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.

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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.

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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: 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!

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).

Cheers!

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.

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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!

Germany Thus Far: 11 Months

My eleventh month in Germany has come and gone… while I was in France. Oops! While I’ll get to France later, I still wanted to backtrack and write a little bit about August in Germany.

Studies

I finished up my exams in July, and August was the first month of the semester break. I spent a lot more time playing than reading, and I will just leave my study update at that.

German

I thought my German was getting better. Then, I went to Switzerland and understood absolutely nothing (though, that is more because of the Swiss accent than it is because of my German). The Germans still tell me that my German is getting much better. I suppose that is to be determined at the end of the break after several months without a German class…

Travel

Here is the real substance of this blog post! August was a whirlwind of a month in terms of getting out and about. I started August by heading to Switzerland to see an international couple, a Swiss and an American who met while we were all studying abroad in Northern Ireland, get married. I was so happy to have been able to share that day with two very special friends. I hope that I get to see them in Edinburgh, their new home, in the future.

The next big event was the Konstanz Seenachtsfest (night festival at the lake). The city center was closed to traffic and flooded with people. A village of food and beverage stands had popped up by the lake. People merrily drank their beer while listening to music and waiting for the fireworks. Finally, they started. I was really impressed by the fireworks over the water and the accompanying music that was perfectly aligned with the bursts of light.

Kosntanz Seenachsfest 2016

When the Konstanz fireworks ended, another round of fireworks started on the Swiss side. They weren’t as good. After the Swiss fireworks ended, people started to get up to join the party or grab another beer. Suddenly, the Konstanz side shot off some more fireworks and dramatically triumphant music burst from the speakers. I think they made it clear who won that showdown.

About a week later, I grabbed my hiking boots and went to the mountains. It was a bit warm, but at least it was cloudy. A small mountain by Immenstadt was selected for the day. It did not take long before I found myself surrounded by cows. I have seen cow bells at Flohmärkte (flea markets), but this was the first time I saw a lot of cows wearing them. For the entire hike I could hear the sounds of cow bells, as they were in fields all the way up the mountain.

Cows in the Mountains

When we were about ready to head back down the mountain, we saw a sign for a Käserei (cheese maker). With all the cows, we figured why not get a bit of Bergkäse (mountain cheese). I knew that they made the cheese in the form of a cheese wheel. I was surprised to see the size of the giant boards on which cheesemakers set the cheese wheels.

Finally, as I stated above, I closed out the month with a trip to France to visit some friends (also who I met while in Northern Ireland), which I will write more about all in good time. We spent about half of the time on the countryside of southern France. On the first day we visited Avignon. Near the end of the trip, we spent two days each in Marseille and Lyon.

Lynnae in Avignon

So this is how I spent my eleventh month in Europe. Not too shabby.

Cheers!

I Finally Went to Prague: Part II

In my last post I shared a little something about my arrival in Prague. I spent a long weekend there exploring the streets, food, and culture of Prague. Today, I continue with my Prague story.

Lady of Tyn
Church of Our Lady before Týn

My weekend in Prague was spent almost exclusively in the district of Prague simply named “Prague 1.” You can easily find it on any map. It is the heart of the city and the most historic, as far as I am aware.

The most popular place there, and I think in most of Prague, for tourists is Staroměstské náměstí (Old Town Square). Aside from the Astronomical Clock, which I mentioned in my last post, my other favorite bit of architecture there was the Church of Our Lady before Týn, or Chrám Matky Boží před Týnem. There’s something regal about the turrets, and I absolutely love the golden balls at the tops of them.

You can spend a lot of time wandering around the Old Town Square and nearby streets. I’d recommend popping into a chocolate museum called Choco-Story. While I didn’t actually see the museum, it was fun to look around the shop. Their ice cream is also perfect for a hot day.

While I’m talking food again, here’s a recommendation for Americans living in Europe. If you, like me, miss Mexican-American and Southwestern cuisine, then there is a place in Prague you should not miss! Just down the way from the Astronomical Clock is Las Adelitas, which calls itself a Mexican restaurant. While it’s not exactly traditional Mexican cuisine, it is the best “Mexican food” that I’ve had since coming to Europe. Their margaritas aren’t half-bad either.

Okay, enough food talk. Heading north from Old Town, you end up in Josefov, the old Jewish quarter. I don’t really have any good photos of that part of town, although it’s very relaxing and beautiful on Saturdays if you need to get away from the tourist crowds. You’ll find a number of historic synagogues here as well.

Historical evidence shows that Jews have been living in Prague since before the year 1,000 C.E., and have been experiencing persecution for just as long. As a result, although the synagogues may be old, a lot of the architecture is from the early 1900s. This is because the city demolished most of the quarter from 1893 to 1913 in accordance with their initiative to model the city like Paris. Didn’t feel like Paris to me.

Crossing the river, you find yourself in the district of Malá Strana. While I wasn’t up for standing in a museum on such a nice day, we made a stop outside the Franz Kafka Museum anyway to see the hilarious, although crude, artwork in front of the main entrance. The work features two men standing in a pool of water. The pool’s outline is the border of the Czech Republic. What makes this so crude is that the two men in the pool are each holding their members and rotating their hips back and forth while relieving themselves. Need a visual? Here’s another traveler’s Youtube video. It is quite a funny fountain, true to Franz Kafka himself.

Heading north from there, we then walked down to the river. I was unprepared for how many swans there were. It was slightly alarming since swans aren’t exactly the nicest of creatures, but there were no injuries this day!

DSCN2400

I think we probably sat by the swans, taking in the view and enjoying the day for at least half an hour. Eventually, we wandered south again in search of the Lennon Wall. It took us a little time to find because I kept leading us down the wrong street, but we made it in the end.

The Lennon Wall was swamped with people taking every manner of picture, attempting to read every bit of graffiti and listening to the street musician playing the Beatles. Like everyone else, I was looking for the right place on the wall to have my photo taken. After a while, I found this:

Lennon Wall

When I saw it, I laughed. Since it is my third time studying abroad, I guess I’m a bit of a contradiction.

I know other American students who studied abroad say, “Yeah, I got the travel bug and will be traveling a lot in the future.” In actuality, most don’t travel much after that. Instead, I see Facebook posts about how they hate being stuck in the same town/state/area that they’re from. They say they do not have the money to go where they want, do not know anyone where they want to go and do not want to be too far from their families.

I’m familiar with these excuses, but they are not legitimate. If you want it bad enough, you will work three jobs, make new friends, and Skype or write your family members. People like to make it seem that millennials like me have to choose between career and travel; we absolutely do not. I might not be the brightest in my classes, but I certainly don’t lack a sense of adventure.

That’s a wrap! Life lessons and travel stories for today are over. Part III, the final installment about my weekend in Prague, will be coming up next.

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!