January 16, 2006

Coming to a Close

Filed under: School, Personal, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 3:22 pm

I haven’t made this terribly public yet, but most people already know it, so I figure it’s time to just put it out there, and explain my thought process on the whole thing.

Originally, I was planning on staying in Tübingen until mid August, a period of time of one year here. However, as I got further and further into my time here, I started to question whether this was the right decision to have made. About a month and a half ago, after some long and hard thinking on the subject, I decided that I would not return here for the second semester, and would instead return to the US after first semester here ended in February.

My reasons for this are many. Not least of which, I’m bored. I only have classes two days a week, which, while it sounds like a blessing at first, quickly becomes tiresome–I have nothing to do, ever. I’ve never felt so unproductive in my life. Sitting in my room, or a cafe, or the library, or wherever, while wonderful for a while, quickly becomes boring. I need to do something, accomplish something, and I don’t feel that I can do that here. Also, while having five day weekends is great for travelling, I’ve become somewhat tired of that, too. Living out of a suitcase, sleeping in hostels… I’m tired of it. I’ve also become bored with Tübingen. Tübingen is a wonderful town, and is intensely beautiful, but one can’t help get the feeling that there’s just really not much to do here once you tire of the cafes. And if I’m tired of travelling, but tired of Tübingen, I just can’t help but get the feeling that maybe I shouldn’t be here.

Then there are the personal aspects. I’ve yet to really meet any Germans, one of my primary goals in coming here. Germans are notoriously “cliquey,” and while every one that I’ve met has been friendly and outgoing, I’ve yet to strike up anything resembling a friendship with any of them. In addition, many of the Germans here go home on the weekends, or at the least to Stuttgart, leaving the town dead for 3-4 days a week, and it makes it even more difficult to meet anyone.

It was a hard decision to make, however. I was, and still am, worried that now is my greatest chance to travel, to see things, and that I may be throwing that away by heading home. However, like I said, I’m tired of the travelling, and have already been lucky enough to see more than many people twice my age. London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Berlin, Munich, soon to be Prague and potentially Vienna–I’m very lucky to have experienced all these wonderful cities. But through it all, I can’t shake the feeling that they aren’t mine, that I am just a visitor, that despite my best efforts, I can’t call them, or anywhere else on the continent of Europe, home. It’s all becoming a blur to me, and when you start to lose that magic spark of travelling, when you wouldn’t cross the street to see another Monet, when Paris is “just another city,” I think it’s time to head home.

If nothing else, this experience has led me to realize what I have at home and how lucky I am. It’s put a new perspective on myself, my life, my friends and family. I know more now about what makes me tick, what I want out of life, and how important the relationships of those close to me are, even for someone like myself who tends to have a loner streak. I am thankful for this; this is perhaps the best thing to come out of it all, even beyond all the incredible cities and sites I’ve gotten to see over the last six months.

Anyways, I still have over a month here. My flight back to the US is on February 21st, and before that date, I’ll be travelling to Prague and London, and hopefully going skiing as well, so there should be plenty up here in the meantime. I’d also like to cram in a trip to Vienna, but I’m not sure that will happen.

For better or for worse, the decision has been made, and at the moment, I’m glad I made the decision I did. In the future, I may post more about my thoughts on Tübingen itself, and why it is a great town to visit, but not one I want to live in, among other things.

November 17, 2005

An Update

Filed under: School, Personal, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 4:43 am

AuftenhaltsgenehmigungIt’s been a few days, so I thought I’d post with a quick update. I finally got my visa the other day, meaning I can now legally stay in Germany until November of next year. This thing is huge though–it takes up two whole pages of my passport, though I must say, I’d rather have it than two pages of generic, boring EU passport stamps. It also says that I can work 90 full days, or 180 half days, during that period of time. Nice gesture, but I doubt I’ll be finding gainful employment here when 10% of the native German population can’t find jobs. Anyways, the visa was my last “official” thing I had to do here, and it feels good to have all that paperwork behind me. No more reams of paperwork, funny opening hours, and long lines to take care of seemingly trivial tasks.

Also, the thought has been running through my head to come home for good after this semester, at the end of March. Things are great here, but I’m getting burned out on travel, and once I lose that, there really isn’t any other pressing reason for me to be here. I’m hoping that until March is long enough for my German to really pick up, but that’s something we’ll just have to see about. Also, if I leave early, I’ll be able to take both summer sessions at UNC, meaning I’ll be able to finish a German major without having to take two 18 hour semesters senior year. This isn’t a final decision to come home, but it is something that has been heavily weighing on my mind recently.

Tuebingen Stiftkirche, DetailClasses have been going pretty well for the most part. I’ve dropped my one “real” university class because I couldn’t understand anything the professor was saying. Our grades in that class would have been 100% based on a final, and I didn’t think that I would be able to pass it given my difficulties in understanding what was going on in the class. My other classes are going wonderfully though. I’m becoming much more comfortable with my German, and the classes are getting interesting. I have two projects I’m working on right now, although only one is really “work”–the other involves me going to different bars around town and then writing about what makes each one distinct. I did the first “research” last night.

I’m hoping to pick up my travel schedule significantly soon, realizing that if I do decide to go home early, there’s still a lot I want to see. I’m going to try to go to Vienna next weekend, and then probably Würzburg, Bamberg, and Nürnberg the next weekend. Hopefully there will be plenty more posts from such places…

October 26, 2005

First Day of Class

Filed under: School, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 8:11 am

Yesterday was my first day of classes. I had three classes yesterday, two of them through the international studies program, and one regular university class. The first two went well; the latter not so well.

The first two classes, both ISP classes, are geared towards non-native speakers of German. They don’t speak English, but they do make sure to speak clearly, without strange accents, and without speaking in a high “intellectual” manner. The first class, “Ein Quasselkurs,” deals with German smalltalk and the differences between the German we had been taught in class and the way Germans actually speak it. It was a very interesting, and at times funny class, and I think I’ll definitely be enjoying it. The next class was called German Everyday Culture, and deals with German culture from a layman’s perspective–this isn’t Beethoven and Goethe, this is why Germans are such fanatical recyclers and what they do in their freetime. Again, this was interesting, and I had no trouble in the class.

The next class, my last class of the day, was an overview of medieval history. I love medieval history, and so was really looking forward to this, but the differences here in the German were far to great. While he spoke clearly, his sentences were so long and complex that I would often find myself understanding most of the individual words said, but not being able to get any meaning out of them. My brain was in overdrive the whole time trying to keep up, but in the end I walked out two hours later with three lines of notes on my paper. Not a good sign. And given that to get my grade (the German school system doesn’t require grades quite the same way the US system does) I’ll have to take the final, and that this will 100% be the decider of my grade, I don’t think this class is going to work out. I’m looking for another to replace it, but I’m not sure I’ll be successful. Worst case, I’ll stick with my three ISP classes and just have to take one extra class next semester.

Today, I have my third ISP class, “Panorama Deutschland,” another German cultural class. This one deals with things like the political systems here, differentiating itself somewhat from the other German culture class I’m taking. We’ll see how it goes–I’m not expecting anything bad, but it’s three hours long, which might test my mental capacity translating German.

And one thing I’ve noticed is that the mental effort expended in understanding a foreign language makes you tired. I collapsed into bed yesterday after class, barely able to move. Hopefully this will change as my German improves–I don’t want to be nonfunctional at the end of every day.

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