Patience and Courage

The Greeks mention two qualities when life gets difficult: patience and courage (υπομονή & κουράγιο). If things are irritating and you are stressed and wish for a change in circumstances, your Greek friends and family will say one word to you: patience. Just this one word to console you that good things will come to those who wait. It’s almost a dumb platitude really, except instead of saying, everything will turn out alright, God has a plan, or generally promising things that might never come, they simply remind you that things will change with time.

If the situation is more drastic, if you are feeling beaten down by life, if you don’t know where a solution will come from, you will tell your friends you need to be given courage. And your friends will remind to have courage for the challenges of life. If you aren’t given courage, you will talk about having to find courage. It’s like a sort of keep your head/chin up encouragement in English.

I like the Greek though. They’ve stripped the response down to the bare minimum. There are no extra “empty” words. In life you need patience and courage, when the time comes where things don’t go smoothly you can remind each other of this fact. Of course it can come off empty and patronizing too. I am not naive. However, there is no need to find elegant phrases and there is no denying the value of these two traits.

Right now I need both to an extreme degree and I don’t know where to find them. I am exhausted. I can feel the tension in my face. My phantom pains in my heart have returned and moved to my ribs. I haven’t been able to walk properly to clear my head and get some exercise in over a month. I’ve gained weight and for the first time in my life am using food to comfort myself. I either sleep too much or too little. I can’t seem to clear my head and get started on my work. I feel like I’m driving and have been running out of gas little by little. I’ve been aware for some time of the impending situation, but still haven’t found any sort of solution. Right now my indicator says empty, but instead of being able to pull over somewhere and refuel, it’s like I’ve been asked to find another fuel source to use. I don’t know if it even exists, much less where to find out. I don’t know when the next form of relief will come. I’ve simply been asked to carry on driving without any guarantee for the future, with energy I don’t have. I am being asked to dig deeper than I have before. Even when I was 16 and lost the will to live, I didn’t dig this deep, I just ignored life, and slowly time changed things for the better.

Life comes with no guarantees. This is a great quote when things are going ok and your vacation plans fall through. This means something else when you watch the person you love fail to make headway, despite his many efforts. I can’t change the situation and it breaks my heart, because I don’t know a person more deserving of recognition for his situation and efforts. I don’t know anyone more fair and more loyal.And no matter how many ways I tell him that I am proud of him and all he’s done, until he proves it to himself with a job he is excited about, these words of mine don’t mean anything.

He had the chance for the job of his dreams and neither of us thought it would amount to anything at first, after two long months we unwisely got our hopes up and after they had sent a provisional copy of the contract to look over, they ended up not making a job offer, because apparently it would be too difficult for him to be trained for sales and the technical aspect at the same time. This is a cop-out, which might have happened because the guy sent to test his knowledge refused to warm up to him. My fiancee might not know exactly how these particular machines work, but he has a great head for technical things and he was WILLING to take on both and told that to the guy (who had been keen to hire him from the beginning and perhaps got overridden by the owner) on the phone while he was trying to let him down. It was a huge mistake for the company. No other guy can possibly be as motivated as he was to excel at that job. But that’s the thing: it might be in the end that despite all of our best efforts and supporting each other, that he ends up never being able to find a job where they treat him fairly, where he is excited to go to work everyday, where his boss and co-workers respect him.

I am not just reacting to this bit of bad news. I am reacting to 2 plus years of being without the best thing that has ever happened to me. I am reacting to how our expectations going into this situation 2 years ago have been totally annihilated, our dreams are slowly slipping away, I am reacting to the fact that there is no guarantee that this awful situation of being apart will end anytime soon.  There is no safety net here.

I don’t want to list all the things I hate, because I haven’t cried yet today and that will definitely bring the waterworks, but there are many. Basically EVERYTHING except my university classes and projects.

And I’m not afraid. At least not afraid of the future not turning out the way we envision it. After everything we’ve been through since June 2012 when we started carrying out the first steps of saying goodbye and the move, if we were going to break up, we would have already done it. That’s how tough these last few years have been. As long as we are a couple we can support each other and be happy, because, and I mean this in all seriousness, my fiancee is my joy. This is also something they say in Greek. Η χαρά μου.

I spent many years as a young adult meeting guys who thought I was the love of their lives and thinking the same about other guys who had no interest in me. But I always LIKED my own company, even preferred it to all but my closest friends most of the time. So I was more surprised than anyone how much joy he brought into my life: he brings out my positive side, the ability to laugh at myself sooner than I used to, to forgive myself for not being perfect, to give myself a night off and still be my biggest supporter when I chase after my goals. My life is definitively WORSE every day that we are not together. Don’t get me wrong, we fight and I am sure that after 5 years we will get on each other’s nerves like every married couple, but I am a better person with him, than without him. And the fact of the matter is if this forced separation turns out not to be worth it, I will regret it forever. If I die young, the only regret I would have, are these ridiculous painful, never-ending two plus years. We’ve no had a longer long-distant relationship, than a normal one.

The only reason I am not getting into my bed, pulling the covers over my head and bawling my eyes out to sappy movies, is because he doesn’t deserve a girlfriend who gives up.

Really not to be pessimistic, but the thing is I can’t guarantee anything, I can’t help him and I also can’t keep pursuing my goals and coming along while he stays in the same place. And if nothing changes I can’t fly out home and we can’t get married in February. If things stay the same, we might have to call off the church wedding indefinitely. Is that so bad? No, but it also means not being able to make any plans to SEE my family after so many years. It means enduring more of the unknown and being deprived of the company of those I miss. I am suffering more, in the sense that I am going through all of this out here alone and he gets to see his family and friends on a regular basis. And he KNOWS that with his head, but he has never felt that in his heart.

It was only supposed to be one year and then he was supposed to come, find any old job, move somehow closer than 4 hours away, and help take off the financial burden from my shoulders. And the last bit he has tried to do, even though we are both essentially living off our savings for anything beyond our basic needs. The financial stress was supposed to be temporary, but instead it has become a permanent fixture in my life. Every Euro that I spend on myself is money that I do not have for my future life, my retirement, paying off my student loans, our wedding, visiting my family and friends, starting our own family. It’s safe to say that I am not buying myself new things until my old things break down, but not being allowed to spend anything EVER after 2 years makes me want to tear my hair out. I’ve been wanting to move out from this stupid dorm room since the first day I moved in, but I simply can’t afford anywhere in this expensive city, much less a flat of my own.

Last week I lost it. Completely lost it. I tore apart my room. Threw out empty cardboard boxes, old clothes that I’d been keeping cause I can’t afford new ones, showed him my boxes and boxes of pans and dishes that have been taking up space, untouched for two years, waiting for the day I could move them into the place he found. I recited the prices of all the THINGS sitting in my room, crowding me out making me miserable, by constantly reminding me of the future that no one could guarantee me. I eventually figured that I have invested thousands of dollars in my dreams of a happy future together in Europe. We have been spending our present, waiting for the future, for a future that might never come. Then I listed all the things that I could have spent that money on that would have helped me enjoy the last two years more: seeing family, or friends, being able to afford going out more often with friends here, a better apartment etc etc. I moved things, I tore things up, I carried out load after load until this stupid tiny little room felt bigger.

I was naive. It serves me right. Cleaning out my room is literally the only thing I can do about my situation.

If I had known it would take so long, we could have gotten the legal marriage taken care of so that I could apply for some financial help, as a permanent resident of Europe. I would have planned things differently so that there could be some solutions.

Right now there are no solutions, except that he finds work and comes out here and somehow I convince myself not to stop working and get my papers and research done so that I eventually have a master’s degree. Then maybe if he still hasn’t found a job I will have to move back to Nbg to be with my husband and I will have spent the last 2 years unnecessarily suffering in my day to day life for a future that in the end didn’t show up. That is the ONLY thing I am afraid of and that my dear friends is that thing, which none of you can guarantee won’t happen.

I’m not sharing this to make anyone worried. I am sharing this because maybe there are others out there frustrated with the unfairness of life and sick of platitudes and I’m sharing this because there is no way to talk to any of you personally without breaking down in tears and I want to somehow communicate, how upset I am, without having to simultaneously keep it together.

Patience. Courage. I am trying.

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Things I’d like to have in my life again.

Funny thing I noticed recently. My post about the German stare is generating quite a bit of traffic. In fact it pops up on the first page of a google search. It has been shared at least 10 times on facebook. Now I even have an ad down at the bottom of the page. So I made it private. What’s the point of a blog? To help people, to connect to people. But I think it’s a weird feeling to have a constant stream of people visiting this entry you’ve written and not interacting. Upwards of 500 hits and not one like. That is weird. Like ghost stalkers. I’d like to share my life and I understand a blog enables strangers to view it, but I just find this weird. It’s like my old fb account where I had really old school chums looking at my pics but never interacting with me. I speak personally with my family and friends about the things I write here. Having no interaction with strangers who visit and then watching that number grow, to me it’s just exactly how technology makes us more isolated instead of bringing us together. So for now I’ve made it private.

That being said I don’t have much to say. At least I don’t feel like saying a lot will help anything. University has started again my classes are very interesting. The bf and I will see each other again in 5/6 weeks. So I am a robot, working, sleeping, studying, eating, waiting, and saving money.

What can I say? There’s no point in going into details. It won’t change anything. Instead I will list all the things missing from my life, that I have to deal with living in the dorms and alone that I used to take for granted and am looking forward to regaining, whenever that may be.

1. A washing machine.  Just did the laundry today. It costs two euros a load. For whatever reason the clothes never seem to get clean. Maybe it’s cause I wait until my clothes are really dirty so the stains have a long time to set. But I don’t know. I washed some stuff and my boyfriend’s parents house and everything came out spic and span and smelling wonderful. I use fabric softener, stain remover, detergent and anti-bacterial detergent and it comes out dirty and smelling like wet clothes. I can’t wait for my own washing machine again. Probably the costs will be the same, but I just want to do a wash whenever I feel like it.

2. A bathtub. My bathroom is great. It’s small and a breeze to clean, but two weeks ago when I was achy from a cold, the closest thing I could get to relief was a hot water bottle. I don’t pay a water bill and the water pressure is really high, so at least there’s that. But oh a bathtub will be a must in the next place.

3. A full size fridge. I’ve never in my adult life, post-college had a full-sized fridge. Right now I’ve got the middle shelf a veggie crisper and enough freezer space for a frozen pizza. I eat what I buy, but have to go grocery shopping frequently and use up anything that takes up space before I’m ready to. I miss buying things in bulk, when they’re on sale or in season. Oh well.

4. Along those same lines: a kitchen to call my own. Now I’m lucky, we actually do have more than enough space for two normal students. We’ve got 4 burners for two people, but I’ve only got a few dishes in the cabinet and my spices and root vegetables have to be stored in my room. And when one of us does the washing up after a big dinner, the plates take up most of the surface area.

5. Living with someone with a functioning nose. 4 roommates since I moved in last September and all but one had no sense of smell. I’ve basically taken out the trash for two people since then. I came in this week and nearly gagged at the recycling (old meat packaging) My roommate who was home all day did not seem that bothered. Dear God, deliver me from this quickly.

6. Storage space. I thought living in one room would be a temporary situation I could deal with for one year. Now with no end in sight, I fantasize about cellar space.

7. A living room/office. See above.

8. Shelves. Most of my books are boxed up and in Nbg but the one I have here are stacked up every which way on the one shelf and the rest take up most of the space on my table. That’s an important reason I bought a tablet, why pay to print out all the readings when they will just add to the space issue I’ve barely got a handle on.

9. My mattress. I spent a lot of my money on my wonderful mattress. Had I known I would have to do without it for so long, I don’t know if I would have gone to study when I did. I’m being serious. Or at least I would have considered buying a new one. I’m dealing with serious back pain right now and because I know nothing about what will happen this year I can’t decide if buying a new one will be worth it or not.

10. A tv. I’ve got more important things to do right now, but I miss all the great news channels and documentaries on German tv. I’m neither a snob nor a couch potato. The one thing I enjoy is turning it on when I am doing my cleaning up on the weekend. I watch stuff online so this one is ok.

11. Money.

12. The boyfriend. We are entering the 13th month of our long distance relationship. If I had known this in advance I might have waited another year to start this. No end in sight. Which brings me to the last thing missing from my life:

13. Patience. I’ve got none. It’s run out. So I will just carry on studying and focusing on the one thing I can influence, my grades and my work at the uni and ignore everything else.

What being an expat really means.

The funny thing about being an expat means that people in your country of choice have false misconceptions about you, as do people back home. On a certain level, my life is exotic, in that this culture I am living in is, and will forever be at least to some extent, foreign to me and certainly foreign to my friends and family at home. Exotic things certainly have their attraction. Why else do people like accents so much or want to travel? And when things get rough, I walk around the pedestrian zone of the medieval city center, look at all the street cafes and think, yep I sure prefer this to automobiles and fast food. Because with little money, I can do something relatively good for myself. I can walk around outdoors, look at the shop windows and spend 3 Euros for a coffee and watch people.

Certainly in the states, one can do the exact same thing, but life without a car, not very feasible, and once you’ve bought that car you take it no matter the distance. There was a survey of how far people are willing to walk on a given day and the average for Americans was about half that of Europeans. Another thing, a few years back, I remember going to a cafe with an old friend visiting me for the day and the chairs were turned to look at the street not at each other and my friend got very upset that I was looking at people, not at her. Certainly I suppose it was bad manners, but I remember being so flabbergasted, like why would we even go to a cafe it not to watch people? I was literally speechless, I turned my chair towards her for the rest of the conversation and she was really a dear friend that I hadn’t seen in ages, but I still remember thinking to myself she didn’t understand European cafe culture whatsoever and I felt like I had to repress my European self to make her happy.

So yes there is something exotic about living here that changes you. I learn something new almost every day. I think that I know how things work, how things are pronounced etc and then suddenly find out I was mistaken or learn an extra detail. That’s the part of life abroad that I have to say makes things the most interesting. Even when it’s something stupid like one word, I just like being surprised on an everyday basis. When you are in your own culture you don’t actively think about the whys and hows, you just roll with it. If anything is surprising, I would say it barely registers, cause somehow you’ve unconsciously picked up on it. That’s what’s different about being an expat. Being fluent in a language does not mean you are fluent in the culture as well.

I don’t have a 6th sense when it comes to language and culture. I might say sentences that are grammatically correct. They might be using words and collocations that fit together but they might not be appropriate for the situation. Or I do everything culturally right, but because I am nervous my words don’t come together the way I like, and even though this can happen to native speakers in their own language too, I will get inordinate amounts of attention for my perceived “language incompetence”.  I am proud to say when it comes to the genders of words in German, I am able to trust my gut. My brain has latched onto the gender of words unconsciously, but when my active brain tries to inflect it for case, that’s when it pops out wrong. Anyway the basics of cultural interactions I can even get right. Sometimes I even prefer the German preferences I know, for the weird dynamics of international interactions, where not knowing what to do and being so de-Americanized in my social habits that I feel completely at a loss and awkward.

But before you go assuming things are black and white here, I’m not saying I prefer German cultural norms either. Going to parties, with couples or alone, or going out grilling with all these weird rules about what you can share and what to bring on your own, or how everything has to be explicitly stated, which no one would dream of saying in an English speaking culture. All these things make me feel very very awkward too. But at least it is an awkwardness that I’ve come to expect and no longer feel obliged to “fix”. When I miss the openness the sharing, the friendliness, the “mi casa es su casa” concept, I go hang out with the Greeks here, and when the chaos and loudness is too much for me, I seek out my quiet orderly Germans spaces and friends.

So is my life exotic? Sure I mean there’s no way around it. Didn’t I just write about jumping in and out of cultures on a whim?  I am an American living, what I guess isn’t an American life. Do I miss American culture? As the Germans say “jein” (Ja=yes, nein=no). Do I miss cars, the junk labeled food, everybody being told how best to market themselves? You know the answer. Do I miss being able to exist without thinking about the meaning behind my word choice and smiling at strangers, without being considered crazy/stupid or a creeper? Hell ya.

If I continue to live here I will never fit in, and that can be good and bad. Bad because when you are busy going about your life in a place you’ve been living in for 4 years, you don’t really have the patience or desire to stop what you are doing and discuss America, just cause someone notices your accent. While you can understand their curiosity, the problem is I don’t know who they are/if they are trying to pick me up/befriend me just because I am American/can help them with your English or are just genuinely being friendly and I’m too jaded to recognize it…. It is tiring being treated like a UFO, by strangers who you can’t take seriously enough to trust.

On the other hand it can be good too, because this culture isn’t my own and I’m ok with that. I won’t be lulled into a false sense of complacency and accept things at face value.

So now I’ll come to something that many of you don’t want to hear: the real work that my life here demands of me. If you would prefer me not to spoil your illusions about what living abroad means, I suggest you stop here. It mostly has to do with money and it ain’t pretty.

Ready? Ok.

Let me put it this way before continuing: If you think you can survive abroad, ask yourself this question: are you willing and prepared to do everything twice? Are you willing to check up on every financial situation affecting you, to make sure people have done their job correctly? Are you willing to put in the legwork and time, so that things get sorted out so that you aren’t faced with fines and penalties from two countries? Are you prepared not to give up when paid government officials lie to you about what can and cannot be done? Are you prepared to call their bluff and be a bitch to get what you need? Are you prepared to tell government officials and accountants that even though you may look dumb and naive you know the rules and they are wrong? And not because you find these rules fascinating mind you, but because it is about your money and you have to know!  Are you prepared for the possibility of bawling your eyes out in an accountant’s office because they lied to you about how much money you would save and now you have to take a chunk out of your savings cause you lived in apartment with no closed-off rooms so you can’t write off a home office? Are you prepared to harass your landlord to pay your down payment back, when he ignores the legal time limit he wrote in his own contract? Are you prepared to bitch out corporate loan drones on the phone when they try to make you feel bad for deferring your loan payments, like some irresponsible freeloader, then slowly explain that you don’t live in the country and their policies have left you with no other choice? Are you prepared to pay an extra hundred Euros for a visa extension, not once but three times, because even though YOU have done all that you feasibly can in a timely manner, they won’t be bothered about it cause they are going on vacation, and you can’t stay legally without one? Are you willing to spend over 1000 Euros every time you want to visit your family (and that’s cheap!)? Are you willing to listen to idiots telling you can’t be right, cause other people aren’t having problems, when you know the reason other people aren’t having problems is because they don’t speak any German and are completely ignorant or purposely choose to ignore things freelance taxes which will cost them thousands of Euros down the road, but only if they are caught?

Bear with me this story will get happier, but it isn’t done yet.

I do everything twice. Everything I think is done and dusted comes back to bite me in the ass. I’m so sick of it. I’ve been feeling so frustrated, so helpless. I quit my waitressing job, got a job at the Uni, it’s brilliant and it will continue to grow and channel me into new opportunities. But it’s not a lot of money. Then I find out the secretary misunderstood the timing of these two jobs and registered me in the false tax bracket, so I missed out of 80 Euros that I very much need right now. I emailed her to get it corrected, but she didn’t understand it, just directed me to get my envelopes with my pay slip. So the stupid tax office here even got my religion wrong, which I’m obligated to give to the tax office, otherwise, as is my case, they will collect taxes for the evangelical and catholic churches. I then had to go in person to the office and have them correct it all, pick up a new slip and deliver it back to her. The guy in the tax office was nice, but he also informed me that the money wrongly taxed from my 400 Euro paycheck I cannot get back until the end of the year. Bollocks. Oh yeah and that if I do the teaching job I was planning on, I will have to register myself as self-employed/freelance. But he also mentioned my work was obligated to cover my health insurance.

Well upset and still poor, I ask the secretary about more insurance, cue misunderstanding, cause of the damn accommodating Germans in the English department.(Since then I’ve made a point of switching to German). She sends a prompt email about talking to some woman about it. So off I go again, to another bureau to another bureaucrat, who tells me I am mistaken and there’s no insurance for students. I tell her the tax office said all these types of (400 Euro) jobs require the employer to insure their employees she goes off about something not on topic and I leave, upset because I never understand when the answer is no. I know that Germans don’t even understand what they are telling me. And I’m sick of listening to bullshit from people who haven’t heard me speak enough German to believe I can understand the complexities of their ridiculous laws. I am insured btw, it just would have saved me 40 Euros and taken some pressure off me this summer.

Next I write the woman who’d offered me a really great chance to teach 11 year olds for a summer academy to let her know that if I have work freelance I can’t take the job. Why you ask?  Because working freelance is the most ridiculous complicated stupid thing you can do as a foreigner in Germany. Tons of people are doing it, and at least half of them are doing it wrong and most of those are doing it wrong on purpose.

If you work freelance and you are over your 3rd year, where you are still considered building your business, you had better be making shitloads of money or practically none at all. You cannot go to a regular accountant for 80 Euros to look at your receipts understand your situation and file some basic taxes. The tax account Germany has decided the self-employed are allowed to visit will charge you 500 Euros to do a taxes, even after agreeing on 100-200. These are basic taxes for around 20,000 or so of “profit” for your year. You cannot do what other freelancers do, and increase your profit margin etc, all you can do is work more hours and there is a natural limit to that. If you work as a paid employee, you cannot file those taxes separately with a cheap accountant but you have to file them with your self-employed earnings. Most importantly you cannot get any legal advice, and as you are technically considered a German business, potentially a rich one, you will most definitely need legal advice to cover all your tracks here.

My boyfriend and I joke all the time that I have been doing a three year training course to become an accountant. I have had to research and find out all tax and legal advice in a foreign language, many times from people who turned out not to be trustworthy. For the latter two years of my teaching all I wanted was for the freelance nightmare to end. So I wrote this woman and told her under no uncertain terms was I going to inflict this on the first year of my entire stay in Germany after waiting so long and shedding so many tears. And that there had to be some sort of solution as I was a student and it was just two weeks of summer courses. She responded kindly, but was ignorant about it and tried to tell me none of her other teachers have this problem.

The last point is the most frustrating. Many English speakers here in German teaching English do not pay any or all required taxes. This is a pretty ok method if you are planning on leaving Germany in the near future. Some are genuinely ignorant of how much they need to pay. Not speaking the language they miss out on some finer points. Even with speaking the language I overlooked taxes. There’s no how-to for freelance English teaching in Germany. Most people find out from their friends and acquaintances. Many people don’t want to find out. The problem is in Germany ignorance is not bliss. Unwissenheit schützt vor Strafe nicht, as the Germans say. In a culture where you are required to stay informed on your rights and obligations, not knowing means when they catch you, it’s your own fault. People ride in the ubahn without buying a ticket, but whenever they get caught, the whole train enjoys a moment of schadenfreude cause everyone knows the rules and when you flaunt them, you are bound to, and should get caught.

So do I know that most native speakers don’t know what’s up? Yeah, trust me I randomly saw an acquaintance today, asked her about her freelance gigs and taxes, and she proudly told me without hesitation that she has filed not one cent. Well put a fork in me and call me German then. Cause I am done. You shouldn’t be allowed to get work as a foreigner and flaunt tax laws. Fudging is one thing.  But whatever the point is, what other people do is bullshit and none of my business. I am the one who gets to decide if I want to risk getting caught (I don’t! I’m a straight arrow), or if it’s too much money and stress and time for me to deal with.

I was a wreck this week. Didn’t want to get up, bawling, depressed ball of frustration. I will never get ahead financially, cause I hear about all these exceptions, but I am the one who never gets any breaks. I need the money and I wanted the course, but I was willing to stick to my guns. Because I knew it couldn’t be that difficult and I am sick of jumping blindly into a situation, just cause I need to earn money and then pay all the bills I could have avoided later.

For her part, the woman took my advice went to her accountant and found out that as a student I can earn a modest 2,400 a year before I have to register with the tax office. Accountants may be my biggest source of pain, but also my biggest source of clarity and guidance and I knew if there was an easier way they would know it.

I swear it was like finally seeing the sun after months and months of rain. It is exactly the money I need, when I have the time to earn it.

So that’s me right now. I am still fighting, but I am sick of fighting. I am pursuing my goals, but I am exhausted and distracted by having to do everything the hard way cause I am not European. I have edged out over this challenge, but who knows what will happen with the next. I am making my life here as secure as I can and I hope that once I get more established, things will get easier and more lucrative things will come.

I don’t know anyone who works as hard as I do for the little money I get, but whose struggles are met with such disbelief. It’s insulting and demeaning. But we Americans are all supposed to be spoiled and rich, right, so what do I expect? I pity the fool who underestimates me though. All of those people just light the fire under me to never let them be proven right and to stand up when ignorant people try to steamroll me into their misconceptions and misinformation, and trust my gut and my experience over hearsay.

Only the strong survive abroad and I haven’t been beaten just yet.

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. 😀 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.

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

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.

The state of my life recently

Perhaps you have gotten the impression that I’ve been depressed lately. It’s true. I need a break. That’s why I’ve written nothing in here.

To start with, it’s not just a bad mood. It’s not a bad day, or a bad week, or that I just don’t feel like having fun. It’s not that I don’t love my friends and family, the bf or the kids.

It’s not about a feeling. It’s not about wanting to whine and say life isn’t fair, and just have a pity party. I’ve done all those things other times. And it’s not depression either, not like I had when I was 16 and didn’t care about life anymore.

This is beaten down pessimism. I am SO BURNT OUT. I think going home last summer was a big mistake, cause I barely got to relax again before I got thrown into the 6 day a week hell that has been my life for the last 3 years. I love the kids. I signed on for another year cause it is fun to have these kids in my life and I didn’t want to endanger my relationship, but dear God I hate how I can never get a break and anything fun I want to do in the city is sold out.

It is beyond boring. There are NO good clubs unless you are in the over 30 crowd, or a student and want to drive to the nearby student town. People who I thought were my friends, I realized were only my friend when I drove to them. So after my good friends moved away, my social life sort of died in one blow and I stopped trusting what acquaintances told me. Not like it matters, Fri night I can’t stay out late or drink much since I’ve got work bright and early, and Sat I’m usually exhausted by 11pm anyway.

I’ve had one bureaucratic nightmare after another, and have been made to be so afraid of being thrown out of the country by evil manipulative gov’t staff that I’ve vowed no matter what, to never step foot into that building again.

I’ve discovered that Germany is not the country to be self-employed in, because even when you think you are doing everything right, you’ve definitely forgotten something, have to pay back taxes, have to pay for extra insurance, etc,etc, spend time in new gov’t offices you didn’t know existed, listen to other people talk about the 4 figure sum, you most likely owe, that you didn’t know about, have to hire someone privately to do your taxes. Be told you’ve done your taxes wrong, should have gone to a professional and saved a thousand, so you go to a professional, be told that despite all the nice things they promised you in the beginning, about taxes being less since you’ll study next year, you do owe 2000+ euros, which just happens to be your savings for the 3 months when you aren’t allowed to work, so you can feed yourself. It’s great to sit there in a tax office crying in front of a stranger, trying to come up with the things you missed.

Then when you go home and spend hours trying to rack your brain about anything you’ve missed, the accountant writes back that in all 5 categories where you thought you could make some headway, all this man has to say is that it’s not enough for write-off, or to change things. Rules rules rules and none in your favor. The student loans you’ve paid, won’t count, you can’t have a home office, cause you don’t have 2 rooms. I would have saved more paying for 2 rooms, than I saved by living in one room.

And so you realize that not only are you paying the exact same amount in taxes that you would have, had you done it yourself, but you’ve also got to pay this dimwit whose company promised you it would be worth doing taxes with them, just because in Germany to be self-employed, you have to make almost no money, or tons of money in a year in order to actually live, and you, my friend, in the middle, just get the arschkarte.

Then you get the US gov’t insisting that you only get tax free student loan breaks if the college you are going to is in the US. So even though the Uni you are trying to go to is OLDER than the US and you will definitely be broke, you’ve got to watch as the student loans you’ve spent 3 years of making $2,000 payment a year on accumulate $1,000 dollars in interest in just one year. Never mind the whole ILLEGAL taxation without representation, if you make any mistakes we’ll take away your savings with penalties bs. Or how I’m supposed to report my foreign savings accounts as if I’m a criminal.

***EDIT*** I forgot to add that for 2011, I didn’t even make the same amount of money as I owe the US gov’t for my moderate student loans, and still my finances are overly complicated and making me poorer ***EDIT***

So I’m screwed from both sides. Meanwhile every single week I’ve got 100 students demanding things of me. Or the companies organizing the classes, like my boss asking way too late about my flat. Plus I’ve got the senior center asking me to meet to speak with my possible replacement, asking me to pimp out my English speaking friends to them, then I find some who needs a job and they say they don’t want someone young, since they just leave, (have you every thought about paying more then?).

So then I go out of my way to do the right thing and meet with this man about how my classes are and if he’d like to sit in on one, in the middle of my busy work week when I’ve got 2 hours to travel across town, grab something to eat, grade papers and get there in time. What does this poor old lonely man do? He comes and discusses any and everything but the class he is, at the time, already sure he won’t take over. And I get it. I shouldn’t be mad. So I’m not but when they started calling me again on my one day to sleep in leaving confusing messages about yet another possible candidate who ought to have access to my personal telephone numbers. I call back and say I’m happy they found someone, but as I work 6 days a week and the last guy wasted my time, I will only meet with the final teacher

I tell the seniors I’m leaving, without knowing for certain what I’m doing, they get upset and feel betrayed, demand I provide them with a native speaker, demand I bring in the replacement. Tell me it’s a shame I have future plans, wish that I don’t get into Uni, all half-jokingly, but it’s still not ok.

Then we’ve got the fact that I, made the stupid mistake of not sending my hard copy of notice of leaving the apt. in time, but through email first and now I’ve got to have people come look at the apt, so I don’t have to pay Aug rent. I’ve got my landlord emailing me to do more things for him (like it’s my day job to run errands for the people I pay good money to, or something…) I just want my 900 deposit back, so I had darn well not make a mess of things with him before this is over. Never mind how much work I’m going to have come August when I start looking for a place to live in a city 4 hours away and now without the money that I wanted to use on an agent to save me time and trouble.

I’ve got people promising to look at my furniture who’ve backed out, now, so I’ve gotta put that up online, and sell it before I move out.  I’ve got to clarify the internet situation, cause even though I called and asked they gave me wrong information and my 3 months written notice wasn’t enough and who gets to pay, ME, the sucker.

And 6 days a week, the sun is shining with miserable humid weather and I am too busy doing emailing and calling and keeping track of all the details that I can’t afford to forget or delay anymore, and packing things and  cleaning my flat for the people who might pop in, to be bothered with being ready to wear summer outfits, and since I’m running around all day, I can’t wear sandals since power walking in them gives me blisters, so I go from one stuffy work environment to another, sweating it out all day in jeans and a t-shirt and tennis shoes, and then back home in my super hot apt. And while I’m there sweating and miserable, the kids come in and give me the same excuses about not possibly being able to do the homework, or learn the vocab because how are they expected to know that it’s the next page of vocab, just like it’s always been and their lives are just so hard with school work.

AND THE WORST PART: really the WORST part, is that 6 days a week I have to hide the fact that I am stressed out and feeling monetarily abused by two countries, worried about my future, worried about having enough money come Oct, tired of having no weekends to see anything or wind down, tired of having to run around town and be somewhere on time at least 3 times a day, tired of working my butt off for three years, paying my bills, doing my best, and feeling like I’m back where I started, only more pessimistic and less hopeful. I have to hide all these feelings and stop and think before I say anything so that I am can be sure that I’m not saying it out of personal frustration with my situation that has nothing to do with the kids. And I am glad I do it, they are silly children who’ve done nothing to deserve such treatment. German adults come up to them and tell them how horrible their country is and have even throw coins at them. THEY certainly do not need more nonsense from me.

But HONESTLY I dream of a job where I work five days a week, in an air-conditioned building where I don’t have to repress my feelings to get on with my work.

Every single day at least 20 people ask for things of me. I am so tired of it, my patience is no more. And this moving nonsense is tipping me over the edge. At this rate, I’ll be able to afford to get married when I’m 35.

I am stressed. The bf says everything will be fine. But that’s easy for him to say, he’s in Greece. I’m here alone with the to-do list and a hot, dirty apt. I can say one thing, if I weren’t in a relationship right now, I’d have peaced out and gone home last month. I am going on 2 months over my breaking point. If I don’t make it into university, all this bureaucracy will no longer be worth it. I’ve got to start saying goodbyes to students next week, but how can I even do it, except to put on my fake face, and pretend that the future looks bright and wonderful and I just can’t wait to keep bleeding money for the privilege of being a foreigner abroad.

It’s more than I can deal with. No matter when or how hard I try to be prepared, it’s always the same result. I get stuck with the negative outcome.

I’ll take a vacation. It’ll be ok. August this will all be behind me. I’ll either go visit friends, or in the unlikely even the bf can get some holiday time, we’ll find some beach to sit on and read. He promised me Crete and even if I have nothing to eat in Oct, I will find some way to afford it, cause that beautiful island would do away with a lot of stress.

But my eyes are wide, wide open. Even if you stay informed, do your best, do things on time, life still isn’t fair. No one will look out for the things you’ve worked for except for you. There’s no guarantee I’ll make it, or even that I’ll have permission to stay. It could all very well be legally taken away from me, I’m just a little minnow swimming around out here with all these big fish.

Day-off Potpourri

I have my first wrinkle. Well actually I think it’s a laugh line and you can only really see it when my skin is tired. BUT for goodness sake’s. I thought this would be an issue when I hit the big 3-0. At any rate that is the current joke with the bf, that from now on I’d try to keep my face expressionless. Guess my youth is departing.

Although thinking back, most of my life has been spent laughing and especially these last few years with the kids and in a new relationship with a very funny guy. There are worse things. At least they aren’t frown lines and crow’s-feet!

Which reminds me of a very superficial decision I’ve made recently. So in German there are these things called umlauts (ä ö ü) They are my enemies. The first one is ok. It’s like the sound in bear. The second two suck. You have to round your lips like you’re waiting for a kiss, push them forward and push the air out, (with the second the bottom lips juts out a bit more). Unfortunately, when speaking quickly, this is something I can’t be bothered with. I either say it with a MEGA annoying American accent, or stop everything I’m doing to round my lips and focus on getting out a öööööööö and not a ough, which looks idiotic of course.

If I choose the first one, I have to repeat things a few times, because the person doesn’t usually expect me to be foreign and are typically caught off guard and stop listening. If I choose the second, it comes out right, but meanwhile I’ve stopped, taken a deep breath and look like I’m a few cards short of a deck. Plus from the two years spent observing my seniors, I’ve noticed that they all have major lip wrinkles, and my personal theory is, not that they were all smokers, but umlaut lovers.

Call me vain and superficial but lip wrinkles are disgusting, and I don’t know if it’s a wise use of my time to spend hours correcting my accent, when I’ll just be laying the groundwork for a something I’ll wish wasn’t there later. Plus despite how irritating I find my accent, others think it’s cute. So oh well, my German accent can suck forever, and the other languages I’ll learn to say things correct the first time. Laugh at me all you want. A woman’s first wrinkle, it’s a wake up call.

Anyway it’s my first day off for these two weeks. But this morning I woke up with a start at 7am after having a dream about a particularly trying class that was taking a test and cheating. I was in the middle of confronting them; my pulse was racing and it took a minute to calm myself down. Now that is my favorite way to start a break: having the kids exhaust my patience in my dreams as well as reality.

Not that the kids are all bad. I keep coming up with various new things to get them producing quality work for me. I actually got one class to play mad libs successfully. They were a group of quiet girls that can’t say so much in English yet. So I’ve been joking that I’m like a crazy bum talking to myself. But they got some creativity hidden in them, and they’re not full-blown too-cool-for-school teenies yet, so I was hoping it’d work. I had another class similar to them and we had lots of fun with silly stories.

The first about a sandwich was a moderate success. But then we got out the secret admirer one (for girls), put in the name of one of the girls with things like stinky and smelly and that was it. They were in stitches. I’ve never seen them laugh so hard.

On Saturday it’s the same age level too. (my favorite really) They like to ask me everything in Greek on Saturday and I answer in English. One little girl has a question a minute. I don’t know what’s going on in her brain but I love it. They kept trying to get me off-topic, so asked them why I was even coming and getting money for teaching. I told them I was their joker, and they responded, no you’re not a joker, you’re an entertainer. When they left, my little question-asker needed to hug me goodbye (I never hug the kids), then all the girls had to hug me, then I said to the boys, it’s not fair only the girls get a hug, so they got one too. I told the bf about this later and he was shocked, What is this littlemsami’s cuddle course!

I strive to be a good teacher and that takes a lot out of me during the week. Both to the seniors and to the kids. It’s easy to slack off when you’ve only got yourself to disappointment, but it’s incredibly difficult to inform a group of 12-15 pupils that you’ve forgotten or neglected to do something. I did that enough the first year and got myself out of that habit really quickly.

*edit*

I didn’t manage to publish this yesterday. I was too busy getting my photo taken for my application, waiting at the dr’s office for allergy meds and finishing my CV in German. It’s nice to actually get things done for once!

So I’m gonna end with a quick moan and get back to work.

I just can’t win with my eyes. I wanted to get lasik, they’re too bad. I considered the lens insert surgery, too expensive. I wanted to get hard contacts to save the cost, nearly 200 euros, cause of my bad eyes. And need to be replaced in 6 months to a year according to Frau anal wannabe doctor. So I stuck with soft contacts, because if they break it’s not a money emergency and my eye sight hasn’t worsened in at least 5 years, so wearing them has had no bad effects. They’re expensive too so I thought I’d try to save money by wearing glasses during my planned Uni time.  I don’t expect to have lots of contact money during my studies, so I need another option. I’d really rather use this money towards a surgery, but meanwhile I’ve got to see on a daily basis.

Well my glasses are super heavy. They leave a permanent nose pad mark on my nose, which will probably lead to ugly broken capillaries by the time I’m 40. So I thought fine. I hate glasses but screw contacts for the time being. But I know it’ll be round 200 Euros for a new pair because of my prescription. Clever me, I’ll order a really lightweight pair online and save a bundle!

So yesterday, surfed around found adorable frames that I filtered through based on weight, but when it came time to put in my prescription it didn’t go past -10. (Mine is -10,25 and-10,75) So I’m nearly blind but not THAT far over this arbitrary boundary.

You know what screw you Germany! I went online to a similar website in America and they have until -18 and charge a bit more, but you know what that’s ok. As long as I can save on frames, I’ll pay extra for lighter lenses. I’m tired of being monetarily punished for my bad eyesight. I’ve had this bad eyesight for a while, but I never felt like I was limited in my options or the ability to wear contacts in the US. But here, wherever I go I balk at the price or express shock that there’s nothing else and all I get is a finger shaken in my face and shrugged shoulder with a pech (i.e. serves you right for having bad eyesight, what do you expect?)

Yeah American health insurance may suck, but at least they don’t make me feel guilty for having bad eyesight. And they don’t take everything so seriously that they can’t offer higher prescriptions online. I really thought Germany was great for people with glasses, but over the last year I’ve collected so many piss poor interactions, that I’ve actually made up my mind to buy my eye wear products (except replacement contacts) from the US from now on.

For now though I’ll concentrate on getting my applications finished and sent and figure out where I’ll be studying and moving to, and then I’ll sort of this glasses fiasco.

Sometimes the only way I can sum up my expat-life is to say it seems at times like everyone wants my money. But at least I have the option of spending it in whichever country offers me the best deal, even if I need to buy a plane ticket to take advantage of it!