I am the worst blogger ever: 28 reasons life is good

Today I am feeling brilliant. So I thought in between getting my final essay written, I’d write a positive blog post. The blog is definitely one-sided, but what can I say: writing about the negatives helps me to let it all go. But considering that I turned 28 last week, I thought I’d put up a more visual post about all the things in my life that I love right now.

This guy!

1.This guy!

Being with someone I honestly do not deserve. He expects the best from me and isn’t intimidated by my perfectionism and ambition, but calls me out when I get too stressed out. He makes me laugh all the time and he is a very grateful recipient of all my culinary attempts.

My Family!

2.My Family!

We need some new pics, this is old but I love it enough to share anyway. Being abroad and having the support of my family is very important. I’m very lucky to have a family that understands my crazy wanderlust.

Going to see my GREEK family

3.Going to see my GREEK family

You can read about how I feel about my Greek life here and here.  2013 is the year of Greece. Crete, Corfu, Rhodos & Katerini/Thessaloniki. It’s such a horrible life, right? I need to visit a conference for my masters program and I decided that I’d prefer the cheaper option in Rhodes which really interests me and where I might be able to make some good contacts in the field, rather than going to one which doesn’t interest me, just cause it’s free, or one that does but cost 10 times as much! So I decided rather than a quick layover I’d extend my trip to visit these crazy kids, aka my Greek family.  I can’t even describe the joy I am feeling right now 😀 especially since I don’t know when I can afford to visit my fam in the states again. It does the soul good to visit places where you belong.

My summer in the Schwarzwald.

4. My summer in the Schwarzwald.

The bf got mad at me since, I told him it was my best summer in Germany ever. And he somehow missed the Germany part and started defending Greece. Ha, dork. But seriously this summer has been amazing. One of the best of my life and this from a girl who has spent many a summer in Greece. It is seriously beautiful here. Even my cynical bf has to admit that he is looking forward to living somewhere where other people come for summer vacation.

5. Becoming Miss Ami again.

5. Becoming Miss Ami again.

Starting Monday I am taking the reigns of a classroom again for two weeks. I get to teach two groups of kiddos for a summer academy. It’s like summer school but with all the focus being on fun and speaking. Sign me up. There were a few hiccups with the situation which really got me down and I nearly gave it up twice, but I’m proud of myself for sticking it out and not taking anything personally. Now that things have settled down I am really looking forward to goofing around with little kids and the exhausting high that comes with being really present in their little lives for an extended period of time. Not to mention the person in charge and I are on the same wavelength when it comes to teaching, which is rarer than you’d think. I am more optimistic than usual about this collaboration and she is too and these sort of challenges, to live up to someone’s positive expectations, are what I live for. 😀

6. My work with the university.

6. My work with the university.

Did I mention I am working for the English department as a research assistant? It’s been such a good chance and allowed me to get away from the waiting tables to make ends meet. It’s not much money but it’s a start and the work is more rewarding. In the fall I will start giving a tutorial about doing linguistics for bachelor students. I am a bit terrified at the responsibility but up for the new challenge. Career-wise things are looking good, even if I am currently in debt to my savings.

7. Affordable housing.

7. Affordable housing.

Now to be perfectly honest I’d really like to be living in a bigger space right now and the kids partying in the summer is driving me up the wall and my ever changing roommate situation means just as soon as I get used to the new teenager’s bad habits, I get sent another one. But I have to be brutally honest right now: getting into the student dorms ain’t easy and if I hadn’t gotten in, I’d have already run out of money right now. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that huge monthly sums make budgeting nearly pointless. I may not be able to work on my student debt right now, or get any help from the state, but affordable housing is enabling me to follow my dreams and so I am willing to accept the drawbacks that come with it.

8. Getting in shape

8. Getting in shape

Ok bear with me. I am trying to use my own pictures and I don’t tend to take any while I am working out. This was from my birthday when I feeling a bit ill, but nonetheless I’ll just use it as a recent example. I was worried that when I started studying I would sit around all day, which I definitely do, but I also have been hiking more, working out more and generally being more active because the weather has been nicer. I also eat at more regular hours and not just stuff myself twice a day, cause I’ve got 4-6 hours of work back-to-back. For once in my life I don’t have any goals to lose weight. I just enjoy being healthy and strong and I wish I could pass on this is feeling to all my family and friends.

9. My mad Greek skills

9. My mad Greek skills (which come in handy when ordering my favorite food!)

So while I’m not there yet, my Greek is getting to the final stages of achieving spoken fluency. I suppose it will always be a life-long journey. Any language is. This used to dishearten me so much that at one point I gave up on all of them. Nowadays I’m able to ignore popular ideas of what speaking a language mean and just put in the work, day after day, and enjoy where the road to fluency takes me. With Greek I am (too) thorough, because I want to speak it well. With French for example, I am simply happy to speak whatever string of poor sentences I can manage. So saying that my Greek is good, is a big step. I am still wrestling with the aspects of verbs, since just when I think I’ve gotten the hang of it, the bf tells me a certain action done repeatedly is still spoken of with the one-off aspect (well language nerds you will get this, if no one else). Overall though, I can pretty much say anything that I’d like to say and almost always grammatically correct. It still doesn’t always flow off my tongue or makes use of the best, or most idiomatic vocab, but I am enjoying this stage too and while I’d like to improve quickly, I am a bit more relaxed, because I am certain now that I will get there in the end.

10. the Bf's family

10. the Bf’s family

Ok I’m not always sure they understand how my bf got himself an exotic American girlfriend, but his parents and his sis and bro and their families have been so welcoming.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know them and look forward to meeting up with them when I’m in town. They also both have little ones who I adore and get to buy little baby gifts for and who scream ‘aunt’ at me excitedly when they get to see me. It’s nice to feel like I have family in Germany.

11.My bestie

11.My bestie

I never feel too alone as an expat here, because I have someone here with the exact same outlook and experience as I do. I grateful that her job keeps sending her over to Germany and that both of us know how to keep in touch despite the distance. We see each other about twice a year and every time we skype it just erases all my doubts and make me feel up for another week of challenges.

12. Close friends, close by.

12. Close friends, close by.

This picture is from 2006. My very much new friends (one from England and one from Germany) at the time just met for the first time at the beer festival. And who would have thought that in 2012 I’d move to a place where I’d be a couple hours away from them both. (Even closer than my bf!) Life is funny and unpredictable. I love that despite all my wandering I still end up close to people I care about. I have found great friends, where the time between seeing each other is totally irrelevant to our friendship. We always just pick it up again.

10. Having time to knit

13. Having time to knit

and also just time for myself. In my three years in Nbg I did many things, but there were many things I didn’t have time for, or even when/if I did it just was so far back on the list in terms of importance that I never got to it. Knitting I did on occasion, but things like improving my language skills or going hiking on the weekend, I never had time for. I really enjoy having all this free time again. This will probably be the last time in my life, for a long time where I will have so much flexibility in my schedule. I know it is a total luxury and believe me, I’m not taking it for granted.

14. New Uni friends

14. New Uni friends

I haven’t been investing a lot of time in this. At least not in gaining as many as possible. But slowly making friends makes that even more amazing. People constantly surprise me and those in my program have turned out to be pretty deep, sweet girls that are fun to hang out with. I’ve also made one nice Greek friend here that I am giving lessons too and that is also important.

15. Being right next door to France

15. Being right next door to France

Come on it’s Germany’s more run-down romantic neighbor. I’m literally a 15 minute highway drive to the border. I can run over there for some grocery shopping. You can’t argue with that!

16. Grandma gets skype!

16. Grandma gets skype!

Mom is visiting Indy and then she’ll set-up Grandma’s computer so I can skype with her. I don’t have a landline here, so I couldn’t call her up cheaply. But now! For that matter my Aunt has skype now too, so yet another loved one to video chat with.

So that’s enough of the pics that I have to match my list. You’ll have to just live with the unillustrated rest.

17.  Keeping touch with my pupils. I get their news and chat a little online and it’s nice to know that with a little bit of my effort we can find a nice way to stay in touch.

18. Catching up on my reading. Semester break + american library = a happy bookworm.

19. Figuring out what my masters thesis will be about. It’s not set in stone yet, but things are coming together and I feel good about it.

20. The bf’s positive attitude towards the job search. Because it’s been a tough ride and we both weren’t so sure many times if we’d make it. Now it feels like with a little bit more patience we’ll be that much more closer.

21. Being almost done with my first two essays and a promising schedule next semester. One more project to go and then my first year will be over. And that my friends is worth celebrating

22. Knowing that standing up for myself doesn’t make me a bad person. I can say no to demands made of me and I know how to compartmentalize aspects of my life and I have Germany and the tough times to thank for that.

23. Just all the sun I see in Freiburg. My hair has highlights and I’ve got a nice light color, from not even sunbathing and always wearing sunscreen. I think it is often responsible for my cheery moods.

24. All of the amazing things I’ve learned this year, the debates I’ve had and the down-to-earth people who have more than made up for the snobby elitists you can never avoid. I’ve loved all my classes and it has definitely been the right decision for me.

25. The friendly people I’ve met in Freiburg and in this state. While they aren’t exactly American style friendly right off  the bat, people here are more open to conversations with strangers and I am trying to bring myself out of my Nbg shell and projecting the friendliness I want to see back. It seems to be more possible here.

26. All the happy thoughts and dreams I have for my future. Because they won’t come true so I should enjoy them now, but I still think me and the bf have a lot of really seriously happy moments in front of us.

27. To use the German term angekommen, which means ‘to have arrived’. It’s like saying I’ve a arrived, but a little more cosy. Meaning that you’ve made yourself a home and have found a place in the world, not just reached your goals. I’m not there yet, but the chances of us both succeeding at this ambitious project and being happy here is starting to become a real possibility.

28. Being 28 and feeling so grateful for all that life has given me so far. Time on this earth isn’t something to be taken for granted. I am blessed.


On teaching English again away from the kiddos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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