Sunday, July 03, 2005

Chronicles of a Girl in Freiburg

I'm back in Singapore, and looking back on my trip in Germany. Time flew by fast, just like that, a month has gone by. But during that month, it seemed like time was passing by slowly. I don't know how would my SEP be like, then it would be for 4 months. 4 months away from home would be a lot different.

It isn't very much of family that I missed. I have a quote, by me, "Blood is thicker than water, but water quenches thirst." I know that I can leave home for one month, one year, or even one decade, and when I return, my family would still welcome me with open arms and give me hugs and kisses without hesitation. But I can't get this sort of security from others. Only from my family. Maybe it because I'm a skeptic, I think that friendships cannot withstand the test of time. Then again, my friend gave me a quote yesterday, "You can be a skeptic, and not get any." Maybe I' too skeptical. If only I can open my heart wide enough to accept things easily, maybe I'd be happier.

But still, this trip to Germany was indeed an eye opening one. Below, I attach a report I did for the university there about my trip, and those in this colour are my added comments. I mean, after all, we can't be exactly honest when doing these things up for the people who paid for most of my trip there, right? I'd have to be politically correct sometimes. hehe~

Report of Freiburg
Joan Ang

Stepping out of the aeroplane at Frankfurt am Main Airport, breathing in my first wisps of German air, I was suddenly overwhelmed by this wave of apprehension. I knew not of what was lying ahead of me for the next four weeks in Freiburg. However, greeting me at the Freiburg Hauptbahnhof were friendly faces of my host and the other host family taking part in this programme. Immediately, all my feelings of apprehension vanished, what was left were feelings of excitement. This excitement was more than adequate to sustain me for the next four weeks of my stay in Germany.
>>Yes, the excitement did lasted me for 4 weeks, but it was a difficult 4 weeks. I had to occupy myself day and night to keep my mind from wandering off. I too started having regular sleeping hours of 11-7 to prevent myself from falling into and emotional dire.

I was arranged to stay with Maike Röhm in the little village of Au. That was actually not my original posting. My original posting was to a family with a cat, an animal that I have problems getting along with so I had to swap families with another student from this programme. Luckily, there was someone willing to swap with me. Also, according to the posting information, my host family was supposed to have a rabbit which I have not seen throughout my four weeks of stay. Maike has three daughters whom I was living with, and another grandmother, Martha, who was the mother of a friend of Maike’s. The family members are all very accommodating to me not being able to speak very well German. Maike started out speaking with me mostly in English and only until I was used to the place that she spoke more German with me. I think this was very thoughtful of her as I was able to feel more at ease and less of a culture shock while learning more German at the same time. Even the children were very accommodating with me. The middle daughter, Lea usually speaks very quickly and not very proper German tried to speak very slowly with me, sometimes even pausing after each word to make sure that that word was registered in me.
>>The family was great. Just that they had their own activities planned and I found it hard to adapt into their lives. Maybe they found it hard to adapt me into their lives too.

The next day, we were supposed to meet Dennis and Carolin to go to the Mensa before touring the town area. It was the first time I ventured out into the town and I was all by myself in a totally foreign area. I took the bus there. According to Maike, there are two buses which ply our village to the town, but I was only given the bus schedule of one bus. However, I was still able to make do with the bus schedule pasted in the bus stop as my house to the bus stop was not really a very far distance, so I was always able to run out to check bus timings. I find that the bus schedules here are very accurate and I was always able to rely on them even though they are not very frequent, and even less on weekends, but I was able to get by with it so it was not really much of a problem.

The tour around the town area orientated us well to the town. The town is really beautiful and its architecture is something that cannot be replicated in Singapore. We were brought to almost every creek and corner of the town area and we were almost fully oriented for living in the town for the next four weeks to come. The meeting of the other host families that came after the tour of the town was very interesting. My host, however, was unfortunate not to be able to make it to the little gathering, but the other hosts also mingled around with me and the other students in this immersion programme other than their own hosted student. The gathering also provided me the opportunity to chat with the other NUS students on the exchange programme here in Freiburg and get to know more about options in doing my exchange programme. They also provided me an insight in studying in Freiburg after being here studying for quite some time already.
>>I think it is great that I managed to have some contact with some of my friends' hosts, like Najib's hosts, Clarence's too, and some others.

The next day was the start of our German lessons. Our teacher, Susanne is really a patient and good teacher. She speaks very slowly so that all of us can catch what she said and very often repeating what she said a few more times for us to fully understand her. Her lessons were conducted almost completely in German which I think I really a good idea as that would better train us in the language instead of always relying on translations to get by. Also, even though the standard of German between the students in this immersion is rather varied, Susanne always made considerations for the class as a whole and made sure that her message was got through to everyone, especially the weaker students. Susanne also did not put any student on the spot when asking questions and very often either picked someone who knew the answer to answer questions or guided the student to arrive at the answer without making the student feel lesser than the others. I really appreciated that move by Susanne as I was not a very quick student in picking up the rationales behind what was taught.

After lessons was a group lunch with Carolin and Dennis. The Mensa was something new to me. Even the food in the Mensa was something I never seen before. Perhaps it was only the second day I was in Germany and I was still feeling a little out of place, but I thought that the food I had had in the Mensa was not really that nice, but as I ate more in the Mensa, the food started tasting nicer, so maybe it was because of me getting more used to it. Dennis and Calrolin were both very patient as they slowly explained to all of us the workings of the Mensa and helped me with the operation of the vending machine and the Pfand Machine which I had trouble using.
>>Food in the Mensa was not worth its price. One meal costs about 3euros, and the food isn't exactly that nice. I could get better food outside by just paying a bit more.

On Sunday, Dennis brought us to Heidelberg. I think Heidelberg is a very beautiful town and the visit to the Schloss enhanced our knowledge of German history. The visit around the town was also very fun, the only disappointing thing was that we had not had enough time to finish exploring the whole town area even though we were at Heidelberg for the whole day. Dennis is a fast walker and sometimes he tend to forget that girls cannot walk as fast as him, so it was a little tiring and hard to catch up.
>>I liked Heidelberg.

The excursion to Schlossberg in comparison to that with Heidelberg turned out more to be a fiasco due to the heavy downpour. Even though the view from atop the Schlossberg was really beautiful, I did not think that the long hike up in the rain was worth it. Maybe the rain made everyone wet and cold, hence that feeling of tiredness. Perhaps if there was a wet weather plan, we could have more enjoyed the scenic view from Schlossberg on a nice cool and dry day.
>>But I didn't like Schlossberg. I thought that Schlossberg was a waste of time. Maybe the rain just dampened my spirits.

Tuesday was our first tutorial with Carolin. Tutorials with Carolin are fun and interesting. Carolin uses a lot of sound effect to make clear what she wants to say as she knows that with our basic knowledge of German we wont be able to fully understand her message, and like Susanne, she knows that speaking to us primarily in German would be more effective in getting us to learn the language. Tutorials were also very fun as each week Carolin would play with us vocabulary games helping us to learn more words and speak more German even within the immersion students. All of us were so used to speaking to each other in English.

The theatre trip the next day was an eye opening experience and the first test to us of our command of the German language. It is unfortunate though for me to say that I had not managed to catch about half of what was going on. The parts that I was able to catch were all parts that were more physical and it was only through the aid of the gestures that I was able to comprehend their lines. Still it was a fun trip as we were able to see how theatre in Germany was like. Even though I really liked the drama, I think that maybe a simpler play would be better for students like me with not a very strong grasp of the language as of yet.

The trip to the TV station was also rather fun as the person directing us about the tour of the station was very friendly and accommodating. He allowed us to touch and play with all the equipment and the set. Even though I think that all TV stations are about the same despite its location, the trip was still a fruitful one in terms of us having a chance to practise our German as we were treated to a live broadcast of something like a news bulletin. The whole broadcast was in German and as it was a broadcast, it was clear and easier for us to understand what it was about. The newsreader was amazing in that she was able to read quite a lot of lines from memory without a teleprompter or anything similar. Even though she had cue cards, she had not once paused to look at them.
>>We stopped by the Mercedes showroom before going to the TV station. Oh man... After seeing cars on the street and seeing all my dream cars, I'm starting to think that perhaps a BMW645Ci isn't really my kind of car, rather a Mercedes CLK230 would be more suited for me.

One of the most fun excursions I thought was the one to Titisee. We were able to take a paddle boat ride out around the lake which was realy very beautiful and scenic. We also had the chance to taste authentic blackforest cake. We were also able to do a little shopping and touring of the little town there, but if we had more time there we would be able to tour the Schwarzwald and look at more shops in the area. Some boys did manage a short trip up into the Schwarzwald but most others were not able to go up due to time constraints.
>>I think most of you reading my blog would know that I don't eat cake. But in Germany, I broke my not eating cake rule and ate cake cos the cake in Germany is really different from what you can get anywhere around here. Also, I'm not a chocolate or ice cream person, yet in Germany, I started eating that almost every day. I'm a fan of Portofino's Eis. I think that is one thing that I'll really miss now that I'm back home. I also started drinking coke on a regular basis. Maybe it's because I was slightly depressed. I started drinking coke during the last examination period to cure my slight depression and I think coke helped me miss home less.

I though that the excursion to Colmar was a little odd as Colmar was in France and there we were not able to practise our German. Carolin brought us on the trip there and there were some hitches in us getting the bus ticket and we ended up having to pay for our visit into the museum in Colmar. I found that the museum trip in Colmar was a little too long and as the time dragged there can be only that amount of things for us to see. Still, this is only my own view as not everybody had the time to finish viewing the museum again due to time constraints. Maybe it is because that we are quite a big group of people that we had wasted quite a lot of time waiting. I am not sure what time was the trip to Colmar supposed to end but because somebody in our group had to leave early most of the others ended up returning early with her. Only me and two other students wanted to stay on and see more of Colmar, hence we had to do it on our own. Even though Carolin also stayed on in Colmar, she only did so as we wanted to stay and I think that it was really nice of her to stay on as she could had just made us all go back early.
>>Shopping in Colmar was fantastic. I love shopping~

The visit to the Badischen Zeitung was at the last minute changed to a game of minigolf. I think that the visit to the Badischen Zeitung would give us a better opportunity of practising our German as most of our host families too do read the Badischen Zeitung regularly. Although the minigolf was also quite fun, but it was also a little funny of us trying to hit balls into holes. Also for such a big group of people trying to play this game of minigolf together was also quite a waste of time. Still, we had fun ribbing each other of our lack of accuracy in our hitting of the minigolf balls.
>>Minigolf was dumb, but we did have great fun jibing each other. I think it was the company that I enjoyed and not the game. And I realised one thing, I can ram balls and not hot the ball. I get impatient very quickly and when I get impatient, I'd keep ramming the ball and hope that out of 100 times I ram the ball, finally one would get the ball in. Persistant. Zuan nui jiao jian. I'm a bull ramming my horns into a corner of a wall and even though I know I can do no damange, I still ram myself hard and do damage to myself. That's me.

Even though my German is still not very good after 14 days of being in Germany, I really liked the visit to the cinema and the choice of film we saw. Usually I watch foreign films with subtitling but as my German improved and the actions of the characters I was soon brought into the film and forgot about subtitling and other mundane matters. I was really touched me the film. Still there were some parts that were a bit awkward as everyone else in the cinema except for us were laughing, and we just sat there asking each other what had happened. Luckily, after the film, Carolin patiently cleared our questions and doubt about the parts we did not understand.
>>Bärfuß. I liked the story. If only life is but a story and I can meet my man who can stay devoted to me for the rest of our lives, life would be so much easier. And I like that lead acter who doubled up as the director and producer and dunno-what. He's masculine looking because of his double chin. Okay, to some people it's called a split chin or cleved chin or whatsoever, but I'm calling it a double chin. I like it.

The excursion to Breisach and Staufen both did not come at the right time as the weather in that few days was terribly hot. My host asked me why was I feeling that uncomfortable with the heat when Singapore was hotter than this, my answer was that there is a lack of air-conditioning here. I cannot say air-conditioning is better, but that is what we are used to so it was hard to fully enjoy ourselves in the scenic towns of Breisach and Staufen when we were feeling very uncomfortable with the weather. The weather also ended up with us all in the cafes at both towns. Still I think that it is also a fun experience to sit in a cafe with the rest of the students on this trip and attempt to practise our German as we made our orders.
>>I hate the heat. Put me in a hot place without airconditioning and it's not a beach, I'll bite you.

Finally, the last excursion was to a Kneipe, but unfortunately, most of us ended up getting apple juices in a beer garden so we could not really feel what it was like to drink German beer and chill out in a German beer garden.
>>I did drink a bit here and there from others. It's okay, beer is beer. I'm more of a cocktail person, be it alcoholic or non-alcoholic although I usually take them non-alcoholic. According to some people, girls who drink cocktails are supposed to be more difficult to deal with. I don't know. It sounds quite true.

I think what the university can do to help us understand this place is only very limited and the true exploration was to be done either on our own or with our host family. I think I am quite lucky that together with a few of the other students on this trip, we went to Europa Park where we truly had fun and also learned more about European culture which was really helpful in my field of studies. It was also in Freiburg where I managed to get a German book, the memoirs of Bismarck, that I found would be very helpful to my studies and which I cannot get it back in Singapore. Also my host brought me to a swimming pool and a small lake to see and experience for myself how people here have their summer.
>>Europa Park is great. I wanna go back there for my honeymoon. And I wanna go to Legoland. I didn't manage to go to Legoland, so the next time I'm back in Germany, I want to visit Legoland. The swimming pool and lake were pretty interesting. Especially the lake. I mean, there are naked people running around and making out and nobody cared that I was taking photos, although I wasn't taking them, they weren't afraid that I might accidentally take a photo of them or whatsoever. And they let their kids run about naked too.

I can safely say that this trip to Freiburg was really a big eye opener to me and make me want to immediately return to do my exchange programme. In all, time really flies by very quickly and four weeks have past. Even as I am typing this report I am starting to miss Freiburg.
>>Well, home is still home.

Still, it was great to have been through living in a foreign place almost on your own. I wandered the streets of Freiburg on the first weekend alone before meeting some of my friends around. And sometime, I too needed time to myself, and that would call for me wandering the streets again. And that I easily got lost, so I spent doubly more time alone in the streets. On my last day, I also spent a good amount of time running about Frankfurt Airport on my own trying to get my tax refund. The song "I'm a big big girl in a big big world, it's not a big big thing if you leave me..." kept recurring in my head. Maybe I was just consoling myself.

Am I a big girl now?
Would you prefer a big girl instead?

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