Südpark Pictures and Goals Update

Finally, some of my favorite pictures from Düsseldorf’s Südpark! It’s a generous piece of land with everything one could want from a park: open space for picnics and lawn games, paved paths for cycling and jogging, plenty of shade trees, luscious green paths, assorted mini-gardens, a lily pond, and even a petting zoo and an ice cream stand. Who could ask for more?

A quick update on my goals:

3 random interactions in German per day: success

I can’t say whether I’ve been hitting three per day or not, but I definitely got in lots of German conversation time this week. Here are some of the more notable ones:

  • On an IIK outing to the Schiffahrtsmuseum, I chatted with the German guide while waiting outside and also with fellow German students during the tour.
  • I went to a weekly Tuesday language cafe for students of German and Spanish and chatted more afterwards while watching the France vs. Belgium soccer game.
  • On Thursday I went to a different speaking practice meeting.
  • Google Maps lied to me and I could not find the entrance to the doctor’s office, so I asked someone on the street. We had a 2-3 minute conversation, admittedly short, but I spoke smoothly without hesitation, answered her questions coherently without long pauses, and successfully maintained the formal register throughout the conversation. I didn’t need to ask her to repeat herself, she didn’t ask me to repeat myself, and she didn’t ask me if it would be better to speak in English. It was one of my best successes in spontaneous conversation so far. And yes, I found the doctor’s office!
  • I chatted with a German teacher and her boyfriend at the IIK party on Friday night.

Read 15 minutes a day in German: fail

I must confess that I haven’t picked up my German book once since I made this goal. Since my July class has been very vocabulary-focused, I’ve been a little bit overwhelmed with new words lately. But reading more would definitely help me cement more of the new vocabulary into my brain, so I’d like to focus on this goal more this week. Since just saying “15 minutes a day” didn’t work, I’ll set aside a specific time: every day right before lunchtime, I’ll read for at least fifteen minutes in German.

I also need to remind myself that I don’t have to limit myself to the one book I have on hand at the moment. I can also go to the giant bookstore and read in one of the comfy lounge chairs for a while, or I can read articles, news, and web comics online.

New goal: journal in German

In my weekly Thursday German practice, the organizers always start off with an open-ended question such as “What do you consider art? What kind of art do you like to consume? What kinds of art, if any, do you produce?” My limited vocabulary usually prevents me from answering these questions as thoroughly as I’d like, which often leaves me a little bit frustrated. It’s a good frustration though, since it’s pushing me to improve my ability to speak on these kinds of subjects.

In order to do so, I’d like to start writing a little bit every day in German. Instead of just writing letters and fictional stories for class assignments, I think I need to also write about more personal subjects. This will arm me with personally relevant vocabulary and  prepare me to better express myself in conversation.

To make things concrete: I’d like to write at least one page a day on a personal topic in German. Topics can include personal experiences, plans, thoughts on a book/television show/news article, etc.

I’ve got two weeks left in Düsseldorf. Let’s see how they go!


Luxembourg, a French festival, and more


IMG_7645I’ve had a busy weekend. I spent all Saturday on an excursion to Luxembourg, and today I went all over the place. This week I’m going to let photos do most of the talking and just add some commentary here and there.


It was a three hour trip by bus to Luxembourg City. After a guided foot tour through the city, I explored some more with a classmate and another friend from the IIK. The town was very pretty and romantic, but very small. I thought it was a nice destination for a one-day trip.


When I saw the food prices, I became even more convinced that one day in Luxembourg was enough. Most of the restaurants had menus with prices outside their entrances, and the cheapest dishes we could find were salads starting at 16 euros! No thanks. The only exceptions were a McDonalds and another generic burger place right next to it.

We went to the generic burger place, where we found that the staff spoke only French. I wished I remembered enough French to understand when the waiter told me my bill. But according to the menu prices, he gave me the correct change.

After lunch we explored the network of tunnels making up the Bock Casemates, a UNESCO World Heritage site. There were openings all along the walls through which cannons used to fire. There were also plenty of spiral stone staircases, so tight and steep that it was impossible to see how far down or up they went.


At the end of the day came the three hour bus ride back to Düsseldorf. We got to enjoy a beautiful sunset over southern Germany along the way.

Sunday: getting on the wrong trains


This morning I was on my way to Hillsong church, which is about 45 minutes away by U-bahn. I took an train to Heinrich-Heine-Allee, then transferred to the correct platform for the next train. Just as I arrived at the platform, a train arrived and everyone started boarding. For some reason, I didn’t check the train number and boarded with everyone else on autopilot. I must not have been fully awake, because it took me a full twenty minutes to realize I was on the wrong train. Good job, Keilah. I got off and boarded the next train back to Heinrich-Heine-Allee.

By this time it was too late to get to church, but I didn’t feel like heading back home either. I got out at Heinrich-Heine-Allee and walked through the Aldstadt to the Rhine promenade.


There was apparently some kind of French-related festival going on. There was a long line of stalls selling all kinds of cheese, crepes, and wine.


One stall was selling giant skewers of pork topped off with a piece of bread. They smelled good, so I decided to get one for lunch. It was juicy, tender, and flavorful, and the roll of bread complemented it nicely. As I looked out over the river while eating it, my pork skewer invited several admiring looks from passerby. One German gentleman even pointed it out to his toddler son and gave me a big approving smile.

I found this amusing. Most of the time, people on the streets pass by me with a quiet stare or occasionally a 你好 (ni hao). But with a big skewer of meat in my hand, suddenly lots of people were smiling in my direction.


I still wasn’t ready to go back home, so I decided to visit the Südpark, one of the few major parks in Düsseldorf I still hadn’t visited.

I’d found the Nordpark disappointing, but I fell in love with the Südpark. Unfortunately, however, the pictures are refusing to load, so I’ll save the pictures and descriptions for a day when the wifi is working a little better.


오늘부터 한국어 수업을 잘 받아요!

As you can tell by my title, I’m hyped and fully charged into the Korean mood! Here in Seoul it’s currently the night of the 4th, so happy July Fourth from one side of the world to the other!

I’ve had such an amazing time since my last post meeting new friends, exploring new alleyways and sights, and starting classes for this semester. So before I dive into my homework, I figured I’d update you all on how classes started off and give some cool facts about Seoul and things that I’ve noticed in my two weeks since arriving.

For my summer studies, I’m enrolled in three courses that meet Monday-Thursday from 11 AM until 6 PM each day; International Management, Marketing, and a Korean Language course. Among the language courses, there are many levels to take – three beginner’s levels, three intermediates, and two advanced. I had my sights set on Intermediate 1 – after reviewing the syllabus and noting what grammar was being covered, I felt as though I would learn the most in that class without sacrificing having to sit through principles and ideas that I already had taught myself. Therefore, if you have some experience with Korean, you had to take a placement test to see what class you should be taking. This happened on the first day of classes, and was something I was super stressed about as I really wanted to place as high as I possibly could.

The placement test itself took about an hour and a half to conduct. We were given tests with both multiple choice questions as well as short answer. As we took the written test, we got called out to do an “interview” for our oral and listening skills. While I was aware this was going to happen, I wasn’t banking on it happening during the written test, especially as I was called first. I became very nervous in the interview because of this, as I didn’t have near as much time to prepare mentally as I thought I was going to have. That being said, I left the placement test once I had finished discouraged and jostled, almost betting that I didn’t place where I wanted, but to my luck and fortune, the results came out the next day (today) and I got placed into Intermediate 1 just as I had hoped!

I was a little intimidated at first, but as I settled into the class, I do feel as though I was correct in estimating the level I sit at and will learn a lot in the next six weeks.

So that’s been my school experience so far! But what about my other experiences outside academics?

Here’s a fun fact: South Korea absolutely LOVES coffee. It’s estimated that there are about 19,000 coffee shops in the country, varying in the types of coffee offered as well as atmospheres. Many of these shops account for singular, unique shops littered throughout Seoul, but South Korea does have its chains. One of these chains I’ve noticed is Paris Baguette. Just within my two weeks since arriving, I’ve spotted at least ten of these shops – two of which are within walking distance of my dorm on the Yonsei campus! This is what they look like – courtesy of Google Maps as I haven’t taken a picture of them.

Paris Baguette

I personally have only visited about five different coffee shops, but I have high ambitions to try out many more during my time here.

Another cool fact about Korea: their money! The Korean unit of money is known as the Korean Won and uses the ₩ symbol. There are four types of notes and six types of coins, although three of the coins don’t seem to be very active in exchange. I find Korean money to be really cool because they are so easy to tell apart. Each kind of note is a different color and has a different length depending on its value. So the ₩1,000 note (~90 cents) is the shortest, while the largest note in use, ₩50,000 (~$45) is the longest. As for the coins, the most popular coins seem to be ₩500 (~45 cents), ₩100 (~9 cents), with the ₩50, ₩10, and ₩1 much less popular. This is because many prices end in double zeros (i.e. ₩4,500 or ₩3,200 or ₩17,900), so unless you are out of ₩500 and ₩100 coins, there is really no need for the latter three coins.

Here’s an example of what some of the money looks like!


So this whole time I’ve been expressing how much fun I’ve been having, how exhilarating it is to finally see Seoul and experience being completely out of my comfort zone and in a country that doesn’t speak English predominantly, but every experience to another country, no matter how long one has wanted to go there, has some downsides.

Something that I still have trouble adjusting to that I find a bit annoying here is that there are almost no trash cans anywhere – outside or inside. They’re very hard to come by for some reason, and many of the receptacles I do find are for strictly recyclables only, and a majority of the time it’s 일반 쓰레기 – normal trash – that I’m looking to discard, not something that can be recycled.

Another thing that I’ve found odd is that it isn’t customary to throw used toilet paper INTO the toilet. That’s right – when you use the bathroom, you don’t put the toilet paper into the toilet, but rather into the trashcan. Seems odd, right? There is a reason – allegedly the water pressure throughout South Korea is quite weak, so people are asked not to put anything within the toilet when flushing to prevent buildups and to assure easy flow of water, but I can’t help but feel simply disposing of the used tissue in a trashcan is a bit unsanitary.

However, if these are my biggest complaints, I would say that I’m getting along pretty well here! I’ve only been here a couple weeks and I’m already dreading the time when I’ll have to leave. I’m still amazed at the wonderful opportunity I have to be able to come abroad and pursue a dream I’ve had for nearly half my life now.

Unfortunately, it’s getting a bit late so I should go ahead and get a start on my homework. As I progress through my classes and try some more new experiences, I’ll keep you guys updated! 나중에 만납시다!

はい、いや、 ja: the juggling of words

You might have noticed that my latest post (here) doesn’t feature much German. In fact, it’s more about Japanese. What’s up with that? After coming all this way to Germany to learn German, why do I find myself talking Japanese so often?

That’s a question I’ve been asking myself lately. I’ve been going out with Japanese classmates and chatting with them in Japanese. Last Saturday, the highlight of my day was finding a pair of Japanese books. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with these things, but shouldn’t I be absorbing as much German as possible while I have the opportunity?

I was feeling guilty about this last week.

Then I realized something. A big part of the reason I’ve attained some level of proficiency in Japanese is the fact that I incorporated the language into my daily life. Even when I’m not actively studying it, I still use it when I read novels or listen to music in my free time. So it’s natural that I’m continuing to use the language. And why would I regret making friends with classmates from Japan? Connecting with people from around the world is one of my greatest motivations for learning languages. The opportunity to use both German and Japanese to do so is a bonus, not a drawback.

After thinking about it some more, I also realized that I do use a fair amount of German in my daily routine. I use much of my time outside of class exploring the city, which includes the occasional interaction with strangers on the bus or in the park. I’ve been reading a German graphic novel and watching German television in my down time. And I’ve been attending meetings for German speaking practice multiple times per week. Perhaps I don’t need to be so hard on myself.

On Friday, I was given another reminder that time spent on one language need not exclude my interest in the other. I went to a Japanese-German Stammtisch, or common table, at a cat cafe just a few blocks away from my residence. I had a pleasant conversation – all in German – with a Japanese expat and an older German gentleman who used to live in Japan. We spoke about language learning, Japanese novels, and compared notes on our perceived difficulty levels of English, German, and Japanese. It was especially enjoyable because I wasn’t speaking German just for the sake of practicing. I was having a conversation with people who shared similar interests, and the communication just happened to be in German.

The Halfway Mark

It’s been four weeks in Germany, which means I’m halfway through my stay! I think now is a good time to assess my progress and write down some new goals.

Things I can do that I couldn’t four weeks ago:

  • produce the different declensions of articles and adjectives almost automatically
  • converse more smoothly in German using conversational filler words
  • understand the meaning of certain new-to-me words by understanding their parts
  • read and understand a German graphic novel without a dictionary
  • watch German television and understand a significant amount without a dictionary
  • bag my groceries at Aldi within seconds before the very efficient cashier starts glaring at me
  • use the tram/u-bahn maps and schedules
  • know which side of the road has the correct bus stop
  • transition quickly from speaking German to Japanese and vice versa
  • think/talk to myself spontaneously in German (sometimes)

Goals for the time remaining:

  • read at least half an hour per day in German outside of class
  • 3 or more spontaneous interactions/mini conversations per day in German

Tomorrow I begin my second four-week course at the language school and my last four weeks of summer in Düsseldorf. Here’s to more adventures and language progress!



A search for a notebook turns up something even better


I’m a little bit obsessed with notebooks. I can never have too many, but I am quite picky about the type. Since my Japanese notebook is a few pages away from being full, I thought about looking for a new one on Saturday at the five-story bookstore I’d visited once before with Yuri. So I walked down to Heinrich-Heine-Allee using the route I learned last time I got lost, then quickly found the bookstore. There were notebook sections on three different floors and I took my time browsing through all of them.  They had a gorgeous display of Leuchtturms with dotted pages, my absolute favorite type of notebook, but I could always buy those on Amazon. They also had some hardcover notebooks with elegant patterns on them, but they none of them were quite the right size and they were lined or blank instead of dotted. I decided to try the Japanese bookstore on Immermannstraße instead.

On the way, I strolled through the park. Right off the path were some baby birds with their parents.


On the other side of the park was the big shopping alley. Since I’d walked through the area several times without ever looking in any of the shops, I turned in to one of the clothing stores. After the five-story bookstore, it was pretty boring. But upon walking through the store I discovered that it was part of an indoor mall! Somehow I had never noticed its existence. It had a very pretty central cylinder architecture thingy with elevators and a food court at the bottom. But apart from that, none of the stores had anything to interest me, so I walked back outside.


The smells from the food court had reminded me that I hadn’t had lunch yet, so when I saw a currywurst stand on the corner I decided it was time to finally try my first currywurst. The man took a sausage off the grill, put it into an interesting appliance that cut it into pieces, then laid it in a bed of sauce and sprinkled curry powder on top. It was delicious.

Finally I made it to Immermannstraße. Unlike the times of my previous visits, this time the small bookstore was quite crowded. I heard German, Mandarin, Korean, and Japanese all being spoken within the small space.

There was a selection of cute notebooks, but I didn’t see any that fit my criteria. I edged my way through other customers to walk around the other aisle. Glancing at the selection of Japanese nonfiction books, I realized they had a whole shelf full of books about ビジネス敬語, the infamously complex version of the Japanese language required for business situations. Since I volunteer at a Japanese supplementary school where a subset of this language is often used, I’d been eager to learn more about it, but I hadn’t been able to find a comprehensive source in either the Japanese internet or the Japanese bookstore. I browsed through the shelf and picked the one that seemed most suited to my interest.

Turning to reach the cash register, I noticed a whole a section of Japanese novels I hadn’t seen before. No matter, I thought. I can get inexpensive Japanese novels in San Diego. But wait! A familiar name caught my eye. 東野圭吾 (Higashino Keigo), the bestselling mystery writer and author of 容疑者Xの献身 (The Devotion of Suspect X), my favorite mystery novel. (I owned a copy of the English translation, but knowing how different English and Japanese styles of prose are, I’d been wanting to read the original text. For some reason, Amazon had the English, Mandarin, Korean, and French translations available, but not the original Japanese. )

I dropped to my knees for a better look. Yes, there were two whole shelves of 東野圭吾. But did they have the book I wanted? After scanning all the titles twice, I was about to give up when I spotted an italic X in the title of a small volume in the corner. 容疑者Xの献身. There was exactly one copy.

Japanese novels are read right to left, so the front cover is on what Westerners would consider the “back” side!

I couldn’t help smiling to myself on the tram ride home. I hadn’t found a notebook, but the two books I had found were even better.


P. S. The more adventures I have to write about, the less time I have to write about them. Hence, the posts from the past two weeks have failed to include accounts of several interesting happenings. In the coming days I’d like to come back and highlight certain events from the past two weeks, so for now I’m posting a list so I can get back to them later (maybe):

  • the case of the Kochstudio and the overly complicated burritos
  • my excursion to Amsterdam
  • first trip to the five story bookstore
  • practicing German conversation
  • reflections on language guilt


우와~ 신기하네

안녕하세요 여러분들! Wow, or should I say the Korean version, uwa I can’t believe it’s been about a day since I’ve arrived in Seoul! So much has happened, even with the jet lag setting in.

All three of my flights would total to a 25 hour journey. And while I was excited to be going, it was also stressful and jostling to arrive in Seoul somewhere around 10 pm with just a couple hours of sleep under my belt and never having used public transportation – especially in another language – in my life. It was quite an experience! I was finally able to arrive to the hostel I’m staying at the first few days somewhere around midnight. It’s called 서울숲게스트하우스, or Seoul Forest Guest House. It’s quite cute and comfortable. Here’s a few pictures of what it looks like.


This is the outside of the hostel; it looks quite small, but there are actually three floors to it! I’m staying on the ground floor in the 6 person shared room within the reception area.IMG_1406

It’s customary for people to remove their shoes before entering a home in South Korea. Many times, they have dedicated slippers for the rest of the house, and this hostel seems to be no exception. We leave our shoes on the grassy area and use the black slides they have provided for us for roaming throughout the hostel.IMG_1407

There’s even a cute little common area off the side of the reception room. My favorite part of the room is this wall piece that’s a map of the world. 🙂


So what have I done since arriving? My program at Yonsei University doesn’t begin until July 3rd, so I have quite a bit of time at my disposal. I started my first day yesterday by aimlessly walking around (and getting lost) just to check out my surroundings. I ended up finding a really beautiful park, Seoul Forest Park, that had sculptures and artwork nestled throughout!

It’s pretty warm here in Korea, averaging in the high 80’s, so at some point I stopped and got a mint chocolate crisp ice cream bar and some water to refuel before heading back to the hostel where the jet lag set in and I passed out for around seven hours.


I started off my morning today by taking a stroll down to one of the numerous convenience stores littered around – this time I went to a GS25, one of the most popular franchises here in Korea. I got some coffee before trotting out to go back to the hostel, but I stopped when I happened upon a 약국 (yakgook), or pharmacy. They’re similar to CVS or Walgreens, but much smaller and many of the medicines are actually behind the counter where the pharmacist is sitting. I have had a cough since last week, and went through about half a bag of cough drops just on the planes to get here, so I figured I could use this opportunity to challenge my Korean skills AND get something that will help my cough go away.

I was rough, very rough, at communicating, especially given I don’t have a wide expanse of vocabulary in the medical area, but nevertheless I was able to get two medicines for coughing (known as 기침, pronounced gi-chim in Korean) totaling ₩7,000 (roughly $6.30), and the sweet and patient pharmacist even complimented my Korean! To add to this day, I’m going to the Lotte Family Festival later in the evening and meeting up with a few of the students I’ll be attending Yonsei with for a concert. I’m very excited – I’ll be seeing two groups that are huge in Korea right now; EXO and Twice!

As before, I have also posted a video to my YouTube vlog channel dedicated to this entire experience. This is vlog #2, and goes just a bit more into detail and includes more information about how my flights went and walking around in Seoul Forest Park. To view this video, please click here. 🙂

Until next time! 조금 있다 보자!

Wandering in Düsseldorf

This Monday I decided to go out and find a book to read in German. I found the location of a second-hand bookstore online, made a mental note of the directions, and set out on foot to find it.


The directions were simple – I had to follow the main road for a while and then turn onto a smaller street. But for some reason, I decided to turn right at an intersection where I knew I should have gone straight. I’ll get back on track eventually, I thought. Let me just walk through this park and then head left. 


Apparently I took the wrong way through the park, for when I emerged on the other side there was no place to turn left. I found myself on a long bridge. Cool, it’s the Rhine. At this point I should probably turn around.


I wandered my way back a different way through the park and found myself in Heinrich-Heine-Allee, near the K20 museum I’d visited with Yuri on Saturday. I took the opportunity to wander a bit more around the pond and park across the road.

Whoa. On the other side of the greenery was… a big shopping alley? The combination of natural and urban beauty around the city is one of my favorite things about Düsseldorf.

I’d given up on getting to that particular bookstore today, so I headed instead toward the Japanese bookstore, which was now nearby, and bought a volume of a German-translated manga. I’d seen the film for the Japanese version, so I knew it was a simple slice-of-life story, well-suited for picking up everyday vocabulary.

IMG_6698 (1).jpg

Then I headed back home. I hadn’t made it to my intended destination, but I’d enjoyed the scenic route through the city. And hey, I’d still found a book to read.




Deutsch in Düsseldorf: Week One


I’ve made it one full week in Düsseldorf! It’s definitely been an adventure.

Monday: Grocery shopping and the first day of classes

I only had travel-sized containers of shampoo and other necessities, so I decided to go to the store to pick up more. I glanced at my city map, then headed out in the general direction of the nearest Aldi. Once I sensed I was getting close, I asked a passerby for directions in German.

“Straight that way, and then right, and then…” I didn’t understand the rest, but the stranger had already moved on. Oh, well. If I needed to, I could always ask someone else and get more practice in. I started walking in the direction she’d indicated, and soon found the Aldi.

Inside, I quickly located everything I’d needed except a razor. Another opportunity for speaking practice! “Entschuldigung, ich brauche ein Rasiermesser. Wo kann man das finden?” I inquired of a lady nearby. “Ganz hinter,” she replied, indicating the very back of the store. I found the razors and headed to the checkout. Only then did I remember that I was supposed to bring a bag to carry my purchases home in. My purse wasn’t big enough to carry everything, so I walked home carrying the shampoo under my arm.

In the afternoon I had my first German class at the IIK. When everyone introduced themselves, I found that the ten people in my class all come from ten different countries. I don’t remember all of them, but they include Switzerland, Italy, Uzbekistan, China, India, and South Korea. One of the cool things about everyone coming from different lands is the fact that it makes German the language we all have in common, although of course most of us also have some command of English.

The class itself was completely conducted in German, including explanations of grammar and vocabulary. The teacher was very skilled at getting ideas across using a combination of simple German and the occasional pantomime. It was encouraging to find that I could understand everything, but by the end of the four-hour lesson I was exhausted. It didn’t help that I still wasn’t used to the time zone. I walked back to my accommodation and quickly fell asleep.

Tuesday: Getting a German phone number


On Tuesday I got lost a few times trying to find a cell phone store, but I found a cool park and took some pictures. Eventually I found the store and successfully got myself on a phone plan, using only German!

Wednesday: Fails at Immermannstraße

On Wednesday, I went down to Immermannstraße to look for bilingual reading materials at the Japanese bookstore. I didn’t see any bilingual books, but I did find a Japanese grammar book that I’d been wanting, so I went up to the counter to buy it. The cashier had been speaking with her coworker in Japanese, so I automatically addressed her in the same language.

「これお願いします。」(This, please.)

「はい、22€ になります。ありがとうございます。」(That will be 22 Euros. Thank you very much.)

She replied in Japanese. Then, perhaps noticing that the book was for non-native language learners, she suddenly switched to fluent German, asking something about a points card.

I was speechless for a moment, trying to choose (a) which language I wanted her to repeat herself in, and (b) which language I should pose my request in. Seeing my confusion, the cashier repeated herself in Japanese before I could say anything. ポイントカード (point card). I declined and made my exit.

Hmm… Here was another problem with my German and Japanese, one that I’d often noticed when going straight from Japanese class to German club this spring semester. Since the sentence structures of the two languages are almost opposite, it’s difficult for me to switch rapidly from one language to the other. New goal: become more comfortable with switching between the two languages. I have plenty of places to practice on Immermannstraße.


I could have walked back in about forty minutes or so, but instead I spent up the rest of my free time taking the wrong trolley, getting off, taking the right trolley and mistakenly getting off too early, then finally taking the right bus all the way back just in time for German class. Fail. But hey, it taught me how to use the trolley maps.

Thursday: New classmates

On Thursday our class size almost doubled when we had seven or eight students arrive from Japan, all from the same university. I was happy to meet them, but I didn’t quite know what to think of this from the perspective of my language goals. Was this going to make my language interference problems better or worse?

Friday: Reflections

After Friday’s class ended, I walked back to my accommodation as usual and turned on some German television. As I watched the German-dubbed version of Poirot, I realized something. German doesn’t sound so foreign anymore. Even when I hear German that’s fast or more difficult to understand, my brain doesn’t immediately tune it out as unintelligible noise. When listening to dialogue on TV, I often understand enough that I can follow along while looking up a few words per line. And I’ve even caught myself spontaneously thinking in German.

It was gratifying to realize I’ve made progress in so short a time. I think it’s due to the amount of German I’ve had to produce in class. We don’t spend much class time passively listening to lectures. Instead, we are constantly writing personal reactions, creating spontaneous dialogues, and conveying all communications in German. Just one week of practicing this has already brought big returns.

Saturday: A day out with Yuri


On Saturday afternoon I spent the day with my classmate Yuri from Japan. We tried some German street food, visited two funky museums, walked through an outdoor book fair, and chatted over cold drinks at a local cafe.

Most of the day, we chatted and reacted to the art we saw in Japanese. Since Yuri is Japanese and I am much more fluent in Japanese than German, it was easier for both of us to communicate fully and spontaneously that way. It also felt uncomfortable to speak in German with museum staff always hovering behind us.

At first, this felt a bit like cheating to me, but having to frequently switch between speaking Japanese with Yuri and speaking German with museum staff was actually very good practice. Overall, it was a fun and productive day out.


Goals Achieved/Accomplishments:

  • rode both the bus and the U-Bahn several times
  • asked for directions in German
  • used German to ask for a cell phone plan
  • had spontaneous thoughts in German
  • practiced switching between German and Japanese
  • became able to use the correct forms of definite articles and adjectives almost automatically

What I learned:

  • bring bags to Aldi
  • how to read a trolley map

New goal:

  • find more opportunities for extended conversation in German with native speakers

Before the Journey to the Amazon

PART 1 – Before the journey

As a child, I had always been fascinated with the animals living in the rainforest. The first time I ever experienced the humid environment of a rainforest was in a museum with a small area of animal sounds playing on speakers and some patches of rainforest vegetation. From then on, I started reading about the life there and was fascinated by the beauty of the biodiversity there. I started watching some videos and documentaries on the Amazon rainforest so I badly wanted to visit the place.
My journey to the Ecuadorean Amazon unknowingly began in the in the summer of 2016 when I bought a book called ‘Rainforest Medicine – Preserving Indigenous Science and Biodiversity in the Upper Amazon’ by my now dear friend, Jonathan Miller Weisberger. Funnily, I was searching on amazon.com for books on the real Amazon and stumbled across this masterpiece on indigenous traditions. This book was my introduction to the sacred plant medicine, Ayahuasca. The book focused on the culture of the Secoya, or Siekopai, who are an indigenous group native to the upper Amazon living in parts of Ecuador and Peru.

rainforest medicine book

I was absolutely mesmerized on reading about the ceremonies done by the Secoya people and was so curious to know more. I visited the website of Jonathan’s organization, Guaria De Osa, and subscribed to the email newsletter hoping for something exciting.  My heart truly yearned to visit the rainforest and meet indigenous people. I also bought a poster of a waterfall in the Amazon which I stuck on the wall of my bedroom to remind myself every single day that I had to go to that place. Although I did not get to see the place, San Rafael Falls, which is shown below, I did accomplish my objective of visiting the rainforest.

San rafael falls ecuador

In December of 2016, I found about the UK based Non-profit called PodVolunteer which partners with various organizations around the world and places volunteers to work in conservation-related projects. After a bit of searching, I saw that they had animal conservation projects going on in the Manu Biosphere Reserve in Peru which were led by Crees, an Amazon Conservation group. PodVolunteer accepted me and the Peru trip was finalized in February 2017.

Fast forward to March 2017, I received an email from Guaria De Osa stating that Jonathan was going to lead an expedition to Lagarto Cocha, a sacred territory of the Secoya, in August!! There would be three ayahuasca ceremonies over a duration of two weeks! I could not possibly have missed this opportunity especially because I was already going to visit Peru in the second last week of July, 2017. I contacted him and then talked to him over the phone about this upcoming trip. Fortunately, things worked out and I was able to visit two extremely beautiful countries of South America.

A brief intro to Ayahuasca and Yage

For those who haven’t heard these terms, don’t worry! I was in your place before the summer of 2016. Ayahuasca is actually a forest vine whose name translates to ‘vine of the soul’. The sacred vine is concocted into a completely plant-based medicine used in different ways by various indigenous groups of the Amazon. The medicine is created from a combination of the ayahuasca vine (Banistereopis Caapi) and chacruna or amiruka (Psychotria Viridis). The latter contains N-N DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) which naturally occurs in various plants and animals. Ayahuasca is used as a hallucinogenic medicine to undergo spiritual journeys as well as heal certain diseases! The sacred vine is shown below. IMG_7124

Yage is slightly different from ayahuasca because it is a combination of the ayahuasca vine and yage-oco instead of chacruna.  Ayahuasca can induce more vomiting but yage is meant to be ingested after a vomiting ceremony so the experience is generally more primal.
More to come in the next blog of this series!

Day One in Düsseldorf

Morning at the Apartment

Day one in Düsseldorf! I woke up at about 4 AM this morning, feeling very alert. Sometimes it seems like the amount of sleep I get is inversely proportional to how awake I feel in the morning. I lay in bed for a while, knocking out my virtual pile of flashcards for both German and Japanese on my phone.

By the time I’d finished, light was starting to peek through the window. I got up, made the bed, and decided to study some more German.

FullSizeRender.jpgMy second language is Japanese, which may have something to do with the fact that whenever I try to think in German, my brain comes up with Japanese instead. To combat this, I wrote down German equivalents to some common Japanese phrases useful for everyday conversation. I also wrote down some words I learned yesterday from reading signs at the airport and speaking with my host lady.

Since it was now a decent hour, I went into the kitchen to make coffee. There is a station nearby, so I could hear the sound of trains passing. My brain automatically narrated in Japanese. 電車の音が聞こえる。(The sound of trains is audible.) Thanks, brain. Now do it in German. I looked up the words I needed, and had to laugh. Die Züge können von hier aus gehört werden. (Trains can be heard from here.) Although the literal meanings of both sentences are almost exactly equivalent, the feeling is entirely different. The German sounds incredibly matter-of-fact, while the Japanese sounds a little bit dramatic, like narration from a novel. However, since I am not a native speaker of either language, perhaps this seeming difference is merely due to my incomplete perceptions.

Breakfast consisted of a dark hearty bread called Vollkornbrot, along with cheese, various spreads, and vegetables such as cucumber and red pepper. I ate with Ruth, my host lady, and her friend, who explained to me that Sunday is taken seriously as a day of rest in Germany. In other words, most shops and businesses are closed on Sundays. Nevertheless, I decided to take the day to explore the city.

Wandering the City

IMG_6380.JPGAfter studying a city map for a few minutes, I went outside to explore, resolving to refer to the map as seldom as possible. “If I get lost, I’ll ask someone the way and get in some speaking practice,” I thought. I found the German school at which I will be studying without any trouble. Then I turned south, enjoying the view of the road. The tall colorful wall of multistory buildings on my right was pleasantly juxtaposed with the median on the other side of the road, which was filled with bright green trees and bushes.

I stopped at an intersection, waiting for the signal to change to the little green walking man signifying it was safe to cross. “Drücken, drücken,” a friendly voice called out behind me. I turned to see a white-haired gentleman on a bicycle approaching. Thinking I was in his way, I moved over to give him room. “Drücken,” he repeated with a gesture. Seeing the blank look on my face, he pressed the bottom of a little box on the light post which I had not noticed. “You have to press it, otherwise the light doesn’t change,” he said, switching to English. I thanked him. Later, I looked up the word drücken. It means to push or press. Word of the day, I guess. It has a personal story behind it now, so I won’t be likely to forget it. That’s what immersion is for, right?

IMG_6386.JPGI continued wandering south until I hit Immermannstraße, a street known for having many Japanese shops and restaurants. Spotting a bookshop, I made a mental note to visit it sometime and look for German/Japanese dictionaries or bilingual reading materials. The many differences between the two cultures makes translations interesting from a linguistic point of view, and reading parallel materials would also help with my language interference problems.

As I walked, I heard both German and Japanese being spoken by passersby. As I pondered this, I heard a sudden 你好 (nĭ hăo, a Mandarin greeting meaning hello) addressed in my direction. By the time I realized it was directed at me, I’d already passed, but the two syllables had disrupted the struggle between German and Japanese in my brain. I directed my focus solely on the street in front of me for a few minutes to regain my mental bearings.

I started making my way back north, taking different streets than the ones I’d come by. I found an Aldi along the way. Good, now I know where I can shop later. I found the street of my accommodation fairly easily, and congratulated myself. Keeping my bearings is not one of my strong points. But I wasn’t satisfied yet. After all, I’d hardly spoken German all day. I was warm from walking, so when I spotted a frozen yogurt shop, I decided my last mission for the day was to order something there in German.

I went in and successfully ordered einen Mango Lassi. I didn’t actually know what a mango lassi was, but I’m not picky. Trying new food is part of the adventure, right? The man who had taken my order went to the back of the shop to make it. Not seeing this, the other staff member approached me.

“Have you been served already?” he asked in German.

「はい!」 Without thinking, I affirmed in Japanese. Oops.


My accomplishments for the day:

  • Learning the German equivalents of useful Japanese phrases to help with language interference
  • Finding my way without a map
  • Ordering food in German for the first time

What I learned:

  • most businesses are closed on Sundays
  • Vollkornbrot is delicious
  • drücken means to push or press
  • the little boxes on the traffic light posts need to be pressed from the bottom
  • mango lassi is a yogurt-based smoothie

Goals for the future:

  • continue to work on language interference issues
  • use my city pass to take a bus or train
  • ask someone directions in German

Tomorrow is the first day of formal German language instruction at the IIK. Let’s see how it goes! I’m excited to meet my classmates.