My Time in Europe is Coming to a Close (August 8)

September 20th, 2012

My time in Europe like my time in Albania (I spent a little over two weeks in Albania) is coming to a quick end. Eight days until I return back home to America. I guess home is where my immediate family is. I would not have necessarily referred to America as my home but probably one of the most comfortable countries for me since I have grown up there. I was surprised how I felt at home in England during my work placement.  Even though I missed my family and friends, I did not feel it as harshly as I did in Germany. I guess family and friends make a home for you wherever you go. With my second parents in England, my close friends in Germany, and the welcoming volunteers, translators, and Vermosh residents in Albania. If you have a problem, the Albanians will find a solution for you in Vermosh. Before I “reflect” on my time in Albania, I just realized (or don’t remember) I did not cry when I left my friends behind in the various countries. The only time I cried was when my immediate family left Germany. Being in England showed me I could survive living in England, allowed my family to get to know me better, and I got to know them much better as well. With Germany, I learned (slowly) to survive in a country that does not have English as their native language (even though many know some English), to create a “home” for myself without knowing anyone in that country, meeting people who I hope I can stay in their lives but I have a sneaky suspicion that we will sadly never be as close as we were in Germany, and changing my current life plan, which will probably change again next month but I feel more hopeful about my post-grad life. Ok, now back to Vermosh. I was very skeptical about Albania since I did not receive much information about my volunteer stint. I luckily found a family at the airport who was in the same volunteer program (Balkans Peace Park Project…like on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/B3PBalkansPeaceParkProject) as me, and we were luckily placed to sit next to one another on the plane . Skodra was boiling hot which I did not expect. Girls dressed to the nines with low shirts, short skirts, and heels. There were always groups of young males walking around Skodra as well. I felt there were more males than females there. I felt a lot better once we were in Vermosh and once I was in a routine again.

Students in Vermosh with the volunteers

We stayed in the locals’ guesthouses, which we paid for staying there as well as three meals a day. The lady of the house was in my class as well as her brother-in-law. I was supposed to teach children (ages 6-9) but there was only one who showed up on the first day, and eleven adults that the supervisors did not think would come so I volunteered myself to be a substitute for the first day until the coordinators could reorganize. However, after the first, rough day, I knew despite how poorly the class went I felt I bonded with the class, and I wanted to remain as their teacher. It is extraordinarily strange how quickly attached a teacher becomes with his or her class. I love how clever they are, love how surprised I am when a student understands the material, the girls who were always prepared, and the boys with their cheekiness. They all really wanted to learn, and it is so amazing to work with them. I guess I can no longer make fun of my friends who want to be teachers because those feelings can be very addicting and rewarding. I am going to miss teaching (although not preparing for the class), and my students.

My class

I hope they have happy, healthy lives and that our lives will hopefully cross again. I am surprised by some of the volunteers. Some of them I got along with who I did not think I would become friends with. I hope I will meet them soon and that it was a pleasure to have met them all. I am grateful for the interpreters despite our misunderstandings. I could not imagine lasting ten minutes in my class without my interpreter, and we worked very well together. Complete immersion would have probably been better for the students, but I have no formal training in teaching English so I am very grateful for the translator to be able to make sure everyone was on the same page.

All the volunteers

I am blessed to have to experience this amazing time in Europe, I hope I will see my friends again, and who knows what the future holds!

Thanks to Meghan for creating this beautiful slideshow and video of our time in Vermosh!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHyJTpDFgc8 My class did a rendition of this classic for closing ceremonies!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WP-fPKpFwig An Albanian song that I thoroughly enjoyed!

Couchsurfing in Deutschland (May, June, July)

September 20th, 2012

After my trip to Milan, I wanted to travel. Unfortunately, Erfurt is at least two hours away from major airports so I decided to see as much of Deutschland as I could. Luckily, I made a friend (yay friend!) who wanted to travel as well. We heard Dresden was a neat place to visit so we bought our train tickets.

Dresden!

Three days before we were supposed to go, we still could not find a hostel. We kept hearing back from many hostels that they were booked for the whole weekend. We had both heard about couchsurfing, but I did not think of couchsurfing as a serious option. However, my friend did make a profile and was looking for potential places we could stay for just a night. My friend fortunately has a good sense of character (even when just basing off of an online profile) and has this talent of finding people who would take care of us. She found two of the three places we ended up couchsurfing. Both of the hosts she found were able to spend more time with us than the one I chose but all our hosts were fantastic. They all met us at the train station and responded to our text messages. They all helped us find our way through the new city (we couchsurfed in Dresden, Hamburg, and Köln), and one even had his roommates give us a tour of the city. I believe the more time you spend with the host the better experience you will have. I loved having a “local” show us around and tell us more about the attractions. I think couchsurfing is a cheap way to travel, a great way to meet locals, and see the sights. For however long you are there, you become a part of your host’s life depending on how friendly and open they are. You can meet their friends and learn about their lives. Normally, my friend and I would either make them breakfast in the morning or buy them breakfast to say thank you. I would recommend people to do this if they are “safe” about it because there are sadly many crazy people in the world. I always traveled and couchsurfed with a friend. Two out of the three people we stayed with had very positive reviews, and I would send my relatives the host’s profile and address just in case anything would happen. I recommend couchsurfing but definitely try to be as safe as you can with it!

Music Festival in Köln

My Weekend in Milan May 11-13

September 20th, 2012

As you might have been able to tell from my last blogpost, I was not entirely in love with Germany. I did not think I would be but after watching friend after friend  fall in love with the city they were studying in, I allowed myself to hope that I had found a country where I would like to live. After a rough month and a half, I was ready to travel again. I feel I will never get my fill of travelling! I went via train, bus, and Ryanair to Milano to see a fellow UMW student who was studying there at the time. I always find strange how quickly friends pickup from where they left off. Seeing them again automatically made me feel much calmer. We explored Milano that day by walking around on a tour that my friend gave us. We saw the Dom, park, castle, fashion center, and much more. I was astonished how persistent beggars were at selling their dying flowers or bracelets. 

The next day we went to Lake Como where George Gloony famously has a holiday home, and he visited there a week later (http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20603244,00.html ). I loved Lake Como with its lovely scenery. 

The food in Italy was amazing. I would gain serious weight if I stayed in Italy longer. The first night we went to a buffet full of pasta, pizza, bread, salad, and other delicious food. The next night we had pizza which was the best pizza I had so far during my time aboard experience. My first gelato in Italy! I was sad to leave my friends, but I was pleasantly surprised that I missed Erfurt. While I was in Milan, I kept preparing myself to say phrases auf Deutsch to the Italians and was actually doing well…if only I could do that in Deutschland! I was very glad to not be relied on to translate like my friend was, since she was the only one who knew how to speak Italian. Once I was back on the Straßenbahn in Erfurt, I realized I missed that place, and my friends who I have become used to seeing every day. I guess I might love Deutschland after all!

 

My First Two Months in Deutschland…

May 21st, 2012

Let’s start at the very beginning (from the lyrics of the Sound of Music). The first time I have overslept on my European adventure was when I was suppose to be at the airport for a 6:30am flight. I got to the airport at 6 when boarding normally starts. The employee gave me a lecture on how I was suppose to already be at the gate. The plus side of arriving late was that I got to have an extra carry-on bag. The down side was that I had to run through Heathrow since things would have been too easy if I could have flown from gate one. I had an overpacked duffel bag that and my regular carry-on bag. I was sweating once I got to the gate and realized the plane was not boarding yet so I causally took a seat. I waited another ten minutes to board. I could have leisurely walked to my gate. Oh, well.

view of Erfurt

Once I got into Frankfurt, I had to figure out how to find the train station, which was not bad since someone uploaded a youtube video of the walk, and buy my ticket. During my two hour and half train ride, the culture shock hit in. I have not really felt culture shock before since I normally just go to countries whose first language is not English for a couple of days and as a tourist. I realized I do not really understand what anyone around me is saying or even the announcements that they make. I do have a normally pretty positive attitude and I am pretty active person so this feeling of culture shock made me a bit more depressed. I guess the culture shock lasted for about a week. I could not eat much (not even chips/french fries) the first couple of days because I was very stressed about everything and relied heavily on my tutor. The Universität Erfurt pairs you up with German student or two that shows you around Erfurt. They normally help you with paperwork and all the bureaucratic things which always confuses me in English. Mine was extremely helpful, especially when I was not so internally freaking out about everything. My American roommate who was a study aboard student here last year is now interning here and has helped me immensely. I have also come to the realization that I just do not have a knack for picking up languages, since it mostly involves remembering words, which as always been one of my shortcomings. I have that problem in English as well as mispronouncing words constantly. These are not useful talents to have when living in a country that speaks a language you have been learning for a year or so. I have ran into a couple of problems whether it has been my accent or I am butchering their language very well but there have been quite a few times when the people in Erfurt could not understand what I am saying.

The cathedral in Erfurt. I went to Easter mass there!

I knew the first couple of weeks were rough with my German skills but after the preparatory course and being here for a month, I thought I was getting the hang of things. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I had a problem ordering chips/french fries auf Deutsch: Ich möchte pommes frites. I had to repeat pommes frites several times before the waiter understood. I had problems letting the bank employees know that I want to open a bank account. Many people do speak English, and the international students will use English as their primary language or the language to clarify any confusion. I have always known Europeans (not really including the British on this one) have been excellent with languages, and it is very intimidating meeting people who can speak five languages when I struggle with the English language at times. I also think English speakers can feel (and I will admit at times I do agree this sentiment at times) we do not need to learn other languages since many people are willing and do learn English. This is a depressing thought but it does have an element of truth since many people that I have met will learn their native language and then English. Who knows how long English will last as a connecting language but I do have a feeling that our media and Hollywood definitely have an influence. Everyone knows so much about our celebrities, movies, and  music whereas I sometimes cannot even think of one famous celebrity from some of the international students’ countries. This makes me feel guilty that I do not know much about their culture as well as not speaking German well enough. I did no want to be a typical American study aboard student but I feel at times I am exactly that, and I guess that was why I did not enjoy the beginning of my study aboard experience because I felt guilty about my limited German and a bit sad about how much I am missing back in American: my siblings’ prom, their graduation, my friends, Chipotle, and an actual summer. At the same time, I am loving Europe. Sometimes, I feel that I do not really connect with Germany but I am enjoying the country more than I did the first two months. I surprisingly missed German and Erfurt when I took a weekend trip to Milan so I hope Germany and I are on better terms now!

Lessons from my Internship (Two Months later)

May 18th, 2012

My internship was an awesome experience that kept me busy and put me into contact with   some people. Through my internship, I met one of the organizers of Balkans Peace Park Project (http://www.balkanspeacepark.org/) and will be volunteering with them in August which means I will be going to Albania! I am a bit terrified since everyone keeps joking about “don’t get taken” so hopefully that will not happen. This program has been operating for a couple of years so I have no doubt that everything will run smoothly. While making contacts, I also learned much about myself through my internship. One of my tasks was to transcribe the interviews for one the research projects that my employers were organizing.  I realized I was not as great of a listener as I should be. I would always get the gist of what the people were saying but not their exact wording so I would always have to go back and listen a couple of times to make sure I got everything correct. In addition to transcribing, I sat in on lectures about Responsible Tourism, and I understand most of the varying perspectives on tourism and its effects (negative and positive) on the local community. I was surprised that I actually enjoyed learning about this area since I have been mostly focusing on politics and international relations so this subject material was a nice change. I am not quite sure if I will have a future in the tourism sector but I think this is one of the upcoming fields to study. I also helped research for a chapter in a book that will be published, and I might get recognized! If that happens, this will be the second time I have been published! Lastly, I helped organized a day seminar, which was very successful! I would like to thank my employers and coworkers for their support, patience, and knowledge. I had a fabulous time working with you guys!

My desk

5 days in England and I am still jet lagged :(

January 15th, 2012

I have spent the past few days trying to see as many family members as I could and traveled about an hour outside of London to see a family near the sea!  It is very lovely to see family members by myself since I normally have my immediate family with me whenever I see extend family members. I also enjoyed seeing friends who were in London on “holiday” or vacation as we say in America, and some that are studying abroad! I already got lost on the tube by taking the wrong line, but once I got onto the right line I found my way to where I should meet up with friends. I have also been wandering around London (almost aimlessly) but found a very cute vintage shop that I wanted to see on accident. We were in the right area but only found it when we were not looking for it. With Lara, we explored by the Thames River around 4pm in the afternoon which meant the sun was starting to set.  With the sun setting earlier, I begin to become tired about 6pm but then will not be able to sleep until 3 or 4 in the morning for the most of the days I have been here so far. Hopefully, I will get on a better schedule as my internship begins tomorrow, and I have to be ready to leave by 7am….this will be fun! I cannot wait to learn  the ropes and see what will be required of me! Luckily, my new best friend and I had a nap after going to the English beach today (which was well cold).   With that nap with my new best friend , I should be ready for tomorrow! Sleep well!

Lost Sightings:

-Lost on the tube

-My great aunt was under the impression that my family lost me in London and sent a cousin to find me. Sure, I didn’t know exactly where I was but I could most likely find my way back!

The Night Before

January 9th, 2012

My electronics are a-charging, my clothes laid out for tomorrow, my passports and boarding information are together along with my money (in three different currencies) and credit cards, and my carry-on items are waiting patiently for me to decide which ones will make the final cut. My suitcase is packed (just not closed yet 🙂 )! Hopefully, my suitcase is not over the weight limit! If so, a great deal of shuffling clothes and trying to fit them into my carry-on will occur. Packing for eight months is an immensely difficult task. It is hard to know what I will need and leaving most of my wardrobe behind. I just hope some things I pack will be useful! I am not too nervous about flying by myself. I am just extremely nervous about saying goodbye to my family members. After saying goodbye to several close friends over the last couple of days, one would think I would be prepped to say goodbye to my family, but I am definitely not ready to. Luckily, I will see them in four months for my birthday (which will be in Germany! Hopefully, the Germans will tolerate my 21st celebration!). I will miss you guys and my friends…keep in touch! I am excited to see my extended family again and to experience England sans family! Sadly, I must get back to sorting out my carry-on! The next post will be coming from across the pond!!! Good night! <3

Will the suitcase close?

Welcome!

December 28th, 2011

Hey! Welcome to my blog about my intern and study abroad experiences! Feel free to comments and/or ask questions! Thanks!