bucket list

Here’s what I’ve been up to during my last few weeks, trying to soak in all the Dresden fun before I leave!

DSC06648Filmnächte am Elbufer! For all of July and August, the city of Dresden presents movies on this huge screen right along the Elbe. (That’s where I watched the Germany-Algeria game as well as the WM final!) Felicitas and I went to go see Prisoners, that movie with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal that I knew would be too intense for me when I saw the preview. Turns out, it was too intense for us! So we left early. And I had nightmares. 

Soccer! I never got to a game last season, but luckily (?) since the Dresden Dynamo moved down to the 3rd Bundesliga this year, I was able to catch their very first game! It was an… interesting experience. Imagine a Texas A&M football game with the energy of Oakland Raiders fans. But they won!

Going to the cathedral when possible, as I really love it there and will miss it! Here we see the tail end of Thursday adoration, my last one. 

DSC06665Bidding farewell to friends. Adri, in the middle, is a fellow DAAD scholarship holder from Mexico. She cooked Felicitas and myself a delicious Mexican feast, which we enjoyed on this balcony with a fairly average view:DSC06663Overlooking the Stadtmuseum with a view of the Frauenkirche (hidden behind the tree on the left). Not too shabby!

DSC06658Abschiedsfeier! Felicitas and I had a little get-together of some friends where we grilled out in a park near our apartments! It really fun and we’re so appreciative of all the lovely people who came out to wish us well before we leave!

DSC06675 DSC06670 DSC06669Swimming in the Elbe! This was really fun. I may go back one more time before Thursday…

DSC06683Museums! We went with Daniela to the Militärhistorisches Museum (a statue outside of which is pictured above). Not pictured: us getting caught in the rain on our way to dinner and getting completely soaked! Later this week I’m hoping to get an appointment to see the Historisches Grünes Gewolbe museum exhibit in the palace, the last of the palace exhibits I haven’t seen!

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last week in the WG with a view

It’s hard to believe I only have a few days left here! As the week starts, I wanted to share a photo project I’ve been working on: the views from my apartment through the year! I present: Die Vier Jahreszeiten.

West (from our balcony):

AutumnWinterSpringSummer

East (from my window):

2013-10-22-05-37-26DSC03946DSC04937One day after I took this shot, landscaping crews cut down a whole slew of those trees, leading to the final “summer” view, or what my view is at this very moment, which really underscores the reality check of living abroad.DSC06649Come to Germany! Then you, too, can experience the joy of being woken up not only by the beautiful bells of this church every morning, but also the sounds of a garage being demolished right outside your window!

Enjoying my last week! You’ll hear from me a few more times, I believe 🙂

EDIT: Check out how cool this is!!

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today’s nerdy thoughts: the mixed blessing of flexibility

I just got back from my last meeting (or, as it could accurately be called, my fourth meeting) with my main research advisor for the year. I went into the meeting with a bit of resentment, as she did not respond a month ago when I sent her my full rough draft, and a bit of anxiety, as I always dread getting feedback about my writing. But I came out of our conversation with a renewed sense of optimism and opportunity! Here’s why.

For my whole academic career, I’ve always been a bit jealous of the future engineers, businesspeople, etc. who had a very clear path: XYZ classes during college, a summer internship with ABC company, and hopefully a job offer for after graduation. A discrete check-list to fulfill and check off, and a quantifiable plan to follow.

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As a future social scientist/writer/consultant person in a nebulous field, I never had that (especially before but even after I had a clear area of interest). My summer internships and jobs have all been somewhat random and, if a full-time offer ever came from them (which never happened), it wouldn’t result in a job I’d be qualified for or even want to have. But I have been slowly accumulating skills along the way, skills which will hopefully be helpful to me once I am launched on the right path. And I have had, and hope to have in the future, a lot more control over molding these opportunities to fit my interests, lifestyle, and goals.

The way I’ve thought about this year’s research opportunity has been much the same. It would have been much clearer and easier to work in a professor’s lab, do the daily tasks, and write a research report at the end of each week or month. But instead, I had the very nebulous task of creating my own research project, finding sources, conducting interviews, and creating some kind of meaning or result out of it all. While working under the advisement of professors whose focus area isn’t even close to what I’ve been studying. And with the vague idea that my topic (flood management in Dresden) isn’t exactly what I want to do in the long run, anyway.

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So, sometimes it was stressful. But today, after talking with my professor, I was able to see some of the wonderful fruits that will eventually come from creating my own opportunities and taking the road less traveled to my someday career. While this year’s research topic may not be the subject of my life’s work, I chose something important, current, and applicable that almost no one has researched yet. My paper tackles themes that relate to almost any question of environmental or natural research management, whether or not it is related to flooding or Germany at all.

In the more immediate scope of things, it’s possible that I can work with someone at Wisconsin to rework parts of my paper for publication. My professor also threw out the possibility of continuing to work on the topic together! In particular, one thing that my study has always been missing, which I simply couldn’t fit into a 10-month time frame, is raw data from some sort of census or poll of Dresden residents about their flood experiences.

She suggested the idea that she and some of her colleagues could conduct some such poll, and then use that data to expound upon the work I’ve already done. Which is actually really exciting! I had never actually considered that the dinky, self-guided research I’ve been doing could be my “way in” to real academic circles!

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We also discussed the “bigger picture” themes that are included in my research: top-down versus bottom-up decision making in communities, resilience to natural disasters, citizen participation, and hard versus soft implements in natural resource management, all of which are applicable beyond just flood management and in other geographic areas than Germany. So my experience this year has broadened my mind and got me thinking about themes that will be important no matter what I decide to do in the future.

But something my professor also pointed out is that my main interests and experience in my past research tend to skew towards regional comparison, which could lead to some exciting opportunities in the future: learning lessons from researching one area or scenario, and being the person to apply that knowledge to another situation in a practical way. That’s exciting to me.

Thinking about all these things actually got me thinking about a potential writing project I could start in the future! Even though writing has always been my one talent, I have never really been all that inspired to write for anything besides school, or this silly blog I suppose. So it’s weird to say that this is an oddly new prospect.

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I would never be able to consider something as daunting and nebulous as “writing” if I had ever been on a really clear professional track, so in the end, I am very grateful that I have been able to seek out my own opportunities and define my own path, even though it gets messy and frustrating sometimes.

Anyway. Just a sort of wrap-up update about the intellectual side of my experience. Accompanied by some photos from a walk along the Elbe, my main intellectual pursuit during this year!

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freiburg (with a strasbourg bonus)

Well folks, this is my last travel post! How did we get here? [how the hell? Pan left…] I had about 10 different plans back in October of how I would get back to Freiburg, and in the end I went my second-to-last weekend in Europe, but better late than never! I brought Felicitas along with me and hopefully did not annoy her too much with my constant wonderment at being back.

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And because we procrastinated in finding a hostel/apartment/hotel, we weren’t able to find anywhere in Freiburg for Saturday night. So, we decided to go to Strasbourg for the evening before going our separate ways on Sunday, myself back to Dresden and Flitzi to visit her grandparents in Wiesbaden. It all worked out wonderfully!

We had an early flight from Dresden to Stuttgart on Friday morning and then took a series of regional trains to Freiburg, which took about 4 hours because there isn’t anything direct! Which is a bit ridiculous, but anyway, we made it there by 2 PM. Our hostel was very basic but had an amazing location right off the Dreisam (technically a river, apparently, but more like a creek), adjacent to the Schlossberg hill which overlooks the city. We saw some of the sites as we walked to the hostel, and I began my 24 hours of marveling at how time and memory work.

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I was in Freiburg three years ago. I’m a totally different person now than I was when I left. I’ve spent so much time thinking about Freiburg and missing it and reminiscing about it. And then to be back… it was like no time had passed, but like an eternity had elapsed since I was last there. It’s strange. But in all, it was nice to be back. We’ll leave it at that.

Because we were so nearby, we climbed the Schlossberg first, taking in fabulous views like this one:

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And I recreated some old photos from last time:

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We tried to find the overlook tower but somehow failed, so we descended into the city, bought some bottled water before we died of thirst, and started meandering the familiar (to me) streets.

By the time we got there, the Münster market had mostly already closed and packed up for the day, and we got to briefly see the inside of the cathedral but there was Mass happening so we couldn’t stay for long. After a quick trip to dip our feet in the Dreisam and an even quicker “tour” of the university, we stopped at my very favorite restaurant, Euphrat, a middle eastern place owned by an Afghani family. I ate there close to every day while I lived in Freiburg and I have dreamed (dreamt?) of their food ever since. And it did not disappoint my memory!

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We enjoyed a scoop of ice cream near the theater (which now serves as the end station of most of the tram lines due to major construction in the city center) and jumped on a tram up to my old abode, StuSie. I do not have fond memories of StuSie (my dorm was disgusting and I didn’t have many friends there to speak of), but one good thing about it was always its proximity to the Seepark, a gorgeous park surrounding a huge lake. So that was our destination for the evening.

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My only regret: that I forgot my swimsuit in Dresden!!! It would have been so refreshing to take a dip.

OH!! One other thing I got to check off my Freiburg bucket list–sitting on the Blaue Brücke, a bridge over the train tracks. All the cool kids go sit on the top of the bridge and drink beer, and i never got to do it… until this time! It was incredibly terrifying but hey. I did it. (Minus the beer. Whatever.)

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On Saturday morning, we rented bikes from our hostel first thing so we’d be able to use them all day, and first stopped for breakfast near the university at my favorite bakery, Ihr Backshop. They’d renovated since I was last there, but the pastries are still just as delicious. After making a quick stop at the post office to buy stamps, we set out for our first destination of the morning: the Schönstatt shrine in Merzhausen!

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I seriously wish I had visited the shrine more often when I actually lived in Freiburg! It’s in an absolutely beautiful location, and to be honest I was in a place mentally and spiritually back then that could seriously have benefitted from some more time spent chilling with the Blessed Mother. It was fun being back there and telling Felicitas a little bit about Schönstatt (not easy to do, but she was a great “student”). It was great to be able to re-center myself in a familiar place and hopefully receive some graces as I go through a huge transition in returning home and then moving again!

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One fun bonus: there were blackberry brambles all over the place with ripe fruit!! While we were in Merzhausen we filled up a whole tupperware container with delicious blackberries, which we continued to refill throughout the day as we saw more bushes.

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We cruised back into town, parked our bikes near the Augustiner (it’s a chore to walk them on cobblestone, and foot traffic was way too heavy to ride through the streets) and headed for the Münster and market, which we hadn’t yet seen!

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We did a quick loop through the Münster, which was packed with tourists, before spending some time perusing the market. It’s absolutely insane to me how big the daily market is in Freiburg. Every day with dozens of stands selling fruit, vegetables, flowers, herbs, meat, spices, toys, souvenirs… It’s so lively and fun! I spotted a vendor with some tea that we loved when I brought it as a hostess gift to Krakow, so I bought a satchel of it to bring home 🙂

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Euphrat had been so delicious the day before that we opted to eat there for lunch, this time ordering wraps to-go which we ate sitting along the Bächle.

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We continued meandering through the streets, taking in the unique medieval-but-modern charm (and wondering to ourselves how it could be so different from Dresden, yet in the same country!), and I insisted that we stop at the Feierling brewery Biergarten. Felicitas doesn’t drink beer, so I ordered a solitary half-liter because I’m only in Germany for two more weeks and I need to enjoy it while I can! 😉

Hmm, sorry for all the indulgent pictures of myself... my  blog, my rules.

Hmm, sorry for all the indulgent pictures of myself… my blog, my rules.

With our time winding down until we had to fetch our things from the hostel and head to the train station to catch our bus, we headed again for the Dreisam. It was amazing to spend some time relaxing, wading in the shallow but frigid water, and enjoying the fact that nature and city can coexist so closely! It really is beautiful there.

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The next thing we knew, we were on a bus to Strasbourg, and before long, we were standing in France! Against all odds, we made it to our hotel (we had a private room AND bathroom. LUXURY), changed and freshened up quickly, and walked to the famous Strasbourg cathedral for Saturday night vigil Mass.

Normally I highly endorse going to Mass at beautiful churches to avoid entrance fees and get the authentic experience, but in this case it was literally the only way that Felicitas and I were both going to make it to Mass. Mission accomplished! Luckily we had read the readings ahead of time so we kind of knew what was happening. We did get to have a little fun making up our own words to the Mass parts.

It turns out that things in Strasbourg are expensive, especially food. Luckily, we did happen to stumble upon a restaurant/brewery that was un-touristy enough to only have a French menu and seemed to mainly cater to students and young people. Ergo, affordable Alsatian food for all!

Flammkuchen and beer

Flammkuchen and beer

Strasbourg is a beautiful city, you guys. I’d been there with my mom at the very beginning of my 2011 European adventures, but that was before I really became a conscientious traveler and I hardly remember anything except seeing the astronomical clock and dancing apostles at the cathedral (which, incidentally, was out of order this time due to construction). I don’t recall much else! But it’s gorgeous. Surrounded by a canal from the Rhine, the city has so many beautiful bridges which were even more gorgeous this time of year because of the flowers they’re decorated with!

DSC06549Not to mention stunning gothic architecture and lots of German-style Fachwerk houses.

We got to see a lot of the city in the short time we had by taking a boat tour. It was a little oddly-paced, and at some points we were really low and couldn’t see much that the tour recording was telling us about. Regardless, it was a good choice because we got to see and learn so much in a short period of time.

A few quick facts (with not many accompanying photos because most of our tour was after nightfall and the photos I attempted to take were awful):

  • Strasbourg is part of Alsace-Lorraine, the contested territory between France and Germany. It’s gone back and forth so much, but the truth is that it’s its own distinct region with aspects of French and German culture, architecture, language, etc.
  • Strasbourg is the seat of the EU Capital, which I had no idea about until this weekend! We got to see all of the parliamentary and official buildings, which were stunningly modern and striking, especially at night!
  • It is really awkward to sit in a tour boat both in front of and behind incredibly amorous couples.
  • During the summer, they have light projection shows on the Vauban Barrage (one of the city’s important landmarks) and the cathedral. We got to catch both!

On Sunday morning, I walked Felicitas to the train station as she left for Wiesbaden and I bought my ticket to the airport for later that afternoon. I spent the rest of the day walking around and seeing parts of the town I hadn’t gotten to the day before, taking photos, getting caught in the rain, going inside to cafés and restaurants and paying too much money to avoid the rain, and writing postcards.

Here are some photo highlights!

On the water at dusk

On the water at dusk (that church is not the cathedral)

Before Mass shot!

Before Mass shot! (That church is the cathedral)

Detail shot of the cathedral

Detail shot of the cathedral

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The Covered Bridge, one of Strasbourg’s signature sites, once used as an armory. Cathedral in the background!

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Casually donning an Alsacian costume and headdress

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I would say something meaningful here about this being my last trip of the year, but I’m just as tired and burnt out writing about it as I was at the end of the actual trip. So I guess I’ll just include a little taste of my next destination….

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just checking in…

I’m working on writing my LAST travel post, but it’s taking a while for one reason or another, mostly due to my total lack of initiative to do anything whatsoever. So in case my many avid readers are dying to know what I’m up to… here we are. I’m working on cleaning out my room: packing, donating clothes that didn’t make the cut, throwing away trash based on Germany’s careful 6-category classification system, and trying to do at least one cultural or Dresden-specific thing per day.

On the “going home” front, good news! About 6 weeks ago, I sent the first of two packages to my aunt in Chicago, hoping to cut down on luggage on my way back to Houston and then on the way to Chicago when I move. Three weeks later I sent the second package. Then, the first package oddly went missing and I had no way of tracking it. But! I finally received notice that the MIA package has arrived at its destination. So now I can stop worrying about that and move on to more important things.

This week: a few last museums, some outdoor activities, a (hopeful) last meeting with my advisors, and a going-away party for myself and Felicitas!

I don’t know how many more posts I have in me. A ranking of Dresden’s museums? A photo dump documenting my last few weeks’ activities? (I think you can count on that, actually.) I have a few thoughts rattling around in my head, but I don’t know how interesting they’ll be to anyone.

(Why this post made the cut, we may never know.)

To make it worth your while, enjoy this photo which I never got the chance to share: evidence of my travels in the form of a shoe tan. Thank goodness that I’ve almost gotten rid of it by now…

tan

lessons as a listicle

It is a terrible cliché that one travels abroad (or embarks on a post-graduation “experience”) to “find themselves” or “learn about life.” Mostly because… those aren’t things you can wake up and do, as if you were checking them off of a checklist. As life happens, the finding and the learning are found in the everyday, gradual things.

That’s one reason I’m glad I’ve gotten to live abroad rather than just traveling for a short period of time. These things take time, and they take reflection. So, here I am to reflect. In the style of 21st-century journalism, of course. I have learned a good number of things this year–about the world, myself, what I believe, what I want… and I thought I’d share some of them as I attempt to parse through them 🙂

Listed in no particular order:

1. People are people. This is a huge one. No matter your ethnicity, nationality, or main place of residence, most people are fundamentally the same. I have experienced many incidences of people from various places assuming things about people from other places, ranging from harmless to vitriolic: all German people like beer, all people who travel or live abroad are enlightened, all people who can’t speak a second language are ignorant, all Europeans are lazy, all Americans love guns and hate all other countries… and the list goes on and on.

However, this year I have also had the opportunity to get to personally know many people from many different backgrounds, and have usually found more exceptions to these stereotypes than people that conformed to them! Yes, national or ethnic stereotypes are usually rooted in some fragment of truth about what a society values in general, but rarely does such a stereotype describe any particular person within that society. On several occasions, I have gotten very angry about people (Americans and non-Americans alike) letting their prejudices get in the way of truly learning about people and places that are foreign to them.

The only way that we can move past the “othering” of strange people and places is to experience them at a personal level… to really know another person and to have a relationship with him or her, rather than defining them based on vague and ineffective categories. This is one of many reasons why I think that everyone would benefit from living abroad at some point in their lives. The people you meet will definitely have annoying habits or attributes, and because they come from a different culture, they may do things you don’t understand or believe things you don’t agree with. But they are people. They are people like you, with likes, dislikes, dreams, ambitions, and feelings. The things we share as humans are more fundamental than the cultural things that divide us. We all have so much to learn from each other, because at the core, we all have so much in common.

2. That being said, there is one universal truth: all tourists, no matter their age or country of origin, are fundamentally aggravating to all non-tourists. 😉

3. Hospitality = Gastfreundschaft. Those two words are technically synonymous, but “Gastfreundschaft” literally means “guest friendship,” and I think it’s important to think of hospitality in those terms. It is really hard to be new in a different country, city, school, church, workplace, or group of friends. The friendly and hospitable thing for the “established” people to do is to extend a hand of friendship to people who are new. This is especially important when we’re talking about being new to a country, because often there is some degree of a language barrier, and there is a new culture and new social cues and structures for the new person to navigate… so, from where I stand, the “established” people need to be the ones to act. And to act beyond just a “hello” and a handshake… an invitation to come out with everyone later, an exchange of phone numbers and a follow-through with a call or text, a real conversation. And for goodness’ sake, at the very least a greeting or acknowledgement when you see them later at a party, meeting, or event.

Without getting too much into it, I’ve met people who were lovely and hospitable and open, and people who were very, very not. Let’s just say that there is a reason why many “international” people in any given place stick together: because, more often than not, the existing group or community doesn’t offer an adequate point of entry. (They are often not aware of this.) Thinking back, I’m not sure that I have been the best about this when I have been in my own little comfort zone at home; I have probably come off as cold or closed off when I thought I was simply being friendly enough and going about my day. But new people need your hospitality, and they need to be included and regarded as “friends” in order to feel at home.

4. We are truly blessed as Americans to have contact with so many diverse people, opinions, and lifestyles within our own country. It might be (incredibly) annoying and aggravating that Americans are 50/50 divided on just about every political and social issue in existence… but I have realized that the, ahem, lively variety of opinions and values in the US has made me acutely aware that not everyone agrees with me, and in many cases has given me a reason to really, truly know what I believe and why I believe it. I’ve encountered people from more homogenous countries who, until meeting me and discussing whatever issue or opinion it happened to be, seemed to have no idea that people thought differently than they did! Just because most people where they are from generally agree, and they haven’t had contact with anyone who was much different from them. It’s easy to get stuck in our own little “bubbles,” but the liveliness of American public and private life is a gift we should cherish, as it helps us to better understand others and ourselves, and to live in (relative) harmony with people who are different from us.

5. Personally, my diligence is only matched by my laziness. I had a very loosely structured life this year, and there were absolutely days when I sat in my apartment and watched TV all day, and there were even more mornings where it took me 2, 3, even 4+ hours to get my butt to the library. Then again, I wrote 20 pages of my report in the eight days before I left for Spain in February, and wrote a total of 60 pages (a whole Plan II thesis!), over 14,000 words, about flood management, with little to no supervision from anyone, for better or for worse. And I’ve been told that it actually makes sense! So, although I could definitely improve in certain virtues regarding my “down time,” I can get things done when it comes down to it 😉

Besides those “big picture” things, there are small nuggets that I’ve been chewing on, as well. Like…

Even though it’s sometimes annoying or inconvenient that stores in Germany close on Sundays, it’s a welcome reminder to take the Sabbath seriously. I hope to keep up the Germany-enforced habit of not shopping on Sundays in favor of more reverent, less frantic activities.

In a similar vein, the chance to live more simply this year with fewer clothes and possessions, a small but sufficient monthly stipend, no car, and a disincentive to buy much (namely, having to bring it all back to the States somehow) has been a good practice in living the kind of life I want to in general. [Have less; love more]

However, I will be glad to have a bit more wardrobe variety upon my return, not to mention easy access to black beans (a staple of my diet that I basically had to cut out this year) and new music on the Internet that is not blocked by GEMA.

Finally, I am excited for my next adventure: graduate school. I think that, in the end, I will be very glad that I took a year off to decompress from my four years of college, and I am ready for the more structured, disciplined life that Master’s student life will provide, as well as the many opportunities ahead!

how to get rid of that pesky american accent

So you’ve finally learned German, and probably spent years learning all of the erratic grammatical rules, genders, and adjective endings. But Germans still won’t take you seriously because you sound like this:

Yes, this is a problem many of us know well. Even after you’ve learned German and even summoned up enough courage to speak, you identify yourself as American immediately upon opening your mouth! And, as we know, in Germany (the west, at least), indicating that you are American is a sure way to get Germans to never talk to you in German, in favor of showing off their always-superior English. But how to get rid of the accent?

I won’t pretend that I have no remaining American accent. But, 3 years ago in Freiburg, I would introduce myself to someone in German and helpfully explain, “I’m from the USA,” and they would say, “Yes, I could tell.” Whereas this year, I was once on the tram speaking German with a few friends, and a stranger, having inquired about where we were from, told me he could only distinguish me as foreign because of my R’s. So I think I’ve come a long way. And I think that if I had put a concentrated effort into getting rid of the accent, I could have done it better and faster. So here are a few tips, which I think may apply to languages besides German, but how would I know?

Los geht’s.

1. Know your phonetics. This is obvious, and if you’ve been studying German for a while, you’ve probably got it down… but it doesn’t hurt to review! One effective and convenient tactic I’ve used for reinforcing the exact sounds of vowels, letter combinations, and words is to listen carefully to the pre-recorded announcements on public transportation (e.g. “Nächste Haltestelle, Hauptbahnhof!). They are all perfectly pronounced, and you’ll probably hear them so often that the sounds will be burned into your brain.

2. Spend time talking to and listening to native speakers. Preferably native speakers who speak conversational, but not overly slangy, German, and preferably not a strong dialect. Luckily, most college-aged people fit these criteria. (In many places, older people generally speak dialect and this will probably lead either to confusion or to you picking up the dialect!) What you want to do is to get an idea of how people really talk, and to pick up some useful phrases and pronunciations that are commonly used but are probably not in standard textbooks.

Native speakers’ everyday speech is generally less crystal clear than “textbook” German (z.B. saying something closer to “ham” or “hab’n” than “haben”), and far fewer end consonants are voiced in German than in English. This is the kind of thing you learn and grow accustomed to by listening to real, live Germans! And, of course, these relationships will give you a chance to practice your speaking skills.

3. Fake it ’til you make it. I was always petrified to talk in German class because I knew I was pronouncing things wrong… especially those damn R’s. It did not help that my German name in German 1 was “Britta”… I couldn’t even pronounce my own name correctly (and I picked it!!). At some point in college, where our professors expected us to speak a lot more in class, I knew I just had to do it… approximate the R sound the best that I could and hope that people would buy it. At the time, this led to my R’s sounding a lot like L’s… but at least I was saying the words!

Over the years, the sound has gotten easier, more natural, and closer to what it should really sound like. There are still some words heavy on R and CH that I may never say with full Germanity*, but I’ve come a long way since the days of my botched German name freshman year of high school. (Vis: I used to exclusively introduce myself as being from “den USA” because that avoided the R sound in “Amerika.” But now, I am more or less comfortable with either, although “die USA” is more geographically accurate.)

4. Sing! One of the best things I have done to improve my German accent is to sing in German on a regular basis! In case you didn’t have enough reasons to go to church while abroad… here’s another one! German hymns are perfect for practicing your German pronunciations. They contain a variety of important and common words and sounds; they are often repetitive so you can reinforce correct pronunciations; and because singing is much more deliberately metered than speaking, your pronunciations will be careful and intentional.

Because an entire congregation is singing along with you, it is a safe environment: no one will be able to hear you experimenting with different pronunciations or making mistakes along the way.  Plus, you’ll be able to hear everyone else singing the same words, so you’ll know if you’re doing something vastly wrong! I have been able to overcome a lot of insecurities about my German accent by singing the hymns and participating in Mass responses every week. As a bonus, German hymns are incredibly beautiful and I’m glad I’ve gotten to learn some of them! (Here is one of my favorites from the Christmas season, and this one is a German translation of Adoro te devote by St. Thomas Aquinas.)

5. Repetition, repetition, repetition. This all takes patience and lots of practice.  A fellow DAAD scholarship holder I met in Braunschweig told us that, after being made fun of for his American accent, he would spend hours in his room practicing. Apparently he practiced the infamous guttural R sound so much that he gave himself a sore throat! But it appears to have paid off because his accent is impeccable. Don’t give up hope… if you are really motivated to improve your German accent, you can make it happen!

And here’s another Ben & Jerry’s commercial, because they’re fun!

*This is a made up word, obviously, but I guess making up your own words goes along with the spirit of “Fake it ’til you make it.”