Monday, December 13, 2010

Crispety, crunchety, peanut buttery...

Butterfingers are the big seller of our booth at the Christmas Market. We have people coming up to our stand and buying 10 to 20 bars at one time. Our biggest consumer?  The grandmas and the grandpas.

It usually happens like this: An older man or woman comes up to the stand.  They scan it, nothing really interests them but then they spot the yellow wrapper and get excited.  If they have a grandchild next to them, they turn to them and start telling them a story, if they are by themselves, they start telling me. All the stories start with, "Nach dem Krieg..."

At the end of World War II, the American soldiers went around in tanks giving  out candy to the kids--candy which included Hershey's (our other big seller) and Butterfingers.  So these post-war kids are now full-fledged graying German grandmas and grandpas, but the look on their face would make you think otherwise.  The other day, one very proper looking older lady, with her hair all done up and sporting a thick animal fur coat walked up to our stand and with a sheepish look grabbed three.  She told her husband, "Sorry, I just have to have them."

Butterfingers themselves may not inspire much in people nowadays, but amazingly enough, to a certain demographic they represent a very significant part of their life.... and I find that pretty cool.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Its schneen and snowin...

Its been snowing almost everyday for a week.   Not massive amounts, but enough to disrupt the VGN and make all the trams and trains late.

At least it looks pretty though...
Welcome to December!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The World of German Insurance, part ii

Being an adult can be a bit tricky--there are so many things you have to remember and take responsibility for. Break a rule unknowingly and *BAM!* pay a fine, pay a fee, pay a penalty... there's just so many ways to screw up without realizing, it seems.

The last couple of days have been filled with surprises regarding this mandatory health insurance--things I wasn't aware of when I first came to Germany. I hope to sort it all out soon... but I shan't bore you with details.

Instead I will say that we are in fact three days away to the opening of the Christmas markets here in Germany! Nuremberg is all ready to go, all we need is our darling Christkind to read her poem and then the  glühwein will pour out by the liters and the lebkuchen will be munched on by the bag full.

This week is Thanksgiving in America.  I don't think I'll replicate my attempt at cooking a big bird like last year, probably just keep it simple but for all those celebrating:  Happy Thanksgiving!

Christkind 2009 making a public appearance in Nuremberg.

**The above photo is not my property.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Insured and The Uninsured

Living in Germany requires health insurance. Its the law, you've got to have it.

When I first arrived in Germany, I thought having EU citizenship would help me to get the state/public insurance in Germany, but when I spoke with them (AOK,VKK), they said "No can do." Something about having lived in America and having had private insurance earlier... not sure it made sense, but as I hadn't put any money into the system at the time, I thought it was fair enough.

As I'm a freelancer, I don't get health insurance covered by my job(s), so I've got to find a way to insure myself privately. I looked around fearing the worst as insurance fees in the US can be quite daunting for a fresh-out-of-college girl with student loans to pay back. To my great relief, someone told me about a private insurance for non-EU citizens planning to stay in Germany (or Europe) for over one year and so I checked it out, sounded good and signed up. The company is called Provisit and its run by a Dr. Walter (That's Dr. V-v-valter, not W-w-walter ;) German W.)

The thing is, under this insurance, no dental work is included unless its a pain-searing emergency--and then only up to 200 Euros. Not even a cleaning, nothing. So, what to do when a tooth starts acting up? The obvious and first choice 'go to a dentist' didn't seem too appealing to me without insurance so I've been trying to find other alternatives.

I came across this Ayurvedic practice (on the web) called Oil Pulling.

Any one ever heard of it?

Its insanely simple which makes it all the more appealing and on the opposite side a bit unbelievable. But people swear by it.

On an empty stomach (preferably first thing in the morning, before breakfast) take a tablespoon of a natural unrefined, cold-pressed vegetable oil, recommended are sunflower, coconut and sesame oil, and put it in your mouth. (Its not as gross as it sounds.)Then swish it in between your teeth and in your mouth for 10-20 minutes. When times up, don't swallow, spit it out (preferably toilet or garbage, so it doesn't clog the sink). If the oil is still clear-looking means you didn't do it long enough. It should be white in color. This oil/saliva mix is meant to have drawn out the toxins and heavy metals from the body and also help restore oral health (gums and teeth). There are even more radical healing claims from practitioners I've read on the web--but so far, in the four days I've been doing it, all I can attest to is that my mouth does in fact feel cleaner and my teeth look whiter.

--give it a quick Google first, if you decide to try it out yourself.

I'm going to give it a try for another week or two and if there's no improvement, its back to choice A--the dentist. :/

Wishing you good health in the winter months ahead,

Monday, October 11, 2010

Leaving the world war image behind...

When Americans think of Germany, the Nazis and Hitler are certainly one of the first things they think of. World War II has major appeal to many, perhaps because what happened was so beyond comprehension or because America played a big part in helping to defeat the 'ultimate evil' of that time. Certainly the media plays a role as well. With the exception of lederhosen and beer, Germany doesn't really get recognized for too much else in pop culture. Without even doing a search, I can list a handful of movies/shows that reinforce this: Eurotrip, the Simpsons, Inglorious Bastards, Schindler's List, La Vita e Bella, The Pianist and the list goes on.

Nuremberg is certainly an important city in regards to this historical time period, but its easy to forget how recent this history is. Nuremberg, like many German cities in 1945, was 90% destroyed by bombs. The fact that I can walk along streets that less than 70 years ago were entirely rubble (see picture below) is a bit mind-numbing. The former Adolf Hitler Platz (which became the name of many main markets during the war) is now back to being the normal Hauptmarkt where you can buy fresh flowers and fruits and vegetables at most times of the year. With the exception of the Dokuzentrum, the former Nazi Party rally grounds (a bit outside of the city--which is now a huge park) and a few photos/postcards, one would never guess.

Though they are force-fed Second World War history every year in school (and I’ve been told it is required by some schools for the students to visit a concentration camp), Germans certainly don't walk around with their heads down. The war still continues to effect politics in many ways but even that is beginning to change. Germany isn’t just willing to pay for things anymore out of guilt, and they have and continue to contribute to the economy, technologies and sciences in Europe and in the world at large.

If you consider that they started and (lost) two major world wars, had their cities bombed to the ground, their country split in half (one under socialist ideology and the other capitalist) and then unified together again all in just 65 years, and yet still manage to hold their own on a global scale--I think they deserve some credit.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Some (somewhat) useful information I've acquired...

I've been here in Germany for well over a year now (but not quite a year and a half yet).  Besides the usual of finding a German course or looking for an apartment, here are some other things that I've figured out along the way so far...

1.Social Life
As soon as you settle in, you will find yourself needing one of these again. Find a tandem partner as a start, talk to people in your German course, look on a website like and find yourself an interest group or event going on that interests you and go. Just go. It will fight off the feeling of loneliness or uselessness you might get when being away from home (wherever or whomever that may be for you).

2. Allow yourself to go nuts.
Not off the deep end nuts, or even with your credit card nuts, what I mean is that from my own experience, life can be frustrating in another country sometimes, allow yourself to get pissed off or annoyed. Get upset, figure out why you are upset (you may be surprised that its not quite the most obvious reason). Then pull yourself together and try not to hate Germany for it. A good mantra: Different doesn't mean wrong.

3. Find a go-to guide
Either in the form of a book, a forum or even better a live person, find someone who has "been there, done that" and preferably speaks German well to help you out. You will need help. If not in language, then figuring out how things work (or how to fix them when they don't.)

4. Visit home.
It will put things in perspective for you, whether in a positive way (you might be glad you can go back to Germany after the visit), negative way (you might realize that you don't want to be in Germany forever) or in a neutral way (no place is perfect). In any case, get yourself out of Germany after a while and give yourself a chance to revamp.

Surely others who have been abroad longer have more to add to this list... feel free to share.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The not so apparent apartment renting rules of Germany...

After 3 1/2 weeks in America, I'm back in Germany. I didn't realize how much I actually missed home until I got there. I've been back since Monday evening. The jet lag hasn't worn off yet so I find myself wide awake at midnight and in the mornings unable to wake up without hitting the snooze button nine times. From one day to the next, I left late summer and jumped right into late fall. Germans are walking around with boots and winter jackets, scarves and hats. The weather is definitely cool here, but I'm not sure it warrants winter gear just yet.

The good news is I've returned to Germany to find that we have about 90% secured an apartment. Finally! We've been searching for a while without success and then just before David and I headed off to the States we agreed to try and find an apartment together with another couple. Every country has their own way of doing things, but every time I think I've come to understand Germany a little bit better, I find something new that catapults me back to the starting line again.

What I've learned thus far about apartment renting in Germany:

1. When finding a one room apartment, that does not mean it is a one bedroom. One room, means one room. Two rooms means two rooms. Germans count room number, how you define or use those rooms is up to you. Three rooms equates to three rooms plus a bathroom and often (but not always) a separate kitchen.

2. Speaking of kitchen, Germans like to travel from place to place with them. They invest a lot into their cooking crannies, so they don't leave them behind, unless of course you are going to reimburse them for it.

 3.  Be aggressive.   It seems like there are more renters than apartments available.  The only way you have a shot in Helsinki is to be annoyingly persistent, and yet even then that didn't seem to work for us.

4. Provisions. This word took on a whole new meaning when searching for an apartment here in Germany. Provisions is what the Germans call paying 2-3 months of rent to a real estate agent for finding the apartment for you. The thing is, they actually don't find the apartment for you. You find it yourself. And what's more, even when you go to see the apartments, often they aren't present, its left to the current tenant to show you around the place. Now, I'm sure there's a lot of paperwork and things involved that I don't see, but it's a painful thought to think I have to pay a person I've spoken to for a total of perhaps 30 minutes 3 months rent, which could equate to 600 Euros, 1000 Euros, or if you're renting a house, several thousand Euros.

5. This is a new one I discovered today. So Germans charge a fee to people living in the apartment if they are, what they call Untermieter. So say you are renting an apartment with a few people and it is under X's name. Y, if not directly related to X, is required to pay 2.50 Euros extra a month because he or she is living there. The fee is clearly not astronomical, but I don't understand the logic behind charging the fee in the first place. If the apartment is X's and Y and Z live there, then both must pay the 2.50, even if they are presumably paying rent also. Why? Beats me.

I'm sure there will be more surprises along the way but for now all the paperwork is in, so here's hoping.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I taught my last English lesson tonight until I will return in September,
tomorrow I finish my intensive German course.
Saturday, its off to Munich & Daniela comes from San Marino.
Sunday, Monday and Tuesday is packing, organizing lessons and putting our room into some kind of semblance of order.
Wednesday is off to the airport.

Until I return, I am taking a vacation from Germany, the German language and the German life--in other words, no blog updates.

Hope you're enjoying your summer.
Peace out and see you in September.


**photo was taken off of

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

...goin' back (to the other) home

I'm goin' back to die U.S.A August 18th, 2010...

Its less than a month now. Not that I'm counting. I purposely packed my schedule a bit full to keep just that from happening. I'm taking an intensive German course in the mornings and then teaching in the afternoon and evenings (and Saturdays), so it leaves little time for dwelling on future thoughts. Just kind of a "go-go-go" approach for the next few weeks.

In addition to visiting and seeing family & friends (who I won't have seen for nearly 14 months), the following is my to-do list for my 3 1/2 week visit (so far) in no particular order:

- eat Red Mango (this, ladies and gents is a frozen yogurt shop, although the plan is to catch up on all the greens I missed out on in the land of sausage)
- getting naked with a bunch of strangers and sweating out the stress in a Korean sauna, oh King Spa, I've missed you!
- eat Chipotles
- Jersey shore
- road tripping from NJ to Savannah and back...
- shopping with the US $$
- rent Simpsons Seasons 10-20
- Barnes & Nobles...
- eat NYC Pizza
- eat REAL NY bagels (Yes, food is a reoccurring theme. Do not judge me.)
- go to Corrado’s, buy lots and lots of fruit and eat them ALL
- go out on the street and talk to strangers for the sake of being able to understand everyone and everything going on around me
- brush up on my sarcasm and Jersey-isms
- (... other boring logistical stuff no one cares or needs to no about, blah, blah blah, etc. )

Anything I'm forgetting here?

See you soon, America.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Greens of Germany

Expat writers like to capitalize on all the differences of their adopted homeland. Its sensational, it draws an audience, it’s often funny and it’s easy to do.

I thought about writing a post about a salad I ordered the other day at a German restaurant—which was all German, no salad. (Half the plate was sauerkraut, the other half was peas and carrots drowning in a mayo-ey type dressing, topped with a couple leaves of lettuce)—but instead, I decided to focus on the pluses--commend and not complain.

Since May, I started teaching twice a week at a company on the other side of Lauf. As I am car-less, my transportation options are limited to:
A) a one hour walk lugging my heavy laptop and books with me
B) 30 minutes + of walking to, waiting for and taking public transportation
C) a breezy 15 minute bike ride along a forest path.

(Not hard to guess which one I chose, eh?)
I look forward to that ride every Monday and Wednesday evening. It gives me a chance to take my eyes off the screen and the clock and to spend some time in nature. Beautiful pine trees and lots of colorful wild flowers dot the path. The last two weeks have even had blue skies and lots of puffy white clouds. My ride tends to take me home right around the time when the sun is starting to set.

I really appreciate that one extra hour a week I can pedal on my beat up bike through the forest and let my mind breathe easy.

God bless the greens of Germany.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

As American as Apple Pie, or Not

The Amerika Haus of Nürnberg recently held a lecture by a University professor called, "Hating Soccer is more American than Apple Pie". I didn't attend it so naturally I can't comment on the content of this lecture, but just thought it seemed like a bit of an exaggeration. Like if an American Professor gave a lecture about how "Hating Vegetables is as German as Bratwurst". But maybe its just me.

Although Americans aren't the football fanatics that the rest of the world seem to be, I don't believe America views soccer as "a woman's sport" (which is the exact phrase several Germans have used with me when describing Americans' feelings towards the sport).

Anyways... now that America is out of the World Cup, I'm backing Germany. I think it would be fun to be here if they made it into the finals.

If you're following the Championship, a cool link to check out is this: A teenager from North Germany has recreated some of the greatest goals and highlights of the World Cup games entirely out of legos using stop-motion animation. According to an article in The Local, it takes him between two and three hours to film each goal.

A labor of love indeed.

Until next time.

(**photo credits belong to

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Next week, a blog entry that I posted for the Nuremberg Writers will be featured on Chantal Panozzo's awesome blog, I will post a link again when the entry is up, but I encourage you to check out her blog now. She writes about 'how to survive (& thrive) as an international creative person'.

Writer Abroad shares how she went from a Chicago girl working 9-5, to becoming a successful freelance writer living in Switzerland. Not only is her blog useful, but she's got a great sense of humor that she adds to her please check her out!

**image borrowed from's website

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mmmmm! Obama Fingers!

Obama's fried chicken fingers? With curry sauce??! Count me in!

This is a real product that was added to the frozen food section of German supermarkets after President Obama's election. When confronted, the German company stated they had no idea of the "possible racist overtones" of the product. I'm not sure its on the market anymore, but thought it was worth a blog entry.

If you want to read more, here's a link to a full article:,1518,612684,00.html
(sorry the link won't activate here, so you'll have to copy and paste)

Monday, June 21, 2010

One Year

Today marks the one year anniversary since I left the States, tomorrow will be one year since I entered Germany.

In my first post, dating back to July 12 of 2009, I made a list of goals that I wanted to accomplish in Germany this year. What follows is the progress I've made 365 days later.

1. Become conversational in Deutsch
-Well, to be honest, I'm not exactly there yet. One year later, and I still manage to speak more English than German on a daily basis due to my surroundings, my job, and the fact that Germans are pretty awesome at speaking English. While I'm better at German than when I came, this goal still remains to be accomplished.

2. Read & Write as much as Possible
-I've definitely read a lot, thanks to the Amerika Haus giving me access to some 10,000 books in English, and I've been writing, but clearly not as much as possible, or else I would have been able to produce several novels by now (an exaggeration, but you get what I'm saying). I managed to start a writing group and win my first short story competition, but this year I'm going to try to take it up a notch.

3. Keep a blog :)

4. Find a job, make money & start paying off student loans
-This is more like three goals, but check, check, and check! I've managed to find work at three different private language schools, plus an English language camp for children and last but not least, working at the Christmas market in NBG last December. Not bad.

-Not as much as I've wanted, but managed to go to Italy twice (although the first time, as you may remember, was not so succesful thanks to mono) San Marino, Berlin, Regensburg, Bayreuth, Frankfurt and Munich. This year I want to travel to the north of Germany and check out some of Deutschland's neighbor countries.

6.Strengthen my physical and spiritual health
-Using public transportation and now having a bicycle has forced me to use my feet more than I did when I had a car, as for the latter half of the goal, its a never ending process. So half-check.

7. David (open to interpretation)
-One year later: still learning, still growing, still good :)

Here's to a strong start to year two.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Some Thoughts on Higher Education: Germany vs. the US**

**By request, I've edited the post

While I’m over the fact that Germans pay somewhere between 0- 500 Euros a semester to attend university (depending on which state they are attending school), what I want to know, is what are Americans paying so much for? Are we really getting that much better of an education? Or are we paying for status?

America believes in the ideal that education is a universal right, yet we also tend to promote, unconsciously that debt is too. We say everyone is allowed to have an education, but we all have to be willing to pay (and quite a bit) for it. Where as in Germany, its not so. They don’t allow everyone to get a university degree, only the top students are and before you all start an uproarious demonstration about equality and education for all, the fact that if one meets the state’s requirements to enter a university in Germany, I believe education is a lot more accessible than the American university system which basically lets everyone in, but only on the condition one can (and will for many years) pay for it . While I understand the controversy that goes along with this due to the cyclical disadvantages it puts children of former Hauptschule students in (they rarely advance to higher education, hence following the footsteps of their parents)—however this is not the issue I want to address. We’ll save the Hauptschule debate for another day.

If you qualify for Financial Aid here in Germany, students can borrow a maximum of 10,000 Euros, interest free, from the government, half of which they never have to pay back. That’s right folks, no Sallie Mae, demanding huge chunks of recently graduated, barely employed young people’s paychecks. In addition, the majority of German students tend to focus solely on studying when they study, whereas its not uncommon for most American college students to be juggling one or two jobs in addition to school work in order to pay the $5,000+ (if you’re lucky) tuition bill each semester.

In addition to all that money we’re paying, many of us graduating with a degree in Humanities or Liberal Arts are leaving school with an atrocious amount of debt and yet very little "employable skills" in terms of the expectations of employers. If you really want to pursue professionalisation in a specialized field within the US system, you still need to apply for internships (which usually pays nothing, unlike the Germans who pay a minimum of 500 Euros a month for a required internships) or you have to continue your education doing a Master’s degree, which again prolongs the amount of time and the size of debt you owe upon graduation.

I recently applied for a Masters Program in Germany--whether I will go or not, isn't the issue, but I just want to express to Americans what a difference in cost we're talking about here. The tuition of the entire degree program I applied for, costs less than one semester of my undergrad degree. That’s right kids, for about 2,000 Euros, a university is willing to allow me to study for a MA. The average price for a Masters degree in the States at the moment is around $25,000, even higher if it’s a professional degree. Why the difference in price tag? Can we really say that the US system is so much better, or the quality of education is that much higher? I’m not so sure.

One thing I do appreciate about the US system however, is its flexibility. If I study Mathematics for example, that doesn't mean that I can only ever work in a field closely related to what I studied. In Germany, its very difficult (some say impossible) to get work outside of what you specialized in or studied. So in this respect, I value the American system--however, that still doesn't mean the price of education should cripple or burden young adults through their twenties and into their thirties.

Anyone care to shed some light or cast some criticism or comments my way?

What are we paying for?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Die Weltmeisterschaft 2010

Tonight at 8:30pm (German time), Germany will play in its first World Cup match against Australia. Germany and Germans are psyched and red, black and gold colored everything are hanging everywhere and being worn by everyone from toddlers to toddling senior citizens alike.

Looking forward to the game tonight.

Möge das beste Team gewinnen! :)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A New Set of Wheels

I thought I would be confined to public transportation during my time in Germany, but looks like I was wrong.

Check out my new ride...

Complete with a basket, its the next best thing to walking, as its free, good for the environment and for the body too :).

Monday, April 26, 2010

What a funny day!

Germans mix up the word funny and fun pretty often. They often describe things as 'funny' which comes across as 'strange or ironic', when they intend to use it as 'fun' as in 'having a good time'.

This is a common German-speaking-English error that I've noticed over the last six months since I've been working as a freelance English teacher. While still a newbie in many ways, I'm starting to get the hang of it. Being a freelance English teacher has its pros and cons like any profession but having an interest in language and culture, it was a perfect fit for me at least having just come to Germany and without much knowledge of the German language. Below is a list of some pros and cons I thought of relating to this profession. There's definitely more (in both pro and con), but these are the ones that came to mind when writing the lists this morning.


* Working with interesting people from all different fields

* Getting to discuss topics related to language, culture, globalization and life!

* Flexible working schedule

* Being responsible for your own time and managing your own lessons

* The pay isn't bad when you are actually working

* Watching your students' confidence levels increase as the course progresses

* Getting to be an ambassador to your country in an indirect way--if students have a positive experience with you, they will think (more) positively about your country


* Flexible means being available when the student has time. Students also cancel a lot, so you not only have to be flexible, but also forgiving, even if they call to cancel while you're sitting on the train.

* You don't get paid for all the hours you put into preparation--and in the beginning, that's a big chunk of time.

* Depending on the company's policy, sometimes the teacher has to travel to the student's home or workplace, and travel time adds up, especially when your only choice is public transportation.

* Being freelance means you are commissioned to students for a certain period of time, say 40 teaching hours, which means when that's over you are out of work again until a new commission comes along or the student renews his contract. Luckily--since October, I've only been getting busier, so I haven't really had any "downtime" without students since I started working.

* Monthly income can fluctuate a lot (!) due to last minute cancellations or students going away on vacation, etc.

Feel free to add if you can think of any ;).
Until next post.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Truth About Germany

This video series is pretty funny. If you like it there are a bunch more available on Youtube. Enjoy!

The Truth About Germany: Money

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Two times a charm?

My second attempt to visit Italy this year turned out phenomenally better than last time. I returned virus free! Well--with the exception of a little cold I got probably from a cougher on the airplane.

I started my journey in Bari Friday morning and worked my way up to Rome, spending three and a half wonderful days with my dad and my brother and with relatives I haven't seen in years and relatives I only met for the first time. Below are a few pictures :).

Monday, April 5, 2010

To the Döner Kebap

This post is dedicated to the delicious Döner, one of the most popular fast food choices by young Germans everywhere.

Döner has an impressive average sales of 2.5 billion Euros yearly and the industry here in Germany employs 60,000 people in 15,000 shops around the country.

Like a gyro, but with a modified sauce (no Tzaziki here), its a sandwich originally made with lamb meat (although in Germany its popular with puten or turkey meat) with various vegetables in fluffy bread with a mayo-ey type sauce.

At first, I was reluctant to give in--as I didn't think anything good or healthy could come from such a large wad of meat being roasted on an open pit all day long (see picture below)--but since going public with my preference for the Turkish sandwich, I haven't looked back.

Thank you Döner for your existence.

Friday, April 2, 2010

So you wanna go abroad?

If you've ever wanted to live or work abroad for an extended period, one of the bigger concerns to deal with is how you will support yourself once there. What I've discovered though is, "where there's a will, there's a way" (to put that cliche to good use) and so I've accumulated here some advice or unique options that allow you to travel with minimal costs or better yet--even get paid! This post is dedicated to all the would-be travelers out there, itching to explore this great big world, but can't for financial reasons.

English Camps. The English language is in high demand these days and it isn’t only by business men. Lots of families are willing to pay good money to send their kids to an English camp for the summer to spend time improving their English language skills. While there are plenty of opportunities to teach to adults, these jobs are scarce in summer and usually require longer than a two or three month commitment, however English Camps for kids take place everywhere and they are hiring native English speakers just like you to spend time playing games, singing songs and speaking English with kids from other countries! England, Germany, France and Spain are just some of the places you can go while working at an English camp. It’s all just a Google away. You can search through Google directly or check out websites like Be creative with your web searches and your bound to find a camp in the place you want to go to. Just be leery, as someone who's spent two summers doing just this, make sure you do your research before hand. There are some really good employers and some really not so good employers out there, so try to find out before hand the experience of people who've worked with these camps in previous summers.

Au-pairing. Many a college student knows that waiting tables isn’t the only way to make money. Baby-sitting is just as lucrative an option, for wherever there are kids, there are parents willing to pay someone to take them off their hands for a few hours. So if you like kids and have experience baby-sitting, why not do it abroad? This is a great option for anyone who is open to learning about a culture from the inside out. Forget just seeing the tourist attractions, you will eat, sleep and live with a local family who will give you more than a quick history lesson and couple snap shots of over-crowded tourist destinations. In addition, it’s a great opportunity to brush up on your language skills. You can choose to do it for one or two months or as much as a year, as long as both parties are satisfied with the arrangements. While the payment ranges from fair (60-70 Euros a week) to pretty damn good (300 GBP per week), it is standard for an au pair family to provide you with room and board, plus basic necessities (laundry facilities, internet, etc.). A good au pair family recognizes that you are there not only to watch their kids but to experience their country, so they often try to arrange your weekly schedule so that you have plenty of free time to explore. is a great website to use to find an au-pair family that matches your needs. You can search by country or city and if you choose to fill out a profile, au-pair families can contact you directly if they are interested in having you. The website is free to use.

Volunteer Work. For those of you who aren’t keen on working with kids all summer, don’t despair. There’s an option here for you too. There are people willing to host you if you’re willing to volunteer your time and physical efforts in return—it might be in construction, gardening, farming or just helping around a house or stable. A great website to find potential matches in the country of your choice is You can search for free, but to gain access to the contact information you need to pay a small fee. But the payoff is worth it for the access you gain to thousands of locations and willing hosts and hostesses. You can commit for a week, two weeks or two months, it’s up to you. It’s a great way to see the world, often in locations that are “off the beaten path” and experience the same closeness of a cultural exchange as au-pairing—just without the kids.

Some last thoughts. When making arrangements with future employers, au-pair families or Help X-Change hosts, don’t be afraid to ask for references from their side as well. You can ask for e-mail addresses or contact information from people that have worked with them in the past and get their honest opinion about how it was living and working with these people or a particular organization. The last thing you want is to have a miserable summer because you ended up working for someone who didn’t hold up their share of the bargain. Also, when deciding on a destination, you might want to weigh out the benefits of going to a country with a weaker currency versus a country that will pay you with a stronger currency. So while things will be more expensive there, you might be able to bring home more money then you left with. Several years ago, I spent a summer working at a language camp in the UK, and while the pay was miserable for my UK colleagues, I found that it worked quite nicely in my favor, coming to around 12-13$ per hour, which isn’t bad for a summer job that allowed me to travel all over England.

Good luck on your search and happy travels.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Was mir nicht so an Deutschland gefällt...

What I love--not so much--about Germany. Here's goes:

1. Anyone like showering in the dark?
If you're ever in Germany, and happen to be in an older house or building, you will notice that the light switches to the bathroom are OUTSIDE of the bathroom itself. This makes it all too easy for anyone with a sense of humor (or lack of one perhaps) to come by and turn the light off while you're still in there. I don't know who came up with the idea, but it's not a very bright one.

2. Deutsche Bahn
Ask any German here and they're likely to give you a lengthy answer to what they love "not so much" about DB. While the trains are reliable say, 90% of the time (in my experience), it is absolutely possible for the entire national railway network to be shut down, just like that.

3. Goin' green (but not green enough)...
Germans really care about the environment and the goin' green movement--which is great and fantastic, and I give them props for it--HOWEVER, I only wish that they cared a little bit more about adding some green stuff to their plates. I find that eating fresh fruits and vegetables are a rarity amongst the Germans I've encountered. With the exception of sauerkraut and paprika flavored everything (germans love pepper flavored chips)--broccoli and all his friends are few and far between.

4. "No, its not possible."
I don't know why this is, but for Germans a lot of things are just "not possible". Maybe its the way they translate this from German into English but I've never heard this phrase so often in my life as I have this year. I wouldn't call Germans negative nor a "glass half empty" kinda people, rather the type of people that would say, "The glass isn't half empty, there isn't enough water to fill the glass! Let's get a smaller one instead."

5. Sunshine (or lack thereof)
I can't blame the Germans for this naturally, but the sun is a rare visitor indeed here in this country. Its not always gray and cloudy here, but a little more sunshine couldn't hurt anyone.

Despite the meat-filled plates and soggy skies, I rather like Germany, it ain't such a bad place. I think Americans have the wrong picture when they think of Germany, usually associating it only with its past (Adolf ring a bell?) or with lederhosen and beer-- and while these are a big part of Germany its not the only part of Germany. Tourists seem to pass over Deutschland for sunnier, more "exotic" locations such as Spain, Italy or France--but I think many would be surprised, pleasantly so--that the country and its people are really welcoming and beautiful.

So until next post--viel spass.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

9 Things I Love About Germany

This month will be my 9th month since moving to Germany, so I thought it fitting to make a list of nine things I appreciate and really love about the land of Deutsch. Here goes:

I have a love hate relationship with the Deutsche Bahn but the fact that I can get to and from any destination I want to without needing a car, car insurance or having to pay for gas is definitely a plus. In addition, DB offers fantastic group tickets that allow up to five people to travel on a single ticket, which makes travelling all the more accessible by letting you split the cost. So while delays are common and shut downs on the railways of the entire nation possible (ahem, Frankfurt), Deutsche Bahn still adds, rather than detracts in my book.

Perhaps you've seen an earlier post where I am stuffing my face with German bread and pasteries?? Hands down, Germans make the best damn bread there is... and its so freakin' cheap, you can't go wrong (except perhaps, on the waistline).

Germans really care about reducing their carbon footprint and leaving a greener world for future generations. While it might be frustrating for the new comer to get used to initially, Germans sort their garbage into four different categories: bio waste, plastic, recyclable paper, and restmüll. There are even entire dorfs (or villages) that run on solar power. Way to go Germans.

It is totally normal and acceptable for a household to have a large basket overflowing with Milka, Rittersport, KitKats, Haribo and the like to grab anytime you feel like it throughout the day. Not to mention that eating cake is totally acceptable for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Yea, how about that.

While I know that some cities in Germany are starting to take on an edgier, more modern feel ie: Berlin or Frankfurt... most everywhere else, however, still feels like you're walking through some medieval town.

Germans are pretty intense people. Or at least that's my impression of them at times, and when they do something, they do it all the way. And thats why when they want to take it easy, they do. Germans are not lazy by any means, but they refuse to "live to work" like the Americans do. They'd much rather "work to live" which is why they still close their shops early on Saturday and Sunday is definitely a no-go if you are planning on going out and doing something other than drinking a coffee in a cafe.

Okay. I know food already took two other slots on this list, and technically pretzels are bread, but Germans really seem to place pretzels and sausages into a food group of their own. When you're sitting on the Deutsche Bahn on a weekday afternoon, half the passengers on board are snackin' on fresh pretzels they bought for like 50 cents at a Pretzel stand or Backery. And sausages? Well that's an easy one, at least in Nuremberg, there are sausage stands like every couple of feet in the city center. When I came here, I wasn't a big meat eater, but it slowly starts to wear you down and before you know it you're eating 3 Nürnberger Bratwürst in Brötchen--as a light snack.

Angela Merkel was voted the most powerful woman in the world, three years in a row by Forbes Magazine. Like all politicians, she gets her fair share of criticism, but there is something totally fantastically awesome about one of the strongest economies and world super-powers being run by a woman. Way to go Deutschland.

Germans love to travel. They rank top five when it comes to contributing to the tourism industry abroad. Like I mentioned earlier, they work to live and when they want to play--they play. Germans average 30 paid vacation days a year! And when they have their holidays, their off to some other part of the world to enjoy themselves.

While Germany is grand is oh so many ways, I wouldn't call it Paradise just yet, which is why, maybe sometime in the near future I will follow with a list of some of the more bothersome things I've noticed about the Germans, but for now... let them bask in their glory.

Lang Lebe Deutschland! :)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

...wie der Zeit fliegt!

My most sincere apologies to all my blog readers for not updating since the beginning of February. Life has been getting in the way.

Last month was a busy month. I got several new clients at work, won my very first short story competition, went to Frankfurt to visit a good friend and have started up a blog for the Nuremberg Writers, with my fellow Nurembergian writer, John.

The weather has been getting nicer, skies bluer, snow disappearing and ice cream shops returning to the city of Nuremberg. Last week I passed dozens of people on Königstraße tasting the first eis of summer, and I must admit, the temptation was too great, and so I too, had my first scoop of 2010. Ein kugeln, Pfefferminzschoko im Waffel. Yum.

My German lessons at the Volkhochschule has ended, or to be honest, I ended them... for reasons I shan't list here. But I haven't given up on the German language yet. My goal for the month of March, in addition to studying German on my own every day, is to find a Tandem Partner to practice German with. The idea is to meet with another person who wants to learn the language you speak, and so we spend some time each meeting speaking German and English to improve and gain confidence in our language speaking abilities.

Some of you might be wondering why I don't just practice speaking with David. While its true that I could, and its true that I have, it is difficult to speak with someone that you are so used to communicating in another language with. We always speak English together, and when we attempt German, the words quickly convert back to English, unfortunately. And so its best to go to neutral territory I think.

As for The Nuremberg Writers website, I will post it as soon as it gets a little meatier. At the moment, its quite bare. We started the site in hopes of luring in more members.

Anyways short update, but this month, I will be writing more.


I know I said it before, but this time I mean it. :)

Until next post.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The German Language, part ii

One of my biggest gripes in trying to learn to speak the German language is figuring out the articles that precede the word. Unlike English where we have THE to refer to a specific noun, (regardless of where it is in the sentence), Germans have DER (masculine), DIE (feminine), DAS (neuter), DEM (another form of feminine), DEN (yet another form of masculine), DIE (plural), DEM (another form of neuter) and so on and so forth.

Mark Twain makes note of this in a really funny piece he wrote called "The Awful German Language", whose title pretty much sums up how a student of German feels after so many months of trying to learn it:

"Every noun has a gender, and there is no sense or system in the distribution; so the gender of each must be learned separately and by heart. There is no other way. To do this one has to have a memory like a memorandum-book. In German, a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has.

Gretchen: Wilhelm, where is the turnip?

Wilhelm: She has gone to the kitchen.

Gretchen: Where is the accomplished and beautiful English maiden?

Wilhelm: It has gone to the opera."

This is the link to the entire piece. If someone with such a gift for language as Twain can struggle so much with this illogical language...than I think I can be forgiven.

"I went often to look at the collection of curiosities in Heidelberg Castle, and one day I surprised the keeper of it with my German. I spoke entirely in that language. He was greatly interested; and after I had talked a while he said my German was very rare, possibly a "unique"; and wanted to add it to his museum.

If he had known what it had cost me to acquire my art, he would also have known that it would break any collector to buy had been accomplished under great difficulty and annoyance, for three of our teachers had died (trying to teach me). A person who has not studied German can form no idea of what a perplexing language it is."
(Twain, 1890)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

not sleeping...

I seem to find myself updating most often when I can't sleep. Although--I guess I should have known better than to drink a cup of coffee so late at night. At the time it seemed like a good idea.

'Productive' and 'balanced' are two words I strive to be. I want to be more productive and I want more balance in my life, in just about every aspect... although I was thinking not too many hours ago, that most people who leave a mark in history, the people you read about, the people whose names are remembered are usually the least balanced people. The most extreme people are usually the most productive (or destructive).

Stalin, for example, was a pretty intense guy. Not that I have a desire to be like him--I mention him merely because I finished rereading Orwell's "Animal Farm" this evening. After having visited Berlin and learning more about the DDR (former East Germany), I find myself excessively curious about communism and socialism and all these extreme forms of -isms and ideologies.


Napoleon (or rather, Leader Comrade Napoleon) and his entourage of pigs, give the reader a sort of 'why socialism failed for dummies’ course.

Its worth the read if you haven’t already.

Just a suggestion.

Until my next insomniac attack... aufwiedersehen :)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sieben Monate

Tomorrow marks seven months since I left the states. Meine gute!

After seven months of being in the land of Deutsch, am I Germanized? Probably not enough as far as the Germans are concerned I suppose, but I do wonder if my untamed American edges are starting to smooth out a bit. Sometimes I get brief waves of pining for Americanness, but in truth, I'm not completely shut off from that world, as I do in fact teach English (my mother tongue), I have YouTube and Facebook and Yahoo! News to keep me up to date and I have my very favorite place, the Amerikahaus in Nuremberg to go to, when I desperately crave books to read in English. And if none of that works, there's always Starbucks--Nuremberg has at least four that I know of.

I noticed today that the snow on the roofs are melting... which although doesn't quite mean spring yet, it does mean that its warming up a bit. It feels as though the holidays are finally out of the way and with that, my mind has been a little preoccupied with thoughts about the not so far future.

Where on the earth am I going to be this time next year?

I have some ideas and options, but its too soon to make anything official. As of now, nothing seems to be more likely than another as far as my cloudy crystal ball can read.

Anyways. Sorry for not updating much the last couple of weeks... I'll try my best to change that.

Until next post.

PS. Feel free to leave comments mystery readers, those of you who stop by without leaving any trace--I don't bite, I promise ;).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A visit to Brrrr--lin*!

we were greeted to a very cold and snowy berlin...

this is us making our way to the underground (subway)... four out of five of us

our first evening there, we decided to explore zoological gartens, and we stumbled across this very interesting place

this is the church in the daytime--it was destroyed during the 2nd World War and was never rebuilt, as you can see the top of the tower is missing

this is the inside of the memorial church they built right next to it--completely stained glass

two silly tourists at the brandenburg gate-- it was built at the end of 1700's as a gate linking east to west

daniela and andria outside the DDR museum

a map of berlin, divided up amongst US, France, Britain and the Soviet Union

THE wall

between the Berlin Wall dividing East & West, this look out tower is where the Soviet (or Stasi) soldiers would keep people from escaping... if they saw someone, they shot...

walking along the East Side Gallery, former wall, that was painted over by artists from around the globe

another mural on the wall...

a quote I liked

one of many cool architectural wonders in Berlin, near East Side Gallery

the world's largest aquarium(!) inside the Radisson hotel lobby

the TV tower in Alexanderplatz

Sony Center at night

Checkpoint Charlie with my fellow American

the Buddy Bear exhibit at the Hauptbahnhof... they had hundreds of bears painted that represented countries from around the world, as an effort to create peace and understanding between nations

*photo credits go to the two lovely photographers, Andria and Daniela