Building my new life in the black forest, day by day

Three weeks til the semester ends. Then my real work begins. By the end of September I’ll have finished my first year here. As to how the next year will look, I’m too afraid to try and imagine.

Fear. Such a strange concept for this normally fearless chica.

Well what can I say about this latest transition. 99% of the time I am distracting myself from the fact that everything about my day-to-day life is a major step-down from what I had in Nbg.

I think the fear of failing this very hard semester is quite normal, and that’s usually what causes procrastination anyway. But I mean, in terms of being afraid how much longer it’ll take for the long distance thing to end, I feel most relationships end because two people start growing in two opposite directions, and what is growing in opposite directions but a collection of daily habits and decisions that don’t include the other person?

Another year of this? No thanks.

But moaning about a new transition is stupid. I mean it was my decision and it’s a good decision. So what finding new bread, water, groceries is different! Some things, well a lot of things really have turned out to be better, and it’s not like I moved to a new country.

Yeah I’ve got no money. Yeah I’ve got student loans. Yeah I’m kinda trapped in my visa, without being able to take a break if something happens, but we can cross those bridges later if need be. Yeah I’m living in a dorm with a filthy child, but we all were filthy children once. Yeah at least 4 nights a week people stumble out of the bar 200 feet away screaming and keeping me up til 2 am at least and coming here to party every weekend. But I’m not such a light sleeper and anyway the ground floor means that my room in incredibly cool, despite the heat and it’s another motivation to get away for the weekend myself. Also who can complain about having a park right outside where they can go sunbathing between classes?

Yeah my classmates are all much younger than me and they aren’t at a point in their lives yet where family means anything positive. I know they sneer at me for wanting to have children because in Germany going to work with children means you’re a bad mother, and they really can’t imagine that I will be able to shrug off this stupid judgmental culture as not being my own, (whereas they will never be able to). But I was all about career when I was 23. In 4 or 5 years they might be surprised how much things change. I know that once we get married I will start losing all the connections I’ve made here, but you know for once I can see it in advance, and I’ll just stay grounded in what is real and not paint fantasy connections where they don’t exist.

So who cares that I feel misunderstood? I guess it’s way better than what I’ve sometimes witnessed with an older woman in a group where people start to feel sorry for her because they think she is old and bitter. I guess (relatively speaking) I might be old and bitter, but I don’t look like it, so people assume I’m like them and think I’m ok.

I’m too old to be living a student’s life, but it’s only temporary and thank god it is cheap and allows me to focus almost exclusively on my classes.

But since I am being so honest here, everything, everything here that I’ve written about would be nothing, minor issues, little gnats swarming brushed away with a wave, but the joy is gone from my life. My bf, my students were my joy, my laughter, my reason to be a better person. If my bf were here, all this would fly over my head and I’d be the same silly girl busy with our life together and finding friends naturally. At least my bf will come back into my life eventually.

God how the hole in my heart the children carved out day-by-day over three years echoes with emptiness. I can’t say enough how much I miss them. I talk with them on fb and that is really helpful (and why I am on it so much, honestly I need to check in every day and see what they are up to), but it’s a new territory and it’s not always easy. I know I will keep in contact with many of them and that makes me feel incredibly relieved. I write to say I miss them, they say it back but miss me less. And¬†I know they have other people who’ve come in their lives and filled the place I left, and¬†that’s what’s best and normal for them. But sometimes I worry that isn’t the case. I want to be there for them. Take my little boy (well 15 but to me always little) who I’ve known for 4 years now, always so quiet, but so capable and funny, last year we got through a tough year with his puberty together that drove me crazy. I wished him happy birthday and he wrote back asking if I’d be coming back to say hi and catch up. I won’t lie it destroyed me. I cried myself to sleep. I couldn’t even write him back.

That’s the state of my emotions; either I start bawling at the touch of a feather or I ruthlessly pursue my educational goals, unafraid of what other think of me. They aren’t my family, friends, or children. If I don’t know I ask. If I have something to say, I speak up. If this means others think I am a bitch, that’s their fault. I didn’t give up the two most amazing things to come into my life and save for 3 years, to sit back and be too afraid to make the most out of it. Besides if a guy can do it this way, then so can I. And anyone who’s not supportive is just a barrier to be ignored.

But I can’t turn this self-defensive thing off. I don’t feel normal. I don’t feel like a decent person. Everything is focused on me and my goals, which is ok, but this sort of selfish life is not what makes me happy. That’s why I keep telling the bf I want a dog. I need people to look after and spoil. I need kids to make laugh; I want the bf here to spoil; I want a spare room to look after house guests. I want a balcony with little plants to grow or a little kitten to look after. I want to distract myself from myself. I don’t want new friends. As I mentioned I am not confident they will stick around, so it would be unwise to invest time there rather than in my education. Besides how can you make new friends when you feel like your personality has been reduced to stereotypes and your student life doesn’t truly reflect your capabilities and passions?

What do I wish? I wish this “transitional” period were to end soon, so that I wouldn’t have to try so hard to act and feel normal. I will be teaching kids in the fall and I think it will do me a world of good to be littlemsami again, with little 11 year-olds full of hugs and laughter. If my bf manages to get out here this summer/fall, then we will start having shared experiences here and escape from the stress of the pressure we are under to meet our goals.

Anyway enough of my whiny update. I’ll forge on with the rest of my work this semester and hopefully the next post will have some new positive developments. ūüėÄ At least the end is in sight.

 

***EDIT***

I wrote this post and then immediately the week after, I messaged about 20 different former pupils on fb to check in on them and we had the most amazing catch-up that did me a world of good. So I am happy to report that coming to terms with my feelings here, made me realize what I could do to change it and the kids were very happy to hear from me and tell me their news. And that made me feel like myself again.

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A fresh start, natural start, without the stink!

Summer is just around the corner and to fit the changing season there’s a new format to the blog. It’s also a good way to showcase some rotating pics of my latest vacations. Maybe this one will stay around for awhile.

Now we are in the season of avoiding public transport, because¬†deodorant¬†seems to be a hard concept to grasp here. I feel like I’ve outgrown most of my American prude-isms, except for the smell of sweat. Especially the smell of sweat on crowded public transport. Made up my mind to just walk home every afternoon, cause getting my face shoved into the wrong person’s armpit can make the half an hour stroll totally seem worthwhile, even after a long day.

The bf hates this about me. He thinks I am totally stereotyping Europeans and then demands to know if he stinks too. So petulant. Look spray on deodorant only works for a few hours. In America we have deodorant plus anti-perspirant! Sure it might be giving us cancer. The latest research seemed to be undecided. But I for one am proud of our non-stinky ways. I’ll be the first to admit: I am totally German now when it comes to my attitude and aversion to air-conditioners, it’s a way too big change in temperature and totally¬†unnecessary, not to mention borderline unhealthy and I won’t even mention the environmental atrocities committed in their¬†omnipresence.

But when it comes to deodorant look, in the winter I’ll spray on the European nonsense, with a roll of the eyes, but once summer hits, I’ve got my hoard of normal sized stick deodorants from every package my parents send me ever. I can buy the mini size here in Europe, I suppose, but it’s like an American travel size and too much of a joke for me to take seriously.

Why, why do I care? We all have sweat glands. It’s normal, natural the logical German voice inside me argues in vain. ¬†Don’t fight ze nature! he commands. In vain, in vain. I can deal with the fact that other people might stink around, but I’ll never integrate so much to allow my own bodily odors the freedom to harass fellow commuters. I’ve gotten pretty good at holding my breath for the seven minute tram ride and/or only breathing when the doors open.

Leaving that topic aside, that reminds me of another German obsession I simply cannot support. That is their affection for lots of public nudity. Case in point, what do you call a slug in German? A naked snail. (eine Nacktschnecke). I can’t make stuff like this up. My friend told me and I couldn’t take her seriously for half an hour. I’ve now taken the name on step further. The Germans have an abbreviation for when areas are designated as nudist friendly: it’s FKK. (Freik√∂rperkultur: lit. free body culture) This is used as an adjective, like that’s and FKK beach. So now much to my bf’s amusement (and his is really the only one I care about, cause let’s face it, a German would just not get why FKK is so damn funny to foreigners) I call all slugs in German FKKschnecken. Cause I mean what’s the difference between a naked snail and a nudist snail?? This has become so funny to our juvenile sense of humor that now every slug for the last month has had us in stitches.

I will never forget the day I was in east Berlin reading at a lake and this nice looking family came right next to me, before I even realized they were there, they were already all naked, mom pop and the daughters and changing about a foot away from me into their swimsuits. This imagine is ingrained in my memory forever! I tried the German nudist thing, you know to be open-minded and European. I went with a gf to a nudist spa telling her, we might as well go now and be assured of having the best looking bodies there while we still are young. We are still friends, perhaps because of it. At any rate it seemed to cement our friendship in a much quicker way than anything else ever could. But  4 years ago, when I went back to Germany and my Greek co-worker convinced me to go to the gym with her, I was never so relieved to have a friend in the locker room who did not feel the need to approach me drying herself off with a towel between her legs at eye level, like I witnessed by many other friends in this space. No we modestly changed behind our locker doors and left the FKK to the experts.

So you see, despite what family and friends think, I am not actually an all-out Europhile. The American prude in me gets what she wants.

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

Little miss Greek me

So I’ve spent 3 weeks in Greece. I can’t talk about being back at Uni in Freiburg. My brain hasn’t quite come back from Greece yet.¬†I have so much to write in here, but I doubt I will get to half of it. I wanted to write during the seminar in Corfu, but I was using the bf’s old computer and it was so slow, and I was so tired, that I kept falling sleep before I managed to type up anything.

Where do I even begin? I don’t want to discuss the seminar, except to say it was a huge waste of time. And the people at the Greek university that I was hoping would turn into helpful contacts ended up being disinterested and a major let-down. I have a 15-page paper to write and I have no idea how to do it. That PISSES me off. It also certainly comes as no surprise that a group of young (21 year old) students from Athens and Saloniki would be stuck up and think they are better than me because my Greek isn’t perfect yet and that the co-ordinator of the program was busy enough to be unreliable and insincere.¬†But oh well, my Greek improved. And I don’t care what strangers think of me. If that were the case, I would be much less honest here.

But I am not so inexperienced and immature to let a few stupid narrow-minded people upset me and ruin my whole trip. Outside of the (often 8+) hours wasted at the university everyday my time in Corfu was amazing. And I want to talk about Greece.

My friend Giota and her mother have told me a number of times that I am more Greek than many Greeks, or Greek-Americans. How weird it is for me to belong somewhere where I don’t belong. When I am in Greece, I am home. Period. End of story. I am more at home there than in Germany, and dare I say it, even America.

I mean I define my American identity as part of the counter-culture that resists the lull of complacency and technology that distract us from changing the system and tearing off the chains of student debt and political apathy and consumer loyalty that enslave us. Am I American, yes, but I resist almost every label that comes with it. Is that option part of America, of course. I have many like-minded friends, but when I go home I see people that care, but feel powerless and when I am home the influence of my own culture slowly seeps in, until I too begin to go with the flow and stop questioning whether small decisions can indeed change things. I am much more comfortable away from “home”, looking at things with a critical eye and knowing why I don’t belong anymore. I guess some would call it being a europhile snob, but I think I get so angry because I care. All the things I was told and believed in good faith during high school and college turned out to be lies. I am disillusioned with my country. But I will still defend to all the bastards, (sorry but I’ve lost my patience) I meet here who think that just because they’ve learned English in school and have studied abroad during college they know it better than me. (Oh the next time I will have to write about how infuriating it is to belong to a country and mother tongue that the rest of the world thinks they own claim to, but that’s enough for now, before I get too far off topic.)

In Greece I belong. Not in a naive way. I lay no claim to it, like all the Greek-American friends I have. I didn’t choose it. I resisted it, but it always found a way back into my life. Greece chose me people. Don’t try and tell me otherwise unless you want to spend a whole day listening to my whole life story. Because in the end you will have to agree with me. I am not trying to “be Greek”. I am Greek. When I taught the kids, I let them discuss America and hid how much Greek I understood. I was a good teacher, not because I was American, but because I was like a Greek they spoke English with. Some traits we didn’t share. I am my own person, but because their culture was my culture, it was easy to understand each other, even if they never realized why. I asked them about their dance group for instance, and they never realized their teacher had been dancing these dances before they had been born.

And that’s when I knew it was too late. I wasn’t trying to prove it, I didn’t have to show it off. It was a part of me and maybe it was always meant to be that way. That’s another reason this Corfu seminar was so funny. I think the group of students were waiting for me to come up and beg them to talk to me cause they were so cool and I was trying to learn the language, but I wasn’t bothered, because I (no longer) don’t have to befriend every Greek person I meet, especially those I think are spoiled brats and behave rudely.

Here I am then, with so many ties to the land, the culture, the language, the food. I think I underestimated the influence of growing up in the Greek church. I mean for goodness sake, I taught myself the Greek alphabet at 8 years old, so I could follow along in the liturgy and I learned these sounds myself at 10 when I starting singing them in the choir. This language, while not modern Greek was imprinted onto my heart and soul. In Corfu I went to a Wednesday night lenten service, which I was never able to attend in Nbg, because I always had to work, and even after so many years of not attending, I still knew all the words to the psalms/chants, which surprised me even as I was singing along.

Did I grow up speaking the language fluently? No but I grew up hearing the sounds ¬†on a regular basis and it makes sense that these sounds are part of my identity in a way that German never will be, even if it’s not the same sounds that you might hear on the streets of Athens. Just like I grew up as “Greek-orthodox” as all the rest of the 3rd generation grandkids did too. I had adopted Greek yiayias. I danced at Greek fest, dropped out of Greek school, sung in the choir, went to Sunday school, ate and cooked Greek food, was part of youth group and had about 100 Greek words that we used for certain things. My church friends were normal Americans with this Greek thing that we all did together. I didn’t grow up in New York and mostly I was spared from the insecure exclusionary closing of rank that sometimes persists in certain Greek American cultures until I was nearly an adult. After that I swore to never marry a Greek boy and I placed my faith above the culture and that was that.

Even in my first trip to Greece in 2005, I stayed mostly focused on my faith, and not worried about my identity. But it was then that I realized Greek Americans were more than anything else, American and Greeks in Greeks were far more diverse than people at home had led me to believe. And so I became curious to find out who these people really were, that it seemed I’d spent my whole childhood learning about.

For instance on this trip I wanted a spanikopita. I asked a woman at a rest-stop. She made no sound, no movement, but simply rolled her eyes. I was so shocked, I thought, “how rude!”, but by the end of the trip I discovered that an upward jolt of the chin and a rolling of eyes means “no” and doesn’t even require a sound. But if you don’t feel like saying,¬†oxi¬†you can tsk with your tongue and that alone can mean “no” too. Oh how far I’ve gotten in my life with this head movement. I tsked no to the kids all the time. It saved countless hours of useless discussion. I’ve been using it now since at least 2009. And btw “yes” is similar, a slow nod down to the right.

And so I traveled and lived in Greece, made Greek friends, went to the Greek Church, and finally, accidentally got my job teaching Greek kids, met the most hilarious caring guy who happened to be Greek and I guess sealed my fate into this culture.

When I was a teenager I used to be mad at my dad for making my life needlessly complicated and forcing me to be the outsider. It would definitely make things more comfortable for me if I looked the part, or could just say that I am Greek American. Sometimes in Greece when I don’t want to discuss things, I do. But usually I try to keep things honest and short. I can now choose from 3 explanations, or even 4 depending on my mood. My dad’s a priest, although that normally ends with them frustrated that at least one of my parents isn’t somehow Greek. That my boyfriend is Greek, which is the one I use mostly now, since it’s the shortest and most logical explanation. The third involves me being a teacher for 3 years. Sometimes I just say I like the language and my bf tells people I just like Greece, which I hate the most cause it simplifies things too much. No one really ever gets all 3 unless I feel they can be trusted to listen carefully enough to understand it.

This trip was different in so many ways from all the other times before it, because this time the language we used together in front of others was nearly exclusively Greek. It was also coming back to Crete, the place where I fell in love with Greece, the place where I decided belonging to Greece could be a good thing. The first time I ever felt a part of the Greek culture and not just a part of the church.

My boyfriend has always listened to me and accepted my childhood and identity for what it is. He has never passed judgement or made assumptions about the situation I grew up in. He is the first and only man who got to know and fell in love with me for me, and not for what he assumed or hoped I was like. Our love for Greece is a huge part of our relationship. It’s a place we both feel at home.¬†*Funny aside though, the only thing that he didn’t expect was a few years ago, when we were on the island of Skiathos and I bought all my ingredients in a market and made my favorite Greek dishes without any help or recipe. I think he had never dared to hope I was so Greek in that respect.*

Being in Crete was amazing. I hardly need to say it. I showed him all the things that I found so, well magical those many years ago. The lemon and orange blossoms were blooming. I’ll never be able to smell those without thinking of Crete. The tinkling of sheep bells on top of the mountains. The weathered Cretan men who look like they’ve come from another time period. The accent. The snow-capped peaks as you sit on the beach with your toes in the water. The blue of the waves. The soft Cretan cheese. The mountain greens. The chilly evenings. The Cretan folk music guiding you around the dangerously winding roads, hugging the sky. The hawks soaring above the mountains. The shaggy goats coming out to greet you. The Venetian-styled cities. The rocket fuel called raki.

When I am in Crete I think in English and Greek prose. I have so many poems about Crete. All terrible, but who cares.

If one day you never here from me and you think I am dead, go to Crete, up to the mountains and ask someone where the crazy American is, and you’ll find me alright.

We spent the whole week talking about what we wanted for the future. But not about the “romantic us”, about the practical stuff like the values we wanted to hold onto, about the difficulties each country would bring, about how we could make our careers work in each other’s best interest, about the difficulty of raising children in two languages, about where we wanted home to be. Because two people who both don’t belong to the country they choose to live in, visiting the country they both most feel at home in awakens a longing that is hard to explain to anyone who has not experienced something like that themselves.

I would give up so many things to live in Greece, my bf would not. But we haven’t completely given up the possibility either.

But Crete wasn’t all. I spent two weeks in Corfu (Kerkyra). The people there were so friendly. I had so many nice moments where people patiently let me speak in my slow Greek, sincerely helping me choose gifts for my niece and nephew in a warm fashion. The neighborhood priest told me the time for liturgy. The women in the church got an extra candle for me to hold during the service when I was standing without one. The shopkeepers called me “my girl”, “my doll”, “my love”, “my beauty”. (Sure it’s like the dear or hun in America, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it!) The people in the neighborhood smiled back when I was smiling. I made jokes about my bad Greek that were sometimes funny. I got to speak to adorable little kids running around without their parents giving me dirty looks. I found a great place for vegetarian pitas, where the owners made me and the German girls I brought with me feel welcome. I found homemade pita place for breakfast where the sisters running it got so flustered that I wanted to bring my plate in. I started recognizing the people there in the city. I had long conversations with a man in a gyros stand, waiting for my fries about the crisis, and later in the week when I passed by the shop, he was standing outside and waved to me as I walked by. (This might seem normal to Americans, but in Germany it’s normal to sort of ignore people on the street after one interaction). I also had a long conversation with a man in the student cafe who told me about good dishes to try. Both were just friendly normal conversations that I miss so much in Germany. In the student cafeteria, the woman offered to serve up the lenten octopus dish when at first I only wanted some beans. The woman in the bakery gave me an extra little bit of bread every time I came in.

I had at least a hundred little stupid conversations, which weren’t always friendly or nice, and I had to be really active in making sure all these interactions took place in Greek. But every interaction brought my language skills further, and even though the people spoke far to quickly for me at times (the accent on the island is sped up, popularly attributed to the Italian occupation) they were not arrogant when I asked them to slow down or repeat it. I felt welcomed and at home by the people of the island. I feel at home in Crete, but that’s sometimes despite the people.

I got stuck in Crete one extra night because of all the strong winds and I laughed because Crete wasn’t ready for me to leave just yet. Then I went to Corfu and was blown away by the people and shocked by how quickly I had settled in in two weeks. You can put your body on an airplane and take it where ever you like, but your heart follows different rules.

Saying goodbye to Irakleon

Saying goodbye to Irakleon

Semester Break, Facebook break, Me, broke…

 

Welcome to the odd part of Germany universities. I now have all this free time, in between semesters, to get my work done!! It’s incredibly stressful! The last two weeks have all been the same. Wake up, drink coffee, get not nearly as much work done as I planned, go to bed determined to do more the next day, fail and so on, so forth.

Not like I’m complaining, but in the US when the semester was over, it was over, there were no due dates in a month.

It isn’t that bad really, I mean I can’t completely relax, but you know like everything since starting this Masters program, it’s all about finding a balance. At least the two ¬†papers I have to write are both in English. I am already flipping out a bit, since they are the only part of my grade this semester, so you know me, little Ms. Perfectionist. I want an A¬†dammit¬† or in this case a 1. And I can get it, if there is anything in life that I am sure about it’s my ability to get good grades when I make the effort. But what’s been happening is me flipping out about not having written a paper since 2007. I mean 2007. Let that sink in. And the last time I was at a German University 2006, and I never wrote any serious papers there. But everyone assumes I did. I feel like an OLD. POSER. There I said it.

So the first week was me immobilized by my fear of me being too old and not understanding the expectations properly here. And before you scoff at me for being silly, the number of times I have been kicked down because of my failure to prepare properly, (well up to German standards, I certainly thought I had done enough at the time) it’s not even worth the “if I had been given a penny…” metaphor. If I could avoid all those instances, I would be so stupidly in love with Germany, I’d have applied for citizenship by now. This constant struggle to stay on top of things, that’s what makes me hate this place when times get tough.

Anyway. one paper down, mostly, one to go. And today I chipped away at it slowly. ¬†Still am in fact, this is just a break. Now I can say I’ve got about a third of the content down and will get to the halfway point by Friday easily. I’m meeting with the instructor on Wednesday, so by then I should have the first section printed out, so I can discuss what I’ve written up and where it needs to go. This is a huge relief. The other instructor who taught our intro to linguistic research course, I’ve also met with and he offered to look over my paper before I send it in to be graded, so I just sent that to him as well. And I am correcting one of my fellow students English draft, since we’ve already reached an agreement about checking each other’s stuff. So I am setting myself up for success. What actually will happen, that remains to be seen, but I am certainly being active here. Running my butt off.

Speaking of running around a lot, I am unable to stop losing weight, I guess. Obviously I am ok with this. What, I’ve only spent most of my life on a diet. I better be. But I haven’t worn my rings now since the semester began and that I HATE! But they have slipped off so many times and once or twice nearly lost for good, so I am hoping summer means fat swollen fingers. I mean to be fair I really don’t need more slender hands. Of all the things, but you can’t chose it. I feel healthy. I’m not cooking a lot read: at all. But why I am losing weight is hard to say. Stress or lack of stress, or simply eating when I am hungry and only then. I’m just nervous that it’ll all come back with a¬†vengeance, or when I go to visit the bf for a few weeks his mom will stuff me, just in time to be fat again for Greece, or what’s the most worrisome is that going back and forth and losing and gaining quickly is really very dangerous. So mostly I am trying to focus on the down direction, but in a stable way so that when my life gets turned upside-down again, I can remain in control. And obviously figure out whatever good things I am doing so that when I get to feed the bf again, I won’t go crazy as well.

And then there’s this someecard. Can you sense my anti-social nature? I need to get away from things online and concentrate on the things I have here. (which in terms of a social life, is like zilch, but currently it suits me) The bf has changed my fb password and I won’t go on it again til all my papers are written and handed in. I am not going to let surfing online stop me from being successful here and all this free-time and all this anxiety means it’s easy to distract yourself from the tasks that you must finish. I am so motivated to do well here and determined not to psych myself out. So no fb.¬†Never mind¬†that overall I am still sick of all the demands people place on me. Look I am going away for about 5 weeks, and in that time my ability to earn the rent is very limited, but I made some promises to my old boss and that’s important to me and all my new students have to just deal with it. Dealing with people’s expectations for you never gets easier, but it’s part of life. I wasn’t planning on it, to personally, disappoint/offend some one, it just happened. It’s a GOOD problem to have. But now I am scrambling to stuff as much cash into my checking account as possible, and let me private students down gently. The timing and last minute nature left something to be desired. I could have saved 150 Euros on my flight back to Nbg which I won’t be going on with the bf. Also I certainly wouldn’t have planned my dentist bills, eye doctor bills, new glasses, new semester fees crete and really really slow days at the restaurant all at the same time, but now I am stuck with it all and they’d have to be paid at some point anyway.

So yes, nothing glib from me today, just a stupid little update. The bf has got his rewrite test to write on Friday. We are both stressed about it. I can’t call him like I usually do, so I’ve gotten out my puzzle and when I’m sick of my paper and Greek, I work on it. It’s helping me from going crazy, because calling him is a distraction we can’t risk. This long distance thing won’t be worth it unless he passes everything and his second test happened over a snow day and he ended up arriving late and felt rushed and unsure. I hope this time the news is much better.

A Greece related update.

I’m kinda having a rubbish week. I’ve had a headache behind my right eye for two days now. I don’t know if it’s cause I am doing so much Greek and studying or because my eyes are not well. I went into the eye doctor about two weeks ago, after waiting a whole month, wanted her to look and make sure my eyes were healthy, etc, but apparently the health insurance system has changed again, and as in everything here, the burden lies on me to inform myself. Well I tried to insist on an eye testing, but she said it cost money and I need to think it over because I shouldn’t drive 4 hours afterwards. But what was the appointment about then?? They wouldn’t even offer up how much money it would cost. I stood there in shock at them basically kicking me out and then made them explain to me that the rules had changed again!

So frustrating. I have really bad vision. It’s not some superficial beauty treatment. Everyone I see about contacts or glasses reminds me how I have to go in every year. But what little good that does, when they won’t even do what I ask them to. I guess it’s good at least that everyone here has to do the same thing, but it also might be why everyone pushes and shoves around here. Maybe they are all coming and going from¬†bureaucratic¬†nightmares and getting the short end of the stick because they didn’t inform themselves well enough. I’ve come to realize that people here present their opinions like they’re gospel truth all the time and you should trust them like basically never, but always go with your gut instinct and not be afraid of being a pain in the butt until you get what you need. Cause if you don’t get it done when you are there the first time, it means double the work for you.

Oh Germany, you are so exhausting. As a citizen here, you have to find out everything, you are expected to keep track of any of the changes. And even in this “efficient country” they are capable of doing stupid shit. Case in point, for years now, people have been paying a quarterly co-pay, when they need to see the doctor, but then they can go as much as they want til the next quarter, they just need to take the form with them. It’s a bit of a pain, but we’ve all gotten used to it. But hey guess what guys, we’ve got an election coming up and grandma and grandpa hate this extra cost, cause it means they have to put a limit on their hypochondriac ways, which is actually VERY good for the health system overall Apparently I read that they had “too much money” and didn’t know what to do with it. Oh what a problem Germany. After you’ve been taking away the services health insurance provides for years and years. Such a bs excuse. If that’s really the case they can put it toward the Dr’s salaries, which like every other one in Germany has been stagnate for decades, or they could use it to take off some of the extra costs not covered by the main insurance. I’d rather pay a co-pay than have my eye doctor refuse to look at my eyes. Oh and all these changes that have been made, that’s up to the normal patient to figure it out, oh and yeah health insurance costs went up this year too. It’s like a shell game. Which one’s the money hidden under?

At least it’s interesting. And I’m used to it so it’s more of a minor meh, than a real complaint.

But my headaches seem to have the perfect timing, whenever I have chunks of time set aside for writing my essays. I took a nap for an hour, which helped, but I had to cancel my evening German lesson, cause it wasn’t going to happen. Tomorrow I am working in the pub, so I needed to make sure it goes away for real tonight.

Oh but a bit of positive news: I’m going to be spending 3 weeks in Greece, sort of randomly. I love being at Uni again. Well the first week I am going to Crete with the bf and I am so excited to just be able to be somewhere with him where my to-do list can’t follow me and we can just hold hands and walk on the beach, and yes I know it’s sooooooo romantic and I should shut up. Oh I don’t care. I have a Greek boyfriend, who is so macho that after I found a great word, that means “tender” that for some reason I really enjoyed and so I called him it, that he got so incensed that he went on to make fun of himself in an over-the-top manner for 1/2 an hour about how he is tender and therefore a softie and totally not a man and gay. All the while I’m sitting listening in disbelief, with my face in my palm. Whatever you say dear, so the poem texts you send me are Greek and manly and not at all about love. Sure. Yeah, when he’s in Greece though, he becomes even more Greek, which can be good and bad. The good is that he is super protective of me and can allow himself to be a bit more emotional. In Germany he scolds me for drinking coffee, but in Greece after I’ve reached my coffee allowance he’ll have gotten me another frappe, just because he talked to the waiter. I love this even more than getting presents from him. And the best is how relaxed he is. The odd identity of living somewhere your whole life and still being an outsider is gone. He still gets annoyed about Greeks who talk about him as a German, but for the most part, he speaks the language, has the culture and fits in, so no one asks and so he is more relaxed and smiles constantly and sings Greek love songs to me, which I love almost as much as the coffee thing!

Never mind¬†that I love the feeling of being spoken to by the Greeks as being welcome in their country. All the personal pronouns, all the pride that reflects back in their eyes when I tell them I love Greece. No one speaks to me in Germany in a way that makes me feel I belong. And I actually really like my life here!! It’s always about where I come from and after 4 straight years of being only here, it’s really not relevant to talk about America day-in and day-out. And even if nowadays many Germans realize that America can’t offer the same quality of life as I can find here, they never bridge that gap of us vs them. Sometimes the Greek tribalism is a bit extreme and comes back to bite you, but when you are described to others as “one of us” (diki mas), it’s a special privilege you cherish.

Yeah well we booked a week in a beautiful part of Crete. Then I got an email about being invited to join the seminar sponsored by the Erasmus program. I had previously applied, but the spots had been filled pretty quickly and as an American they weren’t sure I could come. I thought because of what I had just booked that it wouldn’t work but then I looked at the dates again and realized if I left Crete a bit early, I could still make it to the program on time. Re-booking the trip was not worth the money. So the bf has a day and half without me and I am a bit bummed to be robbed of my time on that island and my time with him. Aegean even pushed up the flight after I booked it, so I have 3 hours less than I planned. I am sure I will be a wreck on the plane saying goodbye. But it’s a brilliant opportunity. The class is paid for and even covers flight and travel expenses getting there and back to Germany. I just have to cover lunch and dinner. Ok so pinch me I feel so lucky. And the bf is happy for me too. All this week I’ve been doing 3++ hours of Greek a day to cram it all in so that I can speak as much as possible while there. Once you are there it’ll be too much for your brain, so you might as well start it ahead of time to get yourself used to it. It’s a bit distracting from the papers I need to write that I am slowly getting worried about, but they’ll get done too.

I was trying to figure out if I was missing the US or Greece more, but even though I’ve been to Greece more recently, it still won. My heart is there, my heart is always there. I miss Greece, well lets not go crazy, but I think the bf and my love for Greece is as great as our love for each other and I think it’s a longing that we share. In America it’s easy to explain my Greek identity, but in Europe the way my life has turned out (accidentally) makes me seem like a Greece stalker. And if there isn’t enough opportunity to explain it all, I don’t bother. At least now I can say that my bf is Greek and that’s enough for most curious questions, but he didn’t cause my passion for the Greek language nor did he need to introduce me to a culture I’ve been familiar with since childhood. Funny how I never wanted to marry a Greek man and now it seems silly to think I ever could do anything but!

I could say more, but I’ll stop there. I’m sorry this is so disorganized. I hope you’re all doing well.

Somewhere between dreams and reality

There is a winds that’s been howling through Freiburg for the last 3 days. Screaming incessantly into my ventilation hood in the kitchen, knocking over whatever isn’t fixed to the ground and turning these sunny February days very cold. It’s like some sort of transplant, visiting from Hamburg or Chicago. It’s brings some sort of out-of-place dream-like quality to everything. It doesn’t belong here.

Yesterday I fell asleep reading before 10. Highly unusual. But this week was stressful for a variety of reasons, mostly involving Germany treating me like shit. (Is that actually the norm for my life here, I shudder to think..?) It was beautiful. Til I woke up sometime after midnight, in some sort of lucid dream, where I dreamt someone was sitting on my sofa, asking me if I felt safe in Freiburg. I knew I needed to escape, I tried to dial my phone, but I don’t know the emergency number in Germany. So with no other choice, I answered yes. A thin woman with short white hair¬†stood up and slammed an ax down in my body, smiled and walked away.

Why do I call it a lucid dream? Because I knew while dreaming that I could stop it, but I didn’t. Then I was completely awake but too terrified to move. I wanted to call ¬†the bf, but couldn’t wake him up for a nightmare.

Those days where nothing seems real? That’s today. I could be an insect living in the bellybutton of gorilla for all I know. Surreal.

Some things I’ve figured out recently, first I know why I want a pet. It’s not just to help my stress levels. I hate being here alone and not having anybody or anything to take care of. I didn’t need a pet when I was in Nuernberg. I was looking after children in the afternoon and the bf for dinner. I feel like a time traveller right now, gone back to school. And back to the selfish existence of someone whose just got out of high school. Everything is about me. I can do just what I please. I’ve escaped some of the burdens of adulthood (which I’m NOT complaining about. Germany’s expensive.) and only have myself to answer to. It’s should be amazing, but in fact I hate it.

I remember when I was younger and I thought, oh by the will of my positive thinking and high hopes for the future, only good things will come my way. But positive thoughts do not bring positive karma. In America society told me I was entitled to things, but when I went out into reality I discovered that the world owes me nothing. They say this mindsets sets in your mid-20’s-30’s as a sign that your childhood/immature 20’s are behind you. Was there anything wrong with dreaming big? I suppose not. But I read and hear lots of things about the “millennials” in my generation dealing with exactly this issue, some better than others. Might as well get over it as soon as possible instead of suffering under delusions of being “special”.

And the person who helps my keep my chin up when the stresses of being an expat here get me down is far away forging his own path for our future together.

If I had a pet, I could fuss over it and get over my fears and carry-on with day-to-day life.

Another thing, this weekend as I told the bf proudly that I’d try to manage dinner and the movies without a book/knitting, for just in case, he laughed affectionately as always. But later I realized it’s something I feel I have to do. Leave me alone with my thoughts for an hour and I’ll find about 100 things to worry about get my blood pressure rising again. Knitting helps me stay in the “now”. I told him that later, but he doesn’t get it. He just knows he doesn’t want to take trip inside my brain ever. Hah.

But today I am stuck inside my brain. I’m trying to find a job that will lead to further opportunity, so I am sticking it out with the crappy waitresses that I’ve come to loathe. Because I could find another teaching job in an instant, but my goal is to do this at Uni and not find myself in a situation with unmotivated students and a contract that is hard to get out of when the dream opportunity comes along or the pressure to take on more and more classes. I know the negatives very well. I need a position where the pay rises in accordance with how well you perform your job. Or at least based on years worked. My boss was fair, but she couldn’t ever raise my pay. And I could never get away for the weekend to recharge.

Now my weekends are devoted to the restaurant, except when I book time off every 3 weeks. Stress stress every day of the week. But I’ll find something better sooner or later. Meanwhile I’ve got 3/4 private students that are very encouraging and learning for the right reasons and usually boost my mood.

But the bf has it worse right now. I am doing this program for me. I’m not worried about completely it or proving myself to anyone, not like his is. He is worried about passing all these tests, esp. since they didn’t give him adequate time to learn, then barely missed one he thought was a sure thing by 2 points, then missed the deadline to have them regrade it. So he’s got to prove it to himself and them, since they think, the “Greek guy” won’t make it, cause he doesn’t speak German like a “native”. And then he’s got to prove all of this to me, cause he doesn’t want to disappoint me after we spent so much time together trying to find a way for him to improve his job chances here. No, he has a massive weight on his shoulders.

That only means that I need to try not to distract him as much as I’d like. I did tell him though, that if this doesn’t work out, we’d say peace out to Germany and give the US a shot. Or perhaps Greece. Shocked? Maybe I just need a vacation from Germany so I can appreciate it again.

So the wind is blowing in Freiburg and my heart is in Nuernberg, my mind, who knows where my mind is… And my future, who knows where that will be either. And the bf¬†isn’t scared of all¬†this darkness and worry and poetry in me cause he knows it isn’t unusual to have the soul of poet (have you met many Greeks?) & turns it into hope through his patience.

And so when some stupid German, (cause usually non-Athenian Greeks and Americans aren’t superficial in this way), looks down at him cause he’s not college educated, I nearly bite their heads off cause I met a lot of these so-called “catches”, and they COULDN’T HANDLE me. They didn’t make me a better person. Until he comes here, Freiburg won’t be home. (More on that next time) *sigh* Europeans are such superficial snobs sometimes. Americans give you a fair shake.*

And as soon as he comes here, I will not invest a lot of energy into going out with my classmates.¬†I see what my social future could be. I like some of my classmates very much. I see how, just like in the past I could be the glue that holds them all together, the person organizing the social events and smoothing over the bumps that occur when people try to become friends. But I can’t take on that role. It’s already been 1 quick semester. We have 3 more and then we’ll all go our separate ways and it’ll be another set of people I hung out with for a while and promised to stay in touch and drifted away. I will not invest the energy this time. That is time I want to invest in learning languages, in friendships that won’t disappear in 2 years. It could even be my fault. I am not as young as the rest of them and I’ll probably choose to have kids sooner and that will end things even if we stay in the same town.

I have a tutorial meeting in an hour, with people I’ve already decided will leave me no matter what. But I will probably still go. Because with almost all of my best friends, my first impression was wrong. Yeah if you are reading this and we aren’t related I probably didn’t think you’d want to be my friend when I first met you.

It’s cold and dark and windy. ¬†I want this separation to be over and my life to feel steady, quiet and safe again. But I don’t want to skip ahead. ¬†I enjoy the chance of each new day and the developments that can’t be measured until years later. I love living my life, even in times of transition between dreams and reality.

On teaching English again away from the kiddos.

I’ve wanted to start a post nearly everyday since my holidays began, but I’ve been too busy relaxing. Shocking only because with only 8 weeks of classes, a bit of tutoring and a bit of waitressing, I really don’t consider myself stressed and needing a break at all.

Really it’s been very easy-going this first semester. Oh there’s work to be done, but there’s still plenty of time for everything else too. It will get harder and more busier, and I have said no to taking on some lessons, but only because I am not in such desperate need of money that I am willing to sacrifice my time to learn languages. Not when I have waited 3 years for this chance!

On that note, I am being very good at recognizing when people are looking to take advantage of me as a native speaker and not pay me for what I know my knowledge and experience are worth. Oh I am a cold calculating business woman, make no mistake. But Adults and professors are not learning “for fun” and they want to pay as little as possible and then make last-minute demands on my time. I am very comfortable saying no these days. If I don’t stand up for myself, no one else will. And I’m not running a charity organisation for people more than capable of paying.

Ouch this all sounds very harsh. Some examples will help illuminate this. Had a nice doctorate student hiring me to help correct some work for him. He paid very fair and appreciated the work. But then texts started coming to correct work he was supposed to correct himself and then last-minute projects he wanted me to look at quickly. I did look through his corrections but I said no to the last-minute offer and further emailed that last-minute does not work as my schedule is very inflexible now and I’d prefer a week’s notice so I can work it into my week.

It hurts my inner workaholic to turn down money. My schedule is rather fixed, but I can¬†accommodate¬†spontaneous projects from time to time. The problem is, or the question is rather: do my clients respect my time and abilities? Doing a correction in under 24-hours comes in every business with an extra “rush” charge. I could have mentioned that too. But that would have¬†jeopardized¬†our relationship more than flat-out saying no. And boundaries are important to establish, in case they weren’t clear enough before. I am a masters student editing on the side, not someone’s personal¬†native speaker slave.

On the way to class I also got a phone call asking about correcting something by the end of the day, on my busiest day. The first thing that interested them was the price. I scoffed into the phone and said no way. Yeah you poor students are “busy” and “poor”. I bet you knew 6 months in advance when this project was due. I’m not gonna take on work from a lazy ass, disorganised person. No way, and I bet you are still getting “Kindergeld” from mama. I’ve got student loans from America, saved 3 years to go to school and still have to pay my own rent and health insurance. Cry me a river. Then he asked if I knew another English speaker that could do it for him. I said nope, sorry good luck!¬†Wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

The next example was a professor who emailed in German a very casual weird message about me immediately having a job. I repressed my initial reaction of being flattered and read between the lines. It was written in a hurry it was a mass email, and most worryingly, it contained the phrase “some translating”. I turned him down saying I was too busy but he could check back later if he still needed help. Later from my fellow students I found out that despite their command of German he was pressuring all of them to essentially translate his book for them from German. What a ridiculously cheap, lazy ass professor. And later everywhere, he will be proclaiming about having “written” a book in English. He’s actually a¬†knowledgeable, likable guy, but what a fraud, just write it in German you silly man and pay a translating company. It’s expensive but they have software like that for a reason. Word for word is incredibly hard work. I actually had to coach one of my fellow students working for him to tell him flat-out no, to translating, since she speaks little German, WITHOUT apologizing for something she had already told him once she didn’t feel comfortable doing. And most importantly, not to waste a single second feeling guilty for it! They are all working 15 hours instead of only the five they get paid for. What a joke! He’s not even a professor that can help them later. I dodged a bullet and I have no problem congratulating myself for smelling something afoul from the get-go.

Lastly I got an email about needing some English help. It raised further red flags, lots of questions very little info and lots of uncertainty about what she wanted. If I were working full-time, I would meet with her and discuss what goals she was looking to achieve. No problem. But for me at the moment, it seemed like too big of a risk. I only want to take on jobs where I know I will be successful. I want to work with people who have concrete goals. Languages are very personal things. Not being able to express yourself as elegantly as you want to can be embarrassing and unnerving. You are after-all presenting yourself every time you open your mouth, and when they judge your language competence, it feels sometimes like they are judging you. When someone writes and doesn’t know what they want to achieve, how can I be successful? Even if I work my butt off and give it my all, if they expect native level fluency, they will be disappointed with me in the end. That only comes after long hours spent talking with native speakers. No, I have no time to be someone’s psychiatrist as well as teacher. Especially if their questions about payment also make me nervous. They are getting a better deal hiring me privately than they ever would find with a company in a course. And if knowing that makes me a bad person, so be it. I’m not accepting jobs in order to get people to like me.

My favorite thing about Germany is that business and personal lives are expected to be kept separate and compartmentalized. That being said I have 2 permanent clients, one is an 11-year-old boy moving to Africa next year and one is a mother working on an advanced nursing degree from an online school in England. I get on with both of them very much and I look forward to meeting up with them and watching them move closer to their goals. Teaching is still something that fires me up and I guess when it boils down to it, I want to save my energy and brain for the projects that mean something to me and with people who appreciate and respect me.

In fact, going back to the topic of turning down work, without apologizing, it was from a recent conversation with the nursing student when the German expression:¬†Wer sich entschuldigt, klagt sich an,¬†came up. This expression means if you say sorry, you are incriminating yourself. Germans don’t say sorry as a natural reflex. When I say sorry in German, it doesn’t mean oh how nice, I am thinking of the feelings of others, it means I am a huge idiot and have guilty feelings about something. Which would explain why, even despite knowing this, my co-workers at the restaurant still tell me constantly not to apologize and look at me funny when I do. If there is one thing that irritates the hell out of Germans it is incompetence, why the hell else would they make a mandatory 3 year training program to become a flight attendant?!?!? Trust me, you do not want to reveal yourself as incompetent in Germany.

In that respect it’s a bit nerve-wracking still at Uni. I can see how much better my German is than other students here, but I need the vocab and expressions again for being at university. I want my professors to see me as a good student period and not just a native speaker with “ok” German. I’m a perfectionist, I know but I’m enjoying this new challenge.

On the other hand, coming back to my home in Nbg, seeing the kids and being reminded of how competent I was at my job, especially catching up with my boss and hearing from her about everything going on and even discussing helping out over semester break with the kids writing the hardest test, has worked wonders to soothe my feelings of being out-of-place still in Freiburg. Her good opinion means more to me than practically anyone else’s here in Germany and how good it was to think that this chapter of my life isn’t shut forever but rather always open if I choose to make time for it.

And so with that I wish you all health and happiness, success and love in 2013!

 

 

Moving and settling in! There you have it!

My thoughts are just not giving me a rest this week, probably everything will still all come out a jumble as I sit down to write this.

I’m fluctuating as one does, between the two extremes of all the exciting¬†possibilities¬†and all the hard unfamiliar work. I mean why move at all except for the chance to move one’s life in another direction than the course it was previously taken.

As soon as you arrive all the opportunities for you to do “everything right this time” jump out and leave you with a giddy feeling of having the world on a string. Despite your logic arguing with you, that just are there is and never will be a utopian society, so too, will¬†you never become a perfect person, (fallen nature of man, anyone?) it is still a hard pull to resist. It must be like that “honeymoon” phase of relationships, or even friendships:everything is viewed as being unique and cool and without flaws.

Now currently I am keeping my expectations very low, because those are the things which tend to disappoint you deeply later. But not too low so I have nothing to look forward to, or so that I can’t envision my own success. Yes these are some crafty mental gymnastics. But when you move beyond everything you’ve gotten used to, it can be a wild roller coaster of ups and downs and somehow you’ve got to reign in these fluctuations as best you can.

When you get too down and frustrated by the fact that nothing happens the way they did things in your old place, you start to become very defeatist and self-critical. Then you start making sweeping generalizations about your new place and the people that fill it. That is why I no longer hang out with Americans/English speakers/other new groups of foreign newbies here in Germany; I am well and done with rehashing everything that “the Germans do” because it’s no longer new and interesting.

(Ha ok it’s still interesting cause I’m rather fond of these people, who very generously let me live in their country, study at their university*FOR FREE* and patiently explain to me all the answers to my questions, and also their rather endearing obsession with self-criticism and national soul-searching.)

I suppose I really don’t need to spell out the fact that I am as cynical and pessimistic as it gets, which recently has meant only that despite what I know deep in my heart, it is sometimes very easy to convince my brain that my bf will just get used to me not being there and just one day prefer it to my compulsive worrying ways. Luckily my bf pays no mind to my flipping out about how our relationship will never survive this. Thank God.

You can laugh at me it’s ok. When I’m not busy worrying myself, it’s usually what I’m doing. On the other hand, this dark side is what allows me to appreciate the little moments as they come. I’m not really expecting anything particularly big and beautiful to happen in my life. But I’m not bitter, I’m just realistic, I think. Is it really realistic to think that every being “deserves” from some universal mandate to live a life without tragedy or suffering and have a fairy tale come true?

*Tangent* Honestly if I were to die tomorrow, statistically speaking as a young woman being born in modern times, I have already been given more chances and had better health than almost every female in all of history. Who’s to say I deserve more somehow? That’s the aspect of American exceptionalism and naive egoism that I like the least about my country, us “special” 90’s children & our national religion of self-esteem.

My favorite lesson the kids taught me was when I complimented them on something, as a sort of natural American’s response to a child’s effort, and they called me out for lying to them about their crap work. They had known they’d done a bad job and they expected me to know that too, otherwise I was an idiot and not a very good teacher. Directly afterwards, I was like, “damn, America you rubbed off on me again, just when I stopped expecting it!”

We are good though, the bf and me. He came, he stocked me up on my sparkling water, he left and I cried and cried and then went to work, got stressed out and cried some more. Gosh darn you love, you have totally transformed hard-core rachie into a complete softie! Whatevs,¬†I let all the stress out and cried because my life in Nuremberg is over and finally being away from it¬†crystallizes¬†the things about it that made it special. All of the cities I’ve moved away from seem so perfect in my idealized memories.

And that’s the beauty of moving isn’t it? Before you go, you have hopes and dreams and excitement about all the new things your old town couldn’t offer you and then once you get there, you realize all the things from your old town, that your really quite liked and maybe took for granted that you will have to say goodbye to, possibly forever.

Ach ach ach. German has two beautiful one-word concepts (of course they do!): Heimweh & Fernweh. The first is homesickness, but the second is when you are homesick to be away from your home. And what do I feel now but both. Home is where my family is, and where my bf is, and where my students are. But none of these are the homes I have. At every single point in time since the age of 16, I have not “been” somewhere without simultaneously wanting to “be” somewhere else (small exception Crete, more later). To say that I recognize these two concepts very well, would be an understatement.

And who are my friends, but those who, if not having the same moving experience, at least can understand my feelings of being out-of-place. But here with all these new people, who do they see, “just” an American, or a native speaker of the “most important” language for their future success. And since as I mentioned, I don’t really need to discuss in-depth all the things about living in Germany that they have yet to discover, nor am I prepared to use my valuable and rare expertise¬†for free when I spent the last 3 years getting good money for it, even if that means people might not become my “friends”. (On a side note, who would agree with me, that the day you really become an adult is when you learn how to say no to people’s demands and not care if it makes them think less of you?) ¬†

And some Germans really go crazy for Americans, to the point where I am¬†embarrassed¬†for them and when they make no comment I am so relieved, that I would sincerely like to hug them my thanks. Nevermind that at university in a program that’s dual English everyone kowtows to native speakers and bemoans their non-native skills. Such a waste of time! We all make mistakes and I make a lot of mistakes when I know better in German. But you know, uni classes in general are so full of people looking to stroke their ego by praising themselves through over-correcting others, it makes it a very competitive environment, which makes getting to know people even harder. For instance, because of my German skills, I already seem to belong to the “German gang”, but not being known as the most open, throw-caution-to-the-wind sort of people, I might be in for a long haul that yields nothing. Whereas I could also waste lots of time now, going out with every international/nice new “friend”, but that still might leave me with nothing at the end of the year. *SIGH* It isn’t easy meeting lots of new people and deciding who you can trust.

So where does that leave me friend-wise? I don’t know yet. But as true friendship develops slowly and my experience and age puts me in an odd position where I don’t automatically have a lot in common with 24 year-olds who have only ever known university, I’m not exactly in a rush to force anything that’s not meant to be. ¬† Being friendly and open and accepting invitations when my work is done and I have the money for it will have to be enough for now.

I¬†can see that I approach many things much differently, both from my fellow German students and my fellow native English speaking students. Honestly it’s a good thing; I’ve learned so many valuable lessons working as hard as I did. I’ve outgrown much of my old procrastination habits, I’m no longer afraid of speaking in front of a group, whatever the language, I’m motivated and on top of my finances and I have only a billion ideas that I’d like to research.

Oh yes, have I painted a clear enough picture of why my first few weeks at university have been mentally and emotionally demanding?

Moving is not easy. I miss having the kiddos everyday. I miss our genuine interactions and I miss the trust we built up. I miss their laughter and their easygoing uncomplicated little Wesen! I even miss the seniors and the polite German they spoke with their dialect. Speaking English or German with people my age confuses me sometimes.

But on the other hand, the more I discover about Freiburg, the more I like things here. Like going to a new tram stop and discovering that the little stream turns into a big dam here. Or that there is a quite little secluded forest lake, or looking out the tram in the mornings and floating through a sea of golden leaves.

The bf and I spent a few hours tonight already talking about our possible options of residency for the future. I don’t know how it happened but somehow I became open to the idea of returning for maybe a few years to do some work at an American University after my doctorate And because, well there are just too many people there I still love, and if I continue being so isolated all my relationships there will suffer. It’s a funny new realization. I also convinced him to not rule out Crete, so one point for me!

And that’s enough I think. Much love to all of you reading this!

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