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Monday, September 30, 2013

Learning to Drive Stick Shift

My first time driving stick shiftMarco recently got a new car. Not "new" as in 2013 new, but "new" as in new to us. So while we were visiting his family in Southern Germany, he decided it was high time for another driving lesson.

We have had a few parking lot driving lessons in the past, each of which ended in frustration and yelling. But this time was different. I was determined to get past second gear.

So we drove over to his old Kindergarten parking lot one afternoon for an intensive driving lesson. It started off pretty well. Sure, the car died a few times (okay, a lot), but I really was getting the hang of it. He was a little frustrated, claiming that I was aiming for every puddle (it was a gravel parking lot), but I was proud of myself.

"Okay, let's drive around town," he says. WHAT?! I thought this was just a parking lot lesson. I'm not ready to drive on a real street!

Marco's hometown is pretty rural, so I ended up giving it a go, and let me tell you -- it was terrifying. Between him freaking out that I was going to drive off the road and me freaking out that someone was on my ass because I was going under the speed limit, this was no longer a simple driving lesson.

Learning to drive stick shift: before and during

After four roundabouts and a few intersections (pulling out into traffic is so hard with a manual transmission), we did finally make it home alive. Looking back on it, I am pretty proud of myself with how well I did. I think I can wait a few months before my next lesson, though.

Can you drive stick shift? Have you had to adjust to driving in a new country?

Friday, September 27, 2013

My First Schultüte

I had my first day of German class at the Volkshochschule (VHS) this Monday. Marco surprised me after my class by giving me a Schultüte!
C1-C2 class at the VHS and my first Schultüte
German children get a Schultüte before their first day of school each year. The parents fill them with treats and some pens and markers. Marco got me some Haribo gummis and a real ink pen! We don't use those in the U.S., so Marco decided I should get the real German experience by getting me my first ink pen.

Other than that, class at the VHS is going pretty well so far. I am in a C1-C2/TestDaF course to get me ready to take the TestDaF in February. I need to pass this test to be able to get my Masters in Germany. I was surprised that there are no other Americans in the class. In fact, there is nobody else with English as a mother tongue. There are nine other people in the course, and they are from countries such as Belgium, Iran, Ivory Coast, Belarus, and a few more (nobody is from the same country). 

I will keep you updated on how class is going. I am sure I will be getting continuously more and more stressed until February. Ahhh!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Leberkäse: Bologna Loaf

Leberkäse, aka german bologna loaf

This is Leberkäse. The best way to describe this in English is as bologna loaf. Yes, I know that sounds disgusting, but it's not so bad.

It is a typical food in Southern Germany, where Marco is from, but unfortunately it isn't so common up here. So it is always a special treat for the German boyfriend when he manages to find it in the grocery store.

Eating Leberkäse with sweet mustard (süßer Senf)

Most people eat it as street food on a roll, but we usually just cut 1-inch slices. I love dipping it in sweet mustard (süßer Senf).

Since we just got back from a trip to the south, Marco stocked up on 2 kg of Leberkäse. One went straight into the freezer, and we ate the other one last night. Thankfully, I think he is finally getting sick of eating it :)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My German Visa Journey: Language Course Visa

German visa requirements

I submitted the application for my German visa! I am applying for a language course visa since I need to pass a fluency test before I can apply for my Master's.

Here were my German visa requirements:

  • Passport
Since I studied abroad here in 2011, I am already in the German system, which made everything a little easier.
  • Health Insurance
I did a lot of research online about this, because I wasn't sure if they would accept my American health insurance. I am on my parents' Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan. Since I really didn't want to have to pay an extra $50/mo for German health insurance that didn't even cover my medicine and supplies for diabetes (private health insurance won't cover a pre-existing condition), I decided to try to get my U.S. health insurance to count for the German visa. So I emailed my health insurance company asking for a letter of verification that I am covered while living abroad. They mailed this letter to my parents' house, who then scanned and emailed it to me. I provided this letter along with an overview of my coverage. I turned this in, the man read it (it was in English) and he said, "Sounds good!" (except in German, of course).
  • Proof of Finances
This is the most important thing to the German government. In fact, when I first went to the foreigners office to get the forms to fill out, the first question they asked was if I have enough money. To prove that one has enough money, you have to either put a lot of money in a locked German bank account (no, thank you) or get a German citizen to vouch for you. Luckily, Marco agreed to do the latter. This is called a "Verplichtungserklärung." Marco had to provide copies of his ID or passport, apartment lease, last 3 paystubs, and work contract. His monthly income, minus his monthly rent, had to be over 1,200 Euro. To get this form approved, I had to also pay a 25 Euro fee.
  • Letter from VHS
I also had to show a letter from the VHS, the Volkshochschule, where I have signed up for a German course. When I signed up for the class, they provided this letter. Since the class is only through January, I also printed out a webpage from the university's website, stating that the DSH test (which I need to pass to apply for my Masters) is in March 2014. They accepted this and my visa will be good until March 31, 2014.
  • Fees
Of course I also had to pay some fees. Since my visa is for 6 months, I had to pay 100 Euro (if it is less than 6 months, you pay less and get a sticker in your passport). I will get an ID card with an electronic identification chip in it that stores my fingerprints, picture, and other info. I also had to pay 25 Euro to submit the Verplichtungserklärung (see "Proof of Finances" above). So it was 125 Euro in total.

I entered Germany on July 24, so I had until October 24th before my tourist visa ran out. I submitted my stuff about 6 weeks before that, which they said was more than enough time for processing. I should receive a letter in the mail in about 3 weeks that will tell me to go pick up my visa at the foreigner's office. Hopefully everything goes though!

After turning in my German visa application
Happy after turning in my application

Have you applied for a German visa before, or are you thinking about applying? I'd love to hear some other stories as I sit around nervously waiting for mine!

Monday, September 9, 2013

My Broken Insulin Pump

Animas Ping pump comparison - Old vs. New
Top - new replacement pump
Bottom - old broken pump
As my luck would have it, my insulin pump (an Animas Ping) broke after my first week in Germany. I was screwing on the battery cap when I suddenly heard a *crack* and my stomach dropped. 

You see, this is my 3rd Animas Ping insulin pump. My first pump malfunctioned after about 4 months (it would randomly say "pump not primed" everyday), and my second pump's buttons stopped working after about 1 year. Each pump was promptly replaced. So while I can't say much about the Animas Ping's durability, I can say that Animas has awesome customer service.

So while it was about 9 a.m. in Germany when my pump cracked, it was only about 3 a.m. Eastern Time (thank goodness for their 24/7 help line). Since this is the third insulin pump that I have had break, I am very familiar with the questions they go through (Do you clean it? Do you keep a protective cover on it? Blah blah blah). At the end, the lovely woman said, "Okay, let me verify your address and we can get it to you tomorrow." 

"Um... that's the problem," I started. Luckily they do ship replacement pumps to Germany. I received my replacement from UPS in about 8 days.

The package came with very specific directions on how to pack up my old pump and ship it back. This is a little more complicated than doing it within the U.S., since I had to include insurance forms and forms for U.S. and German customs.

After packing it up and putting on the shipping label they provided, Marco drove me to the UPS store. The men were a little confused, but they took it. About 2 weeks later I received a letter in the mail from UPS stating that my package was delivered successfully and that it cost about 25 Euro, which will be billed to the account on file (Animas).

So basically, although Animas Ping insulin pumps seem very prone to breaking, it is nice to know that they will ship a replacement quickly to wherever you are.

Is there anyone out there that has gone through insulin pumps faster than me (4th pump in less than 2 years)? Or has anyone else had an insulin pump break at an inconvenient time or place?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Everyone Thinks I Am a Man

Whenever I send an email to a German person that I have not met yet, they always think I am a man. I guess this is what you get when you move to a country where your name doesn't exist #expatproblems

For example, I got an email this morning that started:

Sehr geehrter Herr Courtney,

This basically translates to "Dear Mr. Courtney," which I find pretty hilarious. Basically, people assume that because my last name is a common male first name, then Courtney must be my last name.

But what do I do when I email these people back? Should I correct them? How would I even go about doing that?

Ah, just another day in the life of an American living in Germany.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Our Italian Vacation

After moving from the U.S. to Germany, I didn't think I would experience a culture shock when visiting Italy for 9 days. Boy, was I wrong. I have never experienced as much of a culture shock in my life. The people, the streets, everything. We arrived on a Sunday evening, and as we were walking around at midnight, I just kept asking Marco, "Why are all these babies and kids still outside?!"

The vacation was lovely, though, and we had an amazing time. Here are some picture from our Italian vacation. Enjoy!
Our apartment was just a few blocks from the Spanish steps.
Me chilling in the beautiful (hot) Italian weather.
Drinking a Coke with Marco.
Marco's gorgeous picture of the Trevi Fountain at night.
Fraggola and limone gelato.
Marco (kind of) and I in Vatican City.
Another of Marco's gorgeous pictures. This is the Colosseum at night.
Hanging out at the Parthenon.
Our typical Italian breakfast with coffee and croissant (Marco and I missed our meat and eggs, though).
Poolside at the Agristurismo 4 Ricci
We threw some coins into the fountain, so that means we will be returning soon.
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