Ada Abroad: Living and Working in Germany

An online journal recording two years spent as a Fulbright/Pedagogical Exchange Service Teaching Assistant at secondary schools in Germany. (2003-2004 I was in a village near Bautzen; 2004-2005 I will be in Nordrhein-Westfalen.)

Name:
Location: Münster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

I'm an American living in Germany, working as a foreign language assistant at a secondary school. Future plans: getting my Ph.D. (probably in Germanic Linguistics), becoming a professor, living an ethical and meaningful life.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Welcome to Hamm

Hamm doesn’t appear to be a particularly interesting city, and it’s not gorgeous, but it’s not butt-ugly either. The eastern half of the city, a residential district inhabited chiefly by lawyers (Hamm is the seat of a court of appeals), is quite pleasant. There are also a lot of nice parks.

I don’t live in the lawyer district. Actually, there are no houses here. As far as I can tell, the area I live in consists of nothing but factories and slag heaps—there isn’t even a grocery store within walking distance. But my apartment is very nice. I have a spacious bedroom with two large wardrobes, free internet access (too bad my modem cable won’t fit into a German phone jack!), and a private bathroom with shower. The kitchen is semi-private. I share it with two firemen, but neither of them seems to do any actual cooking—I think they just eat sandwiches—so I basically have it to myself.

Honestly I don’t mind living above a fire station. The PA system is annoying, but the fire chief did shut it off in my room. The sirens can be loud at times, but thankfully there haven’t been any fires at night yet. And the firemen are very helpful. Just a few minutes ago they helped me find the laundry room. (It’s next to the ambulances. Logical.)

“So, where are you from?” asked a fireman (in German).

“The United States.”

“Really? We thought you might be from France.”

“You too!?! I hear that a lot.”

Which brings me to my next point—why does everybody in Germany think I’m French? It isn’t a problem—I don’t have anything against France—but it is rather inexplicable. I’ve never been to France, and my knowledge of the French language is limited to Je ne parle pas français. Furthermore, unless you abstract back to the Norman invasion of England, I’m only about 5% French—and that’s not even real French; it’s Walloon (French-speaking Belgian). Actually, the largest component of my ethnic make-up is German. My maternal grandmother is descended from Bavarians and German-speaking people from the Batschka (which used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but now belongs to Serbia), and on my dad’s side I’m part German-speaking-Swiss.

I’ve been told that if you speak grammatical German and don’t have a hideous American accent, Germans usually assume that you can’t be from the United States. Two friends of mine who’ve lived here have mentioned that people often thought they were Dutch, and my German professor (of Italian and American Indian descent) was usually taken to be Turkish or Greek. Since I’m too short to be Dutch and to pale to be from the Mediterranean, is French nationality assigned to me by default?

Or do I actually look French? I don’t know enough French people to have an opinion on the matter. I am fairly thin, which is a quality often attributed to French people, and I try to dress nicely, but I don’t smoke, drink red wine, or carry baguettes under my arm in a picturesque manner.

--Are there lots of short French people? Do many of them have wavy brown hair? (Thinking of the few French people I’ve known, I would consider red hair to be more typically French…) Are they pale and prone to freckling if they get too much sun, and are their bottom teeth crooked? Do the French tend toward myopia? Do they worry excessively?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Quick Update

Ok, here's what's new:

-Uni Münster somehow lost my application file! Fulbright sent me an email about this last Friday, along with an online application form to fill out. Unfortunately, the form didn't work the way it was supposed to (basically, I couldn't mail the completed form back to Fulbright or submit it online) so I had to print it out and mail it Germany. And it will take about a week to get there. Hopefully that won't be too late...

-My school has found temporary housing for me in Hamm. For the first couple of weeks after I arrive, I can stay rent-free in an apartment in Hamm. Supposedly it's located directly above a fire station, which might be interesting. Sufficient to say, I plan to bring ear plugs.

-My search for permanent housing is going fairly well. I've been looking on www.studentenwg.de . So far I've responded to about nine ads and gotten two responses, both of which sound fairly promising. Hopefully one of these will work out! Some of them are Zwischenmiete, some aren't, and it's hard to keep track of which are which... But if I don't find a room that already has some furniture, my Betreuungslehrer says that colleagues at the school can loan me some items.

-I still haven't even started to pack. Three guesses what I'll be doing all weekend!