Mid Program: Everyday life, surprises, and advice

Living here in Marburg is peaceful, and the living accommodations in the international student dorms are exceptional. My dorm room has twice the space of my shared dorm room back home, and comes with a sink, walk in closet, bed with bedding (there is even a cleaning service for the bedspread but as I’ve been out of town most weekends I haven’t tested it yet), recliner, and several sets of shelves. The rooms are cozy even without anything in them. My dorm is also next to a residential area- something which let my friend and I visit a local Haunted House on this past Halloween. We were able to enter despite being strangers, and it was the high point of our holiday~

Even though the university is spread out all over the city, the city is small enough to access all everyday needs by foot. Walking around  Marburg is nice, as long as you can go up inclines. The old city has cobblestone streets, and if you keep walking up you’ll eventually reach the castle. I haven’t visited it yet,  but I mean to before long. The smell of cigarette smoke is also not uncommon, and it seems to be very fashionable here. On a daily basis, you can see everyone from sixteen year old’s, to parents pushing strollers, to sixty year olds getting off from work- all with a lit cigarette in hand. It can be very difficult to get away from all the smoke. In mid-November, Christmas trees started appearing out of the blue in main public squares, and even now the Christkindmarkt in the  Understat is halfway assembled. When you need a break from the buildings (and the smokers!), chances are that your not far from a wooded hiking trail. I’ve seen squirrels, the occasional stray cat, birds, moths, mosquitoes, and even a few rats on my outings through the outskirts of the city and on trails. The rats surprised me most, and the cats are majorly indoor only cats that scampered outside against their humans wishes. Germany is not as clean as Japan, but is definitely cleaner than the United States. However, on the few occasions I have tried to pick up trash sitting non-conspicuously besides a hiking trail when with my relatives, they berated me and told me to put it back on the ground, teasing that they wouldn’t let me back into their car after our hike unless I did so. Luckily we passed by a garbage can by a bench and I was able to dispose of it there to both of our satisfactions. I still don’t understand what they were thinking though, perhaps something is being lost in translation…

As with most things in life, I’ve found that its the little things which have surprised and delighted me most about this trip. For example:

  • At first I didn’t realize that most people in Germany don’t use dryers. It wasn’t long before I resigned myself to drying my clothes their way- on hangers or a line. Clothes dry in my dorm room this way even when it’s not warm, but let the traveler be warned- they will not dry overnight. Typically all of my clothes will have dried after at least three days on the line, so it’s important to have a few spare clean clothes when doing the laundry so you don’t have to change into damp ones.
  • Germany’s harvest festival is called the Erntedankfest. It has far less emphasis than Octoberfest or the USA’s Thanksgiving. The  Erntedankfest is celebrated on the first Sunday of October. It consists of a giant crown of vegetables and wheat being woven together and being brought into church to be blessed during mass. After mass, people take some of the vegetables and other foodstuffs that have been blessed at church to their homes. They cook a meal with it, and share it with their family. One of my cousins showed me a picture of such a crown from a trip that he took to Austria. In preparation for the harvest season, some people also make Früchteteppichs- intricate mosaics made of seeds. Here is one from a village my relatives took me to depicting the parable of Lazareth:

  • I underestimated how much Germans love their carbonated water. If you don’t ask for “stilles Wasser” or “Leitungswasser”, odds are your getting a carbonated beverage. Also: water is not free unless you ask for tap water or , Leitungswasser (“pipe water”), although some establishments may try to charge you for that anyway. Once in Berlin I was charged 5 for a liter bottle of water because it was a ‘fancy’ restaurant. Yet some restaurants don’t even have non-carbonated water. So check to see if your getting the right kind of water, and check the price too.
  • People may not supposed to be smoking in or close to buildings but some do it anyway. My neighbor was smoking weed at the beginning of the semester and opened his door so it stank up the hall. Somehow it didn’t set off the buildings fire alarm. Overhangs and entrances of buildings are especially beloved by smokers, and oftentimes come with their own ashtrays. E-cigarettes also appear to be gaining popularity with people in their twenty’s. If you come to Germany, you will end up inhaling tobacco smoke, whether you set out to do that or not, so if you need an inhaler, please bring it.
  • If you go to a bar and order “tacos” they are actually nachos with cheese sauce and weak salsa. While a slight disappointment to taco lovers, they are still very tasty.
  • Unfortunately, Germany still has a ways to go as far as sexism is concerned. I don’t know where it stems from, although part of it is simply embedded in the German language itself as as far as I understand, if one is referring to a group of people or objects, they receive the pronoun “his/him”. In English you can express the same idea with using ‘they/them/their(s)’- a non-gendered determiner. This also wiggles it’s way into nouns, as a man can only wear ein Hemd, and women are supposed to wear something else (the word escapes me because for all my years of learning German I thought Hemd was all I’d ever need- how the truth stings). Let people where what they want says I. For a visual, please compare these two mugs that I found at a pirate themed rest stop:

One of these definitely looks more fun than the other…

  • The concept of sharing a dorm room with a stranger is foreign and unsettling to many Germans, so if you come from the United States chances are you’ll get the nicest dorm room you’ve ever had- and all to yourself.

As to the goals that I set out for myself at the beginning of the program, I believe most of them have been met:

  • 1. Although I am not fluent in German yet, I am drastically better and well on the way to being so. After our intensive language course at the beginning of the program, my language teacher said that if I was able to sort out a few things with my German (verb positioning and tense, articles, etc) that my German language level would be C1! That’s the highest level of fluency. I’m still not quite there, but talking to my relatives regularly has definitely helped.
  • 2. I have learned much more about my relatives than I did before, and much more about Gisela, my Oma’s corespondent within the German side of our family. Unfortunately, Gisela recently died due to kidney failure. I feel very lucky to have been able to meet and talk to her in person, and be able to represent Oma’s side of their beautiful friendship at her funeral. I’m sure both Oma and Gisela are drinking coffee somewhere together like they did so many years ago, and which they’ve wanted to do again for so long. While her death marks the end of the loving voice I’ve heard about through Oma and her correspondence since I was a child, I’m glad that she’s in a better place now and I hope to continue the correspondence between the different sides of our family with my other relatives.
  • 3. Not only have I taken pictures of the Blue Danube for Auntie, I’ve taken notes in my travel journal about what it actually felt to be there, and catch some of the details my camera couldn’t. I look forward to sharing them all with her soon~
  • 4: Adrian is actually doing better than when he came here!:

– He is more awake and alert during the day, appears better able to self motivate himself to work on projects, and has started working on programing an engine for himself again.

– Whereas he used to be overcautious, now he”s finally giving himself the space to relax when possible. If no one is wandering around in the common areas and he’s in the bathroom, he no longer feels the need to lock his dorm room door. If I’m traveling for a day with a friend, he doesn’t feel the need to force himself to come with us to reassure himself we won’t be kidnapped. And if he asks me if he’s locked his door and I say he has, he takes my answer without going back to triple check it.

-Thanks to his wonderful and enthusiastic German A2 teacher Stephan, his German and speaking confidence has dramatically improved. I believe that now if he chooses to peruse his study of the language, he will have the foundation needed to understand it and become semi-fluent.

– During our first week of school, we decided to ally ourselves with another student here named Elizabeth. Not only was she in his language class, but she has proven to be a valuable friend and comrade. I doubt that this will be the last we hear or see of her, and I believe her friendship with Adrian is helping him in ways even he can not yet see.

  • 5. I too have befriended Elizabeth, and hopefully we can write to each other after our program ends~
  • 6. While I have put a Taurus in a gym and caught both a Mr. Mime and a dratini, Mutti has done neither. Hopefully a Mr. Mime will chose to locate itself in one of our hotel rooms when she comes in December to pick us up.
  • 7. We have all had many adventures, and I am sure even more will come our way before the month is through~ Here are a handful of them, which I hope to write about here later:

-getting scarlet fever

– visiting the castle of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau

– Walking a piece of the Philosophers Way in Heidelberg

-Celebrating Thanksgiving with Adrian and Elizabeth

-visiting the Roman baths in Baden-Baden

-Seeing the tradesman’s house and the Night watchman’s tour in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

-Summer Ludge rides

-visiting Marburgs Dunkelcafé

-visiting my relatives

-and perhaps most importantly, studying in Marburg~

Cultural Immersion

November 20, 2017

With only 5 more weeks in the program, it’s high time to reflect on the experience thus far. Although there are not many posts here, I am writing consistently in a travel journal, and will post entries from there after the program is over. There is a balance between writing about things so you can remember them, and experiencing new things so you can write about them later. Writing in a paper journal gives me the time to make more memories, as writing about experiences twice takes twice as long.

Here are some of my favorite things about Germany and Marburg thus far:

  • Everything is green! Coming from a place with minimal rain, it always surprises me when I am reminded that the rest of the world is not so. When the locals are complaining about a day “spoiled” by rain, I am rejoicing.
  • Food is affordable and of good quality: €200 will last me two or more weeks for groceries- and this feeds both me and my friend. We are living on a diet consisting of sautéed vegetables, vegetable soup, milk, fried rice with eggs and peas, the occasional pizza and pizza bread, musli (it’s like cereal, only out of granola), and bars for snacks.
  • The villages. Everyone knows everyone and their brother, people are extremely polite, the atmosphere is incredibly peaceful.
  • Being able to visit my relatives. It has given me a more authentic perspective on how people live their everyday lives, is a wonderful opportunity to brush up on my German (I wouldn’t have improved near as much if I hadn’t been visiting them every weekend), and it’s great to be able to meet people I’ve heard about since I was small.
  • The public transit. It is a godsend for traveling.
  • Everything is in the vicinity of everything else- I can walk to class from my dorm building a few miles from where we have class, or take the bus.
  • Marburg has great hiking trails; there on the edges of the city, so within 5 minutes you can transition from streets and houses to forest.
  • The University clinic. My immune system is very weak, so I’ve already been sick thrice since arriving in August. The clinic however is free, and has hours that fit my schedule so I can go, get a prescription, and get that filled out at an apothecary. If I get sick, by the end of the day I can have a doctor’s note for class and the medicine I need for a complete and speedy recovery.
  • There are bakeries on every street corner. My friend’s teacher said, “If a place in Germany doesn’t have a bakery, it’s not a city.” Too bad my relatives’ supermarket closed because there weren’t enough costumers. Now they drive two villages over for groceries.

There are more things that I like of course, but those are the main ones. As to my experiences associated with school, the first thing that stood out to me is that the university is scattered all around the town. One building where I have classes is a 10-minute walk from the other, and between them are other university buildings, homes, businesses, and a theater. Likewise, the libraries are also scattered all around. Each department has their own separate library within it, but the public library is behind the Mensa- their student cafeteria. I’ve had mixed luck with the cafeteria- not all of their vegetarian labeled food seems to be vegetarian. This is especially true of the soups, which smell like chicken, and I suspect have a chicken broth. The classes are informative and interesting. One of my classes is “Sea routes and Ships from the Archaic through Hellenistic Period” and the other is “Kino und Politik, Zensur, Skandale, und kulturelle Provocationen in Deutschland seit 1919”. Ships in the Mediterranean and censorship in Germany’s movie industry. The classes begin 15 minutes after they say they will start, and tend to end when the teacher runs out of material to review, not holding students late just because class isn’t supposed to get out yet. These are the first classes I’ve ever had where there is no homework- your final grade is entirely dependent on attendance, and your final project. For my ship class I’ll be giving a 30-45-minute presentation on depictions of ships and shipwrecks in the classical era, and for Kino und Politik I’ll be either given an oral exam about one of the movies that we’ve watched and its historical background, or write a paper based on one of several German books about German movie censorship. I original also intended to join Marburg’s fencing club, but was ultimately unable to because it’s on the other side of town and begins after the buses stop running.

Having been away from home for extended periods of time before, I believe I have been coping with the cultural differences well. My lifestyle has not changed considerably, except that now I have a much bigger dorm room than I would have thought possible in back home. I’ve been trying to immerse myself in this experience and get the most out of it; however, I have continued to listen to songs in English because they remind me of home. If I could, I’d listen to German radio more, but on FFH, the radio station most of my cousins listen to, half of the songs are in English. They’re also pop songs, which are not the genre I would normally turn to for comfort. I’ve also started to get a little annoyed that in English we have multiple words for one object, to point out small differences between them, but German doesn’t seem to have such words to the same extent. For example, English has the words bottle, flask, and jar to refer to a small container, each getting respectively smaller. German however, only seems to have die Flasche and das Glas, Flasche being used to refer to both bottles and flasks. This is just a linguistic pet peeve of mine and English probably has more variation because it draws vocabulary from many languages, so I try not to let it bother me. It helps me when I remember that German makes it much easier to create compound words than in English; that each language has its strengths. I’ve also been trying to celebrate major holidays that I usually celebrate back home such as Halloween and Thanksgiving, which energizes me and gives me the ability to focus better on school later.

The only thing I would like to have done differently, is research more about other countries in Europe so I’d know which cities I’d like to visit once I’d arrived. Last week I found out about a website that has super cheap flights all around Europe. It’s called “goeuro.com”; a round-way ticket from Marburg to Granada Spain costs only around €230.

Overall, I am grateful for having had the opportunity to have this experience, and believe that now I have the means to become a better global citizen. People tend to fear things that are foreign, and as People to People, the travel program that let me go to Japan phrased it, traveling ‘promotes peace through understanding’. I do understand better, and my German has drastically improved, which will help me continue to interact with the German speaking world after I return to my country.