Thursday, June 22, 2017

Struggle

     Not knowing where I'm going is what inspires me to travel. Having an accent inspires me to speak. Sometimes your disadvantages are your most striking assets and having or knowing less than does not make you that. Being abroad means being different. Because no matter how much you practice, how many bus lines you know or how much black you wear, you will never be native. In my ever-educated opinion, I believe that people were never supposed to be bound to nationality or border. Heritage is sacred but this land was not born to be claimed. And as far as second-class standing, I will always prefer to be the dumbest kid in a challenging class then the smartest in one where effort is optional. So be the foreigner. Struggle through ordering a meal and look different than literally everyone on the street, because little by little insecurity will fade and your new favorite phrase will be, I'm not from here.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

So now you're an expat

3 ways to be less foreign, because as cool as it is to show off your English (which everyone now speaks), it's even cooler making friends outside of your language class.

1. Keep the ratio of new language to old language 70/30.
     - Ten percent will be all of your new expat buddies, ten will go to FaceTime and subsequent communication back home, and the last ten you will waste on keeping up with your totally disposable American media, fool. Seriously, if the scales start tipping the other way your language is going to suffer, and the better the language the less people will talk about you right in front of your face.

2. Say yes
    - Congrats, this three letter word just became your new best friend, and if you're on exchange you probably need one. It will give you experiences and stories and mistakes, and you will treasure them.

3. Own your country.
     - They are going to say the word Trump and laugh. The are going to bring up McDonald's and guns and 'Merica and laugh, as they should. You are foreign. You are foreign :) You are exciting and mysterious and can make obscure references to things they will never understand. Acknowledge the fact that you are but a little American fish in the sea of our star-spangled nation and are in no way responsible for the genocide/economic collapse/cardiovascular problems and or blissful ignorance that may or may not have been adopted by the vast majority of your native population. You come from somewhere with problems and vulnerabilities like every other citizen on this Earth, yours just happens to be somewhat of a headliner.

Despacito

     Exchange is tricky. Visas are frustrating, courses are stressful, and almost every expectation before coming will be far too high. What's important is to take everything day by day. There is time to discover and savor the city and the culture and the language, so pace yourself. Speeding through guidebooks and streamlining experiences is exhausting and takes away from that underlying passion of wanderlust.
     That being said, Netflix and FaceTime have never taken my breath away. So I say yes to almost everything, and sleep when I can. For me, studying abroad is not a limited experience with some international deadline. Moving away and changing almost every aspect about my life has always felt very comforting. I have studied in the U.S., Western Europe, on our beloved island, and currently in the Latin side of the Southern Hemisphere, and it is such a gift. After my year in Argentina, I'm planning on a Spanish-based internship and after that hopefully I'll start my grad in Capetown, or Roma, or Lisboa, or some other foreign land I've been daydreaming about, eventually making my way back to O'ahu.
    I'm putting out this timeline because before my first exchange everyone around me wanted babies and a picket fence. I have no particular disdain for either children or suburbia, but I remember what it was like to have my aspirations demeaned as a phase. Traveling costs money. It consists of twenty hour bus rides, grimy hostels, pathetic conversion rates, and a lot of loner sightseeing. But traveling for school and work and self is absolutely possible, not to mention cost is almost always determined by lifestyle (and general scrappiness). So for anyone who's doing this exchange for more than the fast-lane credit, keep doing it. And if you're looking for a backpack buddy, I'm probably somewhere below the equator.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Standing Alone, Together. Remembering June 6th.

Over the past week, I spent three days in Bayeux, a small French village near the famous beaches of Omaha and Utah. These were the two beaches the Americans used to land troops in June of 1944 against the Nazi Reich. After experiencing the rich and historic culture that Bayeux had to offer, I took a tour with a French local named Sofie. She took myself along with 7 other Americans to the most famous and significant battle sites in the region that pertained to Operation Overlord. Not only did we see the famous 'Bloody Omaha" where 2000 US soldiers lost their lives, we also followed the Band of Brothers-506th, Easy Company's footsteps along Brecourt Manor, Marmion's Farm, and Carentan. To experience such a vivid, yet violent history is not only a one in a life time experience, but truly affects how you see the image of war. For me, it meant that among violence, there is honor and among death there is sacrifice. I attended the 73rd Anniversary of the beach landings and will gladly return in the future. I will cut this post short however, because this experience meant so much to me, I put together a video of my experiences. For some who have already watched the 20 min excerpt, they have described it as "simply amazing," "difficult and emotional to watch," and a "beautiful tribute to those lost on that fateful day." To all who have a chance to watch it, please contemplate the meaning of bravery, honor, and sacrifice and what it means to live a place where we are free to live the lives we choose thanks to those who spilled blood across the sands of France and throughout Europe.

Here is the link:
Standing Alone, Together. Remembering June 6th.

Friday, June 9, 2017

PACKING TIPS that may just save your life.

Before leaving for Spain I probably spent HOURS adding things, removing things, panicking, shopping, and waking up in the middle of the night wondering what the heck else I could shove in my 1 suitcase for 5 months abroad in a different country. Of course theres never a right way to pack, but shortly after arriving here there were sooo many that I wish I had packed or left.  Boy, did I wish I would have read a blog telling me helpful hints on what to pack. Don't worry folks, I'M HERE FOR YA.

Here's a list of the tips that I know now, that I wish I knew before:

















OVERPACKING: First of all, remember not to stress out over packing too much. Whatever you don't bring you can usually always buy in the country you go to. I can't tell you how much I brought & seriously never used. Especially with clothes & accessories. If anything, you'll find that Primark is sooo flipping cheap & you'll wanna buy tons of clothes there to bring back home with you. 


SHOES: 1 pair of hiking shoes, 1 pair of regular tennis shoes, 1 pair of nice dressy shoes, and maybe some boots for winter is the ideal. You could pack a ton of fancy shoes to keep up with the fashionistas of Europe, but ill tell ya now, while traveling, you're gonna pick Nikes over cute shoes any day of the week.

PLASTIC BAGGIES: Can someone please tell me why it's so hard to find zip lock baggies in Europe?! Pack a box of those in your suit case and you'll be glad you did. Or you could be like me and carry your trail mix, snacks, and toiletries around in the thin little "fruit holder" bags you find in grocery stores.

FOR GIRLS: Make sure you pack a decent amount of lady products. Some of the options offered in Europe are a little scarce, and its just a good thing to have decent supply of those anyways. 

REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE: When traveling around Europe this will be one of your best friends. Drinking fountains are not always the easiest thing to find and a lot of restaurants will make you pay for your water. Plus they are good for the environment (:
                                                        

PORTABLE CHARGER: I can't tell you how many times I was out exploring a city for hours when my phone died. A portable charger will most definitely save your life in this situation when you need to look up bus schedules, get home, or communicate with someone! 

AIPLANE PILLOW: This ones pretty funny but I think it's worth the mention--on your flight to your study abroad destination, if they have those tiny little airplane pillows... TAKE ONE. It will be your best friend over your travels for the next couple months. They're so easy to carry around & long bus rides, sleeping in the airport, & plane rides wouldn't have been the same without mine 😝

                                        

TRANSPORTATION, MUESEUMS, ECT: Book everything online ahead of time. It's so much cheaper. 

STUDENT DISCOUNTS: always ask for student discounts. It will often times save you a few bucks! If you know that you're going to be visiting museums or tourist attractions, bring your passport so that you can prove that you're a European student.

                                      


CHEAP FLIGHTS: when booking flights, think twice about the cheap RyanAir or Wizz flights. In most cases, the budget airlines are amazing deals. Yet sometimes they end up costing the exact same amount as if you were to fly with the bigger commercial airlines. Here's why: many budget airlines fly you to an airport that is literally IN THE MIDDLE OF NO WHERE. This practically forces you to pay an arm & a leg for a private bus or some sort of transportation to get you to the main city center. They know you have no way else of leaving the airport so it's often around $15-$20. For this reason, keep this in mind while comparing flight prices & always check what airport you are flying into ! 

Side note: Paris Bourdeaux airport royally STINKS. 

DAY PACKS: Get yourself a good day pack. My day pack consisted of an old Jansport backpack and boy was I greatful for it. Make sure it's large enough to carry water, cameras, souvenirs bought along the way, snacks, your wallet, & all that jazz. 

PICK POCKETING:  Never ever EVER put your phone, wallet, or purse in the front pocket of your bag or your back pocket. I'm not kidding, pick pocketers are everywhere & they are SLY... you'll never even notice it's gone. I caught a girl reaching into my over the shoulder bag that was hanging by my side. Always be aware, especially in the metro stations.


                                                 

ATMS: when paying with a card or withdrawing money from the ATM, the machine will often ask you if you want to charge euros or dollars. Always chose euros. If you chose dollars you are paying extra for them to make the conversion for you. 

HAVE THE BEST TIME EVER: Walk everywhere, speak the language, get lost, explore every inch of your city, make friends, stay out all night, write in a journal, travel. It's gonna be some of the greatest months of your life & it's gonna go by in a blink of an eye. 


                                  

I hope these tips helped you as much as they helped me! Pass them on & enjoy your trip!























Friday, June 2, 2017

sex

If you are going to study abroad and are in a relationship, make sure to talk to your partner about the experience.  It seems most every person I have talked to admitted they had a significant other back home, but their relationship status was “on hold,” or they were “on a break,” or able to see other people while away.  Many of those individuals were very actively looking to “meet” other people while here.  I think these misnomers were more so they could feel less guilty about their actions, or as a coping mechanism for them to feel they aren’t “cheating” on their partners back home.

While it is not my place to “judge” them, it always made me feel very uncomfortable and bad for the individuals they left at home.  Maybe because of my age, I’m less interested in sleeping around and desire a more stable relationship.  Granted, many people like to joke with me that “while the cats away….” and who knows, maybe their partner was playing the field for themselves back home too.  Maybe their relationship IS stable enough for one another to do these types of open relationships without fear of ruining what they already have.


If you are one of these people who desires the freedom to play without the guilt, make sure you talk to your partner and be honest with them about your intentions.  Karma has a funny way of catching up to some of those who seek to deceive their partners (think STD’S), which could be difficult to rationally explain once karma has you.
German dorm life is definitely different from what I have experienced in Hawaii dorms.  There are no resident advisors to take care of any of your problems when they will arise.  There usually is a “house master” whose office hours are literally 1 hour of 1 day during the week.  Most communication needs to be done through email.

Germans told me that they tend to yell at people before getting an outside authority involved.  Rarely are the police called, since most people will acknowledge they are bothering others, and try to refrain from being a continued annoyance.  However, many times alcohol is involved.  A drunken person, who clearly is not as able to comprehend how they are behaving, is going to be more difficult than a sober person.

Alcohol is NOT a way of life in Germany.  It is true that Germans are allowed to drink beer and wine starting at 16, and all other liquors at 18.  Germans apparently fear behaving so poorly in public that they will not be welcome back to an establishment, or be embarrassed by people telling them to watch how much they drink next time.  For this reason, Germans try to be conscientious of their behavior. 

Others (international students under the impression that public intoxication is mandatory in Germany) may not be as aware.  Many of those in international dorms are experiencing life for the 1st time away from their parents or any type of authority figures.  So their behavior is less than acceptable many times.

There was 1 pleasant thing I found about German dorms though.  Co-ed is truly co-ed.  Whereas in Hawaii, you will only have same-sex individuals sharing a flat, German dorms try to integrate the sexes.  While this may not be as advantageous to the women (since men it seems tend to be messier and lack the ability to comprehend personal hygiene…at least the ones I’ve seen living in communal situations), it does seem to work out.  None of the international women seemed to mind living with someone of the opposite sex.  Not in the same room mind you...everyone has their own private room, but a flat is shared with up to 5 people, and it helps foster more of a community.


Many American women also seemed very happy to have males living with them, although I suspect that since many of them had put their relationships on a hold while studying abroad, they were there for something more than just academic. 

Buddies

Since arriving in Mannheim, it has been a typical mix of good and bad.  The German students I’ve met have been amazing.  Thankfully their educational system is better than ours and they can speak English very well (especially compared to my German).  Students here have taken the time to help and are very patient with my inability to speak/read/understand German.
            
If I could go back in time and do 1 thing over about this trip (ok, 1 of many things), it would be to sign up for a “buddy.”  I assumed Germany was like America, where the sexes are kept apart as much as possible.  Luckily for me, the person I was rooming with at the hostel did have a buddy.  SHE has turned out to be my lifesaver.  As far as I know, everyone who does have a buddy has one of the opposite sex.
            
Kathrin is NOT my official buddy, but she has adopted me since I didn’t sign up for one.  Being a German national, she is of course fluent in…German.  Buddies are there to help you with any questions you have about your new country.  From getting an international phone, shopping, saving money, traveling, the horribly difficult Mannheim University website and email system, getting classes, and basically surviving, Kathrin has been there to help answer all my questions.  Don’t get me wrong, I realize she is actually one of the best buddies I could have hoped for. 
            
While certainly under no obligation to do so, Kathrin is always inviting me out to various activities.  She has been kind enough to take me to other cities, including her own hometown of Worms.  She often checks in on me to make sure I am ok as well.  Even during my Easter break, she has made the effort to keep in touch to see if there is anything I need help with.
            
She was most helpful when school was about to start.  This is where Kathrin really was helpful.  She made sure all my deadlines were met and that all my paperwork was in order prior to the start of the semester.  Any time I had questions, she was just a “WhatsApp” text away.
            
Additionally, any and all questions I may have had, she either knew the answers to, or if she did not, she researched it and tried to help me best with my situation.  Mind you, she has her own classes and life too, but she has gone above and beyond (especially considering again that I’m NOT her assigned buddy) to help me with daily life in Germany.

           
 So to all the students who are going to travel abroad to Germany, I highly suggest that you sign up for a buddy!!!!  They will probably be the biggest help to you upon arrival and during your time away.  They can only make life more pleasant and help you navigate your stay, and if you are lucky like I was, you may end up with that new international friend beyond your semester abroad!!!  

trains trams and buses

When you arrive in Mannheim, you will have 5 options for getting around other than your feet.  The taxi (which is expensive for long term use), a bike-share (which you will have to sign up for from Nextbike, so you probably won’t have this option until you get access to the internet), and of course the train, tram, and bus. 

After you get your matriculation number from the international office (when you register with them), it is best if you get your semester pass, which will allow you to use the trains which travel out to about 50km (about 31 miles…get used to hearing things in the metric system, they don’t use the standard system here) from Mannheim, trams and buses.  But, the RNV/VRN will only allow the use of the semester ticket from the times dated on your paperwork saying you are a student at Mannheim.  Assuming you arrive a few days prior to the beginning of the semester, or are taking the summer or winter academy, which begins about a month prior to the regular semester, how do you get around since the semester pass is still not valid?

Purchasing an individual ticket cost 2.50 euro PER VEHICLE you board.  That gets expensive fast as well.  But you can also purchase a day pass for 6.5 euros, which is only good from 12:00am until 11:59pm.  Keep the time in mind when purchasing the daily pass.  If you know you are going to go home after midnight, your ticket won’t be valid, and you will have to pay again.  But if you are traveling around for the day and will need more than 3 different rides, it will be worth it.  Simple math gives you a ride to, and then back from 1 location, it would be best to get individual tickets for the rides (since you boarded only 2 different vehicles).  However, if you will need to get on more than 3 vehicles to get to your location (and then back), get the day pass if you can get it all done before 11:59pm.  This ticket allows you to get around by tram and bus, but not the train (you will need to purchase tickets at the train station for those rides).

The other option that NO ONE at the RNV/VRN will share or hint at is to purchase a weekly pass.  Apparently, you can only get this pass on Monday.  It cost 19 euros for the week, and will enables you to get around by train, tram and bus for the week (again, Monday from time of purchase until Sunday at 11:59pm).  This makes exploring for the week much more affordable, assuming you were to purchase a daily pass for the 7 days (45.50 euros compared to 19 euros).  Additionally, this pass will give you more range in that you can also use it on trains, although only on regional trains which generally go up to 50Km, and not the Inter-City (IC) or Inter-City Express (ICE) trains.


You can of course try (I highly recommend you NOT do this thou) just jumping on the trains and buses during the day, and hope you don’t get asked to present your ticket.  The Germans do however, have people who’s job it is (on the trains mostly) to check to see if you have a ticket.  If you get caught riding around without a ticket on the trains, trams or buses, it’s a 60 euro fine for the 1st offense.  Apparently the subsequent fines after are more expensive, and the police also get involved.  Bus drivers tend not to check your pass during the day, but at night they won’t let you on without checking, so you would have to pay upon boarding anyway.  Trams rarely have ticket checkers, but it does happen.  Trains almost always have those employees checking for “free riders” and they will eventually catch you.  I’ve witnessed a number of people getting caught, and besides the embarrassment of everyone around you (well, those who speak German) knowing you weren’t following the rules and got caught, there is the 60 euro fine as well which is much more expensive than having bought a ticket would have been.