7 little reasons I’m happy today

1. The bf is coming to visit in a few days. This makes me VERY happy. Obvi! It’ll never feel like home here without him.
2. My new Italian roommate! She is friendly, sweet, giggly, invites me along to things with her and her friends, chats loudly with me in our kitchen and most importantly, she keeps things CLEAN! I will enjoy, what I am sure is to be 6 very short months with her.
3. Going to the bar today with the other Master students. I didn’t want to spend the money, but I’m glad I did, cause I found out one of the girls has the same background as me and is just as nervous as I am about all the same things.
4. Sitting in said bar today and letting all those awkward pauses happen. I didn’t have to be in charge and try to make sure everyone was having a good time. It wasn’t a class of mine, and I didn’t feel like bending over backwards, in case, heaven forbid, they didn’t like me. In the end the German girl, that I was skeptical about, asked me out of the blue, to hang out at the Irish bar the next day. So hey, you never know with people.
5. Going to the language lab and getting in one hour with Greek. It’s a book that’s too easy now, but I sure wish they had had this book 2 years ago. At any rate it made for excellent review and I now I know what I can with any spare hour I have in the city.
6. Talking to mom and dad on skype and watching mom open her 3rd week of presents. It’s so nice to see someone opening things you carefully select and wrap and ship. So much nicer than the telephone.
7. Trial run on Friday at the brewery. It’s just waitressing. My German is fine. I must get this job! If I don’t, I’ll just have to think of something else.

Since most of my posts are long and slightly depressing and/or morbid. I’m happy to report these 7 short things

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Networking and friendships in the new ‘Burg

You know the hardest thing about living abroad is this continuous battle inside your head to keep going and keep going and keep going when things don’t come easily. In the last couple of years, culminating in the ditching of my old facebook account, I’ve had no patience for people who don’t understand how hard I work, and have been working to get where I am.

That kind of disconnect with how ambitious I am and the success I’ve achieved, by simply out-stubborning every obstacle in my path, and misinterpreting that into somehow me just being spoiled and bending people to my wishes cause I can be pretty and charming and speak with a cute accent when I feel like it, is just so insulting to me.

This requires more explanation. I know I’ve talked about it before, but hold on a sec, I’m getting somewhere I promise. I’m not just rehashing obsessively. 😉

Over a year ago I was with one of my besties in the city, in one of her rare visits, and she looks at me and says you know Rachel, I really admire you for being so brave and going at this whole visa process by yourself. And I just kinda looked at her out of the corners of my eyes, like yeah whatever, what are you getting at? saying, sure but I’m not doing this alone, I have the bf helping me. Then it was her turn to contradict me. Don’t be silly. He helps you, but it’s not the same thing. Going on to tell me the specific things she just finds cool about what I’ve done. And in the end after calling me out for my crap a couple times, I finally accepted her compliment (yeah, Germans don’t get this self-deprecating thing all the time, lol) and I remember clearly thinking, this is why we are best friends, cause she sees not just what I do, but how I do it and more importantly how it takes its toll on me, cause that’s the thing I pretty much hide from everyone. Or try to joke off, cause sometimes the stress is so much that without poking fun at it, I’d lose perspective.

And that reminds me of another incident. The bf and I in Athens, meeting an old old  schoolmate of mine. One of my best friends and someone who I practically worshiped at the time. It was so odd. Now back then, my Greek was still a beginner. (In European standards of A1-C2, A1 being a beginner and C2 nearly a native speaker level, my German for instance, I can finally confidently say is a C2 on most days, but my Greek then was a A2 vs. B1/B2 nowadays). In fact I was still embarrassing my bf with it on occasion, but I was determined to step outside my comfort zone and use it when I wasn’t surrounded by teenage kids eager to make fun of me. So speaking a mix of German and Greek to each other, we met up my old friend, and he looked at me and was like so you can speak German and Greek. And I answered a few questions, and he complimented me for being able to speak a language, and it was a funny surreal moment, where I was like, huh, like what kind of person would I be, living and working in a country with no language skills, when all Americans want of immigrants is perfect English skills as soon as they come. Then I sorta thought back to the compliment and was kinda like, it’s weird being complimented by someone for a skill that he has no way of knowing is real or not. We could have been speaking gibberish or called it Dutch and he wouldn’t have known. Or for instance he didn’t know that the bf doesn’t sound German even though he speaks it perfectly, or that my accent is embarrassingly noticeable.

Oh God I thought, Amis are weird. Europeans don’t usually compliment something if they aren’t capable of knowing whether it’s true or not. I continued giving him the benefit of the doubt for far longer than I should have and listened to him gushing about Greek-American traditions that he lived out during his summer camp, only thinking that the whole time he was here, he probably never once got a whiff of the anti-American sentiment always bubbling just beneath the surface in Greece and probably directed at him without his knowing. Then later, he completely insulted me when the bf popped out for a second and he leaned over and was like he’s a great guy, a keeper. Honestly, I sound like a jerk but I don’t care. I was just thinking, oh yeah, you think so, thank goodness. Cause without your approval 5 minutes after meeting him, I totally would have dumped him. And it was at that moment really, although I spent the rest of my time in that city trying to meet up and be nice to my old buddy that I was like, yeah you don’t have the first clue about my life and even though I once hoped we’d be friends forever, I’m actually ok with never speaking again.

Cause the 5 minutes when I’m with my friends and they see through my crap and give me a real compliment means so much more than someone just saying nice things but not getting who you are as a person. That’s all I wanted to say. Those were just the two most extreme examples.

Versus the kids right, who I miss so much right now, who gave me such a hard time and who I barely got a day off from, but who you could never pull the wool over. Like when they knew the bf was gone to Greece without me and they’d give me extra hugs cause they knew I missed him, even when I said I was fine. Or who rolled their eyes at my bad jokes, but when they laughed, I knew it was a good one. Or who made fun of me for never getting Greek humor, and spent class saying outrageous lies about me and singing Canada’s praises, but left the class giggling and saying we love you miss Rachel. Or the kids who I knew that I was trying so hard to make my classroom a safe place to be yourself and knew that serious teasing wouldn’t be tolerated, and those times where they looked up at me, red in the face, after I defended them but pleased cause they knew I liked them just how they were. Or when they lingered to get something off their chest or because they were little boys with their first crushes. Or when they raised their hands to ask something no other adult would explain to them, talking to little girls about how rape, is always rape, even when the rapists are Greeks and the little girls shouldn’t have gone into a nearly empty bar. Talking to my 14 year old boys about no gun control rules in America, after the Aurora shooting, seeing their mouths hang open when I told them I could pick up 2 hand guns with my milk if I wanted to and nearly crying when they asked me, if Americans are just stupid. Because I wished so badly I could record the conversation to show politicians what even a child can see. About how the N word can’t be said in America, no matter what comes out rapper’s and film star’s mouths and thinking to myself how the stupid entertainment industry has no idea of the hatred they are importing to ignorant children. About how most Americans are really not racist, especially compared to the things Europeans have said to my face but cops killing black men certainly isn’t helping our reputation. Telling girls, all the time no dieting, but more importantly, that they are smart. Cause without hearing it one time from an adult, they’ll never have the self-confidence to see it themselves and will spend all their energy on their appearance. And then one day, when one of them finally gets it and stays after to proudly tell me the improvement in their grades, I float home, grinning like a fool. And without all of this my life feels very empty and meaningless.

I’m here in Freiburg about to start my studies. It’s all very interesting and everyone has been only friendly to me. And I really can hardly wait to see what my classes and classmates and professors are like. But I don’t want to be anyone’s token American and although I can understand their motivation, I’m not going to be fooled by people being nice to me, just cause they are hoping for free English help.

I’m networking, asking questions, getting my name out there, sending my resume out, starting a couple trial waitressing shifts at a brewery, chatting with my new roommate, keeping it professional with my private students. But I am currently not looking for friends. Maybe it’s my cultural heritage, but I can’t help feeling guilty putting people quickly into categories and not leaving the door open for friendship, like the Germans, not my fellow Americans, would do.

You can’t say that my students were my friends. Although some of them certainly wanted to think that. And perhaps we will be in the future, if their constant messaging is an indication. But I just can’t bring myself to go from seeing 100 faces who were overall honest with me about their like and dislikes, hope and dreams and who when they liked me, did so, cause they understood I was a teacher who told them about rap slang, dropped the board eraser without fail every lesson, laughed at herself for it and then told them that reading is cool, all while standing under a sticker saying school is stupid!, which was my attempt at teaching irony.

But I’m not an American that these Uni people are looking for. I put on this act but it’s such an out-dated and unnatural version of myself. I’d rather sit in my room and focus on why I’m here. I’d rather sit in my room talking to my family and friends and the bf during his study breaks.

I’ve thought about it. I have talked to more strangers in the last 1-2 months than I probably have in the last 3 years. (I’m not exaggerating. Nbg is just that anti-social. Ha!) It’s actually really hard. And that’s the thing right now that I am struggling against. Here I am feeling lonely without my kids, lost walking home in the evening without my bf’s hand to hold onto when little 17 year-olds try to start conversations with me, and instead of my over-sized sofa I have a desk and hard wooden chair waiting for me.

And that’s the point where I have to kick myself into the next gear of extreme stubbornness and not feel sorry for myself, but focus on the reasons we took these steps in the first place, and remind myself that true friendships take time, but I don’t have money for going out anyway. Not if I really want to pay off my student loans. That this is the chance I’ve been waiting 3 years for, so I can’t just give up cause I’m alone here. And then a few days ago, as I was walking home, I realized, it doesn’t really matter anyway. I am the girl who will always, no matter where she is, be missing someone somewhere. I was born to be missing people, from the moment my parents left my grandparents in Indy for Cali.

But now’s when I have to convince myself to keep going, cause even if it’s hard at first, it will lead to friendships later, so I’ve got to keep getting myself out of the house, when the opportunity presents itself. And when I write in here and I know that the people that I care about can read this, then I feel more connected to those I love and miss and that keeps me going too.

Because as much as I love my life here, I gave up a lot to be here.

At Home in the Black Forest

Yet again I’ve neglected to write here. My last very beaten down post got out everything I had been holding in for so long, that I didn’t feel the need to come back and rehash/nurse old wounds.

I suppose I can’t exactly say that I hate complaining per se, but I do hate whining. On the other hand, I suppose I won’t be embarrassed for trying to paint an honest picture of my struggles as I prepared for a new transition.

At least now I can provide an update and describe how things in every area of my life are looking up. 🙂

In some ways there have been many unexpected positives which have come my way. For instance, having come out the beginning of Aug. to Freiburg to find a flat, I felt very skeptical the first couple of days, meeting housemates that I didn’t want to live with, but terrified that all the places I would like to live would be out of my price range and unsure what compromise to make to ensure a place to live before flats really got scarce in the fall. I barely made the visiting hours at the student housing office, on the last possible day, came in and was offered, on the spot, what must be one of the cheapest alternatives in the city at the student dorms. I had to sign the contract sight unseen and pay for half of August, but considering what it would cost to come back, and/or a higher rent every month, I knew when to not look a gift horse in the mouth.

So I do have a flat and am so grateful for it, esp as I witnessed the Greek tandem partner I found here decide to leave for another smaller city since his months-long apt. search got him nowhere. Granted as a Greek man with reduced German and English skills, he might not have made a favorable impression on German landlords, and he was against living with others which would have made the search easier, if not his life. But still flats here, scarce on the ground.

Just a simple dorm room.

My place is small, just a room but with a nice window looking out into some trees, which makes sitting at my desk lovely and it’s also located next to the man-made lake, which means I can get out and go for a walk and watch the ducks and swans and turtles and little squirrels and feel more connected to nature and outdoors than the small parks and fields in Nuremberg ever did for me.

The little lake I live right off of.

This funny little building sits right next to the lake.

Happy ducks begging around the lake.

Walks under beautiful willows? Yes please!

Cute little turtles out sunning themselves.

Still in the process of moving in, but here’s the room from the window.

Klein aber fein!

Besides my room, I share a kitchen and bath with a roommate. The bath in German is translated as “wet cell” and that basically sums it up. It’s covered in plastic and is barely large enough to turn around in, but the shower has fantastic water pressure and all the less to clean I guess. No complaints here.As for the common room/kitchen it’s actually bigger than my old kitchen, but of course, I have to split the storage space between 2 people. I haven’t yet moved all my stuff in cause my original roommate was moving out and the surface of everything is covered in food stains. Yeah I may not be extremely tidy, but a kitchen has to be sanitary and I didn’t want to take on the project while all her stuff was still in there.

So besides my hard-to-find, low rent, I also got the surprise of my life going back over the information the University sent with my letter of acceptance. It seems that the German state of Baden-Württemberg has decided that tuition fees are bad-news-bears and done away with them.The were already low to begin with (about 500 per semester) and I was more than happy to pay them but in two years would still be 2000+ Euros and now I just pay some low administration fees. I mean I can hardly believe it! I’m getting my Masters program for just the cost of living plus health insurance. I never imagined anything this low! I am a fan of German universities for life!

For the first time in 8 months I feel like I have room to breathe again. Granted I still need to make my 2011 tax payment 😦 but I did chew the company out and that did wonders for my mental well-being. They need to call with a reduced tax-bill number, but as of yet I’ve heard not a peep from them and I’ll enjoy their silence for as long as it lasts.

I’m still waiting around for my student visa. I did have an appointment this past Thurs. but the person I was supposed to see got sick. And much as it sucked, couldn’t do anything about it, so will have to wait til later in Oct. Everything except the student visa, matriculating, and being insured (officially) have been taken care of and these last 3 steps have to be done sort of simultaneously anyway.

Meanwhile I’ve managed to secure one private lesson with a nice family who is moving abroad and need intensive help. I’ve got also a few bites on the flyer I put up around the Uni and have also put up some online notices for after-school help.

It remains to be seen how I can manage to balance everything when school starts, but atm I desperately need some uptake on my cash flow issues. I will also try to send in my resume to a couple restaurants in town. I’d prefer to run around and be a bit more active so I can save my brain and sitting down for my studies.

I guess that’s enough of an update for now. I’ve cleaned my room and almost gotten rid of all the boxes I had and sanitized and moved in my dry goods into the kitchen (for the first time since moving in at the end of August!)

I love the black forest. When I walk outside I am stupidly happy to be here. Even when it poured last week, watching to clouds hang over the forested hills was absolutely beautiful. I have my forested “mountains” (OK not the Rockies, but I can live). I have the sun shining, if not all day, at least when it’s cloudy, they pass over quickly, giving extended sunny periods. And lastly everywhere there are mountain streams and creeks and lakes. Just the combination of the 3 makes me feel so peaceful and so much at home. I’ve never felt this at home in Germany. It remains to be seen how my studies are but I would be quite content to stay in the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg for quite some time.

I’ve already told the bf where we are going house hunting later. It’s hard being apart. But not that hard because we found a plan to talk unlimited and the things we are doing now, or trying to do, have taken a lot of planning and they are the best steps to ensuring a happy future together. Without getting too romantic 😛 I can only say that the longer we are together, the better it gets and the more secure we are in our hopes and dreams. There, cue the AWW button.

But life for me has always been so much more beautiful and complicated than any movie. I told the bf that I didn’t like myself without him. And without missing a beat, he responds “That’s fine Rachie, I’ve never met you without me anyway.”  ❤ ❤ ❤