Small Town Life — Jocelyne

Okay, so I’ve been in Austria for about two months now. I’m getting to know my town, Ried im Innkreis, and starting to feel comfortable here. It is small, the people are friendly, and they know who I am.

Seriously.

I had my doubts about small-town life, but it definitely has it’s perks. Example: I’ve been to my bank twice. The first time, I was sick. Sniffling, coughing, feverish. The woman who helped me set up my account walked me to the nearest Apotheke and helped me buy medicine — what?! The next time I went into the bank to set up direct deposit, she remembered my name, asked how I was feeling, and made sure I got the right forms sent to the right places. And then, last week, we passed each other on the street, and she stopped me to ask how I was, and if I’d been able to get my online banking sorted (I hadn’t). She offered to send me new login information and I went on my way, struck with how insanely helpful and friendly and welcoming this place was. 

Another perk of being in a small town is how much German I use every day. This does lead to some awkward situations, but for the most part I’m glad to have the practice. However, the Upper Austrian dialect has proven difficult. It’s getting better, of course, but sometimes it is really intimidating, and at its worst, it’s really discouraging. There are days that I feel like I know absolutely know German. But, I try to take it with a grain of salt and know that I still have time to improve. It’s mostly a matter of forcing myself to talk, talk, talk! While I speak only English in the classroom, I speak German with my fellow teachers about 90% of the time. They are very understanding and helpful, since they’ve experienced the same thing learning English or other languages. Recently, my German roommates have also taken it upon themselves to force me to speak German with them all the time, which is really helpful as well. 

Well, I’ll end this here before I ramble on uselessly. Pfiati!

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Culture, Food, and Friends (Jessica)

I can’t believe it’s already been a month! I’m feeling rather proud of the fact that I no longer get lost at the Gymnasium, which is built in a series of squares around different courtyards that all look exactly the same. For the first three weeks ago, I’d be trying to find my classroom going, “OK, room 131…132…139…wait, damn it, I’m back at the beginning. WHERE ARE THE 140’s?!?!?”

In other news, I’m officially a student again. Mind boggling as it is, it’s actually cheaper in Germany to register as a student and pay the semester fee (which gives you free public transportation within the state) than to buy three monthly bus passes. Still having trouble wrapping my head around that one!

I also like to think of myself as Germany’s newest celebrity. I’m going to be – wait for it, guys! – one of the voices on the English comprehension section of the Abitur! The English TA’s in my region spent a rather awkward Thursday morning recording monologues. We were all expecting to just read a script into a microphone, but it turned out to be a whole workshop organizing our thoughts about different topics and then speaking “naturally” about those topics for a minute each. We were led into this very 1940s-style recording studio in the basement and had to speak into the microphone while the two people in charge and the sound technician stared us down. Because, you know, that’s not uncomfortable, or anything.

Some of the other TA’s and I went to lunch after the recording session, which led to one of the best nights I’ve had here so far. We were sitting at an incredibly Portland-y sandwich place when the woman at the table next to us heard Irish accents and came up and asked us what we were doing in Saarbrücken. She turned out the be the (Irish) director of the city’s contemporary ballet company and invited us to come watch a dress rehearsal of her company’s new piece.

It turned out to be an absolutely fantastic night! When we got there, I thought for one awful moment that we’d gotten the wrong door and were about to end up onstage, but it turns out that you actually do have to walk across the edge of the stage to get to the seats. The stage lights were fairly blinding, and the audience section was completely dark, so we just kind of wandered uncertainly across the stage, and then heard a disembodied voice saying, “Oh, it’s the Irish students!” (I self-consciously kept my mouth shut and tried not to get evicted for being there under false pretenses). It turned out they were going to be starting about an hour later than they’d originally said, so we took the opportunity to hit up a happy hour across the street and sip half-price champagne cocktails. What can I say? It’s a tough life.

The actual performance was amazing! We were in a pretty tiny theater, and we were the only ones there except for the company staff and a few family members and friends of the dancers, so it felt like a private performance. They performed three different pieces, and they were all AMAZING! It was definitely not pointe-shoes-and-tutus classical ballet, but the choreography was fantastic (at least in my decidedly non-expert opinion) and the dancers were incredibly talented. I spent half the night with my mouth hanging slightly open and feeling very, very grateful we’d decided to stop for a sandwich the day before.

As if the ballet weren’t enough, we ended the night on an even better note. One of the other TA’s had invited us over for dinner, so we spent the night eating delicious homemade lasagna and hanging out with a great group of people. I honestly don’t know what I’d have done without the other TA’s in my state. It is so, so nice when things are stressful at the schools or I’m missing my family and friends from home to have such great people to hang out with (and trade strategies for coping with the awkwardness of the Staff Room of Doom!).

Traumatic Duckies & die Vanilleräuberin (Jessica)

Hallo Alle!

Internet access is still extremely sporadic (I’ve resorted to haunting Starbucks like a good obnoxious American), but I wanted to post a mini-update with some photos of my (mis-)adventures.

First of all, the stupid ducks! As you may recall from my previous post, my apartment came equipped with what I THOUGHT were hot plates decorated with an oh-so-adorable ducky pattern:

Only, turns out, the ducks are caps that go OVER the actual burners. And you’re supposed to take them off before you cook anything. Which we realized when I put a pot of water on to boil and smelled burning plastic a few minutes later. The ducks, unfortunately, did not survive:

 

So now I have a charred stove cap (which exists WHY, exactly?), an irrational fear of cutsey duck patterns, and no idea what to tell my landlord. So far this real-person living is going swimmingly.

 

In other news, I’ve decided that the single bottle of vanilla extract I brought with me is not likely to last me through the year, so I’ve decided to attempt making my own. I’ve decided to launch a roaring business and sell homemade vanilla extract at exorbitant prices to chocolate chip cookie-deprived American expats. You may call me die Vanilleräuberin (credit to Ms. Rebecca Otto for the name).

It’s actually surprisingly easy – just requires a bit of patience (which is TOTALLY my strong suit, right?). All you need is cheap vodka and vanilla beans (which I found in an unbelievably Portland-esque Bio market). You just slice the vanilla beans down the center and soak them in vodka in an airtight jar for at least four weeks. I’ll update next month with results, and the all-important chocolate-chip cookie test.

 

Bis Bald!

~Jessica

 

Cafe Life–Becca

Hu-ahh. I’m on my 3rd week in Germany and I’m just now getting around to blogging about it! My word! Long story very short, I’ve been staying with Jessica the last few weeks in her town of Saarbrücken trying to get orientated to Europe before traveling to Austria to get settled in to my own town. It’s been unbelievably nice to get used to this whole thing with a friend, so I’m glad Jessica let me trot around after her for the first few weeks. She’s been my guinea pig. I now know what I need to do in order to open a bank account, get a phone, and register with a city all auf deutsch! I figure if I can do this all in German, I can TOTALLY do it in English, so when I come back to America it’ll be an absolute snap getting a place to live. Boo-yah!

Anyway. I’ve got a lot to share, but telling it all would fill up SEVERAL blog posts and probably bore you all as I described the exact texture of the train seats on the trip from Frankfurt to Saarbrücken. So I’ll just stick to one thing. Cafe Life.

Sitting in cafes and people watching is one of my favorite things to do ever. And I don’t mean that in a creepy way (at least not hopefully)—I just like to—er—take note of things. Thankfully, Jessica and I have had ample time for taking note of things in Saarbrücken at the 12,345,987 different cafes where we’ve eaten. Don’t judge—it’s not completely inexcusable. We went on a café spree because we had left both the hotel that we had stayed at our first and second night in Germany, and (unfortunately) the free Wi-Fi that they had there. We figured at least ONE café would have Wi-Fi (that’s not so odd, is it?), so obviously the answer was to try all of them until one of them yielded results. I trooped around with my iPod out and tried to scope out networks that had the café names in them like a Wi-Fi sniffing bloodhound, but this attempt, most unfortunately, did not work. At most places, the waiters and waitresses just looked at us really strange and said no, sorry, they didn’t have it. One waiter, after we asked, kindly served us “zwei Internets” after he handed us two glasses of wine. We have since dubbed him Herr Snark. What we’ve been using now is a combination of seedy internet cafes and a Starbucks in downtown Saarbrücken.

BUT I’ve gotten distracted. My point was that in the midst of this mad Wi-Fi search, we have had bountiful opportunities for people watching.

So far in Germany I’ve seen an odd collection of People Who Look Like Their Dogs (my favorite thing), Monks with iPads (my second favorite thing), Ridiculously Fashionable People Wearing Uncomfortable Shoes on Cobblestones, Ridiculously Fashionable 12-Year-Olds, Ridiculously Fashionable 3-Year-Olds, Daniel Craig Look-Alikes (no seriously, I’ve seen like 13 people that match this description), Nice Waitresses, and Couples Who Dress Similarly. And I’ve found that MC Hammer pants are apparently all the rage (and when I say that, I mean that I’ve seen like two people wearing them. Which is a lot. Really.) Also, for some inexplicable reason, people love American flag spandex here as well. Anyway, the main reason why I mention these is because I’m trying to keep a travel journal this year, and I’m trying to include a lot of drawings of what I’ve seen. My goal for coming over here this year was to build an art portfolio for myself. Some of these are stuck in my sketchbook now, and with no camera cord (I left it sitting on a lonely kitchen counter in Corvallis, Oregon) and no scanner, I can’t really show them around. But! I decided I’d break out my new tablet yesterday and went on a giant people-watching-café-sitting drawing spree, and I thought I’d include a couple in the blog. These are a little rough—I have yet to find out how my tablet actually works, but they were pretty fun and quick to do…

Jessica and I decided that the 2000’s have yet to come to Saarbrücken. Thus, you see a lot of 90’s hairstyles. I’ve never seen such impressive hair in my life… And I lived in PORTLAND.

Anyway, signing off for now. I’m off to Austria this weekend for a quick visit to Salzburg and then orientation and I’m off to Klagenfurt! Fingers crossed!

Bis bald!

-Becca

Are you there blog? It’s me, Mary.

The last week and a half has been an absolute whirlwind. My body has finally de-jet-lagged and my things are finally out of my suitcases and into real shelves. Folding will come later, laundry will come later, decorating will come later. Right now, it’s just awesome to be here. Here. Vienna. I live in Vienna now. Is this real life? 

It was so nice to travel around in Salzburg before heading here– except for the dialect. Holy dialect, Batman. I think sophomore year, I was just horrible enough at German to not have any expectation of understanding, and therefore I expected to feel lost and have to nod along smiling to a lot of things. I’m really glad I got here early though just to get back into the rhythm of adjusting to being immersed in German. Today, I ordered my food completely in German and was very proud of myself (it’s the little things, right?).

And now, I’m in Vienna. Wooooahhhhh. Vienna is massive. My previous trips here have all been short and packed full of activities so I almost didn’t even understand just how BIG the city is here. And it is so so different from Salzburg. I think that’s more difficult to adjust to than it being different from America. Until this year, when someone said Austria, my main reference point was Mozartsgeburtsort (check that homemade compound noun). Vienna feels so much more cosmopolitan and European than that. I think it will grow on me once I get more adjusted.

My apartment is in a really cool neighborhood and the apartment itself is pretty nice. Another nice thing about Vienna is that there are so many TAs here, I have already met some people and that makes the city feel a little less daunting. The downside to that is how easy it is to speak English here. I really want to verbessern my German so hopefully, once I feel a little more settled, I’ll be ready to take some initiative and sprechen. My mentor for my school offered me some work as a babysitter for his kids so that should be a fun way to not only start my contact with Austrians, but improve my German. Luckily, I feel like the GSSOP gave me some great vocab for working with Kindern. 

Well, this post was not nearly as full of wit and humor as I was planning. Apologies all around, I’ll work on it. Oh, yesterday I had to chase a pigeon out of my apartment. Picturing that image is hopefully good enough for a chuckle. 

Favorite German word of the moment: knusper

Love,

Mary

Ich bin schon da! (Jessica)

Hello fellow adwenturers!

I’ve actually been in Saarbrücken since last Tuesday, but interenet access has been VERY hard to come by. Trying to describe everything that’s happened so far would take a novel-length post, so here are some highlights/random observations/bits of (dubious) wisdom from the last week:

• I don’t know about everyone else, but for me the entire month of August was pretty much one long cycle of panic – sleepless nights – resolution – new crisis – repeat. Finding housing was SUCH a stressful process, and then there was the whole realization of “Heiliege Scheiße, I’m actually moving to Germany for a year, and this time I won’t be living with 39 friends!” I think the only thing that kept me from turning into a completely neurotic mess was the fact that Becca came to stay with my family in Sunnyvale for the week before we left for Germany. Playing tourist around the bay area gave me something else to think about, and long, busy days left me exhausted enough to actually get some sleep.

• I have decided that 9 hours is pretty much my absolute limit for sitting in one place (particularly in an environment that sounds like the inside of a vacuum cleaner). Unfortunately, the flight was eleven hours.

• Judging a country (and your ability to function successfully in it) based on the airport you land in is NOT a good idea. Airports are so busy and frantic and overwhelming that the simple act of trying to buy a Sprite can cue a mini-panic attack (WHAT am I doing here? I do NOT have the German for this! YES, impatient businessman behind me, I KNOW you’re in a rush, but I’m trying here, OK?!) My advice to international travelers everywhere: Take a deep breath, get out of the airport, and interact with real people in a calmer setting before you start to panic about your language skills. Getting some sleep doesn’t hurt, either.

• The accent/dialect here isn’t as strong as people made it sound. A young-ish couple sitting next to us on the train from the airport pretty much laughed and said what I’d be learning in Saarbrücken can’t really be called German, but I haven’t found the German here THAT different (although the first person I talked to on the train from the airport did have me worried – he sounded like he had a large wad of gum in either side of his mouth, and I caught MAYBE one word in five). For the most part, though, it’s been fine. Definitely different than Austrian German, but not too hard to follow. The “ch” sound is definitely much softer here,though, and they have a tendency to mash their words together, so it took me a while to figure out that what sounds like “Braushie nochwas” probably means “Brauchen Sie noch ‘was?”.

• I’m really enjoying Saarbrücken so far – it’s definitely not a huge city, and not as picturesque as some areas, but it’s at least big enough that there are things to do in the evenings and you don’t feel like everyone is constantly minding each other’s business. The area where I actually live is a bit….let’s go with uninspiring, shall we? But the apartment itself is really nice (even if it does kind of smell like a giant ash tray) and the bus stop is right around the corner, so I should be fine. There’s a square downtown that I really like, although I don’t think the locals quite understand our love of European cafés. I’ve tried to explain that there is really NO equivalent where I’m from, but they still don’t seem to get why I’m quite so content café hopping practically every day. There’s also a really nice park area along the river, with a pretty fantastic-looking Biergarten, that I need to make the most of while the weather stays nice.

• Dealing with the practical aspects of moving to a new country (cell phones, apartment contracts, bank accounts, getting internet set up) has been rather interesting. I suspect my landlords think I’m a bit slow, since our meeting to go over my contract was FULL of “Wie, bitte?”s and baffled smiles. But I successfully agreed to only beat my rugs between 8:00 and 12:00 and 2:00 and 6:00. I also tried to ask my landlady if she knew where I could buy some opaque curtains (since I wasn’t particularly interested in sleeping/changing in front of transparent curtains, especially since my apartment’s on the ground floor and the bedroom window looks onto the street) and she looked at me like I was a complete idiot until she realized that I didn’t realize the windows had blinds. Turns out I have these massive wooden numbers that completely block out any trace of light in the room. Becca and I are now pretty much incapable of drawing the blinds at night without yelling, “Close the blast doors!”

• I really don’t get it: What do the Germans have against window screens? I’m supposed to open all the windows at least once a day to keep the apartment from getting moldy, but we’ve spent the last few days being eaten alive by mosquitoes, and I do NOT want them in my apartment.

• At this rate, I’ll consider it a victory if I make it a week without burning the place down. I tried to make pasta on what I THOUGHT were hotplates underneath the lid on the top of the oven – these round burner things with a cutesy duck pattern on them. I put the water on to boil, and a few minutes later was like, “Uh, Becca? Does it smell like burning plastic to you?” Turns out the ducks are these little tin caps (whose purpose I completely fail to understand) that go over the actual burners, and you’re supposed to take them off before you turn on the stove. So now I have a very charred ducky stove cap and still have not figured out what to tell the landlord. And here I was hoping that being a low-maintenance tenant would make up for my lack of German. Ugh.

• On a more positive note, I’ve now been to both schools, and met both of my Betreeungslehrerinnen, and I’m SO glad I did. One of them did a similar teaching assistant program in Wales, so she is VERY understanding of how overwhelming everything is at first, and the other one is SUPER bubbly and friendly (and speaks English with a Georgian accent!). They were both really nice and welcoming, and SO helpful with things like advice about setting up a bank account and offering to go with me to the visa office. Visiting the schools really helped me feel a lot less lost, and kind of reminded me that there’s a reason I’m here, and I’m not just going to be kicking around the city by myself all year. I had a chance to meet some of the other English teachers at both schools, and they all seemed really nice as well, so for the moment I’m feeling pretty optimistic.

• I was actually pretty surprised that there wasn’t more of a culture shock with the schools. Especially after spending time in France, where the high school I visited felt very institutional, I was expecting German schools to be a little more…well, stereotypically German. We’ll see how it is when I’m actually in the classroom, but what from what I’ve seen of the schools so far, they both seem pretty much like any American high school I’ve been to. I thought it was interesting that one of the English teachers who had gone to high school in the US said that if anything, American high schools were actually much stricter (she mentioned that things like dress codes and hall passes were totally weird for her).

Well, so much for trying to keep this reasonably short. Hope everyone else is doing well, and looking forward to seeing everyone soon!

~Jessica

New Post – Jason

September 5th, 2012

I would call today another excellent day. It started off sunny, then slowly clouded over. I was pleased that my Oregon senses still worked in Germany, as I called that rain was approaching at about 3pm, and it started sprinkling at 6pm. I also chalk up part of that victory to my surgically repaired knee. Mutant powers baby. Today my main goal was to find the Altenburg, or just essentially the one old castle in Bamberg. Actually, let me back up, since I didn’t write about yesterday.

Yesterday I had grand plans to find the Bamberg historical museum, and then attend the local pro basketball team’s home opener that evening. When I got to the museum, I promptly waltzed in before the lady at the front desk told me I had to pay (fair enough; I’m not sure why I expected it to be free. This is unlike the bathrooms near the Dom, where they had an attendant that you had to pay. I refused, on principal. It was certainly a mental warning, though, that it would be worthwhile to carry a few coins around in my money pouch).

The museum, however, consisted of quite literally two things: porcelain and cutlery (yes, knives, spoons and forks). I had expected more from a museum with “history” in its name, but we’ll get to that in a second. (Actually now: it turns out there is another more traditional museum in Bamberg I have yet to attend.) This museum was small, but quite well presented. The porcelain was beautiful, and some of the placards were even in English so I got the gist of what went on. Essentially one of the European guys of the area became obsessed with Chinese porcelain, and commanded his alchemists to learn the secret of how to make it.

The lower level was, without exception, spoons, knives and forks. Again, there were some really cool ones. I think the ones that stuck out most to me were the ones with gold. Call me a gold-digger (ha ha) but honestly for as far back as I can remember, real, genuine gold has always enraptured me. I can tell real gold from this modern fake stuff from a mile away. The plaques also had some information – it was a long time until silverware really caught on, with one king even having been known to chide his wife and children for using forks instead of their fingers like civilized people were supposed to. It’s fascinating how times change like that.

After that, I poked around the courtyard in front of the Dom more, as I had found out that it actually extended much farther back. Coming from an American perspective, yes, it’s great to look at, but in all honestly it mostly paled in comparison to the other things that I have seen. It was mainly just a bunch of cobblestone, and some pretty flowers.

As a side note related to the Dom’s courtyard, I love the panorama setting on my new camera. You just click the button once, move the camera in the direction you have specified for as much distance as you want, and it automatically stitches the photos together in an awesome panorama. This is dangerous, as it only encourages me to take more pictures. I definitely take after my mom in that regard. I think I may actually take more pictures than her, to be honest.

The basketball arena was on the east side of town. I stopped at Aldi’s (a discount grocery store with somewhat of a presence in America as well) to pick up a prepaid sim card for my phone. I had done extensive research, and to be honest there were no real best options, but Aldi’s seemed like the best. I searched the entire store, and could not find any sim cards. I did another lap. No luck. So, I had to bite the bullet, and put my German skills to use as best as I could, and asked a young lady who was stocking the shelves if they had any. This interaction was one of my better ones; I mostly understood her and she likewise, enough for me to learn that she did not know and to ask the cashier.

Thus, I went to the long line at the front of the store, with nothing on the conveyor belt, and eventually came face to face with the all-business cashier. My initial request went fine, but after that there was much confusion, with me very much aware of the huge line behind me, before I think I understood enough to have her add 15 euros of credit onto the ten that the starter pack came with, since the plan I want costs 20 a month. I then realized I had no bag, so I jammed the starter pack into my shorts pocket, realized the basketball game was close to starting, and hurried off in that direction.

And thus occurred my first true fail of the trip: I couldn’t find the arena. Kind of. Since I was coming from Aldi, I had to go a less straightforward direction to get to the arena. I definitely missed a turn or three, and my master plan to just spot the arena from a distance and head there did not work at all. I mean, you can see the Rose Garden from miles away, but I guess not German basketball league stadiums that only hold 6,000 people. On top of this, the part of town I was in was eerily empty / quiet. I didn’t like it. It also was definitely more run down, with more than one sex shop passed. Realizing that even if I could find the arena, I would have to walk back through this same area when it was dark, I cut my losses, and tried to head back home. I got even more lost, but I have an offline map of all of Germany on my phone, so one quick check to that pointed me on the right direction. Once I can get to the river, if I follow that, it will take me almost directly to my apartment.

Once I was walking along the river, on a path that reminded me a lot of the Greenway path near my house, I was still shocked at how empty everything was. There were volleyball pits, picnic benches, teeter totters, playgrounds, grassy knolls, etc. scattered along this river path, but it was nearly entirely empty. I feel like in America you’d at least see a few families on the playgrounds, some pickup sports games going on, and a plethora of joggers. For whatever reason, that was not the case here, even though it was a gorgeous, warm, summer evening.

Sleeping last night went a little better; I am still in shock at how much this jet lag / time change business has been affecting me. I have also started a body weight exercise program (with the help of Alex) so hopefully that tires me out at the proper times.

Hmmm. Well that was only yesterday’s stuff, and that was way longer than anticipated. I’ll keep today’s short. My one goal was to find Altenburg, and I found it. I had to make a few lucky turns in the old town inner city, but eventually got to the road I needed. From my place, it was a 2.5 mile walk, entirely uphill. As I’m sure they were more than aware of this, there were frequent benches along the path.

Anyways, long story short, I really enjoyed the castle. It actually felt like a real castle, with the towers and walls and spy holes in the walls. The best part was certainly the view, though. It was incredible. Absolutely incredible. The pictures and panoramas (some of which I uploaded in my album) do the actual view maybe 10% justice. Maybe 10%. I spent a lot of time just looking, which is one of the things I am most glad about having nearly an entire year over here for. At least here in my own city, I see no need to rush things, so I can enjoy it all very thoroughly.

After that, I went home, as I had to get grocery shopping in before the store near me closed, and my first blister was in full development. I love the grocery store near me – the fifteen second walk is rather convenient, as I have to carry everything in a bag. I also am a big fan of the couple who run it. I think they are the people I most enjoy practicing my German with, as they talk slow enough for me, and also don’t know too much English so I can’t cop out and try to use English. Today the husband was, if I am understanding correctly, telling me about a local tradition where they go up on hills on sunny days and drink beer. If I got all of that correct, it sounds like a pretty good tradition to me. But to wrap up, I got groceries, came home, exercised, made spaghetti, showered and am now sitting on my bed typing this.

I have the NFL opener to look forward to tonight. Just because I am in Europe does not mean I won’t follow my sports. I do have my fantasy league to win, after all. Last but not least, random observation for the day: the cereal I bought today (think a cross between oatmeal and Coco Crisps) has real bits of chocolate mixed in. I approve.

-Jason