October – “Childhood”

I called the first month of my journey “infancy” for its terrifying, yet awe-inspiring nature. That makes October the “childhood” stage. -Not quite so unfamiliar, but still pretty… Scary. Awkward. Unstable. Childhood is about growth and discovery, no longer being content to crawl around on all fours. No, I’m ready to stand. Ready to walk alone. Actually, I want to get there faster. I want to feel the rush of adrenaline racing through my veins. I want to run. (And this is where we use the more adult term: frustrated aspirations.) I’m moving forward, but at a snail’s pace. I get two steps forward only to fall flat on my face. Still, I relish the successes. Try to shake off the defeats. October was the “acquiring basic skills” stage of living and working in Germany. I had lots of ideas and enthusiasm, but I didn’t know how I was going to make any of these ideas work. Here are the highlights from October:

1. I finally got a valid ticket for the HVV Gesamtbereich (That’s about 50 kilometers in every direction from the center of Hamburg). Translation: I was no longer restricted to spending my free days in Buxtehude. I could go to the city with friends and enjoy the night life. FREEDOM!!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014 at 2:35pm UTC+02

My golden ticket is finally valid! 😀

2. No more bumming around at home on the weekends. There’s a world out there waiting to be discovered.

Thursday, October 2, 2014 at 6:29pm UTC+02

Feeling on top of the world! Tomorrow is German Unity Day. Every year, there’s a huge, official festival for this holiday in one of the state capitals. This year, it just so happens to be in Hannover -the capital of the state in which I’m living! Pink is going to perform and Angela Merkel is supposed to show up at some point. I’m completely stoked! Oktoberfest is in full swing. Even in my tiny, northern town of Buxtehude, there will be a celebration. And Hofbräu München beer is delicious. O’zapft is! Sunday I get to be thankful that I’ve been alive and well for 23 years (knock on wood). Okay, 23 actually sounds like another awkward age to be honest, but hopefully I’ll manage to make it look competent, independent and graceful. 23… that’s a prime number. …I’m in the prime of my life. There we go. See? – I saved it already. 😛 Also, I just booked my flight to Stockholm! I’m going there in November with a few of my fellow Fulbrighters. Life is good!

3. And on October 5, I turned 23 years old. It was a quiet, relaxing day. I spent some time at the mini Oktoberfest in Buxtehude, feeling blessed to be young and living in Germany. And I do NOT apologize for cutting my own hair. 🙂

4. I was having fun with my students.

Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 7:51pm UTC+02

I’ve been given the task to play games with my 8th graders next week. I think I want to play “Mafia” with them. Can anyone give me some funny death scene scenarios? 🙂

5. I started exploring other activities in the Volkshochschule and was especially pleased to meet other travelers.

Sunday, October 12, 2014 at 3:15pm UTC+02

Went to a salsa workshop this morning. This beautiful Venezuelan woman was my teacher. I never would have guessed that she’s 52 years old!

6. I was really falling in love with this country and all that it offers.

Monday, October 13, 2014 at 1:15pm UTC+02

Debating whether to do my master’s in Germany or somewhere else. I have to say, the free tuition makes it pretty tempting.

7. I took care of some international bureaucratic obligations with the help of my dear family in Florida.

Saturday, October 18, 2014 at 3:51pm UTC+02

Yay, my loans have been successfully deferred! Thank you, Congress, for lowering the interest on them!

8. The strike ruined my plans to go to Bremen, but it turned out to have a silver lining.

Saturday, October 18, 2014 at 9:46pm UTC+02

I was sad because the Bahn strike messed up my plans to go to Bremen today, but then I found a genuine Italian ice cream parlor right here in Buxtehude. So my day just got a little bit better.

9. I continued exploring the other cities in my state.

Monday, October 20, 2014 at 12:48am UTC+02

I went to Cuxhaven today -the city that is bordered by both the North Sea and the Elbe. I didn’t make it to the beach but I did see the harbor and ate some yummy fish. Hopefully it won’t rain so much next time.

10. I started doing something I’d been wanting to do for a long time, but never had the money to do before. -I bought a guitar and found a teacher! That glorious moment of self-actualization is one of the most beautiful feelings in the world. Being myself – my REAL self. Learning and growing and being high on life.

Monday, October 20, 2014 at 6:48pm UTC+02

How did life get this awesome for me?! I’m doing everything I’ve always wanted to do and more. 🙂

11. And I discovered the joys of working with children and getting to know their quirks and personalities. My 8th graders were the hardest to manage, but so endearing! I found myself getting attached to them and started calling them “my kids.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 at 2:35pm UTC+02

I told my kids that if they did their activity quickly, we would play a game. I wanted to play “Heads Up” with them (you know, the Ellen Degeneres version). They were actually pretty good at it but after 5 minutes they got really bored and practically begged me to let them play Simon Says. Who knew Simon Says could be such a fun game for 13 year olds?

12. While I was enjoying Germany, life went on as normal in Florida, and sometimes I got the feeling that I was missing out on some things.

Thursday, October 23, 2014 at 9:13pm UTC+02

People who have visited my alma mater while I was abroad: Jane Goodall, President Barack Obama, Sir Paul McCartney. Why couldn’t you wait until I got back? ;_;

13. But I didn’t feel too bad. What can I say? -I love my job!

Friday, October 24, 2014 at 1:10pm UTC+02

Feeling on top of the world! 😀 Over a year ago, before I even submitted my Fulbright application, I thought about how I would motivate my students to speak. Today I got to test out some of those ideas and it went *amazingly* well. Hands shooting up, eager to speak, stumbling over vocabulary, but pleased that they were able to get the message across in the end. I’m a little sad that today was my last day with the 8th graders but excited to get to know the 9th and 12th graders in two weeks. Now to start enjoying my Fall Break and get ready to go to Sweden. 🙂

14. The life of a Fulbrighter is a good life indeed! And I’m proud of my Fulbright family and everything it accomplishes.

Friday, October 24, 2014 at 7:45pm UTC+02

#Fulbright has received the Prince of Asturias Award! So proud to be a current Fulbrighter in Germany, and to have studied abroad in Oviedo, Asturias through #RollinsCollege. Watch the ceremony live here. #PrinceAsturiasAwards #premiosprincipe

http://www.fpa.es/multimedia-en/streaming-2014-prince-of-asturias-awards-ceremony.html En español: http://www.rtve.es/noticias/premios-principe-de-asturias/directo/

15. And after two and a half months of living in Germany, I got the green to make this place my home for another 9 months.

Friday, October 31, 2014 at 12:34am UTC+01

I got my Aufenthaltserlaubnis today (my German residence permit!) I’m officially not a tourist anymore. 😀

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August and September – “Infancy”

Well, it’s January. 2015. I’ve been living and working as a Fulbrighter in Germany for a little over four months now -and I still haven’t figured out how to navigate this blogging site adequately enough to make regular posts. (Facebook is just so much more user-friendly!) So this is my attempt at redeeming myself. This is for the people who want to know what’s going on in my life, but don’t have a Facebook account – I care about you too and thank you for your support!

Ah “infancy” – the first stage of life. Everything is new. Everything is mysterious and wonderful and awe-inspiring, and to be honest, sometimes absolutely terrifying. Here are my experiences as an “infant” Fulbrighter.

1. I finally caught up with my peers in the 21st century:

Thursday, August 21, 2014 at 6:24pm UTC+02

Hey everyone, I’m in Germany! Trying to figure out how to use my new phone (my first smart phone!). At least I’ve figured out how to use the camera.

2. I started doing as the Germans do:

Saturday, August 23, 2014 at 4:50pm UTC+02

I’m having the coolest first week in Germany! The Schulleiterin of the school where I’ll be working picked me up from the train station and housed me for a few days. We cooked, played games, went to the store, picked apples and plums from the trees in her backyard, got ice cream and ate it in the rain. She took me to get registered with the city, get my cell phone, and move into my house. My landlady and housemates are also really nice. I’m already finding my way around and feeling really comfortable. I can tell I’m going to be really happy here. 🙂

3. I learned that the city in which I would live, Buxtehude, is famous throughout Germany as the village in which the story of “der Hase und der Igel” (the hare and the hedghog) takes place.

4. I played tourist in the closest big city, Hamburg, with a former German Fulbrighter and old friend. I saw the largest miniature train set in the world.

5. I missed some of the superficial pleasures of the ‘States.

Monday, August 25, 2014 at 11:57pm UTC+02

Okay if people don’t stop posting about pumpkin spice flavored everything, I’m going to lose my mind. I don’t even know where to find it in Germany. #Ineedmycoffeefix #Thecravingsarereal #Yesthehashtagsarenecessary

6. …and took advantage of some uniquely European delights.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014 at 8:23pm UTC+02

I went for my first jog in Buxtehude today and I didn’t even break a sweat! It was a lovely 65 degrees. Ah summer. 🙂

7. I tried my best to be aware and stay connected to all that was going on in America:

Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 8:55pm UTC+02

I had to wait for a sunny day to do this. 😛 I want to thank Schroeder Decker for nominating me to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and I would like to nominate Jordan Rickman, Kaitlyn Richert, and Candy Wright to do the same. 🙂 #ALS #IceBucketChallenge

8. …while exploring and trying to find my niche in my new home.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 10:46pm UTC+02

A German couple approached me to ask for directions to the train station (Bahnhof). I’ve been in Buxtehude for fewer than 2 weeks, but I didn’t have any problem directing them – and in German! I felt so proud. 😀

Friday, August 29, 2014 at 11:10pm UTC+02

Princess Christine Dickens likes Buxtehude, Malerschule Buxtehude, Kampfsportschule Buxtehude, Joy Fitness Buxtehude, Buxtehuder Tanzschule, C.Veglison and Buxtehuder Sicherheitsdienst OHG.

Sunday, August 31, 2014 at 5:25pm UTC+02

Oktoberfest is coming. They’re selling dirndls here in just about every clothing store and they’re only 25-40€. So tempting.

9. Soon it was time to go to Orientation and I found that I was missing America more than I had expected.

Monday, September 1, 2014 at 8:00am UTC+02

I’m on my way to Cologne for Fulbright orientation! I can’t believe how excited I am to see some of my compatriots after only two weeks in Germany. There’s this little voice inside saying, “Yes! FINALLY someone who will understand my jokes!”

At Orientation I learned how to carry out all my duties as a temporary resident of Germany – how to open a bank account, how to apply for a residence permit, how to complete my enrollment in the university, how to use my German health insurance, etc. I also got to know many of my fellow Fulbrighters and participated in a teacher training workshop.

10. I spent the last week of my summer vacation exploring and trying things I never imagined myself doing. I worked in my garden. I cooked food without any cans or use of the microwave. I went climbing on a “Hochseilgarten” (a suspended ropes course), and developed a taste for… beer!

Saturday, September 6, 2014 at 10:46pm UTC+02

Bitburger is actually pretty good!

11. I got to meet my colleagues and was delighted by the warm reception.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014 at 5:49pm UTC+02

I had my first teacher meeting today! They gave all the newcomers a sunflower. 😀

Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 11:23pm UTC+02

I’ve already been mentioned in the school newsletter (way at the bottom)! My first day of observation is tomorrow!! 😀 http://www.gymnasium-harsefeld.de/index.php/118-news/647-personelle-veraenderungen-am-agg-zum-schuljahresbeginn

12. I discovered the joys and challenges of living with flatmates. (And yes, I shamelessly employ the British term now!)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014 at 11:00pm UTC+02

Okay, I need to take a minute and just say that I AM SO BLESSED to be where I am. I just spent over an hour chatting and laughing (hysterically) with my roommates over Abendbrot and I feel amazing. All 5 of them are so easy to live with, it’s ridiculous. I never imagined that having roommates could be so much fun. 🙂 Now I just have to enjoy/appreciate it before the new one comes in a month. I’m hoping it will be a blessing in disguise. (Eeek!)

13. And then it was time to start working. I would have to commute every day – a combination of bus, train, and walking – 1 hour there and 1.5 hours back! At first I found everything exciting.

Friday, September 12, 2014 at 7:17am UTC+02

I’m on the train that will take me to work and there are so many tiny children around! This is so different from a yellow school bus!

Monday, September 15, 2014 at 8:04am UTC+02

Der Zug faellt aus. My train was canceled! All the kids around me are celebrating. We are all going to be so late and it’s 100% excused.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 at 12:39pm UTC+02

Feeling so pumped! It’s only Tuesday and I already got to talk about how private gun ownership is deeply rooted in American history AND “The American Dream”. I’m trying to be as objective as possible in my explanations so that the kids don’t think all Americans feel the same way about these topics. It’s so much fun and the kids are really clever. 🙂

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 at 10:14pm UTC+02

I had my first day of teaching today! Six hours. And because I’m mostly in charge of 8th graders right now, I actually just taught the exact same lesson six times in a row. It was kind of exhausting but still rewarding. I could see some of the kids’ faces light up when I told them they did a good job in explaining a concept in English. I hope I can make all of my kids feel that way by the end of my time with them. 🙂 ❤

14. But I soon found out that middle-school aged children are difficult to manage, especially when you’re 22 and are expected to be the authority figure.

Friday, September 26, 2014 at 2:34pm UTC+02

Well, my first week of teaching concluded with a test of my patience and creativity. After teaching all week with mostly sweet, docile children, my last class of 13-year-olds just wouldn’t pay attention. After a few rounds of “shhhh, listen up, you guys” I finally had to take a moment and very seriously tell them that it’s rude to talk while I’m talking and that they had to work faster in class to finish their worksheet or they would have to finish it for homework. And that got them quiet really fast. 😛 Geez, I didn’t want to seem like the “bad guy” but they have to respect me. And to be honest, I didn’t want them to have homework either.

15. And being stuck in my tiny village without having made any friends, I began to feel a little dispirited. And yet, I never lost my optimism!

Saturday, September 20, 2014 at 11:59pm UTC+02

It’s only been about a month since I got here, and I’ve already fallen into a bit of a funk. -.- My university classes don’t start for another 3 weeks, which means I have to wait 3 more weeks in order to:

-travel for free (out of Buxtehude to a bigger city where there’s actually something to do. And let’s face it, train tickets are expensive)

-take classes and meet new people (…friends?)

-visit my fellow Fulbrighters

The good news is that I’ve found a silver lining in this, namely, that I’m learning more about myself and what I want. I know now that I don’t like living in a small town. 😛 It’s just too boring and lonely. I need some life and energy!

16. But once I got out of the house a little, things started looking up again.

Monday, September 22, 2014 at 4:29pm UTC+02

I’m going to see a French movie in the theater tonight! 🙂 “Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu?” It’ll be dubbed in German, but I’m really excited to see a movie that probably won’t even make it into an American theater. I like French movies.

Sunday, September 28, 2014 at 3:09am UTC+02

Li and I went to a mini Oktoberfest in Hamburg. It was a blast and the beer was the best I’ve ever had. 🙂 Prost!

Monday, September 29, 2014 at 12:12am UTC+02

Eins kann mir keiner nehmen…! 😀

“Eins kann mir keiner nehmen …und das ist die pure Lust am Leben!” (There is one thing that no one can take from me -and that is the pure joy I feel in living!)

Why Am I Here and What Am I Doing?

Recently, a conversation with an old friend of mine brought it to my attention that my online presence does not completely explain how or why I’ve been traveling around Europe over the past two and a half years. After a superficial run-through of my Facebook page, one might even get the impression that I’m living some kind of fantasy never-ending vacation. Well it’s time to set the record straight! Also, please check out the very relevant acknowledgement at the end of this post. Okay, here we go!

English Teaching Assistant (ETA)

That’s my job title. I’m helping to teach English as a Foreign Language to German high school students. While that seems simple enough, it’s not my only reason for being here.

Fulbright*

(*Disclaimer: My words do not necessarily express the views and opinions of the Fulbright association or U.S. government.)

The Fulbright Program is a competitive, merit-based scholarship for international exchange sponsored by the U.S. government (Although the program exists in other countries and is co-funded by various ministries of education). It was created by senator J. William Fulbright shortly after the end of WWII in an effort to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” If you want, you can check out their website.

In other words, while I am teaching English to German kids, the primary duty of my job is to learn more about Germany while fostering understanding about American values among Germans. I am essentially a cultural ambassador. I am here to encourage peace and understanding. I am here to leave good vibes.

So while it would seem like I’m having an awesome vacation (don’t get me wrong, it definitely feels like that 99% of the time), I’m also keenly aware of the importance of my program and the duties it entails.

How I can afford to travel and “A Worry-Free Year”

For those of you with whom I haven’t spoken since high school, the short story is that shortly after starting college in 2010, I realized I had a passion for learning languages. And I wasn’t so bad at it either. For this reason, I redirected my whole course of study toward modern languages and arranged to study abroad twice – one semester in Germany and one semester in Spain. I was able to travel during my time abroad using discount airlines. While I consider these experiences to be invaluable, I do have some student loan debt from the tuition costs of my 4-year degree.

For my current program, Fulbright paid for my flight and is providing me with a stipend that covers all of my living expenses. Other expenses, such as traveling and cultural activities, have to come of out pocket. For most participants, this is no problem –they simply work as much as they can the summer before departure from the US and then take up a small tutoring job when they arrive for extra cash.

I, on the other hand, had some special circumstances at home, namely that I’m one of the main providers for my family, and had a not-so-brief scare about how I was going to leave the country for an extended period of time when my family had to – ahem – pay the mortgage. This is where the “A Worry Free Year” project came into play. An extremely caring and dedicated group of individuals came together for me just a few months before my departure to help raise money for both my family and my extra expenses in Germany. So now I get to pursue my passion and my family won’t lose the house.

To that team of selfless, hard-working individuals I would like to express my utmost gratitude. You have truly been the most wonderful blessing of my life thus far! I would now like to mention all of those who were part of this team by name (and please, if I forgot anyone, let me know and I will add your name to the list):

Ruth Jackson, aka “Auntie Ruth” – My work-study supervisor and part-time life coach. Thank you for caring so much about my family and helping me follow my dreams!

Dr. Jay – My scholarship advisor for Fulbright. Thank you for being such an incredible source of direction and encouragement since I started at Rollins. There’s no way I would have gotten the scholarship without you.

Dr. Decker and Anna Lohaus – My German teachers who helped me to discover my love for languages in general (and not just Spanish). Herzlichen Dank, dass Sie mich zum Kaffeeklatsch eingeladen haben, als ich ein Freshman war!

Ana Bugallo – Director of my program when I studied abroad in Spain. Thank you for writing such an awesome letter of recommendation y por las aventuras inolvidables en tu hermoso país.

Ashley Graham – Who was my manager at McDonald’s for the longest time, ever since I was first hired at the age of sixteen. Thank you for writing a winning letter of recommendation, even though you were tired and short on time, and thank you for the sweet memories working in the fast food industry.

Sheri Kebbel (of Say True Films), Joe Tamborello, Jamie Cricks, Chris Cruz, Matt Lynn, and Craig Stottle – Who volunteered their time and expertise to make a professional documentary (which was later shared by Wesh2 News!). Thank you for giving me a voice and helping me to tell my story.

John Rivers – Thank you for employing my little brother at your restaurant. Watching him grow and thrive after working there has been a blessing in itself. Thank you especially for the advice you gave me about reaching my goals in life and for the personal words of encouragement. The story of how you grew up and made it to where you are today is an inspiration and I hope to have such an amazing story someday as well!

Vivianna Lopez, Morgan Knox, and everyone at Synergy – Thank you for your financial services and moral support.

Thank you to The Nation Law Firm for representing my mother in her case for social security disability. Thank you for helping her to finally see a doctor and get the paperwork she needs to prove her disability.

Thank you to Mr. Bailey and The Bailey Fischer Law Firm for allowing the team to use your office and for the constant support.

Thank you to my aunts and uncles for stepping in to help when my family needed it the most. Thank you for supporting my interests and sharing in the excitement of my adventures abroad. Thank you especially, Aunt Mary and Uncle Joe, for getting (my friends and) me into Disney World 1,439,046,579 times last year.

Thank you to my three brothers and mother for working hard and holding together as a family through every hardship and obstacle. (Things are finally looking up for us, and we’re getting closer with every step!)

Most of all, I want to thank Fay Pappas for organizing the GoFundMe, gathering all the resources we needed, and leading the entire “A Worry-Free Year” team. Fay, I am forever indebted to you for the kindness you’ve shown! It was your unyielding diligence and heart of gold that really made this project a success. Thank you for listening to my story and for helping me to tell it, for staying up all night to help edit the documentary, for every word of encouragement, for every late-night pep-talk, for holding my hand through it all (often literally). Thank you for empowering me, for believing in me, and for helping me to follow my dreams. I hope to pay it forward in as many ways as humanly possible.

Yours truly,

Princess Christine Dickens

Buxtehude! – Oh dear. Gesundheit! Bless you, child.

Today is Wednesday, August 27, 2014. It’s hard to believe that an entire week has passed since I arrived in the city that I’m about to call home for the next eleven months. It’s already becoming difficult to remember the fears and expectations I had about moving here, apart from the weather of course. I remember telling myself “It’s going to be cold” as I wiped sweat from my brow in the sweltering heat of my living room in Casselberry, Florida, “I hate cold.” Incidentally, it’s also summer here in Buxtehude. But summer is a different concept when you add 25 degrees to your latitude coordinate. By the way, you may be wondering where Buxtehude is in the first place. Don’t be embarrassed to not have known, dear reader, that Buxtehude is a small town of nearly 40,000 citizens, about 40 minutes west of Hamburg. It’s okay. It turns out that Germans don’t know where it is either. I’m told that there’s a saying in German for when someone mentions a city that no one has heard of. The conversation would sound something like this:

Saskia: Where did you say we were going to have orientation?

Katja: We’re going to Maria in der Aue.

Saskia: Where?

Katja: Maria in der Aue.

Saskia: Maria in der… what? Buxtehude!

So yes, I apparently live in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, back to the weather. Right now, it’s nighttime and it’s a balmy 48 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Now you can imagine how I’m grinding my teeth in an attempt to hold back the sarcastic “isn’t summer wonderful” remarks. But to be fair, the cold, rainy weather really isn’t as bad as you would think, even if you are a native Floridian. I’d like to think of it as a lesson in seizing opportunities and living in the moment. My very first day in Germany was Tuesday, August 19. I had been traveling for more than 24 hours when I arrived at the train station in Stade to be picked up by the principal of the school where I’ll be working. She took me to her house, offered me some refreshments and immediately starting pushing me out the door. “Wouldn’t you like to go for a walk?” she urged, even as it drizzled rain in the fresh 65 degree weather outside. “Why not?” I thought. “Sleeping in the middle of the day won’t help my jet lag.” And as I trod the cobble stones down an old street in a fairytale village, a full, vibrant rainbow appeared across the sky in front of me. Now let it be known that I don’t like to think of myself as being superstitious, but I always take rainbows as a sign of good things to come. And I will take a chilly walk under a glittering rainbow any day over sleeping with the covers pulled over my head. (Oh, but if only I had had a camera there with me!) If there’s one piece of advice I could give to anyone who’s currently studying abroad, it would be this: Don’t sleep in. Go outside. Smile and talk to strangers. Live as much as you can! Or as one of last year’s Germany Fulbrighters would put it, “Say yes to everything!” (Thank you, Ryan Lambert.)

Now, for the sake of not writing too much on my first blog post, I would like to end it here with a giant   T H A N K   Y O U   to those who are reading this and please continue to follow me on my adventure. I will dedicate a later post to recognize all the incredible people who made this journey possible for me (AKA the “A Worry Free Year” team) as well as share with you the exciting aspects of culture I’m getting to experience first hand in this frigid, windy, rainy, beautiful country.