Well, if the title did not give it away, I am in Germany! It’s been a long time in the making, but I can finally say my year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant is underway. Also, I can 99.99% guarantee that this post will by far be my longest. It’s been an exciting week and a half, but I believe that I will start settling into a routine within the next week. But fear not! The blog posts will still come when I have fun stories to share, which hopefully is often!
Anyways, leaving the U. S. of A: I left the Port Columbus International Airport on a Tuesday morning, tears in my eyes as I bid farewell to my parents, and flew to Toronto, then to Frankfurt, and finally to Leipzig. Once I landed in Germany, I still couldn’t conceptualize or truly believe that I would be here for 11 months, let alone teaching 5-10th graders. It all seemed very surreal and hard to grasp my exact purpose for this experience at this point in time, just because it was so different than anything I have done before and it was a major change in my life. Nonetheless, it was very invigorating and refreshing to start a “new life” in Germany, given the difficulties I had to overcome in the months leading up to leaving. It feels good to clear the slate and to begin writing a new chapter of my life.
From the Leipzig airport, I took a train to the Leipzig Hauptbahnhof (main train station) to meet my wonderful mentor in the classroom, Frau Horn (don’t be fooled by the “Frau”—she is 29 and is the epitome of punk rock chic… which is amazing). Since we did not know what each other looked like, it took awhile for us to find each other in the train station, considering we could not even text one another either since I did not have a functioning phone at the time! Which begs the question, how did people 20 years ago survive? Anyways, straight from the train station, we headed to my new apartment to meet with my landlord, a man of jokes with a heavy Sächsisch (Saxonian) dialect, making it near impossible for me to understand him. All went well though—he handed me my keys and I finally had a place to call my own in Germany. I think it was in that moment when things finally started to sink in—the pictures of my tiny, yet quaint, studio apartment that I viewed previously only as PDFs had come to life and I was standing amongst it all. Needless to say, I slept heavenly that night, and woke up the next morning rejuvenated and ready to take on Germany’s notorious bureaucracy, i.e. registering as a resident of Leipzig.
For the next few days, I didn’t have much to do. I went grocery shopping, explored Connewitz (the neighborhood I live in) as well as the city center of Leipzig. And I must say, I could not have chosen a better district to live in. The people of Connewitz are barefoot, tree hugging anti-capitalists, that have been known to throw a rock or two when a Burger King came to the neighborhood. Any CDU (center-right political party in Germany; Angela Merkel’s party) sign for the upcoming local elections are vandalized with additions of fake eye patches or buck teeth on the candidate, yet all the Green Party, Social Democrats, or Left party signs remain mysteriously untouched. Like I said, my kind of neighborhood. I also love this city’s connection with music. Every corner and alley has a street musician performing, not necessarily for extra money, but just recognition and for the joy of performing in front of an audience. The coolest thing though, was hearing a steel drum- violin duet outside of the Altes Rathaus (Old City Hall) play some of Bach’s masterpieces, within sight of the Thomaskirche, where J.S. Bach himself is buried (video HERE!). That’s what this city is about, and I love it. New age meets history, where passion is the thing connecting the two.
Come Sunday the 31st of August, I woke up early to head to the train station for the seven-hour train ride to Köln (Cologne) for orientation. The journey was nothing special, but also interesting to go from one side of Germany to the other. Arriving in Köln was something very special to me in itself—it’s a city I have never been to before and the way it first presented itself definitely did not disappoint. My first view of the city was straight from a postcard. The Hohenzollern bridge, crossing the wide and fast flowing River Rhein, was straight ahead, and the outline of two spires shooting into the low-lying clouds of the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) to the left. Once I settled into my hostel (Pathpoint Cologne, which I 100% recommend), I had the opportunity to meet up with three other Fulbrighters and explore the city a bit. We went to a great restaurant called Brauerei Päffgen, walked around a bit, and ended the night at an outdoor café/biergarten called Gasthaus Brungs in the city’s Altstadt. The next morning, I had some time to kill before all the Fulbrighters had to meet at the train station to head to orientation in Wermelskirchen, so I walked across the river on the Hohenzollern Bridge, which has adapted Paris’ Love Lock Bridge idea. Thousands upon thousands of locks with the names of people cover the railings of the bridge, making for a very cool appearance. After, I made the choice to walk to the top of the Kölner Dom, all 532 steps of it. My calves and my lungs burned the whole time, but the view of all of Köln from over 97 meters up in the air was so worth it.
I won’t be boring and discuss meeting at the train station and getting to Wermelskirchen, so I will skip straight to the whole purpose behind orientation and what exactly we did for three days with essentially no wifi. Firstly, I finally met Yuchen, my fellow Buckeye who also received an ETA to Germany! Crazy how our paths never crossed at OSU and we met in a tiny little town in Germany. Orientation was a lot of logistics regarding things we need to do, but also a time to make friends and of course, learn the ropes of leading a classroom. On the final day, we had a mock 45-minute lesson and it went amazingly well! We taught our class of faux-German students (aka other Fulbrighters) a lesson on US geography, and we got a lot of great feedback in return. I definitely plan on using this lesson in the classroom this coming year.
The trip back to Leipzig was nothing special—Deutsche Bahn tarnished their reputation as always being punktlich (punctual) by being late and causing me to miss two trains. Luckily their staff is extremely accommodating and printed me off new connecting tickets, free of charge.
On Friday the 5th of September, I went to the Peter-Apian-Oberschule for the first time. It was the weirdest sensation—I have never stepped foot in this school, let alone town before, yet everyone knew who I was. I could hear the words “Amerikanerin” and “Layla” (said in the most German of German accents, ever) being whispered in the background, and all I could do was just smile at them all. I had the chance to sit in on one lesson that day, grade 6, and I was extremely impressed by their knowledge of the English language already. I quickly introduced myself, and then we went straight to questions. Here is a list of questions these 6th grade German children asked me:
- How old are you?
- Do you have a boyfriend?
- Do you have a weapon? (talk about perceptions of Americans abroad… oy vey)
- Who is your favorite pop star?
- Do you have Instagram/WhatsApp?
- What is your favorite Emoji?
- How is American chocolate?
- Do you have a pet?
- Do you have a child?
- Do you like Obama?
…Among others. I will probably end up making a post called “Crazy things German school kids ask me” by the end of this whole experience. So funny though. They really made a great first impression on me. I can’t wait to see what the other classes are like. Other than that, I also arranged my timetable for when and which classes I will be assisting. I only work Monday-Thursday, and on Monday, I don’t start til 9:30, so I can even sleep in a little that day. It’s a really cute town, but I am glad I decided to live in Leipzig—I would be so bored in Leisnig once classes were finished. And I would prefer to not awkwardly run into students on the streets. My mentor, Jenifer, did give me a little walking tour of the town, and it was very beaufitul. We visited Burg Mildenstein, a castle, and the caretaker of the grounds let us in without charge as a “Welcome to Leisnig” present. He also gave me a Castles of Saxon book, so I definitely plan to use that in my future travels! Buuuut, despite his friendliness, he was rather creepy. He told us to make a left when we enter the castle, and that led to like, a dark crypt with no light or exit. Jenifer and I jokingly said he would lock us in and we’d never get out. Luckily, we went back and went right, the correct way, and explored the old castle.
On Saturday the 6th, I relaxed a bit, still recovering from all the traveling I have done over the past couple of days, and eventually met up with another American teaching assistant, Chelsea, who is also in Leipzig! Fun times. The next day, I decided to visit the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, which isn’t too far way from where I live. This monument, dedicated to the fallen Germans amidst Napolean’s defeat in Leipzig, was incredible. I say this without any hesitation that it was the coolest monument I have ever been to in my life. When you see the monument, it demands attention and respect that it so rightfully deserves. When you enter the monument, it looks like you have entered a tomb straight out of Indiana Jones. Large statues of men in an eternal sleep, still dressed to fight, guard the perimeter both inside and outside of the massive monument. I walked to the very top of the monument to see a stunning view of my city, Leipzig. I was breathless because of both the view, and the fact that I just walked up 300+ stairs. I also visited the museum they have on site, which was very cool. I got to see old military uniforms and books among other things on display. Definitely a site to see if you visit Leipzig!
So, tomorrow begins my first full week at school, so I will end this extremely long post now.