Germany Thus Far: 2 Years

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….

Theses

Thesis Freiheit
My final Master’s thesis!

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.

Konstanz Muenster and Me

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).

Cheers!

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On the Changing of the Seasons

Yet again, I find that the most riveting changes of my life are coinciding with the changing of the seasons.

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.

Photo Sep 01, 18 08 23

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.

Photo Sep 01, 18 15 05-1

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.

Until the next changing of the seasons…

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: Months 21 & 22

June and July updates are here. Fireworks, moonrise, and a waterfall included!

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.

Bodensee Sunset

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.

Fireworks vor Moonrise

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.

Moonrise

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.

Eistobel

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!

Hail Kz

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.

Speaking Denglish

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.

Before the Storm at Bodensee

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!

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: 10 Months

It has officially happened: I have entered into double-digits. Ten months have gone by with me living in Europe. A German recently asked me if I had gone back to the States at all. I told her no. Then, she asked if I missed the States. Not particularly. Finally, she said I must like it in Germany then. Of course!

Studies

I guess you could say that I am now technically half-way to my Master’s degree. I still have a few term papers to finish, but lectures for the summer semester have ended.

This semester has gone better than the first, but still not as well compared to what I used to be able to crank out with a lot less effort at my American undergraduate university.

Although it is now the semester holiday, I have some work to do. I have two jobs at the university. One of the jobs is working for one of my professors as I have previously mentioned. The other is a translation job (to English!) for one of the departments on campus. I hope it goes well, although I’m sure it will be slow at first.

German

With the end of my second semester and ten months in Germany comes the achievement of completing the A2/2 level course! To recap, I had tried to self-study a bit before my arrival and managed to get into an A1/2 course in the first semester. I kept up with the class in addition to my studies and was able to jump up to the A2/2 course for the second semester. Now I can enroll in a B1 level course!

For the people who don’t understand these letters and numbers, I’m referring to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. A is the novice level, B is the intermediate level, and C is the advanced level. The ratings are divided with 1 being the lower rank of a level and 2 being higher. The university I attend further divides the A range so that A1/1 is the most basic course and A2/2 is the last A course.

Travel

I didn’t really get out much since the semester was winding down. However, I had an American friend in Konstanz who I showed around. We did a bit of exploring in the forest nearby and walked along the lake, but nothing over the top.

Konstanz from the Forest

Then, just this past weekend, I left town to head north. I spent the weekend enjoying an (Old Town Festival) and miniature Seenachtsfest (loosely translates to Night on the Lake Festival).

The Altstadtfest had some lovely food. There was all of the typical German foods, many of which I cannot eat. However, I was able to find some pork-free Dinnete. There was also something strange and not typical German that I can only describe as turkey pieces on a stick with Laugen (bread) wrapped along the length, then with either sweet and sour sauce or Sriracha sauce. I totally went with Sriracha. I also indulged in some Indian food, always a favorite of mine. Finally, I ate the best falafel I’ve ever had, made by some Syrian refugees serving up their favorite foods.

To finish the weekend off, we had Seenachtsfest at the small lake in this town. Everyone lined up on the shores to watch the fireworks. The music was … interesting. It began with Frozen‘s Let It Go (a German version might I add), moving on to a song from Tarzan, and finishing with the theme music from Pirates of the Caribbean. Quite a mashup, but I guess it was a family event after all.

There we have it. Ten months of not dying while abroad, and even managing to have some fun while working towards another degree. I hope everyone who has already been on summer break for a few months is enjoying it as much as I finally am.

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: Nine Months

June has been quite strange here in southern Germany. Summer was supposed to come, but all we got was rain. Some places got flooding, but there was nothing serious in Konstanz at least. However, the level of the Bodensee (Lake of Constance) raised quite a bit, which made for some interesting walks by the lake.

Flooding at Bodensee
If you look at the water, you can see the banks of where this canal in Konstanz usually runs.

Studies

The semester is winding down, and I have exams next month. I was asked recently if I am worried. I replied, “It’s Germany. Of course I’m worried.” Exams here are not at all what I’m used to in the States. There’s plenty of work to do for sure…

Alongside studies, I took a campus job and left my off-campus job. I’m excited to start this new one, as I’ll be serving as Managing Editor for European Union Politics, which, if you don’t know, is a major academic journal. Since the hours are not quite enough, I applied for a few other jobs at the uni. Hopefully I get a positive response soon!

German

German is still as frustrating as ever. On the other hand, I’m apparently becoming a little more German in a cultural sense. Recently, I found myself surrounded by German engineers. As I ate some pretzels, I noticed that almost everyone was drinking beer. Of course, to top it off, we were all watching the Germany vs. Poland game in the Euro 2016 football championships (soccer, not the American football). It was an incredibly “German” situation.

The past several weeks I have found myself watching some of the Euro 2016 matches (congratulations to Iceland on their Earth-shattering victory tonight!), which is quite odd. I have never watched football, not even during the World Cup. Am I turning European? Maybe. The symptoms continue, as one of my German friends remarked that my complaining is somewhat German in nature. Another friend told me that my irritation at people not following the proper protocol in the grocery store is also more of a German trait. Add in the fact that I was once told I can sometimes be more harsh and serious than a German… Maybe I am turning a little bit German! (Still don’t like beer, though…)

Travel

This month I didn’t need to go anywhere, as I’ve been working on some essays and a seminar project for which I give a presentation at the end of this week. Luckily for me, there was a huge event in Konstanz to attend this month.

The Flohmarkt (flea market) that only happens once a year here in the city center started up for about 24 hours. I went on a Saturday evening and started in the city center, moving south, across the border into Kreuzlingen, Switzerland. On Sunday, I continued exploring the market on both sides of the Rhine.

There was so much to see and good deals to be had. I managed to get a few tops, all for less than €3 each. On Sunday, I had the luck to spot a bike and bought it for about €25. So, now I have my very own bike. It needs a bit of work, including new tires, but I’m quite happy with the price. To get a nice bike in Konstanz that doesn’t need any work, one will pay in excess of €100, though I’ve seen nice mountain bikes and what not go for quite a bit more.

That’s June then. Nothing over the top, but enough to blog about. I guess it’s a good thing because I have a busy month of exam-prep and exams coming up, followed by a visit from an American friend and a wedding soon after at the beginning of August (in which an American is the groom)! All the Americans coming!

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: Four Months In

In this past month, we’ve welcomed a new year, and with it, I’ve welcome the next stage of my studies. As some of you may know, Germany has a “year-round” school schedule. Currently, I’m approaching the end of my first semester. After this week, I only have two more weeks of lectures until the exam period starts. Forgive me for not writing more, but a student’s gotta study!

neues Jahr

Travel

Since I’ve mostly been working on school work, having melt-downs about extraneous life issues, and embarking on a new project I have not had the time to travel as I would like. My travel outside of Konstanz has basically been the return trip from Christmas and a quick weekend getaway to relax with friends before the exam pressure was really on.

This new project, I guess we can call it travel… Travel across town to my new job! Yes, I have managed to find a mini-job in Konstanz that fits nicely within my residence permit limitations. I’m working for a small HR company that lets me put my native-speaker English to good use. I’m enjoying it so far and find that it’s a lovely distraction for a few hours every week to focus on something that’s completely unrelated to my studies.

Studies

All of that is a great segue into what’s happening on the study front. As I stated, exams are coming up soon. Currently, I’m at the stage where I have a paper and / or presentation due in most classes. Stress levels are high, and I think I summed it all up in my last post, so I won’t go into detail here.

On the positive side, I’m starting to finally get the hang of reading over academic journals quickly and understanding what the authors are talking about. I’m also loving that we’ve finally arrived at the game theory section of my advanced microeconomics course. I based one of my undergraduate theses on a bargaining model, and I happen to find the topic fascinating.

German

Now is the time of my monthly update where I get to inform you that I still cannot understand German. Okay, I can’t understand all German, but I am making progress! For example, I’m learning which words not to say.

Last week I attended a software training at my job which included quite a lot of German. The man who was presenting the software training spoke with a very clear German accent (compared to most German-speakers in the South). I was surprised that while I didn’t understand whole sentences or always know exactly what he was talking about, I could understand quite a few words.

Speaking is another story. I still find it quite hard to have a conversation with Germans or the Swiss. I am okay at constructing sentences if I have the time to think about them, meaning when I’m writing them out. This week, I had to give an oral presentation in my German class. Thankfully, it went well. My Lehrerin (teacher) understood everything I said and also found it entertaining.

I’m still a long way from speaking German well and finishing my degree. At least I’m finding some little victories along the way.

Cheers!