Sunday, September 9, 2007

Home Sweet Germany

I am here in Germany keeping a tough schedule of riding bikes and trains, eating ice cream, watching American movies in German, and hanging out with a bunch of nice people my age all day. My trip here wasn't too bad--even the 10 hour layover was endurable. I sat in the white wooden rocking chairs at Charlotte International Airport for a few hours and thought about how I was definitely in the south (who else would think to put rocking chairs in an airport?). I even logged on to wikipedia, found the song Dixie, and me and the 1915 Chamber orchestra performing it had us a nostalgic moment for the south. Then, after that, because you can only be nostalgic about the south for so long and I had a whole 10 hours to fill, I got a pedicure. Now, if you think that's indulgent, be glad I refrained from also getting a manicure and a massage and my shoes polished too! Believe me--one girl, 10 hours in an airport, nobody to talk to--even a shoe shine on a flip flop sounds like an interesting activity. Then I went to Starbucks and took a nap...and the rest of my layover wasn't very interesting.

On the plane I sat next to a lady from Bavaria on one side, and a 21 year old guy from Cincinnati who was on his way to Warsaw doing almost the exact same thing I was doing. He doesn't speak polish, didn't previously know anyone in Poland, but is interested in international affairs, and he was on his way to school. Obviously, we had a lot in common. We talked about expectations, apprehensions, what our mothers think about our crazy ideas. He thinks his is just glad to have him out of the house, but I doubt it. Anyway, when we got to Frankfurt he kindly carried my bags for me, watched my stuff while I hit the ladies room, escorted me to my train and explained in detail how the schedules work and important little distinctions like "arriving" versus "departing" in German. Once I was actually on the train, however, I had a little more trouble with my bags. There were other people with a lot of stuff too...but usually they were traveling in groups and could at least help each other. It was a bit challenging by myself. There were a lot of people, and they all looked like they knew what they were doing and where they were going, and I didn't. Then, as if I wasn't feeling lost and silly enough already, the guy pushing the snack cart thought I was entirely amusing (especially my German) and I wanted to tell him, "Look buster, don't laugh at me. It's not funny," but he moved to a different car before I was done being flustered enough to say so.

I was supposed to meet Olga's brother Daniel at the Basel train station in Switzerland, but there are two stations for Basel--one in Germany and one in Switzerland--and I got confused about where we were meeting. By the time I got another train I was a half hour late, and I didn't have any way to tell Daniel that, and I didn't know if he would still be waiting when I got there! I got off the train at the right stop this time, and there was hardly anyone there. Nobody waiting with a sign, like they had said. No indication of a waiting area or anything. I asked the passport control police if they had seen a kid wandering around holding a sign with a girl's name on it, but they said no, they hadn't, and sent me around the corner to check the hall inside. No kid or sign there either, but this guy who was NOT holding a sign gave me a funny look and said, "Stephie?" He turned out to be Olga's older brother Peter, and he had come with his car and his brother and sister to get me. Daniel and Julia had been outside with the sign, but we had missed each other. Peter says when the train I was supposed to be on came, they didn't know if they would recognize me exactly, so they jumped in front of every blond girl who came off the train and held the sign up for her to see, and they were getting worried when nobody responded very positively.

After that little adventure, things have been just great. My host family is warm and friendly, and it's fun to be with people my age again! Olga is a kick in the pants, and we decided we're going to learn to ski together this winter. Her little sister Julia is 11. She's a sweetheart, and she leans on my arm, or writes me letters in German in Google and then translates them to English using the automatic translator. Today she said I'm her sister too, like Olga. The boys are normal brothers, and they're holding the ropes on behalf of my own brothers. They tease me about my pedicure, about running slow, about not being too proficient in driving a standard, and so on. They're helping me find a cell phone too, and are busy bringing me up to speed on Italian car makes, including engine types, of course. The kids speak pretty good English, especially the oldest three who are Peter, Olga and Vitaly. Mr. and Mrs. O make efforts at English and I make efforts at German and occasionally Russian, so we do ok. Mr. O is always saying stuff like "Stephie! Wo ist Deine hausshue?!!" ("where are your slippers?"), of "Stephie! Essen!" (Eat!) but he speaks so little English that he has to ask his kids anytime he wants to say something in English. Tuesday night the kids and I went and saw the Jackie Chan movie Rush Hour 3, in German of course. Wednesday we went to the school and stopped by my department. I think I'm going to really enjoy my classes. There are about 30 people in the program, and 8 new students this term counting myself. The coordinator met with me and a girl from London at the same time to discuss classes and such. She comes from an Art History background, so it sounds like we have some common interests beyond our immediate studies too. The mandatory courses this term are introductions to the various disciplines that shape the rest of the program. Then besides those, I'll take a few additional classes. There is one that is a two semester class basically for designing public history--in this case, the first semester is spent researching Basel's historical connections with Africa and determining which aspects could be best presented to teach about Basel's history and Africa. Then the second semester is spent learning about design principles, presentation styles, multimedia, creating a walking tour of Basel based on the research in the first semester, and coordinating it all in time for some big Africa conference that will be held in Basel next year. I think that sounds fun! It's like working in a museum, without being stuck in a museum, which is the main reason I never wanted to be a curator. The subject matter and presentation design is interesting, but the indoors-with-artifacts part is kind of a drag.

Wellp, there's more I could say, of course, but its 2:30 am, and I should sleep, and you probably wouldn't want to keep reading anyway. :) So, I wish you a guten tag, and all my love. I'll send some pictures soon.


1 comment:

  1. You're too cute, Steph. I love reading about your adventures, please keep it up! Have fun out there and tell my German breathren I said hello. :)