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Summarizing an Unforgettable Year in Germany

Hello All!
I am currently writing this entry on the airplane from Frankfurt to Calgary, after experiencing a very stressful morning sprinting between gates in Frankfurt. I have made a discovery while on this flight: if you have 8 hours with no internet access and minimal other distractions, blog writing gets a heck of a lot faster!
I could tell I was on a flight to Canada when I noticed someone wearing a lululemon t-shirt at the airport: I have been going to the gym in Berlin for 9 months and haven’t seen a single item of clothing from there. It’s a bit strange to be surrounded by English speakers again, since now I can understand every bit of chatter going on around me. I had gotten used to only understanding bits and pieces of what people said in nearby conversations, since it was always out of context. However, I have had a few conversations with Germans in today’s flights, and I feel that I am way more confident now that I would have been in September. Learning a language is basically an endless process, but I like to think that I am as fluent as I hoped to be when I began taking German classes three years ago.
I set out to write this particular blog entry as a summary of what I have experienced this year. It feels as though my time here has flown by, and yet when I look back at everything I’ve done, it feels like I’ve been here for an eternity. I know that it is practically impossible to summarize my experiences completely, so I’ll try to keep it brief. (Upon my completing this blog and transferring it to wordpress, I must admit that it is anything but brief. Prepare yourself!)
At the end of August 2013, I gathered my courage and boarded a plane to Berlin for nine months away from home. Unlike a lot of people who take on courageous new adventures, I was lucky enough to have my boyfriend waiting for me at the arrival gate. We spent three days in Berlin before driving to Köln (Cologne) so that I could begin my orientation for a year of working at a German High School. I had been part of an orientation the summer before, and was expecting a miniscule group of students; instead, I met hundreds of people from around the world, and got to bask in accents from Ireland, England, Scotland, New Zealand, and Australia. Everyone was welcoming and friendly towards everyone else, and I created a group of lifelong friends. The people from that orientation that I have stayed in touch with has changed over the year; while about 15 of us went to Oktoberfest together, there are about six of us that have remained close. However, I like to think that there are many people that would get in touch with me if they ever came to Canada, and this orientation had a much larger influence on my year than I would have ever expected

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My work contract ran from September 1st to May 30th. In the first month, Sebastien helped me to deal with technicalities such as obtaining a bank account, registering where I lived, obtaining my proper visa, and joining a gym. Beginnings have always made me panic a bit, but everything went very smoothly. The other day, I was able to cancel my bank account without any issues (I like to think “I’m moving back to Canada” is a great reason to give for cancelling a bank account!) and Seb had the foresight to store my moving-out documents in a place where we could easily find them and send them to the right people once I left.
The end of September resulted in a slew of Oktoberfest activities – I went to an Oktoberfest in Berlin for two separate weekends, and also spent three days at an Oktoberfest in Munich. For the longest time, I didn’t think the trip to Munich would happen, because of the expense and the fact that there was hardly anywhere to stay. But thanks to the research of one of my British friends, we were able to pull it off by staying in tents and going during the week instead of on a weekend. The experience was unforgettable (feel free to read my blog all about it, if you haven’t already!) although I don’t think I will ever need to repeat it. Sleeping in a tent in October is not necessarily the nicest experience, and it was amazing how good it felt to sit on a cushioned bus seat instead of a hard bench by the end.
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Since the first two weeks in October were a holiday for High School Students, Sebastien and I took the chance to take a short trip. We had a lot of different options in mind, but settled on Barcelona, Spain. We spent almost three days there, and were able to pack in lots of sightseeing. We hiked to a few good viewpoints, walked through the narrow streets, went to the beach, and enjoyed the fantastic weather. It was a great vacation for the two of us, and ironically enough it was one of the few chances we had to take a mid-week trip together (after that, I would either have work or he would have school).
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At the end of October, I was feeling slightly depressed about missing out on Halloween, but was in for a treat when Sebastien and I went to a German Halloween Nightclub Event. I had always heard that Germans were not as much into Halloween as Americans are, but in general their concept is quite different. Instead of a mixture of all sorts of costumes, the Germans who chose to dress up were all gruesome and frightening. With fake eye-contacts and more fake blood than you can imagine, and a mixture of stapled-on faces and torn wedding dresses, it was obvious that they take their costumes very seriously. It was certainly different from any Canadian Halloween I had experienced!
At the beginning of November, Sebastien and I took a road-trip using his parents’ car. Our first stop was the city of Weimar, where we were able to see the amazing Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek. After that, we continued on to Erfurt for two nights, during which time we went on a hike and were able to walk around the city at night enjoying the sights. The slight nip in the air by then, along with the gradual setting up of Christmas markets, made me start to get excited for the holidays. The next day, we continued on to Eisenach and the fortress at Wartburg where we were able to see where Martin Luther once spent time while translating the bible. I had visited these places once before with my eleventh grade class, but this trip was different – not just because it was only two of us instead of 110, but also because I had learned a lot more about history by that point.

Road Trip 2013 October 025 Road Trip 2013 October 029   Road Trip 2013 October 204  Road Trip 2013 October 234  Road Trip 2013 October 307    Road Trip 2013 October 380 Road Trip 2013 October 402
When I first arrived in Berlin, I had joined an orchestra with Sebastien’s mother, playing the double bass. I had not played this since High School, and even then it was only in jazz bands as opposed to with a bow in an Orchestra. Early in November, this Orchestra hosted a Christmas concert. I played my bagpipes for one song, and managed to keep up with the band on my bass for the rest. It’s been quite a while since I performed, and I forgot the satisfying thrill that comes with playing for an audience. I was presented with flowers at the end, and was so happy to have had this chance to play music.
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I was also asked to play my bagpipes for the Christmas concert at the school where I worked. I was extremely nervous before the event itself, but had a lot of fun getting involved in activities outside of the classroom. My mom was in town for my actual performance, and she accompanied me for my practices and came with me for dinner before the big show. Her and Sebastien were in the audience for the performance itself, and I was once again exhilarated at the opportunity to perform for such a large audience.
As I just mentioned, the arrival of December coincided with the arrival of my mom in Berlin. It was so great getting to explore all of the Christmas Markets with her, and getting to show her all of the different aspects of my life in Germany. During the second weekend of her visit, we went with Sebastien’s parents to Dresden. While this trip was accompanied with extremely cold weather, it was also an amazing cultural experience. It was easy to get into the Christmas spirit with booths selling handmade goods and glühwein, and we walked around the Christmas Markets for hours. We also got to see a bit of Dresden besides the markets though, with visits to churches and a tour of the Opera House. I was sorry that I would not be with my parents for Christmas Day, but it made a lot more sense for my mom to visit a bit earlier in the month. Flights aren’t very hectic at the beginning of December!
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I loved the Christmas holidays in Berlin. While we have a few Christmas Markets in Canada, they are often indoors and involve pricey, artsy works for sale. The ones in Germany are more about being able to grab a seasonal bite to eat, and getting seasonal decorations and gifts. You hardly ever have to pay entry for Christmas Markets in Berlin, and I went to many notable ones over the month of December. When friends from Calgary visited Berlin, we took them to the scenic Christmas Market at Schloss Charlottenburg (I’m sorry that there isn’t a picture of them here, but we had a terrific time!)
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Christmas with Sebastien’s family came along with its own traditions, including opening presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. Both our house and Sebastien’s parents’ house were warmly decorated for the holidays, and I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in a new Christmas tradition (although I am looking forward to enjoying my own traditions again this Christmas at home!)
New Year’s Eve in Germany was fairly similar in Canada in regards to the partying…but the major difference was the fireworks! I know that fireworks can be used as a way to celebrate in Canada, but during the few days before the New Year, the purchase of fireworks becomes legal for everyone. Starting early in the day on New Year’s Eve, people start lighting fireworks from sidewalks, street corners, parks, backyards, balconies…our neighbourhood is usually quiet, but you didn’t go long without hearing fireworks all day! We went out to celebrate in the evening, and at midnight the skies went insane. When we went home late that night, there were remnants of fireworks at every step.
The next big event for me was my birthday. Sebastien took me to Tropical Island just outside of Berlin, and we spent the day relaxing inside of a huge, tropical dome. The next day, I was extremely touched by the amount of people that came out to help me celebrate my birthday. Sebastien’s sister also baked me a delicious cake!

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At the beginning of February, Sebastien’s mom and I went to Grüne Woche. This is a yearly event that takes place in a large building, and there are lots of things to see; some rooms sell outdoor goods like fireplaces and watering cans, and there are rooms with huge displays of flowers. There were sections where you could explore different cultural booths, and there were also places featuring animals like sheep, goats, pigs, cats, and dogs. It was a great way to celebrate the fact that Spring was on its way!
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Between November and February, I was able to take part in a German Language Course at Sebastien’s university. In the grand scheme of things, this course was quite short, but I still think that I learned a lot from it. You never know where you’ll learn the words that stick with you, and this course helped me expand my vocabulary a lot. I also think my grammar got a bit better, and in general it was helpful to speak German non-stop for three hours a week (and that’s not counting my Orchestra practices)! I feel like this class was a great bonding experience for everyone involved (there were about 15 students) and it was interesting to meet people from all over the world that had come to Germany for their education. There was one girl that I grew fairly close to, and we continued to get together throughout the rest of my time in Germany.
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Near the end of February, Sebastien and I took a trip to Prague. It was a fairly short trip, but we managed to pack in lots of sightseeing during our time there. Prague is an absolutely gorgeous place, and I loved being able to see a number of historical libraries amongst other sights. We did a fair amount of hiking, and spent a memorable night dancing at Europe’s Largest Night Club. We timed our trip really well, because even in February the city was quite busy – we didn’t want to imagine what it must be like during the warm summer months!
Prague and January in Berlin 132 Prague and January in Berlin 137 Prague and January in Berlin 161  Prague and January in Berlin 178 Prague and January in Berlin 184 Prague and January in Berlin 190 Prague and January in Berlin 191  Prague and January in Berlin 264 Prague and January in Berlin 373 Prague and January in Berlin 402
During a bright and sunny March day, Seb and I took a day trip to Potsdam. Potsdam houses a large historical park (Sanssouci Park), and we enjoyed walking between the different historical buildings. One of these buildings was where the Potsdam Conference was held, where treaties were signed after WWII. Many of the buildings in this park were built for Frederick the Great, who had his summer home there – these buildings include an “orangery” and a Chinese tea room.
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St. Patrick’s Day turned out to be a fairly minimal affair in Berlin. One of my British friends mentioned that there was a St. Patrick’s Day parade going on, and according to the website it was a fairly big event. Seb and I arrived, and found that the parade consisted of the Berlin bagpipe band, along with “St. Patrick” chasing around a big snake (aka: four people under a sheet). There were lots of people walking alongside the parade doing nothing (including us) and the whole thing was slightly silly but still fun. I found out that the Berlin pipeband has a pretty cool bass drum, with the Berlin bear playing pipes.
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At the end of March, my dad arrived for a visit! We took a short trip to Amsterdam, and had a great time there absorbing the culture. We were able to visit both the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House, and we came home with lots of cheese and tulips.
Dad's Berlin Trip 126 Dad's Berlin Trip 197
During the rest of Dad’s time in Berlin, we made sure to check out all of the tourist highlights, including the Television Tower and the government building.
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Over the Easter Weekend, Sebastien and I took a short trip to Magdeburg and Leipzig. These towns were quite easy to get to, and it didn’t take very long to see everything that we found interesting there. Both of these cities experienced a phase of historical importance, during which they were as popular as Berlin is now (Magdeburg was first, and then Leipzig). One of my favourite things to see on this trip was the Monument in Leipzig, which was erected in memory of the battle of Napoleon that took place there 200 years ago.
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Around Berlin, I was lucky enough to visit a few Easter Markets, which were surprisingly similar to the Christmas Markets. The main difference was the lack of glühwein, and also the weather!
At the beginning of May, I went with Sebastien and a group of others to a Wine Festival going on in Werner, which is a town just outside of Berlin. We went to this festival two weekends in a row, and got to enjoy cheap, fruity wine while taking in the sunshine. There was a stage with live music, and lots of festival foods available. There were also various rides and electronic games, which reminded me of the Calgary Stampede.

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The last trip that Sebastien and I were able to take during this amazing year in Berlin was to Usedom Island, just over a week ago. Usedom Island isn’t very well known amongst Americans as far as I know, but to Germans it is a fairly common vacation spot. While Usedom itself is in Germany, the island contains parts of Poland, and we enjoyed going across the border for our dinners while there. We visited Peenemünde, which is where Wernher von Braun and a team of engineers built rockets during WWII. Besides this, we got to enjoy time on sandy beaches, and also got to see lots of farm animals in the small towns on the island. The trip reminded me of all my favourite things about Portree (Isle of Skye, Scotland), Victoria (British Columbia) and Nova Scotia. It was a lovely, relaxing experience for Sebastien and I, and I am so glad that we had the chance to take that trip before I left.
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So what comes next? In four days’ time, I will go to Nova Scotia for a week-long trip with my mom. While there, I am hoping to take a look at the Dalhousie University Campus, since it is where I will be spending my next two years completing my Master’s in Library Studies. I have started a librarian blog, and am hoping to write in there more often from now on.
I have no idea when my next trip to Europe will be, but I am hoping it will be sooner rather than later. I’m having a hard time believing that my nine months there has officially come and gone. It has been an unforgettable year, and my life has been enriched for the experience.
Thank you so much for reading this blog. I am sorry that it went on for so long! I did a fair amount of things over the course of the year that I will never forget. I hope that you enjoyed reading about them as much as I did writing about them.
Liebe grüße,
Robyn

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Posted by on June 14, 2014 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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Christmastime in Germany: Highlights from Dresden and Berlin

Hey Everyone!

In my last post, I went into detail about the trip that my mom took to Berlin to visit me. Today I will elaborate further on the weekend trip we took to Dresden with Sebastien and his family!

The idea for this trip began with Sebastien many months ago, before I came to Germany. We were discussing my plans to do this program and come to Berlin for about a year, and he mentioned that we could even go to Dresden to check out one of the world’s oldest Christmas Markets in December. When my mom had booked her flight to visit me, we decided that the three of us should go; and once Sebastien’s parents heard about the trip, it was decided that the five of us would go together. Sebastien’s parents booked a traditional bed and breakfast for the Saturday night so that we would have a two day trip, and we drove to Dresden first thing Saturday morning.

It took us about 2 and a half hours to drive to Dresden, and I basically knit the whole time. When we reached the city, it appeared that we had brought Berlin’s wind and snow along with us. However, we got right down to the sightseeing. We parked the car and walked a ways through the city, then crossed a long bridge over the Elbe River. It was absolutely freezing on the bridge thanks to the wind, but it was still a gorgeous first glimpse at the Old City.

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Once we were within the Old City, we often stopped inside little shops to look around and escape from the cold. We soon came to our first Christmas Market, which was right beside the Frauenkirche. The Frauenkirche is a large protestant church; it had been destroyed during World War II along with countless other structures. Several dark blocks can be seen amongst the light ones in the church as it is now, and those dark ones are pieces of the original building whereas the light ones are new. Please don’t quote me on that, but I’m pretty sure that’s the case. We waited in line to be able to enter the church, but it was definitely worth it once we were able to enter and gaze up at the seemingly endless ceiling. Sebastien and I were both reminded of the interior of the Berliner Dom, which is interesting since they are both protestant churches.

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In the photo I included of the alter, you can see on the left that there is a green line (that would be a Christmas wreath) with four candles on it. In Germany, on every Sunday in December leading up to Christmas, families light a new candle to represent Christmas’s approach. Today, for example, Sebastien and I lit the third candle in our own Advent wreath (Adventskranz) since there is only one more Sunday before we reach Christmas. Here’s a picture of an Advent wreath we saw in Dresden in a restaurant last week:

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As you can see, the Advents wreaths can be found anywhere from in a church to in a restaurant, to many personal homes. Once we left the church, we noticed a Christmas Market on the other side of the church as well. We decided to take a walk through here, and purchase our first hot beverage of the trip. I tried hot chocolate with a shot of amaretto for the first time, and decided these two were destined to be together for all eternity. Unfortunately we picked a very poor time to go through this Market though, because it was absolutely packed and no one was able to move. It would have been impossible to physically stand aside and check out a stand somewhere, so we basically fought through the crowds to reach the other end of the Market. But once we arrived there, we were able to climb up a few stairs to a viewpoint, and appreciate how beautiful the Market looked away from the crowd.

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After this, we paused for a meal, and I began to get some of the feeling back in my toes. We were lucky that the wind died down as the evening went on, and we hardly noticed the cold anymore. We spent a few hours looking around at the Christmas Markets, and got to enjoy all of the Christmas lights since it gets dark extremely early this time of year. In the end, Mum and I bought a few wooden ornaments, as well as pretty candle domes. As you can tell from the photos, a lot of the booths had elaborate decorations on their roofs – some of those were more impressive than the goods they were selling!

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Once we had roamed the Christmas Market to our hearts’ content, we headed back to the car. It ended up taking a bit of a while though, because we discovered another Christmas Market along the way. It wasn’t quite as fancy as the previous ones had been, but we managed to find lots to look at.

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After that, we returned to the car and found our Bed and Breakfast (the German word for that is “Pension” – I had been kinda hoping I would leave there with a pension all ready to go, but maybe I would have had to stay there longer for that). After a nice hot meal, I’m pretty sure all of us got an amazing sleep thanks to all the fresh air and walking around.

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As you can tell, the Bed and Breakfast was in a fairly secluded spot. We enjoyed a terrific breakfast there the next morning, then headed back to the Old City for a tour of the Opera House. In a way, the story of the Opera House made me think of Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail: there is a King who had to try building a Castle four times in a swamp before one finally stayed up. The poor Opera House has been rebuilt at least three times: once when it burst into flame involving a gas pipe incident, once after World War II when there was massive ruin everywhere, and once more when it was hit by a major flood in 2002. At this point, major precautions have been taken against any more flood damage, so hopefully it can remain the way it is for many years to come. I didn’t take any photos while on the tour, but some of the things we learned were pretty amazing. While everything within the building looks very grandeur, and appears to be made of marble and things like that, a lot of it is fake. The original designer figured that the imaginary world of an Opera should be maintained throughout the entire Opera House, instead of only on stage. Despite the fact that a lot of the construction is an illusion, it is lovely to marvel at. Within the physical theatre room, we got to learn lots of trivia about how an opera works, and how many sets are too large to be kept in the actual Opera House. We also got to see the five minute clock above the stage, that was designed to keep men from constantly checking their pocket watches back in the day. I was extremely pleased that we took that tour!

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After that, we checked out a Christian church nearby, which was reconstructed after the war but not completely finished.

ImageImageImageImage.After we were finished in that church, it was time to head home. It had been a short trip, but a terrific one!

Back in Berlin on Monday, Mum came to work with me so that we could head straight to the airport afterwards. The teacher was quite late for the class, so I had my first taste of spontaneously taking over a lesson. I taught the kids about Christmas traditions in Canada, and made them write stories about their own personal Christmasses. After that, Mum and I met up with Seb and headed to the airport. It was extremely sad to see Mum go back to Canada, but I am so happy that she took the time to come here and visit me. We each had a terrific time (I’m so grateful that she is so easy going and good with anything we had to do!) and made a lot of new memories. Hopefully it will not be long until I see her again!

Since that point, I have been up to lots of Christmassy things. I am completely done all of my Christmas shopping, and have seen a whole schwack of Christmas movies. On Wednesday, I got together with some friends at the Schloss Charlottenburg Christmas Market. It’s apparently known as being one of the nicest ones in Berlin, and there were certainly some unique and well-crafted goods available there. The last time I properly saw Schloss Charlottenburg was in grade 11 when I was on tour with my high school band, and it was extremely different to see it with Christmas booths and fancy lights. It was great getting to see it all, and catch up with my friends – the only problem was that I got quite lost afterwards, and it took me an entire hour (and four busses) to get to my Orchestra band practice!

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On Thursday, I spent the time between work and my German class at Kilkenny Pub. It wasn’t as fun as it had been with Mum, but it was a nice place to sit down and have a good meal (and I’ll admit it: do a bit of knitting). That evening, I brought a new friend I met through my German class to surprise movie night. Since the Hobbit (part II) is newly released, there was an amazing display at Potsdamer Platz, with a Christmas fairy dancing around at one point.

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The film for this week was “Disconnect” which I had never heard of before. I had no idea what to expect (obviously) but it turned out to be the most powerful film I have ever seen. The movie follows three different story lines concerning Internet issues, and the genius of the acting and directing along with the truth in each story touched everyone in the theatre. It was nice to see film being used as an art form instead of just a way to make money, and I recommend this movie to absolutely everyone.

And now, only one week remains until I am on Christmas break. It’s been a refreshing change this year to not have final exams to worry about, but I have slowly begun filling out applications for a Masters program beginning next Fall. I have quite the “stressful” week ahead: work on Monday and Tuesday, then a field trip on Thursday and my work Christmas Party Friday. No wonder I love this job so much!

Thank you all so much for reading! I hope you all are gearing up for an amazing Christmas!

Frohe Weihnachten!

-Robyn

 

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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October’s Teaching Misadventures

Hello everybody!

I’ve been meaning to write this latest blog for about three days now, but the days have gotten busier and time keeps on flying by!

I’ve had two weeks back at school now. My first day back was Thanksgiving Monday, and I told some students about how in Canada, nobody was at work or school that day, and they were taking the time to give thanks for all of the things they have in their lives. The night before that, Seb and I made a Thanksgiving Dinner of sorts for ourselves – we decided to not take on a turkey, but each had a chicken breast wrapped in bacon, as well as mashed potatoes, gravy and corn. We also made our own stuffing from scratch, but unfortunately it was more like soup than stuffing. I was too lazy to even think about making my own pumpkin pie (it’s a pretty non-existent thing here) so we fried bananas in sugar and cinnamon for dessert. It was a great meal and a nice way to celebrate the holiday. We even lit a candle!

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Unfortunately, I had quite a bad cold during my first week back at work. Not that drinking beer for three days and staying in a tent in October had anything to do with that. At one point I was doing group-work with students and started coughing enough that tears were pouring out of my eyes, and the students were mildly alarmed. But I managed to have Thursday and Friday off, and made sure to buy some juice (vitamin C!) and cough drops too. That plus lots of sleep made for a quick recovery.

My first week back at school meant that I had my first Conversation Course session. I came all prepared with an episode of Two and a Half Men where they celebrate Thanksgiving. I had been quite nervous, but another teacher helped me set up the projector and speakers to my laptop. I had tried to publicize the course a bit earlier in the week, but had also been worried that I would have a huge class full of kids that I wouldn’t be able to handle. No need to worry: three showed up. One of them was from grade 7, and I was surprised that he came since usually in class he’s too shy to try speaking English. The other two were from grade 10, although unfortunately one of them had to leave halfway through. We started watching the episode, but I had no concept of how much the characters murmur and how fast they speak. I had to stop it about five times to summarize what was going on for the kids, and by then any trace of humour was pretty much gone from the story. In the show, Charlie pays Jake to be overly friendly to this girl that he wants to be with. I tried to teach the kids the definition of “bribing” but in the end one of them said “so, if you were to say to someone: ‘do this or I will beat you up’ that’s a bribe?” and suddenly the show didn’t seem nearly as light and funny. So after we gave up on that, the students and I discussed different holidays. I asked which ones were their favourites, and described a few Canadian ones. The one guy had to leave around then, and he said he would like for the class to be on a different day of the week – unfortunately I think I’ll have to keep it the same though, since it’s taking so long for word to get out so that students attend. At this school, classes are 90 minutes long as opposed to 45. I tried to let the other students go home early once the one guy had left, but they were still having a good time and wanted to talk more. We discussed all sorts of things, from what they did on their holidays to what they like to read, to their siblings and families. The older girl told me she’s been working on a book, and told me all about the details of the plot. The younger student didn’t always understand what was going on, but he was good at answering questions directed at him, and didn’t seem discouraged by what he didn’t know. Sometimes the girl would translate what we were saying into German for him. The fact that there were only the three of us in the big classroom meant that silences felt really big and awkward, but everytime I tried to offer for the kids to go early, they weren’t into it. The girl actually kept talking past when class was supposed to end. I definitely take this as a compliment – they enjoyed themselves so much that they didn’t want to leave. I definitely consider that to be a successful first class!

On the weekend, I spent a lot of time putting together my Canadian presentation that I promised various English teachers I would make. One of them told me she would be absent this Thursday, and suggested that I use that class to give the presentation. I was nervous at the idea of running a class without her, but agreed. On Sunday I submitted the presentation to another teacher to look over, and on Monday he had lots of tips for how I could make it better.

This week has consisted of a lot of new “firsts” for me. On Monday, the grade seven students began learning about Scotland. So, I brought in some photos of my previous trips to Scotland, and also brought in my bagpipes. During the photos, the kids were excited to learn that Edinburgh is where J.K. Rowling supposedly wrote part of her book, and were also excited to see the bridge in Glenfinnan where part of Harry Potter was filmed. They were quite intrigued by a picture of “Iron Bru” I showed at a grocery store, and none of them have tried it or heard of it before – it is very Scottish! They enjoyed the pictures of bagpipers, especially one that I took at the World’s showing hundreds of pipers for massed bands, and one that has me in it with my uniform on. Every time I showed them a picture with a body of water in it, they said “there’s Loch Ness!” and I didn’t bother correcting them.

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While the photos were enjoyable, the part everyone was most excited about was obviously the bagpipe playing. I first tuned my drones to show them that part of how it sounds, and then told them about how bagpipers squeeze the bag when taking a breath. I then put in the chanter, and warned everyone that it would be very loud. I told them that if they plugged their ears, I wouldn’t be offended. We were set up in the computer lab since we had been looking at pictures, and that room fortunately had a carpet to absorb a bit of the sound. When I played the first note, a lot of the kids shot back in their chairs, but as they got used to it fewer and fewer had their hands over their ears. I just played Scotland the Brave then stopped, and they all went crazy. It was a good thing I had shown them the photos before playing, because after that they were hardly quiet enough for me to say anything else. But they asked a few questions about the pipes, like how much they cost, and a few of them asked how long I’ll be in Germany for (maybe they want me out of the country right away now that I’ve revealed this instrument?) After that, before we went back to the classroom I laid out the pipes and let them come and have a look. The teacher was equally excited about the whole thing, and said it was the first time she’s heard that type of music live. When we were back in class, small groups of students were sent out in the hallway to speak with me. A few of the students got really excited about that and wanted to go first, and it was a very happy moment for me to see them so enthused about interacting with me.

On Tuesday, the teacher that I normally work with had to leave school quite suddenly. So another teacher gave me a stack of papers and told me what the students were expected to do. It took me a long time to understand what she was telling me in German, but the message got across eventually. It was a grade 10 Honours class, so they behaved exceedingly well for the entire class. The students first had to read an article about Alice Munro, so I read out the first part and then got different students to read the rest. After that they had to answer questions about the reading, and I sat there nervously wondering how on earth I was supposed to pass an entire 90 minutes with them. At one point I saw a student glowering at me, but I’m fairly sure that was more out of boredom than any personal anger. Once they were all done, I asked different students what the answers were. I didn’t have too much creative or original to add, but I like to think that I didn’t do too poorly considering the lack of notice. Then the students had to read a short story by Alice Munro. I asked whether they would prefer to read it individually or all together, and seeing as a few had already started we settled on individually. What I didn’t realize was that this meant some of them would be finished way before the others. The story took a lot longer for me to read than I expected, and in the end everyone was finished only 10 minutes before the end of class. I asked a few questions about it, such as what the students thought about it and if they preferred novels or short stories. In the end, I don’t think the students were riveted by my amazing teaching skills, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t bored out of their minds either.

After this class, I went and spoke with the vice principal about what would happen in the next class I was supposed to teach with the absent teacher. He told me that the principal was going to give the students a test (the teacher had already set up the test, it’s not like the principal was just being cruel), and after that I could supervise the students while the principal worked in his office. So he came in and gave the students their exam, and told them that if they looked over at someone else’s paper, I would take it away from them. He made me sound good and menacing, so the students never really found out that I’m a softie. It’s amazing how much power simple supervision has. I have hardly any teaching experience and don’t have much authority within the school system, but my simply being there and attentive meant that no students dared look at one another’s papers. When there was about half an hour left in class, I told students that once they were done their papers they could raise their hands and I would collect them. Unfortunately after that, some of the students started making noise. I had a complete flashback to those moments in my school days, when students around me were done and started chatting away about random things while I was staring at my paper in paralyzed fear, willing the last few answers to pop into my mind. So I tried to make the students be quiet. Every once in a while I would say something like “guys, some people still aren’t done their papers. No talking.” or “Come on guys, some people still aren’t done. Read quietly or work on something else”. But there unfortunately was no stopping them. In the end I said “ok guys. If you are extremely quiet, you can go now. But don’t talk until you’re out of the room.” They seemed pleasantly surprised, and managed to leave without making an obscene amount of noise. I hope that the students still working had gotten enough silence, but I’m not really sure. One of them said good-bye to me as she left, which I found very friendly. The embarrassing part is I didn’t notice she was saying good-bye, and sort of had my finger in my ear. Either way, I still take student interactions to be a good sign. It makes me really happy whenever one of them says hello to me in the hallway, and I love that the more I work here the more faces I recognize in the school.

So, the day of my working spontaneously alone was a success. Normally I will not be teaching classes alone, but I was happy that I could help out when teachers were in a tight spot.

One teacher sent me an email early in the week asking if I could come to his grade eleven class on Wednesday. The kids had a big exam the next day and it would be helpful to have two teachers helping them with their practice exams. I think that class went well, although a lot of students weren’t ready with a draft for me to look over until the last few minutes of class. I still haven’t gotten the hang of being forward and demanding they share their work with me earlier. I still feel quite guilty though – one student gave me her work and I basically ripped it to shreds. I was trying to fix all these details to make her writing better, and didn’t realize she would be so discouraged when she got it back. But eventually the other teacher worked with her and I like to think he made her feel better about her progress. From then on I made sure to only work on a few general things instead of fixating on every detail! One student unfortunately had such messy writing that I skimmed it over and made about two comments to make it seem like i knew what it was all about. Either way, I like to think that in the end I was a bit of a help. One student wanted to know the difference between “many” and “much” and thanks to my days in copyediting class I know that answer quite well.

After that, it was conversation course time again. I had serious doubts that anyone would attend, since all three people from the last week were only about to make it every second week. But lo and behold, the grade seven student was able to make it since something else got cancelled. A bit of a shame that I couldn’t go home 90 minutes early, but helping with English is what I’m getting paid for! For this week, I had printed out the lyrics to the Barenaked Ladies “If I had a Million Dollars” and I played it for him. We then spent some time discussing what we would do if we had a million dollars, and then we got onto the topic of pets. That proved to be a conversational jackpot, since he has a guinea pig, a dog, two mice, and a rabbit. There were a lot of times when we didn’t know how exactly to get our message across, so we resorted to dictionaries and drawing on the board. At one point he was telling me about his two pets that are now dead, but I didn’t realize the dead part until a while later. I’m not actually sure of how many pets he has at this moment. But either way, it was a good class!

After school, I had orchestra practice. Next week there will be an Organ concert featuring the new organ that the school bought. Since our band’s conductor found a piece for bagpipes and organ, I’ve been asked to play in the concert. I brought both my small pipes and my normal pipes to practice so we could try it out. It turns out that the big bagpipes are just a bit off key from the organ, but the small pipes were just right. The plan now is that I will play Scotland the Brave on my big pipes at the beginning of the concert, just to frighten the bejeezes out of the audience. Then once they’ve recovered, I’ll play a lovely duet with my small pipes and the organ. It should be a good time! After practice we all went out for Greek food. I’m enjoying the chance to play music and speak German on Wednesday nights, and I’m very glad it’s part of my weekly schedule!

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The photo above is my Mom and I playing small pipes at a wedding this summer – just in case you didn’t know what small pipes look like. I think they were a lovely, subtle way to add music to the wedding, and after borrowing a friend’s small pipes for this performance I really wanted a set of my own (and then I was given my own set right before coming to Germany!)

Thursday was a very big day for me this week. After having made all sorts of changes to my Canadian presentation, this was the first day I actually got to deliver it! All of these hours of time preparing a powerpoint and a handout and a reading and notes and a lesson plan outlining how I would spend every minute…and I would spend 90 minutes trying to get a grade ten class to be quiet enough so that I could teach it all. In the end, it went very well. The morning started off shaky when the copier broke down halfway through my food information sheet, but fortunately I had gotten enough copies of the fill-in-the-blanks form. When I got to the class, there was a computer that usually teachers use to hook up to the projector, but no one had told me the password for accessing that system. Luckily I had brought my own laptop, and was able to hook that up fairly efficiently instead. But from that point on, the presentation went very well. It doesn’t include as much personal information about my background as I would have liked, but I think it’s a good general introduction to Canadian culture. I was surprised by what things the class found exceedingly interesting in contrast with what they were bored by – especially in the celebrity section. They couldn’t care less that Deadmau5 came from Canada, but thought it was awesome that Seth Rogen was Canadian. Unfortunately none of them have seen “Austin Powers” so the Mike Myers reference wasn’t as cool as I would have hoped. The only thing I didn’t handle very well was their assignment at the end. They had to work in pairs to make a dialogue about coming to Canada and what they would see and do, but when I made them present from their seats, no one else paid attention. So next time, I’ll have to make sure they go to the front of class and everyone else is silent. Some of them just said “we’re not done yet” and it was a way to get out of presenting. One student asked how old I am, and when I told him I’m 22 he told me I look like I’m about 15 or 18. I’ll take that as a compliment! Either way, I was extremely pleased with how it went.

After that, I had a class helping out with grade nine students. The class had to make a dialogue about going to Australia, and so the teacher and I did an example dialogue to start them off. The students certainly got a kick out of that, especially when the (male) teacher chose the words “come party with me!” It’s interesting what things kids decide to pick up on. We had basically a standing ovation at the end of it, so that was fun.

After class, I headed off to my very first German class. I should explain that a bit though.

As most of you know, one of the things I hoped to do as part of my stay in Berlin is learn as much German as possible. The university that my boyfriend attends, TU, offers German language courses that are a fair bit cheaper than they would be elsewhere in Berlin. I picked out a course that I felt would be a good fit for me – it was on Thursdays shortly after I finished work, and it was at the B1 level (the levels are basically A1, A2, B1…up to C2). Unfortunately, when the courses opened up for people to apply, they were only open to TU students. I was basically informed that, if there was any room left by the time the course began, I could possibly take it. But the one I wanted to take became full before I was able to apply. However, I decided to show up to the first one and see how it went.

The train ride from my school to the University is quite gorgeous. I get to pass the Berliner Dom, the fancy TV tower, the government building, and the statue of the golden woman. Those names were not very accurate, but either way I loved the view. Here’s a few photos of those attractions in case you’re unsure of what I’m talking about.

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Once I got to the class, I asked the teacher (in German) if I could stay even though I wasn’t registered. She said that it was no problem, and if someone else were to leave the class I could likely take their place. We started off the class with a German proficiency test, and a few students were told that their results were good enough that they could move up to a B2 level course. One of them decided to do that, and at that point the teacher wrote me a note to give to the receptionist, saying that I could take this student’s place and I should be entered in the TU system. I’m really hoping that this works out and I can register for this class, but I have to wait until tomorrow to try because the receptionist was out of the office and wouldn’t be back until Monday.

The class itself was thoroughly enjoyable. There were only about 15 students, and all communication happened in German. Whenever the teacher was teaching us the definition of something, she would use German to explain it instead of translating it to English. There were people there from Poland, Bulgaria, China, Iran, and many more – it would be really cool to get to know people from such unique places. I would have to get used to having homework again, but since it’s yet another way for me to use German within my week it would be really good. Plus, it’s not like I’m going for an A in this course – I would love to do well, but it’s not a mark going towards some sort of degree. If I got to take this course, that would mean I speak German Wednesday evenings with my band, then Thursday evenings in class, and probably use it on the weekends with friends. I’ll keep you posted about if I’m able to get in!

The class lasted 3 hours, and afterwards I met Sebastien at the library. Thursday was the “Lange Nacht der Bibliothek” which basically meant that several libraries throughout the city were open for people to come and see them. Sebastien’s university library was partaking, so we saw a few lectures going on and walked around. I asked a bit about if there were practicums available at the library, but was told that school libraries primarily hire students from the school itself. We then went to another library that was absolutely breathtaking, and apparently houses some of the most diverse records in the world. I tried asking there as well, but was told that it’s very competitive to get work at that library because of it’s reputation. After that Sebastien and I went to the mystery movie night we check out every week, and got to check out Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger (I don’t feel like checking the spelling, sorry!) try to get out of prison.

So there you have it. I’m really sorry if you found this report a bit tedious, but those were the adventures of my week! I hear that it has snowed in Calgary, but here in Berlin the weather is still treating us really well. I’m loving the fall and all of the gorgeous falling leaves. Tomorrow I will try and get into that German course, and after that I’m going to try and ask about volunteering at the library that is really close to my house. I’m also going to start practicing my bagpipes intensely in preparation for my performance this week. On Tuesday I’m checking out a tour of dungeons in Berlin, which supposedly has a Halloween theme. It could be interesting!

I hope you all enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Tschüss!

-Robyn

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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Adventures in Barcelona

Hello there!

It’s so hard to believe that it’s been a week since I returned from Oktoberfest! It’s crazy how a span of time can feel so short and yet so long all at once.

As you may recall, teachers in Germany (including me!) have a two week break from teaching in October. While I knew I would spend part of my first week off in Munich, I had no plans for the second week – and once Sebastien realized he would be done his thesis a bit early, it was established that he also had a week of free time before his university started up again. Before I had left for Munich, I told him that if he were to book a small trip somewhere during the second week, I would pay for half and willingly go wherever it was. We contemplated France, Spain, Italy, England, somewhere in Germany…but I left the final decision up to him (since I hate decisions!) I had told him that my only condition was I would love to see a cultural library or bookstore wherever we went.

So last Thursday as he was picking me up from the bus station, Seb told me he had booked a trip for us. He wouldn’t tell me anything else about it though until Saturday, at which point he figured we should start getting prepared. Turns out he had booked a flight for Barcelona, Spain! As you can imagine, I was absolutely ecstatic. Seb had found a good deal on a flight leaving Tuesday morning and returning Thursday night. He had even booked a hotel right around the corner from Catalunya’s National Library! I had a hard time believing we were really going so quickly, but the day of our departure soon arrived.

The flight to Barcelona was direct, although on the way home we would have to change planes in Munich. It’s been a while since I took a 2.5 hour direct flight anywhere in Canada, but I don’t remember there being a significant amount of food accompanying the journey. What a happy girl I was when the stewardess came around offering a choice of spinach and cheese ravioli or currywurst, and I was provided with the same amount of food I usually get on a flight from Calgary to Berlin.

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Salad with dressing, a bun with butter, ravioli, cheese, chocolate, and cake. Plus juice and two refills of tea. How awesome is that!

Sorry for that boring interlude, I swear the rest of my trip was much more interesting!

The first moment when the trip started reminding me of Disneyland was when they made all of the safety announcements in Spanish. The second was when we got off the plane and saw palm trees everywhere! While we had left a cloudy and cold Berlin that morning, we were greeted with warmth and sunshine in Barcelona. The bus ride into town from the airport was extremely pleasant, with all sorts of things to see. The roads seemed pretty darn narrow for our bus to be getting through, but I guess that’s why it was the driver driving and not me. I was also introduced to Southern European driving culture when a taxi driver was taking his sweet time getting out of his cab and the bus just about drove over him. Fortunately he didn’t seem perturbed by having to flatten himself between the bus and the cab. Here are a few pictures of what we drove by on the way into the city.

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We disembarked from the bus at the Placa de Catalunya, and began finding our way to the hotel. Or to put it more accurately, Seb figured out where our hotel was while I took hundreds of photos and tried not to fall behind.

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We walked up one square that is famous for selling goods – while there is one way traffic on either side, there are gardening and tourist stores lining the pathway where throngs of people walk through.

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After that, we walked through about three different side streets before we reached our hotel. We got checked in using a mixture of English and Sebastien’s Spanish, and marvelled at the view from our room. Our window looked into that of a lot of Spanish local apartments – I don’t know how they could deal with having tourists constantly looking in on their daily lives! But we also climbed up on the roof, where there was an area to suntan or look out at the city.

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There sure is a lot of laundry hanging from the windows in Barcelona through the narrow streets. I figure Seb and I should have grabbed a pole and poked at the clothes until they fell – it’s like thrift shopping except without consent! In any case, we left the hotel by about 3:30 and started exploring the city.

There are an amazing amount of small side streets in Barcelona – on some there is only enough room for a car driving in one direction, and on the rest there is only enough room for vespas or bicycles. I think that vespas (or scooters) are to Barcelona what bicycles are to Amsterdam – absolutely everyone drives one! With all the side streets, it makes sense that it’s the fastest way to get around. There were also a lot of motorized bicycles – I suppose it’s just like a vespa except that it has a similar frame to a bicycle. It was weird to see one woman bike by with her legs crossed instead of pedalling.

It was fascinating to walk through the small streets and see the shopping districts – there were lots of jewelry stores and I got to see a pretty big Buddha.

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Eventually we reached a decent sized street, and headed towards the beach. The pedestrian crossings in Barcelona are pretty crazy – similar to Canada, pedestrians are given a blinking light when their time to walk is coming to an end, but here it’s pretty darn short before it turns to red. One time, a few people thought that no traffic was coming and crossed the street even though the light was red, and a vespa started honking wildly at them because he was about to zoom on through. It all worked out fine, but we never got too cocky in our street crossings!

The day was absolutely gorgeous, and when we finally reached the beach we wished we had brought our swimsuits. There were a fair number of people trying to sell mojitoes or pieces of coconut, but they weren’t too pushy. We did dip our feet in the ocean, which was nice and warm.

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After that, we ventured over to a park that was in Seb’s guide book. We were searching for the parliament building, believing that it would be a significant sight, but in the end it was fairly closed off and not very visible. However, the park itself was gorgeous. We sat under a palm tree for a short while, and stumbled upon a grandeur fountain representing a goddess. I won’t write the facts here because I don’t really remember the particulars. Either way, in the picture from Seb’s book, the statue was mainly black, whereas it is now all gold. We climbed up the stairs to get the view from the top, which was interesting as well.

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After that, we found an arch that was also in Seb’s book. We decided to eat dinner around there so that once it got dark we could check out the lighting around the arch, but in the end the arch wasn’t actually lit up. There was a pathway leading up to it that was though. The place we ate dinner at was unfortunately horrendous – while it was the most expensive thing we ate on our entire trip, I’m pretty sure my meal was made by tossing a bit of half-raw ground beef on some noodles with BBQ sauce. However, Seb and I agreed that this experience set our standards really low for how good the next meal might be!

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After this, we went back through the park – the wind was almost a bit cold, but I still was doing fine in just a t-shirt. Seb had told me that in Spain, the cities come to life at night because of the extreme heat during the day. As we walked through the park, there were several fitness classes going on, as well as people doing tricks on their bicycles or skateboards. We then wandered through more small streets, and noticed the varying hours of shops and restaurants. It seems that there is never a time when all the stores are open at once – while some are open in the morning, some are only getting started at nightfall. We stumbled upon a really cool music hall, although at the time I don’t think I fully appreciated how artistically elaborate it was.

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We then went and bought a small drink, and took it to the Placa de Catalunya where we sat and took in the atmosphere. A few people were trying to sell these small lights that you toss into the air with a slingshot, so they were constantly launching them up and trying to lure in tourists (that was another similarity to Disneyland! People outside our hotel were selling them as well). There was also a man making huge bubbles which children would then pop, but usually a few would get away and drift towards the trees. Once we were done sipping on our drinks, we headed back to the hotel and finally gave our feet a proper rest for the night.

The next morning, we set off for a department store near our hotel. A friend of Sebastien’s spent a year in Barcelona and recommended a cafe at the top of the store – she said that the view was amazing, but the prices were good because hardly anyone knew about the cafe’s existence. We found it easily enough, and were able to order through pointing at pictures and speaking little bits of Spanish. Believe it or not, I spoke way more German in my attempt to communicate than I did English. When I try to think “what’s the word for this that’s not English?” German instantly pops into my head. I remember my very first day of German class, suddenly I could remember all sorts of French that I hadn’t used in three years for the same reason. In any case, we enjoyed our breakfasts and the spectacular view. The only intimidating part was when Seb pointed out the hill we would be climbing later in the day, and I figured it looked a little scarier than he had made it sound.

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After that, we tackled the hill (you can see it in the first picture above). It wasn’t actually too bad of a hike – I wore my running shoes and at the end of it all felt a sense of accomplishment that we had walked the whole way instead of taking a bus like most tourists. There was an impressive fortress at the top, and the view was incredible. We were able to spot the department store we had just eaten at, as well as a statue of Christopher Columbus.

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After that, it was finally time to check out the library! It was just around the corner from our hotel, and was within an area walled off from the other stores. The walled-off spot had a few buildings and a courtyard, and there were a few students hanging around strumming guitars. The library we entered had previously been a hospital, and we could see photos of what it used to look like (I didn’t take any photos inside the library itself for fear of being yelled at in Spanish). There were some things we were unable to see without being members of the library, but there were a few old books on display. This library specializes in historical national documents, and it was pretty fascinating to see. When I saw the staircase labelled “library staff only” I got all excited thinking that someday that could be me!

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After that, we headed back to the beach. Ironically enough, the sunshine that had been around all morning (and was not the most welcome on the extremely warm hike up the hill) disappeared as we made our way to the beach. We sat in the sand for a little while, hoping that it would come back, but in the end we went swimming despite the clouds. The sun did come out once in a while, but by the end of it I was excited to have a hot shower in the hotel room and put my jeans back on.

We had dinner outside at a “sports bar” we had walked by earlier in the day. The special of the day was mussels with potatoes and a spicy sauce plus a drink; while I am not known for enjoying seafood, I was developing a craving for it and decided to go ahead and order it. Sebastien got a paella, and we agreed that if I didn’t like the mussels we could figure out some sort of trade. Paella is a very well known Spanish dish, with seasoned rice and either meat or veggies or seafood. Seb tried the mixture of seafood and meat, and got to try scampi and calamari, as well as one mussel of his own. I loved my meal – the mussels had a great buttery sauce and Seb and I both sipped on sangria.

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After our very satisfying dinner, we once again bought a drink at a grocery store and went to the Placa de Catalunya (I finally memorized how to spell that, so I’m going to use it as often as I can) and sat on a bench. The people selling flying lights were out again, as well as the bubble man. We also noticed quite a few mice scurrying around in the bushes that we had failed to notice the day before (and the similarities to Disneyland continue – should have named one of the mice Mickey). There were a few fancy fountains that we watched, and we saw them shut off at about 11.

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The next morning would be our last in Barcelona, so we set off early to see the rest of the important sights. We checked out a cathedral in the area, which had an impressive courtyard with several swans. We later took a break outside of the King’s old living area, and enjoyed soaking up the sun that had made a grand return.

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With our remaining time, we went to the park to lie in the grass before going for lunch. We found a rustic restaurant that had a paella special of the day, so I finally tried my own paella. Unfortunately it turns out I don’t really like paella – there are so many different things that I was terrified of eating a chicken bone or scampi leg along with the rice. But it was certainly an experience!

After that, we headed for the airport. It was sad to go, but I think we definitely made the most of the time we had there. To do any other touristy things would have involved a lot more money and travelling to the outskirts of the city. And leaving in the afternoon on the last day meant that we still got to do a lot of things in the city before heading home.

I hope that I haven’t left out any important details (or perhaps included too many?) and that you’ve enjoyed the read! I certainly enjoyed the trip, and am happy to say I have finally been to Spain. On Monday school resumes, and on Wednesday I will be teaching my very first “conversation course.” It’s been a fantastic break, but I am excited to get back into my routine. Seb will be beginning his Master’s this week too, which is very exciting! Hopefully I will have lots of entertaining things within the next while to tell you about here.

Thanks for reading!

Auf Wiedersehen!

-Robyn

 
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Posted by on October 12, 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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Es fängt an! (And so it begins…)

Hello all!

As promised, here are all the details about my very first day at work!

While the orientation was exceedingly helpful in providing me with information about what to expect this year, there were a lot of things that could only be answered once I began the actual job. What sort of dress code I would be expected to uphold, if I should address my coworkers with the formal “Sie” or the informal “du”, whether I should let the students know that I speak any German or not. So, while part of me wished that the orientation could have lasted longer (great food, great scenery, great company) I was anxious to actually begin and see what the deal was.

After spending an excruciatingly long time trying to figure out what to wear for my first day, I hopped on a bus to begin my trip to school. Then I hopped on a train. Then finally hopped on a final train. It takes me an hour to get from door to door – I figure I’ll be reading a book per week with all the time it gives me! While Sebastien and I had done a trial run the day before, complete with locating the secretary’s office, it was about 20 times more intimidating to approach the school when there were a ton of kids running around. But I headed straight to the office, and it wasn’t long before I was found by the English teacher I had been communicating with. He introduced himself in English, and we started going over forms and the tasks that I have to complete such as getting a German bank account and registering my address. It’s a bit frustrating that the registration office is booked for a week solid, because I first have to register my address before I can get anything else done! But as of next Monday I can officially get the ball rolling on other things.

The staff there immediately made me feel welcome; I was introduced to various teachers as they were coming in and out of the office, and I was told right away to address people informally with the “du” tense. I had a meeting with the principal, head of the English department, and another teacher to sort out some of my working details. They were surprised that I could speak any German, and the principal was very complimentary at how good my language skills are. We sorted out my schedule for the semester, and I have been given Fridays off so that I can travel or do other things. The earliest that I start work is 8 am, and the latest time I leave at is 1:15.

At the orientation, the program manager had told us that teachers would be very excited to have us there to talk about our cultures, and we should make sure to speak up about anything else we wanted to get involved in. He said that some people in the past got into the band program at the school, or taught the kids about British sports, and some of them would join in on German classes. I definitely underestimated how true this would be! Everyone was very enthusiastic, and I’m pretty sure all the English teachers are fighting over me. The head of the English department recommended that I hold an English speaking class in the afternoons, where we can read a book or watch a movie and discuss it together (of course one teacher figured that the class will only have one or two students in September, and become full when it’s almost exam time). I mentioned that I play bagpipes, and was told that I should definitely take part in a show that will be held in December.

One aspect of the high school I’m working at is that it has a few partner universities – including the university that my boyfriend attends. I’m not sure exactly how this connection works, but when I mentioned the fact that I want to either take a German class at a university, or else join in a German class at the school, the principal was very accommodating. If I decide on what sort of class I would want to take at a university, he could get in touch with the department there to help me out. As for taking German at the school, there is apparently a student from France that is getting private German lessons with one of the teachers, and it would be possible for me to have one on one time with a teacher. And last but not least, I asked if there was any chance that I could volunteer at the school’s library. I’m planning on applying to a Masters in Library Science when I’m back in Canada, and I could use a bit of experience! They told me that the high school does not actually have a library, but they could possibly get in touch with one of their partner universities and see if I could work there. In regards to all of these different things, I’ll have to wait and see how they’ll pan out – but I was absolutely blown away at how willing they were to get me as involved as possible! It made me feel so incredibly welcome, and I’m so excited to start getting into the rhythm of things. Also, I found out that I will be receiving a student card, which will get me a huge discount on my bus pass from now on. Considering that my transportation was one of the larger expenses I was prepared to budget for, I was very happy to learn that!

After some of those details were sorted out, I was shown around the school and told a bit about it; the school is for grades 5-12, and while they don’t have a particular designation as an “Arts School” or “Science School” they do offer Honours classes and a wide variety of sciences. I will be working with grades 7-10; apparently the grade 8s are learning about Canada right now so I should try to prepare an entire lesson based around that (yikes!!) and present it to several grade 8 classes. This week I will do a ten minute introduction of myself for each class, and then spend some time observing what all goes on. I guess often I will do “partner teaching” with the main teacher, which sounds good to me. I have been given my schedule, and tomorrow I have one class from 8-9:30, with grade 7s. I have to be at the school at 7:30, so it looks like I’ll be waking up around 5:30 to prepare for a 6:20 bus. Luckily I won’t be starting quite that early every day!

When I left the school, I was feeling quite confident that this year is going to be a great success. Here is the photo I took as I was leaving:

German Orientation 495

When I looked up the website for the school, I saw a photo of it in the fall, with yellow leaves on the trees…I’m really excited to see fall in Germany! I always love summer, but this year is going to be so full of new experiences.

On Friday night, I went out with Sebastien and his friends – it was great seeing them again! One of my friends from the orientation also came out, and it was a lot of fun chatting with him in German. I’m very determined to learn as much German as possible this year, and insist on people speaking with me in German instead of English most of the time.

As for what else is in my immediate future: tomorrow after class, I am going to do a free trial at a gym in downtown Berlin, to see what I think and find out if I could afford to continue going there. I’m a bit anxious about trying to communicate with people in German without Sebastien around, but we’ll see how it goes. Also, on Wednesday I will be attending an orchestra rehearsal, and reviving my long dormant bass-playing skills. Sebastien’s mom has kindly invited me to join her orchestra, and I’m excited (and nervous!) to see how it goes. At the orientation, we were told to say yes to everything we can, so I’m off to a good start!

Wow, that was a lot of writing, and unfortunately I couldn’t think of a lot of visual aids to add. But if you’ve read all the way to the end, I am so extremely appreciative! I’ll be sure to write again soon 🙂

Bis bald,

Robyn

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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Orientation Time!

Hello all!

Well, I have officially been in Germany for over a week, and it has been a complete whirlwind! I have enough details in my head to make a very long and tedious blog, so I’ll do what I can to skip to the good stuff.

My 8 hour flight to London was quite pleasant, with an empty seat next to me and comfy socks and five Disney movies to pass the time. I had so much fun I think I could have stayed on the plane another few hours! The flight to Berlin went just about as smoothly, although reading Jane Austen was a bit of a struggle based on how tired I was.

Once Sebastien had whisked me away to his house, I had less than 24 hours to get rested up and unpack my two suitcases. We began driving to Köln in the evening to take advantage of the nearly empty highway, and got to the outer limits of Köln before taking a nap in the car. This meant that we made it to the Kölner Zoo bright and early the next morning – such keeners! The zoo was a lot of fun, particularly when we got to see hippos being fed apples. Watching crocodiles being fed dead mice was a little disconcerting, but also an educational experience, I suppose! Here are a few cutesy animal photos for your viewing enjoyment:

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After our day at the zoo, we found our hotel in Köln and went to an amazing Italian restaurant that was recommended to us by the hotel staff. I believe it was called “Imperium” although I could be wrong, but it was a crowded little place with lots of character and complimentary olives and bread with our tasty pizzas.

The next day, Sebastian drove me to the main train station in Köln, which is where I would be meeting everyone for our teaching orientation. Luckily I knew exactly where our meeting spot would be, since “the entrance with a view of the Köln Cathedral” was the same entrance I had been at with my WSP group last year. However, I’m fairly certain that that’s where the similarities between last year’s WSP event and this year’s PAD orientation end. While last year involved 15 or so Canadians, this year involved 140 people coming from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, and Scotland. The vast majority was from England, because for them this program counts as a year on exchange for university. The rest of us had to have a degree before we were able to take part. Once I found this huge group, we were all loaded on to buses and taken to the countryside. The place we were going to, “Maria in der Aue,” was isolated enough that we actually had to get off the bus and walk 20 minutes down a road to get to it.

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We made sure to say hello to some cows and ponies on the way down, as well as slowly started to talk to and get to know one another.

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The thing that I loved most about this orientation was the fact that, for the entire three days we were there, we never stopped introducing ourselves to more people. While I have had previous experiences where people form their own little groups and only hang out with the people from that group, I sat with a different group of people for every single meal, and was always welcomed and talked to. Everyone had so much to learn from one another, what with their different accents and culture, and it was interesting to hear about each person’s educational background. Everyone had a great sense of humour as well, and half the time I was amused more by the varying accents than by the actual jokes. I found out that I really need to work on my global geography…whenever I asked a British person where they were from, the only spot I knew a single thing about was London. There were only about five Canadians there, and I always find it entertaining that people from outside of North America have no idea where Calgary is.

The orientation was more helpful than I could have imagined, in regards to how much it clarified complicated details about my staying in a foreign country. I still have a ton of paperwork that needs to be dealt with, but I found out about my health insurance, how to register at my address here, how to get my visa, and how to get a bank account. I also learned a fair bit about what it’ll be like to teach; we were divided into groups based on where we will be living, and had to prepare a 45 minute lesson for our peers. They also organized the rooms so that people would be roommates with people going to their same city, which meant that I now have quite a few friends I could hang out with while I’m here. I enjoyed meeting friends that will be staying elsewhere in Germany though, and hope that I can visit them soon! Below is a photo of how gorgeous “Maria in der Aue” is, in all its isolation.

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The photo right above is one of the view from the patio. I’m not sure where the fun-little-caption-thing-below-a-photo has gone, but hopefully it’s not too difficult to follow along!

On the last morning of the orientation, we had to wake up at about 6am to get ready for the bus back to Köln. We were dropped off at the station, and I hung out with a Brit and an Australian for a while before my train to Berlin was leaving. I had been extremely nervous about finding my way to the right platform and the right train, but my British friend was used to trains and helped me find the right spot within a 2 minute period. Here are a few photos I took of the train station, including the Köln Cathedral from the opposite side.

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Once on the train, I ran into another girl from Britain, who was also heading to Berlin. We sat together and learned a bit more about each other, while also enjoying the German scenery passing by. I really enjoy travelling by train; it’s so fun to get somewhere quickly and comfortably while also being able to see the countryside as it whizzes by. That train took 5 hours, and at the end of it Sebastien met me at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main station), where we then bought a local bus pass for the month and then continued home. On the way there, we took a detour so that Sebastien could show me how to get to the school where I’ll be working. I was extremely grateful that he did that, because it made my first day on the job that much easier! It felt pretty good to be so comfortable with the route, and the fact that I spent three months last summer travelling through Berlin meant that a lot of parts of the journey were familiar.

My first day at work was the next day, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. However, I am going to end this blog entry now because I have to get ready for this evening’s activities, and would like to give your eyes a break. At the orientation, we learned all about working with spans of attention and I don’t want to put yours to the test!

Thank you so much for reading! Bis Morgen!

-Robyn

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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