Friday, September 15, 2017

What does Munich look like? | The Fulbright Year Begins

I love cities. 

When I observed this to my mom last week, she laughed and said, "Ever since you have been aware of cities you have loved them - you're always talking about how much you enjoy their energy."

That said, I like small towns and countryside, too. 

So I was ecstatic when I found out that I was placed in Munich (the village of a million people, as locals like to refer to it) for my year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. 

Munich has it all: the interest and excitement of a metropolis, plus relaxed corners with lots of green space, plus easy access to the Alps. What a place to get to spend 10 months. 

I've been here just over a week and I have wandered so much, and there is still so much more of the city to see. I'm grateful that my mentor teacher gave me this week to get settled and explore before starting work on Monday. 

There are so many directions this post could go - it's been a crazy full week. I could tell you all about the church that I visited on Sunday - possibly the most welcoming church I've ever stepped into. I could gush about the many tea and bookshops that I have already stumbled across - to my great delight. I could share about the mood swings that come with being actually on my own for the first time ever. Or I could give you a glimpse into the German immigration office, which has its own snack guy who goes around selling coffee, croissants, and pretzels. 

But there will be time for me to share some of those stories and to testify to the dozens of ways - big and small - that the Lord has shown His faithfulness this week. If I tried to cram it all into one post, it would be ridiculously long and probably never actually get posted, because there is just so much. 

So what's focusing the post for today is a question one of my cousins asked my mom: "What does Munich look like?"

It's a good question - every city has a different look, a different flavor. I don't know how to answer that question with words other than something along the lines of "Well, there aren't any skyscrapers...It's a gorgeous old city with a traditional feel but sometimes a modern twist." Which answer just falls flat. 

So as I wandered, I tried to remember to take photos. There is so much that I haven't captured and so many iconic places in the city that I haven't visited yet - notably among them the Olympic Park and the famous Biergardens. But here's a glimpse of the Munich that I'm getting to know. 

Something I really love about Munich is that there are lots of "passages" - you'll be walking along and turn into a tiny little covered alley between buildings, which more often than not opens into a courtyard with shops or a restaurant, or even just a mural in a tiny little space. You'll continue through this tucked-away, quiet space and then suddenly be out on another big street with bustle and traffic and lots of pedestrians. 


I also love the English Gardens - Munich's equivalent of Central Park. In the mornings, it's the domain of joggers, dog walkers, and young moms taking core strengthening classes. In the afternoons, it fills up with people picnicking, kicking the soccer ball around, reading, and just generally relaxing.  

The Fulbright year has begun. I'm so excited to see how it unfolds. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

6 Things I Learned in August

Taking Emily Freeman's lead to share things I learned this month - from the silly to the strange to the sometimes profound. I was surprised how much I missed doing this last month, and I've been looking forward to this all of August. Yes, I look forward to strange things.

1. Minions make me really happy.

I don't know if this is true in the states, but over here minions are everywhere. After I pointed them out in advertising for the umpteenth time, Mom said "I had no idea you loved minions so much."  Not sure if I love them or not, but they certainly make me grin whenever I see them. I think it's the yellow + the crazy + the happy.

2. apple cider vinegar + dish soap + water = fruit fly trap. 

Part of the cultural adjustment in moving to Germany is separating out trash - Germans are masters of recycling. I actually really enjoy having a separate bin for kitchen waste, but it attracts fruit flies like nothing else. I did some googling and found this simple recipe for a fly trap. It hasn't totally solved the problem, but we've gotten rid of quite a few of the nuisances this way.

3. The iPhone activity pedometer is totally unreliable.

I finally jumped on the iPhone bandwagon after four years of resistance. (A Target associate was flabbergasted right before I went to college when my dad explained his problem: he wanted to buy me an iPhone and I absolutely refused to get one.) So of course now I'm trying out all the new gadgets. The pedometer? It informed me after a 90 minute walk that I had gone just under 1 mile. Ha. No.

4. Pocahontas quotes the Greek philosopher Heraclitus.

I've been reading a survey of philosophy and discovered to my surprise that the line "you can't step in the same river twice" is actually not original to Disney songwriters but rather to Heraclitus. Somehow I missed this fact in previous philosophy surveys. You learn something new every day if you're lucky. (For the remainder of that particular day I had Just Around the Riverbend stuck in my head.)

5. Speaking of songs that get stuck in your head, there's a German term for that: Ohrwurm

Literally, "ear worm." How's that for a vivid image of that aggravating song that you can't get off your mind?

6. Project Gutenberg is a goldmine.

My kindle usage has skyrocketed since the move, and I've rediscovered Project Gutenberg. The newest gem I discovered on it is that they have all of the Anne of Green Gables books! (All, that is, except Windy Poplars. What's with that?) So many classics.

7. If you want to strike up a friendship, compliment the person's haircut

Bonus: Here's a picture of when we moved to Germany 11 years ago. We thought we were so old. And now I look back at my 11-year-old self and mentally pat myself on the head.

What unexpected things did you learn this month?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

sometimes it's the smallest things - springboards to friendship

Immediately after the congregation was dismissed, Mama leaned over and whispered, "I love that lady's haircut!!!"

Two things that are high on our list of things to find when we move: a church home and a hairdresser. We were close to settling on a church home, and Mama never hesitates to ask strangers where they get their hair cut.

As I gathered my sundries, Mom bolted out of the pew to catch the lady with the fabulous hair. By the time I got to them, they were deep in a conversation about hairstyling woes and fixes. Shortly thereafter, the conversation moved on as they swapped stories about how each ended up in Germany.

Before I knew it, we had accepted an invitation to lunch at an Asian restaurant. Jennifer and Mama had hit it off, and they wanted to continue their conversation. (Dad was at a conference that weekend.)

On the way out, Jennifer introduced us to another lady who is clearly the instigator of a lot of church projects. Her first question to Mama: "Do you run?"

It turns out that she's trying to organize a fun run to raise awareness for Compassion International. She's not a runner though, and wants insights on how these things go. My family has never organized a fun run, but we have participated in plenty, so before names had been exchanged we were in a pow-wow about how to organize a family 5k.

And just like that, we had two new friends and an "in" into this church community. All because my mom wanted to find out where a stranger gets her hair cut.

The moral of the story: if you want to make a friend, compliment their hair and ask where they get it done.

But actually.

Sometimes all it takes to make a friend is to compliment them on something they have a vested interest in and then ask them more about it. My mom cuts my hair, so I don't actually ask people about their recommended hair salon. But I've used the idea multiple times with people I want to get to know - I ask them about a project they've worked on that I appreciated, or a book they're reading that I love, and then I use that as a springboard to a conversation. Sometimes it's a two-minute conversation and nothing more comes of it. But sometimes we hit it off and I actually gain a friend from taking the trouble to reach out.

As I prep to move to a new city by myself, I'm keeping this maxim in mind to make me smile and give me the necessary kick in the pants to meet people instead of staying in my nice little comfort zone:

Make a new friend: ask where they get their hair cut.