Updates coming soon!

I will be updating this blog more in the coming weeks but I have had an incredibly busy two months finishing up my internship and moving to Bremen with some traveling in between!

One quick thing to say though now that I am about to begin my studies at a German University: They say when you first get to high school in the United States that your hand won’t be held like it was in middle school. When you arrive to your American College they tell you it will again be more difficult because no one will hold your hand like in high school. Well so far my perspective of the German University system is that no one will even tell you your hand won’t be held, because no one is even present to tell you! It goes without saying that I am a huge fan of the independence here, yet a little frightened as I try to get everything settled to begin my semester.

That is all for now!

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How to get to Hamburg (or really anywhere) on a budget

When I decided to study abroad in Germany I of course wanted to be able to have time to travel and see more of the country and continent. Currently, that is tough to do with a full time job and not much money. However, it is very possible. Here is one example of a weekend trip done right!

First of all, you need to actually be able to get to your destination and luckily Europe has got this figured out! You have a few options:

  1. Buses (budget friendly and wide range of destinations)
  2. Trains (usually faster, but a little pricier)
  3. Planes (budget airlines are great, but you can only go where they’ll take you)
  4. Cars (for absolute freedom)

Of course, in the US your only “real” option is a car unless you’re made of money or in a place that actually has buses and trains. But here, I can (and have) used every option on this list except for number 4 (because cars are completely unnecessary on a continent that actually has reasonable prices and time schedules for options 1 through 3).

So, to get to Hamburg I could have paid 39 Euros each way for a train ride that would have had one connection and taken 2 hours and 31 minutes. But I chose the direct bus- it costed 12 Euros each way and took 2 hours 30 minutes (savings of a minute and 27 Euros).

Next, you need somewhere to stay. For accommodation you also have several options:

  1. Couchsurfing (free but requires at least a week of prior planning)
  2. Hostels (cheap and for the young, adventurous types)
  3. Hotels (for those with deeper pockets than most)

I of course, chose option 2. I have read plenty of travel blogs discussing hostels and how great they are so I was honestly really excited to try one out. I booked a night in a backpacker youth hostel in Hamburg for 30 Euros for the night and had a great experience!

So there it is! A weekend in Hamburg for 54 Euros. Not too shabby. Stay tuned to hear about my adventures there!

Top 10 Cultural Differences

I have not uploaded a blog post in a while and I have not done anything interesting lately (unless you consider my day job to be interesting). So I have decided to write about the top 10 (in absolutely no specific order) cultural differences between the United States and Germany that I have noticed so far!

Without further adieu:

10) Do you have no manners? Knock!

In the office and at home, your door remains shut. No one wants to walk down the hall and see what you are doing and you sure don’t want anyone to be able to see you while they walk by! In the United States, most offices are open spaces or people leave their doors open- not here. Everyone loves their privacy and the closed door policy is everywhere.

9) Lunch time!

In the United States, workers are generally required to take their lunch as quickly as possible and get back to work. Here, it is not uncommon to take over an hour! My office has a cantine where you go to get lunch (very much like the Caf) and sit with your colleagues. This builds comradary within the office and gives you a much needed break from your hard work. In the United States a lot of workers bring their lunch from home and eat at their desks, but here, we eat together and talk about non work-related things.

8) Is hydration really that important?

When you go out to eat in America, the first thing they bring you is a free glass of ice water. Not only is ice nonexistent here (a topic for a point all of its own), there’s no such thing as “free”. My first day in Berlin I ordered water and I was asked if I wanted still or sparkling (tap water is not to be consumed- ever!), I requested still assuming they would bring me a free glass of water. Nope! I paid 2,99€ for a 200 mL (tiny) glass of plain, bottled, lukewarm water!

7) On the topic of water…..

There’s this thing here called Minealwasser (mineral water) and the Germans cannot get enough of it! It is regular water, just with more carbonation in it than you could imagine. Let that bottle sit still all day thinking it is safe to open and you’ll be in for a wet surprise! I always have a towel on hand when I am opening my daily 1.5L bottle of the stuff. At first, I was scared to try it (why would you carbonate WATER?), but it’s actually pretty good! You can buy a huge bottle at Aldi for 0,19€ plus your 0,25€ deposite on the bottle (you get a quarter back when you return your empty bottle to the recycling center).

6) ICE-ICE Baby

I said I would get to it, Germans do not know what ice is (except when the whole counry freezes over in the winter time). The refridgerators do not have an ice maker, and they would never, ever take up the valuable real estate in their tiny glasses with frozen water. I guess when you are paying 4,50€ for a soft drink (without refills) you want to get every last drop of soda possible. The German word, Eis, pronounced as we say “ice” actually means Ice Cream, because that’s the only frozen concoction they want.

5) The bill, please?

When you go out to eat and are ready to go home YOU are responsible for asking for the check. The waiter will never bring it to you, because to Germans, that would be rude. When you seat yourself at a table (you always seat yourself), you get to keep that table for as long as you want. If you need something (drinks, food, etc) make eye contact with a waiter (who will HOPEFULLY be somewhere nearby) and beckon them. They will not check in on you, and they will not ask you to pay. I have grown to like this seemingly poor service as I often find it annoying in America when waiters come by every 5 minutes and interrupt my conversation to ask if I need more free ice water.

4) You mean we aren’t here to make new friends?

The first time I went out with some colleagues for drinks, we went to a pretty casual bar in Braunscwheig. By the time we got there, it was past midnight (prime party time in the US of A) but the dance floor was empty, and every group sat at their table, with their friends, not interacting with anyone else. Having never been “of age” in America, I can only go off what I have heard- but that is that going out to bars is a great place to meet new people and even dance a little if you want to. Not here! You go to the bar with your group of friends, and sit and try to scream at them to have a conversation (the music is very loud).

3) You are 30 and don’t have a driver’s license?

Cars exist here. Germany manufactures some of the best cars in the world, but because public transportation is so advanced and efficient, a lot of Germans never bother getting a car- or even taking driver’s ed to get their license! The streets all have bike lanes, and thats how everyone gets around on a nice day. The buses, trams, S-Bahns, U-Bahns, and long distance trains all have regular schedules- usually in intervals of 15 minutes or less. In fact, even the scheduled train between Berlin and Munich (hundreds of miles) operates several times per day. Gas is also very expensive- around 1,50€ for a liter- so it is no wonder that most folks bike or take the bus.

2) The yellow form! The other lady told me it was the blue one!

Ah, bureaucracy. In the United States you deal with those grumpy folks only at the DMV and the Passport Office. In Germany, bureaucracy is in every aspect of your life. Need to change your address with the bank? You have to go to the city office to get a form verifying where you live. Moving? Go tell the city that your are leaving. Need to get on payroll at work? Go get a NEW tax ID number for your new job from the state. Nothing is simple here, but on the bright side it is almost impossible to slip through the cracks or mess something up.

1) Drinking? You haven’t even had breakfast yet! And you have work in an hour!

Germany has about the most relaxed alcohol laws of any country. The other day I biked past some dude holding onto the handle bar with one hand with a beer in the other- at 8:30 am! Drinking in public is fine- no brown bags here. In fact, I have never even been carded and I barely look like I am above the 16 years old limit. People here are very responsible though, and rates of alcoholism are actually far lower than in America.

I hope these little tidbits were interesting! I will probably do more posts like this soon as I had a lot of fun listing out my ideas.

Cheers from Braunscwheig!

Some pictures from Berlin (Finally!)

I was finally able to get the pictures from my phone onto my laptop by emailing them to myself. I did buy a new digital camera yesterday (my phone camera has been acting up) so hopefully I will be taking a lot more pictures in the coming weeks!

Anyway, here is some of what I got to see in Berlin:

Reichstag.jpg
The Reichstag in Berlin: the “Capital Building” of Germany. 
TV Tower.jpg
The TV Tower at Alexanderplatz (Formerly in East Berlin) is the largest structure in Berlin. You can see it from almost anywhere. A gentleman on the subway (tourist) was asking me where it was, and when the train went above ground for a little bit I just looked around and pointed it out to him- we were miles and miles away from it too!
TV Tower and Church.jpg
I thought the Juxtaposition of the TV Tower behind an 800 year old church was very cool! Notice the stone work on the Church, the lighter work towards the top was reconstructed after World War Two.
Balcony View
The view from my friends’ balcony in Berlin. Very great location! The parking lot at the bottom right is where Hitler’s bunker was, the Jewish Memorial can be seen towards the top on the left, and behind the far buildings is the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate.

Wow, time flies

Logging into my Word Press acount I noticed that I have not posted an update in over two weeks! Well, a lot has happened here in Germany during these two weeks so I’ll go ahead and dive in:

The start of the World Cup was very exciting, I went to a public viewing in Braunschweig to watch Germany’s first game (against Mexico). Unfortunately it was a tough loss, but the environment of the public viewing was great. It had several beer stands and they were handing out free hats and sunglasses.

The next week I continued my work at DLR, researching and coding a little bit. It’s hard work but I like the work atmosphere here.

Last weekend I took a trip to Berlin to see more of the city and reconnect with some friends I made at orientation a few weeks ago. My friends who live in Berlin have an incredible apartment- right next to Hitler’s bunker and a 4 minute walk from the Brandenburg Gate. It was a great weekend. I arrived in time for dinner on Friday and stayed until after lunch on Sunday.

To start off the weekend we got some beer (for less than 0,40€ per ‘tall boy’) and headed to a small street stand for dinner. I ordered a Schweineschnitzel (basically a fried pork chop) which I enjoyed alongside my German wheat beer (very dark and strong flavor- I am a huge fan). After dinner my friends took me around to see a few sights, then we went to buy more beer and got ready to head out to the bars. One guy knew of an Irish Pub just one U-Bahn stop away so we headed there. The bar was incredibly crowded and it was also late so we just stayed for a few rounds and mingled with some locals before heading back to their apartment for the night.

On Saturday I got up early and used my Berlin Transport Card to go around various places in the City. Notably, I went to the Apple store and got my iPhone camera repaired so I could take some pictures. I will upload a lot of photos in a future post, once I can figure out how to transfer them from my phone to my Laptop. Saturday was also the night of the big Germany vs Sweden match, so we went to the public viewing at the Brandenburg Gate. I can not overexaggerate how good our place to stand was. We fought our way to the very front, and were less than 5 people back from the front. It was an incredible experience to get to be a part of all of the energy with the win too. After the game several of my friends tried to go clubbing, but I was way too tired and went on to bed. They came home around 1 am (very early by German clubbing standards) and sadly announced they had been denied entry to every club they tried. This reaffirmed that going to bed was the wise decision.

Sunday morning we slept in pretty late, but had time to get lunch and visit Alexanderplatz before my train ride back to Braunschweig.

Overall, it was an incredible weekend and I will definitely be heading back very soon, I have not even seen half of the tourist attractions there yet!

So far this week I have had a lot of work, and got to witness the unfortunate loss of Germany to South Korea last night, meaning the World Cup fun is over for the next four years.

I have also begun my apartment hunt for Bremen this fall, I am hoping to get to move in about a month before my classes start so I have time to travel around Europe and see all that it has to offer.

Why am I here?

I noticed while reading back over my previous blog entries that I never stated what I am actually doing in Germany for 14 months.

It is a long story, beginning even before my first day at Myers Park High School. Students at my school can chose between four options for foreign language: Spanish (the most popular), French, Latin, and of course- German. When creating my schedule for my first semester I just assumed to sign up for Spanish like everyone else, but my mom mentioned to me that some of the teachers are good, and others are not so good. This meant that I could get stuck with a not so great teacher the first semester and struggle when I arrived in the more upper levels of the language. German, however, had only one teacher: Frau Harmaty (or Frau for short). My mom had done some volunteer work in her class a few years before and told me that she was an excellent and caring teacher, and because she was the only German teacher, I would be guaranteed to have her for all four years. So to me, taking German was a no brainer- I would have the same teacher for all four years, and get to learn a less common language that could help set me apart later in life.

So that is why I chose to take German, but it was the actual class that got me to where I am now. Frau was like a grandmother to everyone in our class, she cared deeply about each student and could always put a smile on your face. We also had a very small class size with the same kids throughout all of high school which made for a very positive learning environment. The language was tough to learn, but everyone in our class supported one another and everyone worked as hard as they could to improve their German. In fact, many of my former classmates have also gone on to continue studying German at the college level. It was in this high school class that I realized my love of the German language, and desire to take it as far as I could.

Fast forward to junior and senior year when I browsing through potential colleges I wanted 3 things: A small school, an engineering program, and a German program. This is a combination that is incredibly difficult to find. Especially with my stubbornness in ignoring any college that didn’t offer German classes. I ended up coming across UAH by happenstance and applied almost immediately. I also decided to attend very shortly after I visited campus. When I registered for orientation I ticked two boxes on the major declaration: Aerospace Engineering and German- because I am bold, I wanted to tackle both programs as a major and not simply minor in German. Before I even registered for classes I was able to meet Dr. Goebel and I could tell that he is a great and caring professor. So I happily enrolled in my first German class that fall, hoping I would soon get the opportunity to study abroad.

That opportunity happened to come very quickly, because UAH has an exchange agreement with Hochschule Bremen’s aerospace engineering department. That seemed to be absolutely perfect, not only would I be able to study in Germany and live in the country I have learned so much about for 6 years, but I would also get to take classes in my “main” major while there! Dr. Johnson, another German professor at UAH, helped me get the ball rolling on applying and it was fairly simple, as UAH had sent another student to Hochschule Bremen just a few years before me.

Outside of simply studying abroad, a requirement for foreign language majors is to intern at a company in a foreign country. To be able to do this, I applied to a cultural exchange organization (Cultural Vistas) that places American students in German host companies for a summer or semester internship. Cultural Vistas found me a great internship at the Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft-und Raumfahrt in Braunschweig for the summer, which where I currently am. Then this fall, I go to Hochschule Bremen to study for the full academic year. So, in total, I will be in Germany for an entire 14 months interning, studying, and living. This is such a great opportunity, 6 years in the making and I am very excited to be able to share my experiences on this blog page!

Week one in Braunschweig

My first week in Braunschweig has been incredible. I arrived on the train at 14:00 last Sunday and was picked up from the train station (Hauptbahnhof) by my Landlord’s son. They brought me to the apartment and helped me get settled in, before inviting me to the garden for Beers and Bratwurst. I ate and drank a little, but still being fairly jetjagged I went to bed pretty early- I also had an early start at work the next morning.

Monday morning I began my first day at the Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft und Raumfahrt (DLR- German center for air and space) by having a ten minute bike ride to the campus. Once there, I grabbed my security clearance and met my boss for a little orientation and safety training. Work is work, but I enjoyed getting started researching my project and learning about the work culture here. For work I must be in the office 39 hours per week, but an hour and a half lunch is accounted for in that time. The campus has a cafeteria a few buildings away from my office, and the other interns took me there and helped me get my lunch card set up and registered. Germans generally eat their hot meal of the day for lunch, so the options are usually very good, and the prices are great. After lunch everyone likes to spend 30 minutes or so playing fussball in the break room before heading back to the office.

My second day just so happened to be the annual department trip, so we headed to the longest swinging suspension bridge in Germany. It was about an hour away on the Autobahn, and the guy driving averaged 200 KPH (about 125 MPH) the whole way there! The trip was a lot of fun, and we went on a Flossfahrt (flow trip) for lunch. It included a grill and a bar with any type of beer you can imagine. I can really see myself getting used to German beer while I am here.

The rest of the week was pretty routine, waking up around 6:30 and trying to get to the office by 8. Some of the other interns invited me to grab dinner and go to the movies on Saturday, we watched the new Jurassic World movie in English. They do dub movies here, but most Germans prefer to just watch with original audio because dubbing can be tough to follow; so each theater often has several show times in English as well as German. I try to speak as much German as I can with my coworkers to improve my language skills, but everyone speaks English so well this is much more difficult than it seems.

Before the movie we met at the local mall and walked around the Innenstadt (downtown) to find somewhere to eat. We ended up finding a restaurant that has been around since 1860 and had a biergarten out back. We grabbed a table and ordered beer and steaks (I am very fond of German food options). In Germany, when you get a table at a restaurant that becomes your table for as long as you wish to stay. You actually have to ask for the check, because the waiters may feel rude if they just bring it to you when you are done eating. This is nice, because you do not feel rushed to finish eating, and can stick around visiting or getting more drinks for as long as you like.

After dinner we headed to the theater. The movie ended at 10:15, but there was still a little twilight left in the sky, with a dark blue appearance. The sun is up for so long this time of year and Braunschweig is fairly far to the north within Germany. My friends knew of a bar a few minutes away with a happy hour so we headed there for an hour or so before heading home. They both live near by so they walked home while I went back to the mall to grab my bike. It is a 20 minute bike ride from my apartment to downtown, which is actually quicker than the bus!

Before biking home I made sure to ask about my safety. They told me that Braunschweig is incredibly safe, and you can bike or walk around anytime and no one will bother you. This sounded good to me, because as an American we all know places where we would never want to be when it is dark. Bikes here also have automatic head and tail lights so traffic can see you, and almost all streets have separate bike lanes, or wide enough sidewalks to accommodate both bikers and pedestrians.

I am really enjoying my time here and look forward to the world cup starting next weekend! The town has several public viewing areas around downtown so watching the soccer games is a huge community event.

Weekend in Berlin

I begin my internship at the German Center for Aerospace research in Braunschweig tomorrow morning. I had an orientation in Berlin this weekend, and although I missed a day due to flight delays, I still had a great time in Berlin. The first thing I learned upon landing was how very true to stereotypes of German efficiency are. The airport was designed to guide you directly where you needed to be. You were led directly to baggage claim and then right on out to ground transportation (I did not need to get my passport stamped as I already had done so in Amsterdam). I found the express bus I needed to get to the central train station (my hotel was right across the street).

I arrived at the hotel around 9 am and we had orientation events from 10 to 2 so I had no time to explore until after the sessions. Orientation was rather boring, but very important- we mostly discussed how go about dealing with German bureaucracy. Afterwards, I was able to meet up with my professor, Dr. Goebel at a church near the Berlin Zoo. He just happened to be in Berlin the same weekend for a conference so it was nice that we were able to see each other. We went to an outside biergarten for dinner and I ordered a fried pork chop (the German word, schweineschnitzel, sounds much more elegant). It was delicious. Being incredibly jetlagged I did not wish to stay up too late but I did want to see some sights, so Dr. Goebel showed me around near the Berlin Concert Hall for a little while before I decided to head back to the hotel for sleep.

This morning I woke up at 5 am unable to go back to sleep so I showered, ate some breakfast and watched netflix before heading to the train station to catch my train to Braunschweig. Currently, I am on that train and very excited to arrive this afternoon! The WiFi  onboard is excellent, so I am able to blog and even stream videos or music.

Up in the air (I wish)

I should be in Berlin right now. Instead I have just awoken from a sleepless night on the floor in terminal B of JFK. My flight was supposed to go from Charlotte to JFK arriving at 5:30 PM and then from JFK to Berlin arriving at 11:00 am the following day. That clearly did not happen. Weather delays in both Charlotte and New York caused me to not reach New York until 11:00 PM last night, well after the Berlin flight had departed. Luckily for me, Delta had automatically handled rebooking the rest of the journey and got me upgraded to business class for a new itinerary  leaving for Amsterdam this afternoon. I hope the George Clooney/Ryan Bingham air travel experience is worth missing a day in Europe!

The business class ticket also includes access to the Delta sky lounge, which really is not at all what I expected. No hot food (only continental type stuff) and the free beverage options are limited. Additionally, there is no where to sleep and the hours being only 5:00 am to midnight meant I got kicked out shortly after I arrived. I asked several staff members for advice on sleeping in the terminal as it was too late to try and deal with booking a hotel (they also weren’t offering a voucher) and found that higher numbered gate areas would be my best bet. They gave me pillows and several blankets and I headed off to find somewhere to sleep. I also had a friend along with me, as another student from the same study abroad program just happened to be beside me on the flight from Charlotte and got rebooked on the same flight as well. So at least I’ve got someone to hangout with.

After my sleepless night at gate B37 I headed back to the lounge to grab breakfast and ate what little they had. They do have showers here, which was nice, I feel a lot better having been able to shower and brush my teeth.

That’s my study abroad experience so far, hoping for better news shortly.