Sunday, November 28, 2010

Settling Down

This last week has been kind of a downer for me. Things (like school, and Germany, and my whole life) are getting quite a bit less exciting, and I have been feeling rather homesick, in fact. Maybe not really homesick, but missing home. Or at least, missing what home was last year for me. There is a difference, in my mind at least. It didn't help (in fact it was definitely a contributing factor to my bad feelings) that the weather was completely and utterly depressing. The sky was always grey and wet. The air was cold and windy. Everything just felt clammy and sad, and it made me miss my beautiful Maine weather, full of blue skies and breezy beautiful trees, with the sunlight sifting through them and dappling the lovely, green grass. Waiting for the bus in the cold windy wetness made me miss driving: dashing from your cozy warm house to your cozy warm car, in which you listen to lovely music and drive along lovely roads, until you get to your lovely destination, where you park and dash from your cozy warm car into your cozy warm friend's house, where you get onto the cozy warm couch together and watch a movie on instant Netflix, which doesn't exist here.

To counterract all these blues, I am trying to keep busy... I have been reading a book that my guest father lent me, called A Journal of a Plague Year, written by Daniel Defoe (who also wrote Robinson Crusoe and many other things). I have been watching the German TV series called Berlin, Berlin, of which my sister owns all four seasons. I am trying to pace myself, but I must say: the story is so ridiculous and it is so exciting to be able to understand everything that happens, I just want to watch more and more and more. I have also been listening to Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen on tape. This is nice because since I know the English version practically by heart, any German word I don't know I can immediately translate because of its context.

Thursday and Friday were special days at my school, since Friday was the 'Tag der Offnen Tur' - Open House Day. That means that every class prepares some sort of project which people can view or participate in or learn from.. Thursday my class spent several hours getting everything ready, but since our project was about the class trip to Berlin and I wasn't there, I felt rather useless. Afterwards I went to the Frankfurt Weihnachtsmarkt with some friends from school. We walked around and looked at everything, and smelled all the yummy smells. It was very cold though. When I got home I called my parents, which was nice. It was the first time I had talked to them since I got here. Then I called my grandma, which was also nice. Then I called my brother, which was also nice. After that I was completely burned out from talking so much on the phone.

Friday I was able to sleep in, since I didn't have to be at school until 2:30. I cooked a bit beforehand with my host dad, which was nice, and then went out into the cold again, which was not nice. The Open House was alright, but as I was still feeling homesick and was still bumming over the weather, it could have been much better. Friday night it snowed, big fluffly white flakes, and Saturday morning, during breakfast, I got a package from my parents! It contained a few small clothing articles from home, my winter jacket (!!!) and, as a Hannukah present, one of my all time very favorite books, I, Claudius, by Robert Graves, which I have of course begun to read. Saturday evening I went with my host sister to see some friends of hers from her old school, who had a stand at the Weihnachstmarkt for our part of the city. We walked around a bit and drank some hot wine, which was alright. It was very cold though, and I was glad to get home, eat dinner, and watch some more Berlin, Berlin.

Today, Sunday, the snow is still here and we went in the morning to a birthday brunch of a family friend, which was both awkward and fun. I hope this week will be better than last but I'm still fighting some bad feelings. I am hoping to put up some pictures soon. Bye.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I titled this post with an expression of uproarious laughter because that's what I feel like doing, and have been doing a lot today. Classes were all really boring, and since I am a bad student and coerce others into joining me in my badness, friends and I covered many a sheet of paper in funny notes and drawings. But it didn't all start out that way...

7:03 - I leave house at a brisk trot to the bus stop.
7:05 - I board bus.
7:20ish - I board metro.
7:38ish - I get off two stops early to go to the other school where I have French. I wait with some friends, and realize that today is the day of my French test.
7:50 - I go upstairs to wait to get into my French class.
7:58 - I realize that something is not right, since I am still sitting in the hallway all alone only two minutes before classes start. I check my phone, and see that my French companion called me two minutes earlier. I try to call him back, and he doesn't answer. I text him, saying 'Shit! Where are we!?'
8:02 - I decide that perhaps I can find out more information in my regular school, so I walk back to the metro, take it two stops further, and start making my way up the stairs.
8:10 - My phone rings, and I learn that we are having French in room dreihundert vier. Drei, null, vier. 304. Thinking I must go back, I get right back on the metro again.
8:17 - I get out of the metro at the other school once again, and sprint up the stairs to room 304. I knock on the door, open it a crack, and see a strange teacher and a class full of ten year olds. 'Entschuldigung!' I say, to curious giggles from the students, and close the door.
8:23 - I count from one to ten in a whisper, trying to figure out if there are any other numbers that sound similar to drei, null, or vier. I decide there aren't any, but I go downstairs thinking that perhaps, perhaaaps I had misheard and it was actually EINhundert vier. But I don't have the guts to open the door this time and face more laughing ten year old faces, and I am still sure I heard the number correctly. I don't know what to do and am starting to stress out really bad.
8:28 - It suddenly dawns on me that it must be in the Other school. MY school. 'Ohh nooo!' I think, and I run once again back to the metro to wait for the next train and try to be calm and not completely freak out.
8:32 - I dash out of the metro, tear up three escalators, and hurry into the street. Already out of breath, I keep on sprinting lopsidedly (due to my school bag slung over my shoulders) until I reach the doors of my school.
8:38 - I try to catch my breath as I quickly climb four flights of stairs, two steps at a time.
8:41 - I arrive, winded, red in the face, completely haggard and emotionally drained, into my French class. Everyone laughs a bit, including me. But now that I am finally there and can let the stress go, I almost start crying right there. It's awful. I tell a very brief version of my hin and herrings from school to school, got my test, and began to read.

Why, why, why, why does this always happen to me? Why am I the only one who forgets that everone knows that we were taking the French test in MY school today? And Why did I not realize that before I went all the way back to the Other school? In any case, I got an extra half hour to finish the test, which I was able to do just fine. No doubt at a very elementary level, though. I often say now that coming to Germany is helping me learn two new languages (German and Spanish) and to forget the two I already was good at (English and French, of course).

But nobody laughed to hard at me, for too long, and never meanly. Perhaps my total lack of common sense just adds all the more to my sweet, winning personality? Ha ha. In any case, the rest of the day passed just swimmingly, except that I had so much energy I practically went nuts sitting still. Some of that energy seemed inclined to escape through ridiculous fits of laughter at the silliest things. And then everyone else around me would laugh, and we would all just hope that the teacher wouldn't notice.

The last class of the day (which goes until 5pm or so) was Ethik, but my teacher was absent, so we had no class (I Love this about Germany!). I went home feeling immensely, warmly happy for every single person on the earth. I also felt really old, because I kept watching people on the bus and thinking weird old people thoughts about life, and youth, and happiness, none of which I can really remember now. Perhaps the spirit of Santa Claus decided to pop in for a visit. Or Maybe it just wanted to get to Bergen Enkheim, and decided to travel with me. But what a day, right?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Good Day Bad Day

I think I can say that I have officially made my first big dumb mistake, and had my first really bad day here in Germany. Two big firsts, that's reason enough to be happy, right? I will spill all: The dumb mistake, well, wasn't even technically a mistake, since I don't consider it technically my fault. But it still happened, and it's still bad. Here's the scoop: my monthly bus/u-bahn/straßenbahn/s-bahn cards fell out of my wallet. Either that or it was stolen... Either way, three months worth is gone. That is, 58€ for September, 58€ for October, and 58€ for the nice fresh month of November. What would normally have happened is that I would have sent all these cards to AFS (in December, was the plan) and get reimbursed. But of course now that's impossible, and I have to pay for it myself somehow.

The bad day began with buying a bus ticket. Never having needed to do so before, I was a bit in the dark as to what must happen. I had my 2,30€ ready in my hand when I walked on the bus, and the bus driver looked at me as though he was waiting for me to sprout an extra head or something. Feeling already a bit awkward, nervous, and abashed, I put the change down in the metal dish in front of me. He did nothing. I accidentally on purpose flicked one of the coins into a random coin slot, because I didn't know what else I should do and the moster bus driver certainly was not giving me any clues. Well, he just about had a cow at me when I did that, and was quite a bit more than huffy as he extracted the false coin, and demanded WHAT I actually wanted. I said, with a question and a bit of defiance in my voice '. . . a ticket?' Turns out I was supposed to say 'ein einzelfahrt ticket, bitte,' and turns out that in the morning, einzelfahrt tickets actually cost 2,40€. Was I born on Mars or something? Gosh.

I got to school and sat through PoWi (Politics and Economy) and then did this and that with these and those people. Then I sat through English (not having done my homework, I had nothing to add). Somewhere in there I got tickle attacked, rather viciously I might add, and ended up curled in a ball on the floor, paralyzed. Of course, all this happened just as my guest sister's Ethik teacher (a very stern, serious looking man) came out of the elevator, and as all the other students in the school started flooding down the stairs. It was almost as humiliating as the scene on the bus. Then I had a three hour break in which there was nothing nothing nothing to do. I didn't know where to go or what to do to get a new monthly ticket, and nobody had free time at the same time as I did, so I couldn't be helped. Instead I sat in a cafe for three hours and 'studied'. Which meant that I actually spent my time alternately drawing or gazing out the window.

My Spanish class was good though, as always, and the kids are really really nice. I learned a bit more what I think I have to do to get another fahrkart, too, which is good. After chatting a while after class, I walked to the U-Bahn, bought a ticket, and chatted with another acquaintance until I had to get off. (What is the word for aussteigen, in English?). I started listening to music that always makes me happy, and by the time I got home I felt right as rain. Which is good, since it's been raining all day today.

It really makes quite a contrast to yesterday, which was absolutely beaut. I woke up early for some reason, so I went running in the park in time to see the sun rise, and ended up sitting for about half an hour in this wonderful tree, just looking and listening, and breathing and not thinking. It felt really, really nice. I tried to make American pancakes for lunch, but everything feel a bit flat. Including the pancakes themselves. Maybe next time everybody will be in a better pancake eating zone. Later that day I went with AFS to the Goethe Haus, of which we got a tour. I understood everything, and it was really very interesting. Afterwards we walked all around, and talked. It was quite a lot of fun, and due to my fahrkart predicament, I got a lovely ride home.

That's all for now, so bis später

Friday, November 12, 2010

the oper! and other things

This week has been pretty super duper, let me say. School is good, and the people I know are amazing and I just keep meeting more. On Wednesday the teachers had a workshop or something, and so everybody had only three hours of school. The other American girl and I went to our friend's house and baked all sorts of goodies, and watched Dirty Dancing, which I had never seen before. It was a lot of fun, and it was nice to have a full tummy all afternoon. For those of you who remember how much I normally ate in the US, just know that I am eating more. And I am still always hungry.

A bit before five, we all went our separate ways again. My way was to the Opera. It was quite impressive. We all had little opera binoculars, and I have to say I really enjoyed spying on all the people below me. Our seats were pretty terrible, as we could only see half the stage, but they incidentally afforded an excellent view of the pit orchestra, in which there was quite a very good-looking trombone player. So, whenever the actors were out of sight, my sister and I just watched him. The opera itself, by Wagner, was pretty exhausting to hear, and almost impossible to understand. There was a subtitles screan above the stage, but not knowing half the words makes comprehension a tricky task. However, the whole ordeal rekindled my longstanding vauge desire to learn the cello. I know it's not an intrinsically 'cool' instrument like the guitar, for example, but I think it's really beautiful and I know I could be decent at it. There were three acts of the Opera, and during the last one I feel asleep probably five times, and upon each re-awakening realizing that my mouth was open, closing it again, and sneaking a covert glance to the man next to me, hoping he didn't notice.

The next day I slept over at my American friend's house. She has four brothers, which was quite interesting and rather intimidating, but we didn't really see them much. We ate some, did some homework, did some facebook, and watched She's The Man! I didn't realize how much I didn't realize how scripted that movie is, the last time I watched it. But all the same, it gave me the warm fuzzies and made me wish my life could be a bit more like Amanda Bynes'. Wait, what?? I'm living an incredible year in Germany! No it didn't!

Friday was good, despite some mishaps which required apologies. (If any future exchange students are reading my blog, remember, Always apologize when you mess up, even if you wouldn't normally do so at home. Better safe than sorry). Today, Saturday, was windy, and rainy, and not very cold but I didn't go outside because it looked so sad out there. Instead, I sat on the couch and read (For Esme, With Love And Squalor, by JD Salinger). After lunch I made a brownie mix with my mom, and cleaned and vacuumed my room, and then I got on the computer intending to write my blog, but actually I facebooked, which lead to skyping, and so I have been on the computer all afternoon. Bad, bad, bad. Bye then!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

school life &c,

What a long time it has been. I have now dashed through two weeks of school and an AFS weekend, and have hardly had time to cut my fingernails. I guess I'll start from the beginning. Wow, the really beginning.

Two days after I posted my last post, was the Frankfurt Nacht der Clubs. This is how it works: twenty of Frankfurts clubs were open to anybody with a green Nacht Der Clubs bracelet, which meant that you had payed the 10€ ticket. I went with my host sister and some of her friends, first into a salsa club, where I drank a coffee with milk and sat. Then we went to a different club, which was much hotter, louder, and more crouded. It took a long time just pay to stash our bags and coats in the coatroom. Having never been clubbing before, I was pretty impressed. Lights, and music, and people all dressed up, and just a very intense atmosphere. We drank a bit and danced a lot, and met up with more friends. Then, after a few hours we went to different club, which was by far worse. Upstairs it was too crouded, loud, and the lights were too bright and changed too fast. Downstairs it was not crouded enough, too loud, and too smoky. Mother, you would have hated it. And so did I. We did not stay long. Around four or five am we went to McDonalds, ate and drank, and went back home. I finally crashed into bed at around six, and slept until ten.

That was Friday. Monday was the first day of school, which turned out to be awfully uneventful. I trailed my sister until we had a meeting with the school director and got my schedule worked out. Here is my schedule. At first I thought it was awful, but in fact I like it.

Just a quick note about school in Germany- there are three different kinds of schools: a) Hauptschule, which goes until the 10th grade, and focuses on more hands on work than on college academics, b) Realschule, which is a bit more academicy, and which ends also in the 10th grade, from where people can either start work or they can move to c) Gymnasium, the university-bound track at the end of which (12th or 13th year) all students must make their Abitur. My impression is that it is a bit like France's Baccalauréat. Every student must pass this test in order to go to University, so the last year is a stressful one, since nobody wants to take it twice. There is no third chance.

In Gymnasium, starting in the upper grades (11th, 12th and 13th I believe) people can choose up to three main subjects, which they will study more intensely and more often than the other subjects. These are called Leistungs courses. My Leistungs courses are French and History. One of your Leistungs courses is first, and the other is second. Your normal courses (Grund courses) are taken with the other people in your number one Leistungs course. Originally I wanted French and Art as my Leistungs courses, but now I am so glad that I have History, because everybody is nicer than I ever could have imagined. I was nervous to come to school, because I had heard so much that German teenagers are closed, and though not necessarily UNfriendly, they certainly don't need you, and you'll have to work your butt off to find friends. Maybe that's true, but I sure haven't seen it. I have been able to talk and laugh with anyone, and everyone was always willing to talk with me and help me. People think coming from America is cool, which I think is kind of funny.

Before I start talking about each class, I just want to preface it with this: there is another American exchange student in my class, so when I say we without saying who, I mean her and me. My English teacher is very, very, very nice. We try to be helpful in class. Sometimes people make little English mistakes and we can't help but laugh. We're not laughing at them, of course, it's just that what they say is very cute. My teacher for Art and Biology are the same, but when I went to my first biology class I didn't realize it (having seen so many new faces, and all) and I went up and introduced myself again! She gave me this funny smile, and said she knew, and I went back to my seat feeling confused. Only when she took off her coat and I saw she was wearing Exaclty The Same Things as the day before did I realize my mistake. Oops! But art is fun, and what we are doing in Biology I learned two years ago and have since just about forgotten. My Politics and Economy teacher seems nice, but I have only met her once, and we had to do a test. It was a little ridiculous, and we spent most of the two hours huddled over the dictionary trying to figure out what the passages meant. My German teacher confuses me. Partly because I can't understand what he says in class, and partly because he looks like an American, and partly because I never know what he thinks or feels, and partly because he is just a bit strange. We spend most of our time in German class writing notes and silly drawings, and laughing too much about stupid things, and looking words up in the Dictionary. Somtimes we try to pay attention too, but since what's going on is often so far out of our grasp we just end up zoning out and daydreaming instead. My Ethik class seems like it will be alright. I sit next to people I don't normally see, and that is good. They are all, as usual, very very nice. The teacher is a bit strict and looks like of like this. Not really, just kidding. Maybe more like a fish. He is nice. We watched a video on Freud, which was interesting. My Spanish teacher is younger than all my other teachers, and also really nice. Spanish is not that hard, but since I missed the beginning of the year I have to catch up on the basics. My History teacher is really nice too, and funny, but I can't understand most of what goes on in class. That's okay. The only class I have not had yet is Sport.

Now. French deserves its whole own paragraph, because let me tell you. It has put me through quite some stuff. First of all, my school does not offer French, so I have to take the metro a few stops to this other school. The first day a boy in my class who also has French took me there. Everybody went around the room and introduced themselves to me, in French. Of course I understood everything, but when it came my turn to speak I couldn't! I had to concentrate so hard just to figure out how to say 'My name is, I am an exchange student, I am seventeen years old', and every other word popped out in German. It was so embarassing! But also sort of funny too. I said a lot in German and apologized for being so bad at French right now, but really it's all German in my head. Everybody was, again, so, so nice, and I was able to contribute just fine to the making of a dialogue, and reading sentences aloud with grammar points and so on. So I left thinking 'I'm going to listen to French music and read French books, and at least the first big hump day is over and everything will be good from now on!'.

Well, of course that was not the case. The next day of French class, I lost track of the boy who also goes to my school for French, and instead walked with some other friends who have Physics as a Leistungs course there. They said 'Do you know where you have to go?' I said 'Yes!' ...But my French class wasn't there! I knocked on like every door on the second floor hallway, and found either empty rooms, or other classes. I thought: OH NO. So I sidled up to some people talking in the hallway, and said I had French here but I didn't know where it was, and did they? They said, look on your schedule. I said, I can't, because I am normally at the Max-Beckmann Schule and it doesn't say a room number on my schedule. They said, well go downstairs and look on the yellow doors, and there it says all that information. So I thanked them and went back downstairs. I found the yellow doors, and I found the paper, and I found the period, and I found the little F1, standing for Französisch Leistungs Kurs. It was on the first floor this time, go figure. So I knocked, and there was my French teacher, and the whole class looking at me. I apologized for being late, and said I had no idea it was in this other room, and I had to ask these people upstairs, and nobody told me that the rooms changed from day to day! I hope that nobody thought any the worse of me, but again, it was awkward. After that things went fine, and I was able to contribute just fine again. At least my grammar and conjugation are still solid, I'm discovering that. Next time, French class will be held in my school, on the third floor. This time I won't mess up! :)

I find that it is useful to be good at stuff, in order to win friends. I think of it as rather a process, and you win or you lose. My exchange student friend and I are winning. She is a whizz at math, we are both whizzes at English, and I can help people with art. These skills have already lead to new connections. As for the rest of my life, outside of school, most of it has been spent reading. I am almost done with The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. Excellent, as always. I am hoping to start playing some casual soccer, and on Wednesday school gets out early and I am invited to go bake things with some people from school. There could possibly be some light English tutoring on weekends, which would also be fun. There is a giant Fleamarket in Frankfurt every Saturday, which I am hoping to go to this weekend with my exchange student friends.

Also-- I have to take back something I said in an earlier post, about German movie theaters being small. I went with my lovely liason to a positively gigantic theater, near the shopping street. It was quiet impressive. The movie is called The Kids are Alright, and I thought it was very, very good.

So, that was the monster post to get everything up to date. I will try in the future to post smaller posts more frequently. Bye!