Monthly Archives: December 2014

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Hi.  My name is Anna and I am addicted to chocolate.

You see, it first started out small.  One Ferrero Rocher for an afternoon snack perhaps.  Then I moved to Germany and it turned into three or four or five pieces of chocolate for an afternoon snack with my cup of tea.  Now I’m eating chocolate before noon and in the afternoon and creeping out of my bed in the middle of the night for more chocolate.  I can’t seem to stop.

I’m ready for a chocolate purge.  Never thought I’d be saying that!  I have absolutely loved being in Germany this month, but I am ready to go home and away from the endless supply of chocolate, cheese, and bread.  One of the best parts of traveling is that it makes you appreciate what you would take for granted otherwise.

Oh what a month it has been!  I have learned and experienced and laughed so much.  I have been more uncomfortable than I ever have been before due to the fact that I have about the same ability as a small infant to communicate and am not nearly as adorable.    Many people asked me about the language barrier when they found out I was heading to Germany for a month.  Hah! I am completely capable of handling it, I confidently thought.  However, a semester spent studying in England and other trips in Spanish-speaking countries where I had some background of the language had in no way prepared me.  Working and living in a small town is completely different than being a tourist in a different country.  In the end, I can only look back and laugh at some of situations, frustrating as they might have been.

I apparently created my own bus route home.  I wondered why I was literally the only person on the bus for the last ten minutes.  When the bus driver spoke to me I just kept saying Nordkirchen and nodding my head.  This happened multiple times until it was finally communicated to me that I should go to the other bus stop.   Ah ha!

My taxi bus driver and I would have conversations in the morning where he spoke only in German and I spoke only in English and we think we understand each other.  For example:

Driver: “This ticket is not good for this week.”

Me:  “The family I’m staying with got this ticket for me.  I’m pretty sure it is good.”

Driver:  “No, look it ended last week.  You need a new ticket.”

Me:  “Oh, I see.  Well can I fix this tomorrow?  I really need to get to school.”

Driver:  “Sure, bring a new ticket tomorrow.”

Me: “Ok, cool thanks.”

One day, I was riding my bike and a man passed me saying, “It’s cold here!”

Oh my gosh, I understand what he said!  Somehow he knows I speak English just from seeing me on my bike. How cool!

“Yeah, it is,” I responded.

 I later told this story to a group of American and German teachers and discovered that “Es ist kalt hier” is really what the man said in German, which happens to sound very similar to “It’s cold here” in English.  Darn.  .

Just today I was shopping at the local store in my town.  I had a basket full of Spekulatius cookies (they are kind of like crunchy gingerbread cookies-I love them!) and a lady came up and asked, “Where did you get those biscuits?” looking at my basket.  Did she just speak in English to me or is this like the cold business, I wondered.  Nervous to open my mouth and prove myself the German fraud that I am, I jabbed my finger in the general direction and said “there” hoping I wasn’t coming across as too rude.

I am looking forward to coming back to a land of English where I will be able to laugh when other people laugh instead of sitting and blankly smiling.  This experience has given me such an appreciation for the ESL kids in school.  Probably most of the international student teachers put something like, “I want to see what it must feel like for the ESL students in school” when explaining their reasons for wanting to teach abroad.  It’s not possible to understand the level of discomfort that comes from being completely immersed in a different culture and language and until you experience it (and I was other English speaking teachers and student teacher!).  There are parts of this experience I will miss in a weird way.

I will miss my awkward climb into bed as I tilt my body in order to not hit my head on the slanted wall.

I will miss my runs to the castle where I would always see the same old man in the wheelchair doing exercises by the moat.

I will miss riding my bike despite the battles we fought.

I will miss the Christmas markets with all of their holiday festivity.

I will miss working with the other teachers, Sarah, in particular.

I will miss the perfect, dainty sized cups of coffee.

Nevertheless, independent Anna who can drive her own car and communicate with a cell phone and hold conversations is ready to be back!  Hallo, good ole’ USA!

My host sister, Anna, and her friend with cookies they brought up for me .  :)
My host sister, Anna, and her friend with cookies they brought up for me . 🙂

Hey, I just met you and this is crazy. But, here’s my profile, and can I stay with you maybe?

An Ode to Brussels:

So this is the story from A to Z of how Kathryn and I missed our first train, you see.

I’d love to keep this poem going, but this is a little difficult, just like disc throwing.

Ok, definitely time to stop now!

The trip to Brussels was eventful to say the least.  I learned the importance of checking tickets thoroughly, packing warm clothes, carefully reading station names, oh, and yeah, stayed at a stranger’s apartment (never fear, I’ll explain later!).

After enjoying a leisurely lunch after our first train ride, Kathryn and I go to the station to find where our train to Brussels departs.  The train leaves at 11:36, I am sure.  I pull out the ticket.  The train leaves at 11:17.  I look at my watch.  It reads 11:15.  We look at the confusing signs and take off running.  We stand there just as our train chugs away.

Finally, oh finally, after a series of sprints to buses and trains trying to navigate our way around Germany’s confusing transportation system (for example, we thought we had train tickets, but really it was train and bus tickets), we see the beautiful sign of Bruxelles.

Kathryn and I eagerly hop off the train into magical the land of waffles, chocolate, fries, and beer.

Hmm….Brussels is a little more ethnic than I was expecting.  The streets are crowded and dirty.  Doner Kebab places line the road.  Where is the chocolate and waffles?  Kathryn and I head in the general direction of a cathedral knowing that our train station is close to the Grand Place-the heart of Brussels and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We turn a corner and look up at a store window.  There is a scantily clad, voluptuous woman sitting there illuminated.  I look at the other side and down the street and window after window contains a live woman displayed for all to see.  I grab Kathryn’s arm, “Oh my gosh, Kat, we’re in the red light district!”  

It was shocking, it was sickening, and it was incredibly saddening.  I was not prepared for it.

We panic and try to get out of the area as quickly as possible.

We go to a hotel and ask the man working to show us where we are on the map.  He points to a spot.  “You’re here, next to  Brussels Nord Station.”

Uhh, oops!  Everything clicks together.  In (mainly mine) zealousness to not miss another stop, we had gotten off our train to soon.  We head back to the train station, wander around like the lost tourist that we are, and eventually make it to the right stop.

The day was not nearly over though.  We still had to meet Sarah and go to our hotel-which happened to be a stranger’s apartment.

Now I should probably explain before dear family and friends begin to question my sanity.  For this trip, I thought it would be fun to check out couchsurfing.  It is basically a network for travelers to host and be hosted by others, typically on their couch.  Couchsurfers create a profile about themselves and people can provide positive, neutral, or negative references of them as a guest or host.  Couchsurfing is not limited to only sleeping on somebody’s couch, but there are also many events for couchsurfers in the area.

Since there were three of us, I felt pretty confident about trying it, created a profile, and sent out my request.  Singapore raised, unicycling, juggling, UNO playing, swing dancing, Erbin responded and said that he could host Kathryn, Sarah, and me.  Better yet, he said that this was his girlfriend’s first time to ever host.  I messaged my couchsurfing expert friend, Kelly, for protocol tips, and accepted his couch.

Erbin and his German girlfriend, Andrea, were so incredibly kind to us and such talented, unique individuals.  Both nights Andrea made us tea and served as homemade German cookies as we talked and laughed and learned.  Erbin has a Ph.D. in computer science, for a hobby he has created an app for electronic sports (didn’t even know such a thing existed), is very involved in the dancing community (he showed us a video of somebody boogieing which made him decide that he wanted to play and dance like that), regularly plays the piano at a local bar, juggles, and can speak several languages.  Andrea discovered a passion for learning languages as a teenager and is fluent in many.  She met Erbin at a couchsurfing event where she asked to ride his unicycle and crashed.  Talk about a unique “this is how me met” story!  They dance together and Erbin even spent time looking up swing dancing places near me as they shared their love of dancing.

How enriching life is to meet and talk with different people and to learn about their passions!  I am reading The Once and Future King by T.H. White and Merlyn’s words to the future King Arthur struck me when he says, “You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds.  There is only one thing for it then–to learn….That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”

The experience reminded me of how much I love traveling, not so much for the places, although they are incredible, but for the people.  In Brussels, my favorite chocolate shop was one that sold the smallest pieces of chocolate because I could try an assortment of different flavors.  In Spain, I always hunted for tapas bars to try a variety of samples of local cuisine.  I realized that I love the little tastes of life that comes from brief encounters.  In one of my college English classes, we talked about the “catalog technique.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sherwood Anderson use this in their writing, and it is when an author gives a list to create a whole picture instead of deeply looking at one subject.    That is my love-snapshots of life.

Last year at this time, I realized a deep appreciation for the constant change and beauty that comes from backpacking.  This year I discovered an interest in couchsurfing.  There is something about briefly sharing life with a person that satisfies the wandering writer within me.

As for the rest of Brussels, it was a successful trip!  Kathryn and I were able to meet Sarah at her station with relatively little difficulty, and it was delightful to explore a culturally and architecturally rich city like Brussels.  Also, I’ll never forget walking down the road to Erbin and Andrea’s apartment the first night in Brussels and hearing Anna yelled from above.  Erbin happened to look out the window just as we walked past his place.  And the food,  oh heavens! At every street corner, you are assaulted by delicious smells (if you are in the right part of Brussles, that is).

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