Monday, October 16, 2017

Poetry Corner: The Children's Hour

Last night, I got back to my (temporary) apartment at that elusive time when the day is done but it's not quite night. And the opening line from The Children's Hour came to me: "Between the dark and the daylight / When the night is beginning to lower..." This poem is one of the poems that I inadvertently memorized during my childhood because my mom read it aloud to us so often. Here it is. 

"The Children's Hour"
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Between the dark and the daylight,
   When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
   That is known as the Children’s Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
   The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
   And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
   Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
   And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
   Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
   To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
   A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
   They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
   O’er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
   They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
   Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
   In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
   Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
   Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
   And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
   In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
   Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
   And moulder in dust away!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

stealing cabs and driving to mailboxes: the first two weeks of teaching

“What exactly are you doing for your Fulbright?”

That’s a question I’ve gotten a lot since I accepted the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) position in April. I’ve mostly fended it off, because I didn’t really have a good idea myself of what this was going to look like. But now, having just wrapped up my second week of classes, I feel like I can answer that question.

I’m the ETA at a Fachoberschule for health and social services. The German school system is pretty complicated, and rather different than the American school system, so I’m not going to try to explain the system as a whole. I’m teaching 12th and 13th grade, and my students range from 17-23 years old. They are being prepped to go into health and social services, though many won’t go that route. Some will go to university, some won’t. Many have no idea what they want to do with their lives. (Who can blame them?)

As the ETA, I’m helping out the English faculty as the native speaker in the classrooms. I’m teaching 10 different classes – once a week for each class – and I help run the English Club. (I also have Fridays off, which is glorious.) In some classes, the teachers have given me free rein to teach however and whatever I want. In others, I’m given specific themes to deal with. The 12th grade is in a module on social problems right now, so I’ve been assigned, among other things, lessons on immigration, gun law, murder rates in Chicago, and the death penalty.

It’s sometimes a little overwhelming, considering that I have no training as a teacher and am no expert on most of the subjects I’m supposed to expound upon. But the challenge is exciting. I’ve always loved learning, and in my last two years of college I began to get an inkling that I might also really love teaching. So far, I do. My mentor teachers are extremely welcoming and supportive, which helps a lot, but what really makes me enjoy it so much and keeps me on my toes is the students.

The students are fascinating. It would be difficult to imagine a more diverse group. Only about half are of German heritage. The others, while mostly born and/or raised in Munich, come from a wide variety of backgrounds. I have students whose parents are from Italy, Turkey, Slovakia, Ukraine, Chechnya, Croatia, Poland, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Eretria, Togo, Kosovo, Serbia, Denmark, and Greece. (I’m probably forgetting something.) There are Christians, Muslims, Jews, and non-religious kids. One of my students has Serbian parents, was born in Munich, lived in Mississippi for years, and moved back to Munich three years ago. Her Southern drawl was extremely disconcerting the first time I heard it.

Most of them speak excellent English, since they’ve been taking English since 3rd grade, so rather than teaching the nuts and bolts of the language I get to help them think about diverse topics and facilitate group discussions. Sometimes they’re reluctant to talk, but if I can get them started then the discussions are fascinating, since they have such a wide range of backgrounds and opinions. Here’s a representative handful of quotes, culled from discussions on immigration, DACA, and what it means to be American:

 “America should take more refugees from Syria because they’re responsible for the situation in Syria.” ( exactly are we responsible for that one?)

“Trump’s wall is a good idea.”

“Anyone who wants to live in America should be able to do so, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone.”

“If America doesn’t want illegal immigrants, they should fix Mexico’s problems.”

“Trump is right to look out for Americans first.”

“Governments should look out for everyone, not just their own citizens.”

“Feeling American is what makes you American, regardless of what the government says.”

Thus declare my students.

The stereotypes are amusing, too. There’s the usual: fast food, everything supersized, football, cowboy boots, guns, BBQ, patriotism (so many stereotypes seem to come from Texas). The most random conception of Americans?

“Americans are lazy: they drive to their mailboxes instead of walking down the driveway.”

“Americans steal other people’s cabs.”

At my confused prodding, the student explained that when someone in America hails a cab someone else usually hops in first, riding merrily off while the luckless first comer has to try again.

What do you know? I'm learning things about Americans I never knew...

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Things I Learned This Month | September 2017

As usual, taking inspiration from Emily Freeman to share {some of the} things I learned this month.

1. Six million people come to Munich for Oktoberfest, the largest folk festival in the world. To put that in perspective, Munich has a population of 1.5 million.

2. Munich has a huge immigrant population. I knew already that nearly 40% of people who live in Munich aren't German, but what this means didn't fully register until I started teaching this week. At most, half of my students are German. Many were raised in Germany, but aren't of German heritage. My students come from Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia, Italy, Poland, Denmark, Iran, Eritrea, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, and there are probably some countries that I'm forgetting. It's a fascinating group.

3. German students think that Americans are "addicted to guns." One student told me that while the Americans she's met seem open and friendly, Americans must also be wild and unpredictable - anyone who owns a gun, it seems, is like this, and of course all Americans own guns. Hmmmm. Methinks these students have a lesson on the 2nd Amendment in their future.

3. Sophie Scholl was 21 years old, one year younger than I am, when the Nazis executed her for participation in the White Rose resistance group. I realized this today, and suddenly all the weight of what that meant hit me. Her courage astounds me.

4. "Faith is not believing in spite of evidence: it is obeying in spite of the consequences." ~Alisdair Begg from his series on Daniel

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. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Poetry Corner: "Happiness"

Because it's been rainy outside and this poem has been coming to mind. 

by A.A. Milne

John had
Great Big
Boots on;
John had a
Great Big
John had a
Great Big
Mackintosh --
And that
(Said John)

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Wilkommen in W--

After a month in country, we finally moved into our new home this week! While I'll be moving to Munich for the next year (and who knows where after that), and Charlie is still in college, this is our family's home base for the next three years. And what a place. Welcome to W--. (See that dash? That's is me both emulating Jane Austen - because who doesn't want to do that - and preserving our privacy.) We'll start with the town.

The Town

For what appears to be a small town, there's a lot going on in W--. There are several restaurants, an Eiscafe (aka ice cream less than 5 minutes from the front doorstep), lots of little shops, and two churches (Catholic and Protestant). Our house is on one of the main streets, so we are only moments from all of these places.
The churches are right down the street from each other: these two photos were taken in the same spot. 

This marsh is just around the corner from the churches. There also used to be a synagogue, but it was destroyed in 1938. There's now a memorial museum commemorating W--'s Jewish community.

None other than the illustrious Napoleon Bonaparte was greeted with great fanfare in this square. Twice, no less - once in 1807 and once in 1808.

Bookstore! Over a hundred years old, and just around the corner from our house. 

This is the eiscafe, which not only serves yummy ice cream, but also hosts the German-American Stammtisch that is held once a month to connect Americans and Germans in this community.

Everywhere you look in this town is something photo-worthy. These are only the highlights.

The House

This is the front and back of our house. It's orange! It's a very happy house, not only because it's orange, but also because the landlord (who is also an architect and designed it himself) loves light. The windows are glorious, and the house is situated to capture as much light as possible at all times of day. For example, my room faces west, but there is a skylight in the loft above it that faces east, so I get amazing light both in the morning and in the evening. 

This is the view from my parents' room.

And this is the view from the laundry room. If the rest of the house wasn't so amazing, this would make the laundry room my favorite room.

The house feels kind of weird right now - the only furniture is what Dad had in Korea. While that covers the basics - living room, dining room, bedrooms - a lot of our knickknacks and furniture are still missing. This means the house is in flux.

Not pictured: the many empty cardboard boxes at the bottom of the stairs, Charlie's room, which is currently the holding place for anything random that doesn't yet have a place, and other sundry corners of the house that are not yet in a photo-safe state. Like I said, we are very much in flux.

Proof of this: the vignette on the right has since disappeared because Mom wanted these things elsewhere (the globe is now on display above one of the cabinets in the kitchen). But I like the picture so I'm including it anyway.

See the pottery dish between the lamp and the sink? That's where bio goes - organic waste that savvy gardeners would compost, but which also has its own separate trash can in Germany. We're happy to separate it out, but fruit flies are also happy to munch on it. We are currently experimenting with traps  composed of apple cider vinegar, water, and dish soap, with modest success.

This is my room. LIGHT, people. I love it. 

The next thing on my to-do list after finishing this post is to start putting up all the clippings that make a space my own.

The stairs lead up to a cool loft space. But we don't know quite what to do with it because 1) the stairs are so steep that it would be hazardous to try to take any furniture up them, and 2) you bump your head on the sloped eves at the top of the stairs. But I'm sure we'll come up with something ingenious. 

This is the evening view from my room...It's amazing every. Single. Night.

Speaking of views, this town is in the middle of a stunning area of the German countryside.

The Countryside

W--. It's a good place to be.