Archive for the ‘School’ Category

A Fortnight and a Half of Miscellanea

December 13, 2009

Sorry for being MIA so long; it’s been a stressful week on several fronts, but I’m ready to get caught up now.  Over the years, I’ve gotten in the obsessively frequent habit of writing long notes and lists for myself to remind me of things I don’t wish to forget.  This can be a blessing and a curse.  I’ve been keeping a detailed list of things to blog, and it’s starting to get long, so now I’m going to plunge in and purge it all at once.  Here goes.

A Concert

A little over three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a classical concert.  The music was by Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Bartók, and was performed by Die Münchner Philharmoniker, with piano solos by Alice Sara Ott.  It was unbelievable.  I’d had a rough day, and was feeling down on myself because I wasn’t picking up German as fast as I would’ve liked.  All things school-related have always come relatively easy to me with minimum effort, and learning German has proved to be something of an educational ego bruiser at times (which is probably a good thing).  At any rate, I felt much better after the concert.  The music was so powerful and uplifting, and the piano soloist was unbelievable.  She was only 21, and she played everything from memory with perfect precision.  There wasn’t a single key on that piano that she didn’t use.  She extracted every note, every sound possible from the instrument.  It was incredible.

A Castle, A Tangle, and a Pastry

The following weekend, I visited Schloss Neuschwanstein with a group from school.  I’d already seen it once in 2007 and, having forgotten how strenuous the walk up to the castle is, I decided to go back.  I was under the weather that day, having just come down with a sinus condition of some sort, and the mountain climbing required to reach the castle just about did me in.  I decided early on that my second tour of Neuschwanstein would very likely be my last.  But that aside, it is quite amazing once you get there, and I do recommend seeing it if you’re ever in Deutschland.  The train trip was two hours each way, but we had plenty to keep us occupied.  One of the students from Finland often knits socks during our train trips.  She had acquired a giant pink ball of discount yarn somewhere, and it had quickly morphed itself into one big knot.  I offered to help her with it, and three of us spent the entire trip down and back untangling it and rolling it into balls for her.  I told her afterward that she owed us all a pair of socks.  🙂  I don’t know why yarn and thread skeins are always like that, but whenever I do needlework, I seem to spend as much time untangling as I do stitching.  I was interested to learn that needlework is often taught in European schools.  Perhaps if I’d studied here, I wouldn’t have been considered such a nerd.  Oh well.  Speaking of balls, I also tried a new sweet that day, a specialty from Rothenburg ob der Tauber called a Schneeball (snowball).  It was basically a wad of pie crust about the size of a baseball with various flavored glazes.  I chose coconut.  It was interesting.  It tasted good, but as desserts go, it was a little on the dry side.  And messy.  I left a Hänsel-type trail of crumbs through Füssen.

Boys…

…will be boys.  Case in point, a recent outing in Augsburg, where the men of BWS enjoyed the latest marketing strategy from Vodafone.

A Random Act of Kindness

Late one evening I was standing in front of a ticket machine in the subway station, trying to figure out which ticket I needed to get me home.  You can purchase multiple types of public transportation tickets for various time frames and areas.  Normally I buy a weekly ticket for central Munich, and then I’m covered, but that week I hadn’t for some reason.  Anyway, a woman who was leaving the station asked me if I needed a ticket, and then gave me hers.  She’d bought one that morning which was good for a whole day of travel within Munich and outlying areas, and was apparently finished with it, so I got to ride home for free that night.  It was such a thoughtful thing to do.  I really appreciated her kindness.

Random Acts of Unkindness

With the notable exception of the waiters in Hofbräuhaus (who I think have spent too much time with drunk tourists; they all need vacations from the service industry), most everyone I’ve met in Germany has been infinitely congenial and good-natured.  Whether they be teachers, retail personnel, or random people on the street they are, as a rule, friendly, cordial and helpful.  Of course, there are exceptions.  The Monday after I arrived, my first day of school, I was standing in Sendlinger-Tor-Platz with my sheaf of Google directions, trying in vain to locate Hauptfeuerwache.  A young blonde twerp dressed “punk” style, perhaps 13 or so, walked by with another boy.  He ran his fingertips over my elbow and said “dicke,” and he and his friend walked away laughing.  Mind you, I didn’t understand much German at that point, but I knew what “dicke” meant.  Fat.  Not cool.  I was reminded of that incident on the night of the great gelatin debate.  As we were walking to the grocery store, we met two large, boisterous Italian men who were playing with a dog.  One stepped sideways to allow us to pass, then yelled something after us in Italian (which, as I later learned, begins with “b” and ends with “itches” when translated to English).  Fabiana threw some irate-sounding Italian back over her shoulder at him, then explained what had happened.  I have no idea what we did to irritate the man, but seeing as he’d just exited a pub, I imagine he was three sheets to the wind.  Or maybe he was just a jerk.  It happens.  But looking on the positive side, I’ve been in a foreign country for 7 weeks now and had only two unpleasant encounters, which are more than balanced out by dozens of pleasant ones.  Mercifully, the scales tip heavily to the favorable side.  I love it here.

Yet Another Grocery Rumination

I’m sure you’re all getting tired of reading about the novelty of grocery shopping in a foreign country (what is this, the fifth time?).  If so, feel free to skip this section, because I’ve found this subject to be a deep well of curiosities, wonderment and cultural contrast.  The typical American supermarket is a massive complex with infinite variety.  The choices for every product are endless (perhaps sometimes excessive).  Most of our grocery stores cannot be called “minimalist” in any sense of the word.  Even the biggest, most diverse grocery stores here carry only a fraction of the choices the average American could expect to find as a matter of course.  Products that have entire aisles all to themselves in the states (breakfast cereals, chips and baking products, for example) have only a moderate rack or a few shelves dedicated to them here.  Instead of fifty choices, you’ll have five or ten.  Or one or two.  But in contrast, there are also areas here which offer much more variety (and sometimes more quality).  Meats and cheeses, for example.  At home, we combine the two with a few inedible noodle salads and prepared foods and call it “the deli.”  In larger supermarkets here, meats and cheeses have separate counters, and they are massive.  Instead of two kinds of salami, there are a dozen or so.  My favorite example of quality and variety here is the chocolate.  Galeria Kaufhof has a section the size of Rhode Island dedicated to chocolate.  I reveled in this the Monday before last when I went shopping for an advent calendar.  There were dozens to choose from, and they weren’t the cheap, flimsy affairs with small lumps of milk chocolate one finds in the states.  Well, some were, but most weren’t.  Most were gourmet chocolates from well-known candy makers such as Lindt.  One calendar could cost up to 30 Euros.  I went with a middling one for 15.  Perhaps it was a little steep for what is, essentially, a glorified 24-piece box of chocolates, but I haven’t been disappointed.  Every new day reveals a little piece of sweet, chocolaty bliss.  Merry Christmas to me!  I may be “dicke,” but at least I’m jolly!

St. Nikolaus Cometh

Speaking of jolly, we must have been good students, because St. Nikolaus and his… umm… “unique” angelic assistant paid BWS a visit last Friday, and we all got some goodies.

 

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FYI

December 2, 2009

For those of you who don’t already know, I’ve decided to extend my stay in Munich.  I won’t be home until the end of January, and I’ll be remaining here over Christmas break.  When I began my course, I realized very quickly that two months would not be nearly enough time to learn as much as I’d like.  Three months probably won’t be either (one requires 30 years according to Mark Twain), but I’m going to run out of money eventually.  The more I learn, the more I realize how much there still is to learn, and I want to make the most of my time here.  I’ll miss being with my loved ones for Christmas more than I can say, but learning a second language is important to me, and this trip is such a wonderful opportunity.  So, when you’re carving your roast beast this year, remember me, and know I’ll be thinking of you.

Drat.

December 1, 2009

As my regular readers (I’m so happy I can say that!) may recall, I was informed a few weeks ago that I’d have to make a presentation, and I wasn’t wild about the idea.  After that, no more was said about it for a couple of weeks, and I thought maybe I’d dodged the bullet.  No such luck.  I’ve been assigned a presentation date.  My teacher had, in fact, forgotten about the presentations (permanently, I’d hoped), but he remembered last week.  I have to present on December 7th.  Bitte!  Nein!

Update

I’ve finally chosen a topic (until I change my mind, that is).  I’m going to talk about Handel’s Messiah.  I’ve had it stuck in my head for the last two days, and I regret that I wasn’t able to participate in the community choir’s performance this year.

All-American: Thanksgiving and Peanut Butter

November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  I am so thankful to have all of you in my life, and I wish we could be together today, but I’m also very thankful for the opportunity to learn German, and I’m deeply grateful to everyone who played a part in making this trip possible, especially my family.

Last night I did a little baking in the school kitchen (I don’t have an oven in my apartment, unfortunately).  I made peanut butter cookies and lemon bars to share with my class, and today we talked a little bit about the origins and traditions associated with Thanksgiving while we ate them.  We always have fun talking together.  I couldn’t have hand-picked a better group or teacher for myself; that’s such a huge blessing.

Shopping for my baking project was a little stressful.  Everything I needed was in the store; the problem was recognizing it.  I’ve always taken for granted how very easy it is to shop for groceries when I’m home.  I don’t have to stare at each item for ages, reading every word (sometimes consulting a dictionary), and wishing the manufacturer had thought to put pictures of the contents on the package.  I recognize what I want immediately, usually by the logo of whatever my preferred brand happens to be (the marketers got me, Dr. R!), and I just grab it and go.  In and out.  Not so Tuesday night.  I spent about an hour and a half shopping for 15-20 items.

The only product I had no trouble  identifying was the peanut butter.  I’ve bought peanut butter twice now (in Germany, that is), and I find it endlessly amusing that the German marketers/manufacturers go to so much trouble to make the packaging scream “American!”  It’s as though they want to be absolutely certain everyone knows they bear no responsibility for the creation of such a product.  The labels are invariably some combination of red, white and blue, and sport a U.S. map, or flag, or both.  One jar had the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline on it.  As far as I know, New York has no more to do with peanut butter than any other city  (George Washington Carver certainly wasn’t from anywhere near there, and while he didn’t actually “invent” peanut butter, he is certainly responsible for improving the recipe and popularizing it), but for some reason Europeans seem to associate all things American with New York.  Whenever I tell someone I’m from the U.S., they’ll say, “Ah; New York!” and ask me how far away I live, and whether I’ve been there.  Fabiana is dying to go.  New York was a nice place to visit, I grant, but there are many other places I would visit before I’d go back.  I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.  Certainly not the peanut butter.

A Tragedy

November 23, 2009

When I arrived at school today, I was informed that a student here was killed in an accident Friday night.  I wasn’t well acquainted with him; we’d only met once on the school trip to Salzburg, but he’d been studying here for several months, and it’s been a shocking blow to the whole school.  Please remember the students, teachers, and his friends and family in your prayers.  Rest in peace, Carlos.

Students in Salzburg. Carlos is the second from the right, next to me.

Cultural (Con)Fusion

November 22, 2009

As I may have mentioned previously, I’m having a great time now that I’ve gotten used to being here.  My teacher is fantastic.  He’s always patient and thorough, and has a great sense of humor.  Class is always fun, and I’m learning a great deal.

One of the most interesting things about studying abroad (obviously) is the opportunity to learn about different cultures:  in my case, not only German culture, but so many others.  There are students in my class from Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, Albania, France, Brazil, Mexico and New Zealand (I think), and whenever we discuss a topic, we get to hear different perspectives and learn how things are thought about/done/said in other countries.  It’s really fascinating.

I’ve become fast friends with another student from Italy named Fabiana.  She was so sweet and helpful to me my first few days, and now we might as well be joined at the hip.  We go almost everywhere together, and we always have a great time.  Our friendship is full of laughter, partly because an Italian and an American speaking German together creates so many opportunities for comical mistakes and misunderstandings, and partly because we often find different aspects of each others’ cultures so amusing.

Our friendship is a cultural exchange program unto itself.  We correct each others’ pronunciation of Italian and English words, and we entice each other to try things we normally wouldn’t have.  Fabiana taught me that I’ve been pronouncing the vast majority of pasta types wrong my whole life, especially gnocchi.  She also got me to try heisse maroni (roasted chestnuts) for the first time.  I’m sorry to say I wasn’t impressed.  When I bit into one, the texture reminded me strongly of Lima beans, which I hate.  Oh well.  As for American culture, Fabiana is eternally amused at the correct pronunciations of various American things and places, especially Cincinnati.  I also introduced her to peanut butter and banana sandwiches, which she loved.

Next week I’m going to hunt up some cottage cheese so she can try it with canned peaches (a favorite snack of mine; thanks, mom!), and Fabiana is bound and determined to see to it that I’ve eaten “real” Spaghetti Carbonara (one of my all-time favorite meals) before I return home.  Cultural exchange rocks.

Snapshots of the Week

November 9, 2009

I must be starting to look like a local.  Two people asked me for directions on Friday.  One I was able to help (he wanted to get to the Munich Hauptbahnhof), but I had to tell the other that I had no idea.

All the walking is working.  My tight slacks aren’t so tight anymore.  In the words of my darling nephew, “Woo-yay!”

I went to see a ballet, Die Kameliendame, on Thursday.  It’s based on the book The Lady with the Camellias by Dumas.  The school has some kind of affiliation with the theaters that allows us to purchase tickets for a very low price, but the seats are still great.  I’d never seen a ballet live before, and it was incredible.  The dancers were so skilled and precise.  I took ballet classes briefly when I was younger (didn’t every little girl want to be a ballerina a some point?), so I have a limited understanding of how difficult it is.  Amazing.

I’d thought I might be able to keep up with one or two TV shows while I was here by watching them online.  That’s not going to happen.  First of all, I’ve been too busy to care about TV since I arrived, and second, when I actually had some time and tried to do it, all the networks’ websites told me a variation of the same thing:  these videos are only available for viewing by Americans.  The computer is convinced I’m German.  At least someone is.

I went on an outing to Regensburg with a teacher and some other students on Saturday.  It was really cold (we actually got a little bit of freezing rain here last night!), but it was fun.  We saw an 800-year-old bridge, and a huge cathedral.  There was some kind of induction ceremony going on for the boys choir in the cathedral, and we got to hear them sing.  The music echoing off those vaulted ceilings sounded incredible.  I took a couple of videos, but unfortunately the quality was pretty bad.

My classes are going well, although at the rate I’m learning, 8 weeks seems like a lot less time than it did before I left.  I feel like I’ll still barely have scratched the surface of German when I come back home.  My teacher is a great guy, and I liked him very much… until today.  At the end of class he told us we’re each going to have to make a 10-15 minute presentation this month.  I had fervently hoped I was done with presentations when I left the IUK School of Business, whose philosophy on education seemed to be that one must make a presentation every dang week in order to learn.  I hate public speaking.  I’ll write papers, take tests, whatever, but please don’t make me do a speech.  It’s bad enough in English, but in German?  Between the horrific grammar and my limited vocabulary, I’d consider myself lucky to be able to talk about something for 1 or 2 minutes, let alone 10 or 15.  *sigh*  Would anyone care to suggest a topic for me?

Lastly, I have a request for all the good cooks I know, seeing as I’m so inexperienced at cooking.  My diet has had too many carbs and not enough protein since I arrived, because carb-based meals are easier to prepare in my tiny kitchenette.  Most of the easy proteins I would normally make for myself at home (popcorn shrimp, frozen pre-breaded chicken breasts, etc.) require an oven, and I don’t have an oven or a microwave, just two (very slow) burners and a toaster.  Can anyone suggest some simple methods/recipes for preparing meat on the stove in a skillet or pot?  Extra points if you come up with one for the toaster.

So I’m in Germany now…

October 26, 2009

…and the keyboards here reverse the z and y, in case you were wondering.  So if you see a z or y in this post that looks out of place, in the words of Willy Wonka, “Strike that.  Reverse it.”

The last couple days have been completely crazy.  I had a layover in Paris, and figured that an hour and 20 minutes would be plenty of time to find my gate, grab a bite to eat, and maybe find out if you can see the Eiffel Tower from the airport windows.  I was mistaken.  The only way the gates I arrived at and departed from could have been any further apart was if they had been in different cities.  So I had to hoof it across half of Paris as fast as I could.  10 miles and two security checkpoints later, I arrived at my gate breathless and red-faced with a brand-new stamp in my passport.  The plane was already boarding.  I asked the two German ladies in line in front of me if we were going to Munich, and they smiled kindly at my red face and flying hair and assured me that we were.

My arrival in Munich went smoothly.  My luggage made it with me all the way, and my concerns about getting the packaged foods I brought through customs were moot.  The customs booth where you were supposed to go if you had items to declare was closed and locked, and when I tried to ask the airport employee where I should go, he just motioned me through the “nothing to declare” line, and no one even glanced at me after that.  Oh well.  My cab driver couldn’t have been nicer.  He picked up my key for me, and helped me carry my luggage up to my apartment, where I promptly collapsed on the bed in a pool of exhaustion, fear and self-pity upon realizing that I was now completely alone in a strange place with no phone, internet or toilet paper.

Eventually I forced myself to get up, and I walked to Aldi to see if I could buy some toilet paper and a few other basics.  Unfortunately, I arrived on a Sunday, and pretty much everything here is closed on Sunday.  So I went back to the apartment.  I made some ramen noodles and forced myself to eat them even though I was sick to my stomach from nerves.  It was a good thing I brought instant food.  I only wish I’d thought to bring toilet paper.  Thank goodness for Kleenex pocket packs.  I felt a little better after I showered, and then I read for a while and went to bed.

Today went well, once I finally located my school.  I had to get help from locals to find some of the streets in my directions, and I took a couple of wrong turns, but I made it on time.  I only understood about half of what my teacher was saying in class, but she’s very nice and helpful, and I met a girl in class who is staying in the same building I am.  We’re going to go do a little bit of shopping and walk home together.  So to sum up, I’m not feeling quite as miserable and alone as I was yesterday, and I’m a little more confident that this whole trip wasn’t such a bad idea after all.  Keep praying for me.