No really, where’s my bike dude?

I’m sure some of you were scratching your head as you read the title of my blog. I’m going to break it down for you:

I’ll be honest, I’m not really a creative person (according to Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, I have Bodily-Kinesthetic and Interpersonal abilities). I’ve seen some friends come up with clever, catchy, and cute names but nothing was coming to me. Then I had my “A-Ha!” moment. I wanted something in my title to say something about me as a California native. I was having some writer’s block and I said to myself, “Dude, I have no idea.” THAT’S IT! DUDE! Of course, when I think of the word dude, the epic film Dude, Where’s My Car? comes to mind. If you haven’t seen it, please do. So how does the bike come into play? Well, I currently live in the city of Münster and I will be here for the whole summer until I start work. Münster is a university city, much like San Luis Obispo or Chico, CA (For my friends from CA), but more importantly it’s a “Fahrradstadt” (Fahrrad= bike, Stadt= city).

The biking culture in Münster is unlike anything I’ve seen before. There is really no need for a car in this city. When Benedikt found my apartment for me, I remember asking him how far his apartment was from mine and he said, “Well depending on how fast you are, about 15-20 minutes by bike.” Folks, I’ve probably never ridden a bike that far in my life. I am sharing some things I’ve learned so far as a bike rider in Münster.

How to transition from the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 405 freeway to the Münster Promenade:

Step 1: I needed to buy a bike, since Benedikt’s spare bike was unfortunately too big for me (and other bikes I tried were as well). So we went to the used bike dealership and I found my wonderful, emerald green Gazelle bike (it was also advertised as being an ideal bike for children who are growing, which was bascially perfect for my size lol). It was also essential for me to buy a chain lock because bikes can be stolen. At 15 bike thefts per day it’s the most common crime in Münster!

Step 2: Hit the road! Wait, ok, not quite yet. There are some rules to bike riding in Münster. First, one must know where it is acceptable to ride their bike. Typically, every sidewalk has a red lane for bikes and a grey lane for pedestrians. Occasionally, you have to go on the street with the cars when the bike lane ends (which I wish there was some signs to warn me that the bike lane was ending…). Always use your hand signals! Your arms are your indicators. Also, bike riders almost always have the right of way, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch for cars or pedestrians. Use your lights at night. When you’re somewhere where you’re not supposed to ride bikes, get off and walk it because you can and probably will get a ticket (There’s cops on bikes too and they don’t mess around). Travel by the Promenade! The Promenade is like the bike highway, and it’s only for bikes and pedestrians which makes it relatively safe.

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Step 3: Try not to lose your bike or have it stolen (and if someone steals your tire, don’t just abandon your bike somewhere…. see photo below).  The best way to chain your bike is to wrap the chain around the hind tire as that’s much more difficult to steal, or chain your bike to something, like a post. It is also very easy for bikes to get lost in the crowd, maybe if you have a neutral color or common bike put something on it to set it apart from the others (I’ve seen a lot of fake flowers wrapped on bikes and they look like bikes headed to Coachella).

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Step 4: If you’re not used to riding bikes long distances, you may get tired. Sadly all of my SoulCycle classes did not prepare me for this. Although sometimes I throw on my headphones and pretend it’s SoulCycle (Do not try to “Tap it Back” on a real bike people, it doesn’t work). It did get better for me! I have beaten Benedikt’s projected travel time from my apartment to his and I can make it there in 12 minutes.

Overall, I love riding my bike through the city. It’s so relaxing to me, especially after years of driving in the worst Southern California traffic.

So now you know the meaning of the bike. That’s all for now my friends. Until next time!

Bis später! (See you later!)

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A Breath of Fresh Air

Many of you are probably wondering what exactly I’ve been doing in Germany for the last year… no, I was not studying. I was also not teaching English. I also was not working at a stable, although I still have the opportunity to ride a few times a week. Instead, I stepped out of my box to work at an international boarding school in Germany, Die Loburg, and not as a teacher, but rather working alongside the residential advisors. Die Loburg is a boarding school for German and international students, as well as a Gymnasium (highest level of high school in Germany). The international students come from China, Russia, Mexico, Iran, Czech Republic, and the list goes on and on… This opportunity came about through the recommendation from a friend. He told me about a federal volunteer service called Bundesfreiwilligendienst that I could do at this boarding school. This year has brought many new challenging, yet exciting experiences, but more importantly, it helped me take a step back and reflect about what I really want to do with my life. I was quite lost after finishing my bachelor’s degree and had no clue where to go from there, and I know I’m not alone in saying that, and having the opportunity to do this program was more than I could have hoped for.

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Schloss Loburg (Note: the students don’t live in the castle!)

Life at the Loburg

My days usually start somewhere between 2:00 PM and 6:00 PM and my shifts end sometime between 8:00 PM and midnight. At the beginning of the year, myself and the other “Bufdis” (that’s what the volunteers are called) and interns were divided among the 4 houses at the boarding school. There are 2 houses for girls (1 for 5th-9th grade and the other for 10th-12th) as well as 2 houses for the boys. I was assigned to work during the school year with the 10th-12th grade girls and am there with them from Monday-Friday after school. My duties include doing extracurricular activities with all of the students (Tuesdays we go to the fitness studio in town and Thursdays we play basketball), keeping our kitchen stocked with snacks and milk, tutoring in English, driving them to appointments, and just being there for the girls whenever they need something. I think of myself as sort of a big sister to them. I also work on the weekends where the German students go home and the international students stay on campus. I work with a team of residential advisors that work specifically on the international weekends, and there is another team that works on the weekends when all of the students stay.  The weekends are pretty relaxing, but we always try to offer a program for the students, such as going to the zoo, the shopping mall, a train trip to the Netherlands for the day, theme parties, etc. We even spent 5 days camping with the international students! Most of the students enjoy their weekends in our “Pinte” which is our pub on campus. They are allowed to drink beer, wine, and prosecco/champagne at age 16 in Germany, but of course we make sure it’s consumed in moderation.

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My weekend team leader, Hubi, and I at the “Bad Taste” theme party
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Bike tour during our camping trip in Soltau
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Day at Heide Park (amusement park) with the international students
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Group dinner with the girls

 

Bundesfreiwilligendienst (BFD)

Don’t be a afraid by how long the word is, a lot of compound words in German are just as long if not longer. But literally translated, it means Federal Volunteer Service. Until 2011, German men could be drafted for compulsory military service (Wehrpflicht) but they were allowed to do civil service (Zivildienst) instead. For German women there was a voluntary civil service (Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr). When the Wehrpflicht was suspended in 2011, the Bundesfreiwilligendienst was created. The great part about this program, is that it is open to EVERYONE who has completed compulsory school (age 16, or 15 in some German states), regardless of their age, gender, the type of school they’ve attended (there are different kinds of high schools in Germany), or nationality. That means, as a foreigner, I was allowed to partake in this program and once I had a work contract, receive a temporary residence permit to do so. I am completing my BFD at a school, but the possibilities are endless as to where one can do a volunteer year. (Side note: the length of the volunteer service can be from 6 to 24 months). Service can be done in the social sphere (hospitals, senior residences, orphanages), environmental (national parks, animal rescues, agriculture), cultural (community theater, museums, archaeological excavations) and in sports (sports clubs). The job is full time (approximately 35 hours per week) but we also receive a minimum of 24 days vacation, public health insurance provided by the job site, and a pocket money salary of about 380 Euro per month. In some cases, like mine, food is included and one can also arrange to live on site or in housing provided by the place of assignment. The language spoken at work is German and a basic level of German is compulsory, although there is usually no need to pass a standardized test. There are plenty of opportunities for intensive language courses here, and the cost of an additional course done within the first 3 months of the service can be covered (fully or partially) by the BFD Program. I had a decent foundation before starting work, but I learned a lot of German on the job.

For more info:

https://www.bundesfreiwilligendienst.de/fileadmin/de.bundesfreiwilligendienst/content.de/Fuer_Einsatzstellen/Materialien/BFD_Flyer_engl_web_RZ.pdf

Looking back on the year and into the future…

Overall, this was one of the best experiences of my life. I would absolutely recommend it for anyone interested in living for a year abroad. What especially struck me about this program is that we do not have something like this in the U.S. Many places are understaffed, especially in elderly, handicapped, and child care services. This results in the workers being unable to fulfill their daily tasks or they spread themselves too thin and cannot properly tend to the needs of their clients. When such a program would exist in the U.S., these understaffed fields would benefit from the extra help, and at the same time, the volunteer service workers would gain practical, valuable experience, as well as a good reference for their resume. A win-win. Personally, I find it more valuable to gain work experience in a field that one may be interested in pursuing, even when the salary is not outstanding. Also, the fact that foreigners can participate in the program, would possibly be one good solution to the current immigration discussion in the U.S. Workers would be legally working under the U.S. government and be doing a service to people in America, while getting to experience living in the country and learning the language. Obviously, it would have to be all ironed out to figure out how the program would be financed. In Germany, the salaries and benefits are financed either fully or partially from the federal government depending on the institution the volunteers are working for. Just some of my thoughts…

But like I said, I am so incredibly grateful for this experience. I got to learn a new language, and the work I did helped me confirm that I want to do some type of social work or counseling with teenagers. Starting in August, I will be doing a one year training program to become a certified child care worker and then hopefully going for Masters after!

So if you or someone you know has just finished high school, a bachelor’s degree, or just looking for a life change and something new to experience, all while being able to explore Europe and learn a new language, and having a good part of your personal expenses covered, then a Bundesfreiwilligendienst could be a great opportunity for you! Should you have any questions or if you are interested in learning how to apply, please reach out to me. 🙂

In 3 weeks, I will be moving to Hannover and starting my next chapter. I know I haven’t kept up with my blog so well, but I hope to write some new posts about what’s in store for me!

Bis dann! (until then)

 

 

 

 

 

Destination: Ireland and Northern Ireland

If some of you did not already know, I love traveling. My first trip to Europe was to Belgium in 2013. Since then, I always wanted to travel more in Europe and eventually live here for some time. Flash forward to 2018, and here I am living in Europe and having more opportunities to travel! I’m going to try to write a blog about all of the places I have visited since living here (but I forgot to write about my trip to Amsterdam so that one will come later). What I want to share with people is not only my personal experiences there, but also recommendations for transportation, tours, restaurants, places to avoid, etc.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit Ireland and reconnect with an old friend of mine, Alexa. She was living in Ireland for a few months since her dad is located there for work at the moment. They were wonderful hosts and I was so grateful I was able to spend the weekend with them.

DAY 1

Travel: If any of you have ever travelled between countries in Europe, you may have taken a Ryanair flight. Ryanair is an Irish airline that offers affordable flights to many destinations in Europe (and even in North America, South America, and Northern Africa). I paid about 60 Euros in total for my flights, which is not bad considering you can’t even fly from LA to San Francisco for that cheap 😂. However, Ryanair imposed a new rule at the start of this year that you have to pay for priority boarding in order to bring a carry on bag with you (which doesn’t cost too much). If you don’t want to pay the extra fees, pack wisely and bring your backpack as your personal item. Upon arriving in Dublin, I took the Aircoach bus to Alexa’s place, as the airport is a little bit out of the city. The one way ticket cost 8,50 Euros and it was quite practical because the busses leave frequently and are right in front of the arrival terminal exit. However, it is not like a regular bus with a button to push for stop, instead you have to listen to what stops the driver calls out and then tell them if you’re getting off. For traveling within Dublin we used the busses to get around. There are these cards called “Leap Card’ (see picture) and you can purchase one of these cards and load credits onto them. You can do so at different outlets around Dublin. When you get on the bus, you have to tell the driver which stop you are going to because the price of your trip is calculated by how many stops you pass until you reach your stop. (You can also pay in cash).

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Things that stood out: I wouldn’t necessarily say being in Ireland is so much of a culture shock, at least not in Dublin (the rest of the country I haven’t seen). It’s quite modern, they have a lot of the same shops and restaurants as in Germany and America, and they speak English. One of the first things I noticed when I got off of the plane was that the signs are in English and Gaelic. As I went through the city, I noticed the signs were like that everywhere, and even the bus stops are said in their Gaelic name and English name. I found that to be very interesting, because although English is the predominantly spoken language in Ireland, the Gaelic language is still an official language and they preserve it even through something so simple as a street sign. Another thing that was sort of strange for me was driving on the other side of the road. As in the UK, in Ireland they have left-hand traffic. It was my first time being exposed to that and it was also difficult sometimes as a pedestrian because I was expecting the cars to be turning from a different direction. Pedestrians were another thing… in Dublin almost no one waited for the pedestrian light to change from red to green. Pedestrians just cross anywhere at anytime. However, in their defense, and as I started doing it too, the stop lights are on terrible timers and do take a while to change. So I get it… but still watch out for pedestrians!

DAY 2:

Sights to see: On Saturday, Alexa and I started our day by going to see the St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We thought about going in, but the entrance fee was 7 Euros. If you’re not interested in paying to get in, right next to the Cathedral is St. Patrick’s park and from there you get a beautiful view of the church. It’s also a nice place to hangout and relax for a little while. We then enjoyed a nice mid-day snack, and then made our way to the Guinness Storehouse (the walk from the Cathedral to Guinness was only 20 min.). We bought our tickets for the Guinness tour online, and that includes a complimentary pint. I recommend buying the tickets online because the price for students and adults is 17,50 Euros vs. 20 Euros for students and 25 Euros for adults at the store. The store is set up in levels, and you literally learn everything from the ground up. The first level is about what ingredients they use, a little bit of history, and then as you go on you learn a bit about the brewing process. Further on in the tour you get to do a tasting (and learn how to really take a sip of beer). We were also lucky enough to see an Irish step dance performance in the bar on the same level. At the very top they have the Gravity Bar where you can redeem your free pint and enjoy a beautiful view of the city. Overall, we were very pleased with the tour and I now love Guinness! (Yes, I had never tried it before…dark beers scare me…)

DAY 3:

The Tour: On the last day of my trip, Alexa and I decided to do a tour bus trip to Northern Ireland. We booked our trip through a company called Wild Rover Tours and it was 60 Euros per person. There are also cheaper tours out there, but we chose this one because it went to the locations that we wanted to see. The day started early with boarding the bus at 7:00 AM and then we headed straight for Belfast. Included in our ticket cost was the opportunity to either do a Black Taxi Tour, which was a tour in a taxi through Belfast and learning about the political history of the city and Northern Ireland, or we had the chance to go to the Titanic Experience. Alexa and I opted for the Titanic Experience (because who doesn’t love James Cameron’s Titanic?). We had about an hour and half to tour the museum, which was a down side because we definitely would have liked to read more thoroughly through everything there. A lot of information is presented in the Museum, from the city of Belfast, to the White Star Line Company, the constructing of the ship, the accident, and the aftermath. I certainly learned more than I ever knew about the Titanic. The most moving experience for me was entering a room where you heard the personal anecdotes of survivors playing over a loud speaker. In that same room were all of the messages being sent to and from the Titanic, from the first message when they hit the iceberg, to the last message that was ever sent.

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op on the tour was the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge along the coast of Northern Ireland. It’s a rope bridge connecting to a small island off of the mainland, originally constructed by salmon fishermen that fished from the island. Unfortunately, the winds that day were too strong and they closed the bridge for safety reasons. We still got to see the bridge, the small islands off the coast, and an area that was used for filming Game of Thrones.

Our final stop on the tour was a landmark called Giant’s Causeway. It’s an area on the coast that has basalt columns that look like steps leading into the ocean. It was formed by an ancient volcanic eruption. It’s free to view, but be prepared to walk a long way down to the causeway. There’s also a shuttle that you can talk for 1 pound each way. Giant’s Causeway has to be one of the most beautiful natural phenomenons I have ever seen. I ventured out to the “wishing chair”, which on a dry, sunny day you can sit on the “chair” and enjoy the breathtaking view.


Overall, I truly enjoyed my time in Dublin and the tour to Northern Ireland, and I can’t wait to go back again to explore the rest of Ireland.

Licensed to Drive!

Last week on Tuesday, I received my German driving license. Now I know what most of my American friends are thinking, “How cool! You get to go so fast on the Autobahn!”. We all hear about these high-speed highways and think everyone on the road is Ricky Bobby. While there are some speed racers on the road, just as there is in California, I find the driving in Germany to be quite systematic and safe. I think that also stems from a difference in driver’s education. I’m going to continue to explain the process of me obtaining my driver’s license, as well as some differences between driving in California and Germany.

THE PROCESS:

My experience comes from that as a foreigner who already had a driving license. I can’t really say how the process is for new drivers here in Germany, as that’s not the route I took. The rule for foreign driving licenses is that they are valid in Germany for 6 months from the date you entered the country. To continue driving, you either need a German license or apply for a 6 month extension with proof that you’re leaving the country after a year. Germany has reciprocal (and partially reciprocal) agreements with some states in which American driver’s license holders do not have to take a written test or behind-the-wheel test and can simply apply for a license here. Now, did California make that list of states? OF COURSE NOT 😀 But, it is what it is, and in the end I’m glad I did the complete training.

  1. Fahrschule (driving school): I had to sign up at a driving school for driving lessons (to familiarize myself with the surroundings and rules, as well as learn to drive stick-shift!) and start my training for the written test.
  2. Fahrstunden (driving lessons): This did not go so well for me in the beginning. I started training in July and my German language knowledge was very basic. Now imagine, learning to drive stick-shift and learn the rules of the road, when you can barely understand what’s being said to you. The worst part for me was that I already knew how to drive! From the age of 17 until May of this year, I had driven approximately 200,000 miles. I had experience. However, this experience was quite humbling and in the end, I learned quite a lot.
  3. Training (same word in English lol): To train for my written test, I was able to access an online program that presented the exact same questions that would be on the written test. Sounds easy right? The thing is, I had to learn 1,075 questions that could potentially be on this 30 question test. Good news is, I could do all of my training in English and take the test in English as well (so I thought…keep reading).
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    Online Training Website
  4. There’s more…. Before I could turn in my application to the Führerscheinstelle (aka the DMV) to get signed up for my test, I had to complete a mandatory first aid class and a vision test. Once I turned in my application, it took about 4 weeks to process. Two more things before I could sign up for the written test: I had to provide proof of payment for the tests, as well as complete my online training with passing 20 mock exams in a row.

THE TESTS

  1. Die theoretische Fahrerlaubnisprüfung (written test): On December 1, I showed up at 7:15 am at my driving school to take the written test. A group of others and myself were driven to the testing center. I was ready. I had studied a lot and knew the almost all the questions and answers. I go to check in with the examiner and I notice on my profile under “Sprache” (Language), it says Deutsch. So I asked the examiner if that was correct because I had signed up to take the test in English. He said he would look into it and for me to take a seat at my computer. I look at my computer screen, and the start page for the test is in German. I looked at the computer two spots down from me, as the man was also foreign, and his start page was in English. Worry start to set in. I called the examiner over to my computer and told him what was going on, and from there he proceeded to speak about the problem with the lady from my driving school, and she proceeded to speak with someone else about it. She came back to tell me the following: when I turned in my application for my license, I was supposed to specify a language for the test (which I did not know), and since I was registered with another county because of my home address, they were not able to make any changes then and there. I had the option of either not taking the test and calling the Führerscheinstelle later to schedule the test on a later date in English, or I could take the test in German. I was worried because I had done the training in English, but I was also not willing to wait any longer to get my license because my 6 months of driving with my American license was over. So I took the test in German, and thankfully I knew the questions so well that all I had to do was translate. And I passed the test without any mistakes!!
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    Written Test Results. Bestanden= Passed!
  2. Die praktische Prüfung (behind-the-wheel test): December 12 was the big day. I had completed two more driving lessons with my instructor to practice for the test. Also included in my online training is a feature called “Driver’s Cam” which took me through various scenarios that could be presented in my driving test in Münster (the videos were actually filmed on the roads there) and there were informational videos about the mechanical questions they could potentially ask. And yes, they do ask questions about car mechanics, including the lighting system, what’s under the hood of the car, tire profile and pressure, etc. My instructor and I did a practice round on the day of the test and thankfully we did. I was a WRECK. I stalled the car at least 4 times and I just could not get it together. I think it was a combination of nerves, and the fact that it was a cold winter day so I decided to wear some warming leggings under my jeans but it made my pants really tight so I couldn’t feel my legs so well, which explains why I was not giving the car enough gas when I was releasing the clutch. Then the examiner came, he asked me some simple technical questions (locate the horn, hazard warning lights, and high beams). Easy. Then we proceeded to drive and we took a route that my instructor and I had practiced many times before. I was so excited to learn that I passed, especially after my shaky warm-up round! The last thing I had to do was go to the Führerscheinstelle and turn in my certificate of completion, and I received my driver’s license right then and there, but only after turning in my American driving license. No worries, when I travel home I can always switch them out, I’m just not allowed to carry two licenses at once, which makes sense.
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    My German Driver’s License!

DRIVING IN CALIFORNIA VS. DRIVING IN GERMANY

I will start by saying, that I do not prefer the driving school, roads, or regulations better in one place than another. I think they both have good qualities.

While driving school in California is a lot less expensive (and somewhat easier) than in Germany, I found that I learned more from the German driving school. I’m not sure if the reason is because when I was 17 in California all I cared about was passing the tests so I could get on the road, or the fact that there is much more information to be known for the tests here in Germany. In my driving training in Germany, I had to learn about environmentally friendly driving, mechanical functions, and even the physics of driving. I definitely preferred the online training system called “Fahren Lernen” because I thought it was well organized, easy to access, and provided me the chance to learn while preparing for the test. I also did online driving school in California, but it was so much reading and informative videos, that I barely paid attention. I felt this system grasped my attention better.

In Germany, you tend to see a lot of smaller cars on the road (think Fiat, SmartCar, Mini Cooper) and there’s a reason. Some streets here are much narrower. Sometimes I get a bit worried when I’m on a two-way street with no middle line or divider and I have to pass a horse trailer, but thankfully I drive a SmartCar! You don’t see a lot of Chevy Silverados or Ford pickup trucks on the road here. I sort of took that for granted in California, the luxury of having so much room on the road and lots of space for parking.

One of the first things I noticed on the roads in Germany is that there are SO MANY SIGNS. Signs everywhere. You never have to question what the speed limit is because there are always signs to remind you. If you’re entering an environmentally friendly zone and you need to make sure you have the right colored emissions sticker, there’s a sign for that. If there’s a potential of people using the road for winter sports, there’s a sign for that. But the signs make sense. The speed limit changes before a traffic light or roundabout because you need to slow down for safety reasons. They also these great speed traps, “Blitzer”, and if you’re going above the speed limit they take a picture of you and you get a ticket in the mail. There are definitely not as many road signs in California as in Germany.

Overall, it was a long, and sometimes frustrating, process to get my German driver’s license. However, I learned a lot of valuable lessons and I’m so glad I can drive stick-shift now! Down the road, I would like to get my license to be able to drive a horse trailer here, even though the thought of driving a trailer on a small road still worries me a bit. Haha. In time!

End of Summer Review

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written, but a lot has been happening in the last month. I’m going to reflect on some things I’ve learned and accomplished after my first summer in Deutschland.

  1. The Language:

Language

My boyfriend Benedikt sent me this photo the other day and I found it extremely relevant to my situation. I have always heard that the only way to truly learn a language is by living in a country where it’s spoken and immerse yourself in it. I know I am far from perfect, but I am now able to communicate in German daily at work. I don’t mean to sound “bragodocious”, but sometimes I just stop and think, “Wow, I can really speak and understand this language.” I would also like my American friends to know, despite what we hear about the German language sounding so harsh, it actually is quite lovely. I’ve also heard and read that people often take on different personalities in different languages. The other day I was at a bbq with coworkers and I asked a guy for a Bratwurst (I know, it doesn’t get more German than that) and I said in a very polite tone, “Ich hätte gern eine Bratwurst bitte.” One of my coworkers said to me, “Oh, wie süß!” (Oh, how cute). I was thinking to myself if maybe I said it wrong but she told me I sounded so sweet when I asked. I have noticed that I sound much more sweet in German than English. That’s probably because in English I’m so much more sarcastic and witty. Anyways, sweet, German Lauren is doing quite well and coming along nicely.

2. The Job:

I absolutely love my job. I’m currently doing a Bundesfreiwilligendienst, which is a paid volunteer social work program, and I have the opportunity to work at an international boarding school in Germany. My duties include assisting the heads of the houses at school, helping out with homework (I have become the English homework go-to, of course), doing activities and sports with the students, and just being someone to talk to when they want to. It is more slow-paced than my last job as a horse trainer, which was hard for me to get used to at first, but now I’m really enjoying the work I’m doing. The students and staff I work with are amazing, and they have been so helpful and kind with me learning German as well. I’ve already learned so much on the job. At my job, I have also come to appreciate that English is my native language. It is certainly difficult to learn, and it is also used worldwide, which is helpful when dealing with students that come from all over the world. I’m excited to what’s to come for the rest of the year!

3. Stick-Shift

I never expected to see the day where I needed to learn how to drive a manual car, but the time has come. I am learning stick-shift because part of my job at the school includes transporting the students places when needed, and the cars we do that in are Volkswagen Bullis (Buses), which are manually driven. I had my first behind-the-wheel lesson in July with a driving school here in Münster, and it was TERRIBLE. It was hard for me to understand what I was supposed to do because the instructor only spoke German and my language skills were not so good at that point. I stalled the car about 4 times and cried. I was so miserable and didn’t think I could ever get this. A simple call to mom made me feel better as she told me she had to learn stick-shift on the freeway driving from LA back to the Inland Empire because she had to get my dad’s car home. Benedikt was also very encouraging through my training. By my 5th lesson, I had it down. Last weekend, I had a mandatory driving training class to be certified safe to drive the cars at the school and I actually had a blast driving stick. It’s a skill that I’m glad I know now, it’s just a shame it’s so seldom taught or used nowadays in the US.

4. Riding:

I am so grateful to have found a great barn to ride at here in Germany. The trainer I ride with is very knowledgable, but also quite easy-going. Horses are and forever will be my passion, but it’s a different feeling now when it’s not my job. I feel more relaxed, in a sense, and I take my time to just enjoy the process of riding a young horse and seeing what can be accomplished from the beginning to the end of the ride. Even though I only ride twice a week now, I am so happy when I get out to the stables. With that being said, I am also thankful for the foundation I’ve had in riding in the US, especially at Elvenstar. Without that, I wouldn’t be able to just get on and enjoy myself while working the horse correctly.

5. The Future:

At the moment, I am thinking a lot about the future and what my next step is going to be after my year of working at the school. I do want to pursue my education, whether it be my Masters or a second Bachelors degree, but I do want to stay in Germany. They have excellent universities here, as does the US, but I don’t want to be in student loan debt even more than I currently am. Tuition at public universities in Germany is free (with just a semester fee around 300 Euros, which often includes a SemesterTicket to travel within your school’s state for free), and if I can get an education that is equally as good to one in the US but without the cost, then I definitely will. For those reading and thinking “Hey, I should go to school in Germany since it’s so cheap”, it is not always as easy as it sounds. There are some select programs offered in English, but a majority are in German, or German and English, and then one must be able to reach a level of C1 with their German competency. There are Language Competency levels from A1-C2, and a C1 level is a proficient user in reading, writing, speaking, and hearing. While it may seem to be quite a task, I am up for the challenge and I’m going for it. Wish me luck!

 

So that was my summer in a nutshell and this is where I’m at in life currently. If you ever have questions or want to know more about living abroad or what I’ve been up to, just shoot me a message!

Bis nächstes mal! Tschüss!

But first enjoy some photos of my summer…. 🙂

 

The World of International Student Riding

Recently, I had the opportunity to compete in my 6th AIEC Student Riders Nations Cup (SRNC) in Nürtingen, Germany. I have attended SRNCs in Belgium, Romania, Florida (USA), and Germany (3x). This was also my first tournament since living in Europe and I am so grateful my journey is not as long as coming from California! However, I admire and support the sacrifices the American riders make to come to these events. 

How it all began: 

First and foremost, I’ll start off with a little bit about student riding and how I got involved. In November of 2013, a friend I had made through the Emerging Athletes Program, Sarah Pollock, asked if I wanted to be on her riding team at a competition in Belgium. Naturally, I said “yes”, as this was my first opportunity to travel to Europe and I got to ride horses while doing so! Little did I know that saying yes would result in Sarah and I becoming best friends, me traveling to several more SRNCs, and subsequently moving to Europe. 



Why I love student riding:

Most riders have dreams of competing at a certain level or even on the international stage. While this can be achieved by some, it is not realistic for all, depending on what horses one has, financial means, abilities, and so forth. I know who I am as a rider and what my financial means are, and finding student riding was one of the best things that happened to me. The competitions are made to be affordable to students and all inclusive (accommodations, food, transport… minus airfare but that’s ok) for a fee of about €150. Each show is organized by students for students, and having helped organize an SRNC in Wellington, Fl., I know how difficult it can be but also how rewarding it is knowing the guests had a good time. Through SRNCs I have made lasting friendships with people from many countries, and I met my boyfriend Benedikt at an SRNC :). After my first SRNC in Belgium, I knew I wanted to live abroad in Europe for some time. And now here I am! My AIEC family is amazing, and I’m so grateful to have met such smart, talented, friendly riders and students. Even if one does not know so much about the other’s culture or language, we all connect through one thing: our love for equestrian sport. 

About the AIEC:

The Association Internationale des Etudiants Cavaliers (AIEC) is the governing association of the SRNCs. Unfortunately, it is not as well known in America as it is in Europe. Several European countries, such as Germany and Ireland, have their own national student riding competitions which then segway into international competitions. I would love to see one day that the IHSA and NCEA in America could work in conjunction with the American Student Riders Organization to give more students the opportunity to compete abroad. 

How does it all work?:

At SRNCs there are 12,15, or 18 (normally 15) teams competing. Each team is comprised of 3 people from each nation, or there can be international teams made up of additional riders and the golden oldies team (student riders over the age of 27). One must be a university student at the time of their first competition but can continue to ride for their country even after they have completed their studies. All riders compete in Dressage and Show Jumping and each rider gets to ride in the preliminary round of each. Dressage can be quite interesting and a little daunting to newcomers as they test is done with 3 horses in the court at the same time (US friends: think hunt teams but for dressage).

​The first round of show jumping is done over a .90 m course (typically, depending on the horses’ abilities) and it is judged on style and faults (American friends think USET but without the time). The way it works is that each team randomly draws the horses they will be riding, and team chefs make the decision with the riders of who will ride which horse (after watching the horse presentation). Each horse will do the jumping course 3 times with three different riders (same goes for dressage) and whoever has the highest marks on that horse advances to the next round. I really like this system as it evens out the playing field and you don’t have to have the best round, just be the best rider on the horse you’ve drawn. The dressage and show jumping rounds become increasingly difficult each round as the jumps get higher and tracks become more technical, and the dressage is done at a higher level.


The culture:

In addition to the competition, there are also parties every evening (a welcome party, a theme party, and a gala). I was quite surprised to learn that the parties last past 2 am, but that’s typical in most places in Europe since last call for alcohol is not at 2 am! The nights are spent dancing, chatting, and building friendships. Naturally, alcohol is also served (we are college students after all) and drinking games are played but one must learn the international drinking rules. An important thing I must say is I have never ever felt unsafe at an SRNC. It is a tight knit community and everyone there is watching out for each other (but if you do something ridiculous don’t be surprised if someone has a video or picture of it!)

Prize giving:

The prize giving ceremony is one of my favorite parts of an SRNC. All of the riders dress up in their competition clothes again, country flags are encouraged, and we all receive our results and prizes. To me, it is a moment where one feels very proud to represent their country. Usually we all join together at the end to perform the penguin dance (a tradition that originated at SRNC Romania). 


Overall, I am so grateful to be a part of student riding and I highly encourage others to pursue it! My advice would be to come open minded, ride your best, have the utmost respect for the organizing committee and horse owners, and let yourself immerse in the culture. You won’t regret it if you do! For all interested riders check out http://www.aiecworld.com

So you want to learn a new language?

Here I am, 23 years old, learning German in Germany. Had I known this would be my life, I would have taken German in high school. But, my 4 years of Spanish did come quite in handy.

I will be honest, the German language is not so easy. Even Germans themselves admit that it is not so easy. If you would ever like a fun piece of literature, read Mark Twain’s “The Awful German Language”. Honestly though, even with it’s difficulties, it is a beautiful language and I have truly enjoyed being able to learn it more and use it in every day life. This post is not going to be about grammar or interesting German words, but rather things I have experienced while learning the language and it may provide some insight/comfort for those of you learning or hoping to pursue another language.

1) Stage Fright: If you know me, you know how much I love to talk and I am certainly not shy. My mother put me in community theater when I was a child and it definitely made me confident in so many ways. For the first time, I have experienced stage fright and couldn’t bring myself to start conversations or talk with people in German. Upon my arrival, I had a fairly limited vocabulary and had only taken an introductory class in the US. As I started to learn more in my intensive language course in Münster, I actually started to become more shy in public settings. Of course, a lot of conversations go beyond my German knowledge (politics, economics, medicine) but I found myself in a position where I couldn’t talk and it terrified me. I have so much to say and I had met so many nice, interesting people, I just wish I could talk with them.

2) The Need to CramIf you’ve ever waited last minute to study for a major exam, you know all about cramming. And what did our teachers always tell us, “Do not try to cram the night before!” They are entirely right. If you want to learn something, and truly learn it well, it is a process. As I was experiencing this anxiety about speaking German in social settings, I had this urge that I needed to study German nonstop and not speak any English and you name it, anything to help me learn faster. All that led to was a headache and resentment. If you are trying to learn a new language, seriously, take your time. I’ve spoken with several people from other countries and other Expats about their process and they all said about 6-12 months before it becomes more fluid, and the learning process still continues after.

3) Take a Leap of Faith: You truly cannot learn a language unless you practice it with other people. It takes a lot of courage, believe me, but I felt so much better after I started trying to speak German rather than just being mute the whole time. Speak with confidence, even the confidence of knowing that you may not say everything right or get the gender articles correct or use the right case (there are 4 cases in German, btw). I have to say though, I am so lucky to have such nice people around me to help me through my learning. People that will kindly correct me, or ponder the grammar with me. I have included a photo of a great friend I’ve made in Germany, Hanna. She is Benedikt’s best friend from medical school, and her and her family have been so incredibly kind and helpful in my transition to life in Germany and learning the language. Last Saturday, they had their annual Sommerfest (where the photo was taken) and I told Hanna I really wanted to try to speak only in German at the party. She was so willing to help me and her confidence in me helped me blossom and talk to so many other people at the party in German. Of course, sometimes I still had to speak English when I didn’t know how to say something. The best thing was, I finally gained the confidence to try. That’s all you really need.

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Hang in there fellow language learners! We are in this together 🙂