My second week of classes, in video format, can be viewed here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN7d3NRE-Hs
Thursday after class I met with a new friend from Turkey to do some shopping in Braunschweig, then I returned to my room to stuff enough clothes for the weekend in my backpack and caught a train twenty minutes later. I took a train from Braunschweig to Berlin, then spent the night in the airport (~Adventure~) to catch a flight to London 7:00AM. My university was closed Friday to Monday for Easter, and I don’t have classes on Tuesday, so I figured it would be a great time for a trip.
I’ve been to London before and done the usual tourist stuff, so I skipped that this time and just enjoyed a peaceful weekend with my family. I did visit a few places, including Nandos, a bookstore called Waterstones, and few stores on Oxford Street.
I left London early Tuesday morning and landed in Düsseldorf, Germany, where I had a layover. I almost missed connecting flight to Berlin because the gate changed, but the flight leaving from the gate I was waiting at was still going to Berlin. As the flight was boarding, I realized that it was not the right airline, and my flight was boarding from a gate in a completely different terminal. As I sprinted (a sprint for me is a fast-paced walk) to my gate, I just knew that the flight had already closed and I’d have to figure out a plan B, but God is good and there were a few others who had also been at the wrong gate. I was yelled at in German by the lady at the desk to run faster because the flight was scheduled to leave two minutes ago.
When I arrived in Berlin, my plan was to save some money and take all the regional trains (as opposed to the high speed trains) back to Braunschweig. Using screenshots from Google Maps for guidance (I don’t have a data plan here in Germany, so my phone is always on airplane mode), I started with a bus from the airport to a stop about two minutes from a small train station. After stumbling around in random directions for about ten minutes, I finally found the station and took a train to another station, where I got another train to a different station and so on and so on. I took at least five different trains and waited anywhere between 20 and 45 minutes in the cold at several different stations. At one point it even started snowing or hailing. I landed in Berlin around 3:00pm and got back into Braunschweig around 10:00pm. Did I save money? Yes, probably about 10 €…However, I did manage to do all of this with very little help from the internet, which is impressive for me.
Overall, I had a great Easter weekend and I am very grateful that I got to spend this time with my family. I’d also like to just take this time to say that my family is pretty amazing. I called Wednesday night to ask if I could spend Thursday to Tuesday with them, and not only did they say yes, but they also bought my ticket and were waiting for me at the airport when I arrived super early in the morning. I complained about not being able the seasoning I usually use in the supermarkets in Braunschweig, so my aunt bought me an all-purpose seasoning and curry powder, as well as chocolate. Thank you Aunty Christine! I’d also like to thank my wonderful big (but debatably shorter) cousin Freya for taking me shopping, letting me bother you, and waking up at the crack of dawn to take me to the airport!
My first week of classes was pretty hectic. I had some trouble finding some (all) of my classes. They use abbreviations for the class locations here, so it will say PK 22.7, which means Pockelstrasse 22 (the address of the building) and the 7 is the room number inside the building.
The classes are a little different here too. The professors lecture for about 1.5 hours from a PowerPoint, which every student has a paper copy of. Apparently, you can go to this place called the “Klappe,” which is in a building just for Mechanical Engineering students, and tell them which courses you need notes for, and pay 50 cents for each one. Then they give you the notes that the professor has written for the entire semester for each course. They gave me more than enough paper to fill three textbooks, and I paid 1.50 euros total. They also have the old exams from the past ten years too, and for free. It took me a week to figure out this note system, so the first week of classes were a challenge. I’m taking three M.E. courses and two German classes.
One of my German classes is specifically for Engineering and Science students, and it focuses on teaching us technical vocabulary. The other class is a communication class that focuses on communication in the university and in everyday life. I actually spent the first week in a different German class, but after the first day I asked to be removed from the course and put into the technical one. The professor from the first course required that we buy some workbook and do a bunch fill-in-the-blank and matching exercises, and I didn’t really like that. I feel like at this level, I should be doing slightly more challenging work. The class sizes for both of my German courses are very small, with no more than about 12 students, so that’s nice.
My engineering classes are huge lectures with almost 700 students and the professor lecturing at the bottom of the auditorium. I’ve never been in a class this big in my life, as A&T has very small classes. After the lecture, there’s a separate practice session where you can work out exercises related to the lecture with someone who I think is like a TA. The practice sessions aren’t always right after lecture, sometimes they’re a few days later.
The weekend after my first week, I went to the city of Bremen with a group of international students. We did some sightseeing and I had the best fries of my life from some random tent in the middle of the street, so that was cool. Another student and I decided to leave a little earlier than the rest of the group, and ended up missing one of our train connections back to Braunschweig due to many delays on our first train. Adventure.
This week was jam-packed with a ton of welcome week activities. On Monday I went to orientation, where I got my temporary student ID and welcome packet. I met some other exchange students at orientation, and we went to a campus tour together, where we met even more international students. They came from everywhere, including France, Spain, Turkey, Mexico, Argentina, Tunisia, Egypt, Hungary, South Korea, Iran, etc. Almost everyone spoke both English and German, but most seemed to prefer speaking in English. Later on after the tour there was another event called “Speedfriending” at a pub near the school, where we played team-building activities (the usual tower building stuff) and talked. I was the only American exchange student at these events (I’ve actually only met one other American so far), so I’ve been getting quite a few questions about the U.S. Two different groups approached me to ask if American men kiss their friends to greet them. They were shocked when I said American women (usually) don’t either. I’ve also gotten a lot of questions about U.S. politics and my hair, which is currently in box braids.
On Tuesday there was an intercultural workshop where they discussed adjusting to life in Germany and how to make friends with Germans. We were warned that Germans typically do not rush into friendships and it could take years to actually become someone’s friend. Then there was an international dance, where we learned some basic salsa dancing moves. I did not enjoy this part, and spent most of the time accidentally kicking my partners in the feet.
I bought tickets to Pink Floyd tribute concert by the Australian Pink Floyd band on Wednesday. I went by myself, because I bought my ticket before I had met anyone here. I was a few minutes late, and when I walked into the concert hall at 6 minutes past 8, everyone was already quietly seated and the show had started. The audience was practically silent during the show, and only clapped at the end of each song, occasionally whistling after a guitar solo. The crowd was also much older, but I still really enjoyed the show.
Thursday was a historical tour of the campus. I learned that the building I got my health insurance from used to be a concentration camp for intellectuals and communists. I also met with some other German and international students to eat at a traditional German restaurant, where I had my first Currywurst. Then we went to another international party, where I spent almost twenty minutes speaking with a student from Uzbekistan and answering his questions about current events in the U.S. There never seems to be any dancing at these parties, just conversation over music and beers.
There were many other events, but I won’t list them all. Just know I am exhausted and class starts tomorrow. To see my orientation week vlog, click here.
Today I visited the Happy Rizzi House here in Braunschweig. It’s a very colorful building designed by the American artist James Rizzi. This place definitely stands out in the city, as everything else has a much more historic vibe to it (lots of cobblestone roads, old churches, etc). Many of the more historic buildings were destroyed during the war, and they rebuilt some to look like they did before.
You need a signed and stamped document for everything here. I can’t attend orientation for my host university without proof of registering with the city, a German bank account, health insurance, liability insurance, etc. My first mistake was trying to do things in the wrong order, and I had no clue there was an order. Before you can open a bank account, you need a Meldbescheinigung (proof that you have registered your address with the city), but you can’t get the Meldbescheinigung without a copy of your lease. You also have to schedule an appointment to open a bank account. After getting a bank account, you can get health insurance, but you have to bring proof that you’ve done all the aforementioned things. Then you get liability insurance, but they mail you the proof of that and give you a CD with all the important information on it in the meantime. Fun fact: My laptop doesn’t even have a CD drive, but I was way too exhausted to explain this, so I just took the CD.
But all in all, I’m super happy to be here. The city is beautiful, I’ve met some very nice people, and I’ve gotten around everywhere by myself so far and almost completely in German. The lady who enrolled me in health insurance said, “Ihr Deutsch ist fast perfekt!” (English: “Your German is almost perfect.”)
My first few days in Braunschweig have been full of adventure. My apartment came furnished with everything except toilet paper, a wireless router, and dishes, so I was on a mission to acquire these items. There is a grocery store about two minutes away, but the mall and most other big stores are about a twenty minute walk away, so my legs are very sore. There’s a tram, but you have to pay to ride it, and with walking being free and all…