the contents of my brain

Let’s do this stream of consciousness style. I am preparing for a Literary Modernism exam, it’s only appropriate.

I encourage the University of Texas to bring on their worst, most inconsiderate, or most clueless professors for the fall. I’m ready. I’ve seen the worst already, and I know they’ll at least speak English with me.

If the United States completely collapses in the next few days, could someone just let me know which country I’d be better off living in? Thanks. I have a small supply of Euros and know all the cheap places to eat, so I’d be set for a while.

I’m finally getting a temporary roommate in a couple days! I will not be alone in my end-of-study-abroad blues, endless schoolwork, and last-ditch tourist efforts. Praise the Lord.

I’m officially done with classes! Actually, that’s not true. My German class is meeting on Monday, but because there isn’t a presentation scheduled we’re all going to a Biergarten instead. Fortunate timing–this class is directly after my Cultural Studies exam! Such fortune.

I do believe I have the best friends in the world, of both the American and German variety. There are some Canadians and Australians sprinkled in there, too.

Finally, you probably won’t hear from me for awhile. My last week and a half here will unfortunately be consumed by schoolwork, packing, and pathetic attempts to avoid both of the aforementioned activities.

finals week, german style

This is the last week of classes! In fact, I only have one more class to go! That makes me happy.

However, since classes are almost done, that also means that I don’t have very much time to get all my work done before it’s time for me to go home. To be exact, that means that in the next two weeks, I need to take two finals, finish one Hausarbeit (10 page paper), and write three bilingualism assignments. Then, I need to somehow figure out how my grades are going to be sent back home, because no one seems to know for sure.

The German semester is a lot more bottom-heavy than the American semester. Meaning that I haven’t done very much work this semester, because nothing is really due until the last three weeks of class, and there aren’t many intermediate assignments. Therefore, the concept of sitting in a library for several hours to finish a paper is completely beyond me at this point. That’s why I have all these PhotoBooth pictures documenting my study breaks.

Also, completely true to form, I have chosen this precise moment in time to get sick. My body seems to like doing this to me… last year, I hit the jackpot and came down with mono during finals. Now, I’m over here praying that blowing one’s nose in public is not completely taboo in this culture. If it is, I really, really apologize to everyone who was trying to study in the KGIV library today.

At this point, I just hope I make it home in one piece!

re-entry

I don’t know why… maybe it’s because the end of my time in Germany is so close, or because I’m so excited to see my friends and family again, or some other combination of factors, but for some reason I have suddenly become very concerned–maybe even fearful–about how I’m going to react to reverse culture shock.

A lot of people talk about culture shock, being taken aback when entering a new culture for the first time. I definitely experienced more of that coming to Germany than I’d expected to. Fewer people, I think, really think about similar reactions on the opposite end… coming back home.

Will I have a problem with it? I’m sure I will. But to what extent? It’s hard to know.

On the one hand, while I’ve been here, I have certainly grown to appreciate the American university system in contrast with the German one. I have a newfound appreciation for what it means to be an American. And I particularly enjoy the trend of stores being open all the time in the good old US of A.

On the other hand, I have learned a lot while I’ve been here. I have learned a lot about myself, and about the world. I like to think I’ve grown as a person, and maybe changed a little bit too. Hopefully for the better. And I know that my friends and family have gone through half a year’s worth of growth since I’ve been gone, too. The world keeps spinning, you know, when you’re halfway across it.

So for whatever reason, I am suddenly very worried that things are going to be irreconcilably different. I am not at all afraid of this kind of change–I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences over here for anything. I am so grateful and humbled to have had this opportunity, and frankly I’m proud of myself for being brave enough to follow through on it. I am also so incredibly blessed to be surrounded by such amazing friends who write me letters and e-mails, keep up with this blog, and make time to talk to me on Skype. So I really hope that the changes the past few months have brought are able to enhance those amazing friendships and provide more opportunities for me to create great relationships with those around me.

That being said, it probably won’t be easy to adjust to my “old” way of life. So I’ve been doing what I do best… researching on the Internet. There’s a lot out there on reverse culture shock, but here’s one of the better articles I found. It’s from the website of the international office of Middlebury College in Vermont. (Hey, I almost applied to Middlebury. Never mind, that ceases to be special because I almost applied to about every college in the continental US.)

Anyway, here’s part of the article. Enjoy!

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
–T.S. Eliot

Welcome back study abroad returnees! As you may or may not realize, you are now experiencing what is known as “re-entry.” You may have heard it referred to as re-entry culture shock, or return culture shock. Regardless of the name, coming home from study abroad can be a challenging and difficult time, and it can also be the time when you learn the most from your cross-cultural experience. As you re-adjust to the culture of the United States and to the culture of Middlebury, it may be helpful to know a little more about what you are going through and some positive ways of dealing with it.

What is re-entry?

Re-entry can be defined as the often unexpected and sometime difficult experience of re-adjusting to life in one’s home culture after living abroad. Some study abroad returnees do not find re-entry to be difficult; however, most returnees experience some degree of stress upon returning home. In fact, for many students the process of re-adapting to home after study abroad is even more difficult than adjusting to the host culture! Re-entry is different for everyone, just as your experience abroad was unique and special. However, there are some common re-adjustment issues that study abroad students report:

Personal Growth and Change–You may have experienced a challenge to your beliefs, convictions, values and world view while you were immersed in a different culture. You may have also experienced more academic freedom and personal independence while abroad. You may feel that you have matured and become more self-confident. You have undoubtedly changed in many ways. One of the greatest challenges of re-entry is having to adjust your “new” self to your “old” home. It is very common for returnees to experience loss of identity during this time.

New Knowledge and Skills–Just as your attitudes changed while you were abroad, you probably developed new knowledge, skills, and behavior patterns. For example, you probably developed competencies that helped you survive in your everyday life overseas, such as learning to find your way around a new city, to act in a culturally appropriate manner, and to converse about new subjects, and of course, foreign language skills. Other new competencies may include new knowledge about your major, new research skills, and new problem-solving skills. Some returnees feel frustrated if they feel these skills are of little use once they return home.

Relationships with Family and Friends–Some study abroad returnees say the most difficult issue to deal with when they return home is relationships with family and friends. It is important to realize that other people did not stay the same while you were gone. Also, all of your changes will undoubtedly affect your family and friends. Many returnees describe feelings of alienation, and some say they feel pressure from family and friends to revert back to the person they were before study abroad. Perhaps the most difficult, and most common, aspect of this issue is telling others about the overseas experience. Many returnees find that beyond polite inquiries and general questions, their friends and family do not seem to be very interested in hearing about their experiences.

undocumented

Since I’ve been in Europe, I’ve taken a lot of pictures. About 1700, if my iPhoto can be trusted.

Some are artsy, some are some are touristy, some are just plain beautiful, and some are pretty blurry. I also have a strange fascination with bears.

Some have people in them, some are just of landscapes or buildings, some are taken to document an important site or event, and some are taken because of a bad translation or inside joke.

I’m glad I have so many pictures from my time here. I’ve done so many unforgettable things, and experienced so much that I don’t want to ever forget. Now, I have these pictures I’ll be able to keep forever to remind me of my time in Germany.

But so many of the most memorable things I’ve done, happened when I didn’t have my camera. Kind of a shame, really.

So I have no photographic evidence of the time I decided to go do my Cultural Studies reading by the Dreisam, the little river that runs through Freiburg. It was beautiful. I also ended up observing a few adventurous souls’ decision to ford the river, so to speak, shortly realizing that they were extremely ill-prepared to do so. Hilarity ensued. But no pictures were taken.

I also have no photographic evidence of any of my Gemeindeabends at the KHG. Every Wednesday, there’s a Mass followed by dinner, and it’s where I’ve met most of my German friends, had the best German conversations, and gotten to try really good food from all over the world. One week we had authentic Indian food prepared by visitors from India, and my friend Konstantin and I single-handedly led our table to victory in a trivia game. Last week my friends and I made quiche for everyone. Between the quiche and dessert, we used about 6 kilograms of cream. It was a bit ridiculous. But still delicious.

I wish I’d had a camera today when I was studying in the coffeeshop down the street and a little bird hopped into the store and started flying around. But I didn’t.

No pictures exist from the almost 20 hours I’ve spent on the floor of train cars in various places throughout Germany. As uncomfortable as it sometimes (ok, usually… always) is to be forced to sit on the ground for such a long duration, especially after one has hypothetically been viciously sunburnt in Berlin, having to get up and move one’s luggage every hour or so in order to let passengers on and off the train, I am actually quite proud of this. I feel like such a vagabond. Plus, it’s way easier to sleep when there are no seats in the way. Gotta look at the sunny side.

I’ve done a bunch of other fun things with my friends that I haven’t documented, either… going dancing at the Jazzhaus, playing a silly game involving bouncy rubber eggs and oversized dice, having so many “grillen” barbecues (with GRILLED FETA. I am bringing this back to America because it is fantastic), going to really lame dorm parties, making pico de gallo to expose ignorant Germans to the ways of Tex-Mex food… but there are no pictures of any of that.

It’s kind of a bummer. But I constantly remind myself that having photographic evidence isn’t the be-all-end-all of life experience. That’s hard sometimes… I’m the person who isn’t in any family vacation pictures because she’s always the one taking the pictures. And I’ve learned over the years that sometimes it’s actually harder to enjoy life when you’re looking at it through a viewfinder.* I know that all these things I haven’t been able to document on paper or electronically are still in my heart and in my head. And in some ways that’s better.

*Just ask John Mayer.

PS. Facebook won’t let me share this website, but this page sums up my thoughts exactly!

the last hurrah

“So I wish you’d look around until you found a castle in the neighborhood for sale…”

“Oh, I already have! It’s tiny, only 27 rooms, and the moat’s a mess!”

My trip to München and Füssen this weekend was my last excursion of my time in Europe, but it sure was a good one… I’m definitely ending my semester on a good note.

In Munich, I met up with Natalye, who is also from Houston. We’d never met before, though we had talked online quite a bit. We’re both studying in Germany for the semester (but in decidedly opposite corners of the country, I in Freiburg and she in Hamburg), and our moms know each other through my brother’s alma mater, so all semester we’d been trading stories and trying to find a time to do a joint trip… we finally found a good weekend two weeks before she heads back to Texas and three weeks before I leave.

First item on the agenda: see Harry Potter! The movie had come out two days before, on Wednesday at midnight, and it killed me to have to wait that long, but it was worth it to be able to see the original version (re: in English). Once we finally located the theater, we picked up our tickets and grabbed some dinner at this really cool place that combined  a 19th century German atmosphere with club music… interesting, to say the least. Our waiter was… really friendly… and insisted that he treat us to some free shots after we’d paid our bill. So, long story short, we each took two shots in addition to the beer we’d had with dinner… before seeing the movie that effectively ended our childhoods. Awesome.

Overall, I really liked the movie. I had my hands on my face the entire time (a surefire sign that I am engrossed in the story), certain verbatim parts from the movie were absolutely perfect (“Not my daughter, you bitch” made up for at least 3 other failures on the part of the screenwriters), several one-liners made me laugh out loud (though that might have been the alcohol, who can say?), and I can justify the one noticeable plot change. I’m going to have to see it again, preferably back-to-back with Part I, to make my final judgement, though.

The next morning, we got up early to catch the train to Füssen. Apparently every tourist within a five mile radius had the same idea, because the train was absolutely packed. We stood in an extremely crowded juncture compartment for the first hour of the trip. Once we got to Füssen, which is about 4 kilometers from Hohenschwangau, the home of the fabled kings’ castles, it wasn’t quite so bad, because we chose to hike to the castle as opposed to taking the touristy bus. It was a gorgeous walk, we saw some cows and got some far-off glimpses of the castles, and walked off the delicious picnic food we ate once we got to the castles.

First up was our tour of Hohenschwangau, the older and smaller of the two castles. It was pretty incredible–the inside was so intricate, with biblical and mythological murals on all the walls, original furnishings, and somewhat of a glimpse into 19th century German royal life.

...no pictures were allowed inside. Unlike others on our tour, I heeded this request

We then walked up the hill to Neuschwanstein, the newer, better-known of the two castles. Until our scheduled tour time, we picnicked (aka ate the last of the cheese we hadn’t finished yet) and admired the absolutely drop-dead gorgeous view. I have to say, if I were an insane 19th century monarch, I’d probably have a hard time finding a better location to build my huge fairytale castle.

It turns out that both Natalye and I had had multiple people tell us that the inside of the castle was unimpressive, so neither of us was expecting very much. These expectations were so, so off. The entire interior, or at least the part we got to see on the tour, was extravagant and gorgeous. (It also helped that I’d just seen Harry Potter so the whole time I was thinking moving staircases and living portraits.) I basically want to live there.

Another famous part of the castle area is Marienbrücke, a bridge that overlooks Neuschwanstein and the surrounding mountains and lakes. It was awesome! We tried to get a good picture of both of us with the castle, but the best one isn’t actually on my camera. Enjoy this goofy one instead!

Being the adventure-seeking, studying-abroad type women that we are, we decided to take the road less traveled and hike up the mountain across the bridge to take in a better view of the castle. It definitely paid off, and we’re both still alive, so… score!

We hiked back to Füssen, enjoyed a delicious German meal and some ice cream (we deserved it, ok?), missed the last train to Munich, and finally made it back to our hostel at about 11. The next morning, we made a little trip to Olympic Park, which neither of us had seen in previous trips to Munich. It was really awesome–I wish we could’ve stayed longer! The architecture surprised us with how modern it was, and it was really cool to walk where so many amazing Olympians once competed… we even got to go into the swim center! The smell of chlorine takes me back to so many hours spent in Don Cook Natatorium… sometimes I really miss swimming. Nevertheless, Mark Spitz swam in this pool! Totally awesome!

Overall, the trip was a success. I had a great time, but now it’s becoming painfully apparent that my days here are numbered. I’ll be back in Sugar Land three weeks from today, and before then I need to survive a ten page paper, three more bilingualism assignments, two tests, packing, and bucketfuls of administrative crap. WISH ME LUCK!!!

es endet alles

We now interrupt our regularly-scheduled programming for some nerdy, sentimental gushing. You have been warned.

So Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II comes out this week. (Or, as it’s called in Germany, Harry Potter und die Heiligtümer des Todes Teil II.) In case you live under a rock with access to only this blog, this is the last installment in the movie series and, I guess, technically the “end” of Harry Potter.

For me (and many people my age), this is the end of a twelve-year chapter in my life–a chapter that’s included elementary, middle, and high school and half of college, many nights spent reading the books (and then rereading to the point of my mother confiscating them from me in hopes that I’d read something different), and then many more hours spent discussing them with my friends, making ridiculous costumes for book and movie releases, listening to HP podcasts, and reenacting Harry Potter musicals for talent shows with the help of ample amounts of red hairspray. (Yes, a video exists…)

This chapter in my life spans from the completion of my first real chapter book that wasn’t American Girl to the (current) time when I would give almost anything for time to read for pleasure, and marks my growth to an incredible extent. My mom read the first two books aloud to me because I couldn’t get through them on my own; now, I’m reading James Joyce and wishing I could go back to my beloved coming-of-age wizard books.

During these twelve years, I’ve dealt with Umbridge-esque teachers, gotten through school dances almost as awkward and dramatic as the Yule Ball, and lived in a dormitory for the first time, though it wasn’t nearly as awesome as I imagined the Gryffindor common room to be. I’ve made friends, lost friends, and had my heart broken. And Harry, Ron, and Hermione have gone through a lot of that with me. I’m lucky enough to be part of the generation that grew up with the trio–I was 9 when I read about them at age 11, and I was 16 when 17-year-old Harry (spoiler alert) defeated Voldemort. (Side note: HOLY CRAP, it was that long ago?) These characters and their stories, their liveliness and complexity but especially their incredible REALness, have grown up with me.

My history with HP is a storied one, that’s for sure.

I received the first three books from my grandma shortly after my family moved to Texas. (I don’t know if Grandma Lord reads this. If she does, um, thanks Grandma!) I thought the first chapter of Sorcerer’s Stone was extremely boring; that’s why my mom read it to me. I didn’t think it was boring for long! (Though the Dursley scenes are still my least favorite and I skip them when I re-read.)

I read Prisoner of Azkaban, still arguably my favorite, in less than 24 hours because I had the chicken pox, and was delirious with a high fever while reading (spoiler alert) the Cedric death scene in Goblet of Fire… I couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night because I was convinced that Voldemort was coming for me next.

I remember hypothesizing with my friend Kyle before the 5th book came out. I thought Sirius Black would have his name cleared and return to Hogwarts as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Kyle thought the new DADA teacher would be Arabella Figg. (Spoiler alert) We were both wrong.

My brother loves Harry Potter as well, but for the release of the last 4 books, even though both of us were equally-anxiously awaiting their arrival, we only ever ordered one copy. This caused many conflicts, particularly during the time we were first reading Order of the Phoenix… so I gave up on sharing and headed down the street to Kyle’s house. Because she was several chapters ahead of me, we laid down on the floor in her room and held the page disparity in the air between us so we could both read at the same time.

We had fewer problems when Half Blood Prince came out, but I do remember one instance. Ryan was a few chapters ahead of me, so he got to (spoiler alert) the Dumbledore death scene before I did. When he reached that point, he closed the book, handed it to me, and announced he was done reading for awhile.

My mom was a meanie (I mean… a responsible parent…) and didn’t actually let me buy book 6 until I finished my summer reading for freshman year of high school. Which was particularly cruel because the book was Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, and my mom is the one person on this planet who found that book enjoyable. Regardless, I was forced to spend down time at my champs meet, which was riddled with rain delays because of a tropical storm, reading this horrible excuse for a gothic romance while all my teammates read HBP. Then, the most traumatic moment of my swimming career occurred: I was two hundred meters away from finishing my mile with a personal best time when my meanie of a mom pulled me out of the water because of thunder (which had totally been happening since the beginning of the race fifteen minutes prior. I’m not bitter…). I was livid but was then able to guilt her into buying Harry Potter for me as a consolation prize. (Love ya, mom!)

When book 7 was released, I was in Austin for one of my sister’s swim meets, which was a problem because our copy of Deathly Hallows was shipped to Sugar Land. So my dad and I went out at midnight to the Barton Creek Barnes & Noble, which was too crowded for its own good, so instead we went to WalMart. Where people apparently shop at midnight for things other than newly-released Harry Potter books. Regardless, I secured my copy and spent the rest of my sister’s meet reading it in the stands. (I mean… watching her swim because I’m an awesome older sister.)

So when I say that I’m excited to see the last film installment of this life-defining series, I mean that I’m partially really, super, pee-my-pants excited, partially hesitant because the films never live up to my expectations, partially sad that this chapter of my life is coming to an end, and partially a little worried that I won’t be able to find a showing in English. Because I’ve heard the dubs in Germany are pretty terrible.

And my relationship with Harry deserves better than that.

i ♥ schwarzwald

Have I told you guys yet about the Black Forest?

It’s kind of where I live. Freiburg is known as the “gateway to the Schwarzwald.” It’s set in the midst of the hills of the Black Forest, and if you head south/southeast of the city, you immediately encounter some of the most gorgeous, romantic views you’ve ever seen and eventually pass through some quaint, cute little Schwarzwald towns. The Black Forest is also known as the home of Black Forest Cake (or Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte) and the setting of the Brothers Grimm fairytales.

I’ve gotten to explore a fair bit since I’ve been here.

I went hiking between St. Peter and St. Märgen, two of the aforementioned cute little towns.

I’ve ventured over to the Schoenstatt Shrine in Merzhausen, a suburb of Freiburg, which is nestled in between some vineyards.

But this weekend was the most Schwarzwald-y weekend I’ve had yet, and I’m so glad I’ve gotten the chance to see this area up close and personal… because I LOVE it!

I’ve been trying to describe every area of Europe I’ve seen in terms of United States geographical regions… it’s easier for me to understand things that way. Humans have categorical brains. (Why yes, I am taking a study break from Bilingualism right now!) And I have decided that the Schwarzwald is like if the Rocky Mountains and forests of Colorado and the hills and townships of eastern Pennsylvania had a child together. How convenient, because those are two of my favorite parts of the US!

I wish I had a better picture to substantiate my claim. Any Pennsylvanians want to weigh in?? The houses really do look strikingly similar!

I started off this weekend with some hiking and waterfall-frolicking, which I talked about earlier. It was absolutely gorgeously breathtaking.

The next day, my scholarship group set off bright and early (7:55 AM…) on another Schwarzwald adventure. (This time all expenses were paid by the Bundesland of Baden-Württemburg! Score!) We bused it to the little town of Triberg, a town that is apparently really popular with American tourists. It was wonderful! We started off with a tour of the Schwarzwald Museum, where we saw displays of traditional Schwarzwald costumes, handcrafted glass from the region, the evolution of the Cuckoo clock (which is native to the region), gemstones and other minerals native to the area, and some cool musical instruments.

We also got to see Town Hall, specifically the chamber where the city council meets. It was all carved out of wood, some of the most intricate carvings I’ve ever seen, and everything had symbolic meaning specific to the time the room was created and the foundation of the town. It was pretty neat.

Then we hiked up to see the “tallest waterfall in Germany” (which I swear was also the claim of the waterfalls I’d seen in Todtnau the previous day. Curious…), which were quite impressive! I do love waterfalls.

We also got to see an absolutely gorgeous Baroque church, followed by lunch on the lake. I had Spätzle (German noodles) in cheese sauce, and they treated all of us to Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte. Deeeelicious.

That was followed by another bus ride (most of which I slept through) to the town of Alpirsbach. On the way, we stopped and rang in the 2:00 hour with the world’s biggest Cuckoo clock. It was a bit anticlimactic, but cool nonetheless.

In Alpirsbach, we first went on a tour of a former Benedictine monastery. Not all of my fellow BW Stipendium students were very excited about this, but I thought it was pretty sweet. The monastery isn’t in operation anymore and the church is Protestant now, but it was still really cool to walk through the old halls where the monks lived and see things like the old central heating room.

We ended our day with a tour of the Alpirsbach Brewery! I’d never been on a brewery tour before, but I bet they’re a lot more stimulating in one’s first language. Nevertheless, I learned a little bit about how beer is brewed and then enjoyed my complimentary original brew and also tried some blueberry beer. They even gave us each a beer stein to take home with us!

I was so exhausted by the end of the day, but I’m so glad I’ve gotten to experience the Schwarzwald, even just a little bit. I love it and I am so lucky I’ve gotten to live here… one of my favorite parts of every day is my bike ride into town, because I get this amazing view of the hills.

I’m going to miss it… West Campus isn’t quite so scenic.