Sunday, December 18, 2011

Stomping Grounds: I Haz Them

A glimpse into adult life: New room, building IKEA furniture, desperate victory. Not sure who writes those instructions, but they have a sick sense of humor sometimes. Ah well. It's almost Christmas, how the heck did that happen? I really feel like I've been both here forever and that I've just arrived. I've been here four months and about a years' worth of things have happened, I'd say!

As you may interpret from the above picture, I finally found a permanent flat! Whew! It's in Kreuzberg in the Graefekiez (Graefe neighborhood). I'm walking distance from two different U-Bahn (subway) lines going two directions, a bus that goes to the main train station and a big park called Hasenheide, which I unfortunately will not make much use of until winter is over. In my neighborhood so far I've discovered a tiny little falafel stand called King of Falafel, run by one man who makes the falafel fresh himself and lays out each vegetable, hummus, etc. into the perfect place on the pita before rolling it all together into delicious perfection for 2,50 EUR. There is also Vegoloumi there (vegan haloumi cheese). My current obsession though is a place called Hamy, a thai food restaurant that has a tiny menu and two specials every day, always delicious with some sort of curry sauce and tons of fresh veggies on top. I have probably spent an entire paycheck on pineapple-coconut milk shakes and thai curries since I've moved in. Berlin has a lot of good food to be eaten.

Three months of searching have paid off in that I have an good-sized room with two big windows, big kitchen, living room with balcony, bathroom with bathtub and a guest WC. I live with 3 other women in a cool area for 300 EUR a month with utilities. While much cheaper can be found in Berlin, for where and what it is, I think I've done well. We're sitting on an old contract so somehow that's kept the gentrifying and thus rent-skyrocketing at bay. Now I just need visitors. It really needs to be spring so I can explore more. I have lots of plans involving myself and the future bike I'm going to buy. And food. And coffee. Graefestrasse and Dieffenbachstrasse, the former which I live on, seem to be filled with lots of cute bars, cafes, etc. with cool lighting. So pumped!

My new room was empty, which means I've been learning to do lots of things like buy and figure out how to get furniture into my apartment without a car or tons of money. I also painted my first wall (green!), bought my first screwdriver (fancy!) and drilled holes into the wall with minimal screaming to make a contraption with metal wire and hooks for curtains. I somehow didn't ruin everything! If buying furniture and painting a wall is not a sign of my commitment to stay in Berlin, I don't know what is! One of my new years resolutions is going to be to learn to be more handy. On this list is to stop being so scared of the power drill, install floating fake wood flooring over my ugly ass floor and to learn how to fix a bike and/or tell what's even wrong with it. I'll get back to you on this. Apparently I've lived a kept life until now.

On the job front things are...heated. I have two jobs. The first is an office job at a school that runs an executive MBA program for people in creative industries. I love this job and they're helping me expand my visa so I can do other things in addition to teaching. However, after my intensive Rostock course my teaching job decided to give me some classes in kitas (kindergartens). Normally there are two intensive weeks of required training for this, but they decided I was a quick learner and sent me off to teach my first day of classes after less than two full days of training. Actually I think I observed four 45 minute classes and taught one while being observed. While it is flattering and I did fine....I decided I absolutely hate teaching children. Give me grammar, rude adults with iPhones and forced company classes any day over this. Luckily I only teach Mondays right now, but am trying to get out of my contract as soon as possible without causing drama so I can go back to adult-land. You live, you learn, yeah? If I have to sing the Good Morning Song one more time I'm going to kill someone. Kudos to all you kindergarten ESL teachers out there, I don't know how you do it!

I am heading back to Prague for Christmas and likely New Years to stay with some friends and I'm pretty excited to be back on my old stomping grounds.  I plan to eat a lot of langoše and trdelník before the Christmas markets are gone! The German Christmas markets are pretty epic (Germans are obsessed with Christmas), but I love me some fried things!

See you in Prague?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Back in Berlin for good!

Berlin Dome
 Wow, I am finally back in Berlin and my life is slowly coming together! I still need to find a permanent flat, but I even almost have a weekly routine schedule! So, updates!

#1 Flat

I thought getting a job would be the hardest thing here, but I managed to find two jobs relatively quickly and am still working (3 months later) on finding a long-term flat. Basically, my experience of my flat search is sort of like a really, really long tour of Berlin. I've stayed with two friends and in two sublets so far + my 7 weeks in Rostock. I have this current one until 1. December and we'll see what happens from there! The whole thing basically seems like an awkward, warped form of dating. I obsessively check the flat websites, send out lots of messages telling people about myself and responding to what they said about them, get answers to about 10% of my e-mails and invited to view about half of those answers. I go and get a tour, make awkward small-talk and sometimes make friends who want to bake cookies with me, but still no flat! Either the flat ends up being weird or I wouldn't want to live with the people! Though my budget is actually pretty reasonable for Berlin, I am being very picky with location. I really do want to settle in Berlin and moving is traumatizing so I'd rather wait out my future I-get-a-really-good-feeling-about-this room in a flatshare (WG). Hopefully I'll get something soon as I just want to unpack, buy lots of things you wouldn't while living out of a suitcase (re: spices, curry paste, kitchen appliances, boots that take up space, big sweaters). I've been in Germany three months now and still feel so unsettled on this front!

The difficulty is in part because there are three years' of people looking for one year of flats! Something with the German school system changed so that two years of people are going off to uni (and hence looking for flats) at once. On top of that, men no longer have to do a required 9 months in the military so a whole year of guys is added in to this mix as well. Competition!

#2 Jobs

I have two jobs now! Job A is still at the same school that gave me the intensive course in Rostock, but now I've picked up a few classes in Kitas (Kindergartens) around Berlin. I really don't have much experience with little kids, but they've given me a couple classes with slightly older children they said were especially fabulous and thought I'd be a great fit for, so we'll see how it goes. One of them is reaaalllyyy far outside Berlin and will take me 1.5 hours each way to and from for a 45 minute class. I got a giant tote bag full of material, flash cards, stories, CDs, ideas for games and an overview of what should be taught by the end of the month so I think I'll be okay on that front. I was invited to observe a class last week and got some surprise observed teaching. Basically I walked in and the teacher handed me some color flashcards and a stuffed animal and said, "Plan an activity with these colors and work in some conversation with this cuddly toy! I'm going upstairs to get the kids right now, be back in a minute!" Terrifying, but I did well and survived somehow. Mostly I'm just concerned about setting routines for the class in the beginning and making sure everything doesn't explode into pandemonium, as disciple is an area I need to improve on as someone who's mostly taught adults and/or older over-achieving preteens.

Job B is with a school that teaches CEOs and other high-ranking people from creative business industries (marketing, advertising, TV, radio, etc.). My job here is actually not teaching, but stalking people online and entering lots of info into their database to get more students, plus some help with their social media sites/Google Ad-Words stuff. I actually got this job through a friend from my university in the States, who knew someone who knew someone in Berlin. My main bosses are all American and really chill and the atmosphere in the office is cool because it is a constant switch between English and German happening all around me. Though data entry is perhaps not the most exciting thing in the world, it's actually nice compared to the uncertainty and performance aspect of teaching as for this job I am in the same place all day and have a relatively simple task. They're also writing me letters to allow me to expand my visa so I'm allowed to do more than just teach and the office looks out over a river and some really cool old-looking factory buildings in Alt-Moabit/Tiergarten.

Both of my jobs seem to really like me, which is great. Job A even said once I get my visa expanded they would maybe like to have me help with stuff in the office as well. I'm super pumped about this as I want to eventually go into a career in educational management (a.k.a. I want to work in an educational environment, but in the end not as a teacher/professor…ideally in the study-abroad industry). I have a good mix of teaching and positions that are giving me more experience behind the scenes of teaching, so I feel like my future is looking alright, and both jobs have expressed interest in giving me more responsibilities in the future. Right now the teaching experience is also great as I feel like I need to throw myself into teaching before I can advise other people on such things!

#3 Life

Life is overall good! Happy to be back in Berlin, though am glad I did the course in Rostock. I just find Berlin much more inspiring overall. My only issue now is the flat search and wanting to just start getting my life feeling settled! Once that happens I'll be much more open to visiting friends and traveling a bit more. Wish me luck!

I've been going to a lot of Volksküche (The Peoples' Kitchen) with friends, both in Rostock and now back in Berlin, and I love them. Basically you go, often to a housing collective or squat, and for 2-3 euros you get a three course meal. Everyone eats the same thing and occasionally it's dumpster-dived, but always delicious, usually vegan and super cheap! I went to one last weekend for vegan brunch and there were literally 20 different dishes and delicious coffee with organic soymilk. Mmm. Overall there is a lot of good food to be had in Berlin!

Speaking of dumpster-diving, I was invited to go with someone in Berlin soon. Will be an adventure! Free food!

Friend Tine, me and friend's flatmate at a Vokü in Rostock
Besides that, notable things are having my visa card stolen from the mail and 1500 EUR charged on it = successful first time at the Berlin police to make a police report, all in German! Luckily I got the money back a few weeks later. I've also been to the roller derby twice in Berlin! Basically this is girls on skates beating each other up. I'm still trying to learn the rules, but so far I'm pretty content just watching people fall down on skates to music while drinking beer and watching the mascot (called the "I Don't Care Bear"). I guess I should watch the movie with that girl from Juno...

Bad blurry picture of the roller derby: Berlin vs. London
Bis bald (until soon)!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Teaching in Rostock Updates!

Wow, have I been busy! Teaching an intensive course for 7 weeks is taking it's toll! I'm really rather getting the hang of it though. We have quite the little routine. Warmer, review the grammar we did yesterday, new grammar lesson, textbook activities and then English trivia or music quiz with the occasional test or field trip thrown in. My life is sort of boring as all I talk about is teaching or looking for a flat, which is all I do lately. I'm quite looking forward to just sleeping an entire week when I'm done, sitting around on the internet in my pajamas, drinking tea, watching horrible TV and cooking the extravagant meals I haven't had time to cook with this job!

Speaking of teaching, I've collected a few good anecdotes. First, during a lesson on modal verbs, I had my students write "Dear Abby" letters asking for advice and then I switched the letters and had them answer each other using "should", "could", etc. I have the younger class. I'd say most of my nine students are in their early 20s or 30s. Hence, these were the result:

"Dear Abby, I want to be an erotic film star, but my friends say I am too square to do this. They tell me I should be an erotic film producer instead. What should I do?"

"Dear X, I think you should be an erotic film star and then afterwards you can produce erotic films if this doesn't work. After both, you'll be so horny you could do anything!"
"Dear Abby, Every time I go to school I get beaten up by six very tall boys. I have a very big mother and I think it's because I'm ugly. I'm very tired of this, what should I do?"
"Dear X, I think they are right. You should go to the doctor and get a new face. After this maybe this problem won't happen anymore. I hope this advice could help you."
We've been working on thus huge list of vocabulary for the past few weeks that the students are supposed to know by the end of the course. Yesterday to switch things up I decided to send them on a scavenger hunt throughout Rostock in teams to take pictures of as many items in their list as possible and label them with the English words they relate to. I thought this would be a good activity before our vocabulary test that we had today. Anyway, here are some more beauties:


So that is that. Two weeks left and eight teaching days (the next two weeks are only four days each). I'm definitely excited to get back to Berlin, but my trip to Rostock has been a better experience than I expected and I think this was exactly what I needed to do. Just looking at myself at the beginning of the course and now I see a big difference. Before the course I was having teaching nightmares and now it only really takes me 30 minutes to an hour per night to prepare for my class. Though there are definitely things I would do differently now in retrospect and things I need to work on, I feel like I've become a much more confident teacher and person because of it all. So there!

Next on the list is to find a long-term flat in Berlin...wish me luck! I am so over flat searching!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

First Week in Rostock and Couchsurfing in Hamburg

I survived the first week! It's been interesting to say the least, I think I'm finally beginning to get the hang of my routine. Though I normally live in Berlin, my boss asked me if I could teach an intensive English course in Rostock. I said yes, so now I teach 9 students who're currently training to work for Deutsche Bahn as the people who collect and sell tickets, check the tickets on the train, etc. As part of their training they're required to take a 6 week intensive English course. After that, they have to take Swedish and Danish. Crazy, huh?

As such, I'm here in Rostock until November 10th. For those not in the know, Rostock is in eastern Germany in the north. I teach 8 teaching units a day (45 min each), 5 days a week from 8am to 3pm. It is a LOT of class a day and I think we're all still a bit in shock! Sometimes it feels like too much as the students tend to be pretty done with learning for the last hour and a half or so. However, now that we've started to do English trivia at the end the spirits have raised a bit! Since the students are required to take the course, there are 1-2 that seem that have absolutely no desire to learn English and sit on their iPhones while everyone is doing group work, which can be frustrating. However, there are also some really motivated and funny students in the class, so I'll take the good with the bad. Every day gets a bit better as we all get used to so much English all the time!

I was told the students were all beginners, but in reality I have the younger class and they've all had English before. Thus, we're going through the textbook a lot quicker than anticipated and I've spent a long time each night planning my own material. It's kind of exhausting at times to plan for 8 teaching units a day when I get home, but I know I'm going to be a much stronger and confident teacher by the end of it. The first week was definitely up and down, but I'm slowly getting the hang of it and know I'll be happy for this "teaching boot camp" experience at the end! Luckily there is another teaching here with me whose taught these courses for many many years and he's given me a ton of great worksheets and ideas, which I am eternally grateful for.

Did I mention I'm teaching English in the German language? At least mostly. Oh yes. My German has improved so much since I've been here. Sometimes I feel really bad if a student asks me a question about grammar in German and I don't understand, so hopefully by the end of the 6 weeks I'll have my German grammar vocabulary down.

All I have to say is thank goodness for TEFL Worldwide and the internet. There are so many great resources online. Since I only have my own accent (duh) and the students need to practice with as many accents as possible since they'll likely be working with tourists, I can download listening dialogues in British English and the like. The book "Learning Teaching", which I had to buy during the TEFL Worldwide course, has also been immensely helpful. I've been reading that for ideas and advice during several of my "oh my gosh how am I going to teach this?!" freakouts. I still feel like I'm at the beginning teaching stage most of the time, so I tend to obsessively plan my lessons and end up spending way too long worry about every detail. The book sometimes describes me exactly and while sometimes it sucks to realize you made a teaching mistake, it's nice to know I made a normal teaching mistake and have suggestions for how to do it better next time.

First week behind me, I headed into Hamburg for the weekend, which is 2 hours away. It was a 3-day weekend for the reunification of Germany and the weather was absolutely beautiful. I used Mitfahrgelegenheit for the first time, which is basically organized hitchhiking/rideshare. You can buy group tickets here, where it's the same price for up to 5 people. Thus in this area people often buy a group ticket and post on the Mitfahrgelegenheit website to gather up people so we all pay less. I got to Hamburg for a mere 6 EUR and had an awesome ride with three German girls and a woman from Khazikstan who now lives in Germany. We all spoke German the way up and shared some good stories. I learned the phrase "Einmal in, alles din" (literally "one time in, everything inside") from the woman from Khazikstan about how she got pregnant at 17, which is my new favorite German phrase (even though it's a bit grammatically incorrect). I also made a friend in Rostock as one of the girls in our ride group normally lives in the city, so yay! I love that things like this exist in Europe and the community aspect of it all. Not only did I get a super cheap ticket, but met a lot of cool people to hang out with on my ride to Hamburg!

Found this in the train bathroom on the way to Hamburg!

Over the weekend I couchsurfed with two vegan girls in Hamburg. I should also give a shout out to how much I love couchsurfing. I met up with one of my hosts for delicious vegan burritos in the Schanzenviertel, explored, chilled in a park with my Kätt's friends and watched people slack-lining, cooked a nice vegan meal for dinner (and introduced everyone to rice crispy treats with some vegan marshmallows I brought from home) and then ended up a a party at a local dorm. Again, it's so cool that websites like this allow me to go to a city where I don't know anyone and end up in someone's flat, meeting their friends and leaving with new friends of my own.

Chrissie and Kätt (my hosts) with our dinner!
Now on to week two! Before I leave I want to couchsurf in another city in the area and hopefully check out Copenhagen!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Visa Success!

I have finally gotten my visa! My appointment wasn't until October 4th, so I decided to brave the Ausländerbehörde before that because my job needed me to start working sooner (and money is always nice). I woke up at 4:30am on September 12th and made the trek over there. By 5:45am I was waiting outside the doors, an hour and 15 minutes to go before they opened. There were already 6 or so people in front of me and 30 minutes later the line was curving down the pathway. For those not in the know, the Ausländerbehörde is the immigration office in Germany. Berlin apparently has the biggest one in the country, which isn't surprising. In Berlin, all of the language schools (except one that I know of) hire people on a freelance basis. This means you can apply for a freelance visa and are then responsible for buying your own health insurance, paying your taxes, etc. and don't ever work for just one school. On the bright side, you don't owe any taxes until you've earned 8000 EUR and can then deduct all your expenses (i.e. health insurance, transportation, books, etc.) from that. Doing my German taxes sounds terrifying, but luckily I don't have to think about it just yet!

In any case, the Ausländerbehörde is definitely a humbling experience. I am really happy my German is okay because you would be lost there without it. First you have to go stand by the right door, which is decided by which country you're from. When the doors open, everyone RUNS inside to try and grab a number to be seen for a visa. I have heard from terrible storing about people on crutches getting shoved over, etc. but my experience thankfully wasn't so bad. I ran to the second floor, which is where it said I should go as an American on the sign and found the area for my section of the alphabet. Luckily, I got the third number. Then begins the waiting. About an hour and a half later I'm called in and give the woman my documents. These include my application forms, proof of my health insurance, my Anmeldung (proof that you have registered your living place) bank account statements to prove I can support myself,  letters from 2+ schools saying they're interested in hiring me, a monthly budget I created to show I can afford to live there, a letter from one school saying I'd make a certain amount each month, copies of my TEFL certificate, diploma, etc. plus probably 5000 other things. I had researched and obsessed about it all year, so felt pretty prepared when I got there. When the person behind the counter looked through my documents and said, "Na, super!" I let out a sigh of relief. Maybe I will be able to stay in Berlin after all!

Another hour and a half of waiting and they call me back in, give me a card and tell me to go downstairs and pay 50 euros to a machine. When I come up, they hand me back my passport with a shiny visa inside! In less than 5 hours! Success!

Since then I've been teaching a couple Nachhilfe classes, which is basically homework help for kids having problems in English. They're pretty laid back and chill, so I really like them. On Sunday, I'm moving to Rostock in eastern Germany by the Ostsee for 6 weeks to teach an intensive English course. I am pretty nervous about this, as I'll be teaching 8 or so hours a day, from Monday to Friday, which I've never done before. Also, I still haven't found a place to live during this time, so I may just end up in a hostel for six whole weeks. Luckily, my job is paying me a little stipend for living expenses since they really needed a native speaker for this course. I should be a pro by the end of it and will get a lot more practice speaking German, as I don't think there are as many English speakers there. I just have to think of it as facing my fears. I'll be teaching some employees from Deutsche Bahn English for dealing with customers and their jobs. Even the textbook I'm using is written by Deutsche Bahn, which is kind of funny.

I've recently been reunited with all my TEFL Worldwide books and notes, which is perfect timing. When I moved away from Prague, I left them with a friend because I didn't have space. Last January when I was visiting Germany from America, I transported them from Prague to Berlin and just picked them up again here last week. After 2ish years off teaching (except for my volunteer position as a teaching assistant), I feel a little rusty. I forgot how much I did during the TEFL course in Prague! Pretty sure all my notes are going to come in very useful for finding ways to add to my lessons in Germany and refreshing my brain!

Perhaps a post about my job interviews next. Or maybe about how I ordered "vegan almond shits" instead of "vegan almond cookie".  Awkward!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Au-Pair Drop-Out

(credit ukaaa)
Now that I am safely sitting far away in my sublet, I can write about this on the internet. Basically, my au-pair experience sucked. The 5-year old basically had free reign and was allowed to hit me, spit in my face, call me an asshole, hit me in the eye with a foam sword, etc. with very little consequence. I felt the family wanted another older, more responsible child instead of an adult employed by them. They didn't respect my time and though I asked several times and sat down with them to explain that I'd like some kind of schedule so I could make plans and have friends, they just assumed I would stop whatever I was doing for them and generally only told me my hours the day before or the morning of, which just made me really anxious.

Honestly, except for joking around with their oldest son and playing with the cute dog, I started to hate everything about my au-pair job. The first time I visually appeared upset in front of the family was after I cut up some fruit for their 5 year-old and his friend and brought it upstairs. I told them they needed to wash their hands first and they refused and spit in my face. Now I'm not talking cute stick-your-tongue-out whatever, they literally covered me with spit. I herded them to the bathroom, where they still refused to wash their hands and when I went to go help, I got the door slammed in my face. Meanwhile, the Mom was downstairs, doing god knows what, while I was getting completely disrespected by her child. Eventually I just told them, "Alright, if you treat me badly, you're not getting any fruit and I'm going downstairs now". I stormed downstairs, put the plate on the table in front of the Mom and asked, "I don't know what you want me to do! They spit in my face and refuse to listen." Her reply was just, "Do you like kids? They're just being 5 year-olds."

This was the general response. Now let me tell you, if I had ever spit in a babysitter's face when I was a kid, hit someone or was generally as bratty as her kid, my parents would've grounded me for a week, taking away any TV privileges, no friends over, no phone, etc. My parents rarely ever touched us, but when we were bad we generally had to write a LOT of apology letters to whoever we wronged and had a stern talking-to. I said to the Mom, "I know I need to learn how to better deal with him, but what are the consequences when he acts like that?" The answer was nothing. No consequences. Apparently this behavior was completely acceptable and didn't warrant any punishment.

Fuck. That.

I got yelled at for such things as putting the tea cup on the wrong side of the place mat and they made me mow the entire backyard lawn, which is definitely not an au-pair job. When they asked me at a later date if I would mow the front lawn, and I inferred that I would not care to, the mother made it seem like that was preposterous and asked me, "Well, what DO you want to do?!". The last straw occurred as I was attempting to get the lawn mower to work, crying hysterically in their front yard. I think my exact thought was something like "Fuck this shit, I'm leaving." I almost texted the host Mom "I quit" right then and there, but realized I probably needed somewhere to sleep first.

We had a date to talk last Sunday, where it was decided that it was not a good fit and I was leaving. They said I could have until mid-September, which they later revoked this past Wednesday when they told me I had to be out Friday (2 days later). Now, I am a relatively independent person, but there are plenty of 18 year-old au-pairs who don't know anyone in the country, don't speak any German and who have never lived abroad before. The fact that they would just shove someone off like that is absolutely ridiculous.

To add insult to injury, yesterday before I moved out I asked about getting paid. They said they would only pay me for 2 of the 3 weeks I worked, because the last week I was in-and-out looking for jobs and flats. When I explained,  "Well, what am I supposed to do? You told me to get out so I needed time to find somewhere to go!" Her response was that the chores and errands I did for them were payment for being able to sleep there. Honestly lady? You people are fucking rich. I'm pretty sure 70 euro extra for the week would not have broken the bank. My general thought is that them choosing an au-pair that didn't "fit" is mostly their responsibility. They brought a woman over an ocean from America. If they are so particular, they should have asked me more questions about myself, actually taken the time to Skype with me, etc. They fucked up and made a wrong decision and I was left in a shitty position in a foreign country, so I definitely should have been paid for the last week.

Anyway, I'm now happily sitting in a sublet in Kreuzberg, far away from them. After a few interviews, I have a job as a freelance English teacher and am making my first attempt at the visa on Monday morning, so wish me luck! I will be going to Rostock in East Germany for 6 weeks starting September 26th to teach an intensive English course and then coming back to Berlin November 10th, after which I'm staying forever! I'm sure I'll be back some weekends as well. Now I just need to find an awesome flat for November!

I wish I could just find a long-term flat now and stay here, so I could finish getting settled and make some friends, etc. but it will be an adventure, right? And earning a paycheck will definitely be nice.

So get ready for some hopefully less emo posts, now than I have escaped from indentured servitude and am no longer quite as prone to random fits of hysterics! Yes!

Monday, August 29, 2011


I feel like I should update after my last super emo post. That same night I figured I should just suck it up and lay my demands out on the table, so I stayed up late writing a 2-page word document in German of what I thought all my responsibilities were and also quoted my contract and and wrote out some suggestions for how I thought the different clauses should play out in real life. The next morning I brought my computer upstairs and presented it to my host Mom for discussion. We ended up having a pretty good conversation, where I brought up several important things:

I'm supposed to get four evenings off a week. My entire first week I worked every night (including the weekend) until at least 8:30pm. Host Mom said she didn't know that was in there. She printed it off the internet, but apparently didn't read it. Anyway, now I'm definitely going to make sure and peace out after Abendbrot four times a week and forego getting beaten up and verbally abused by the 5-year old (who continues to call me "Opa", which means "Grandpa").

I also accrue 2 days paid vacation time a month, so 24 days for the year. This means I am so going to Brighton and London to visit my friends and wherever else calls to me!

If I work an extra night I get another night off, or an extra night off the next week.

Basically the main consensus was that if I feel like I'm working too much or over my 30 hours, I should just say so and they'll sort it out. That's good, I guess, but I really wish they would keep track of it as it puts me in a sort of awkward position to be like, "hey, I'm tired of this and you keep giving me too much stuff to do, bye!" I am happy to hear that they respect my need for me-time, however.

Anyway, I went out into Berlin Friday and Sunday and that was good. I've sort of realized that I generally feel the craziest when I'm here in Kleinmachnow with not much to do. It's definitely beautiful here, but I feel really isolated from the world, especially during my awkward hours off in the middle of the day when no one else is free. I want to be in the hustle and bustle of the city with other people my age being social! I will definitely be happy when my German course starts October 10th, as maybe then I'll feel like I actually have some purpose to my life besides watching every single episode of "So You Think You Can Dance" on the internet. Also, I seriously need to make friends. Preferably friends who aren't going to leave in 5 minutes and actually live here. Or rather, a nice balance of au-pair + other friends, as it is nice to be able to vent with other au-pairs in the same situation as me. I'm just so tired of having to re-make friends every year after 6 years of switching countries and I really do want to stay here and make this my home somehow.

Speaking of, I really need to find more than one Master's program to apply to in the Berlin-area! Ahhh!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

One Week In


Things that I want:

1. A written list/schedule of what I'm supposed to be doing every day, so I have some sort of structure and know what is expected of me.

2. To know what days/times I have off more than 1-2 days before so I can actually make plans with my friends and not feel so isolated out in the suburbs.

I've been here a week and these things are really stressing me out. Though I may just be interpreting her intonation wrong since I don't always understand 100% what my host Mom is saying in German, I feel like she sometimes thinks I'm a bit dumb for not doing something she told me days ago in a list with 10 other things. Usually I'm given a long verbal list of all the things I might have to do, but sometimes she just does them and sometimes she is all "I'm late for work you really need to brush his teeth with him!" How am I supposed to know what I should be doing if sometimes I'm asked to do it and sometimes it's done by somebody else and no one says anything to me? I've asked for the past several days if we could sit down and write down what exactly my responsibilities are and when I need to do them, so I'm not always so shell-shocked, but no one seems to ever have time. We were also supposed to talk about my au-pair contract because there's a lot of things written in it about how many nights off and days off I should be getting and can request off, that I'm pretty sure I'm not currently getting. Mostly I just need to know when I'm actually supposed to be working so I'm not always following people around, stressed that I should be doing something.

I'm supposed to be in charge of getting the 5-year old dressed and brushing his teeth in the morning and sometimes getting him ready for bed. I have not even once been able to successfully get him to brush his teeth. Every single time he runs away, grabs a toy, hides. I take the toy away, he screams at the top of his lungs and slaps me. I say "Nein! Du darfst nicht mich schlagen!" in my best stern voice and hold his hands, let go, and he slaps me again. Yesterday I got spit in the face and also hit in the face with a small plunger. When I try to make him food after school he will purposely grab a bottle of water and pour it on the floor in front of me. I'm trying really hard not to let it get to me and hold it against him, but I can't help but dread when he comes home from school and really do not enjoy his company. At least the parents back up whatever I say to him, but if this doesn't get better in a few weeks I think I'm going to seek other employment because I can't deal with this for a year. They want me to eventually bike with him alone to his kindergarten, but he absolutely does not listen to me so I'm terrified he'll just bike into the middle of the road in front of a car with me, not to mention I'm still not super fast on my bike as I'm not used to biking all the time, so while I totally don't mind riding the bike and enjoy it, I can't keep up with him and he doesn't listen if I say to slow down. It's just frustrating because the Mom tells me to simply take his toy away and pick him up, but it's not so easy when he's racing around a couch, kicking, slapping and spitting at me.

Luckily the other kids are fine, sometimes they want to watch TV a bit longer and I have to turn it off on them, but they generally listen to reason or will joke around for 5 minutes and then do what they're told. I knew going in I didn't have much experience with the really young kids, but I didn't think it would be this bad.

I'm at a low point and I'm going to give it a month to see if I feel better about everything. I'm just really frustrated and feel like I have no control over anything and no ability to have my own life. I feel like I have a lot of sporadic free time during the day, but never quality free time where I can actually meet with people and be social. I don't need to always be out partying, but I can't always just sit here alone as it makes me feel a bit trapped. I just found out the family's first au-pair only stayed 3 months. The most recent stayed a year, but it seems she didn't really go out much as the host family seemed really surprised that I wanted to go to a club with my friends on September 3rd and said I'd probably have to walk the dog, even if I come back at 3am, as they go out sailing that day (or something). Their last au-pair is married and still lives here, so maybe that explains it.

We'll see. I really don't want to have to leave, but if I end up continuing to feel so crazy I might have to. I've only been here a week, so I imagine it will get better. Besides the 5 year-old and the family not being very good at clearly delegating responsibilities, things are good. They let me get whatever food I want from the store, are paying for German classes all year even though they don't have to, I get to be really active and feel generally pretty healthy, I like the breakfast and Abendbrot routine. The Dad taught me how to fix my flat tire on my bike this morning and while it's sort of isolating out here, it is beautiful and I like all the bike paths. I like their dog, taking her for walks and speaking Dog-German (yesterday I let her off the leash and she ran in someone's house, oops) and I like how the oldest son is very understanding and takes time to explain to me how things in the family work and what I should be doing, tells me when he wants time alone to do his stuff, etc. The fact that I speak German from mornings to evenings is very helpful too, as I do really need to be fluent by the end of the year. I just really need more of a balance between work and life and to be given a better idea of what I should be doing and a more solid schedule. I know the family is stressed in the morning getting ready and running around between afternoon activities, but I get stressed because I feel like they think I suck since everything is always told to me quickly as a side-comment.

So there you have it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Living in the German Suburbs

So I live in Kleinmachnow, a short bike ride from Zehlendorf, about 20-25 minutes from Berlin center. I'm definitely not in the center of all the action. Okay, I'm actually in German-yuppie land where all the rich families live, but I've been coming up with a list of pros to this. Namely:

One - I can get all my awkward biking skills up to par before all the cool people in Berlin see me. Two days ago I almost hit a dog on the bike path and had to come to a screeching halt. Yesterday I almost hit an old German couple because they didn't hear me yell "Entschuldigung!". I should probably buy a bell.

Two - I can become a runner before all the cool people in Berlin see me being lapped by little old grannies. I've been meaning to start running for awhile, but saying that I am currently more of a walker with short running breaks, I did not want to make an ass of myself in Northampton this year with all the crazy running people who run even if it's thunderstorming outside. Yesterday morning I took a path through the woods that ran along a river, past horses and chickens. You can't really go wrong with that. We'll ignore the fact that many middle-aged women and an old couple lapped me. You win some, you lose some. I will try to keep it up and get better. When I came home I immediately chugged apple juice and ate bread with vegan nutella smeared all over it and my host Mom and her friend laughed at me. The bread had WHOLE wheat berries in it…healthy!

Au-Pairing is definitely an interesting job and I've been very up and down with it. Sometimes I love it and think I'm doing a great job, other times I feel like I'm fucking everything up and the host family hates me (Example A: Setting off the house alarm and having the host Mom discover a pile of puke in the house because I let the dog eat grass during a walk, all within a 1-minute time span). I imagine that's normal though. The kids are generally very good and the oldest often helps me with the others and explains how things work. I'm learning how to deal with the five year old, as most of my experience is with older children so I have NO idea how to work with the little ones. He already shot me between the eyes with a nerf gun, smacked me, called me a man (which I didn't even realize until the Dad yelled at him), hit me in the eye with a foam sword, and tried to rip my clothes off in front of his parents. I never knew getting someone to go to bed and brush their teeth could be so difficult, but this will hopefully get better once he stops testing me. I hope I learn quickly how to deal with him better, as it is a bit embarrassing having a 5-year old own me on the daily.

Yesterday I was taking a shower and all of a sudden I hear someone saying "Hello! Hello!" I turn around, completely naked and in the midst of shaving, and another one of the kids is staring at me. I either didn't lock the door correctly or they have a key. Regardless, I'm not sure how that meant "Come in!". My German also doesn't work in panic situations, so after yelling "Close the door! Close the door!" I just got a blank look and more extended seconds of awkwardness, but eventually I got to continue my shower, albeit a bit shellshocked. So yes, the kids have already seen me naked and it's only my fourth day.

Other fun moments involve me putting my shoes against the wall neatly and finding the dog spooning one of them twice in the same day. Also, a conversation with the oldest (12 years) that went something like this:

J: *blah blah blah things in Berliner Deutsch I don't understand*
J: Die waren Berliner Schimpfworte. Du weisst keine Schimpfworte auf Deutsch.
Me: Weiss ich doch, aber ich kann kein Berliner Deutsch.
J: Ich weiss Englische Schimpfworte…"Fuck You"
Me: No, we do NOT say that.


I was really afraid my German would be horrible when I got here as I haven't spoken any German all summer, but it came from some crevice of my brain and I've basically been speaking German from when I wake up to when I go to bed. For the first time I actually notice myself remembering conversations in German, which is interesting as earlier even if my conversation was in German I'd remember it in English. I feel like I'm learning so much everyday and am much more comfortable speaking it, even to new guests that come in the house and the kids' friends, etc. The only time it's difficult is when I'm trying to disciple the kids and their grammar is better than mine.

Starting in October I'm beginning a C1 level German class that meets four days a week from Monday to Thursday from 9am to 1pm. Holy crap. It might kill me, but one of my priorities really is to become fluent and I should be able to finish all the classes this year, thereby finishing all the levels. It's crazy that I took French 8 years and can't speak it at all, but German a bit less than a year and a half and I'm conversing with my host family solely in German. I'm going to have no life when it starts, however.

Currently sitting at Goodies in Berlin. My host Mom had work in Berlin today so she drove me in with her, which was nice. I need to buy a monthly ticket though as I've already spent a fortune on tickets for transportation within Berlin. Already stocked on on instant noodles at the Asian supermarket and am maybe going to the vegan store in Kreuzberg later to get some more essentials to bring back to the suburbs. Nom!

Bis bald!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Oh hai Deutschland

After an summer camp filled summer at Bryn Mawr College and Princeton University, I just arrived in Kleinmachnow, Germany, which is right outside Berlin, and where I'll be spending the year as an au-pair! Get ready for some updates to this here blog now that I'm back abroad! So far I've toured my family's giant beautiful house and have unpacked my room. They even gave me my own bathroom! Tonight I'm going to take a test at a language school to see what level of German I am and enroll in a German class. I've been speaking to the family in German over e-mail, but I was afraid my spoken German would be completely gone when I got off the plane. Turns out it was hiding somewhere in a corner as I just spewed out lots of things for a couple hours. Whew. Pretty sure all genders and cases have been thrown to the wind, however. Anyway, here's to hoping I get in an advanced course!

Still haven't met the kids, but I imagine they get off school soon. They are all boys and I believe they are 5, 9 and 12. I was greeted by handmade signs from them in my room, so hopefully they will like me!

It still hasn't hit me that I'm in Germany again. Finally. I think I feel more normal than I felt this entire year. I think I've just mastered the art of packing and getting my way around airports. I managed to only get hit with a $25 fine for being 21 pounds over the weight limit! I win! While my suitcase was heavy, I managed to get here with only one suitcase and a backpack. I have come a long way. A little over a year ago I was lugging two giant heavy backpacks back to America. Have I learned my lesson?

Anyway, it's nice to be excited about life again!

Bis bald!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Post Index By Country

Hello Wanderlusters!

I've finally finished sorting all my posts by country, so now if you're curious about a certain place, you can click on over to the Posts By Country at the top of this blog. Not every single post on this blog is included, but any substantial post that isn't just me babbling about life should be included. Coming soon is a traveling resources page, stay tuned!

Monday, June 6, 2011


Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about this blog! My life has just been a little boring, and if I had posted, well, it would have been boring. Or whiny. Or whiny AND boring. Ouch.


This will change soon.

Notable updates because no one seems to know where I am ever:

1. No Fulbright
2. Moving away from NoHo in less than two weeks...forever!
3. Only 3 more days of retail slavery.
4. On August 17th I'll be on a plane to Germany! One-way ticket! Sleepytime flight!

This is good for you, oh faithful readers, as it means I will no longer be bored and scanning things across a computerized platform whilst being yelled at for a multitude of things I have no control over and berated over a lack of local produce and lemon juice, but instead will be thrust into the hopefully welcoming arms of Berlin in search of:

a. job
b. flat that is awesome and full of clean
c. to be determined

So maybe then my life will be a little more exciting if not extremely overwhelming and ridiculous.


P.S. The URL to this blog changed, but you probably figured that out if you're reading this!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Montreal in Winter (brrrrrr)!

From Feb 3rd to 16th my good friend Lisa from Brighton, England came out to where I'm living currently in Northampton, Massachusetts to visit me. We decided to be super crazy and trek up to Canada in the depth of a New England winter. To explain how cold a New England winter is, let's just say there was a night it got down to -25F (about -32C) and around the time we went anything above 20F (-7C) seemed pretty warm. Lisa had never couchsurfed before, so we set out in search of a host. I'd been to Montreal a few times before, but mostly with my parents and mostly doing super touristy I was excited to actually meet someone who lived in the city and get more of an insiders' perspective! The above picture is the street we stayed on.

On the way up we stopped at a rest stop in Vermont...that we decided was the best rest stop ever. Most notably, they gave us FREE COFFEE!!!!!! and they recycled our poop on site right after we made it!!! Here is Lisa being British with her free tea in front of the plants that were possibly munching on our poop right then and there! I would also like to mention that going into a greenhouse at a rest stop was pretty awesome after the freezing snow.

"Lisa, there will probably be a sign that says 'Last Exit in America'! Good tourist picture opportunity!" There was no such sign, but this was the last exit in America! Commence shitting ourselves about going through customs. They were so scary! Especially the American side, which had about 10 cameras and snapped our picture as we drove through.

When we arrived, our host Shanty greeted us with homemade pizza and Canadian beer! Then we promptly went and fell asleep after all the excitement from our journey. The next morning we trekked out and walked all along Mont Royal and found this awesome cafe called Kahwa Cafe where we partook in free Wifi, lattes and hot chocolate made with fair-trade coffee and chocolate and people watched got our internet fix. The best part about this place were all the cool math and physics problems all over the walls and ceiling incorporating coffee, milk and then cafe as themes. Also they had AWESOME cups (see above).

The aforementioned math problems that were all over.

Interneting right before we went to lunch at Aus Vivres, which was freaking delicious.

While waiting for Shanty to meet us to take us for dinner in Chinatown, we found this in a mall-type building. A pink forest!

She took us into a hotel in Chinatown that had this cool walkway over lots of water and fish! In the photo is Lisa and Shanty.

Shanty and Lisa again. This was a really cool outdoor interactive art thing on Ste. Catherine street made out of clear IKEA garbage cans with lights inside and motion sensors. They were all red until you walked past and then the lights turned white.

Here's a better picture to give you an idea of how big and awesome it was! We definitely frolicked around there for awhile!

Me decked out in my arctic gear, trying to make the lights turn white. I succeeded!

I have a soft spot for street art. So you'll see a bunch of pictures. Number one!

This is the outside of Shanty's flat. Montreal is known for flats with big staircases (sometimes spirals) on the outside. It looks really cool, when you're not almost falling down them in winter!

Lisa all ready for our trek out in the snow on our last day.

Even Starbucks is fancier. See: Cafe Starbucks Coffee.

Crazy alien street art on the way to lunch!

Okay, I'm immature. We went to this awesome vegetarian Asian food restaurant called Yuan, where Lisa got a mushroom that looked like a penis. It entertained us for too long. In fact, I'm still giggling...

On a similar theme, we found Sex Village!

More cool street art!

One night we went out in search of good Canadian beer and our host Shanty recommended this to me. It's apple beer, but not cider! It is soooo tasty and even has fairies on the front! So, you can't go wrong and I'm still obsessed with it. Luckily a liquor store in my town has it, albeit for a bit higher price and only in four packs. So. Tasty.

That was our trip to Montreal! It's cool to be able to drive somewhere where a different language is spoken and get my travel on again! I may or may not be heading back in late Spring...we'll see! I'd also love to get my butt out to different parts of Canada, especially Toronto!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Musings on the National Express...

15. Dec. '09

"My heart always does a jump as I get on the National Express bus headed to Brighton. It's this excited nervousness, which, in so many ways is like going home. I love all my friends so much, the familiarity of what I'll eat from Marks & Spensers and what I'll order from Costa."

20. Dec. '09

"Nat'l Express Driver: When you tale a call you need to keep in mind how long you're on the phone because no one else on the coach has anything to do except listen to your conversation and nobody wants to know who did what, who you took home and how long they lasted. Especially because there's children and men on board and they will get jealous...including me."

The fact that England's public transportation inspired two journal entries from me within a week means America is doing it wrong. I should also mention the bus driver gave us all chocolates while wearing a Santa hat.