Saturday, April 28, 2012

When I visit Gemma

The night starts with a plan.

I made sure to bring glasses that fit a half bottle of wine each.

then night ends like this.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fulbright FAQ Friday, week 3

Hi everyone! Before start with this week's questions, I just wanted to let you know that my experience with Fulbright is for the English Teaching Assistantship in Germany. If you have the research grant, or an ETA in any other country, I can't make any promises that your experiences will be similar. 

"How helpful is the orientation?"
I have to give the orientation two thumbs up. To be honest, the teaching preparation you get from your 3 day orientation will probably not be terribly useful in the end, but there are some other good things that come from orientation. The first one I already mentioned last week. You will get to meet all the other ETAs in Germany and you will be spending most of the time at orientation getting to know the people placed near you very closely. This is probably the best thing that comes from orientation - and trust me, it's a good one, definitely try to take advantage of the chance to get know the other ETAs while you're there. Also, it's good because it let's you know that pretty much no one has any idea what they're going to be doing. It's scary to jump into something unknown, but a lot less scary knowing 140 other people are jumping right there with you. Of course you do get to learn about the German school system and lesson planning and you get some really good material! 

"Will Fulbright help us find housing?"
No. They will, however, make sure you have somewhere to stay before you leave orientation - be it in a new apartment or with a teacher. But you're not alone on the housing searching. Your school is there to help you with all that. So once you get your placement, get in touch with your school. They are not  just your employers, they are pretty much your welcome committee too, so don't be afraid to ask for their help with things like finding housing, getting registered at the Ausländeramt, or setting up a bank account. Finding housing will either be super easy or a pain in your ass, but you will not be homeless - I promise! If you're looking for a WG or an apartment, the best place to look as WG Gesucht

"Is it possible to enroll at a University?"
Yes! And for the most part it's either free or less than 300€ a semester (puts things into perspective, eh?). Now, I can't speak for every university, but when I enrolled in Dortmund I had to go to the international secretary. It was an obnoxious day of waiting and absolutely no order, but once I actually got to speak to somebody, it took about 15 minutes to enroll. All I needed was my work contract (you'll need that for about everything, so don't lose it!), my passport, and proof of health insurance. If you don't want to take any classes, I would still suggest looking into enrolling for the perks of being a student. In Nordrhein-Westfalen, for example, with our 220€ student fees (the only amount you have to pay to enroll), you get a Semester ticket to travel on all Nahverkehr in NRW. Yes, that means if I'm traveling anywhere in NRW I never have to pay for a train ticket, as long as I'm not taking the ICE or IC. Definitely worth it. 

Other Fulbright FAQ posts can be found here.
Other questions can be left as a comment to this post or emailed here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

How do you keep your brother happy?

Give him ice cream, of course.

lots and lots of ice cream! 

and if that doesn't work. Get him a waffle.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Schnitzel, pt. 2

One day before all my guests arrived, I was flipping through an off-beat guide book of Cologne in the book store when I saw a recommendation for Bei Oma Kleinmann (that means "at Grandma Kleinmann's"). It was a restaurant known for it's amazing schnitzel and had very high reviews. 

It's a bit outside the city center, but when Patrick, Karrie and I went to Cologne we had just the perfect opportunity to head out there. 

When we arrived, we realized immediately that we should have made a reservation. This little restaurant was packed full with people and just enough room for giant schnitzels to be marched back and forth from the kitchen. 

But Oma Kleinmann did not leave us hanging! Everybody was super friendly and after 15 minutes and one beer at the bar, we had a place to sit. Now it was down to business. And I mean business. Take a look at that menu. Did you even know so many types of Schnitzel existed?!

Then the magic happened. The schnitzels arrived. No, not schnitzels... Monster plates of death, with fries underneath.

Remember that giant list of schnitzels? Well, the base schnitzels is always the same (see monster plates of death above), the difference came in the sauce. I loved that everybody got their own gravy boat of sauce. I feel like it really enhanced my schnitzel eating experience. 

I did the best I could, but in the end the schnitzel defeated me.
I told you there were fries under there.
Don't worry Oma Kleinmann, I will be back for round two! 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

That time we drank wine instead of beer

A couple months before, while walking around Dortmund, I had noticed a tiny little wine bar that looked super cute. I immediately made a little note of the place, because I knew it would be just up Patrick's alley for his visit. I know while he and Karrie were here, we did our fair share of beer drinking (as you well know by this point), but my brother is really more of a wine person, so one night we traded in the beer mugs for wine glasses.
The place is called der Weinkommissar (basically, the wine detective) and is just a little one room bar, not much bigger than the living room of our apartment. The wine was fantastic and the staff was so nice. They were so helpful as we pestered them with questions about the wines, trying to find just the right bottle to split! At one point, our waitress even said "I'll just open the bottle for you to try it, and if it's not what you want, you don't have to get it - I'll just take it home for me!" 
We had such a great time the first night, we went back the very next night. To be honest, we probably would have gone every other night after that, if we weren't leaving Dortmund after that. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Need a place to sleep?

You might have noticed (since it's pretty much all I've posted about for the past month) that I've had a fair handful of visitors recently. So where did they all sleep, you might be asking? Well, our couch pulls out and, if I do say so myself, is quite comfortable. But unless you wanna cuddle, it's not really meant for two. My bed is a big mattress. But that's all it is. A mattress, on the floor. There was no way I was going to make all my elderly visitors sleep on the floor. 

Eventually, the problem was solved in the form of an air mattress

Normally I'm a little wary of air mattresses. But after surviving two visits with this baby, I'm in love. I'm not going to lie, I even used it as my own bed for the week in between the two visits. It's got an awesome built in air pump, so all you have to do is plug it in and flip the switch. The pump also works backwards when you need to get every last bit of air out to pack it away! And the best thing is how well it holds the air in! I maybe pumped some extra air in once a week, and not even really because it needed it. 

So, if you're in the market for a new air mattress, I whole-heartedly recommend this one! And don't just take my word for it, ask these satisfied customers, too! 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Birthday Beer Crawl

While my brother was visiting, he had his birthday (no, I'm not going to disclose his age, it's depressing enough for him, without me posting it all over the internet!). So we decided to spend the day in Düsseldorf sampling some beers. 

Beer in Düsseldorf? I thought all the good German beer came from Bavaria!

Oh, dear reader, strike these stereotypes from your mind. Germany brews good beer everywhere (well mostly everywhere, I would suggest avoiding Rauchbier in Bamberg). And in Düsseldorf, they're known for a special type of beer called and "Altbier." This literally means "old beer" and is so called because it's an old method of brewing (pre-lager, for beer nuts out there). And during the whole game changing Rheinheitsgebot (purity laws) of 1516, the Rhineland people were just like "hell no, we're keeping our beer the way it is!" 

There are 5 Altbier breweries in Düsseldorf that also double as pubs, so we made it our birthday goal to hit all five. But, of course, before any Altbier was to be drunk, I had some old scores to settle with Düsseldorf and therefore started our Birthday Beer Crawl with a Beer on a Boat! And yes, if you must know, the beer on the boat was everything I'd hoped it to be. And so much more. We enjoyed it so much, in fact, that we decided to stay for a second beer. I also informed my roommate that we would be heading back to Düsseldorf every weekend just for a beer on the boat. 

Our first actual Altbier brewery on the tour was Uerige. This was also one of my favorite beers. We chose a seat inside since we were a little chilled from the boat and the walking and sightseeing in between. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly - as, I suppose, any beer hall's is, really. If I get anymore visitors, this place has definitely been added to the list of to-dos in Düsseldorf. 

Altbier number two was Schlüssel. Here, we opted to stand with the masses outside under the tents. 

From there, we headed to number 3, which was our first one that wasn't actually at the brewery. Instead, we enjoyed a Schuhmacher Alt at their well-known old city stand-alone pub location. The real brewery/pub is a little bit outside the old city, so we decided not to strain ourselves. Not going to lie though, this was our worst experience of the day. The waiter was incredibly rude, and not just in a this-is-Germany-and-there's-no-costumer-service kind of way. So we had one beer and booked it out.

For number 4, we actually broke away from the original list of 5 and opted for an Altbier that, though still brewed in Düsseldorf, does not have the actual brewery in the city center, as with the others. But we still enjoyed our Frankenheim Alt, as well as some Currywurst and Pommes (fries).

The 5th beer was at Kürzer. When we arrived at the brewery, we were the only people there, but slowly more people filled in. As a brewery/bar, this was definitely my favorite. Not in a touristy way, but in a I would totally come hang out here if I lived in Düsseldorf kind of way. I guess the best way to describe it was a little bit trendy. It was very enjoyable and I plan on visiting again when I'm back in the 'dorf. 

The 6th and final beer was, well, pretty much a stretch. We didn't make it to the brewery at all. It was dark and we had no idea where it was. But on our way back to the station, we found a normal bar that served the the type of Altbier we were looking for. So we ducked in and ended our night with a Füchschen Alt. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fulbright FAQ Friday, week 2

Hi everybody! I'm back for week two of Fulbright questions. I hope that week 1 was a little helpful! Also, as my awesome, seizure-inducing graphic for the series implies (by directly saying...) I'm not an expert on these matters. There are about 140 Fulbright ETAs in Germany, and I bet if you talked with each of them you would get about 140 different responses. There are a lot of factors that make everybody's Fulbright years unique, but mostly I like to tell people: what you put into a Fulbright year, you'll get out.

but I digress. The theme of this week's questions is Free Time.

"Do you have a lot of free time as an ETA?"
YES! So much so that by the end of last year, I was absolutely fed up by it. You're only supposed to work 12 hours a week at your school, which is nothing anyway, but you'll be lucky if you even have all 12 filled. This year, my school is really good about making sure I've got something to do, but last year I was lucky if I got 8 or 9 hours. 

"What do you do in your free time?"
This is another big IT DEPENDS questions. If you live in a bigger city, there are more options available in the way of social activities, clubs, and general reasons to leave your apartment. My first year I was in a pretty small place, so I drank a lot of wine and played a lot of cards. But, I also joined a music club last year. We rehearsed once a week, had 2 concerts while I was there, plus a few other little playing gigs, and a handful of social activities (including one of my greatest memories from last year). If you play an instrument or sing or have any other hobby, really, I can almost guarantee there will be a club for it! You just have to look. 

"Is it hard to make friends? Do you have contact with the other ETAs near by?"
I would not have made it through my first year if it was not for the group of ETAs in my area. You will meet all the other ETAs at orientation in September, and they are awesome at organizing orientation based on geographic location, so that you meet the people you'll be around all year. Like I said, my first year I saw the other ETAs pretty much every day and they are still some of my best friends.  

Making friends with non-ETAs (the locals, if you will), can be trickier. Unless you live in a WG (which I would highly recommend!) you're only going to meet colleagues at your school at first. They are all usually very nice and helpful and will go out of their way to make you feel welcome. But at the same time, most Fulbrighters are between 21 and 23 years old, where as, even the student teachers in Germany are usually about 26/27 at the youngest. Now, I've made some really awesome student teacher friends this year, so age really is just a number, but sometimes it can make you feel a little like the outsider at school being so much younger than everyone else. 

Of course, other people do exist outside of your school, and they aren't that hard to find. If you live in a WG, you're one step ahead, but other ways to meet local people would be to enroll at the uni and take a class, or join a club (my other friends from last year were all from the music club), you can even look on facebook. I found a group on facebook for people who are new in Dortmund and meet every week for a stammtisch. 

Let's sum it up this way: if you want to make friends, you have to put the effort in yourself to get out and meet people. 

"Is there time to travel?"
Yes! Remember those 12 hours a week from the first answer? Did I mention they're only supposed to be spread over 4 days? Which means if you play your cards right, you can have 3 day weekends every week. My teachers have always been really supportive if I wanted to take an extra day or so off to travel too, saying that half the experience of being a teaching assistant is to be able to explore the country you're placed in. But - and this is a big but - don't forget that you don't get paid a lot of money. If you plan on doing a lot of traveling while you're here (which I totally support!), be ready to dip into your personal funds for that. It's early enough now to warn you to start saving your money. Pick up some summer jobs and pocket that cash so that you can treat yourself to some weekend getaways in Europe. 

other Fulbright FAQ posts can be found here
other questions to be answered can be left as a comment to this post or sent via the contact box

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Go team!

The first night Patrick and Karrie arrived, I had a big plans for them: we were going to a Dortmund soccer match. 
Now soccer in Europe is a big deal, but in Dortmund it's a REALLY big deal. They are in love with their team here. And with good reason. Last year Borussia Dortmund, or the BVB won the Germany championship, and they are well on their way to winning it again this year. 

So right after arriving, after a nap and a currywurst, the three of us headed off to the Signal Iduna Park stadium (the largest stadium in Germany, btw) for our very first live soccer match! 
When we arrived, the atmosphere was just as lively and as exciting as I had hoped! The crowds were insane. I mean, this was the line* to get into the stadium. 
*of course by "line" I mean "giant mob of people"
And the crowds didn't end there. We had stehplätze, which literally means standing places. So we went to head to our standing block only to find it was just as crowded as outside. This was our view of the field, and with the crushing amounts of people, it didn't look like it would get any better. 
I'm not going to lie, the excitement of it all kind of faded when we realized we probably wouldn't be able to see the game. So we did the next best thing: went in search of some beer. We couldn't have wondered around very long till we found this nice little opening to stand in. 

It wasn't the best view, but at least we could breath. Since we found a reasonable place to stand, I headed off to grab us all some beers, and when I got back, our luck really turned around.

See the stadium worker in that last picture? She tried to talk to Patrick and Karrie while I was gone, but since she didn't speak too much English, it didn't go over so well. So when I got back, she approached me and the conversation went something like this

Her: Do you guys work here?
Me: Oh no, we were just wandering around...
Her: Ok, well it's just that you're not actually allowed to stand here.
Me: Well, we have Stehplätze, but there is not even room to breath down there. And they've come from the US to visit me, so we were just walking around to find a place to see the game.
Her: Well you wait here for a second, let me check something.

She then went and gave her section a once-over. After about 30 seconds she came back to us and told us she had found some free seats and to follow her. She led us through a few secret locked doors and around the stadium to another section where she walked up to the ticket checker there and explained our situation. He then told us that if we had any problems with our seats (i.e. if the people with the actual tickets came) to just come let him know and he'd help us out. 

It was the nicest thing and so exciting! So, just before the first half ended, we settled into our new seats, which had a much better view of the action. 

The rest of the game was great and we were all so glad that we got hooked up with some new seats. It really made the whole experience that much better! 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Welcome to Dortmund!

First I just wanted to say thanks for all the well wishes and kind words regarding yesterday's post! It was really great to hear that people do read the blog (and hey, comments are the way to my heart ;) )!

Now back to your regularly schedule post... 

Guess who came to Dortmund?
My brother, Patrick, and Karrie, his good friend from college, were here for just over a week.  Patrick has a little thing we like to call wanderlust (Why yes, that is a fabulous German word that has made its way into the English language). He likes to take advantage of my positions abroad and always makes it out to come visit! And I always enjoy getting to show him around and spend time with him.

It is always nice to have visitors because you get to be a tourist in your own city. Now, let's be honest, Dortmund doesn't really have much to offer in the way of Tourism. But I definitely never would have spent the time to go up the Reinoldikirche. And then I never would have taken these not particularly pretty, but reasonably interesting pictures of picturesque (cough) Dortmund. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Regarding my future.

This time last year I was a big ball of stress because I realized I had no plans for the coming year. But as we all know now, it turned out ok and I got to sign on for a second year in Germany. So I decided in the beginning that this year I was going to be more pro-active about figuring my shit out. 

Remember when I posted this post (You probably don't, because I'm pretty sure no one followed das Blog back then)? Well, I actually took my own advice and have since done everything I set out to do way back in June 2011. I applied for grad schools in the fall and did some job research in Germany while I waited to hear back from them. 

And just as I was about start seriously applying for jobs in Germany (and getting really excited about it), the unexpected happened. I got an email (and eventually a letter) from my Alma Mater - the University of Georgia. I had received a place in the masters program and Teaching Assistantship for German. 

So, as of a few days ago, I sent in my official yes to UGA. Which means, in 3 short months, I'll be heading back to the homeland and settling in back in Athens, Georgia for the next two years. 

I am already sad to know I have to leave Germany. But no matter how much it sucks to leave, I can't pretend it won't be amazing to be home again.  So, go Dawgs! 
very subtle, right?

But now the question is, whether or not I continue to blog after I return as this blog was originally intended to just be about my time abroad. Thoughts? Comments?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Flowers, pt. 2

So we have this market in Dortmund (The market is awesome and I don't know why haven't blogged about it yet, so expect that soon), and, not to give too much away, they have a lot of flowers at the market. As we all may remember, I'm not the most capable hands to leave flowers in. But those are potted flowers. Fresh cuts - of which the market is plentiful - are pretty much already on their way out, and I'm really good at making sure they have a nice last week. When my mom and grandma where here they hooked me up with my first bouquet from the market. 
and that beautiful arrangement cost less than 6€. It lasted easily for a week. And honestly, it probably could have lasted longer, but I was itching to go buy more flowers from the market! So I kept the prettiest flowers from bouquet #1 and got a little creative before throwing out the rest for bouquet #2

This time I got tulips. Tulips at the market usually cost 3€ for ten or 5€ for twenty. I mean, seriously, can you beat that?! I opted for my two favorite colors: yellow and purple. And it worked out really appropriately Eastery too! 

The tulips were gorgeous, but they paid their time and were looking pretty droopy after a week. Also, the purple ones never opened, which I was sad about, because they had a beautiful yellow on the inside (I peaked). I haven't gotten a new bouquet yet, but you better believe that's what I'll be doing on Wednesday! 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Flowers, pt. 1

After my mom and grandma left, I had just one week before my next visitors arrived. Not much time to achieve anything, you might think. I, however, seized the opportunity to kill my flowers. 

See, I've never been able to keep a plant alive.  When I water them, it's too much, when I don't, it's too little. I have a knack for finding exactly the wrong place in the room to put a flower - too much sunlight, too little, too warm, too cold. 

About a month ago, though, I was feeling very motivated to try to keep a flower alive. So I hopped over to Ikea (I mean, where else do you buy flowers?!) and picked up the prettiest flower I could find!
Side note: That's my favorite flower pot ever! I made it during my decoupage phase in Switzerland and I love killing keeping flowers in it! 
And for a while it went really well. My flowers got sunlight, I watered them regularly. And they bloomed even more. 

Then.... Then it all went wrong. Suddenly I was finding shriveled blossoms everywhere. I tried watering more, I tried watering less, I tried more sun, I tried less sun. It only got worse. Eventually my beautiful flower pot looked like this. 

After those flowers were declared dead, I headed back to to pick out the next victim. This time, I went for more of the cactus variety. Sure, it's a little unusual looking - I've been calling it my Dr. Seuss plant - but I'm hoping it will hang in there! 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fulbright FAQ Friday, week 1

It's that time of year again when Fulbright grants are being handed out for the coming year. Because of this, I've been getting a lot of emails and comments asking questions about what to expect. I try to be as quick as possible with answering emails, but I thought a more effective approach might be a weekly series on das Blog (plus, I really wanted to start a series with an awesome alliterated title!)

In the coming Fridays, I'll be answering questions that I've received in emails and in comments about impending ETA years in Germany and the soon-to-be-opened application season. If you have any specific questions you'd like answered, feel free to leave a comment or email me here

For my first edition, I want to address a theme that always comes up: Money.

"It doesn't look like we get paid very much, is it enough to survive?"
No, you don't get paid very much, but yes, it is doable. In most cities, you can usually find an apartment with rent between 200€ - 300€. The overall cost of living is pretty affordable here, I'd say. Of course, this also depends on what city you live in (For example, Berlin is super cheap, whereas Munich and Frankfurt can get quite pricey). You probably won't be saving much in the long run, but, you should be able to make it by month to month. I'm not going to lie, if you're not careful, money can get very tight. But in the past two years I've been able to survive just fine on the little bit of money you make as an ETA. 

"Can we get another job to make some extra money, then?"
Yes and no. Legally your visa stipulates that you are only allowed to hold the position at your school. So getting a public job is out of the question. However, you are free to work as many private jobs as you like. This includes things like tutoring English, proof-reading for university students, and various other ways to solicit your powers of native English speaking. I did not tutor my first year, but have been tutoring this year and can tell you every little bit makes a big difference. 

And finally, some unsolicited advice: bring plenty of money with you to get started in the fall. If I remember correctly Fulbright recommends bringing between 1000-1500€ to last until your first pay check arrives. I would suggest to lean more towards the 1500€. The start up costs can add up quickly, and it can sometimes take quite a while to receive your first pay check. My first year I didn't receive my first payment till mid-November, whereas my second year I got my paycheck punctually in early October. What will really help is setting up your bank account right away when you get to your city. No seriously, that should be done on your first day if possible, and on your first day at school, you should fill out the forms with your bank information for your payment. The sooner you get all that done, the sooner you're likely to get paid!

other Fulbright FAQ posts can be found here
other questions can be emailed to me here or left as a comment on this post

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