Sunday, 29 September 2013


So (see what I did there?), week 3 of my year abroad is coming to an end, and it's certainly been a fun one (despite the cold)!

On Wednesday, I was invited to lunch with one of the English teachers, where I was treated to a classic student-esque lunch of pasta with ketchup (yum!). Meanwhile, I listened to stories of his time in London, where he apparently lived on Hampstead Heath with Sting and Duran Duran as neighbours. Impressive! Thursday's highlight was undoubtedly a fun-filled evening of Harry Potter and random-youtube-video watching with Carly, the American girl who lives in Lemgo too. So nice to just relax and not speak German! (Yes, I know that's the whole point, but it can get seriously exhausting!)

Friday, after a brief escapade setting up the Schulfest at the school (a sort of festival, complete with beer truck), I headed off to Bielefeld to get my first taste of German nightlife. After an evening of cocktails and chat, which included explaining the concept of sherbert and flying saucers, as well as discovering what seems to be the catchphrase of German yoof, 'Alter' (or, as they kept saying, 'alllllter', which translates, bizarrely, as 'age' but is just a general expression of appreciation), we headed out to a club at 2am. Now, call me an old fogey, but that's way too late in my opinion! The Germans must just be extra hardcore... The club itself was actually quite nice, and a lot cleaner than some I've experienced (*cough* bunker *cough*), but was strangely half-empty, and everyone seemed to be taking themselves very seriously as they busted their best street-moves to the latest europop. So all-in-all a fun night, even if it was a lot later than my tired-out, doped-up-on-cold-meds self could really handle.

Luckily, the rest of the weekend was a lot more chilled, and involved watching a film and picking fruit with the Reichelts (I now have a giant saucepan full of plums that I'm not convinced I will be able to eat before they go bad!).

One thing this week has certainly been characterised by is the abundance of new words I have learnt. I had a couple of serious lightbulb moments, in which I've found out the meaning of a word and have suddenly realised what everyone's been trying to say to me all this time! This is when a smartphone would definitely come in handy (I'm still in the dark ages with my trusty Nokia C2), so I could subtly look up words online or using an app, rather than having to keep a mental list and waiting to look them up at home. A very significant lightbulb moment was when I was told that 'sag mir Bescheid' actually means 'let me know'. I can't even count how many times I've heard this and just nodded and 'oh ja, ok'-ed along without having the faintest idea what it meant! At least now I know!

Oh well... Here's to another week of new experiences, hopefully none of them embarrassing vocab mishaps.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

One Week in Lemgo

So, we've reached Mittwoch, which marks day 7 in beautiful Lemgo.

This week I have been sitting in classes at the school, in an attempt to learn how to actually teach classes (or at least parts of classes) myself. I'd fully expected to prefer working with the older ones with a better level of language, but surprised myself by loving the two classes of 10-11 year-olds I sat in with on Monday. They aren't yet at the age where being enthusiastic is uncool, and they kept on coming up to me in the break and asking me questions, all in adorable German accents. Bless.

One thing I have to work on is forcing myself out there and making my own entertainment. School on Monday finished at 1 (for me at least), which left the rest of the day free for boredom and loneliness. I've heard this is quite a common problem for language assistants, since we have so few contact hours with the school. Monday afternoon was the kind where even that weird corner of youtube where everything is cat remixes (admit it, you've been there!) has been exhausted of all entertainment value, and multiple trips to Aldi suddenly seem like a fun idea. Down-time is sometimes necessary, but if I'm to make the most of this year I definitely need to find a productive way of occupying my soon-to-be-even-more-extensive free time.

That said, yesterday could not have been more different! It was enrolment day for us language assistants at Bielefeld uni, and I spent an eventful day revelling (slightly ashamedly) in the company of other English speakers. Seriously, the ability to express any idea you want without much effort is ridiculously easy to take for granted. I've only been deprived of consistent contact with fellow English speakers for a week, yet I was a little shocked by the relief I felt to be back with people who I could talk freely to without having to think hard before every sentence.. I'm sure this will change as my German improves, but right now I am fully sympathising with all those erasmus students back home who just stick with their own erasmus clan.

That slightly negative (is it? I can't tell...) thought aside, today was great! Highlights included being invited to a weekend of fun with actual Germans (a chance to work on my English-speaking-dependency perhaps?), going to the school's orchestra rehearsal and hilariously mishearing 'festival of carols' (yes, we're doing Christmas music already!) as 'festival of carrots', and finally MY SUITCASE ARRIVING! Huzzah! Now I can stop re-wearing socks (don't judge me).

Anyway, as you can probably tell, things are still very up-and-down around here, and I expect that is likely to continue for most of this year. I suppose that's new experiences for ya! I hope I have lots more positive things to report next time. Sorry for the over-enthusiastic use of brackets.

Liebe Grüße.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Blog Post Numero Uno (or should that be Nummer Eins?)

Here, by popular demand (well, one person's demand!), is a blog to document my Third Year Abroad - exciting times! Hopefully I will have lots of thrilling adventures to make this a worthwhile read.

My farewell cake! 

So, this time last week I had just waved a teary goodbye to sunny (ahem) Britain, and embarked on the first leg of my journey abroad. If I had to sum up the week in one word, it would be this: surreal!

So many things have happened this week that have been way out of my comfort zone that it's hard to know which way is up sometimes! I think I've been incredibly lucky, though, to have encountered so many people who seem to understand my situation and who are doing everything they can to make me feel welcome. I know not everyone gets this, so I'm definitely counting my blessings right now.

A lot has happened this week, so I won't write about everything, but I'll just give a summary of the main events which will hopefully be interesting. Here goes:

I arrived in Brussels and immediately failed at using the metro (I had to awkwardly ask a stranger to pass my ticket through the barrier, as I'd left it behind). Not a great start! But I managed to find my hostel and met two lovely girls in the shared room, one of whom actually went to the same school and college as me. What a small world!

On Monday I arrived in Cologne for the induction course, which was extremely surreal, as everyone was an English native-speaker, and a couple of others from Bristol were there, so it didn't really feel like we were in Germany - it sort of just felt like a holiday! I didn't really know what to expect, but actually really enjoyed myself, and met lots of other people in the same boat as me, which was definitely reassuring.

My year abroad sort-of-officially began on Thursday, when I arrived in Lemgo and was greeted by the amazing Herr Knepper from the school, who sat me down in front of some food and then frog-marched me to the bank and argued in German with the person setting up my account over my student status (if you're a student, you don't have to pay a sign-up fee, and apparently I count as a student, even though I'm not studying in Germany...), for which I was incredibly grateful. I probably could have worked it out myself if I'd been concentrating, but I was so exhausted from the long journey and early start that I just let everything wash over my head. Afterwards, I was given a brief tour of Lemgo by Herr Knepper's son. It's such a pretty town! I doubt I really took in that much of it at the time, but I'm definitely looking forward to getting to know it better. And I did manage to take a couple of pictures of this really cool mini library that I found! How awesome is this???

It's a tiny library in a phone box! So adorable. I will definitely have to make use of it while I'm here.

Anyway, that evening I moved into the Wohnung that I'm renting (thankfully organised by the school - so so grateful!). It's a little granny flat downstairs from a family, who are incredibly nice! They even offered me tea when I first got there. Amazing! I do have trouble understanding them though. Obviously, they all know each other really well, and the two daughters are teenagers, so they speak very quickly with lots of slang that I don't understand. Bit embarrassing that I have to ask them to repeat everything they say. But I'm sure that will get better with time (I hope so, anyway!).

Now, onto the scary bit - the actual teaching. On Friday I went into the school - I'm spending six months as an English language teaching assistant in a secondary school, in case I didn't make that clear before - and was given a tour and met a few of the teachers. Needless to say, I instantly forgot every single name and how to get around the school, but I'm sure I'll work that out as I go along. I also had to stand up in front of a class of 17-year-olds and talk about myself, then answer their questions. I don't think I'll ever get used to standing up in front of a class - it's terrifying! But the actual talking part wasn't too bad, since I just have to speak English, which is something I can actually do. Every cloud...

Yesterday (Saturday) was full of new experiences, but not the ones I'd expected! In the morning I made honey. I kid you not. The family who live upstairs keep bees, and have an adorable Lädchen (little shop) behind the garage for people to buy honey from. So cute! I had to wear one of those bee-keeping suits complete with hat, and once we'd got the honey things (technical term, anyone?) out of the bee boxes (you can tell I know what I'm talking about), we had to melt the slabs of wax with a sort of industrial hair dryer, before putting them into a sort of sideways washing-machine-esque contraption, and spin it to extract the honey. It was a lot of fun, but extremely sticky! (I learnt a new word - "Es klebt!") In the evening, I was invited to Herr Knepper's 60th birthday party. I was actually quite apprehensive beforehand at the thought of meeting dozens of middle-aged Germans who all knew each other, but it was actually a lot of fun. I discovered that it is definitely a lot easier to speak German in a party situation, with dim lights, background noise and a glass of wine in your hand! I spoke to quite a few people who told me I had no accent when speaking German, which was clearly shameless flattery, but quite nice to hear nonetheless.

This morning, I went to Gemeinde am Grasweg, which is a church on the other side of the city. I understood almost nothing that was said (embarrassing!), but afterwards, I was greeted by a lovely elderly lady, who, on hearing that it was my first time there, and that I'd only been in Lemgo 3 days, insisted on inviting me out to lunch with her and her husband. She was so so friendly and so nice that it made me feel quite emotional!

All in all, I think this week has gone a lot better than expected. I didn't burst into tears in public once (despite being very close on more than one occasion), which I count as quite an achievement!

So far, I have found a lot of things to be quite similar. However, there are a few things that are subtly different. I will definitely have to get used to:

  • Sparkling water (It's everywhere.....)
  • Early mornings (School starts at 7:40... WHY???)
  • Mayonnaise on everything!
  • Sundays (Everything is shut. I'm sure that'll take some getting used to!)
  • Coffee cream
  • Handshaking (So much handshaking...)
  • Bottle clinking (I'm told they clink the bottom of the bottle instead of the top! Potential-for-minorly-awkward-situation-alert.)
And finally, my paralysing inability to make any kind of small talk! Seriously, when I was being introduced to teachers at the school, it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea what to say, and just shook everyone's hand and grinned like a crazed cheshire cat, hoping that would count as being polite. Why don't they teach us that in school? I know how to debate about Arbeitslosigkeit and Atomkraft, but don't even know how to say 'nice to meet you', so in social situations (at least at first, before I know people well enough to start a debate on Abtreibung) I'm completely useless! Oh well. I suppose that will improve with time.

Anyway, thus concludeth the first week of my year abroad, and with it my first blog post.

Bring on the rest of the year!
Bis Bald.

Edit: I would also like to add the MASSIVE SQUARE PILLOWS to the list of strange things about Germany. Seriously, what's the deal with those???