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Monday, March 27, 2017

Our Germerican Wedding Ceremony


On December 30, 2016, I married my [German] husband in a small civil wedding ceremony in Lüneburg, Germany.

Since we had planned a winter wedding in Northern Germany, we were never expecting nice weather. In fact, the days prior to the wedding were the typical gray, cold, rainy weather we are used to. However, the skies cleared for one single day in late December, and that was the day of our wedding.


The ceremony was held in the city's historic water tower. My husband, Marco, arrived at the venue before me and greeted our guests as they arrived. This was pretty easy considering there were only about 25 of them!


 I made the boutonnieres myself!
I actually walked to the water tower from an apartment my friend Meghan had rented nearby. Of course I forgot my bouquet (which Meghan ran back to the apartment to get), while I got to see my groom for the first time.






I then had a Cinderella moment as my Prince Charming helped me put my heels on, and strangers that were visiting the museum area of the water tower kept taking pictures of us.



Marco then went up to the ceremony room, as I waited downstairs with my father and the officiant. Luckily, my bouquet also arrived during this time (thanks again, Meghan!).

Then, when we were ready, we took the elevator up to the third floor, and my father walked me down the aisle to my husband-to-be.

I made my bouquet myself too!






I do have to admit that the ceremony itself was a little cheesy. Since Lüneburg is such a popular city for weddings, there are three public officiants that spend their days officiating civil wedding ceremonies. Our photographer, Björn Schönfeld, told us that ours is particularly well-known for her over-the-top flowery language. But the bright side was that her speech was so cheesy that I didn't cry (and will probably always remember it)!







And after each saying "ja," we were married! We exchanged rings and signed the marriage certificate immediately afterwards.





And we walked out of the water tower as husband and wife.




Come back next week to see the reception photos!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

How I Found a New Apartment in Germany

After graduating with my Master's degree, I felt like I was moving into a new stage of my life. I'm no longer a student. I will soon begin a full-time job. I'm married!

To mark this new stage of life, I also decided it was time to move. So, that's what I did!


Unfortunately, I live in a very popular city where there are a lot more people looking to rent apartments than there are apartments to rent. With a little patience and a lot of luck, however, I was able to find an amazing apartment.

Here is how I did it:

SEARCH ONLINE
The two most popular real estate websites in Germany are immobilienscout24 and immonet. Realtors and landlords often upload their listings to both websites, but sometimes they only use one or the other.

So, I checked both. Multiple times per day. And as soon as I saw an apartment I liked, I (in reality, my husband) either emailed the realtor/landlord or called them directly to set up a viewing.


MONEY TALKS
In a market where there are more renters than rentals, it can be hard to even get a viewing. After contacting a realtor or landlord, we were usually first required to fill out a form with information such as job, income, and nationality. The realtor would then obviously decide who gets to view the apartment based on these various factors.


VIEW & APPLY
In November, I was going to at least two viewings per week (while also finishing my Master's thesis and planning a wedding). For 4 of the apartments that we viewed, we submitted an application. Here is a small overview of each of those apartments:

Apartment 1: Neubau
Pros: brand new, 2 bedrooms, ground floor with private garden
Cons: no grocery store within walking distance, far away from the city center & the university

Apartment 2: Uni-Nah
Pros: brand new, close to the university (where Marco works), ground floor with private garden
Cons: 1 bedroom, required a 5-year contract

Apartment 3: Stint
Pros: centrally located, huge balcony with a view of the river, floor heating, parking garage
Cons: 1 bedroom, over-budget

Apartment 4: Altbau
Pros: newly-renovated Altbau, 2 bedrooms, 3 stories, shared-use garden
Cons: no parking, located on the 3rd-5th floors

We didn't get apartment #1. Before we got an answer from #2, we called the realtor to tell her that we weren't willing to sign a 5-year contract. We did get #3, and Marco was ready to sign the contract, but it didn't feel right to me, so we declined.

The last apartment we applied for was #4. Since there were so many great applications, however, the owner of the building wanted to interview the top 3 applicants. We had our interview on December 27 - just three days before our wedding. On December 28, we got the call that the apartment was ours.

On the day we signed the contract, our landlord actually told us that he chose us because of the romantic notion that we would be moving in just after our wedding :)


TIMING
The biggest issue when moving within Germany is getting the timing right. The standard rental contract in Germany requires a 3-month termination notice. However, most of the apartments that we came across wanted someone that could move in within 2 months.

Luckily, the rental market moves so fast in our city. So, we were able to get out of our old apartment and moved into our new apartment less than 2 months after signing our new lease and terminating our old one.

A post shared by Courtney (@courtneydmartin) on

And that's it! Now we are living in a beautiful Altbauwohnung built in 1462! Since the apartment is so special, I am actually thinking of making an apartment tour video to show it off ;)

Leave a comment below if you want to see a video tour of the apartment!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

5 Reasons NOT to Study Abroad in Germany

I'm not going to sugar coat things. While the experience of studying abroad in Germany can be amazing, it is not for everyone. So, especially if you are considering pursuing your entire Bachelor's or Master's degree in Germany, maybe you should first consider these reasons for NOT studying abroad in Germany.


I studied abroad in Germany for one semester during my Bachelor's and then came back to Germany to complete my entire Master's degree. And while I write a lot about all the great things about studying abroad in Germany, I think it's important that I tell you the not-so-great things as well.


1. BUREAUCRACY
The stereotypes of the rule-abiding Germans and the redundancy of German bureaucracy are true. From registering with the city to registering for exams, you will probably spend a good amount of your time in Germany running around from office to office until you finally catch the right person during their unpredictable and infrequent office hours.

MFW I have to go to the Bürger-, Einwohnermelde-, Ausländerbehörde-, StandesAMT.

Tip: Save all of your emails (office workers tend to "forget" or "lose" things), triple-check your deadlines, keep a calendar with all of your important deadlines


2. NO STUDENT FACILITIES
Especially if you are going to a public university in Germany, you should not expect to have a variety of student resources available (for free) on campus. This means no high-tech computer lab, no super-modern student center, no team of personal counselors. Also, the resources that are available will likely cost you. For example, a student membership to the on-campus gym at my university costs about 20€ per month.

Tip: Join a student organization and enjoy your university campus for what it is - a place of learning and research.


3. LEARNING GERMAN
I don't care if your study program is in English - you need to learn German. Even if you are living in a big student city, getting through your day-to-day will come with a lot of uncertainty and confusion if you think you can get by on English alone. So, if you have absolutely no interest in taking a German course, stay home.


Now don't get me wrong - you do not need to be fluent in German before coming to Germany. Germans are incredibly accommodating, and most young people do speak English. However, if you are planning on staying for a while, enroll in a German course (which will often be provided for free by your university).

Tip: Don't be lazy! Just take a German course.


4. EXAMS
Depending on the system you are used to, the German grading/exam system can be quite confusing/aggravating. First of all, most classes base the grade for the entire course on the final exam/term paper. It's stressful, and it means that the final exam period at the end of each semester is a very intense time for all the students on campus.

Another big difference that I noticed between the U.S. and German university systems was registering for exams. If you are registered for a course in the U.S., then you are automatically registered for the required exams. Not in Germany! You need to enroll in a course, then half-way though the semester, you need to enroll for the exam. Being the only foreigner in my degree program, I, of course, forgot to enroll for an exam during my first semester...

Tip: Read the exam regulations (Prüfungsordnung) at the beginning of the semester, and take every word to heart. Trust me, you do not want to have to deal with the dreaded Prüfungsamt later.


5. COURSE STRUCTURE
If most of this list could be wrapped up in one sentence it would be this: Do not study in Germany if you are not independent and disciplined. This especially goes for the courses themselves, which are usually structured much differently than university courses in the U.S.

Compared to the U.S., Germans spend much less time in class and much more time doing independent study. This means that you will have to be independent in structuring your time efficiently and disciplined about doing the outside reading, studying, and research.

Tip: Keep up on your reading and studying throughout the semester! Otherwise, you will end up cramming hardcore at the end of the semester as you study for exams that make up 100% of your grade and that you know nothing about.


Do you have any other warnings for students wanting to study in Germany?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Floating Candles | Mistranslation Monday

One afternoon, not too long ago, I was browsing Pinterest with my girlfriend from Lithuania (as stereotypical ladies do). And as you can imagine (and as evidenced by my other Mistranslation Monday posts), mistranslations are quite common when us two non-German women spend the day speaking German with each other.

Floating candles, schwebende Kerzen, schwimmende Kerzen

Anyways, as we were browsing Pinterest, my friend found a lovely centerpiece that we thought would be perfect for a winter wedding. It looked something like this:



After thinking about all the different flowers and greenery we could put in the water, we starting talking about where we could buy the floating candles - except we were speaking German, so we were saying schwebende Kerzen - the literal translation of "floating candles."

After typing schwebende Kerzen into Amazon, however, we couldn't find what we were looking for. Do floating candles not exist in Germany? Are they just unpopular? Are they illegal?!

About 15 minutes later, Marco (the German) came into the room, and I asked him, "Do you know where we can buy floating candles?" - except we were speaking German, so I asked, "Weißt du, wo man schwebende Kerzen kaufen kann?"

He looked at us both, obviously confused. then replied "Like in Harry Potter? Do you those really exist?"

Floating candles / schwebende Kerzen
These are the kind of floating candles Marco was picturing
Like with most mistranslations, his confusion only caused us to become even more confused. After showing him some pictures of what we were talking about, however, the confusion was solved.

Schweben does mean "to float," but unlike English floating, schweben can only happen in the air. Maybe a more accurate translation would be "levitating."

Things don't "float" on water in German. They swim. So, the candles we wanted weren't schwebende Kerzen, they were schwimmende Kerzen (or just Schwimmkerzen). Lesson learned!

Floating candles

These are the candles we ended up buying, and like many things sold in Germany, the German word for the item isn't even on the package. Instead, there is just English and French. The Germans are just left to figure it out, I guess (and foreigners are left to wonder).

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Top 5 Tips for Writing a Master's Thesis in Germany

81 pages. 23,937 words. 1 hour-long oral defense. Although I never thought I would be able to say this six months ago, now I can: I DID IT! I successfully completed my master's thesis (and my master's degree).

For other international students preparing for the final semester of their master's degree, here are my top tips for writing a master's thesis in Germany.


START EARLY
If you are doing a classic 4-semester Master's program, then I suggest you begin looking for a topic and supervisor at the start of your third semester. I chose my topic based on a term paper that I enjoyed writing and wanted to explore the material more deeply. You can also choose to write a master's thesis within a company - such positions can be found on job websites like Indeed and Stepstone.

I approached my professor in my third semester to ask him if he could supervise my master's thesis with my chosen topic. Since I had completed a term paper for one of his classes in the previous semester, he already knew me and my writing. So, he agreed to supervise me, but first requested a research proposal (Exposé). My proposal was about four pages long and included an introduction, research question(s), methods, and a short literature review.

After my first supervisor approved my proposal, he helped me choose and contact an external secondary supervisor. Then, after my secondary supervisor agreed and approved my proposal, my fourth semester was just about to begin, and I was ready to go!

STICK TO A SCHEDULE
The best part about writing a master's thesis? The freedom of doing your own research! The worst part about writing a master's thesis? The freedom of doing your own research.

Unless you are writing with a company, your schedule will be pretty flexible as you write your master's thesis. This means that it is up to you to create a daily schedule that includes plenty of time for research and writing. At the same time, however, you do not want to burn yourself out by sitting in front of a computer for 12 hours a day.

Before starting my thesis, I procrastinated by doing research into productivity. Two methods stuck out to me, both of which I used throughout the various phases of writing my thesis.

POMODORO METHOD
The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management technique that is based on 25-minute productive periods followed by five-minute breaks. If you want some group encouragement in using this method, follow the Shut Up and Write account on Twitter (or Shut Up & Write UK), which leads Pomodoro sessions for academic writers every Tuesday. And if you need to write on any other day of the week, just send them a message and request to join the private Shut Up & Write group that is active just about 24/7.

MARTINI METHOD
If you aren't in the mood for frequent breaks and would rather just power through your thesis, then the Martini Method is for you. Set a reasonable goal in the morning, work until you achieve this goal, then relax guilt-free for the rest of the day. Supposedly, this method was named after novelist Anthony Burgess's writing technique, which involved writing 1,000 words every day. As soon as this goal was reached (regardless of whether it took just 1 hour or 10) Burgess would stop working and relax with a dry martini.

CREATE DEADLINES
Your university will probably set a deadline for you to turn in your thesis (at my university, this is five months after registering your topic). However, unless you want to have a lot of sleepless nights at the end of the semester, you need to set incremental deadlines.

I created a spreadsheet with the final due date of my thesis and worked backwards from there. You can start by asking yourself the following questions:
How long will research/data collection take?
Do I need to conduct any time-sensitive empirical research?
How many days/weeks do I need to write each chapter?
How many weeks before the due date should I send a draft to my supervisor?

TALK TO YOUR SUPERVISOR
Your supervisor is there to help you. Sure, some supervisors may suck and not actually want to help you (or they "don't have the time"), but in general, you shouldn't be shy about going to supervisor for help or advice in the research and writing process. I know I could have saved myself a lot of headaches if I had just asked my professor for his professional opinion on certain research decisions early on instead of guessing and stressing about it for weeks on end.

KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
Yes, your master's thesis is important, and you should do you very best when writing it. However, it is just a master's thesis. You should never let academic work stress you out so much that it effects your mental health.

While writing my master's thesis, I got into a horrible cycle of sitting in front of my computer for over 10 hours each day. I constantly felt like my work wasn't good enough and that I should be working even harder. After about a month of this, I forced myself to get outside each day by beginning the C25K running program. Spending just 30 minutes a day running around outside and enjoying the nature really helped alleviate my anxiety and keep things in perspective.

And that's it! I turned in my master's thesis at the end of November 2016, and I successfully defended my thesis on December 9, 2016. Here is a picture of me leaving my professor's office on that day (with a face of pure joy):


What is your best tip for staying productive?
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