Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ich küßte das Göttinger Gänseliesel

[ I kissed the Ganseliesel ]

Saying goodbye's are never something that I like, but they are a natural part of being an exchange student. When I first arrived in Germany, I never really anticipated making such great friends in one year. I was up for the challenge of moving to a college campus and studying in a new language, but with stress such as not even knowing in which city I would be living in, I accepted that finding friends would just come with time.

It is funny to look back now how naturally everything occurred. There was never one defining moment where I went and just found a group of friends to join - one by one everything fell together, and as trips, dinners together, classes together, going out on the weekends, even to mundane tasks of picking up groceries for each other, our friend base grew. Sure it sounds like a normal college experience. You know someone who knows two others, and your friend base grows - however there is something fascinating for me that the experience of having friends from Germans to Italians to Spaniards to Koreans all coming together and we would speak bad German, Choppy English, and most often "Dinglish" to get by - and this all became normalized.

It isn't until you step back and really take in the entire picture how incredible this is. These are people that become such a support base for you, and it isn't until the end that you realize that you have no appropriate way to say thank you.

Many students held big good bye bbq's or house parties when they were leaving, but I chose to stay a bit under the radar. I told many of my close friends just to come out to the city center at around 11 the last night I was in Göttingen and we would just sit away the hours together before I would bike home one last time and drive off to the airport to America.

It turned out to be exactly what I wanted and needed. The evening was perfect, and I don't think there is anything to capture how wonderful being in a European city is as a young adult than just sitting and taking in the entire scene around you with friends that made the year so incredible.

This year has been profoundly different for me from previous experiences abroad. Aside from it being longer, also being a 20 year old has made my perspectives different. We are all scared - it isn't just an American trait that we hit 20 and we have no idea how we are going to pull our life together that is expected of us in the next few years. All of us in our young 20's, school, family, apartments, traveling, keeping in touch, we talk about how it is going to all balance out - where our lives will all cross again.

My friends parted with me by giving me a fantastic book. Each page a dedication to a different friend, and their quirks that might drift away from my memory as years go on. There are far too many inside jokes to count, and a gross amount of invented slang that would only make sense to this group of friends - often mixing different languages into one big mess, but it was my first real gut realization that, cliche or not, my world had just immensely expanded. In one year, without even paying much mind, my international family now reaches to Madrid, Soeul, Ascoli Piceno, Budapest and many other corners of the world that I have yet to even step foot in, but I have people there that care about me.

Leaving Germany, I finally allowed myself to backtrack and review my blogposts and private journal writings. I always embraced the connections I was making in Germany and the great people I met around the country there I will keep in touch with, but the end of my stay proved to me that this year was much more than just Germany. I learned a new language, lived with different host families, made the [ internal crisis ] transition from teenager to 20 year old, traveled to the country of my family's origins [twice!], revisited old friends and host families in Scandinavia, and made friends in my new host city while sharing the experience of "ausländer" with many other diverse and wonderful individuals. In this sense, I kind of "graduated" from Goettingen. I went through a life experience and came out with a lot more extra credit that I ever could have anticipated.

That evening laughing with my friends, and an incredibly illuminated moon above us in the middle of the night, I swung on the metal poles, clutched the goose for balance, and planted a big kiss on the Gänseliesel as a "graduate". A Göttingen tradition, and I just lived a fantastic year long life there with a great host family that will always be there for me as well as many other corners of the city that will hold memories with friends when I finally return.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Im Harz

[ In the Harz ]

Like almost everything that has happened this past year, events and dates just creep up on you. Once my Praktikums ended, and my planned trip to Finland came to a close, I knew that I had a few days to wrap everything up and spend the last days with family and friends. Well, naturally even those days blurred faster than I thought.


Andreas always had Wednesdays off from working at der Laden, the shop, and the day was always reserved as a day for him to catch up on some of the logistical aspects of running a small business, but it was also a day in the middle of the week to have quality family time together. During the Winter months, maybe that meant seeing a movie, in the spring Andreas and I went on a trip together to Weimar, in the spring and summer, when the weather warmed up, no moment went wasted to eat outside in der Garten.

This particular Wednesday, my last in fact, also had a nice family outing planned, and the event was once again into another area into der Harz von Deutschland, The highest moutain range of northern Germany. The area is sprawling with hills and rolling farmlands, but amongst this country-like scene, history abounds, being the epicenter for so much unification in a land that has such a vivid past.

The trip for the day was to travel to the top of Brocken mountain, the highest peak in the range. Starting at the base, we hiked a bit through the woods and ended up at the train station that had huge steam engines from the war-times that roared up the mountain creating a very exciting atmosphere.

The views from above were spectacular. The best part about the day, however, was having such a nice opportunity to share with my host parents. Studying abroad for so long has challenged me and taught me so many new things. There are so many things I am indebted to my German family, The Sebodes. A host family is not a required component of the CBYX program, but to me, it may have been one of the most profound, even on top of studying and working in German environments.

Towards the end of the year, I have to actually remind myself what I had actually experienced. I lived as a member of a German family - I underestimate the fact of how much they have seen me grow this past year. The first night that I met my host parents, I was still stuttering out German and tripping up on my verb forms. As the year progressed, we would talk about anything, and as we came to this closing trip, many funny stories would come up.

I never really realized it, but I became quite infamous with the family in the beginning, because I would constantly say "aha" as a form of acknowledgment, and my host parents quickly caught on to its meaning of ... "ja, I had no idea what you just said, but I am going to be polite and just nod and say 'aha' ". Almost as a grievance to this goofy expression, Inge did note that as my German improved, away went the "aha's".

Things were never really sad towards the end. We talked too much about things we could do together in the future to have any sense of end to my stay with them. I still cannot grasp the magnitude of just how long I was there. How comfortable I became and how normalized daily life became for me. It even comforts me to know that I would get my host parents angry if I got them nervous or did something wrong - and I would feel just as ashamed with my mistakes and just as proud with my successes when I was able to share them with my host family. I think it will be these memories that will grow along with me and show just how much I really gained from this experience as time goes on.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Der amerikanischer Akzent

[ The American Accent ]

Whenever there came a time that I did speak English while abroad, for some it was exciting to actually hear an American accent. It is as if it is something that is reserved for TV programs and music - after all, British English is what is learned in German school systems.

Learning German, some sounds became difficult to pronounce when I was in fluid speech. I worked hard to perfect a passable accent while also learning grammar and syntax, however some sounds just wouldn't come out right. One example - würde & wurde, the first is Konjunktiv II tense, and can translate as "would". The second, past passive, something like "has been". Very different grammatical meanings for vowels that to the american tongue may as well be the same sound. Add in the guttural, gargling German "R" to these lip exercises, and you have minutes at a time with me sitting with Inge just saying "wurde, würde, wurde, würde...". You can imagine how crazy it must have looked if you walked in to hear this.

Back to English, the American accent - always to my amusement and surprise - has an element of foreignness to it along with its seemingly endless amount of slang and regional quirks. One commercial that I have been searching for online for a long time now utilized a goofy rendition of this American accented German [ more of a southern twang ] to sell ... miracle whip.

The dialog roughly goes like this:

Our refrigerators in America are much bigger

our steaks too

In America, you can buy ready-made potato-salad at the store

Wow, you couldn't buy something so delicious like this

That is because it is homemade

I like homemade!

Check out the commercial just to get a good laugh at the americanized accent, or the reactions of the German people at those 'Amis ' not knowing what good potato salad is ...

Monday, August 2, 2010

dritte Platz

[ Third place ]

The world cup is now over, but watching Germany come in 3rd place was quite the ride. Of course we were all cheering to see Germany face the Netherlands in the finals, but nevertheless, I witnessed an extremely exciting event that really brought the nation to celebration and only comes around every four years.

World cup fever was incomparable to see not only in Europe, but in Germany, one of the most Fuβball frenzied nations on earth. City-centers all around over the month and a half international tournament were always clustered with people, and big screen tv's lined the streets, from open air pubs, even to the local gelato shoppe. Göttingen, being the young and diverse uni-city that it is, always had clusters of all kinds of fans to fill up seats and give a fun crowd. I probably learned more expletives in more foreign languages than I ever had in my life as well - German might be fun, but Italian reigns supreme for most creativity and drama.

[ Ganzelieselplatz ]

As the brackets narrowed down though, everyone [well, except my Spanish friends ] all began full-heartedly supporting their host nation, and we joined the crowds and celebrations including flags, lei's and cheering. Over the tournament I had seen games at home, as well as at public venues in the city, and public viewings in Göttingen and Berlin.

The photos I have display a very vibrant and exciting patriotism that swept Germany over the few weeks - but this is something that is only just becoming the norm. The 2006 World Cup held in Germany sparked a new pride within the German people, and flags and the German colors began to make a strong presence as the tournament took place. Four years later, I have heard from many that the support and patriotism has only increased - cars whizzing by with flags and decals, and cheering fans in the streets clad in Jerseys all day on game days. A German flag is rare to see anywhere in Germany and still is repressed by many, but the World Cup represents a special time of patriotism and pride for German fans where they all come together for the same cause.

The world cup has been an excellent opportunity to partake in some of the best celebrations I have seen all year in Germany, and possibly one of the best cultural opportunities to connect with German people in my host city and learn what the world cup means to them [ described by one, "the Super Bowl x 20" ], as well as international friends sharing the experience with me as well!


Content, happy, pleased, satisfied, comfortable, settled, * to be one with the world

The definitions are many and broad when one translates the German word "zufrieden" . It just doesn't really translate, but it means all of the above words. Germans work hard and are serious people, but behind the stern facades that some of them have, caught in the right environment, they could be completely in a state of being zufrieden.

[ The failed raft ]

Small road trips with my host family, time with family and friends, soccer matches, BBQ's - summer time here in Germany is going great.

Fruchthaus Schwieger

[ Fruit house Schwieger ]

This post has been one that I have been anxious to put up for a while. Maybe I mentioned it in passing, but Andreas, my host dad, runs the family business, and it is an iconic corner fruit market within central Göttingen.

Some times this year, while riding my bike through town, I would ride by and see Andreas, usually leaving with a crisp apple that he would toss to me over the counter. At home, I was spoiled to fresh veggies and fruit that Inga would use from the shop in great lunches and desserts. Speaking of meals, one of the best things this year was the importance of having the family together at our prompt 1:15 lunches which was the main meal of the day.

Some of the shelves in the store were just as ecclectic as the market I proudly presented a few weeks ago - various oils and vinegars, bright colors of greens, purples and reds, nuts, berries - it is quite a sight.

Unfortunately, winter was long [ very long... ] in Germany, and even after the grey half year passed, construction season began and the front of the store was blocked off where crates of produce usually line the corner.

As my final days were ticking down, I had to finally just get in and snap a few photos - the store was too much of a figure in my mind of the city to pass up. The funny thing to add is that working in the store for so long, Andreas really doesn't even like vegetables!