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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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 🙂

 

Willkommen/Welcome!

Hello family and friends!

Welcome to my blog. I’ve heard a lot of people make one when they live abroad, so I’m giving it a try! (This is also taking some time to write as I’m still learning the German keyboard, I’ll explain later). I will explain the meaning behind the blog’s name Dude Where’s My Bike? in a later post, but if you are interested just research the city of Münster (In Germany, that is, not to be confused with the city of Munster, Indiana).

As most of you know, I recently moved to Germany. Since the first time I travelled to Europe in 2013, it has been my dream to live abroad. Opportunities presented themselves and I thought “Hey, why not?!”. I absolutely love it in Germany, especially in my current city of Münster. However, if you really want to learn how to “adult”, move to a different country. The things I have learned in my first month here have really shown me how much I have to learn about life. But I’ve never felt more ready to jump right in to it.

This blog is going to be about everything I am experiencing in Germany. From learning the language to figuring out how the locks on doors work (which was a struggle for me! haha). I am going to talk about my difficulties and my successes, the differences between Germany and my home state of California, and everything in between. Please keep an open mind when reading, as this is all from my perspective and it’s my own space to share my thoughts (but does the First Amendment still apply outside of the Land of the Free…..?) Only kidding 😉

I have decided to share a photo of myself with my parents at the airport. I know my decision to move really had in impact on them, but I could not have done it without their continuous support and values they’ve taught me that have prepared me for this. I miss them very much. Sidebar: If you look closely at the black bag on my shoulder, my cat Abbey is inside. She also made the big move across the pond with me (because crazy cat ladies take their cats everywhere, right?) Also pictured is a photo from my arrival at Düsseldorf Airport with my boyfriend Benedikt. Yes, he is German, and I also could not have done any of this without him.

Thanks for checking it out! I will try to update as much as I can. Also if you have any questions or comments about anything, please reach out to me. But only if you have iMessage or WhatsApp because I do not have a German number yet.

Tschüss! (That’s the informal way of saying goodbye in German)

🙂