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Monday, October 24, 2016

Top 5 Translation Tools (German<>English)

Being enrolled in a German master's program, I do my fair share of reading and writing [in both English and German]. I also do a lot of translation work for my student job at the university. So, I would consider myself quite knowledgeable when it comes to online translation tools and websites.

best translation websites for english to german

If you have taken a German class, then your teacher probably told you to never use a translation website. Instead, you should use a German dictionary.

Sure, that is a good tip for gaining a deeper understanding of the German language, but translation dictionaries are quick, easy, and the best (or only) option for certain situations. So, whether you are also a student in Germany, do translation work, or just enjoy watching German YouTube videos, here are my top 5 favorite online translation tools.

For translating single words between English and German, Leo is my go-to. The article (der, die, das) and plural form of German nouns are always provided on the main results page (which is normally what I am looking for when I search for a German word). Also, by clicking on the table next to (most) words, you can see how to properly declinate/conjugate that word. To check pronunciation, just click the play button in front of the word.

LEO translation dictionary
If LEO fails me, then I turn to This is another standard, quality translation service. However, instead of writing [der, die, das] in front of the German nouns, they write [m, n, f] after it. It achieves the same purpose, but I prefer LEO's presentation. translation dictionary

Linguee is the translation tool that I spend the most time using by far. Unlike LEO and, which are just English<>German dictionaries, Linguee is a search engine that provides translation examples from translated texts and websites throughout the Internet. This makes Linguee really helpful for translating idioms and other non-literal phrases.

linguee translation dictionary

Google Translate
You should always be cautious when translating more than just a single word or phrase. But in times of absolute need, Google Translate can be pretty helpful for quickly getting a general understanding of what a longer text is about.

But, like I said, be careful...

google translate

Okay, Duden isn't a translation dictionary, but I had to include it. If you ever forget how to conjugate a verb or aren't sure of the correct spelling of a noun (darn Germans and their dialects), then Duden is the #1 resource. Also, you will make your German teacher proud by turning to a proper German dictionary instead of just typing it all into Google Translate.

Duden German dictionary

Let me know if you use any German/English translation websites that I didn't include!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Getting Married in Germany: Wedding Planning, Pt. 2

At the end of August, I wrote about the plans for our wedding in Germany, which will be held this year on December 30! There, I wrote that we had set a date and location, I had my dress, and we sent out invitations.

Planning a wedding in Germany

Here is what we've gotten done since then:

Our wedding is small and simple, but finding a great photographer whose style we really liked was important for us. We sent emails to about 15 photographers in our city. We were pleasantly surprised when our two favorites quoted us reasonable prices for a three-hour photography package (digital copies of all edited photos included).

Funny story: after making an appointment with one of the photographers, we happened to see him "at work," while we were walking through the city. We just watched without saying hi. When we met with him the next week, we really got along with him, so we booked him on the spot!

Groom's Suit
After going to several different stores and ordering (and sending back) at least 10 different colors and styles from online retailers, Marco finally found the perfect suit! He has also already purchased a vest and tie. I don't want to give too much away, but here is the picture that inspired Marco's outfit:

All he has left to buy now is a shirt and shoes.

The standard length of a wedding reception in Germany is 8 hours. Yes, my American friends, you read that right: 8 hours. So, our wedding reception is going to be 8 hours long.

With such a small guest list and a long time frame, we knew we needed good food and an open bar. Since Marco really loves to eat, we also opted for the buffet and a late night snack. We met with our event planner in early October to set the menu.

The following weekend, we went to the hotel's wine distributor to choose the wine that will be served at our wedding. That was a lot of fun, and I was definitely tipsy by the end of it.

Wedding Cake
My soon-to-be-[practically-step-]mother-in-law (i.e. my fiancé's father's long-term partner) has graciously offered to make our wedding cake. She already has plans to make a three-tier cake, which should be plenty for our 30 guests. However, just this weekend, she also told us she will make two additional cakes as well. All I can say is that I hope our guests leave room after the buffet!

We also plan on using my parent's Precious Moments cake topper, which they still have from their wedding. I think it's pretty darn cute.

Precious Moments wedding cake topper

Well, that's about it for now! Next up on our list of things to do: design/print menu cards, choose centerpieces, buy wedding favors, and get a sound system.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Month of German Bureaucracy

I had four appointments at the Bürgeramt in the month of September. Yes, you read that correctly: four appointments in four weeks.

Here's a review of each of those appointments, just to give you an idea of how amazingly thorough (and sometimes redundant) German bureaucracy is for us foreigners.

Appointment #1: Ausländerbehörde

My student visa was going to run out on September 30th. However, due to other bureaucratic circumstances, I had to enroll for another semester at my university. So, I needed to renew my student visa for at least 6 more months. When I made this appointment per email, I was told all I need is a new biometric photo, proof of enrollment, my passport, and 80€. However, when I got to the appointment, my case worker spontaneously decided that my Verpflichtungserklärung (which Marco signed 3 years ago saying he is financially responsible for me) is too old. So, I needed to get a new one.

Unfortunately, my case worker doesn't issue Verpflichtungserkläungen. Turns out, filling out these forms is a full time job for someone else on a different floor of the building. But I couldn't just go over to her office today. Come on, that would be too convenient! No, I needed to make an appointment, and the earliest available was in two weeks.

Beyonce understands how I felt (source).

Oh, to top things off, my case workers informed me at the end of the appointment that he was going on vacation for the next three weeks. So, my new appointment to renew my visa (that was going to expire on September 20th) was scheduled for September 21st. Perfect.

Appointment #2: Standesamt

This is the only appointment I had during this month that wasn't at the foreigner's office. Instead, it was across the hall at the registry office.

After paying the court fees for our marriage, we had to go back to the registry office one last time (this was time #3) to sign some official-looking papers. Unfortunately, our regular case worker called in sick that morning, so everyone was scrambling to find someone we could meet with. 

Suddenly, we were asked to come upstairs. Until then, we had always gone to an office across the hall from the foreigner's office - an area of the Bürgeramt (citizen's office) that I have become quite familiar with. In fact, sitting in the waiting room with its dirty white walls and crying babies has started to feel like home. After ascending the staircase and opening the big metal door to the third floor, however, I gasped in awe of what we had been missing out on.

The walls were painted a happy yellow. There were large wooden chairs in the hallway that looked more fit for a throne room than a waiting room. We went into the office of our fill-in case worker, and she had a full wall covered in photos and letters of happy German couples that she had married over the years.

I basically felt like confused John Travolta in the TARDIS (source).

"This is the VIP floor for German couples!" I remarked to Marco. I had never realized that until then, my non-Germanness had gotten us shafted to the foreigner's floor.

The rest of the appointment really wasn't all that eventful. The woman said that all of our documents were in order, we signed some papers, and we set another appointment to plan to the ceremony in early December.

Appointment #3: Verflichtungserklärung

Back to the Ausländerbehörde for Marco to take financial responsibility for me. It sounds dramatic, but it's really not (unless I smash a bunch of car windows with a baseball bat just before jumping on a plane to the U.S.). 

To fill out the Verpflichtungserklärung, Marco had to show his pay stubs from the last three months, his work contract, and our lease for the apartment. The woman then subtracted the rent from his monthly salary to figure out if he has enough money to "support" me.

After some arithmetic, we both signed a few forms, and I got to take a copy of my brand new Verpflichtungserklärung with me for my fourth and final appointment the following week.

Appointment #4: Ausländerbehörde (Again)

This was it: the last appointment. I went alone, and seeing as it was only one week before my residence permit expired, I was a little nervous. Luckily, everything went as it should. I handed my case worker all the necessary documents, and he made a lot of copies and fattened up the file they are keeping on me. 

The interesting part came when he asked me how long I need a visa for. Technically, I am only enrolled for one more semester at my university, which is 6 months. After that, I will probably just switch to a spouse visa, since I am getting married in December. I told him this, and he told me the best news I had gotten all month:

If I take a visa for just six months, I only have to pay 30€ instead of the standard 80€. Not bad! I also just get a sticker in my passport instead of a plastic ID card, which is nice. Now I just have to make sure I have all my documents together by the beginning of March to get my fifth (and final?) type of residence permit...

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Registering to Vote from Abroad & Requesting an Absentee Ballot

If you are an American living outside of the U.S., you need to request your ballot for the federal election by October 8, 2016 (in most states), even if you are already registered to vote. 

Do it. Now.

If you don't know how to register to vote or request a ballot from abroad, then read on.

How to vote in U.S. elections from abroad.

Earlier this year, when the U.S. presidential campaign was just starting to heat up, I started to feel quite guilty about the fact that I have never voted. Having moved so often since the age of 18, it just always seemed so complicated and difficult. I was also kind of lazy.

But now I have taken the first step to changing that: I registered to vote.

I always assumed registering from abroad would be complicated, but my home country pleasantly surprised me! Here is how I registered to vote from Germany:

1. Visit
 FVAP is the Federal Voter Assistance Program for service members and other overseas citizens. This is the first stop for any overseas citizens that want to vote, whether you are already registered or not. 

2. Choose Your State
Voting procedures vary by state, so you will need to choose your state from the drop-down menu on the website.

3. Follow the Directions
Yeah, it's that easy. Creating a numbered list probably wasn't necessary...

When I was registering to vote, I was worried that I would have to spend a lot of time and money mailing registration materials back and forth between the U.S. and Germany. However, Illinois actually has a website that allowed me to download the forms, fill them out electronically, and email them to my local county clerk.

The hardest part was having to answer this question:The hardest question for an expat.
Can any expat really answer this question with complete certainty? Anyways, your answer will only effect whether or not you can vote in local elections as well as federal elections.

After sending my voter registration and ballot request form by email, I then periodically checked the website to see if my application was approved. Once it was approved, I received my ballot shortly thereafter.

If you are already registered to vote, remember that you still need to request a ballot for this election. 

If you are still feeling confused, here are some other resources to help overseas American citizens vote:

Let me know if you are voting in the comments below!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

How We Met (His Side)

My German fiancé and I met five years ago in September of 2011 during my study abroad trip to Germany. Last week, I told my side of the story. As promised, this week is Marco's turn.

Without further ado, here is Marco's side of the story, written by the man himself:

The night I met Courtney started when I went to watch soccer at a sports bar with a few of my coworkers. VfB Stuttgart was playing SC Freiburg. I just looked it up online, and it looks like Stuttgart won (although I don’t actually remember the game).

After the game, we went back to my friend Jakob’s apartment for some drinks. Unmistakably loud party noises were coming from the parking lot behind my friend’s apartment building. We looked out the window and saw a crowd of American exchange students hanging out in the parking lot, playing beer pong and enjoying the freedom to drink in public. It looked like fun, so we decided to join their party.

When we went down to the parking lot, I was standing next to the beer pong table and of course I immediately noticed the pretty girl with the incredible beer pong skills. After a while, she asked me to be her teammate for the next round.

I don’t remember everything about the party, but I do remember Courtney getting the hiccups. Someone told her that you can get rid of them by doing a handstand, so I held her feet while she did a handstand against a wall.

Later, we went to an Irish pub. We had to walk through the city to get there, and Courtney offered to give me a piggyback ride. I was impressed that she was able to do it. I also carried her for a little while.

After leaving the bar, I walked her to her apartment, which was in the same building that Jakob lived in. When we got to the building, I asked for her number. She gave it to me, and I texted her the next morning – but I didn’t get an answer for a week!
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