Friday, December 25, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Finally back in the US. Things haven’t changed, other than global warming dumping snow all over the US. There are blizzards in the north and tornados in the south—it’s ridiculous. Thankfully I was able to make it home without any major problems. Better said, I wasn’t stranded in an airport. So a short recap of my long travels: I woke up at 4 am Wednesday morning, took a taxi at 6:30 and was on a train shortly after.

About one hour into the train ride we suddenly stopped and the conductor informed us that someone had thrown themselves in front of a train at Munich Ostbahnhof, a station where I needed to transfer. Thus we stopped at a random station and I needed to change trains, putting me back about an hour. My flight to Chicago was actually quite relaxing, because I was in the emergency exit row, giving me six feet of extra leg room. After we landed in Chicago and I went through the long process of customs and security, I found out my flight to Minneapolis had been cancelled due to weather conditions. My confirmed flight was for the following day, but at least I was put on standby, with an additional 120 people. Thankfully I was able to make a flight out later that evening, but my luggage didn’t make it until the following afternoon. The end of traveling.

Christmas is quaint here with the snow. We have copious amounts of snow and the whole Midwest is under either a Winter storm warning or blizzard warning. So it’s great to be home in my own environment, have all my stuff and sleep in a fluffy, oversized bed. I’m also very happy to see my cat again, and I’ve even played a bit with my mother’s dog, who has become a bit more behaved since I left.

Nothing else to really note on. I’ll write more about how America hasn’t changed soon.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas?

One week until I head back to the United States! I’m surprised that I’m writing that with glee, because in previous years when I’ve been abroad, heading back to the US was like dreading a visit to the dentist—ok, it wasn’t that bad. But you get the idea. I suppose I should take into consideration that my previous stays abroad were rather short, six weeks max. And now I will have been I Austria four whole months when I take off. And looking out the window at the mere dusting of snow is simply not enough for me; I need a bit more snow to feel like it’s nearing Christmas.

The past week has heightened my spirit for the season, as I have been doing Christmas lessons in nearly every class. I will never forget the lyrics for “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” ever again. I’ll be singing it to my grave.

So far I’ve been to several Christmas markets: Linz, Budapest, Bregenz, Feldkirch, Ried… but sadly not Braunau. I missed out on that action this weekend when I was in Ried attending the “Xmas Party of 2009” at the event hall. The party organizers really overestimated the guest list, because they had a HUGE event hall which remained at least a third to a half empty. Nonetheless, Tim, Heather and I brought sexy back and had a fabulous time together. Unfortunately we had some troubles leaving the event, as I had somehow lost my ticket for the coat check, and they refused to give me my coat until the following morning. Tim was a bit aufgeregt and thankfully no one got hurt.

This week I have just been counting down the days until the weekend, subsequently my trip back home. On Saturday Heather and I have planned to go to the Christmas market in Salzburg, which should be nice. I can get some last minute Christmas presents 
And perhaps the biggest thing that put me in the Christmas spirit today is when four of my students pulled me aside after class and presented me with a plate of Austria Christmas goodies that they had baked me, along with a cute Christmas card. That single thoughtful act made me feel like it’s almost Christmas and made me very thankful for my time here in Austria.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Buda + Pest

I love Austria for having random holidays on a Tuesday, which means that the preceding Monday is a free day. I scheduled my classes last week so that I could have Thursday-Tuesday off. It was amazing. So for the long weekend I finally left Austria for more than an afternoon (regarding day trips to Liechtenstein, Germany and Switzerland) and went to Budapest, Hungary for four days with Heather, Matt and John. We were able to find a fabulous special roundtrip train offer for only 42 euros including our seat reservations.

Thursday morning we packed up our things, stocked up on beer and snacks, and boarded the train for a fun-filled four hour trip on the luxe Eurojet train. In Budapest we checked into our extremely cheap hostel at only 8,63 euros per night for a four bed private. The "hostel" is actually someone's large apartment, where they rent out three or four rooms. I don't recall ever seeing anyone else in the hostel other than the caretakers, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. The hostel was located in the heart of Pest, within walking distance to many sights and shops. And since it was on a busy street, I slept wonderfully as I dreamed of Minneapolis.

Friday night we checked out the Christmas market, where we all enjoyed some cheap gluehwein (mulled wine)-- I have the cup to prove it! I've begun to notice that Christmas markets are not simply just an Austrian or German thing... they really are all over in Europe. Come on America, when are we going to catch on?! Afterwards we went to the fanciest restaurant I've been thus far since arriving in Austria. We had a three course meal complete with Belgian beer from the tap for around 12 or so euros. Even though Hungary is part of the EU, they still use their own money, the Forint. The exchange rate is great at the moment, and many things were very reasonable.

Saturday morning we caught the free walking tour of Budapest led by a local Hungarian man in women's yoga flared pants-- it was hilarious. We saw most of the sights, had some good laughs, and saw a lot of ET (Euro Trash). The tour was also quite affordable, since we paid him in tips (around three or four euros per person). After the tour we checked out the "California Coffee Company" near the University, and I had some nostalgic moments sipping my coffee and eating my brownie while watching University students type their papers. Post-coffee was spent experiencing a children's Christmas market complete with terrible Hungarian songs sung by children (which made it even worse) that took place right across the street from a giant protest-- at least we assumed it was a protest, since we can't understand the language at all. Let me just pause for a moment and point out that I finally was able to play the clueless tourist this weekend. It's been quite a while where I've been in a non-German speaking country where I need to rely on the locals speaking English to me.

Saturday night we drank some cheap and delicious Hungarian wine and set off to find a good club. We wound up in a place called "Morrisons 2" and danced the night away. There were so many different people at that club from all over the globe. After catching a night train and making a much needed run to Subway, we finally crawled into bed at around four AM.

Sunday we soaked up the Hungarian culture in a traditional bath. Budapest sits atop many thermal springs, and baths became part of the Hungarian culture during the Ottoman Empire from the Turks. It was the most cultural experience in Budapest, considering the amount of tourists was quite low. I even treated myself to a cheap aroma relax massage. In the evening we found a wonderful Mexican-American restaurant with the BEST food I have had thus far. They even had processed cheese. It was sooooo amazing. Oh, and that evening we also visited "Hero's Square", basically the Champs Elyse of Budapest. We took tons of photos and watched a bunch of young kids skate around the square. Afterwards we stumbled upon the craziest and most EE Christmas market ever: a NASA virtual reality ride on one side of the tent, a camel ride on the other, and inside the kind of crap you could find at a thrift store. But the best thing about that Christmas Market was when Santa Claus himself came riding in on sleigh being pulled by a giant reindeer mascot (who looked oddly like Bullwinkle) on a Harley Davidson as "Sexy Bitch" by David Guetta played in the background. Gotta love Eastern Europe.

Monday morning we tried to spend the last remaining Forint that we had, so we attempted to shop at the big mall just outside of the city. It was a failed attempt on my part, and I ended up just buying a bunch of cheap food and wine at Intersparr.

All in all, the weekend was fabulous. It was so great to get out of Austria finally and experience a totally new culture. Pictures to come.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Being Thankful

This weekend I hosted my very first Thanksgiving dinner. Ever. In Austria of all places. And despite living in a small town where finding foreign ingredients is somewhat of a challenge, we created a pretty darn good meal-- that is, after going to nearly all seven or eight of the grocery stores in Braunau to collect the food and ingredients. The turkey was the hardest to find; I finally found a whole 9 lbs turkey at Merkur for 21 euros. That's roughly 31 dollars. That's $3.50 a pound. My parents bought a 14 lbs turkey for $3.50.

On Friday evening Adam, Jay, Matt, John, Emily and her friend arrived. Heather came Saturday morning. Friday evening we prepared a few things, got some gluehwein (mulled spice wine) and relaxed with a bit of drinking. Saturday morning Adam took over the kitchen and made an amazing turkey. Other things included in the meal: stuffing, cranberry salad, green bean casserole, bread rolls, steamed veggies, mashed potatoes and gravy, and apple pie! After many hours of preparing, cooking and setting the table, we finally sat down and started reciting what we are thankful for this year. Answers include things like: being thankful for living in Austria, for cheap travels, for cheap wine and beer, and for having met one another. My experience around the table eating the typical American meal and talking about why we are thankful made me really glad to have my friends in Austria. My experience would be so different had I not met them. But it also made me really miss home a bit. Only three more weeks until I'm back home for Christmas!

After creating the American tradition in Austria, we experienced a brand new, and slightly frightening, Austrian tradition called the Perchtenlauf. Perchten is a tradition where Austrian men dress up in the scariest costumes ever complete with a satanic mask that they carve from hand. They carry baskets on their backs to "take little children away". And they carry whips around and whack people. The tradition is to scare the evil spirits out of the city, and it's always common to see at the end of November and in December around the Christmas market season. And they love to target girls with blonde hair. I was almost taken away!

Long weekend coming up, and I'm headed to Budapest! More to come!

Sunday, November 29, 2009


This is a long overdue post from last week. As you can see, I'm starting to get a bit lazy with the posting. I spend too much time on the computer chatting, uploading pictures, lesson planning and planning future trips- blogging sadly falls behind.

Last week I went to visit Adam in Feldkirch. He lives in the province of Voralberg, a crazy little province located on the border of Liechtenstein, Germany and Switzerland. The whole province is one big valley in the middle of the Alps, so it's easy to forget you are moving between different towns, as it feels like one giant town that stretches for 45 minutes. The dialect is a bit difficult to grasp, as it is influenced by Swiss German.

Our weekend included visiting all four German speaking countries in less than 24 hours; visiting two Christmas markets; eating at the most famous Mexican restaurant in Austria; making Lebkuchen (ginger bread cookies); and shopping. Despite a fabulous view from the train nearly the entire way of the Alps, I had a terrible experience trying to get back to Braunau, since my train was late and I ended up having to sit in a small village for 75 minutes waiting for the next train.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Is the German Language Dying?

This is a question pondered by many, myself included.

Today on my excruciatingly long train ride from Feldkirch to Braunau I read the "Trendmagazin" for women called "Joy". I quickly noticed the influence of the English language in everyday German speech, and decided to document some of my findings. The following are words or phrases that clearly have been influenced by English. Some of the words actually have German equivalents, but for some reason, those are dying off...

"Just in diesem Moment": Just in this moment (equivalent German word to just = gerade)
"trashiges Hair-Metal outfit": trashy hair-metal outfit (trashy isn't quite a word that can translate well in German in this case, so they just took the English word)
"performen": to perform something, e.g. in a film (darstellen or spielen in German)
"Happy End": need I say more?
"loungig": used in a sentence to describe how the environment was like a lounge
"relaxed": also used to describe someone who is relaxed (entspannt or gelockert in German)
"jobben": to have a part time job or work as a student-- to job-- um, we don't even use this in English. I need to go job? No thanks. (arbeiten in German)
"der Part": a role in a film/the part in a film (die Rolle in German)
"downloaden": to download (herunterladen in German)
"PowerFrau": power woman-- used to describe a successful, driven woman
"daten": to date someone-- this comes from English, because people don't actually 'date' here. Or so I've been told. They just become boyfriend/girlfriend. (sich treffen in German)
"On-Off-Beziehung": on-off-relationship
"Ganz so easy war...": key word is 'easy'. So easy was it... (easy = einfach or leicht in German)
"die neuen, supercoolen Schwarz-Weiss Looks...": the new, super cool black and white looks-- super cool!!! (geil, toll, etc in German)

And on TV I've been hearing: "Ich bin happy" or I am happy. Happy in German = gluecklich.

I'll blog soon about my travels this weekend. It was epic.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Money, Mulah, Geld

In the spirit of Thanksgiving right around the corner back home in America, I thought I would quickly take note of something I am very thankful for: my very first e-check from the Austrian government.

On Friday I was informed via Facebook that the assistants had all gotten paid. When I finally checked my account later that day at Sparkasse with Heather, I nearly collapsed with glee, for it was true- we got paid. October + November earnings puts me at 2100 Euros. That's the most amount of money I have earned in quite some time, considering how little I actually work here (13 hours a week).

Finally getting paid makes life seem so normal here in Austria. In fact, I had a moment last week cutting up some vegetables in the kitchen while watching "Taff" on ProSieben where I thought to myself "wow, this seems completely normal that I am in Austria living like a local." Things don't seem so strange and foreign to me anymore. I blend in like any other local. In fact, when I went in to the Sparkasse yesterday to set up my Dauerauftrag (automatic monthly transfer of funds), I was immediately recognized by the hottest looking young man I have ever seen in Braunau, who somehow knew who I was and who my personal banker is. Keep in mind, I haven't been to the Sparkasse in two months, when I initially set up my account. In any case, people know me here and life feels completely normal.

To celebrate recent earnings, Heather and I decided spontaneously to head to Linz on Saturday to buy some new things. Luckily her neighbor was driving to Linz, so we even had a free ride. Unfortunately my shopping experience was not as I'd hope it would be, and I wasn't able to find really anything I wanted. Nonetheless, it was fun hanging out with the other TAs. 'Twas a good weekend.

Sunday afternoon I met up with one of my older students for coffee. It was my third time having coffee with students/teachers in four days at the same cafe. We had some fabulous conversations, and we are thinking about starting a book club.

This past week has already flown by. I began teaching a new batch of Beruffschüler at the Internat, and I am confident we will get along well. Several of my classes at the HAK were canceled this week due to teacher conferences and a random field trip to the Cinema to see Die Päpstin, which I was fortunate enough to accompany. Thus I am able to replace my open HAK hours with HLW classes, meaning I will finish up my week after the 1st lesson tomorrow morning. Then it's off to Voralberg for a long weekend to visit Adam and Nathan! Can't wait to be back in the mountains and see those boys again!!

The only negative thing in my life at the moment is that I dropped my computer last week and it looks likely that it will crash within the next week. Sigh.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Making Braunau a Better Place

The case I helped with last week while interpreting at the police station was published in the newspaper. They are now closer to figuring out what's going on with this fraud.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Where Has My Money Gone?

Money has been consuming my thoughts lately. Because I am finally receiving my first crisp e-check from the Austrian government anytime in the next few days. Despite having worked a full month and a half, we have yet to get paid. Our first deposit of money could come anywhere in the next few days- and it will be two months worth of pay.

Rummaging around through my room today, I noticed that I have actually bought a ton of things here, albeit not having a "steady" source of income (coughunderthetablejobscough). I decided to make a photo montage of where my Euros have been going:

That's my jacket that I bought at a Kohl's equivalent store. The buttons have fallen off twice already.

1 pair of high heels, 2 pairs of boots

Lots of train travel. Excluded here are my many tickets in Germany from September, my ticket to and from Passau, Germany and my roundtrip ticket to Vienna.

Quick note about the slippers in Germany/Austria: everyone wears "Hausschuhe" here, which are painfully uncomfortable slippers so your socks don't get dirty. They are literally made from wood, cork, or a very thin piece of wool. I caved and bought the cheapest, fluffiest slippers I could find, pictured here.

Three of four scarves that I bought. These three were only 15 euros total! Gotta love the flee market!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Return to the City

My cultural café experience in Vienna has me longing for more opportunities to surround myself with old Austrian women sipping their “kleiner Brauner” and eating a delectable torte. At the moment I am sitting in such a café in Braunau. My day was quite empty today from a class cancelation, and I decided to actually do something and get out of the house, rather than sit online. The café I stumbled upon is exactly what I was looking for: a cute, Austrian environment, a variety of fabulous tortes to choose from, and I am the youngest person here. In fact, I think I am getting some stares because I am sitting all alone with my laptop open. One of the main differences that I have noticed about the café culture here is that people generally enjoy going to cafes to meet up with others and actually talk. In America people bring along their laptop, school work, or whatever they need to do for their job, and sit down with a cup of Joe while unconventional music genres like acid jazz or ambient play in the background. There’s no noise here, just the sound of cute old Austrian women gossiping about whatever is going on in the town.

My past weekend in Vienna, the capital of Austria, encouraged me to step out of my awkward “I can’t be alone at a restaurant or café in a foreign country” complex and head to the nearest café here.

Vienna is known for its incredible coffee culture. Cafes line the streets, and Vienna even has its own coffee lingo. Open a menu in a café and you will be confronted with a long list of foreign words, even if you do speak German. It’s not the simple “coffee”, “cappuccino”, “latte”, but rather a long list of complex and confusing terms. Thankfully most menus also come with a description of what you’re ordering. Saturday evening Adam took us to one of his favorite cafes that he frequented as an exchange student at the Uni Wien. And here’s a summary of what else happened in Vienna:

Heather and I left Friday morning on the “Einfach Raus” group ticket for the trains. This ticket is only 28 euros for groups of 2-5 people, but the catch is that you can only ride with the super slow regional trains. What could have been a three hour train ride turned into a five hour ride. Nonetheless, I did end up paying a third of what that three hour train ride could have cost. Stephen, a TA living in Rohrbach, met us in Linz and rode the rest of the way with us. Once we arrived in Vienna we were greeted by Jay, who traveled from Klagenfurt, and we headed on our way to Andreas’s apartment. Heather, Jay and I lucked out and were able to stay for free with Andreas in his awesome apartment. We met him the previous weekend when he came to my Halloween party with another guest. Talk about networking 

Friday evening we went to the Austro-American Educational Commission (Fulbright) office in the Museum Quarter for a TA reception (that was the reason that we went to Vienna in the first place). Sadly not many people from my orientation attended, since most people are still waiting their first paycheck. Note to the Commission: next year, have the reception AFTER payday, so people can actually afford to come. Nonetheless, we were able to meet some of the other TAs who live in eastern Austria, and of course we enjoyed our free champagne, mimosas, and wine sponsored by the Austrian government. The program director, Mr. Lonnie Johnson straight out of Minnesowta, made a point to inform us that the US State Department doesn’t allow their funding to be spent on things like alcohol, tobacco, and the like. The reception only lasted a whopping two hours and awkwardly ended at 7 pm. Another tip for next year: have the reception last longer, or start it later in the evening. Because when you offer free drinks to a bunch of young Americans, and subsequently don’t offer anything appetizing to snack on, you find yourself with a group of very unhappy and somewhat drunk people trying to find something to do at 7 pm. One of the Vienna TAs was having a birthday, so we all went out to a café and continued the evening which eventually ended at McDonalds and me trying to order American food with a German accent. Trying to order food that is in your native language is a dead giveaway that you’re from America, so I tried real hard to mask that and dumb down my English.

Saturday was complete tourist day that involved seeing as much as we could before the sun went down (which, sadly, is at around 4pm in Austria… sigh). Things we saw: Stephans Dom, the farmer’s market, the Rathaus as we drove by, the Museum Quarter, the Hofburg palace, the many horse and buggies that line both the Hofburg and Stephans Dom, and the tall and baroque buildings that line the “ring” or the center of Vienna. It was quite the cultural day. Of course while in Vienna we skipped over the whole Austrian/Viennese food like Wienerschnitzel and instead ate at a Pakistani restaurant for lunch and Burger King for dinner. Typical Americans. Lunch at the Pakistani restaurant was very interesting: the restaurant is a buffet and you can eat as much or as little as you want. At the end you pay what you think you deserve to pay, based on quality of food and how much you ate. I ended up spending 6 euros on a mango drink and my lunch. Pretty awesome. Such a system would never work in America, because someone would just go and screw that up with the whole honor code.
Somewhere in between seeing the sights and Emily buying a Dirndl at a second-hand store, we managed to find ourselves drinking Mountain Dew and Dr.Pepper while eating Doritos outside of Bobby’s American Imports store. It was the most nostalgic experience I have had thus far in Austria.

Later in that night, the four of us met up with Anna, a former exchange student at the University of Minnesota, who lives in Vienna. She took us to an alternative night club in what seemed like the middle of nowhere Vienna, but the place was packed with young and normal looking Austrians. We didn’t make it home until 4 am, but the place was still packed and lively when we left.
Sunday seemed like the longest day of my life. The whole day was devoted to travel, and after six hours on the train, four transfers, and a half hour walk in the pouring rain back to my house, I was finally home. The time and annoyance of the rain was completely worth it to spend even a full day in Vienna. LOVE THE CITY. Heather and I are already planning our next trip back, and hopefully this time we will take the fast trains and have more time in the city, since we are planning to go during a five day holiday weekend in December—Christmas market?! Yes please.

In conclusion, I love Vienna. When I first arrived I was shocked and a bit overwhelmed with all the people. Sadly, I must have gotten use to Braunau’s small town feel. But I quickly was able to acclimate to my natural environment, a city, and feel like I belonged. The city has such a different feel than anywhere else I have ever been. On one hand Vienna is extremely posh; people clothed in fur coats and designer brands strut their stuff on the streets like they mean business. But heading out of the first district, the city becomes more down to earth, while remaining young and trendy. There are new things to discover at every corner, and the city is bursting with an interesting past.

I’ll pay my dues this year in Braunau, but I better get placed in Vienna next year.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

MTV Werbungs

I wonder if the homeless man from LA knows that he is a TV star in Germany and Austria. All German and Austrian broadcast networks need to inform their audience that commercials are coming by playing a little clip with some of their TV stars, celebrities, and the like that say "Werbung" for advertisements.

Well on MTV Germany, their "Werbung" clip is of two homeless people in LA babbling on about some strange things and about Germans and trying to scrape by. I wonder if that was staged, or if is actually real.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Two Conflicting Moments- The foreigner inside of me + being super respected by the community

I had such a stupid moment the other day. When Matt was making coffee at my house on Saturday, I warned him of the low quality in taste. He curiously peered inside the tin can where I stuffed the coffee after purchase, pulled out the bag, inspected and pointed out the foreigner inside of me: I had bought decaffeinated coffee and been drinking it for one month without any inclination that the terrible taste was due to lack of caffeine. In my defense, I bought the cheapest coffee I could find, didn't pay attention to the label, and shoved it into the tin container right after opening it. Talk about placebo effect, because the whole time I thought I was getting caffeine highs from drinking an entire French press. And when Nathan was over on Wednesday he remarked that "man, I shouldn't drink coffee this late, because look how jittery I am!" So all the while I have actually been accidentally weaning myself off my caffeine addiction.

On the other hand, I seem to be acclimating and integrating quite well here in Austria. The coolest and most interesting cultural experience thus far happened to me today. My headmaster approached me before class and told me of an interesting opportunity that he recommended me for, interpreting at the police station for some unknown reason. I was flattered that the headmaster himself even considered me for this opportunity, since I am not a native speaker and have no prior experience interpreting. "Ist wurst" he said to me. Which literally means "it's sausage"-- man I love that phrase. Loosely translated it means it doesn't matter. He told me my German was up to par for the interpreting experience, that it would be a fun experience, and that I would be compensated for my time.

When I arrived at the station I was confronted with the most threatening Austrian police officer ever. He looked like Sloth from The Goonies, and he looked like he could take anyone out-- you just don't want to mess with this guy. The immediately whisked me away into the interrogation room and had me start interpreting between the police officer and a suspect, which happened three separate times. It reminded me of playing alibi during orientation, except it was for real. "Ooooh, who's telling the truth and who isn't? Whose stories don't match up with whose?"

To make a long story short, a few Brits were taken into custody for maybe having something to do with what appears to be a conspiracy or some sort of fraud happening with a certain business under observation for some time. I won't say anything more than that, because I don't know if I am allowed to. I mean, I didn't sign a confidentially agreement, but I should be careful. So right away I had to learn a bunch of new vocabulary and figure out what the hell was going on. I sat there thinking "is this really happening? wtf?!" But man, it was a cool experience. Just the fact that I was able to INTERPRET at a police station during an interrogation gave me the biggest confidence booster ever. During the small breaks, the police officers complimented me on my language ability, although I was still feeling somewhat awkward about having to ask them to repeat themselves several times. Nonetheless, it was such an interesting cultural experience for me. I missed my afternoon class because I was there for five hours, but the teachers all knew my whereabouts.

After the interrogations they compensated me for my time. Let's just say I was shocked and speechless when the police slipped me a piece of paper with a very high figure written on it. All I'm saying is I wouldn't mind becoming a professional interpreter if that's how things work.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Most Amount of Americans Ever in Braunau

Americans crashed Braunau this weekend. It was great.

I had been planning a Halloween party at my house ever since orientation, and it was a complete success. On Friday evening, ten other TAs from America living in different areas of Austria headed over to "Graunau" (according to one of the TAs, because it is so foggy and gray here most of the time). Even though the Halloween party took place yesterday, a bunch of people came on over to see what the fuss is all about. We played some typical American party games and then headed into the center of the town to check out one of the diskos (dance clubs) in Braunau. Despite having three "clubs" and several bars, there weren't many people in Club 2. In fact, we were a big majority. I did run into some of my students, as well. Nonetheless, I had a great time hanging out and dancing.

Saturday was Halloween itself. A few of the TAs went out of Braunau to see some of the area, and the rest of us stayed behind and got ready for the party, decorated, etc. I went all out with the decorations: bloody hand print window cling-ons, spider webs, streamers, random heads and wigs in the garden, pumpkins, etc. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and being in Austria isn't going to stop me from celebrating. I was able to come up with a costume that cost only one euro: eurotrash. According to, white people love to dress as concepts for Halloween. So true- many of the party-goers did indeed dress as a concept. My concept included wearing a plastic apron with trash glued to the front and an EU flag drawn on the back. I dressed in trashy club clothing, overloaded the makeup, gave myself a pretend mullet, and sprayed some black streaks into my hair. Some of the other costumes included: self-absorbed, paper or plastic, Edward Scissorhands, the German reunification, etc.

The party was a complete success. There was lots of food and drink, many games were played, lots of dancing, and everyone had a ton of fun. So thanks for everyone who traveled from all over Austria and Germany!

Everyone went home yesterday except for Heather, Tim, Adam and Jay. After cleaning up the house we went into town to try and find food. Yesterday was All Holy Day, and everyone who lives in Braunau was dressed their finest and out visiting the cemetery, which is right by my house and on the way to the center. I have never seen so many people out before in Braunau. The rest of the day consisted of hanging out and playing telephone pictionary, scrabble, and a board game called "ImaginIff".

Today is All Saint's Day, so all of the schools are closed. It's also the second Monday in a row that there isn't school. I could get used to never having to go in on Mondays.

Pics to come once Blogspot actually works and uploads them :)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Three day weekend!

What a great day: The sun is finally out and it's 60 degrees. But sadly, I can see the rain clouds rolling back in...

This past weekend I was in Ried im Innkreis, where Heather lives. It's only about a 37 minute train ride away, so it's just a hop, skip and a jump away. I arrived Friday, and we didn't do much but get groceries and check out 7 dvds for the weekend. We only ended up watching 2 1/2 of them during the long three-day weekend. Friday night we met up with her neighbors.

Saturday the two of us took the circus train to Passau, where we met up with John and Tim, two other TAs. Passau is in Germany, but right on the border to Austria. It's well-known for being the "Dreifluessestadt" or the City of Three Rivers, because the Inn, Ilz and Danube all merge into the grand Danube. You can actually see where the rivers meet, so it's pretty cool. Passau is an interesting little city and there are quite a few shops and places worth seeing. They also have one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen that contains the largest church organ in the world. After sight seeing and taking pictures we enjoyed a couple of beers at a typical Bavarian restaurant. Living close to the German border is nice, because the beer there is much cheaper, and much better than in Austria.

We headed back to Ried that night and met up with Heather's neighbor again. He took us out and we experienced Ried's night life, which is sadder than Braunau's (sorry Heather, but it's true). Sunday was a lazy day and we had a Til Schweiger movie marathon. Til Schweiger is like Germany's Brad Pitt. We spent Sunday night out in the town again, since Monday was the national holiday and we didn't have to go to school. And then yesterday I came home.

All in all, it was a great weekend, even for the Innviertel. I guess it doesn't matter which small town you're in as long as you have good company!

Where the three rivers meet in Passau

John, me, Heather and Tim in Passau

The church in Passau with the largest church organ in the world. And the place where I would be okay with getting married someday

The two pumpkins I wound up with after a night out in Ried

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Amber In The Big City

Back in Braunau after a long and wet weekend. I'm starting to really get sick of this weather. I moved to Austria, not Seattle or Norway. But for the last week and a half it has been cloudy, foggy, cold, rainy and damp.

And finally the sun has started to shine :)

It was wonderful being in Linz. I was able to meet up with a bunch of the TAs, shop til I dropped a ton of Geld/money, experience the interesting night life of Linz, and not have to think about lesson planning. Due to the disgusting weather conditions, we spent most of our time indoors and avoiding the rain. I didn't quite experience why Linz is the culture capital of Europe this year, but hopefully next time I will be able to see some of the museums and sights.

And now an assortment of photos from the weekend:

A view of Linz

The result of spending 70 Euros at H&M (just me by the way). Heather and me

This summarizes the whole weekend: rainy and cold. Umbrellas were a must. But this church is pretty cool! We sought refuge there for around 45 minutes while it was downpouring.

All You Need is Laugh? Can someone please explain this to me....

Apfelstrudel and Coffee in a cafe. AKA: Trying to avoid the rain

Hauptplatz- The Main Square in Linz

Essential dorm vending machine items: Pepsi, Alp drink and three different kinds of Zipfer beer

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Nicest Event I Will Ever be Inivited to in Austria

Yesterday wrapped up my second week of teaching in Austria. Busy week: tons of new faces; 10 introduction games; lessons on the Amish, American perceptions of the EU, Obama and the Peace Prize and the Mall of America; six hours of my second job (should only be three hours a week); a trip to the veterinarian with Blacky because she has worms and fleas (gross); dinner with the TAs in Simbach; time spent on trying to fix my bike (didn't work); finally receiving some money for my second job (shopping spree!); and then a train ride to Linz, where I currently am!

I met up with Heather on the train and we sat in amazement when we began approaching civilization again-- a big city! It's funny how quickly I became accustomed to a particular surrounding so fast, despite having lived in a big city the last four years. Thus upon arrival in Linz (population 190,000), I felt like I was visiting something equivalent to New York City. My initial thoughts were "a real train station with more than one track?! three different street car lines?! plenty of shops and museums?!"- I had to take it all in and savor all the sites.

We met up with Emily and Matt at the station, other TAs who live in Linz. Afterward, we went to get ready for the event that we all had been invitied to: The Austro-American Society of Upper Austria's 60th Anniversary Gala Event. Inivitation read business attire. Let me just say, that was probably the poshest and nicest event I will be invited to this whole year in Austria. Despite the "business casual" attire of school consisting often of nice jeans and a blazer, the attendees were dressed to the nines. We also noticed immediately that it was a sea of gray, and we that we were most likely the youngest guests. The whole evening was paid for by the Society, which meant an open bar for the whole night and a buffet dinner consisting of Austrian entrees and American desserts... things like pecan pie, chocolate chip cookies, key lime pie- the things that make me giddy about America and miss going to a cafe and ordering pie. And by the way, we as guests didn't have to pay for a single thing, even though we aren't even members! The Society found out about the TAs and invited all of us during orientation.

The event opened with a cocktail/social hour and followed by the main program. The St. Florian Boys Choir opened with some songs, and we all chuckled quietly to ourselves as they sang "Happy Birsday to You" to the Society. Then, I believe the president of the Society spoke, but it could have been someone totally different. He spoke all in German, and after having two glasses of free wine on an empty stomach, my attention span was not to the level of understanding his three minute long German speech. Thankfully we were given a break when the US Ambassador to Austria spoke and congratulated the Society in English since he doesn't speak German. Hm... shouldn't that be a requirement for an Ambassador, to speak the language of the country in which you live? Later on we met the Ambassador himself and learned how to become an Ambassador: campaign and raise a lot of money for the President and get along with him. A background in politics, international studies, or the like? Doesn't matter. Just have money and a sparkling personality!

Following the program we dashed into the buffet room and piled our plates so full of food. Again, free food for TAs who won't get paid until mid-November. And then we repeated the process with the desserts. We bummed around for a while making use of the open bar and eventually met a few of the members. And then it was time to go, since we were becoming the loud and boisterous Americans we are, and since we were the last ones lingering.

After an interesting bus ride home in which a group of Austrian guys were confronted with the fact that some Americans do speak German, we called it a night and headed to bed.

Today I hope to make use of being a big city. Linz is the culture capital of Europe 2009, but screw museums- I want to shop!

Pictures soon to come.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Becoming Braunauian

Tomorrow will mark one month of living in Braunau. Despite my city roots, I actually- gasp- kind of like living in a small town. For one thing, I can do things like walk to Germany from my house. Secondly, there is no crime. I can walk around town late at night by myself without worrying about watching my back. I still instinctivly have a third eye in the back of my head, but there is literally no one on the road. Also, I am starting to see familiar faces when I am out and about, which is nice when acclimating oneself to a foreign environment.

When I first arrived in Braunau I knew few people. My days were empty; I had ample amounts of free time to waste online, watch TV, go jogging, walk around the city… whatever I wanted. I simply had n-o-t-h-i-n-g to do. After orientation, my position has completely changed! My schedule between the two schools reminds me of being back in college; my schedule varies day to day, albeit being fixed for the most part. I normally have a one-two hour break inbetween lessons, so I can prepare for the next lesson, hang out at the school, talk to teachers, run to eat lunch, etc. I usually don’t start earlier than 8:40, but on most days I start around 10. And I’m done around 2 or 3. After lessons I usually waste time online while slowly preparing lessons for the coming days. In the evenings I hang out with people, teach at my second job, or make much needed Skype calls. Whew!

This weekend a teaching assistant living in Ried, Heather, came to visit me. She is the closest TA to me, although Ried is 37 minutes away by the “circus” train as Adam would call it. And then the infamous half hour walk from the train station to my house. Heather and I went on a shopping spree in Braunau on Friday. That is, we went to almost all of the stores, and it only took two hours! I did manage to finally buy a jacket at the Austrian/German equivalent to “JcPenny”. Unfortunately Braunau isn’t known for its high fashion stores... While in the area of the supermarket similar to Wal-Mart Supercenter, we decided we should also get groceries. And a six pack. The walk back to my house must have been a comical sight for those driving by us, as we were struggling to carry everything in our bare hands and in the few bags I had brought with. Just a quick FYI for those of you unfamiliar with shopping at supermarkets in Europe: you need to bring your own recycable bags. Of course you have the option of buying them at the store, but who wants to do that?

Friday night Heather and I experienced the “posh” nightlife of Braunau. We met up with one of my older students and went with her to a club called Palazzos, one of the newest and hippest “clubs” in Braunau. Heather and I simply sat back and observed, a bit to shy to go to the middle of the dance floor and dance alone, since the majority of the club-goers awkwardly lined the wall with drinks in their hands shouting over the DJ announcing crazy antics like: “Ladiezzz and Gentlemen. Happy Wilkommen in Palazzzzzzoooooooos!” (Wilkommen= welcome). Happy welcome? Ugh. Still trying to understand how the simplest of English phrases can become so twisted when suddenly added to foreign vocabulary.

Saturday afternoon was spent by giving Heather the grand tour of Braunau, walking to Germany and eating ice cream there, and meeting with one of Heather’s students who lives in Braunau at the restaurant in the Cinema. Another side note, Cinema complexes are totally rad hangouts in small town Austria. Braunau’s contains not just the cinema, but also a restaurant and bar, a pizzeria, and a café. Oh, and “Die Maus” club. Heather’s student taught us some helpful Austrian vocabulary, so I now will be able to finally understand that the person at the grocery store is saying 2.50 without looking at the register.

A bit later, we met Adam, another teaching assistant who lives in Feldkirchen, about five or so hours from Braunau. We spent the night in after getting drenched from the terrential rain. On Sunday we made a wonderful breakfast and then bid our farewells with Heather. Adam and I repeated the Braunau/Simbach tour and spent the rest of the day hanging out and watching trashy American celebrity TV shows dubbed in German.

Today I experienced taking an animal to the vet in Austria. The cats are sick with worms and fleas. Gross. This is why I think cats should just stay indoors. Nonetheless, they should be getting better. Then this evening I met up with two teaching assistants in Simbach. So finally, there are other assistants practically in Braunau!

In conclusion, life is too busy to write blogs. I need to get a routine down and stick to it. No time to waste!

Oops- I Keep Forgetting This: MY HOUSE!

I keep trying to post a video of my house here in Austria. Hopefully this time it works!

And maybe this video will encourage visitors?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Becoming a Teacher... er, assistant

Well my first week of teaching is almost over. And so far, so good! Here are some things I have experienced/noticed with the Austrian school system:

My real experience in the classroom began on Tuesday with a group of about 25 students. Despite clear guidelines and regulations, my teacher threw me in the classroom all alone my first time. Honestly, though, not a big deal; we only did introductions with one another. Just irked me a bit, since it was my first time, and she's technically not supposed to ever leave me unsupervised... Even when I talked with her afterwards, she assured me that the only way to get the students to talk and participate is by leaving me with them throughout the year. I hope she's right and not trying to take advantage of the TA... Nonetheless, the group of students should be okay to work with. They talk a bit over me, but hopefully they'll calm down.

My second lesson was at my other school, the HLW. My students are primarily girls there, and they are very talkative. I simply told them a bit about my life and my background, and I passed around some photos. They loved hearing about the differences between America and Austria, and were quick to invite me out to an event this weekend.

Can I just pause for a moment and say how I love being in the position I am; I am not a teacher, nor am I a student. I cannot grade nor discipline students. I am a fresh face and close in age. They believe the things I say as a representative of my country and culture, and they want to talk forever about it.

My third and final lesson so far this week was yesterday at the HLW. I had a list of true and false statements prepared about myself (shout out to Adam for the idea), and it went over so well! One of the statements was "I speak Swedish", which is false. Of course they were correct with their guess, but their reasoning was "because your family name is Danish, so you must speak Danish". Prior to this question I had explained my last name, as well as my ancestry. I hope I didn't confuse them, and now they think all Americans with European descent speak that language....

And this morning I accompanied an advanced English class from the HLW to Salzburg to see "The Tempest". The play was modern and in German, so of course it was just totally crazy. Thus far I have seen two plays in Europe, and they both were super modern and weird. I guess I just don't get theater. At least I met a few more students closer in age to me who invited me to do some things with them.

Tomorrow I have two more lessons, but once again it's just introductions. Fortunately there are about 10 different English classes and levels at each of my schools, so recycled lessons are okay (meaning I get to play introduction games for the first couple of weeks...).

Now some differences between the Austrian and American school systems:
1. It's completely different. In America, we have elementary school, middle school/junior high, and high school. No deviation. In Austria, they have elementary school, and then there are around five or six different paths one can take. Most secondary schools here (like high school) each specialize in a special area. One of my schools, HAK, specializes in business administration. HLW specializes in tourism and service industries. Thus, students learn general high school subjects (history, math, literature) while also focusing on specific classes or skills.
2. Students have to pass a set of exams at the end of their school career called the Matura to get their "degree". They are pressured from the beginning of the year to study and do well.
3. Standards are much higher. Forget grade inflation like in the US.
4. Students don't really travel throughout the school during the day. Rather, they stay in one class all day with the same students while teachers move about the school.
5. Students stand when a teacher enters the room and cannot sit until the teacher tells them to.
6. Students and teachers are blunt and brutally honest. If they don't like something, they will say it. If they think something isn't done well, they won't sugar-coat anything. Basically, they say it like it is.
7. Discipline? I've heard that teachers don't discipline much. Apparently students are not sent to the principal's office if they misbehave. Thankfully I haven't experienced the lack of discipline thus far...
8. Teachers don't really have their own offices. Rather, they all share a giant room called a conference room.
9. Sometimes you have to pay for your own coffee, even as a teacher. At the HAK, it appears that they have their own coffee free of charge. At the HLW, one must buy tokens at the secretary that are valid for a certain type of coffee machine.
10. Students must wear "house shoes" in the school. When they enter the building, they need to remove their shoes near the front door and wear either socks or slippers throughout the day. Teachers may wear whatever they like.

I am currently preparing lessons for next week. Again, I just love being a TA. One of my teachers told me to find something about tourism in Minnesota. So my students are going to learn about Mall of America. Another lesson I need to prepare is about Amish Life, so we are going to watch a parody song called "Amish Paradise" by Weird Al. My third lesson will be about the EU. I'm supposed to find statistics or an article about American public opinion towards the EU which might be a difficult task. Honestly, I don't think Americans really know much or even care about the EU. I might have to take a different approach...

Off to the movies now! A younger teacher at the HLW invited me to the cinema and a drink today. Tomorrow Heather, another TA who is living a half hour from me, is coming to visit. Busy days ahead!

Monday, October 5, 2009

And so it starts

Time sure flies by when you're having fun and actually have things to do.

Last week I had my orientation seminar with the other Fulbright teaching assistants from America and the UK. The location of the seminar was in a small ski-resort town in the middle of the Alps-- absolutely gorgeous. Coming from the flat Upper Midwest, and having to spend the
next year in the flattest area of Austria, I was simply in awe in Hinterglemm.

It's hard to sum up the week. Each day consisted of a "crash course" in becoming a teaching assistant from around 8:30 am to 8 pm, with little breaks throughout the day. We learned how to write lesson plans, how to find resources for lessons, how to give lessons, etc. We ate heavy Austrian meals, climbed a mountain (6000 feet tall!) to burn off the calories consumed throughout the week, and performed in a variety show during the last night. At night we frequented one of two bars in the town, the Hexelhauesl (Witches' House), a themed bar decorated with witches and spooky things. And most im
portantly, we made lots of friends!

Variety Hour-- this picture is learning how to do Scottish Dance

The Hexelhauesl

View of the mountains during the hike

The end of the orientation was bitter-sweet. Everyone was excited to get started in their respective schools, but I think at the same time, everyone was sad to leave and head back to their towns and twiddle their thumbs with nothing to do. On the bright side, we now all have a wide network of people whom we can visit throughout the year... once we get paid in November. And as a side note, they are creating a direct train route from Braunau to Salzburg in December, which means it will take less than an hour to get to a bigger city! YAY!!!!!

After orientation, I headed to Munich with Nathan, another TA from America. We met up with his friends and of course we went to Oktoberfest. We were welcomed in Munich with thousands of Germans wearing Lederhosen and Dirndl (traditional women's dress). The city was packed and crazy. Oktoberfest itself was quite the experience. We arrived at the Hacker-Pschorr tent at around 8:30 am, and barely made it into the tent. In fact, the security guard at one of the lines told us we couldn't come in until we got rid of our food. As we finished it, he told us we needed to go to the main line, and we couldn't come in this line anymore, although one minute had passed. I looked at the main line and thought, "Oh no, we will not get in". So I busted out my German and started arguing with him, his colleague came over and asked what the problem was, and we were allowed to go in :) Finding a seat took about an hour, although there were thousands of places to sit. We finally managed to find a place to hang out and had a great time! Germans were dancing on the tables, singing silly songs, drinking lots of beer, and eating lots of wurst.

Hacker-Pschorr Tent: A little bit of Heaven

And now after all the fun of orientation and Oktoberfest, I am back in Braunau and ready to settle for a while. Yesterday was my first day at my two schools. I went to my first school, the HAK, and met my teachers and mentor teacher. Apparently my mentor teacher won't even be working with me this year. Everyone was very nice, although much older than me. The only annoyance I have is that they screwed up my schedule and thought I am working 15 hours rather than 13. They also had a fixed schedule for me, so I didn't really have any say in what I can do. At least it is only Monday-Weds.

My second school is the HLW, and I am very impressed so far. The English teachers are very friendly and happy to have me, and the staff is much younger. There are a few teachers who are my age, and one has invited me already to go to a movie this week. They recognized right away the mistake of 15 hours, and they are going to try to always give me Fridays off. :)

Today I will have two lessons where I actually meet the students. As far as I know, I won't be doing much, other than some introductions in one lesson, and observing in the other. We'll see how it goes!

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Quick Note

I know I haven't given a good update this week, but I was surprisingly quite busy towards the end of the week. I'll blog more about it at the end of the week.

I'm off now to my orientation seminar in the Alps! There I will meet the other teaching assistants from America, so I am very excited to get going. It's like the first day of school all over again; I couldn't fall asleep at all last night and had to wake up quite early. I'm wondering who my new friends will be, what I will learn, etc.

Then next week it's the first day of school for real (at least for the teaching assistants). School already started two weeks ago.

Well, here I go!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Green Acres

My city girl inside of me is beginning to scream here in Braunau—not because I don’t like the small town so far. In fact, I find the town charming, quaint and comfortable. But, never in my life have I had to deal with so many disgusting varieties of giant mutant spiders! I’m living on the edge of town near some farm land, but it’s still rather “suburban” if you may. Around my house there is a large garden and lots of trees/plants for nasty critters to hide. Yesterday morning I nearly died when I saw the biggest spider I have ever seen in a house sitting in the sink. I didn’t even know how I would kill it because of its size, so I took a nearby cup and placed it over it, which is where it still remains. Seriously, this spider was like a four inches long. Then today I saw another giant mutant golden spider spinning a web in the doorway. They’re seriously everywhere.

I. Hate. Spiders. And all bugs for that matter.

It’s quite the adjustment to move from a metropolitan area with roommates/family to kill the few bugs that migrated into our house, to a small town with no one but yourself to deal with the creepy crawlies.

Nonetheless, I am starting to accept my new living arrangements. I’m trying to create a routine for myself, so I don’t waste hours doing invaluble things like catching up on Project Runway online… although I suppose I consider that making use of my time J I’ve been going to one of the many grocery stores daily to buy fresh bread rolls and dinner for the night, instead of buying in bulk. Today I explored the city on my bike, and despite my self-proclaimed wonderful orientaton, I rode around in circles trying to find the train station. Tomorrow I plan on figuring out how to get to the bike trail along the river, and bike to the nearest town, or until I get tired. I might even cross over to the German border again (not that exciting; it literally takes 5-10 minutes to get there from my house) to climb up the forest/hill and see the view of the Alps just south of Braunau. Unfortunately, Braunau is rather flat, and you can’t see the Alps from town here. Instead, you have to go to Simbach, Germany to climb up the fairly large hill to get a glimpse of the Hills of the Sound of Music. Salzburg, where the movie was filmed, isn’t too far from here- only about 60 km/40 or so miles. Perhaps this weekend I will make a day trip to Salzburg. I purchased a “Vorteil” card today with the Austrian Train Company, which is a special discount card for people under 26 years old, and you can get up to 50% off on all tickets. It only cost 20 Euros, so it’s an amazing deal!

I am itching to either discover something really cool about this town, like that I can join a yoga class (which I don’t think I can… I googled it), or that there are some other interesting clubs I can join; or I am itching to get out of this town and explore more of Austria/visit a big city as fast as I can!!! Thankfully I have my orientation seminar next week beginning on Monday, and it looks like I’ll be able to meet another TA in Salzburg to travel the remaining part of our journey together. The seminar is five days long located in Hinterglemm, right in the heart of the Alps. I am looking forward to seeing mountains again!

Other than my near crippling fear of the icky eight-legged creatures here, I have been enjoying my time, albeit short. I technically moved in last Sunday (the 13th), but only spent two and a half days in Braunau until I left again for Germany. Last week I visited Jessica, Daniel and their son Porter in Erfurt, Germany. It was so great to finally meet the little Porter, who is 14 months old. Super süβ (sweet). It was also nice to relax and hang out with Jessica, catch up, since I haven’t seen her for a year. Then Sunday it was back to Braunau, and last night another three hours of dry, boring conversational English course.

In conclusion, I’m trying to learn how to live by myself: killing spiders, keeping the house tidy, being patient to make friends, learning to enjoy my solidarity- it’s coming along.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Braunau, Austria: My New Home

Written September 14, 2009 and posted the following day:

Finally made it to Austria: my new home for the next ten months. Before I arrived, Katrin and I went to visit Jesse in Wolfsburg, Germany. We had some great adventures: we went into the city and experienced German outlet stores (which are practically the same as American ones); went to Auto City, which is a beautiful museum/factory/landscaped grounds owned by VW where visitors can learn about how cars are made and see sweet cars like the million dollar Bugatti. However, we stupidly didn't know Auto City was closing in two hours, and we didn't make use of our time correctly; then we went to see "District 9" auf Deutsch, albeit my fear for alien movies. But this one was actually pretty good, and a social critique.

Saturday morning Jesse, Katrin and I tore up Berlin-- my "lieblingsstadt"--favorite city in Germany. I can't believe our luck: we rode for free on the ICE because Jesse looks similar to his colleuge, who has unlimited rides between Wolfsburg and Berlin, and can take up to four passangers on Saturdays.

Then, we checked into our hostel in Charlottenberg, which was pretty darn cheap for a private room. We went shopping, enjoyed the beautiful weather by sipping a couple beers on the Spree river beach club,

danced in front of the Reichstag (like our Capitol Hill in D.C.),

and got into an exclusive once a year party called the Butterfly Effect. Pretty darn good time.
Yesterday I traveled all day from Berlin to Braunau, Austria, where I am doing my Fulbright. I was met by my landlord's friend (who just happens to be my mentor teacher at one of my schools), and she showed me around the city. I must say, I actually am slightly impressed; for a town with only 16,000 people, there seems to be enough to do. There's a big movie theater, a fun park with pools and mini-golf, a quaint downtown area near the German border, and there are even real shops where I can buy nice clothing!!! I thought I would have to go all the way to Munich or Salzburg to go shopping. But I can get some nice things here!

Gerti, the woman who picked me up, showed me around one of the schools where I will be working, which happens to be a three minute walk away from my house! When we got to the house, I was greeted by the neighbor, who had baked a cake for me! So far everyone I met has been extremely helpful and generous. I am very happy with my house, too. It is in a neighborhood where all the houses are the same; each "house" or living unit is connected to four other units in the shape of a star. My room is much bigger than I had imagined. The living room has an old-fashioned fire place, the kitchen is very big with every appliance you can imagine (although I had to learn how to use a French coffee press), I have a washing machine and a dish washer, and there is an extra bedroom in the basement for guests. It is simply too much for just me! Luckily I have two kitties who are living with me: Blacky and Amedeus. Both cats spend most of their time outdoors, so I haven't actually met Amedeus yet. But Blacky loves attention, and reminds me of my cat back home.

It is so strange to finally be here in Austria, especially to live in a "lived in house". Everything I need is here, but there is so much stuff, that I am still having problems finding things I need. I've been here 1 1/2 days, but I feel like I have been here much longer. I have no friends yet, but the potential for making them is great. I don't know what to do with my free time, but I was busy all day today. I look forward to actually settling in.

And now I am sipping my wine with small pieces of cork (not harmful-I googled it) and missing everyone at home while still happy I am here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Germans Are Coming!

Last week when I was in Kaldenkirchen visiting Katrin, I awoke several days to the sound of this video:

Because there was a local festival happening, some of the townspeople dressed up in traditional clothing and went to wake up the "Schuetzen Koenig" (the "king" of the festival), who lived across the street from Katrin-- lucky us. This video is from the last day of the fest, so just imagine everyone dressed in clothing from the 17/1800s.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Turning Dutch

Today I am going to Holland--The Netherlands--however you prefer to call it. I'm staying with my friend Katrin this week, and she lives in Kaldenkirchen, Germany which is around 5 km/3 miles to the Dutch border. She is studying in Venlo, Holland, but lives here in Germany in the cutest apartment I have ever seen. Here in Kaldenkirchen there is a festival happening, so I awoke this morning every half hour beginning at around 8 am to the sound of drum rolls and horn playing right outside her window. The local town people were dressed up in clothing from what looked like the 1700s and were marching down the streets waking the citizens. How appropriate.

Before arriving in Kaldenkirchen, I spent a night at Katrin's parents' house in a tiny village outside Bonn called Scheuren. They live on a hobby farm with chickens, sheep and four horses. Her mother served us a traditional German meal with knoedel (round German dumplings), red sauerkraut, and roladen (meat stuffed with pickles, onions and spices). Of course while eating the German meal, we had Johnny Cash playing in the background. And then her father played his Native American tribal music CD as we discussed the German fascination with American Indians. In the late 1800s a German author called Karl May published a series of books about the American Old West and painted a very interesting picture of Native American culture for Germans- all before ever having stepped foot onto American soil. Nonetheless, there are museums dedicated to Native American culture, some dress in traditional clothing of Native Americans during Carnival, and there are even re-enactment sites with teepees and the like. Or you find politically incorrect shirts (if this were to be worn in America) like this at the store:

After dinner, we went around the farm and fed the animals. Somehow I always find myself on farms when I go on vacation:

Yesterday Katrin and I made a day trip to London:

And then we met a German superstar called Heino. He's known for "Schlager Musik", which is like German folk music. He made a lot of music in the 70s and 80s, and now he frequents a cafe in Bad Muemstereifel and is a legend there among the locals. He's kind of like Elvis. Unfortunately I was in the midst of talking with him when this picture was taken:

After our long and adventerous afternoon, we drove to Kaldenkirchen and attended the "Hundsgeschwister" electronic dance party in a giant open-air tent. There were probably at least 500 people present. It was like Minneapolis's "Too Much Love" x 100 and way cooler. After a disappointing dance experience in Bonn the previous night that reminded me too much of American clubs, I was happy to get my European dance fix:

And a final random thought. Apparently people think I am Dutch here. Yesterday when speaking German with some Germans:

German: "Are you Dutch?"
Me: "No, American."
German: "Oh my God this is the first American I have seen live!"

And I found myself in this situation a few other times throughout the night. Makes sense, since we were so close to the Dutch border and I obviously have an accent. But at least it's getting better that people can't quite pinpoint it :)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Maybe the American waistband is larger than the Germans', and that's why they still wear fanny packs in Germany

I am currently sitting in the library at the Deutsche Sporthochschule Köln (German Sports College in Cologne) while Christof finishes up some work for his internship. I have too much time to kill, so I spent the morning sleeping in his car (sehr ungemütlich-- very uncomfortable) and then walked around campus.

It is refreshing to be on a campus again in September. The semester hasn't started yet, but there are still a handful of students around here. It feels natural to be among other students, since I just graduated a few months ago. However, I definitely do not belong at this school, since nearly everyone is at least six foot tall and extremely fit. Most students are wearing athletic clothing, coming to and from practice, training, etc. Some of the best German athletes have studied at this college.

Another observation I have made is the return of the fanny pack! Earlier I was sitting in the Mensa, the student cafeteria, when I noticed a good looking young man walk in. My eyes immediately fixated on something bulky strapped around his waist. I thought, could it really be? And it was: a fanny pack. As I continued to look around the Mensa, I noticed another young stylish man with a murse (man-purse). Don't get me wrong; I am by no means a fashion expert, and I do respect the occasional murse when put together with an outfit correctly. But I just cannot understand why someone would want to put all of there personal belongings in a bulky compartment strapped to the area of the body where most people want to appear smaller-- not bigger!! But hey, let's be honest... I'm sure in a couple of years, the pack will make its way back to the States, although the strap of the fanny pack may need to be extended, unless we do something about the future of our nation's health! (Insert approval for the national health care reform).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ruf Mich An! (Call Me)

I just purchased a Skype online number which is a local Minnesota number. That means anyone can call this number and it is just like calling any local number in Minnesota, so you don't pay any international rates. The phone number is connected to my Skype account on my computer, so if I have the program running, you will be able to get through. If I am away from my computer, or have the program off, you will reach my voicemail. Leave a message so I know to call you back!

Here is the phone number: 952.388.0664.

I also have a German cell phone, which is always on: +49 01602300930.

If you're going to call, keep in mind there is a seven hour time difference :)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Start Planning... :)

As promised, here are the dates of my holiday/vacation time... Most of it you will notice is after the New Year, although I still will be working a whopping 13 hours a week and will have an ample amount of free time. I'll post my schedule once I actually know it.

School vacations/holidays (to my understanding, I don't have to be to work these days):
February 13 - 21, 2010
March 27 - April 6, 2010
May 22 - May 25, 2010

I am renting out an entire house for myself, which means I have a guest room. I would love visitors, so let me know if you want to come!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Return to Hoehr

Finally back in Germany! I arrived four days ago and am currently staying in Hoehr-Grenzhausen, the town where I did my exchange five years ago. I stayed in touch with some of the participants here over the years and am staying with a friend from the program. Hoehr-Grenzhausen is right outside of Koblenz, or about 45 minutes northwest of Frankfurt. The town is relatively small, albeit quaint, with a population of 12,000.

Despite my lingering jet-lag, my days have been quite eventful. I visited with my German friends, went to a couple of pubs, saw the world's tallest cold water geyser, enjoyed traditional German food like spaetzle, watched Christof's band play, and spent a day in Koeln (Cologne). Now I am relaxing in the green house attached to Christof's house.

I am excited to be back here and practice my German. Somehow I managed to switch into
German right away, perhaps because I was so eager to speak it again. But my interest in
communicating in a foreign language has waned over the last few days, and I find myself slipping more and more into English. Speaking and comprehending a foreign language all the time is very exhausting, and sometimes I just need an English moment. Because I know that in around two weeks, there will be no one to communicate with me in English. Hopefully once my jet-lag passes, I will have more energy to continue speaking German all the time.

I decided to take this "volunteer" position in Braunau, which begins in two weeks. I will be teaching a specific English course to students 17-19 years old, who are learning certain words
and phrases specific to their intended career. The boarding school, where I will be assisting with this course, has offered to let me stay until I leave for my Fulbright orientation seminar at the end of the month. I am excited, because I now have much more support when I first move to the city with finding my way, understanding
how to use the bus system, etc. However, I am a bit nervous to teach an entire class by myself alone, since I have little prior experience. I will be prepared with materials and methods/theory, and I don't foresee it being too difficult. The first day is: "introduce yourself". I think I can handle that as a native English speaker. And the group will be very small- only eight students. (picture here is of Christof's band "Hangover")

In the meantime, I will enjoy my vacation and relax before I begin my new exciting job as a teaching assistant. Bis dann!