a sense of self-awareness of the confidence that I had been cultivating through three years at university. Thus, my international experience and a sense of personal growth were marked by the changing of the seasons.
At the next changing of the seasons, summer to fall, I boarded my second international flight out of the States. The day that I landed in Northern Ireland, the air felt almost cold compared to the heat I had left behind in Missouri.
That semester turned out to be the most liberating and life-altering times of my life. Armed with my new sense of self-confidence and self-awareness, I forged enduring friendships and discovered and developed new parts of myself.
Two season changes later, as Virginia transitioned from spring to summer, I defended two Bachelor theses, applied to graduate schools, and earned my Bachelor degree.
As summer changed to fall, I found myself on another international flight. I watched the screen as the plane flew closer to the Emerald Isle, and I looked out the window somewhat in shock that I was seeing Europe again.
Only a few hours later my plane touched down in Germany, a country I had never set foot in before. This time I was transitioning into graduate school, another new country, and a plan to stay indefinitely.
Since that changing of the seasons, nothing has really changed as significantly. Until now.
Yet again, I find that the most pivotal changes in my life are coinciding with the changing of the seasons. As the weather changed from tank tops and unbearably hot to rainy and cold enough for sweaters in the span of a week, I was working on finishing my Master’s thesis.
Finish it, I did. Earlier this month, I handed in my thesis and breathed a sigh of relief. I’ve finished my second degree and only have to wait for a grade and my diploma in the mail. Everything is changing now. I’m saying goodbye to friends, went to a few job interviews, and accepted a job in Munich.
This changing of the seasons brings the end of my studies as well as the beginning of my professional work life. Finally, I see myself being able to start paying off those student loans, develop professionally in a non-academic environment, and have more financial resources to get lost in new places.
All this to say, I guess the reason I can’t pick a favorite season is that I prefer the changing of the seasons. To friends near and far, I hope to see you again as I come into some time and finances to travel. I already have a trip home to Missouri scheduled for Christmas.
Since things have been quite busy in terms of my study load, I decided to lump two months together when I realized that there was no way I’d write about June on time. To be clear, those two months are June and July. Oh wow, that’s most of the summer gone already…
Around Konstanz & Southern Germany
In the first part of June, I did quite a bit of cycling. It wasn’t unbearably hot, but still nice enough weather to summon you outdoors. On one Saturday, I went cycling along the coast of the Bodensee with A before we went for a swim in the cool lake water. After swimming, we realized it was getting closer to 8, so we cooked dinner and then took some wine and glasses back to the beach.
We had intended to just drink some of the wine while enjoying the sunset. It was certainly a surprise when, across the lake near Meersburg, a firework show started up.
This went on for about five to ten minutes. Near the end, I glanced to the right and noticed a light above the horizon. At first, I thought it was the sun for some reason, but then I realized that the sun had set to the left and had been below the horizon for some time already. It only took me a few seconds more to realize that it was the moon rising up from behind the Alps and scattered clouds there. We stayed a while longer and enjoyed the moonrise before finally deciding to cycle back home at a quarter to 11.
Several weeks later A and I went hiking at a place called Eistobel. The hike isn’t particularly strenuous, and there are several opportunities for taking a swim along the path (although the water is freezing!). However, what Eistobel is most known for is its waterfalls. I understand that the waterfalls are especially beautiful in winter when they freeze, so I may need to return during a colder part of the year to get the full experience.
Also that weekend, I saw my first ever hedgehogs during an evening cookout. A pair of the adorable little guys just decided to join us in the yard, probably drawn by the warmth of the fire and the abundance of slugs (a meal for them) in the nearby bushes.
At the end of the month, I spent some time at the annual Konstanz Flohmarkt (flea market). According to the local news, there were about a thousand stands at this market. It’s every year in June for a full twenty-four hours, along both sides of the Rhine and across the Swiss border into Kreutzlingen. I didn’t buy much, but I did pick up some antiques for one of my little sisters.
July has been much less exciting. The heat waves have ended with cold spells before igniting a new heat wave. As I write this, the past several days have been cold, rainy, and gray. I even had to get a pair of fuzzy socks out to keep my feet warm. Now the thing with these drastic weather changes, as any good Midwesterner would know, is that they bring strong storms. It’s been quite a month for a storm lover (meaning me!), and there were even multiple instances of small hail!
The few exciting things this month, apart from the weather, have been dinners. The first dinner was at the house of my professor, who is also my advisor and now former-employer. In case you didn’t know, I quit my student job to focus my last few months on my thesis and job search. The dinner was a relaxing break, and I got to put my experience of making fruit bowls to good use.
The second dinner was to say goodbye to a good friend and fellow student in the program. He moved to Mannheim this week to pursue a PhD. I wish him all the best in his continuing studies, and I know he will see us all again.
That dinner was the first time I really thought about my friend group here splitting up. I realized that he and I are the two who will be leaving Konstanz at the end of this semester. And for me, that means having to once again search for a new friend group in the city where I will live next. Or being a hermit, which is entirely possible although not the plan!
In the Books
On the study side of things, there is good news. Lectures have ended, and I only have one exam next week. Luckily, this exam isn’t required coursework, so the pressure isn’t so high. I also finished my colloquium presentations on my thesis, which is a huge load off of my shoulders.
What is left is to get moving on my thesis, write everything up, and hand in the final document at the beginning of September.
I also officially started my job search in this past month, which has meant writing lots of cover letters and getting frustrated with myself for not speaking better German. The jobs in my field usually prefer people with excellent German skills. The ones which don’t require German are often either too senior for me, or I am overqualified for the position. I’m trying to apply for all of the jobs that I can which are in my Goldilocks zone (and interesting to me), but that means that I may not end up going to the city which I am most hoping to live in. Let’s see.
I’ve been trying to push myself a bit more with German. I do have to say though, that doesn’t mean a whole lot considering learning improving my German has taken a backseat due to my thesis. Annoyingly, I keep stumbling across confusing things such as the strange forms of Junge which are part of an entire class of nouns previously unknown to me and the fact that Fladenbrot (flatbread) is not at all what I think of as flatbread. Sure makes it difficult to try cooking something new. But hey, finding ingredients has been a challenge since I arrived for many of my favorite dishes, ehem, Mexican and Southwestern cuisine.
So that’s my June and July here at the Bodensee. Hope you all have been enjoying summer! Oh, and by the way, happy Game of Thrones return!
Hey, friends. It’s been a while. Quite a while in fact. The last substantial post I wrote was a recap of my 16th month in Germany. You probably don’t even remember that. It was January. Crazy, right?
Before you ask, yes, I am still living in Germany. Yes, I am still working towards my Master’s degree. No, nothing bad happened to me. The reason for my silence in this space was simply an entanglement in life. I’ve had to work through some personal things over the past few months. I’m still working through them, but I’m back in this space despite that.
So, what brought me back? Well, over the past months while I have been very busy and needing to focus on my studies, personal well-being, and upcoming post-study life, I kept thinking about this space. I had every intention to come back when things were “stable.”
Turns out that “stable” is a complex state and I’m not sure when or if I’ll be getting there any time soon. On top of that, the entire time that I’ve been away I’ve been missing writing, missing sharing with friends and family, missing my primary outlet for stress-relief.
Finally, I’ve come to the point where I’m tired of telling myself to stop thinking about the blog and get back to work. In a way, this little blog is my safe haven, a place to restore my sanity when I feel like life is overwhelming. So, here I am again. And now that I’m back, I guess I owe you all a brief recap of months 17-20.
Month 17: February
February was a cold and snowy month here in Germany. I spent most of it indoors preparing for exams in my last semester of intensive coursework. Generally, my days consisted of bundling up before quickly running to the warmth of the university or my home, and then studying away.
At the end of the month, when my first round of exams were complete, A and I went down to Austria for a short over-night trip. In the village there were snow in drifts along the side of the road, but it wasn’t so plentiful and was even somewhat warm for the season.
Our reason in going there was a trip up the mountains. We took the ski lift up, and when I thought we were there, we queued up for another ski lift. On this second one, the trees started to disappear and thick layers of snow coated the ground. It was much colder at the top, but was a lovely place to walk around. From up there we could even see the Bodensee, although it was the opposite end from where Konstanz is located.
Month 18: March
March brought some warmer weather, and I mistakenly thought that winter was over. I took some walks through the woods surrounding the university and started cycling in unexplored areas a lot more.
Approximately a month after my trip up the Austrian Alps, I was cycling to Switzerland on a warm, sunny day. Nothing special was happening, but it was interesting to explore a nearby area where I almost never go.
Month 19: April
Finally, spring was in full swing. The first thunderstorm, complete with lightning, arrived early in the month. I journaled about it like a poor girl from Tornado Alley deprived of proper storms (because that’s exactly what I am).
I studied more and took one exam in the second round. Then, I waited patiently for the last result (which was good!).
A few days after the exam, I fed some members of a closely-related species: some monkeys! And not just any monkeys; I was chilling with cute little fuzzy ones. I could rant to you all about my deep discomfort with keeping wild animals in captivity… but I won’t today!
What I will tell you is that I went to Affenberg Salem which is home to about 200 Barbary macaques. They’re hanging out in the German forest just north of the Bodensee for research purposes and to be reintroduced into their natural habitats in groups (since their wild populations have dwindled quite a bit because of us humans). Visitors can walk through a small area of their forest home and even feed them small snacks of popcorn, which does not harm the monkeys in case you were wondering.
Also at Affenberg Salem were quite a few storks and their nests. Naturally, I was bumping around like a giddy schoolgirl. I’d never seen an actual stork, and here were real life storks that bring babies like in the stories! They were really big, so now I understand how they were able to carry Dumbo to his mama. All jokes aside, their populations have sadly dwindled, but it’s good that there are places trying to keep the species going.
Not long after that, classes started. Then, right at the end of the month, I went down to the German Alps and took a walk near a small village with A. We managed to get some quite nice photos in while we were at it. Oh, and it snowed again. What is with the German weather this year?
Month 20: May
May was more stressful as classes were going and my thesis work time officially started. To take the edge off, I did some more cycling along the lake. That’s becoming regular exercise for me these days, and I think I know my route quite intimately by now.
Also in the month of May, I went to Milan for a weekend. I won’t expand much on it here since I’d like to write a longer post on it. Let’s just say that it had some interesting bits, but in general I wasn’t the biggest fan. It was also fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot, and I managed to soak up enough sun for a nasty lobster-colored sunburn.
June is coming…
My plan is to resume my monthly recap posts starting with June. In the meantime, I’m going to cycle to the lake in order to cool off from this heatwave that we’ve been experiencing the past few days. I guess I better mention that I also will be going with two of my wonderful study mates who seem a bit miffed that I haven’t mentioned them more frequently in this space. You guys, consider the debt paid!
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!).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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…
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…