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