26 December 2015

Winter in Iceland

After returning from Iceland in the summer, it only took two weeks for me to miss it terribly.  Playing around with the Icelandair flight costs, I realized I could return for a pre-Christmas vacation with little time off work, and a very affordable round-trip flight cost.

Nearly everyone asked "Why Iceland in the winter?!?"  Well, the northern lights are the biggest winter attraction, but Icelanders are said to love Christmas, and being there before Christmas seemed like a good plan.

I decided to wait until the Aurora forecast to make any plans, and once that happened and I saw the weather in addition to it, I decided it would be best not to make any plans at all and to just enjoy my time there.

As it turned out, that was the best plan - the week was far too overcast to see the northern lights.  In fact, some of the tours were even canceled due to weather (there were a couple very windy days).   So, what did I do for a whole week?

Well, I got to meet up with an acquaintance and learn about Icelandic microbrews.

I enjoyed the Christmas markets.  They aren't as big and fancy as the German and Austrian ones, but I did enjoy some mulled wine, browse the "Christmas-themed" flea market, and spend a couple hours at the main Christmas market, outside of Reykjavik.  It was indoor in a mall, with some stores and some tables of smaller businesses.  There was an accordion player and a singer, and Santa came to play and sing with the kids.  I especially enjoyed the Viking store, with items made in the tradition of the Vikings.

I also enjoyed walking along the bay.  It's not as packed with tourists as it is in the summer time, and on less windy days, it's quite beautiful.

I love being in Iceland.  The food, the people, the weather - it's all wonderful.  I'm already trying to plan my next trip.

02 November 2015

Using Languages You Know, Everywhere You Go

Although I haven't written about all of my German trips yet, most of the rest start repeating themselves more than they already have.  Instead, it's time to write about the opportunity to use German, even in other countries.

  • Domestic Travel.  There are many tourist areas in the States where you are likely to find German tourists as well.  My students have told me about Hawaii (I must admit, I have yet to go... I keep traveling in Europe instead).  The Grand Canyon, DisneyWorld, and Niagra Falls are great places to hear German.  DisneyWorld of course has Epcot, so if you go to Germany there, you can speak German with the native speakers working there and eat real German food. 
  • Cruises.  Many cruises will have a very international passenger list, and if you keep your ears open, you're bound to hear German.  There are some cruises that leave from German ports, so those will have the biggest German attendance, but others even in the Caribbean will have German tourists on board.  
  • The Mediterranean area countries, especially during colder months.  Okay, I have never experienced this one first hand either, mostly because I don't enjoy warm weather very much.  But several Germans spend winter vacation time in southern areas such as Spain, Mallorca, and Italy, as well as Croatia and Greece.  
  • Really anywhere touristy.  I'll include more details below!
My sister and I traveled to Norway and Iceland the summer of 2015.  Our main destination was Haugesund, Norway, where she did a half Ironman.  It's a fairly small city, so besides for the race, there weren't a lot of tourists around.  We took a day trip to Stavanger, which is a much bigger tourist area.  As soon as we got into town, I heard German everywhere.  I looked and saw that at least one of the cruise ships in the port was from Germany.  If I had been traveling alone, I might have spoken with some of them, but as it was I didn't feel the need.  

On our way home, we spent a week in Iceland.  As we arrived and waited for our bags, I heard mostly German.  I noticed that most of the flights arriving around the same time ours did were from Germany: Hamburg, Stuttgart, Frankfurt...  all within an hour or so.  While my sister waited for her bike, I waited by the regular baggage claim belt. I remember hearing an elderly German couple complaining about how long the bags were taking.  I turned to them and agreed - I had already been there at least a half an hour by then, and they had just gotten off their plane.  We talked about the inefficiency of the airport, and how that would never exist in Germany.  

We did a lot of tourist activities outside of Reykjavik, but on the excursions, I only remember hearing German on the Into the Glacier tour.  There were two German families on our half of the tour.  It was interesting - if they had a question, they could ask in German.  Since the tours were to be in English, the tour guide responded in English, but he also did a quick translation for them after.  (There were a couple kids involved, so it was really nice that he was able to do that.)

Our tour guide's ability to quickly switch languages prompted me to look up the educational system in Iceland, especially in relation to language learning.  I was intrigued to see that Danish was the first foreign language they learned, followed by English, and then German or French.  Every Icelander I came across spoke English very fluently.  I never heard their Danish, but I would expect it would be at least as good.  Our tour guide's German was really good, but I did hear someone who had trouble with it.  In one of the stores in town, a German woman who spoke very little English was trying to ask questions.  The employee spoke very little German.  I kept an ear open and was about to offer my help translating to English for him, but they were able to understand each other eventually.  

In the past decade, I've made an attempt to learn how to say something in the language of the areas I'm about to travel to.  For Czech, I could say hello and that's about it - though apparently my pronunciation of the town names is still impressive, and that alone gets me by fairly well.  In České Budejovice, I ended up speaking mostly German anyway.  

In Norway and Iceland I had learned enough Norwegian and Danish to dissect words and try to figure out meaning when reading, but not enough to gain confidence to say anything besides "godmorgen" and "takk" and I'm pretty sure I used the Danish pronunciation every time...  At least "takk" is "tak" and pronounced the same. I think my favorite part about Icelandic, Norwegian, and Danish is that they are Germanic languages as well, and one can really find the morphological history in it all. 

29 October 2015

While in Europe...

Traveling within Europe is much more affordable than getting back to Europe, so if you can extend your stay, I always recommend it!

After my year in Salzburg, I spent another month traveling, mostly in eastern Europe.  I wanted to see where so many of my students in my first year teaching had been from.  Unfortunately, along with the rest of the pictures from this year, these pictures are reduced to those that had been put on Facebook at the time.

I feel as if I may have already written about Rijeka, but since I can't remember, I'll put it in again before moving on to summer.  I found a cheap flight over the Easter holidays to Croatia. It ended up being something along the lines of 50 Euro round trip. Rijeka is interesting - it's an industrial port town trying to welcome tourists.  The beaches were all industry, but I found my favorite spot up in Trsat, a fortress dating back to the Ottoman Empire.  It holds a museum and cafe.  I spent most of my day times there, drinking amazing coffee and watching a gorgeous view.

I flew to Dubrovnik, Croatia and spent a few days there.  It was a beautiful place to relax. I had a nice hotel on the Adriatic Sea.  There was a nice beach area with an area to swim, and it was a good walk into town.  The water there is so clear, you can't see how deep it is.

I learned enough Bosnian/Croatian (AKA Serbo-Croatian) to ask if the other speaks German or English. (Goverit li ti engleski ili njemaći? Probably not the best spelling anymore...)  In Dubrovnik, the answer was usually German, especially in restaurants.

From Dubrovnik, I took a bus to Mostar, Bosnia.  There was a border stop in between, but it wasn't too complicated.  I do remember them looking at some of the bags, but I don't remember them being bothered by mine.  There was a huge Catholic tourist attraction on the way, but I don't remember where exactly it was.  Something about a siting of the Virgin Mary.

Mostar is an intriguing place.  It was a decade after the war, yet many buildings remained in ruins.  Some partially rebuilt, allowing people to live on one or more of the floors (between floors that weren't redone).  Others had signs warning against going in, as they have not been cleared of mines.  Mostar's most (bridge) is probably among Bosnia's most famous sites. It's quite beautiful, as is the river that flows under it.  As I prepared to leave, I found the train and bus schedules didn't match what I had seen online. I ended up taking a taxi to Sarajevo, which allowed me beautiful views of the mountains.

The hotel I stayed in for Sarajevo was a couple miles from the center of town.  I took a tram in the first day.  The tram was originally German.  I remember noting a year, but I can't remember it.  Something like the 60s.  It was old and rickety, but it did the job.  I walked around a park and heard a woman speaking/practicing German with her children.  She smiled as we came closer to each other and asked me something in Bosnian.  (I was only able to tell it was a question due to inflection, I didn't understand a word.)  I replied in German that I was sorry, I couldn't speak Bosnian, but I could speak German.  We talked for quite some time and she invited me up to her house for coffee.  I went along and we continued talking for hours, along with her husband.  They had been in Germany during the war.  They talked a lot about politics, immigration/emigration, and religion - specifically, the differences in the different ways Muslim countries treat religious traditions and how people treat women.  I wish I could remember their names.  I would love to reconnect with them.  Sadly, I only have one picture left of Sarajevo - one of a cemetery in the center of town, near the market.  I took a day trip up to Vareš, one of the towns one of the students had been from, before moving on to Kakanj.

Kakanj is a small town.  I enjoyed speaking with the hotel receptionist.  We spoke over coffee.  She taught me how to make Bosnian coffee, and explained to me how so many younger Bosnians can speak decent English while the others couldn't.  TV shows were largely from other countries, especially America.  I got to meet her family.  It was a very pleasant visit and it made me love the Bosnian culture even more. Instead of dubbing the shows, they had subtitles.  So the kids who great up with these shows have heard native English all their lives.  From Kakanj I took the train to Banja Luka.

What I hadn't realized was that Banja Luka was sort of a Serbian area within Bosnia.  Instead of mosques, there were Orthodox Catholic churches.  Instead of written language that I could sound out and more or less get the gist of, I saw cyrillic.  I got off the train and immediately felt a difference in culture.  The taxi driver who took me to the hotel lectured me that he didn't speak Bosnian, he spoke Serbian.  I knew there were some very important differences in the languages, but I just hadn't realized the political and religious cultural differences within Bosnia.  All I can remember of this stop was a less-than-inviting attitude towards strangers, that is was hot and I had no air flow in the hotel, and the TV didn't work when I wanted it to.  I don't even have pictures left of the churches, which were quite pretty at least.

Bihać was my final stop in Bosnia.  The plan had been to continue by train to Split, Croatia, but on my way, I was told by another passenger that the train does not go to Split from there.  It was strange because I had checked the trains online. When I got settled, I went to the train station and found a schedule that had a route to Split on it.  The station was more or less abandoned, though.  I couldn't find anyone to ask.  I wandered around, looking at all the other signs in the station and found a small one on a bulletin that was a current schedule, very few routes.  I looked back up to see the the date on the bigger schedule - 1991-1992.  Pre-war. My hotel was away from the center of town right next to a gorgeous river.  I enjoyed this stop.  I can't remember if I could walk to town or if I had to take transportation, but I remember going to town a few times.  There were many bullet holes in the buildings.  I remember that vividly, even though the pictures are gone.

I don't remember how I ended up getting to Split, but it must have been bus.  My hotel was about a 15 minute walk from the tourist area.  There was no elevator, and I had my two suitcases, each weighing 70 pounds. I carried at least one of them up...  Split is beautiful.  It was a perfect place to relax, sunbathe, listen to some of the new music I had gathered from Germany, Austria, Croatia, and Bosnia, and just take in vacation as much as I could.

After Split, I took the train back up to Austria.  I transferred trains in Ljubljana, Slovenia.  I spent another weekend in Salzburg (quietly rejoiced that I didn't have to spend the whole summer there - the tourists are everywhere!) and then went up to Germany.  I finished my stay in Europe by going to a Tokio Hotel concert, trying to find clues of my ancestors in Bremerhaven, and visiting with my host family in Waiblingen.  I'm really glad I stayed the extra time.

26 October 2015

A Year Abroad as an Adult: Salzburg

When I decided to apply for masters programs for German, I noticed there weren't many to choose from.  I wanted to study somewhere outside of Washington State because I have connections here already and I wanted to get everything I could out of further studies.  My GRE scores weren't impressive (seriously, why do we only test English and math no matter what subject we're applying to study? I could rant about the educational system for far too long...), and I'm relatively certain that's why I didn't get accepted to most schools.  Bowling Green State University not only accepted me, but offered me an assistantship, which in the end meant being paid to earn my masters degree through them. Because of delays in recommendations, I would have to defer my education for a year in order to guarantee an assistantship both years.  I decided that was worth it, so I had my first year teaching German as a .8 teacher at a high school that had already gone through 2 teachers the year before.  I was sorry to create more instability there, but it was a good experience and I then knew more what I needed in order to be a successful educator.  (Side note: apparently all of my pictures from this year are lost.  All pictures included in this blog, while still mine, only exist because I first posted them to Facebook, or because I went back and have pictures from other trips.)

I am happy I chose this program.  Visas and room and board were arranged for us.  Since getting there was on us, I flew with the only airline that would arrange round trip for this length (British Airways) and make a stop in Waiblingen to see my host family.  Arriving in Salzburg by train, I simply had to take a taxi to the dorm building and check in there.  The first semester I shared a room with a first year undergraduate Austrian student.  It was nice to have an Austrian there as I adjusted, but at this time in my life, I had already lived alone for two years and study habits were quite different between the two of us.  Dorm rooms included two twin sized beds with desks at the end, connection to ethernet (it was 2005 in Europe, the fact that we got internet in our rooms was nice) and a door separated the sleeping space from the bathroom/toilet and closets.  Our room was near the stairwell and across the hall from the shared kitchen (each floor had a kitchen), where many of the residents gathered and smoked.  It was a hard environment for me to live in.  On the positive side, the dorm building was a 10-15 minute walk from the university, very near a tech building (computer labs are useful when the internet is down in the room).

Back to the real work - everyone takes a test at the beginning of the year to be placed in the correct level of German as a foreign language.  I was unhappy with where I tested into (Mittelstufe III), but I got to take the course with a friend and our professor was amazing, so I got a lot out of it.  Besides that, we had other courses just for our group and were allowed to take whatever courses we wanted to take at the regular university.  I took linguistics courses on morphology with another awesome professor.  I was so impressed with him in semester one that I made sure to take another course with him the next year.  It was fun being in there for the second semester (Morphologie: Deutsch und Englisch) because I was the only native English speaker there, so I was used often as an example, especially for the purpose of pronunciation.  I attempted to take a pedagogy course as well, but the schedule wasn't perfect and I couldn't keep up without being there the whole time.  The courses for us included: Literature, Business German, Austrian Politics (?  okay, I remember learning about Austrian Politics, but I don't remember if it was its own class... and my memory has faded about anything else...) I also got to be a tutor for the undergraduates' music course for the first semester and I was an English speaking assistant in a nearby Gymnasium second semester. I mostly worked with one class, though I visited a couple others.  The students were mostly about 15 and they were reading Lord of the Flies in English and discussing and analyzing it.  (Comparison: our 15/16 year old students complain that that same assignment is too hard... in their native language.)

We did a lot of things as a group, but had freedom most of the time.  Early on, we walked/hiked around the area and in the city to help us get used to the area.  We spent some time in Wien.  We attempted to see an opera, but the actor declared himself ill in the first scene...  Touring the capitol was nice, though.  I got many ideas for where to take my parents when they visited for Christmas.  We visited a castle in the area, but I don't remember much about the tour.  Apparently I had a little claustrophobia and passed out...

In the spring time, we took a trip up to Berlin, making a few stops along the way.  There was Nürnberg - we saw the castle and had a city tour.   There was an art protest, apparently, surrounding some of Nürnberg's famous statues.

Bamberg's Dom is an interesting one.  It was built as the style changed from romantic to gothic, so one side of the church has rounded arches, while the other points at the top.

We went to Dresden (seriously, that hotel was creepy - I wish I could remember the name so I could warn everyone about it!).  I believe this was my first time going in the Frauenkirche?   I remember it was finished by this time, anyway.

Berlin was interesting as usual.  It was all decorated for the world cup.  A few more memorials were available now than in the years past.  I love returning to Berlin because it changes so much so quickly.  Our city tour took us past the Holocaust memorial, which was being built the last couple of times I had been in Berlin.  We went to Check Point Charlie.  I feel as if this spot is a little more hype than anything else by now.  The history is interesting, at least.

I spent Christmas with my host family.  My parents met me there the next day and we toured southern Germany and Austria for the next two weeks.  We went back to Fussen and this time went into Neu Schwanstein. It was really amusing, actually.  Ludwig II. had the rooms decorated with the influence of Wagner operas, which were musical versions of the literature we were studying.  I remember remarking as we walked into a room with a checkered person "This must be Parzival - that's what was imagined a person would look if they were half black and half white" and then the tour guide confirming that thought.  My dad was surprised I know that. (Quite frankly, I'm surprised I knew that... and that I still remember it.)

We spent New Year's in Wien.  I showed them some of the places we had gone as a college group, including the Parliament building.  We took a tour there that was quite intriguing.  (Political history is actually very interesting and gives you a better understanding of culture and wars that have happened since.)  On New Year's Eve my mother and I had Glühwein from the market and then we went to the hotel, played games, and watched TV.  It's when I heard Durch den Monsun for the first time...

We ended our time together in Salzburg, where I was able to take them to concerts and several of my different hang outs.  Restaurants, cafes, stores, etc.  I took them up to the Festung for the museum as well.  It has some interesting history to it.  We went on the Sound of Music tour together.  It's embarrassing to me that the man in charge was an American who had lived in Salzburg for 7 years and still spoke no real amount of German.  The tour was cheesy, but fun.  It was also nice to see areas outside of the city that we might not have found on our own, including some of the scenes where the movie was filmed.

My sister visited during her spring break that year.  Instead of doing the Sound of Music tour, I took her to some of the highlights with regular public transportation.  We also hiked up Gaisberg, which I had previously done with the group.  It was still fairly cold up there in March, so it made for a fairly comfortable hike.

Untersberg.  You may recognize it from the Sound of Music.  Unfortunately, crossing this mountain will take you straight to Germany.  Maybe not the best way to end that story...

During this year, I collected evidence for my thesis plan (using authentic German-language music in the German as a foreign language classroom, specifically in the second year). I made friends, I made connections, I learned another dialect.  I went for walks along rivers and in forests.  This year changed the way I thought of education and reminded me of the importance of visiting other cultures.  After my schooling ended for the year, I took another month for travel.  That's a blog for another time.

24 October 2015

Getting to Europe for Education

There are many ways to go about getting to Europe for the purpose of education.  The first thing you must ask yourself is: How long do I want to be there?

  • Seminars.  The Goethe Institut (https://www.goethe.de/en/) is an organization that exists for the sole purpose of teaching foreigners German.  There are "local" branches in several countries, including several in the United States, but one can also apply for a scholarship to take a seminar in Germany.  You'll have to pay for the flight/travel to the seminar, but the room and board during the seminar will be taken care of, and you may end up with some of the travel being refunded (there is a maximum, and this seems to be different for each seminar and change every year).  Seminars generally last two weeks, but some may be longer. In the application, you select three seminars you're interested in.  If you're chosen, you'll be registered for one of those.  I ended up with a seminar called Deutsch for Lehrer, which was taught in Schwäbisch Hall.  (I may or may not have selected it for convenient visiting of my host family in Waiblingen!)

  • Austria has a similar program: The Austrian Cultural Forum.  (http://www.acfny.org)  They only have two branches in the States (New York and DC), so I only know of it because of my love of conferences.  I won a raffle that was a free seminar through the Austrian Cultural Forum.  I had a choice between some seminars (somewhere between 3 and 5) and I had to prioritize the top three I was interested in.  I ended up with a comparison between Dorf and Stadt: Drosendorf and Wien.  I spent a week in Drosendorf, which is near the border with Czech and then finished the seminar in Wien. 

  • Semester/Academic Year abroad.  If you are studying at a university in the States, chances are you have an opportunity to study abroad.  Most schools have programs in Germany, especially in the major universities such as Heidelberg.  Not as many seem to have programs in Austria, though there is a New England program, and I went through the program at Bowling Green State University.  All undergraduate German majors go for either one semester or a full year, and all graduate students in German stay the full year.  Our program is with the University of Salzburg, so that's where my college experience is.  (I started writing more about this and realized quickly that this needs to be its own blog... Stay tuned.)

  • Study Abroad.  By this I mean *all* of college.  It's possible, but not many Americans think of it.  You have to apply directly to the universities, so the first step is figuring out where you want to live and what you want to study.  Many universities have programs with several courses taught in English, so you could seek that out too.  German universities differ greatly from those in the States.  In the states if you're getting your bachelor's degree, you should expect two years' worth of basic and breadth courses.  The reasoning?  A well-rounded education and people insisting you don't know what you want to do with your life yet.  Did I change my major? Absolutely.  Would I have decided how to go about it without those breadth classes?  You'd better believe it.  In Germany, Gymnasium students have already started focusing towards their major in the last couple of years of their studies, so at the university level, you end up with four years' worth of what you're going to be doing with your life. (Is this sounding a little biased?  It probably does - I don't hide my opinion of the need for basic and breadth very well...)  I didn't go this route, but it's getting easier and easier to make it happen.  Just don't forget to get your Visa!

Group Travel

I don't hide the fact that I'm not a fan of group travel.  Part of it is a dislike of crowds, another part being a dislike of tourists. (I know, I'm a self-hating traveler!)  But group travel does offer something that is difficult to get on your own:  cheap (/affordable) access to multiple museums, nice restaurants, decent hotels, and transportation within and between cities.

In the summer of 2000 I went on the Washington Ambassadors of Music tour.  This tour has remained the same for YEARS.  I've since had a few students go on this trip, and it's fun to share experiences.

After rehearsals, the group flew to London.  There was a city bus tour, some free time for shopping, and a show.  My group ended up at the Buddy Holly Story.  I would have more enjoyed a play that allowed the British actors to use their real voices, but it was still nice to see.  We were in London for 4 days before taking the bus to Paris.

I didn't like Paris so much.  Sometimes I wonder if I would like it if I went back during a non-summer month.  It was over-crowded and quite frankly, it smelled bad.  The Louvre was interesting.  I was too young to enjoy it, but it might be nice to see again.

From Paris to the Swiss Alps - we were in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, but I don't remember the town's name.  It was quite small.  Here's a view from that village.  Lots of shops, especially if you're interested in watches or cheese.  

We took a day trip to Zermatt and saw the Matterhorn.  It was a beautiful day for the hike.

Another day trip was to Venice.  In 2006 I took a long weekend there in February, and will say I don't dislike the city anymore... I just dislike it in the summer.  It smells of fish, and there are many many tourists in the summer.  Shops were nice, but the gelato was better! It's a fun town to wander in with all the canals and bridges and beautiful architecture.  I didn't get to tour St. Mark's with the group, but I made sure to do it when I went back.

We stopped in Innsbruck, Austria.  We saw the home of the winter Olympics there. I don't actually remember much from this stop.  I did go back to this city with my parents in the winter of 2005-2006.  I like it much better in the winter time.

The last stop was Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bavaria, Germany.  On the way, we went to Dachau.  It was my second concentration camp, and it wasn't nearly as bad as the first.  The first I had seen was in modern-day France, so a lot of the stuff was kept there to show how bad the Germans were, whereas in Dachau everything seemed more historical and matter-of-fact.  Rothenburg itself is an interesting middle-ages town that really caters to tourists.  I didn't much like it the first time I was there (with the group).  I went back a few years later to surprise acquaintances and former students who were on the trip.  I was there for 4 days and enjoyed walking around outside of town.  The paths connect village to village through fields and forests.  It was beautiful.

When I was in Rothenburg with the group, I got to sleep in when everyone else left on the bus for Frankfurt to fly home. My family met me in Rothenburg and we took a trip around Germany from there.  We started by back-tracking and going back to Waiblingen so that my family could meet my other family.  It was nice for my family to get to know the people I spent a year with.  My sister and I stayed up the street in Neustadt, and everyone else stayed in Waiblingen itself.  I got to visit my friends at a school festival and we had a special Posaunenchor meeting.

After a visit, my family and I drove around the country.  We hovered in the south for a while.  We went into the Black Forest and walked around Triberg.  My favorite town name became Abtsgmünd.

We went to Neu Schwanstein, but didn't go in at the time.  (My parents and I went back in the winter of 2005-2006 - I'll be sure to talk about that trip another time.) We did go in to the other castle there, Ludwig's father's castle.  There's a museum there with a lot of information about royalty and the days of knights.  You can see the vast amounts of tours that come here in the summer... that was the reason we didn't end up going into Neu Schwanstein at that time.

We stopped in Munich before driving on to the former East-West German border.  We saw the old guard towers and the difference in landscape.

We visited the Lutherstädte and toured the Wartburg, went to Dresden, and spent time in Berlin before heading back home.  We spent quite a few days in Berlin this time, but somehow I seem to not have any pictures of this one!

15 years later, I'm afraid the last couple of weeks of my month-long trip in Europe is mostly fuzzy and all details have been merged between many other travels.