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…
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!
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).
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. 😉