A woman’s perspective on being a young adult abroad.

Drowning in May. Oh what a tough time I’ve had getting adjusted to the summer semester.

Sometimes I wonder if things are difficult because I’m a foreigner in Germany, or just because I’m a person that stresses a lot. Then again it must be both and then add to that the fact that I am pretty much alone here without family or friends or bf and if I am not able to keep track of all of my finances properly, I’ll get shipped out of the country. I still consider myself incredibly lucky and optimistic but feeling like I’m always having to fight some new problem to stay and keep up my finances wears down on me.

Right now I am spending Sunday at home. I was scheduled to work, but I’ve had a scratch in my throat, which I think is contagious and I’d prefer if it didn’t develop into an all-out illness, since I have shifts on Wed. night, Fri. night, Sat. morning and Mon-Wed the week after. It’s way too many shifts. But very little can be done once the month starts and unfortunately being gone 5 weeks meant that I came back and had little say in changing it. They seemed to assume that since I was gone so long I was ready and willing to take 3-4 shifts a week. But I am not a full-time staff member and I don’t have any obligation to “make up” shifts. I have told them time and time again, that I only have the time and energy and financial ability (cause if I make too much in a month, I gotta file a tax return, even if I’m under the limit for the year, to get the taxed amount back) to do 1-2 shifts a week during university But they conveniently “forget” this constantly and that is the main reason I am leaving this job and the service industry forever.

Nowadays I’m trying to make sure university comes first for me. Calling in sick today was not something I “had” to do. But I felt it was more responsible to stay at home today, not stress out, prepare myself for the week and then make sure this illness doesn’t develop. Rather than force myself to go, feel crappy, not get things done for the week, drag myself along and then just when I have 5 shifts in a row practically come down with something serious and then really put all my co-workers out. There are many people gone right now. They can find someone to cover for me today, but having to cover my weekend shifts would be very bad.

Probably they don’t think of it like that. Oh well. I got to go to the doctor first thing Monday morning, have him look at my throat and write me a note for today. But I think it’s worth it. For so long in my life I was afraid to take care of myself when it put other people out. Now I realize it’s the only reasonable thing to do. It’s much better to act in advance, than be so afraid of disappointing someone that you put it off til the last minute, which is how I always used to do it. Oh how Europe is different!

How little I care recently about what people think of me! Not family and friends mind you. Your opinions are the only ones that matter. What people who are only passing acquaintances think of me no longer concerns me. Especially if they are naive enough to judge me for my appearance and are somehow shocked and disappointed later that I am not the person they assumed me to be. This may sound obvious, but ask lots of young girls about this and you might be surprised: I am not responsible for someone’s feelings when it involves their expectations of my personality. I present myself as best I can. My age doesn’t show on my face, but I am not obligated to explain myself to anyone who is surprised by this. I have also decided that when I am 30 and someone says to me, “oh you look much younger” usually in a accusatory tone like I meant to trick them, I am going to respond with “well you looked a lot smarter than to judge a book by its cover, but I guess we’re both wrong today” or alternatively: “yeah and you look much older than you are/ act much younger than you are.” Or instead of giving an answer I’ll reply as I have in the past, “I’m old enough for this question to be offensive and inappropriate. So I’ll just pretend you haven’t asked me.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the stupid things we women have to put up with. If you don’t agree with what I’ve written in the last paragraph, think about this question for me: are men asked about their age as often as women are? Do you ask new male acquaintances their age? Or are you satisfied if you can place them in the young adult category? Asking a woman how old she is, even coming from another woman, immediately upon meeting her is pedantic and insulting, it insinuates that she must explain herself to your misconception of her. That she isn’t old enough to be speaking in a mature educated manner. My senior classes were dying to know how old I was, because they thought of me as an extremely young teacher, but knew I was a good, qualified teacher. It wasn’t until the final goodbye party that my various classes dared to bring it up. You know why? Because despite their curiosity they were polite and had the patience to wait until an appropriate moment to ask. And even when asking were incredibly cautious. That is respectful behaviour. And in 2 short years I have decided I am no longer obligated to “explain myself” to people who let their curiosity get the best of them.

But to be honest, I’m worried that if I decide to have children in Germany, strangers will come up to me and ask me if my parents know and if I need help. No really. The bf has laughed about this and says we’ll get T-shirts printed if need be.

It’s normal for me nowadays to be the oldest person in my classes or group and it be assumed that I am the youngest and to be treated so. In Corfu for instance, I was older than all the rest of the participants, but I was the only one who knew it. And that’s why I ignored most of them. I do not like being talked down to by people not only younger, but far less experienced than me.

People only see what they want to see. It depresses me, but it also allows me to use this failing to my advantage. I know how people expect young girls to behave. At work I act dumb and incompetent if need be, I take whatever is the path of least resistance with my interactions with strangers. I get tips because I am “dumb”, I get tips cause I’m “pretty”, I get tips cause of my accented German. I’d like to get tips just for competence, but that is not very lucrative in short interactions. If this makes me a bad person, so be it. I don’t lie to people. I just don’t take the time and energy to correct their misconceptions of me. Besides I’ve got nearly half a million US dollars I will lose out on in my working career just by being a woman.

I talked with the bestie about this topic yesterday on skype for ages. I love talking to her. She makes me feel like a sane person again. No one gets my day to day life like she does. Did I tell yall about this one? I got an email from a private student wanting me to correct something on the weekend in a 24-hour period. It was last weekend. I had 2 work shifts and easter and 2 birthday parties. I really liked this woman and we shared a lot of the same opinions about things and generally it was a breeze to teach her. I felt bad turning her down, but I knew there was no way I would be able to do it without torturing myself, and even then it might not be good. So I gently told her no, expressed my remorse and that was that. And then came the response that made me snap.

I got a guilt trip: she was really counting on me and can’t I squeeze it in and if not, find a replacement for her, but not just any replacement, one that can help her get a good grade.

Typical native speaker problems in Germany: No one respects your time, and when you aren’t available for their every need, they want you to pimp out your English speaking friends. (Almost every single company I have worked with here, has asked for a list of my native speaker contacts when I quit.)

I ask you all. Can you imagine a successful male teacher being told be another man, that he had really counted on him for the grade on his college essay and that he felt really let down??? Let me answer that for ya, NO. A man would not get a guilt trip for having other time commitments.

So I wrote her a response, as dry and emotionless as I could manage. Stating: if she wanted professional help, she needed to give me the professional courtesy of time so I could ensure the quality. If she wanted an exception to this rule, it is standard in the industry that these “rush jobs” cost twice as much. If she asks and I say no, she needs to respect my answer, and that I will not drop everything in my life because I am afraid of disappointing someone. I reminded her how in our first meeting I had informed her that my studies come first and that in order to take on extra work I needed advanced notice.

I knew she would not want to work with me after this email. She wrote back giving me a list of all the roles she had in her life, mother, wife, nurse, etc. Trying to create a commonality as women. Big f***ing deal. Everyone I know is busy. How should I respect her reasons for busy if she calls my reasons for being busy into question?? My refusal had nothing personally to do with this person and everything to do with the fact I don’t not work with people who do not respect my boundaries. To be fair in the end I did ask a friend if she’d consider grading it, passed the email along but this former student of mine never contacted her.

I bet right now you have an adjective for my email. I bet it starts with a “B”. Wait a second though. This is what I hate. A woman is called a bitch for saying no. By other women! But a man is just a successful businessman managing his time.

This woman thought she could get what she wanted by making me feel bad! Hold up! I am in high demand here. I turn down work all the time and I don’t “feel bad’ about it. I had another student who gave me lots of editing jobs but for whatever reason he kept wanting to have me go over his short papers personally, probably because it was easier for him to see why I was correcting something, but he always texted me last minute and an hour of my “teaching” time is worth way more money than 15 minutes sitting at a computer correcting 5 pages. But he didn’t offer to pay more either. He also got an email. Long story short I am no longer interested in any work except for with kids and the 2 Greek ladies I’m helping with German.

If people look at me and think I am young and nice and will do whatever underpaid, last-minute nonsense they come up with, they are in for a shock. I am a ruthless businessperson. I know my market. I know the asking price. I know how much of a high-demand native speakers are in. And most importantly I know my own ability to bring about results. I am confident in my abilities and if they underestimate that, they have more to lose than I do, because I will always find someone with work for me. Don’t even care.

I took a trip down memory lane, looking at a bunch of old pictures trying to sort some for a photo book. Here’s a good one:

rachie

There I was, a student abroad in Europe (here in Budapest) with no idea about how to be successful abroad. This was 8 years ago. I’m no longer a lost little girl in need of a guide book. I can write my own guide books now and I don’t enjoy wasting my time with people who need this fact explained slowly with short simple sentences.

I take it for granted that the majority of people I meet will not be permanent figures in my life and don’t take this unpleasant fact of life so personally anymore. What regrets I have in my life have to do with spending too much time and effort with people that never seriously cared about me and not enough with those who did. But hindsight is 20/20. I regret not seeing my grandparents more as a child. I regret spending most of university with people who would ditch the friendship later without warning and taking til study abroad to make me realize how amazing and trustworthy my bestie is. I regret not meeting my boyfriend sooner. I regret most of my time in London. I regret trying to be friends with crazy immature women, when my gut was screaming run away. I regret not having enough money to visit my family to celebrate special occasions and moments together.

There’s more to say. I will leave you with my interpretation of the willy wonka meme.

willy
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