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Link from this blog to another

Hello all!

I don’t tend to use this blog very much anymore (just about out of my allotted space in terms of content!) but I wanted to share a link to a blog I posted for the University of Victoria’s German Department: https://onlineacademiccommunity.uvic.ca/germanicslavic/2015/08/19/robyn-gray-my-work-as-a-fremdsprachassistentin-in-berlin-as-part-of-the-p-a-d-program/

This link leads to a blog I wrote about my year-long experience in Germany, as a way to offer context for students that would potentially like to spend a year there in the way I did. I absolutely recommend a year away like this for anyone – it was a life-changing experience!

Thank you so much for checking out this blog! If you would like to hear more from me, I occasionally post to the following blog: https://thebagpippinlibrarian.wordpress.com/ – it’s basically the same content, but more based on my love of libraries and my journey through the Master of Library and Information Studies program at Dalhousie University.

Aufwiedersehen!

-Robyn

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2015 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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German Farewells: The toughest part of travelling

Hi Everybody!
I am currently writing this post on the plane from Frankfurt to Calgary. Naturally, I don’t have internet access, so by the time you read this it will have been transferred from a word document to my usual blog.
I would like to use this entry as a chance to describe how my last few weeks in Berlin went. To be honest, it’s a bit of a selfish and boring blog, and more for my own memory than for entertainment purposes.
While the goodbyes were sad, I got to create a lot of great memories with the people I have befriended this year. While it is an unfortunate fact that travelling means having to say goodbye often, partings are sometimes a great way to let someone know that they have played an important role in your life. One of the inconveniences of not knowing a lot of German is that sometimes I couldn’t find the right words to tell someone they meant a lot to me; but I like to think that usually I got the message across.
The first goodbye gathering took place during my second-last week of work. A few of the students in my Conversation Course could only make it every second week, so we decided to have a bit of a party that week instead of waiting for my very last class. I brought in cookies that I had baked at home, and the lack of leftovers showed me that they were pretty well received! One of the grade six students was sweet enough to bring me a coffee mug, and two of the grade ten students gathered their funds to buy me more chocolate than I will ever need. A grade seven student brought me a bottle of champagne, which I’m assuming his dad bought. So much of my work this year was as an “assistant” and I spent a lot of time hovering in the background, and yet these students stated that their English was better thanks to the work I had done with them over the course of the year. It was a very memorable class!

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The next day was my last day with my favourite grade six class. When I first started working at this school, I never would have expected that I would enjoy working with younger classes; the idea of trying to keep a group of young kids under control seemed extremely daunting. However, while older students were constantly worrying about the impression they made on their friends, young students were eager to learn and would constantly put effort into their work – no matter how many mistakes they made. There were three or four classes that I worked with a lot over the year (whereas there were other classes which I only sporadically worked with), and I feel like I made a connection with a lot of the students in these classes.
Grade sixes are unfortunately not the best of secret keepers: the teacher I work with had told me there would be a surprise for the last half of the class, and as the students walked in, at least three asked her loudly about when we would get to eat. However, we spent the first half of the class being productive, and then the teacher announced we would be walking to an ice cream parlour nearby. It was a gorgeous and sunny day, and the parlour turned out to be on a pretty street I hadn’t really noticed before.

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The class also presented me with a group photo they had taken the week previously while they were on a field trip – and they had all signed the back. It is such a nice memento, and I think it’ll be great to be able to remember what each student looked like when they were so young.

There was one grade seven class that I consistently worked with throughout the year, regardless of other schedule changes. It was actually the first class I ever taught – it’s quite strange to think back now to how nervous I had been back in September. The teacher of this class was one I really enjoyed working with, and on my last day at work she presented me with a card that the grade sevens had all signed. On my last day (which was Wednesday May 28th, thanks to the holiday that was that Thursday) the English teachers all presented me with a few gifts as well: a coffee mug and notebook for when I go back to university, and a novel and card. I was so happy that they showed this recognition for my work over the year!

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I had two classes on that last day: one with a grade ten class, and my very last Conversation Class. The grade tens also presented with me a card – I really enjoyed preparing material for this class in particular, and I feel like they found me quite relatable as I worked with them this year. Conversation Class was pretty small, but there was one student who had gone home thanks to sickness earlier in the day, but made it to class since it was my last one. I was a bit emotional as I walked away from school that day; it was such an amazing opportunity to get to work there, and I can hardly believe it’s over.

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Besides school, there were other groups of people that I had to say goodbye to. While most months I tried to avoid doing too many costly activities, I didn’t want to miss out on anything in my last month in Berlin. I have a group of friends doing the same work as me, whom I met at the orientation in September. Right before my last week of work, about six of us got together for a night of Indian food and karaoke. There were plenty of cocktails involved, and a lot of laughs. Sebastien and I got home at about 7 in the morning from a night club, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how great a time it had all been.

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After that, we made sure to get together for one last “Sneak Peek” movie night. We actually read online that no sneak peek would be taking place that week, so we decided to go see the newly-released “Maleficent” instead. One of my lovely British friends, Sarah, came over before the movie, and we cooked a tasty vegan meal and watched “Sleeping Beauty” so that we would be all caught up on our Disney references before seeing “Maleficent.” We then met up with the others for dinner, and had a great time at the movie. That evening was my last time getting to see Sarah, as well as my Australian friend Simone. The goodbyes were unpleasant, but I have high hopes that I’ll get to see both of them again soon.

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The more I write, the more I realize that we had a lot of “goodbye” visits…one of my friends left on the same day as my last day of school, and we went out the night before that. Sebastien and I went out for one last “Sneak Peek” (I know I said “Maleficent” was the last one, but by this time there were only two from our original group left) and on that evening I was able to see two more of my friends for the last time. For the record, the movie was “Walk of Shame” and it was a pleasant change from a lot of the intense dramatic movies we had seen lately!
I had one week without work before leaving for Canada, and on June 2nd I had my last band practice with the orchestra I had joined in Berlin. The fact that I was leaving was announced, and we managed to take a lot of great group photos. We wanted to take one of us all posing with our instruments, and someone said that I should stand in the middle since I’m the one leaving – it’s a good thing I thought to lie my string-bass down on the ground and sit beside it, because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to see most of the band! While a few people always agree to come out for dinner after practice, that week a sizable group all came along. We ate at my favourite Italian restaurant, and it was a lovely evening. A lot of people took the time to come up and say goodbye to me individually, which I found touching. I must have heard the joke “well, you’ll have to come back for our concert in November!” about thirty times, but I thought it’s very sweet that they want me to come back!

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During the week I had off of school, I also took the time to do a few “last” events for myself. I went to my favourite Irish pub for lunch, and sat there for about two hours reading my new book. I hear that that pub is insanely busy during the evening, but in the afternoons it’s quiet and relaxing. I also went back to my favourite bookstore one last time. I managed to resist buying any books, but enjoyed perusing the two-floor English selection for quite a while.
This past weekend, there was a Cultural Festival going on in Berlin. Sebastien and I, along with a group of his friends, decided to check it out. It was about 30 degrees outside, and there were about ten of us walking around enjoying the sunshine and the sights. The festival consisted of lots of food and drink booths from all sorts of countries, and at least four different musical stages with live music. My favourite was the salsa/Spanish stage, where performers effortlessly played types of music I’ve only heard in restaurants or night clubs. Some booths were serving coconut drinks straight from a coconut, and by about 4 in the afternoon there were coconuts littering the ground everywhere. The American contribution was mini-donuts and churros, which made me chuckle a bit. There were a lot of vegan options at the festival, since a lot of cultures thrive on this cuisine. I decided to stick with my langos, mainly because once I was hungry it was the first delicious thing I spotted.

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We spent a long time at this festival, but once we left, we headed to a bar with three of Sebastien’s closest friends. We didn’t stay long since we were all exhausted, but we shared a heartfelt goodbye. It makes me so happy to know that these people are my friends too, as well as Sebastien’s – I’ve known some of them for three years by now. I really hope that I will be able to visit again soon!
On Sunday, we had one last dinner at Sebastien’s parents’ house – and we enjoyed our meal outside in the 35 degree weather. I am so grateful to Sebastien’s family: while I am extremely excited to return home to my own parents, I have always appreciated the fact that Sebastien’s family is so welcoming.
Monday was reserved for just Sebastien and me to relax. I did all of my packing on this day (and was able to fit it all comfortably in my suitcases without exceeding the weight limit. Woohoo!) It was hot again, and we went for a swim in the lake nearby. Over the past while I have been asked countless times what Sebastien and I are planning to do since we’re back to long distance; we’ve been pretty good at managing it so far, and I think we’ll continue to do so without any trouble.
The goodbyes I have gone through have been tough, but they’ve provided me with a lovely way to truly appreciate the bonds I have created with different people over the course of this year. There were so many aspects of my life here – work, international friends, the orchestra, and Sebastien’s circle of friends – that I had to enjoy. In my short life, I have been to a lot of places, and been able to meet a lot of terrific people; I consider myself to be the luckiest girl in the world for this. While I hate having to leave Berlin, I am so excited for all of the people in Calgary I will be reunited with – and by the time September comes, I will be embarking on an entirely new adventure.
Sorry for all of the sappy sentiment! Thank you so much for reading this blog. It is because of positive feedback that I continue to write, and I am so lucky to have people that care about what I have to say.
Auf Wiedersehen,
Robyn

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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Potsdam, and other Adventures!

Hello there!

I love the irony of writing blog posts: when you don’t have a lot going on, there’s lots of time to write blogs but nothing to write about. Then when everything exciting happens, you have tons of things to write about, but no time!

There hasn’t been a heck of a lot I’ve been up to in the past few weeks, but I was surprised when I realized that it has been almost a month since my last post. A few mildly exciting things have gone on in the past month, so I shall try to summarize them now!

A few weekends back, Sebastien and I spontaneously decided to take a day trip to Potsdam. If you take a regional train from Berlin to Potsdam, it can take as little as an hour. I love the regional trains here, especially the type that we took to Potsdam – it’s a double-decker! So we got to climb stairs up to the top floor of the train.

The day of our trip was absolutely gorgeous – one of the first true days of Spring. Potsdam has the largest outdoor Heritage Site in Germany. There is a huge open park, and by following various paths you come across several historical buildings. Sebastien and I worked our way across the park from one side to the other, beginning with two buildings across from one another. One of the buildings (the first photo below) is used as part of the University of Potsdam. The one across the way is a building that has played a part in history. The most significant thing that comes to my mind is that it was where the Declaration of War was signed, beginning the first World War.

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The last photo I posted is from the backside of the building – we had officially walked from between the two buildings into the long park. As you walked through a lot of green space, you could continually look back behind you and see this building in the distance. In this photo you may also notice that there is something on the ground in a circular shape – Sebastien and I are pretty sure that these are fountains for most of the year that are currently empty. The only problem with our awesome day in Potsdam was that it was still too early for a lot of the fountains and flowers that will be there later in the summer. But it was still gorgeous, nonetheless!

The next historic site we came to was the “Orangery”, which was the last building built in Potsdam’s historic park. From what we could see of this building, it was a large greenhouse with orange trees growing inside. The setup of the building reminded me more of warmer European climates, like perhaps Italy or Spain. Sebastien and I then took this opportunity to eat an orange. It didn’t come from inside the building, but we could pretend.

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After we were finished here, we went to see the Chinese Tea House. A lot of the buildings in this park were built for the benefit of Friedrich the 2nd, because Potsdam is where he would come and stay during the summer. The Chinese Tea House was built by Europeans, who based it on Chinese design, and it is where Friedrich the 2nd would go to enjoy his afternoon tea (don’t quote me on that, but I think it’s a reasonable theory). The whole building is apparently very fragile, and every time someone moved a bit too close to the fence an alarm would go off. In any case, it was very beautiful to see!

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The next building along was one that is primarily used for gardening, but at this point in the year it wasn’t very impressive yet. Made a good spot for us to sit and have a bite to eat though!

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Right next door to this building was the most impressive of all: the Sanssouci Palace. Sanssouci is French for “Without Worries”, because this was where Friedrich the 2nd would go for his summer retreat, and apparently French was the trendy language back in those days. We didn’t go inside for a tour since it was quite full, but enjoyed admiring it from the outside. The fountains in front of the Palace were full of water and everything!

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I apologize for my photos…they don’t really do it justice at all!

In any case, we headed out of the park after that point and searched for a place to sit down and eat. Every outdoor patio was completely full thanks to the weather, although we were able to find one beer garden with space. Unfortunately this beer garden had space for a reason – the service was terrible. We spent a total of 1.5 hours there and never received food, so we left. Good thing we hadn’t been starving beforehand! We then got some ice cream, and walked through town for a while.

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Our last stop before heading back to Berlin was checking out a few of the cathedrals. We didn’t go inside any, but we definitely made a good call going to Potsdam on a Sunday: when Mass was beginning, the bells from several churches all began to ring, and it was the most beautiful cacophony of sound I have ever heard. It’s hard to describe just how powerful that sound was. In any case, it made me want to watch “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.

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After this, it was time to head back to Berlin. Seb and I went to a restaurant with several of my British friends for “endless schnitzel” – which was just as amazing as it sounds. 10 euros for all you can eat schnitzel and fries, plus one drink.

Apparently I had a lot more to say about Potsdam than what I originally thought! I’ll make my other updates quick.

A few weeks ago, I discovered that a friend of mine from the University of Victoria (she had been in my English Honours class) was in Berlin for a few days. We managed to get together and check out the East Side Gallery together. It felt a bit absurd to me that I’ve been in Berlin for so long and had never seen this gallery before! I was surprised to find out that it’s actually about three minutes away from my school. This gallery is basically a long portion of the Berlin Wall that is still intact, and has been painted on by people with a lot of talent. It was great to catch up with my friend, and experience a bit more of Berlin as a tourist!

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I also had the chance to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Berlin. One of my British friends said that there was a St Patrick’s Day parade we should check out – according to the website, it looked like quite the big festival! In the end, the parade was basically made of four people under a sheet pretending to be a snake while St Patrick chased them with a stick, and the Berlin Pipe Band. It was interesting for me to check out the pipeband – it was quite small, and half of the members were under 11, but they certainly owned that parade! They had a very cool bass drum head – it had the Berlin bear playing pipes in a kilt! Hopefully you can see it in the pictures. We didn’t stick around for the festivities after the parade, but it was still fun to be part of the festivities!

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My work has been going well lately. This week, the grade 10 students have a major oral exam in English – they have to speak in pairs for about 12 minutes in front of a teacher. While my conversation class has been slowly growing in size (I’ve gone from a regular three people to about seven), I suddenly had thirty grade 10 students come to me for help with their MSAs! I hope that what I told them was helpful: mostly it was basic language rules like when to use “many” versus “much”, and I had to explain that “funny” is not equivalent to “fun”. You don’t usually think that “doing sports is very funny”. This one backfired on me a bit when a German teacher used “funny” incorrectly the next day, but at least the students know what’s right.

I shall now conclude my blog with an update on what I will be doing next year. I have officially been accepted to Dalhousie University, and will begin my Master of Library and Information Studies there in the Fall! I am extremely excited. I have also decided to begin a whole new blog that will center around my library experiences, which you can find at http://thebagpippinlibrarian.wordpress.com/   Don’t worry, the “pippin” is on purpose as opposed to a mistake. I’ll try to connect one more link in case that one didn’t work: http://thebagpippinlibrarian.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/why-a-librarian/  I’ll still keep this blog going as well, but this one is more focused on my European adventures.

That is about all of my stories for now, but things are about to get very busy around here. On Monday, my Dad arrives in Berlin! I’m very much looking forward to seeing him. We have lots of plans for while he is visiting, including a short trip to Amsterdam. It may be a while before I write another blog, but by then I imagine I’ll have lots to tell you!

Thank you so much for reading. Sorry that it was such a long update – in any case, I hope you enjoyed it! Have a lovely rest of your week!

Bis Später,

Robyn

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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Short little update :)

Hello All!

When I realized that it has officially been a month since my birthday, I realized it has been almost that long since my last blog post! So I shall briefly summarize the most exciting things I’ve been up to lately, and it’s up to you to decide whether they’re actually that exciting or not.

Since my last post, Berlin was hit with a fairly large amount of snow – just a little sample of what everyone else at home has been experiencing all winter. Luckily, I finished knitting my very fancy scarf right before the snow hit, and was able to coast through the bad weather in comfort. Now, it’s back to being nice and mild. I realize this is a pretty boring update, but it does present a good chance to put up a few photos: one of my school in a winter wonderland, and another of the amazing scarf.

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One of the teachers at my school has put me in charge of the Lesson Plans for a grade 10 class. I’ve been producing tables that list what the class will be doing every ten minutes, based on their current unit (Science…who would have thought I would be teaching science! Good thing it’s not their first language). I get nervous before every class I teach, but so far I’ve been very pleased with how each one went. The students are attentive and good at doing the tasks I set out for them. I think they enjoy having me teach them vocabulary, because I involve my amazing charades skills to describe exactly what each word means. During the first class I was able to use the seating chart to memorize a good portion of their names, but by the second class they were back to sitting wherever they wanted – so by now I know about 25 percent of them. Most of the time, I point and kind of make a vague murmuring sound so they think I have addressed them by name. A few of their names are really tough, especially since I’m learning from a sheet of paper. My personal favourite is ‘Ngoc”. I thought maybe she was prone to choking, and that’s where her name comes from. But if I recall correctly, it’s pronounced “I-nuq” or something like that. There was another one that was spelled really strangely, but in the end it’s pronounced “iTouch” which isn’t too hard to remember. In any case, I’m really enjoying working with that group. All grade 10 students have a really intimidating oral exam coming up, so when I’m not acting as the main teacher I’m taking pairs of students into the hall and helping them to practice their speaking skills.

This Thursday, I attended my last German class at the Technische Universität. Each student was asked to bring some sort of food for the last class, so I made three separate attempts at baking cookies. Unfortunately, granulated sugar and icing sugar are very different, so my first batch of shortbread cookies turned into one big sugar-butter blob. Then I tried my classic peanut butter cookies using German peanut butter, and these turned into…well, they actually looked the exact same coming out of the oven as they did going in, except greasier. Luckily, my boyfriend very kindly gave me some of his Canadian peanut butter, so that batch turned out a lot tastier. (Note to self: better ask my Dad to bring Sebastien more peanut butter in return for his kindness!) I brought said peanut butter cookies to the class, and they went over very well. There were a lot of really interesting dishes there for me to sample too – a friend from Britain brought in English mustard with sausages, and there were a number of different Chinese delicacies to try. We finished the class by playing “Mensch ärgere Dich nicht” which is the name for a game that basically every culture knows. I think in Canada we have “Trouble” and “Sorry” and it’s all basically that same concept. It was really sad to say goodbye to everyone in that class – it had been a really close group thanks to the small size of it, and I feel like I learned a lot through having such long discussions all in German. An excellent experience to add to the list from my year here!

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And Friday was, of course, Valentine’s Day! It was my first Valentine’s Day in the same city as Sebastien, but we didn’t get up to a lot of romantic things. Sebastien’s sister invited us to an event going on in Hohen Neuendorf, which is a small town outside of Berlin. This event was “One Billion Rising” and was actually taking place throughout the world. I think I read somewhere that in 2013, the event occurred in 203 countries worldwide. People gather in public places and dance in protest of violence against women. The event was well publicized, with coverage in the newspaper and an entire youtube video created afterwards. I had a lot of fun at this event, although I acted all shy and was therefore in practically no photos. However, I’m going to attach a photo of the event – I’m the one in the dark purple sweater and colourful sheepie hat, if you would like to try and spot me. Also, here’s a link to a video of the event this year: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9PVO_ZPbVc

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The last, but certainly not least, most interesting thing that has happened to me this past while is that I’ve been accepted to two Library Science Master’s Programs! Yay! I have been accepted to both Western Ontario University, and the University of Toronto. I still have a ton of decision-making ahead of me, but it’s nice to know that I can officially begin a program in September. The application process isn’t over yet, especially since I’m still applying for a few scholarships, but it’s nice to finally be getting results.

And this weekend, Sebastien and I are off to Prague! It’s a short trip, just for the weekend, but we’re hoping to fit in lots of sights while we’re there. Perhaps my next blog post will be longer than this one was, with lots of new stories to share.

I hope that you have a great week! Thank you so much for reading!

Auf Wiedersehen,

Robyn

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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Orchestras, Teaching, and Life in General

Hi Everybody!

It has been a while since I’ve had the time to sit down and write about what’s been going on, but that’s basically a sign that life is keeping me busy with exciting things!

The most exciting thing that has happened within the last few weeks is that I performed in a concert with the orchestra I’ve been practicing with. They have a performance every November, and it turned out to be a fantastic show! The orchestra itself is quite small, but there are tons of guest players that were nice enough to colour our performance using their musical expertise. It was fun listening to the talented oboist and bassoonist – they are such unique and lyrical sounds! It made me miss the days of when I played oboe in high school. But I had enough instruments on the go that night!

For the most part, I played the stand-up bass. My boyfriend, his sister, and her boyfriend all came to the show (seeing as their mom, dad, and me were all performers in it!) and it meant a lot to me to be playing for people I knew in the audience. I was extremely nervous, seeing as it was my first orchestra performance since high school. It didn’t help that our first piece was the most complicated one! But the more we played, the more relaxed I got, and I really enjoyed myself. Sebastien’s sister was on photo duty, and did a fantastic job!

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A new wave of angst hit when it was time to play the bagpipes. A few weeks beforehand, we had settled on sheet music for “Highland Cathedral” that had a melody for brass instruments as well as bagpipes. We had practiced it enough times that I was confident with how it would all sound, although there was that fear I always have of my reeds falling into my bag before I play, or a drone going drastically out of tune for some reason. The song turned out lovely though. It began with a trumpet soloist playing the melody, then two flutists joining in. Then I came in closer to the end, and it added loads of power to the performance without being overwhelming. Something slightly funky was going on with my “F” so I had to work around that (heart going a million miles a minute) but in the end it all came together very well, and it was a very strong performance. I wore a big goofy grin the rest of the night, and was absolutely delighted to be presented with flowers at the end of the night, for my solo. I’ve also included a picture of my name as a soloist in the program, because that was pretty exciting to see too!

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After the performance, we went out for a fancy Italian dinner – we had invited all of the guest musicians, as well as our significant others, to join us. I was able to talk in German for some of it, and someone who had never met me before actually asked my boyfriend if I had grown up speaking German. She probably realized that my German is far from perfect once she heard me speak more, but I was still extremely flattered!

All in all, it was a fantastic evening. It sure is lovely to be able to play music you love for an appreciative audience. And I was so lucky to receive so much gratitude for my bagpiping! A terrific memory that I can add to my experience here in Germany.

Another semi-exciting thing that has been going on over the past few weeks is that I’ve accompanied various groups of grade 11 students to the Humboldt University Bibliothek. I informed one of the teachers here that I would love to get involved in Library Science, and he set it up so that I would be the supervising teacher on these tours of the library. Each time I went was very similar – a tour guide came and set us up in a “student room,” then we were shown various important spots in the five floors of the library. After that, the students would have to complete an assignment back in the student room using the computer research resources. The first two groups I took were very well behaved, but unfortunately the third one had a few people that spent a lot of time goofing off. I caught one of them on youtube when he was supposed to be listening to the assignment, and I walked up to him and said “can you please turn that off” with a great big smile. Oh ya, that’s the disciplinary Canadian. It’s a wonder the students weren’t terrified of me.

Anyways. I got to learn a fair bit while on these tours as well. I got quite good at taking attendance in German (I figure it’s a language transferable skill though, so I’m set for taking attendance in English too) and I loved getting to explore the various resources this library has to offer. The architectural design of the building is very artsy, and I could never get sick of spending time looking around. Also, our tour guide is my new idol. She always dressed very professionally and tastefully (without her hair in a bun or wearing glasses, just to throw in the stereotype so many people think of) and was extremely knowledgeable. Overall, I am very grateful that the other teacher thought of me to do these tours when he learned of my enthusiasm for libraries.

On Tuesdays, a group of Canadian Education Officials came to visit the school I work at. I was asked to spend that day working with them, and I like to think I proved to be helpful. The officials there were trying to learn how to emulate German’s language teaching practices. While there are many potential languages in Canada that people could learn, there isn’t the same initiative early in the education system that there is in Germany. The officials made reference to wanting to promote exchanges between Canadian and German schools, and they asked me all about how I came to be spending this year here in Germany. The group of us attended a grade 7 French class to see what a language class in Germany is like, and I now know some very useful words – primarily “la chien” or something to that effect. Maybe “la chat” but I’m not sure if I got those genders right. After that class, we spent some time discussing our countries and how we approach language, and there was a mixture of English, French, and German all in one discussion. It was pretty neat to be around Canadian speakers again, and they were interested to hear that I come from Calgary – there were two there from Winnipeg, and two working in Ottawa. It’s crazy how within Canada, the language challenges are completely different within each province. People of different descents settled in various parts of Canada, and it has resulted in different language specializations and priorities today.

The last experience I will rant about in today’s blog is a teaching related one. My schedule recently changed, and last week I was with a class I had never been with before. The teacher beforehand told me that she has quite a lot of problems with this class – they apparently are very lazy, and she often has difficulties with getting them to pay attention. The class is about to start the novel “Of Mice and Men” and my job for that class was to talk with groups of four or five students at a time about the Great Depression. I was quite surprised by the result. I had expected these kids to be unresponsive and lazy in our discussion, but instead they were thoughtful and insightful. Some of them expressed passion for changing the poverty situation in Germany, and it was great to hear people that are so driven and inspired. I guess my point here is that it’s amazing what kids are capable of: a lot of the time they’re self conscious and trying to impress others in a large class, but once they’re given a chance to talk on a one-on-one basis, they are each brilliant in their own way. Sorry for the lame cliché speech, but it’s hard to express how pleased I was after that class experience.

Anyways! This may have been a slow blog post, but thank you so much for reading! Things are about to pick up around here – I’m meeting my mom at the airport in a few short hours! She’s spending ten days here with me, and I can’t wait. While I will have some work to do, I’ve already been planning touristy things to show her. Next weekend we will be going to Dresden with Sebastien’s family, which is extremely exciting! I should probably get back to cleaning the house before her arrival. Not too much cleaning though, just enough to make her think that my house is normally that clean.

I hope you all have a fantastic weekend!

Tschüß!

-Robyn

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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Halloween Week!

Hello Everybody!

Seeing as this was my very first Halloween in Berlin, I decided that I should write about my adventures here.

First of all though, to provide an update on the German class I was hoping to take: it turns out that it has needed a bit more paperwork than I originally thought, but I’m pretty certain I will be able to take the class. I had to register to Seb’s university as a “guest student” but since that is done, I can now pay for the course and officially be a member as of Monday. My second German class went well, although it’s funny to be back in the land of having homework and exams to prepare for. I think it’s going to improve my German a lot though!

On Tuesday, Seb and I went to the Berlin Dungeon with a group of other people here from England for the year.

End of october 084 End of october 085

Unfortunately I couldn’t take any photos while inside, but those are the pictures I took of the entrance. We began the tour as a big group, and I personally thought it was a lot of fun! Our first “tour guide” was a creepy looking joker that continually would stare at one of us or another to make us feel uncomfortable, or would sneak up on us and then shriek unexpectedly. We went down an elevator that was made to look extremely old and had the sound effects of chains clinking, and after that we went through a series of rooms that had various creepy people in costumes in elaborate rooms. We learned a bit of Berlin’s history, and at one point took a raft ride to escape the plague while rat sound effects went on over our heads. Often we were shrouded in darkness, and then when the lights came back on the actor would be in a completely different place than he was before, standing right over someone. They often took people from the audience for various demonstrations, and at one point a woman in a torture chamber made Sebastien demonstrate various torture tools. Well, she was going to but then said she didn’t want to make his blood get everything dirty. The entire tour took about an hour, and it reminded me of something out of Disneyland (just because of how elaborate it all was). Sebastien wasn’t quite as into it as I was, mainly because of how touristy it all was. Either way, I figured it was a great way to begin Halloween week!

On Wednesday, in my conversation course I showed the kids the beginning clip of the film “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. It was the song “This is Halloween” and I read over the lyrics with them after having watched the clip. I think they enjoyed it alright, and after that we got into conversations about scary films and Tim Burton, and what their Halloween plans were. Also, starting this week, my teaching schedule has changed a bit. So now I am working with a grade 6 class on Thursdays, and the first class was a complete success. I introduced myself, and the kids were totally interested to hear about me. One little girl is from France, and actually spent a year in Canada. I can’t imagine moving around that much and constantly having to learn new languages (her and her sister have been in Germany for three months now, so they had to start learning German this year after learning English last year). However, she showed a lot of interest in my conversation course and I will hopefully see her next week. For the rest of the class, I worked with groups of four, reading a passage from their textbooks out loud. Some of the kids, including the girl from France, were completely eager to read with me, and I really enjoyed it. Reading out loud also allows me to correct the students on their pronunciation without discouraging them – it actually made me think back to when my Dad was teaching me how to read, and he would always make sure I pronounced words correctly (no wonder I’m such a skillful reader now!).

On Thursday evening, after my German class, I went to my Australian friend’s house for a movie night. On the bus ride I did see a few Trick or Treaters, including a group of tiny ghosts. We watched “Hotel Transylvania” in honour of Halloween, and I was able to drink some tea and knit. At the end of the night it took me about two hours to get home since I didn’t know the most direct route, but it was a very enjoyable evening.

On Friday night, Seb and I went to a Halloween club event. The deal was that people would pay one entry fee to get into four different clubs – and if you were wearing a costume and arrived before midnight, you would get in for half price. On the way there, one of Seb’s friend presented me with white and red face paint, offering for me to attempt some sort of costume. So, while on the train, I drew a heart on one cheek and a Q on the other, and coloured in the rest of my face white. Seb allowed me to draw a heart on one of his cheeks and a K on the other, but I didn’t colour the rest of his face white. In the end, I got in for half price (although they said that next time I should put in more effort) but Seb didn’t quite pull it off.

Halloween Berlin 003

I had pretty low expectations of this event before I went. I figured it was just an excuse to promote the clubs, and thought that there would be minimal decorations and perhaps a few half-ass attempts at costumes. I was pleasantly surprised to instead find that there were tons of elaborate costumes, and each club had been transformed into a spooky dance floor. The first club we entered had corpses hanging from the ceiling, a giant spider attached to the disco ball, cobwebs everywhere, and a horror movie projected silently on one wall. The music came along with five different screens displaying things such as “Happy Halloween, little monsters!” and skeletons dancing.

As for the costumes: according to Seb, Halloween isn’t too big of a thing in Berlin. And the people that do wear costumes never ever dress as something silly or funny – it’s always scary. In some parts of Germany, there is an event in the spring called “Karnival” and that’s when people can dress as anything they want. At this event, the most popular costume seemed to be a nurse covered in blood, and there were quite a few zombie brides (although I don’t understand how so many of them had access to real wedding dresses they could pour fake blood all over!) There were a ton of people with fake contacts in an icy blue colour, and at one point I found myself staring at a zombie bride who’s one eye was completely white with no pupil or iris. People had all sorts of fake injuries – one had a face that had been ripped off then placed back on, one had gashes on her cheeks that were being held together with safety pins, and one had a credit card that had been thrust into her forehead. There were a few costumes that weren’t so scary as well, such as Marie Antoinette complete with a ball gown and a tall white wig, and a few normal pirates (totally what I want to be for next year!). There was one group that did the cast of Alice in Wonderland (there were multiple Alices though, some with blood on their outfits and some without) and it was really funny to see the Mad Hatter breaking it down on the dance floor. A few of the costumes looked very impractical – quite a few masks, which I know from experience get very hot in normal circumstances, let alone in a club. Plus someone wore a complete Merlin cape and hat, along with a full length white wig and beard. I wish that I had taken my camera into the club to capture some of the elaborateness of the costumes, but I’ve never been one to take pictures in a dark club. The only problem with the evening was that it started getting exceptionally busy by about 1am. The clubs were stuffed full of people, and there were huge lines of people waiting to get into each. Seb and I left a little earlier than we had expected to, because of how full it was, but we certainly had a great night.

The next day, I was at “Claire’s” searching for earrings, and one of the girls working there noticed my stamp from the night before. She and the other employee had been at the Halloween event too, and agreed that it had been too full. It had taken them forever to get in unfortunately. Did I mention that I had this entire conversation with them in German? That’s right. I’m practically a local, going to clubs and discussing my experience with strangers in German. That was the highlight of my day right there!

The other day, I posted a blog that provides a link to an article I wrote a year ago about how early people in Canada begin to publicize Christmas. Just as a follow up: I had it in my head that Germany is not as commercial a place as Canada, and therefore figured that Christmas publicity wouldn’t happen for another few weeks. Apparently I was wrong! A few weeks into October, there were already Christmas chocolates and goodies available at the grocery stores, and a week ago I noticed all sorts of Christmas CDs, advent calendars, and books at a department store. Last night there was a Christmas tree on the side of a street, but as Seb pointed out, it was not yet lit up. I guess the key difference is that in Germany, the things available are those that have to do directly with the holiday, such as something to read or decorate your house with. In Canada, it was a lot more about companies directly relating their advertisements to Christmas: “buy THIS for your loved one for Christmas! It’s on sale, but only until December 23rd!” To read the original article I wrote, check out the link I posted in my last blog about my short career in journalism.

Anyways! Thank you so much for reading all about my recent adventures. I hope you also had a great Halloween!

Bis später!

Robyn

 

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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One Month Later!

Hello All!

Sorry that it’s been a little while since my last post! I’ve been waiting to write a new one until the perfect moment when I felt I had lots of exciting new things to tell you, instead of repeating everything I’ve already said. Not to put pressure on myself or anything.

So, yesterday officially marked my having been in Berlin for one month. And Sebastien mentioned to me that Christmas Eve is three months from today. My oh my, how time flies!

I guess the first “exciting” thing I should mention about the past few weeks is that I am finally getting my official information in order for my extended stay in Germany. I am registered as living here, have a bank account (and a pretty bank card with a sparkly picture of the Brandenburger Tor!), have a visa, and am a member of a gym. The only thing I have yet to sort out from my initial “to-do list” is sign up for a German language course. However, the one I want does not begin until the end of October, and I’m not able to sign up for it for another few weeks. But it feels good that things so far have gone smoothly, especially considering that I’ve been doing it all in a foreign language. That would sound much more impressive if it weren’t for Sebastien helping me at every step of the way though, and I am very appreciative for his help!

I’m slowly getting used to being a member of a gym in a foreign language. I almost walked into the men’s changeroom on the first day, but am thankful that I eventually remembered what “Herren” means (before I actually made it through the door). I am still a bit terrified of the sauna and showers, but at least the workout equipment is all the same. At one point, a woman even asked me how to use a machine! I must look like such a pro. Our entire conversation was in German, although most of it involved showing her how I push the machine with my leg. She wasn’t blind, so I’m pretty sure that was about all she needed. And after three days, I figured out how to lock my locker! Hopefully no one noticed me creepily staring at them in the changeroom before that point, because I kept trying to catch a glimpse of how it was done.

I have become fairly well established in my weekly routine by this point. On Wednesdays after work, I go to Orchestra practice. I spend an hour painfully sawing away at my bass on my own (still not all that great at using a bow), and then join the group for a few hours more of practice. I like that time a lot better, because the other bassist plays so well that I can pretend I’m really good. I just have to make sure to not play too loudly, because then it ruins the illusion. After we’re done practice, a group of us will go out for a late dinner and a drink. Two weeks ago we went for sushi, so I had an adventure with trying to translate different fish dishes from Japanese into German into English. Then last week we went for Italian – I accidentally ordered a pizza with weird peppers on it, but I managed to artfully hide them in my napkin so that the waiter only discovered I was crazy after he had carried my plate from the table. During these adventurous meals, I love having the opportunity to speak with my bandmates in German. And after that, Sebastien’s very kind mother drives me home – during which time I get to practice even more German with her. The only problem is when I haven’t been getting enough sleep during the week, in which case my translating and thinking skills are slightly useless.

One of the Australian girls I met at the orientation introduced me to an awesome tradition for Thursday nights: mystery movie night! At Potsdamer Platz, they have a theatre that shows productions in English. Every Thursday night, people can pay 5 euros to see a sneak peek at a brand new film…the only catch being that people don’t know what they’re going to see! We went two weeks ago with my Australian and British friend, and the movie ended up being “Rush”. It’s a race car movie based on the true story about Niki Lauda and James Hunt. As it started, I groaned and rolled my eyes at Sebastien – I had absolutely no interest in seeing it. But it turned out to be a really fantastic movie. Last week we went again with a slightly larger group, and I noticed for the first time how many introductory credits there are to a movie. “Universal Pictures presents…” “A Comcast Company…” “With ‘Working Title’ Pictures…” and the list seemed to go on and on. Finally, we found out we were watching “About Time” which I had heard absolutely nothing about. But it had Rachel McAdams, and turned out to be quite good. One of the most fun things about the mystery movie nights is that I am blameless for when we watch a chick flick, and Sebastien is blameless for when we watch something with lots of actions and explosions. I shouldn’t stereotype it that way, but usually when seeing a movie with a date, there will be some compromise – but this takes all the decision making out of it. Tomorrow we will hopefully go again (as long as the reservations haven’t all filled up!) and it’s exciting to wonder what we’ll see. We also have stamp cards – once you go six times, you get a free entry! 

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There’s a photo of the train station by Potsdamer Platz – another block, and you reach the area of the movie theatre.Image

I’ve always been a huge fan of Potsdamer Platz – basically there’s this cool looking roof over a circle of buildings, which include restaurants and theatres and museums. The roof changes colour at night too!

So what else is going on with me? Of course I’m still working, but I actually came up with so many things to write about that that I thought I better make it into a separate blog. Besides that, Friday is Sebastien’s birthday! I have known him for almost 7 years, but surprisingly enough this is our first time actually spending his birthday together. Have I mentioned we went through a bit of a long-distance thing? On Saturday, we will be attending an “Oktoberfest” going on in Berlin – both some of his friends and some of my orientation friends will be going, and I’m really excited for it all.

After this Friday, I actually have a two week break from work. So, from September 30th to October 3rd, I will be in Munich! I’m travelling with a group from my orientation there and back by bus, and we’re staying in tents. I’m not really sure of a lot of the details, because a few of my very nice friends arranged it all. I had actually been fairly sure I wouldn’t go to Oktoberfest, because no one could put a plan together, and accommodation was extremely expensive and hard to find (those people in Munich know when they’re in high demand!) So when a few people in the orientation came up with the idea to travel by bus and stay in tents, I decided to jump on board. How much more of a chance do you get to go to Oktoberfest than when you’re staying in Germany? I unfortunately will not be buying a traditional German Dirndl to wear though – they cost a minimum of 90 dollars, and since it’s fall I would imagine that would get very cold. So instead, I will be bundling up like crazy. I even bought a sweater the other day – it makes me look like Big Bird off Sesame Street, but it is very warm! Hopefully, some blogworthy experiences will occur while I’m there. I’m quite sad that Sebastien will not be able to make it to Oktoberfest with me – he has some schoolwork that needs attending to 😦 but since I still have an entire week off after that, we have been tossing around ideas of travelling somewhere else together. But we’ll see what happens!

I believe this blog is officially long enough. If you’re up for more reading, I will be posting a separate blog with a summary about how awesome work is. It may make you want to hold me down and tell me really ugly things about the world (quoting Lorelai Gilmore) based on all the sickening optimism, but perhaps you’ll enjoy it!

Thank you so much for reading!

Auf wiedersehen!

-Robyn

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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