(W)rapping up

I have to say, I absolutely love my coworkers at the Gesamtschule. I now have a sort of “Ode to Ginger” to remember forever, as they wrote and performed a song for me as a good-bye present at the last teachers’ conference of the semester. I’ll post the lyrics eventually as they’re really quite clever, but I’m in Madrid now with limited time to write — lots of things to do and see!

I’ve had a hard time processing the whole end of the Fulbright “experience”, simply because of how fast the end came. It helped that I took the time to write a brief speech in German which I presented to my coworkers as a heartfelt thank-you for their support. Last August I was definitely dreading being placed in such a small town, but I’m absolutely happy with the way things turned out. I’m so thankful for the cooperative and passionate teachers I’ve been able to learn from and work with, and for the lively, passionate, intelligent students I grew close to throughout the year.

Side note: I feel obligated to mention that my 9th grade students asked me to choreograph a hip hop routine for their graduation ceremony performance, which I somehow whipped up in an hour in the staff room. They were tough to teach, but I ended up getting them to look passably “gangsta” (well, as thug as 15-year-old Germans from a small country town can look, having been taught by a ballroom dancer from the suburbs) and had them rapping to The Black Eyed Peas’ “Time of Your Life – Dirty Bit” in front of their parents. It was a success.

The odd thing was that, aside from a day of doldrums when I finally realized all of the great stuff about to come to an end, I wasn’t sad at all during the whole process of saying good-bye to everyone. I’ll admit, I shed a few tears when I bid adieu to Elke, the effervescent bundle of energy who is our choir director, but for the most part I have it in my head that I’ll see all of the important people again soon…whether it’s during the summer in Frankfurt or after being in Asia for a bit. Honestly, it was the happiest round of good-byes I’ve ever experienced – I’m optimistic about keeping in contact with the fantastic connections I’ve made here.

I feel peculiar writing this post because I’m already sitting on the balcony of my CouchSurfing host’s apartment in Madrid. I barely had time to tie up loose ends in Gießen before I was boarding a cramped RyanAir flight to meet up with Michael, a close friend from my time at UW-Madison.  Life rolls on…

To wrap everything up — probably too quickly to do the program justice — I guess that more than anything, the experience as a Fulbright  ETA has allowed me to grow as a traveler and (as completely corny and cliché as it sounds) as a global citizen. Yes, I learned the useful lesson that I don’t want to be a teacher…at least not full time, nor with pubescent children…but the simple ability to sustain a life where I took so much time for myself and did whatever I wanted, when I wanted to…how many people ever get that chance!? Truly, in every sense, I’m so grateful for each experience of these last ten months.

Ahora, on to the proxima aventura!

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Wanted: Eurojob for schlagfertige Dame

Thought of the day: it’s an oddly refreshing feeling when the contents of your life fit into a three-piece luggage set.

Only three days of Fulbright ETA work left, most of which will be spent celebrating the end of the school year. If there’s one thing to learn about Germans it’s that they (like my fellow Badgers) have a strict “work hard/play really, really hard” mentality. Once tasks are checked off the to-do list, it’s time to party!

After Kyra, Rick and I held a good-bye party this past Saturday I was left feeling a little peculiar as I’m the one “staying behind”. Having to repeat the fact that no, I’m not flying back to the states just yet, and yes, I do want to live in Europe for at least another year (or two…or three) made me start honing my plans for the next few months. Here’s the run-down of my itinerary as I have it planned so far:

June 19-July 8: trip through Spain and some of western France. Tentative destinations: Madrid, Sevilla, Algeciras, Gibraltar, Tangier, Granada, Valencia, Barcelona, Carcassonne, Toulouse, Bordeaux, La Rochelle.

July 8-August 30: au pair work in Frankfurt

August 30-October 28: trip to Indochina, i.e. Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam (and Malaysia as well, theoretically).

October 29-? Mystery.

During the summer I’ll have time to find a job that ideally will start in November of this year. I can easily see myself working as a representative for an international company in ______ (insert any large European city in English/German/French-speaking Europe).

Achtung, Achtung. Here comes the part where I ask for your help…

My experience includes public relations, communications, sales, language education, event planning, travel writing, translation and more — I’m now looking for anything that will keep me working in direct contact with people and not sitting mindlessly at a computer for 40 hours a week. Ah yes, and voilà,

my CV/resumé in both English and Deutsch.

If you or someone you know has a job/internship/project/idea that you know I could rock the socks off of, please leave a comment or send me an email (kern.ginger[at]gmail.com).

With that, I’ll just leave you with a substantial “thank you in advance!” and a note that the next blog post will probably be one of those sappy, all-good-things-come-to-an-end sob fests. You have been warned…

The good kind of prison?

A few days ago I volunteered a few hours of my afternoon to teach English at the Martin-Buber-Schule in Gießen, a school for mentally disabled and/or physically handicapped children. It was organized by fellow CSer Philipp’s mom, a teacher at the school, and turned out to be one worth remembering. The two hours I spent with these eight 17-year-olds were heartwarming and above all, fun!

For all of them, it was their very first English lesson (ever!), so we learned the basics: hello, good-bye, my name is _____, I come from _____, thank you, and the numbers 1-10. Two of them were especially excited to show that they could already count to ten, despite never having learned it in school, and one particularly vocal boy happily sang choruses of “What’s my name?” by Rihanna. Ah, American pop culture, your power frightens and pleases me simultaneously…

After the lesson, a few of the kids volunteered to lead me on a tour of their school. One of the girls, Sarah, grabbed me by the hand and enthusiastically led me through the building that the teacher described as a “prison”; to prevent the kids from wandering off and getting disorientated, the doors — all of the doors — must be opened by key, and a metal gate surrounds the entire school and playground. The security was great, the resources available to the 140 kids were more than adequate from what I could see (there was even a relaxation room with a waterbed, disco ball, and lit tubes of colored bubbly water)!

An unexpected added bonus: I learned something too! One of the girls is Germany’s #1 speedstacker in her category (stacking cups, that is — not bad, eh?), and taught me the basic stacks. Apparently no English lesson with me is complete without some spontaneous dancing, which delighted the kids to no end when another of their teachers showed up and started twirling me around!

It was fantastic to see how motivated the majority of the students were, regardless of their handicaps. I found it difficult not to compare the abilities and personalities of my students to theirs. It’s maddening when I see the huge potential of some of my students at the Friedrich-Magnus-Gesamtschule going to waste because of pure laziness, something the students in this class at the Martin-Buber-Schule thankfully lacked. It was also wonderful to feel so appreciated, and to not feel any societal distance between me and the students, as these kids all used the informal du form of “you” with me. I had a lovely afternoon, and was happy to hear “You can come back again, you know!” from many of the kids when it was time to go. Their cheerfulness and zest for life certainly makes me want to!

“A city of free will and dreamers”

…Berlin, as described by a beautiful Dutch-Indonesian woman with spiky, red hair as she cut my lion’s mane last weekend. The Fulbright Program invites its grantees to a four-day conference once a year and pulls out all the stops when it comes to hospitality. Most of the speeches and panels took place in the Park Inn Hotel on Alexanderplatz in the heart of Berlin (though Berlin has many “hearts”, Alex is one closest to many of the famous sights and museums), and also happened to be where I enjoyed the comforts of a hotel room for the first time in years.  Side note: I still can’t say I prefer hotels and hostels to Couchsurfing, especially when the shower is simply a modern-looking glass box in full view of anyone in the room, while the toilet has “artistically” frosted walls that allow anyone in the shower – and therefore, in the rest of the room – to see a fuzzy form of you doing whatever you happen to be doing in there. Give me a cushy couch and a blanket any day and let me be low-maintenance, thanks.

That’s not to say that the accommodation was uncomfortable or that conference was anything other than spectacular; the four days were jam-packed with a tour of Berlin’s Şehitlik mosque, lectures, discussions, networking and partying. I personally spoke with U.S. Ambassador Philip D. Murphy, author Josef Braml and posed a question (in German) to Ingeborg Junge-Reyer, Berlin’s senator for urban development regarding the untimely death of Berlin’s beloved polar bear, Knut. To avoid going into detail regarding the individual speeches, the overarching themes of the conference were simply “change is the constant” and “network, network, network”. More than anything, the few days in Berlin filled me with an immense amount of pride for being a Fulbrighter.

As such, it’s time for a much-needed plug for the Fulbright program. If you’re reading this blog, you likely have some interest in international happenings or, at the very least, you have an inkling of the fact that the world is a lot smaller than it seems. This awareness alone should make you consider applying for a Fulbright grant. Want my help? Whether it’s for an English Teaching Assistantship in any number of countries, or for a research grant for a project of your design, just email me/leave a comment and I’ll have you send your application to me for a thorough read-over. Questions about the Fulbright Program in general? Just read their FAQ page.

The most enlightening part of the conference was prompted by the electric atmosphere created by having so many bright, talented, idealistic people in a small space. I was surrounded by people who simultaneously outshone me in both number and impact of their countless successes and yet made me fiercely proud to be counted among them. I realized that I need to be more ambitious. To learn more, to use my time more efficiently, to dream bigger, and to implement the steps necessary to reach higher goals. I have the drive, and I have ideas, but I must develop the ability to be thrilled with implementing some of them that make me stand out from a crowd.

Right, enough of the diary entry. On to the weekend! I couchsurfed with an eccentric guy who sells books at a flea market for a living and knows more obscure English words than any non-native speaker I’ve ever met (what other German knows what topsy-turvy is)? Having been in Berlin before, I kept my sightseeing to a minimum, but lucked out with some beautiful weather to accompany what I did wander to.  Some of the other Fulbrighters stuck around for a few extra days, and I’ll just leave you with a sampling of the texts I received from a few of them as the weekend progressed to give you an idea of the craziness that ensued…

Thursday, 01:52 – “I’m in Busche. Come with a girl/lesbian. Bring no one else.”
Friday, 21:50 – “Oh my god Ginger, I think this is a sex party! He’s laying condoms, Crisco, gloves, and drugs all over the place! Ah!”
Saturday, 23:11 – “I need to catch my second wind. Looks like a dance/strip club? I might be able to throw on something snappy and boogie tonight.”

…A city of free will, that’s for sure…

Spring has sprung!

(Knock on wood!)

I imagine that most Wisconsinites are the sort of winter-bound folk who can truly understand the elation one feels with the subtle turning of the seasons. A few days ago in Gießen I felt a distinct shift that was manifested in the amount of sunshine and, directly related to its increase, a very apparent change in everyone’s mood. The Gießeners all had a little extra bounce in their step (hey, they were even looking somewhere other than the pavement!), and the birds were absolutely loving the respite from the dementor-like weather of the past four months.

It’s a welcomed change, as it signals the fast-approaching and much-loved German season “chillen und grillen” and means that I’m that much closer to the next travel opportunities which include…

Karneval (Fasching), Köln

This weekend marks the start of pre-Lent festivities which are as big of a deal in Europe as Mardi Gras in NOLA or Halloween in the US overall. Drinking and carousing on the streets is rampant, costume-clad fools stumble about while loudly singing choruses of “Viva Colonia“, and Germans are, suffice it to say, much less distant and stoic than usual. Check back in a week for a debriefing of the (not-pants-free) experience this weekend in Cologne!

Fulbright Conference, Berlin

Coming up in mid-March, the five-day conference is fully paid for by the wonderful institution that is Fulbright. I’m looking forward to having the weekend beforehand and afterward to explore Berlin for the second time, likely do some more Couchsurfing, and eat some damn good Dönerkebab.

Ulm Salsa Festival, Ulm

It was little over a week ago that I was in Frankfurt with my friend Katie (from UW-Madison, studying in Sevilla), but she’ll be returning to Germany in April for her second trip to join me in the “south” for a weekend salsa fiesta! She’ll be flying into Stuttgart, so perhaps I’ll make a day trip over there to revisit the city (this time hopefully without a horrifying lymph node bacterial infection…that was not a fun time).

Adventure, Anywhere (TBA)

You remember me saying I had about 11 days for spring break? Alas, not so. The tech rehearsals do in fact fall in the middle of my school’s spring break, meaning that my holiday is reduced to two 3-day weekends. Sigh. But hey, I’m open to suggestions! Switzerland? Luxembourg? Lichtenstein? Checking out a bit of a new country sounds smashing!

For now I think I’ll do some spring cleaning, get that good energy flowing (Tai Chi is fun, who knew?) and start whistling on my way to work. Or maybe I’d better save that for the birds…