Adventzeit and Weihnachtsmärkte

Guten Abend zusammen,

What a week and a half it has been!

candles
Advent Kerze (candles) ready in my village

As expected for late November weather, Germany is now sehr kalt. Maybe even kälter than England. For this reason, it was distressing to have “lost” my favourite hat, crocheted for me by my grandma. I decided to buy a new warm German Mütze at a Weihnachtsmarkt to make up for it. Typically, though, Grandma’s hat was only mislaid, and showed up the next day in the messy corner of my apartment!

Advent in Germany began this weekend, and I am surrounded by Christmassy vibes – whether in my village, at school, or at Weihnachtsmärkte. I think the children are already getting excited for Christmas (Weihnachten in German), and so am I! I was surprised to find that each classroom has a lit advent candle in a wreath (to mark the first weekend of advent). In England, surely this would be considered a breach of health and safety regulations. At least I wasn’t trusted to light the candle. Then perhaps it would have been.

Studienkompaktkurse


I spent last Monday-Wednesday in Duesseldorf with the other assistants, for a training course. I was worrying a bit about how I would manage this training course, as three days away from the routine I had grown accustomed to seemed like a long time. But actually, I enjoyed myself! All the assistants under the Regierungsbezirk Duesseldorf were there, so I met some wonderful new people – from Spain, France, Italy, Russia, USA, China, as well as the UK. I enjoyed chatting to everybody in German – getting in a muddle with all our languages – and exploring the Ruhrgebiet together.

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The best part of the course, aside from the new friendships, was definitely learning more about the area in which I am living, and appreciating it from different perspectives. We had, for example, an interesting tour around the Landtag (State Parliament) and learned about how the building’s architecture was designed with a view to greater involvement of citizens to observe the discussions, and therefore greater democracy. We visited the Zollverein Museum near Essen, which focused on the coal mining (Zeche) and geological history of the Ruhrgebiet (Ruhr Valley). It was interesting, but very hard to follow, because of all the subject-specific vocabulary!

oberhausenAfter an enjoyable lunch spent eating Bratwurst at Oberhausen Weihnachtsmarkt, and chatting with the Language Assistants from Italy in a mixture of English and German, we went on to the Gasometer (formerly a gas holder but now a museum) at Oberhausen (see map to the right).

The current exhibition is all about Natur – incredible photographs which represent the natural world in some way. A projection of the earth dominated the main exhibition room, which was almost in pitch darkness – my description of the atmosphere does not do justice to how it felt. I took a deep breath and hopped into the glass lift that took people up and over the earth projection. I was in awe as we zoomed up ten floors, in darkness. It made for a surreal experience, transcending the Ruhrgebiet and going up into space. It was most definitely worth the anxiety involved in stepping into the lift.

globe        globe-2

Talking of getting to know the local area, I think it’s fitting to briefly mention my trip to Moenchengladbach’s textile factory the previous weekend, with a friend from my Dutch class and her husband. On the third Sunday of every month, the textile factory (Textiltechnikum) opens its doors to visitors, and gives a tour around all the machines… again, the language was very technical, but we were taken on a fascinating journey through the textile manufacturing process. Apparently, Germans used to spy on the textile workers in Manchester, to steal ideas to take back to Germany! After the tour, my friend invited me back for dinner. She had made a delicious Flammkuchen, and I appreciated their good company and conversation.

Mainz


mainz

After what was already a few very busy days at the training event last week, on Friday I travelled by train to Mainz to visit my friend for the weekend. I had a very happy time in Mainz, catching up with my friend. We wandered around the Weihnachtsmarkt, visited the Gutenberg Museum on the history of printing, and my friend showed me around her university. It was great to experience a new area of Germany.

Although the timings for the train were a bit tight, I got there and back in one piece, with my friend’s help at the station to see me off. Before it got dark, I enjoyed a picturesque view along the Rhein river from the train – the best way to experience it, perhaps. I also met an interesting man on the way home, who talked to me for about two hours, in fast German, about his experience on the Trans-Siberian Express from China to Russia. His anecdotes rambled on but were immediate and full of life. A shout out to my friends currently on year abroads in Russia, perhaps I can relate a bit more than I could before. When I got home I was exhausted from all the intense auditory processing, and slept very well!

…and similarly to the man I got to know on the Euro City train this weekend, I have rambled on too much too. I will give another update soon!

Bis bald,

Misspraxic

Sense of community: Martinstag and Lehrertag 2016

Guten Tag Leute!

Today I feel tired after a busy week – let me tell you about it! This week’s experiences have got me thinking about community, participation, and how it makes me feel.

15050257_1179076542130055_1116128113_nLast Friday was Carneval in Germany. I was in Dusseldorf after my morning German course, and decided to take a trip into the city centre to watch the afternoon celebrations. A big group called the Regenbogen were all dressed in colourful costumes, and performed some great traditional carnival songs in German, such as “Min Ding is Din Ding” and “Düsseldorf macht sich fein“.

I was by myself and stayed away from the Bier tent, but nevertheless it was a fun atmosphere, if a little chilly!

The following day (last Saturday) the traditional Martinstag was also celebrated throughout the country. St Martin’s Day. Saint Martin was a Roman knight who, legend says, shared his cloak with a beggar on a cold night to save him. You can read more about the tradition here.

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Blurry photo, but you can see Saint Martin parading through the village on his white horse!

I had my own unique experience of Martinstag in my village in Nordrhein-Westfalen. At 18.00, most of the village’s young children and families gathered at the village cross: the central meeting point in the village. The children had made their own paper lanterns at school and everyone, young and old, were involved in the parade (called Laternelaufen). In keeping with the legend, a man dressed as Saint Martin rode a horse through the village, and was followed by a brass band. The village was lit up with the warm glow of all the children’s lanterns, and everyone started to walk and sing together:

Ich geh’ mit meiner Laterne
Und meine Laterne mit mir.
Dort oben leuchten die Sterne,
Hier unten, da leuchten wir…

15046226_1180253895345653_1500264126_nAt first I wasn’t sure where to stand, where to walk, what to do, as I felt like an outsider in this important annual tradition that connects families in the village. But once I chatted to a few people, and the music started, I felt at ease. I felt so happy surrounded by the warmth of the bonfire, and the bold rhythm of the brass band.

When the procession came to an end and the children received their sweets, I was welcomed into my landlady’s home to enjoy Gluhwein (mulled wine) with her and her family, and then ended up staying for some delicious soup and more wine. I got to know her children and their children, and a couple of members of the choir were there too!

I felt the community feeling again on Monday, as most of Lehrerzimmer 5 (staffroom for Class 5 teachers) went out for lunch together at a local restaurant before Lehrersprechtag (parents’ evening, which I thankfully was not involved in). Of course, I selected the Schnitzel option! I hope we can go out together more, as I would really like to get to know some of the teachers better.

On Tuesday evening, I enjoyed another practise with the warm-hearted choir group. It doesn’t matter that I get some notes wrong, or mix up the German lyrics, because I’m joining in with them, and I get the feeling they welcome that. Practising all the Christmas songs reminds me of being in the school choir, and although I am sadly not available to sing at the choir’s concert, simply practising the Christmas songs with everyone is enough for me.

lehrertag

dortmundThe big highlight of this week was yesterday. I woke up early and travelled to Dortmund for Germany’s annual conference on education (Deutscher Lehrertag 2016). Interestingly, this year the overarching theme of the conference was integration and inclusion in schools. I attended some workshops on the integration of refugees in English lessons, as well as a stimulating podium discussion between politicans and education representatives, including the Kultusministerin (Minister of Education) for Lower Saxony. I met a few interesting new people, including a government advisor for Special Education, whose son also has dyspraxic traits. Many publishers were present with their book stands, too – I couldn’t resist buying a few more books to add to my collection…

Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets) have now started in many places – I’m looking forward to feeling the Christmas spirit over the next few weeks, when I visit a few of my friends in other cities!

Schönes Wochenende noch,

misspraxic

 

Year abroad experiences: chaos at supermarket checkouts, collapsing music stands, and carrying A2 drawing boards in the rain…

Hallo zusammen!

Since early September I have been looking for productive ways to use up my free time. Thankfully, this tactic seems to be working a bit better this term. When I feel busy, my mind has a positive focus, and this helps to manage the emotions involved in missing home. When I say busy, I do need to strike a balance. If I take on too much, I rush, things go wrong, and then I feel overwhelmed.

So, just what have I been up to? Let me tell you…

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Beautiful autumn colours in Duesseldorf

You might remember that in September, I mentioned I had signed up for a semester at Duesseldorf University, and that I would take German courses later in October. After a misunderstanding (!) about the location of the compulsory language test, I am happy to at last be taking German classes again. The classes are similar to those at Heidelberg, and probably similar to the content of some of my friends’ Erasmus study modules, but I am just taking two classes a week. It makes a difference to have assigned some structure to the long, empty afternoons after my working hours in the school.

The International Summer School at Heidelberg back in August was a wonderful experience. What I had missed most about it was definitely chatting with diverse people from all over the world, solely communicating in German rather than in English. I’m very lucky to get to do it again, this time in Duesseldorf, with classmates from Brazil, Georgia, USA, Italy, Scotland, and so on… In our first class we discussed German’s status as a major language, and it interested me to hear each student explain their reasons for studying German, and its importance to them.

And my favourite class? This won’t be a surprise to those who know me: the grammar class!

donuts
Lecker! Delicious 🙂

I am also learning to be more patient with myself. More and more bus drivers are in fact saying “Guten Morgen” and smiling, which makes me smile too. And during a Friday evening trip to the supermarket (tip: avoid rush-hours), the shop assistant showed some kindness and understanding. I was in a fluster trying to open my bags, pack all my shopping into them, move all my things away from the counter for the next customer, find my REWE points card and my receipt for the Pfand recycling (you can redeem money from recycling bottles), all at the same time as picking out the right amount of euros to pay. Information overload! The poorly-designed plastic box containing tomatoes I had just bought split open, and tomatoes dropped all over the place. But like my stepdad always tells me I stayed calm, and was very kindly offered a fresh box! I am also grateful to my generous landlady who has shown an extreme amount of kindness towards me, bringing me these donuts last week, a typical speciality around Martinstag, and today brought me some Spritzgebäck (typical biscuits in the period leading up to Advent and Christmas). Mönchengladbach-Windberg_Denkmal-Nr._A_024,_Annakirchstraße_88_(5373).jpg

On Tuesday I had my first experience of a German Catholic church service, as I was invited to sing with the choir to commemorate the dead on Allerheiligen (All Saints). I helped set up the church ready for us to sing, and someone foolishly trusted me with the technical aspects – I inevitably got into a muddle with microphone wires and soundboards, and not to mention the screw falling out of the music stands and collapsing around me… But once the service started, it was a very unique experience. Usually I struggle to follow sermons in English, but I managed to follow and understand most of these Sermonen. Halfway through the service, everyone was asked to wish eachother “Frieden” (peace). The way everyone got up out of their seats to embrace, shake hands, rub shoulders filled me with a feeling of warmth that I know I crave here.

On Sunday I also sung in a local hospital chapel with the choir, for a “Gedenkgottesdienst” – memorial service – for those recently deceased. I felt much more nervous singing here as I didn’t know many of the hymns well at all, and found myself mixing up verses and words – I hoped nobody noticed, though I suspect they were too overwhelmed with the touching nature of the service to be worried about my mistakes. Nevertheless I am glad I attended the service, because I learned more about how the community works, and got to know a few members of the choir better.

I’m getting back into my Dutch classes, which I am finding more difficult as we delve further into the complexities of Dutch phonetics (pronouncing the words is the hardest thing for me to grasp as a beginner).

A shout out to my University’s wonderful art society – I miss you, and to keep me sane in the meantime, I have joined a life-drawing class at the local college where I learn Dutch. I think the tutor is great, and I like the fact that there are only six of us in the class. I missed attending regular art and life-drawing sessions with other people, as drawing in my scrapbook just isn’t the same, so I think this will be very good for me! One small draw back, though – pardon the pun – is having to travel on a bus and walk for half a mile juggling my hand bag, my rucksack with art materials, and a silly sized sketch book… oh, and an A2 drawing board. It must all be good practice for Misspraxic’s juggling skills, though.😉

Tschüß!

-Misspraxic

 

 

 

 

Belated awareness for #DyspraxiaWeek, and getting back into the swing of things

Hallo zusammen!

awareness-week-logoLast week (9th-15th Oct) was Dyspraxia Awareness Week. Staying true to my Dyspraxic qualities, my blog post is more than a week late. Sorry! On Sunday 9th I flew from Düsseldorf back home, to spend the autumn holiday with my family, friends, and boyfriend, who I missed very much. After many flights, re-visiting the SkyTrain experience, and analysing bus timetables, I’m relieved to say I made it there and back in one piece. Although the holiday was far too short and felt rushed in many ways, I feel stronger after the rest.

In light of the Awareness Week, I wanted to reflect upon, and remind myself of, some postive experiences of a dyspraxic language student managing abroad (two months down). Just what can be achieved?

home
“Where we love is our home – Home that our feet might leave, but not our hearts.”

Since I started my role as an English Language Assistant at the beginning of September, I believe my experience of struggling with dyspraxia has helped me to better understand and connect with my pupils. I can relate to Alex*, who struggles to keep up with the fast pace of the lesson, and always seems to be without a partner in pair work. I also accept quiet Sophie* who keeps herself to herself at break times. I can often see parts of myself in the pupils, which helps me to find ways of explaining things to meet their own needs.

I am more open-minded to differences – perhaps greater tolerance and sensitivity comes with that. Although I may get lost in a big group conversation, and struggle to commit all the details of a story to memory, I don’t lose the determination or the will to socialise. In this sense, not giving up is a positive attitude that dyspraxia helps to develop. When something goes wrong you end up fighting for it to go right.

On my far-from-smooth journey through the education system, I have been incredibly lucky to have the support of my family and friends. I also feel that I have become a much more independent thinker since moving from school to university. Throwing myself in often uncomfortable situations has actually been a blessing, hopefully for greater resilience in the long-term. We’ll see…

In the last few years, I have managed and passed two years of University, I have lived alone to complete an internship (twice), and the hugest leap I have ever made: living alone in Germany.  It wasn’t that long ago that I used to feel panic and overwhelm when entering Tesco. I’ve made progress in this area – I can go shopping in foreign countries, and communicate without English.

I have gained confidence to join clubs/activities, actively go and meet people of all ages and backgrounds. Getting from A to B is a major source of stress for many dyspraxics, and for me this has involved falling over on buses, and taking trams in the wrong direction, but I honestly end up enjoying many of my travel experiences, and have not given up on public transport yet.

I regularly have many rich, interesting conversations with new people – from public transport encounters to regular chats with my landlady who doesn’t speak English. I have enjoyed playing board games with strangers, talking about language, literature, and society in German with young people from all over the world, singing foreign songs in a big choir with people I don’t know, and learning a new language (Dutch) through a foreign language (German)…

Five years ago I just wouldn’t have been doing all this.

I am still working through dyspraxia and its associated challenges, and I am definitely not perfect. But that isn’t my aim – I am out of my comfort zone, and learning more about myself, as well as the world. Things aren’t really so negative, are they?

I’d like to finish this post with the following thought: living with a learning difference or disability should be no barrier to a foreign language or country. Your experience can be as rich as you let it.

misspraxic

 


Please check out the Dyspraxia Foundation website – a charity doing excellent work to support inviduals and families affected by the condition.

In the chaos of the autumn holiday, I also missed Meares Irlen Awareness Week 17th-21st October. Also known as Visual Stress, this is a condition that can cause difficulty with reading. Coloured overlays, screens, and lenses can help increase reading speed. At some point, I would like to blog about this condition too. In the meantime, you can look at the website here to find out more.

 *I changed all the names of pupils and teachers to maintain confidentiality.

A busier week: Late-night theatre in Cologne, joining another choir, and learning Dutch through German(!)

To update everyone, I’d like to briefly return to the topic in my blog post two weeks ago (loneliness, isolation, and unfamiliarity). Generally, I have been doing very well, as I have been trying really hard to fill up my time in the afternoons, evenings, and weekends.

I have enjoyed visiting a couple of friends, both of whom I met at my home University when they did Erasmus semesters there. I met one friend in Bochum/Essen, and had a lovely day exploring my friend’s University, local area, and went to a typical Kirmes church fair. Last weekend was a long weekend for me, so after going to a colleague’s birthday meal on Friday evening, on Saturday I went to see another friend in Cologne.

We went to Cologne’s Theaternacht (theatre night, click the link to see photos) together – fifty of the city’s theatres opened their stages to all manner of theatrical and musical performances. The plays we saw were Faust and Hansel & Gretel – even if I couldn’t understand everything, the acting and quality of direction were impressive. It was fun to travel about the city at night (in the safe company of my friend who knew the underground-lines off by heart). Thanks to both of the girls, if they happen to read this, because it was great spending time with both of them! I got home feeling exhausted from all the fast German thinking and new people, and needed a rest before my 8am Class Six on Tuesday.

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View from my apartment one evening

Maybe some of you will remember how much I enjoyed getting involved in the Lied und Gesang (singing) workshop at Heidelberg in August? Two weeks ago I joined a local choir, and the best thing is being part of a warm, friendly community. I’m still getting used to all the new songs (all 260 of them, in one heavy folder), and find it a challenge to keep up – it’s become an ‘in-joke’ that the choir leader inaudibly whispers the number/name of the next song, so nobody knows which song is up next, and is consequently rushing around to find the right sheets.

Another thing I’ve thought about doing for a long time is learning Dutch. Being so close to the Netherlands border, I thought now would be a good time to start the language, which has many similarities with German and English. I found out about a Dutch evening class at a local college, and ended up on the ‘beginners with limited knowledge‘ course because the ‘complete beginners‘ course was all booked up! It was an experience to be introducing myself in Dutch in the first session, using words I’d never spoken nor heard before – I was quite nervous, and it took time before I had the confidence to brave putting up my hand to answer a question.

Three weeks since the first class, I am managing to catch up with the others in my class, as I’ve been filling my spare time teaching myself the grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary… but it isn’t easy: my brain is still on overdrive as I follow explanations of how to form irregular Dutch past participles (“Werkwoord een voltooid” or “Partizip Perfekt“!) in German.

It’s now the Herbstferien (autumn holidays), so I will be going back home to England for a week and a half. I can’t wait to see my family again! Next week is also Dyspraxia Awareness Week, so I would like to post again then if I can.

I’d like to leave you with a final photo – a portrait of me, drawn by a creative pupil in Tuesday’s Class Six English lesson – which I think highlights the sweet side of being a Language Assistant!

 

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The artist’s identity remains secret.

Schöne Ferien und bis bald!

misspraxic

 

Cooking (burning) German-English breakfasts, “Have you met the Queen?” and other new experiences at a German comprehensive

As one of my wonderful friends told me not so long ago, before I’d embarked upon my year abroad: “an amazing experience doesn’t have to mean visiting a famous monument” – it can be seeing the people you teach smile, or overcoming a personal challenge. I hope she doesn’t mind me quoting her wise words, which seem appropriate to sum up some of my first experiences teaching English at the school.

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I’m not exaggerating when I say I overcome a small personal challenge most days, if not everyday. Whether it’s figuring out how something new works here (e.g. sorting out the Antwortbogen for an Uberweisung for my Rundfunkbeitrag, followed by an Anmeldung to process a Teilnahmegebühr by means of a Verwendungszweck(!!!)) or learning about a cultural difference in etiquette (e.g. how much Trinkgeld (tip) is appropriate to give in a bar, or how formal I should be among teachers at the school), my development isn’t limited to linguistic fluency or grammatical accuracy in German.

It’s also a wonderfully rewarding feeling to see the pupils you teach smile. I’d like to go back in time and say a bit more about the pupils at my Gesamtschule (comprehensive/inclusive school) in Nordrhein-Westfalen, and the classes I have been helping with.

playground

As I was waiting for the bus the other day, two of the pupils from Class 5 noticed me and started talking to me in English. They were using the basic, but useful, phrases they’d learned in English lessons, and I was impressed – “Do you have brothers and sisters?“, “Do you have pets?“, “Where do you come from?“, “Do you like art too?“, “Do you like dogs?” etc. It was a comfort to see ten year old Lukas’* face light up when I responded that I, too, love dogs, and to hear Anna* telling me about her own passion for painting. The warmth of the pupils who wave at the English Language Assistant around the school campus to say “Hello” with a beaming smile makes me feel more welcome.

I find it easier to relate to the younger children, and it makes me happy to feel like I could perhaps make a small difference in their lives – by talking about my life, where I live, what England is like, and sharing my experiences. I did a couple of “question rounds” in my first week, and it was fun to answer: “What’s your favourite city?”, “What do you think of Germany?”, “Have you been on the London Eye?”, “How many people live in your town?”, and my personal favourite: “Have you met the Queen?” (I had to disappoint them all I say no. Though perhaps I should have lied…)

I felt a similar sense of purpose and belonging when I was invited to help run an English breakfast session in my first week with Class 6! One girl came up to me and asked “do you like tea?“, and then “will you be cooking English breakfast with us?“. I didn’t need any more persuasion than that. When Frau Schmidt* said she just had to go out of the room to sort something out, however, I wasn’t expecting to be left in charge of thirty excitable eleven year olds attempting to cook an English breakfast. As you can imagine, it was complete chaos in the kitchen, and misspraxic didn’t help matters.

The pupils had been let loose into four small kitchen units, each group working on a different element of the breakfast… fried eggs were being burned (and consequently scrambled to smithereens), orange juice was being spilled, and an interesting variation on porridge was being prepared. At first it was daunting and a little stressful as I was constantly fearing an accident. It was hard to concentrate on everyone and everything all at once. I really did need eyes in the back of my head – but the children were so enthusiastic for me to try their breakfast.

I really enjoyed this class and hope I get the chance to help with another practical session.

Bis gleich,

misspraxic

 

 

*I changed all the names of pupils and teachers to maintain confidentiality.

 

 

 

Airport antics, flying trains, and (occasionally) smiley busdrivers

Getting used to the ticket validation and transport system in Nordrhein-Westfalen has been a slow process. According to my landlady, my German friends, and my own experiences, the bus-drivers here have a tendency to be a bit grumpy. I have been snapped at for not knowing the system – “Quatsch/rubbish! It’s an old system, not a new one“, they say. Fortunately, though, it isn’t always like that: it was reassuring that a bus driver actually smiled at me the other day, as I showed him my ticket (validating it correctly this time!)


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Last week I was invited to go on a Lehrerausflüg to Münster. What’s that, you ask?  A school trip but for teachers only! They told me that it’s passed off as a “professional training day”, though really it’s an opportunity once a year in September for teaching staff to bond, particularly for the new teachers (like me) who don’t know anyone. It meant a lot to be invited and included.

About eighty teachers met at the school in the morning, and we set off for Münster in coaches (these bus drivers were friendly!), where I got talking to some new teachers. Most of the day’s conversation lent itself to “difficult” pupils and the many challenges of being a teacher in a comprehensive school. It was an eye-opener for me as an outsider.

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In Münster we split into two groups. One group did a Krimi-Trail (a tour with the theme of Tatort, a popular crime series). My group took a tour of the Altstadt (old city). Our tourguide was interrupted by noisy roadworks, so it was hard for me to follow everything. But I understood the gist of her explanations: the city had been bombed during the war, so many buildings have been restored since. The mix of traditional and modern architecture makes Münster unique and definitely worth a visit. At the end of the tour, our guide offered us all Pumpernickel (rye bread) and a strong glass of Schnäpse!

I then travelled straight from Münster to Düsseldorf by train in order to meet a special visitor at the airport, also known as my boyfriend, who was visiting me for the weekend. I was impressed to have made it onto the right train with one minute to spare. The stress of getting on the train, however, was of course not the end of it. I had the new and frightening experience of taking a flying train (called a SkyTrain) from the Airport station to the Airport terminal station (and a lot of platform-changing in between, with not much time to spare). I didn’t have a clue which terminal I was looking for (A, B, or C? It definitely wasn’t the car park stop… Or was it!?)

I took a deep breath and hopped onto the flying train. It was zooming accross the aiport, completely suspended in mid-air, and full of people. Anyone who knows me well will know my fear of lifts – and this was comparable to that. I made it to Arrivals eventually, and even found the exact gate. Though, surprise surprise, it still took an exasperating half an hour before we found eachother. My boyfriend had taken a different exit and was at another gate. For two dyspraxics I guess it wasn’t surprising! On the way out of the airport, the flying train had broken down. (I couldn’t help but imagine what would have happened if the flying train broke down mid-air, with me in it). Because of this we had to follow more signs, and change onto a bus, which (finally) took us out of the airport. We made it in the end!

We spent a day in Köln/Cologne – going to museums, art galleries, and the chocolate museum, which was all great fun. We also went to Aachen, where we found ourselves in yet more art galleries. Aachen Cathedral was unlike any cathedral I have ever visited, and the mosaics were stunning (see below). To end on a stress-free note, here are a few of my favourite photos from a wonderful weekend:

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I’m not put off public transport yet, though: often, you have the best conversations and meet the most interesting people on buses, trains, and planes. More to share soon!

Bis bald,

-misspraxic

 

“Do you miss your parents and friends?” Year abroad taboos: coping with loneliness, distance, and unfamiliarity

Last week Mia* in my Class 7 asked me if I’m living in Germany. For how long? Where? Why? She then asked if I’m living in Germany “all alone“. Her friend then chipped in, asking if I miss my friends and family. “When will you next see them?” They were really putting themselves in my position – their intent to understand me meant a lot.

Long distance friendships, relationships, and the often crippling feeling of being alone are huge challenges that everyone faces when on a year abroad. Leaving your family, friends and boyfriend or girlfriend behind intensifies the overwhelm you feel as you attempt to settle into a new place. In my experience hidden conditions like dyspraxia can exasperate emotions even more, causing some pretty erratic mood-swings. Loneliness is something I know a lot of people are going through, so why shouldn’t we talk about it, I thought.

I’m working in a school located in a town, near a city, but I’m living in a rural area (really a village). I only work in the mornings and in the afternoons it is easy to let myself feel a bit lost. I have to put more effort into going places and finding things to do that appeal to me.

Whilst it’s important to get involved in the workplace, it takes time to gain this sort of confidence. It’s equally important in the meantime to check-in with people from home – I always feel better after having talked with family and friends. It’s a sensible suggestion to try to join clubs and get involved in the local area, but this isn’t always practical if there isn’t a support network established where you are working. On the Erasmus scheme – and on summer courses like at Heidelberg – things are usually well organised, including the social aspect.

As an alternative to having friends my age, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my lovely landlady. She appreciates the company too. She often bakes delicious cakes, and is happy to talk to me about the history of the region, and tell me what’s going on in the community. She’s also helped me find out about a local choir – I’m looking forward to going along this week and singing again.

In the staffroom at school it can be difficult to know how to start a conversation or involve myself in one, as everyone talks too fast for me to process. Last week, however, I was invited on a teachers’ trip to Munster (will tell you more about the trip in my next post) and found that really helped me mix with more teachers. A teacher also invited me to go out for lunch with her, which I enjoyed – just knowing a few people makes a difference.

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Dusseldorf University Botanic Gardens

In October I will also be starting a part-time course in Germanistik (German Studies) at Düsseldorf University. I enrolled a couple of weeks ago (was rather impressed at how quickly I managed to find the Uni campus! It’s really nice – very modern and green)  After a language test at the end of the month, I should be able to attend seminars, and that will be another good way to fill up my afternoons.

 

It isn’t shameful to feel lonely sometimes


The important message I want to convey in another rambling blog post (sorry) is that it shouldn’t be considered shameful to feel lonely. It isn’t a personal failing to have experienced any of the above, because it’s very common, and a sign of strength to be trying your best to fit into a new place.

Don’t give up! I haven’t.

If anyone has a similar experience to share or has any more ideas for filling time, then please comment on this post – I always like hearing from people.

misspraxic

*I changed the names of all pupils to maintain confidentiality.

From Baden Württemberg to Nordrhein Westfalen: reflecting upon Heidelberg

I’m not sure if anyone actually regularly checks/reads/follows my blog other than my grandparents, but if you have been, you might be wondering:What happened to misspraxic? Where did she go!? We haven’t heard anything from her for nearly three weeks! Did she get lost wandering around in another German forest?

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The answer is not quite! Though just about everything else has happened.

My last day at Heidelberg was a special one. We all met (my classmates and teachers) in the morning for breakfast at a café together. The breakfast buffet was delicious and lasted two hours – I don’t think anyone really wanted to leave the experience behind! Certificates were handed out. I passed my course test with a good mark, too, which raised my spirits further.

Afterwards, to mark the end of four valuable weeks spent at Heidelberg University Summer School, I met my parents in the middle of the Old Bridge. As in a film it was a dramatic meeting – I longed for some familiarity, so it was wonderful to be able to catch up with them again. P7310084.JPG

We spent two more nights in Heidelberg which helped me to relax and enjoy time with my parents before setting off again in the direction of the Bundesland (federal state) Nordrhein-Westfalen. We drove through Rheinland-Pfalz and stopped just outside of Koblenz – an ancient city where the rivers Rhine and Moselle come together. Impressive vineyards stretched for miles, and though we didn’t break the journey for long, we were lucky for the weather!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The following day we arrived in the middle of nowhere, at a conference hotel east of Cologne. I would spend the three/four days before the start of my placement here, in order to take part in a compulsory training course on how to teach English in Germany. I felt a mix of melancholy and nostalgia: No two experiences are ever going to be the same. That’s hard to accept after an amazing experience in one place: you inevitably set expectations and hopes for the next adventure.

The training days were sadly entirely directed in English. It might sound odd, but I honestly longed to hear some German after speaking little but German on my summer course. The conference was set in a rural location, which really appealed to me – tall trees, fields, streams and ponies surrounding us. It could have been my English home. I appreciated the change in the countryside from south to north – like in England, this is significantly different in each region.tagungsstatte

Following this training course, I travelled directly to my town west of Düsseldorf, where I am starting work as a Language Assistant. That means teaching English to children/young people aged 9-19 at an inclusive comprehensive school (a Gesamtschule). I want to talk more about this specific kind of German school in a future post.

I now feel settled into the school thanks to my mentor, teaching staff, and chatty landlady who have all made me feel so welcome, though it hasn’t been easy… I’m aware I keep my blog posts largely very positive, but here are some of the very realistic challenges from the last two weeks: Having to sign and scan hundreds of superfluous forms that really state the same things, setting up a bank account, registering as a citizen British expat and getting grilled by the Passport Office manager on the consequences of Brexit, not having WiFI in my accommodation, having to set up my own mobile data, registering a German SIM card for a phone without WiFi (Teufelskreis=vicious circle), being shouted at by impatient bus drivers for not validating travel tickets properly, travelling in the wrong direction on buses, getting lost in a small school building, panicking in supermarkets because the cashier moves to fast to keep up with… 

As always, I can’t help rambling! But I’ll write more soon. The good news is that all of the above has been fixed… let the next challenges hit me.

Bis bald,

misspraxic

Trip to Schwarzwald and Freiburg: Cuckoo clocks but no Black Forest gateau

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A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to go on a trip to Schwarzwald (the Black Forest) organised by the Summer School. I wanted to write about the experience separately in a short post, but it’s taken me until now to finish the post! It’s still very clear in my memory.

I had to wake up bright and early for the trip (6am!) It took us a few hours on the bus to reach our destinations: firstly Schwarzwald, followed by a visit to its unofficial capital city, Freiburg.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But the coach journey was far from boring, however. It was possibly one of my favourite bits of the day – sitting back and relaxing, taking in all the wonderful open space before my eyes.

Our first stop was Mummelsee in the Black Forest. We stopped there for just half an hour to break the journey, but there was time to take a stroll around the lake.

It was very picturesque, and is on my long list of places to return to with more time.

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Our next stop was the “Schwarzwälder Freilichtmuseum” (living museum of the Black Forest) at Vogtsbauernhof where we were able to walk inside preserved, old Black Forest houses and see objects from hundreds of years ago, including typical cuckoo clocks [pictured below]. If anyone’s been to the one of England’s Victorian living museums, it felt a bit like that!

After our trip to the museum, we had a couple of hours left to drive on to the University city of Freiburg – known for its modern, ecological transport system. Our course tutor was originally from Freiburg, and said he preferred the city to Heidelberg. I’m not sure I could make that decision – both were beautiful in their own way.

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Freiburg Minster/Freiburg Cathedral in the sun

Our tour guide took us into the cathedral – both a romanesque and gothic style. I was particularly impressed by the stained glass windows and the symbolic carvings of women on the ceiling of the cathedral’s entrance.

Despite bombings in wartime, the cathedral has survived and is the oldest of its kind in Germany – a Gothic cathedral built in the Middle Ages.

After the cathedral visit we went for a stroll through the Altstadt (old city), and also had a look at the modern University campus.

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The only downside of the trip was that there wasn’t much time to spend in Freiburg itself. I hope to go back some day so that I can look around properly by myself, as opposed to in a big group/tourguide situation.

More to follow soon!

Bis bald,

misspraxic