The blind leading the blind: my trip home

Hi everyone,

I have been back in the UK for about two weeks.

I flew from Dusseldorf into a provincial airport, and took a train back home from there. On the train, I happened to be sitting next to a delightfully warm elderly woman called Doris*, who was longing for some company – “nobody would talk to me on the way up”, she reflected glumly.

On this day, I felt very fortunate to have Doris’ company too, rather than being entirely left to my thoughts during the journey. Fellow dyspraxics might share my tendency to overthink. My mind was processing on overdrive: experiences from Germany still whirring around. I think it takes me longer than most people to process one experience before I can move onto another. Doris filled my mind with names, dates, and details, and oddly enough, that’s what I needed on that day.

My temporary neighbour was taking a cross-country expedition from her home in Leeds to Plymouth to visit family. Or was it Penzance? Or was it actually that she lived in Plymouth, and had just visited Leeds? She was losing memory and struggling with the fact. Dyspraxic waves often leave me feeling unsettled and ungrounded, so I could relate to this woman’s unease to a certain extent – she kept misplacing her phone, and later her train tickets, in a very large handbag, and this distressed her. “Oh come on, Doris!” she cursed herself. I tried to calm her, as I would myself. So in this sense, perhaps it was a “blind leading the blind” scenario. Doris kept generously offering me parts of her picnic – ‘spare’ Twix bars, fruit salads, bottled water… As our onlookers smirked, I was aware of the lack of connection between others in the coach. Although of course, back in Germany, there was 90% of the time an unspoken expectation of distance and silence on the trains. Might this be a cultural difference?

Dog on BeachBeing reunited with family and dogs was a relief and a comfort, as was the familiarity of my bedroom, after seven months in Germany.

In less than a week I will take the train to Paris to start my second placement – I will be an administrative assistant intern at a real estate company. This will definitely be a jump from my comfort zone, and to make the approaching experience even more of a challenge, I will be an aupair in my spare time, looking after four French children. Despite people reassuring me not to worry about it, I feel anxious about what is to come. It feels like an onerous responsibility to be looking after someone else’s children, so it is probably understandable to fear I will accidentally do something wrong.

Background noise and an already slower auditory processing speed than most can affect my concentration, so it will be interesting to see how I manage the pressures of a French-speaking office environment. On the upside, I know I can be very creative, and have an eye for detail, so I can only hope these qualities will be in my favour in the months to come.

I will update you all at some point after I have settled in.

cliffs
Getting some fresh sea air up on the cliffs

 

A bientôt mes lecteurs,

misspraxic

 

*I changed the name of my fellow passsenger to maintain confidentiality.

Karneval and final reflections on a German experience: Halt Pohl!

In the last few lessons with Class 5, Lena* has been asking me the same questions: “When do you leave?”, “Will you be here for my birthday?”, “Will you come to Karneval with us? Are you dressing up?” “Maybe…“, I reply. “But you’re a teacher!” they chant.

It was a coincidence that Hana* from Class 6 sat next to me on the bus home from school the other day. She was asking similar questions: “But why do you have to leave? Will you come back and see us? Do you have Whatsapp? Can I have your Whatsapp?”

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Karneval performance by years 5 and 6 on Altweiber-Donnerstag – “Old women’s day”

For those who are unfamiliar with the tradition, the carnival period started last Thursday (the week before Lent). The children had Thursday afternoon until the following Wednesday off school. Because the end of my placement coincided with carnival, my last day was on Thursday, known as Altweiber-Donnerstag, and it was full of mixed feelings. I prepared an Abschieds-Frühstuck (goodbye breakfast) – fresh bread rolls, Cheddar cheese (I’d managed to find some in Aldi the week before!) plus some Marmite – for the teachers of staffroom 5 to try. Although I wasn’t able to say goodbye to everyone due to the busy carnival season and others’ prior commitments, my last day was very happy. The children performed an impressive series of dances and songs in their many colourful carnival costumes, and the carnival party felt a party celebrating the end of my assistantship. It marked the fact I had seen the experience through to the end, despite the challenges and knocks along the way.

 

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“Jecke Friedach”: The Prinzenpaar / prince and princess on stage

Following this, on Friday evening my choir was singing at the local carnival night at a Gasthof (pub) in my village. After watching the dance troupes, brass bands, and stand-up comedian (whose jokes I am sure were brilliant if you were fluent in both dialect and humour) all take to the stage, it was soon our turn to perform. We sung my favourite song in the local dialect (Kölsch) – here’s an excerpt if you’re interested… can anyone understand it!? Luckily one of the choir members volunteered to be my Kölsch Translator!

Et jitt kei Wood

Bear in mind we swapped Köln (Cologne) with Gladbach (Mönchengladbach). I felt so happy to be muddling through the words together on the stage with my friends. I knew this would be my last time singing with the choir for a least a few years, so I enjoyed simply being with them in that moment. The evening ended up being the most fun I had had in a long time.

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Kölle Alaaf! (The “Schlachtruf” or call for Cologne.)

I was invited by my lovely teacher friend to spend Saturday evening in Cologne with her and some friends. I have to say I was not prepared for the throng of people flooding the streets: in every direction there were unicorns and pirates. Before I knew it, I found myself trapped in a tight crowd of people chanting carnival songs, many of them already inebriated. kolle-alaaf

Unfortunately, I challenged myself too much here – the situation set me into panic because the crowds and noise level were overwhelming. Finding my way back to the central station via side streets was not without its stress, so I would recommend staying in a group at all times, or choosing quieter times and locations to experience carnival if you know crowds are not your favourite thing. Following that experience, I decided to keep out of the way of the chaos in Cologne on Rosenmontag (traditionally the highlight of the carnival period).

 

 

karneval-prinzenpaar
The Prinzenpaar – the carnival prince and princess, which reminded me of my childhood experience of being a princess at carnival.

Veilchendienstag (Shrove Tuesday) was the last carnival day, and incidentally my final day in Germany too. Before meeting up with a few friends to say farewell, I took a walk through the city centre, where a carnival parade was starting at exactly 13.11. I waited in the old market square, wondering if I were in the right place. I got talking to a lady who was anticipating the procession too, and she insisted that I follow her to the best viewing spot. Here, we picked up sweets as each carnival float went by, chanting “Halt Pohl!” – interestingly the words used as a call vary in each town and even district, making this a regional and local tradition.

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Eulen – owls hitting the streets of Moenchengladbach

My unique German experience ended on a high with Karneval. In a nutshell, from my time in Germany I will certainly miss the children, the staff, the strangers, the friends, the neighbours, the volunteers, the choir… the conversations, the bridge between generations, and the intercultural connection. In short, the solidarity, despite political goings-on. It was a privilege to have been able to get to know the young people and their stories from war-torn countries, but the downside of this was having to absorb and process their trauma, which still haunts me. The smiles and warmth of their final embraces, however, will stay with me forever.

gladbach-umarmt-die-welt
“Gladbach umarmt die Welt” – Gladbach hugs the world. I was touched by the international gesture of a small community festival.

I will write again in the next few days to tell you about my journey back home, and my preparations for moving to Paris – it’s happening in just under two weeks!

As I have finished the first part of my year abroad (I still find that hard to believe as I write this), I want to say a big thank you to those who have been reading the blog and given their support.

Halt Pohl and love,

misspraxic

From one direction to another: falling at the last hurdle?

Hallo Leute,

monschau-2
Monschau / Montjoie – a charming town near the Belgian border

Last week was my penultimate week in Germany. It was full of reflection, and even a few wonderful new experiences. About a week ago I made a trip to the Roman town of Xanten, despite the cold weather I enjoyed exploring the archeological park’s ruins. I even found my way back to the Bahnhof (station) with five minutes to spare, and conveniently bought some Pommes (chips) just before the train pulled away. On Saturday, I visited the beautiful resort town of Monschau, somewhere I have been hoping to visit for months. To me, it felt like the town was stuck in time – it was incredibly peaceful, especially looking down at the medieval streets from the woods above. I took my sketchbook, and just appreciated having the time by myself. The only background noise to my thoughts was the rhythm of the streams, and the occasional bird tweeting sweetly.

I didn’t get seriously lost on either trip, despite having to change buses/trains multiple times. I can only hope I take this newly-developed confidence with public transport with me to France…

At school I had some good lessons, even if there was another oral exam thrown in. I also spent some time getting to know a few of my international friends even better. It did feel like I was more or less going in the right direction, gradually coming to a largely positive end.

But – and I suppose there is always a but just when I feel like I am improving, little things start to go wrong. I struggle to ignore them and what they might represent. After months of not relying on lists and not having to writing dates down in my diary, I completely mixed up times to see a friend, so that she ended up missing out on something we were going to do together.

In my apartment I had a problem with the sink being blocked (although the positive to this was learning the German word for “plunger”…) The next day, the spout of the taps decided to jump into my face, spurting out a flood of water onto the kitchen floor. On Sunday, during the tech set-up for the carnival concert, I got in a mess with all the microphone wires – there were too many people to maneuver around. I ended up in the front row of singers, not by choice. I kept stumbling on the song lyrics (most of which were in the Cologne dialect, Kölsch) and for this reason felt even more conscious of the camera focusing on me. I then left my water bottle in the church despite someone reminding me to take it.

At this point things started to feel like dominoes, culminating in the next thing to go wrong: I managed to lose my phone whilst on a hill. The phone screen was already cracked after I walked into a lampost earlier on, and considering I had dropped the phone in a toilet two weeks prior to this (!), I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised for my luck to have run out this time.

We searched the area again (my friend kindly helped and has better eyes than I do), but didn’t have any luck. What followed the realisation that I had definitely lost my phone was a launch into panic. The reception staff were very helpful, especially when I phoned them the following day. At first they were quick to want to finish the call, telling me there was nothing more they could do to help in the search. I got in a muddle with my German numbers, was put on hold several times, and could sense the language barrier was frustrating the assistant – this was all increasing my anxiety. I was about to give up, but with some final perseverance, I eventually persuaded one woman to walk out into the place in which I had lost the phone, so that I could attempt to contact the phone via Google’s Manage Your Device function. The lady chuckled as I enquired in a British way, “I would be so grateful if that were possible, although I appreciate what I am asking.” and then thanked her excessively. After all that, the phone wasn’t found, and whilst I still feel guilty about the woman’s wasted lunch break, at least I tried. I would advise backing up all your photos and contacts to a computer or online drive, because I have now lost all of mine.

Sometimes it feels like I am taking many steps forwards, then a sudden jump backwards and a fall through a hole (like in Snakes & Ladders). And that always threatens to get the better of my mood. Since Sunday I have also managed to break yet another glass. That brings my total up to four broken glasses since September. It might seem like such a small thing to happen, that could really happen to everyone, but nevertheless it is a reminder of what I continue to struggle against, and that is very upsetting.

I am, however, looking forward to Karneval (carnival) this weekend, which happens just before I go home. My last day at the school coincides with the school’s own carnival celebrations – all the children and even teachers will dress up. I have never been very good at costumes, but I intend to make a small effort this time! I will write another post before I leave, and tell you about the carnival-themed choir concerts in which I am also involved.

I am equally looking forward to having a rest at home for two or so weeks, before I start the process all over again, and move to France. I will be doing an internship with a company in Paris, and I am already expecting great changes – in language, lifestyle, landscape, cultural subtleties, and new people.

Bis bald for one final Germany post,

misspraxic

Cross-cultural encounters

Hallo Leute,

It’s difficult to process that I only have two and a half weeks left in Germany. I don’t know how I feel about it. Mixed, I suppose. Six months ago, I felt lonely upon arrival, and the absence of both Tesco’s Mature Cheddar and smiley bus drivers honestly threw me. Whilst I do look forward to being reunited with friends and family, I have the feeling that I really will be leaving something behind here in the “Pott” – the connections I have made.

15268-amsterdam-locator-map
Nog een mal naar Nederland…

I recently enjoyed another trip to the Netherlands to visit a friend – the friend with whom I went to Maastricht and Roermond during my first visit to the country. This time, I enjoyed visiting Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum to see some of the Dutch Masters’ paintings (such as Rembrandt and Van Gogh), and had a nice surprise to be handed a free sketchbook to use to my heart’s content in the museum. We also visited Anne Frank’s house which was an emotional experience, but an important one I would recommend if you have the chance.

I did find the Amsterdam streets very chaotic, and the atmosphere overwhelming. Having to dodge all the bicycles like being in a fast-paced computer game was not my forté, needless to say. The following day we visited Nijmegen – what a contrast. The beautiful frozen ponds, banks covered in snow, and only swans and ducks in sight made it feel extremely tranquil.

Since starting as a Language Assistant at my German school in September, I have met a whole range of children – including those with learning difficulties and disabilities, and those from migration backgrounds – as well as teaching staff. I have talked with Referendaren (trainee teachers), Maths teachers(!), special needs support assistants, integration assistants, and observed Fachkonferenzen (department meetings), end of term class celebrations, and even got teachers into playing board games in the staffroom.

Outside of the school hours, I have been spending some of my free afternoons each week visiting one of the places where refugees are accommodated locally in MG. I am helping with a Homework/Language Support group, Games and Crafts workshop, and go to the Meet & Greet Integration café to get to know refugees and other volunteers. All this happens at the accommodation centre, and the experience has opened my eyes to many of the struggles faced by migrants: trauma and communication difficulties are among the most major. Many of the refugees I have met do not have a good level of German, but despite this they are very ready to learn. I have had to find new ways of communicating – like using signs and drawings – as I learn how crucial language can be in human interaction; in life. I taught one man the words for ‘family’ and ‘friends’, and he repeated the words. He tried to express that he had none in Germany. What I admired was how he kept smiling at me – he had hope for the future and a certain determination to keep learning the language. The progress made in the Language Support group is moving me, and it’s shown me what each of us could do on a local level to show compassion and solidarity in an uncertain world.

bonn-2
Haus der Geschichte – visit to the history museum in Bonn with my classmates. The last room was all about the present: posing questions about Europe’s future.

I have also got to know some very kind and like-minded international students through taking just a couple of seminars a week at Dusseldorf University. The ~30 hours of German grammar and ~60 hours of German language classes I have had is more than double the amount of input I would receive at my home university in one year! The courses have sadly now come to an end. In the past week I have taken two exams, and although they luckily don’t count at all for me (I just did them for fun 😉 ) the challenge was good for me on a personal level.

bonn-3
Beethoven: born in Bonn

Talking to fellow students on the life-drawing course before Christmas, learning about the lives of the choir members, and being invited to meals with friends from the Dutch language course has opened up a warmth I perhaps didn’t feel upon my arrival in September.

The most valuable part of my experience in Germany from July to February has been integrating myself into German life and language, whilst seeing the process work both ways – helping to integrate others too, and giving something back, even if it’s a small piece.

 

I want to leave you with some photos from Amsterdam and Nijmegen – I hope I can return to the Netherlands before I leave this part of the continent.

I will also eventually tell you what I am doing in France (in just over a month’s time)!

Schönes Wochenende,

misspraxic

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Das Neue Jahr 2017 – better late than never?

Hallo zusammen!

I think it’s a bit late for me to wish you all a “Frohes Neues Jahr” now, as I write this post four weeks into 2017. It’s nearly February! Nevertheless, I hope everyone enjoyed the festive period. I enjoyed going home a lot, as I was able to see my family as well as a few friends I hadn’t seen in months. Father Christmas gave me some wonderful new socks to replace all the “odd” pairs of socks I’ve acquired… My landlady in Germany also gave me a book all about the local area, in English as well as German, so I was able to tell my family all about Nordrhein-Westfalen and Moenchengladbach. My holiday was relatively calm, and luckily I can’t remember there being any Dyspraxic Disasters.

Ambiguity at the airport


map-of-dusseldorf
The journey back wasn’t entirely stresslos

Having said that, the night before my flight back to Germany, the WiFi typically decided to crash. I had forgotten to print out my boarding pass a few days in advance, and on the morning of my flight, we rushed to my grandparents’ house. At first my computer wouldn’t connect to the WiFi, but with perseverance we found a solution. I did panic, however – imagining the Worst Case Scenario as usual, that I would have to pay a fine for checking-in at the airport, or even worse, that they wouldn’t let me onto the plane.

At the airport, the Flight Departures screen had been fixed on “Please Wait – more information soon” for at least ten minutes, before the message “Flight to Duesseldorf – cancelled” flashed up on the screen. “What on earth am I going to go if I can’t get back in time for school tomorrow?“, I was thinking. But then, a minute later, the gate number appeared. “Boarding at Gate 33“. I was not the only one to be in a stressed state of confusion – was the plane running to time or not? I bumped into a woman whose destination was also Duesseldorf, and I asked her if she knew what was going on.

I asked in English; she replied to me in German. The woman’s tone of voice indicated that she was as uncertain as I was. [She later explained that she was originally from Poland, and worked in Duesseldorf as a nurse. She had just paid her annual visit to her daughter and family in England, and did not remember much at all from her schoolgirl days of English lessons.] The airport staff were milling around – one minute telling us the flight had been cancelled, and the next telling us it was delayed! I relayed all the English information back to my fellow passenger in German, and was happy to be able to put her at ease through my knowledge of both languages. So there was a positive to the saga! 🙂 You never know when you might be able to help someone in a small way.

Chaotic days in the life of an English oral examiner…


So, making it back in one piece (even up the five flights of stairs to my apartment with my 20K suitcase and laptop bags) was an achievement. Following that, my first week back at the school was full of more chaos, as my Year 10 classes were preparing for their approaching oral exams in English. I have been taking on a few extra hours each week to assist with oral simulations/mocks, to give the children (especially in the Grundkurs) the best chances of passing their Schulabschluss (school-leaving certificate).

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked if I would examine the oral exams, and mark the pupils by giving them grades. Me!? A proper examiner? I didn’t feel adequately trained or prepared to be in the position of labelling sixteen year olds with numbers that would undoubtedly affect their future. It was hard to say no to the request – I’m sure many of you can relate – but I am glad I stuck to my gut and made a compromise

Last Monday and Tuesday were the most chaotic days I have ever spent at school – more so than my first week. I was at school all day to sit in on the oral exams, with two examining teachers. My compromise was that I wouldn’t give grades, but would note down my opinion on the grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation of the candidates. Even so, it was a challenge for my mind to process everything quickly enough, and there wasn’t time for any proper break between each exam. I also had to go on many marathons to the photocopying machine (I must confess we aren’t best friends) as the examiners realised last-minute that we were lacking some important exam sheets. I simply couldn’t remember the four digit pin code for the photocopying machine, despite having been asked to copy documents fairly regularly. I’m heavy-handed especially under pressure, and managed to press a button I shouldn’t have pressed, resulting in the whole system crashing…

It wasn’t easy, but there were some positives too. Having taken several oral exams before (French and German GCSE, A-Level, then two years of University exams), I was able to relate to the pupils’ anxiety just before they had to enter the preparation room. I hope I was able to show some compassion and put them at ease slightly. It was also motivating to see certain pupils – who were perhaps more reserved in class, like myself at school – really put everything into the exam, and get the grades they deserved. I did, however, struggle at times when preparing my feedback for some of the less confident candidates. It comes naturally to me to want to be sensitive and understanding to their needs, which is a character trait I have learned is not present in everyone at all times. It also makes objective grading very difficult – whilst I recognise the importance of evaluation and monitoring progress, I am not exactly pro-grading.

At least we know what misspraxic certainly won’t be doing in the future…

I will follow this post with another one very soon, as I have more to say about the following things:

  • meeting up with my friend in the Netherlands for the second time
  • starting to volunteer in my last weeks in Germany
  • an update on my next year abroad placement in France, which I am in the process of organising

Watch this space! I promise to not leave it so long to write next time – as I’m sure you know by now, it’s dyspraxic trait…

misspraxic

 

 

 

Preparing for Christmas Pt 2: going home!

Hallo!

As promised, I wanted to tell you more about what I have been up to more recently. That includes a trip to München, now a couple of weekends ago, to visit a friend I met up with in Heidelberg, but had not seen since. An added bonus was being able to spend a couple of hours with my German housemate at university last year, who studies in the same city.

Visiting München in Bayern


Munich.jpgI took a direct express train from Düsseldorf to Munich, as although this was the more expensive option, it cut out some of the stress – the train was delayed by an hour, but it didn’t matter, as I had kept my meetings with my friends flexible. Delays aside, the train journey was enjoyable – after I had found a seat, at least! A good tip for the travelling dyspraxic, if not everyone, would be to always book a seat reservation for longer-distance trains… On the train, I was also able to take note of how dramatically the landscape changes from one Land to another – I enjoyed the change from densely-populated NRW into more rural Bayern.

It was so great to catch up with my friend, at the same time as seeing part of a new Bundesland (federal state), since I hadn’t been to Bayern (Bavaria) before. I was amused, though, upon arriving at the station – I couldn’t understand a word of the German I was hearing! I have grown very accustomed to the Niederrhein accent and dialect, which sounds a bit like Dutch. I even find myself sometimes accidentally slipping into dialect forms, like “wat” for what instead of “was” in Hochdeutsch (High German)!

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Time to reflect: making friends and fitting into the community with dyspraxia


Social situations can cause varying amounts of panic and stress for many people with dyspraxic traits, myself included.

I have always enjoyed meeting new and like-minded people, though I must admit I was nervous about making friends in NRW – in another language and culture. I can say that I did feel very lonely at times in September and October. I was far from the comfortable university setting in September, where it would have  been undoubtedly easier to make friends the same age.

Since I joined the Dutch class, and the German course at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, I met people of all ages who enjoy languages, like me. I got talking to a lovely lady at Dutch, and was invited to her home for dinner twice, and to a local museum with her and her husband too.

Finding the life-drawing class at the local Volkshochschule has also been very good for me. Drawing wasn’t the same by myself – I enjoyed getting to know the tutor and the others in our small group of six. Although the semester has come to an end, I will remember my seven weeks of life-drawing in Germany, and everything I learned from the experience (not least some technical art vocab in German).

Not least, joining the choir that my landlady had recommended was the best decision I made. It enabled me to feel the community spirit, and grasp how another part of society functions, as well as in a school. I especially enjoyed singing with the choir, fighting against my rough sore throat, determined to “mitmachen” at a Christmas event just down the road from where I am living. Even better was my boyfriend being there to watch. Here is the church, next to the outdoor stage where we were singing, all beautifully “beleuchtet” (lit up):

church.jpg
Not sure whose idea it was to put squish two Christmas trees onto the stage with all the singers, though… I kept knocking off the baubles as I was singing, and felt rather unstable, but luckily there were no disasters! Hopefully nobody noticed…

The school has made me feel very welcome too – a couple of teachers and pupils in particular. I was very touched to be there for Class Six’s Weihnachtsfeier (party) on Thursday, and to sing along to Christmas songs and enjoy cake with the pupils! They even gave me a gift – a sweet hanging decoration, which is now hanging on my tree.

To sum up, these are the memories that stick with me the most – the warmth I have experienced, and the friendships that have started to blossom during my time in Germany. It required some patience and searching to find groups like the above-mentioned, but I feel much happier for it. When I return in January, I want to try something new before I leave at the end of February.

Home, sweet home


I arrived safely home yesterday, and it is wonderful to be back with my family again, as well as all my favourite foods that the German supermarkets don’t stock…

I do still seem to be stuck in Deutschland Modus, though, as I accidentally took out euros to pay for my cider at the pub. “That in’t English?” said the understandably perplexed barmaid, and a man at the bar had to check, “She must a just come back from holiday”.

Ah, yes, that’s right. A holiday, I thought!

Thank you to anyone who has been following misspraxic‘s adventures abroad since July – your support means a lot. I wish you all a peaceful and relaxing Christmastime with your friends and families, and best wishes for 2017.

Love,

misspraxic

Preparing for Christmas Pt 1: Nicholaustag and the Weihnachtsmann

Hallo zusamen,

I’m still safe and well, but I’ve been slow updating my blog because of all the different things I have been doing, and like usual, I start writing but don’t get very far. I never forget, though, and I have a lot to tell you.

I know I am not alone in struggling to maintain motivation at times, with the heavy knowledge that the world is in chaos in most places you look. But, my small personal achievements this term are keeping me going to the Christmas holiday, which is now in sight.

 

Festive preparations at school


nicholaus

In the past two weeks, my school has been getting into the festive spirit. December 6th was Nicholaustag, and the Weihnachtsmann made an appearance. I felt priviledged to creep into one Year Five class (the youngest children) to watch him read out a special letter. Each teacher prepared a thoughtful letter evaluating how well the children had settled into school, and some goals to improve upon as a class for next term.

The Weihnachtsmann’s sack contained a chocolate Santa for each child – the excitable, surprised looks on the children’s faces took me back in time to the Christmas excitement I felt as a child.

It was also very kind of the Schuleitung to place a “Weckmann” (see above) on every Lehrerzimmer table, also to mark Nicholaustag.

 

Christmas party (Weihnachtsfeier) with the choir


In the advent period, and in the lead up to Christmas, I have enjoyed learning lots of German Christmas songs with the choir. I was even invited to their Christmas “Weichnachtsfeier” – surprise Christmas party! We were all given a vague address of the meeting-point for the evening, which was where two roads met. As always, I left more time than I needed to arrive at the mysterious festive gathering, and my friend Google Maps was there to help, but I couldn’t see anyone else I knew.

I waited and waited, feeling anxious by this point, thinking I’d made a Dyspraxic Mistake and misunderstood something. But before long familiar faces appeared. A table was brought out onto the pavement, and a dancing, singing Father Christmas placed there too. Someone poured out the Glühwein, and we began to sing Christmas songs together as we were waiting for everyone else to arrive.

They led us into a mysterious place… through a garage (lots of beautiful old cars, mind), converted into a vintage, American-themed diner. I was mesmerised by where they had brought us. Look:

 

I think everyone enjoyed the evening – great music and company. Towards the end of the night, the Weihnachtsmann said a few closing words. What I was least expecting, though, was that he would ask “and who is new in the choir this year…?” and for everyone to point at me! I had to go up to the front, and was hugged by Father Christmas. I was both touched and in shock, to the extent that I couldn’t find the words to answer his so-called easy question “tell us a random fact about you?”

Taking a trip over the border, en nederlands spreken!


maastricht-map

The day after the choir party was yet more eventful. I had spontaneously arranged to meet an old friend in Venlo, the city just over the German-Netherlands border, but was not expecting to be travelling much further. I was wrong! My friend was much more familiar with the perplexing train and ticketing system (thank goodness – the “Inchecken” and “Uitchecken” rules were complicated). My heart was racing when my friend suggested we catch a train to Roermond, and then on to Maastricht. I was amazed by how much we managed to fit into just a few hours – I usually give myself the whole day to explore one town or city. I also only resorted to English when we got to the art museum. My two months of learning Dutch was enough to make my understood in shops, cafés, and asking directions in the street. So that’s proof it is possible to learn a foreign language in a foreign language! That said, now that the Dutch semester has come to an end at the Volkshochschule, I have decided not to re-register, as I would rather learn Dutch in English, and start a course in England.

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Time to reflect: progress getting from A to B with dyspraxia


My confidence navigating and using public transport has improved since August (albeit with an arguably unhealthy reliance on my friend Google). You can probably tell that from just reading my first blog post in Heidelberg. I also managed to get to Munich and back just over a week ago without a problem – I want to say more about that in my next post.

When I remember that I struggled to cross roads just a few years ago, I feel like I have made progress in this area, and want to share it with you. I don’t want to speak too soon, as I know travelling will never be completely stress-free for me, but this term particularly I have successfully planned trips to visit friends in different cities. That’s involved processing often confusing bus/train timetables in German, getting used to new U/S-Bahn and ticketing systems, often changing between platforms rather than direct journeys, and most importantly keeping calm when things don’t go completely as I plan.

I have tried to make an extra big effort with my time-organisation to keep in with the important Punktlichkeit culture (though not always taken so seriously at my school, so maybe I can relax a little!) As someone who was constantly rushing around like a headless chicken to get onto the school bus in the mornings, it baffles me that I have rarely been late (for anything important at least!) in Germany. My coping strategy is setting multiple alarms, and I have also got used to planning in “late time” of about half an hour, so I always arrive early in the event of a train delay or something.

The next part of this blog (detailing what I got up to in Munich, as well as the last days of school before Christmas) will be coming up really soon, so keep following.

Bis gleich,

misspraxic

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.

horse-st-martins-day
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