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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving is... Where It Is

First of all, let me start off by saying: HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays: family and friends come together in one place, there is no pressure to give people presents, and, most importantly, it is full of delicious food.

Happy Thanksgiving from Welcome to Germerica

As Thanksgiving this year was approaching, however, I realized something: I have not spent Thanksgiving at "home" (meaning with my immediate family at my parent's house) in four years.

My first time being away from home for Thanksgiving was in 2011, when I was studying abroad in Germany during my Bachelor's. The next year, in 2012, my parents went on a cruise, and I spent Thanksgiving at my aunt's house. In 2013, I was back in Germany and had dinner with Marco (you can read about that one here). And this year, 2014, I am still here in Germany, a country that certainly does not celebrate one of my absolute favorite holidays.

Although last year was very nice, and Marco and I had a wonderful meal together, I did decide to invite some people over this year to make it feel a little bit more like a proper Thanksgiving. Still, it got me wondering what Thanksgiving really meant to me now that I have spent so many of them away from what I still consider "home." 

I know many people like to say things like "Thanksgiving means family." And while I do consider Marco a part of my family at this point, I would not consider spending Thanksgiving with only him as "spending Thanksgiving with family" (sorry, Marco).

So, let's be honest: Thanksgiving is... where it is. I love Thanksgiving, and I will never stop celebrating it, no matter where I am. There really is not much more to it than that.

Now let's eat some turkey! Or chicken, which is what we will actually be having. Any poultry will do, really. Heck, I would probably even settle for some ham...

Do you celebrate Thanksgiving? If so, how will you be celebrating this year?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Toilet Paper Culture: Germans Fold, Americans Crumple

I have a question for you: when you go to wipe after using the toilet, do you fold or crumple the toilet paper?

I know this is a strange question. Heck, you may have never even thought about it before. However, when watching TV with the German boyfriend recently, a show mentioned that different cultures have different methods for using toilet paper. In particular, they said that Germans fold and Americans crumple.

Toilet paper: Germans fold, Americans crumple

After hearing this, Marco immediately turned to me and asked (with a grimace on his face), "You crumple the toilet paper?!"

"Yeah..." I replied, "Wait, you fold it?"

"Of course!"

Then we both sat quietly in a moment of confusion as we realized that we had both discovered something new about each other that we probably would have otherwise never learned if it had not been for a random news segment on TV...

German bathroom
Where the magic happens in our apartment...

Since that day, I have tried to do some research on the topic, but most of the articles available on the Internet are quite biased and varied in their results. I have no idea where the TV program got their information from.

Yet, even some of these unscientific polls and discussions online do follow the hypothesis that Germans fold and Americans crumple. I actually found one hilarious forum where the Germans were calling anyone that folds their toilet paper a barbarian, and the Americans were replying that folding simply takes too much time.

During my research, I also found this Mental Floss article that says the major argument for folding is that you can refold and reuse the same set of toilet paper sheets. Germans do tend to be more concerned with the environment than Americans, so this could certainly be a potential explanation. Although, the German boyfriend claims he does not refold.

Overall, I would say that this is a field where proper research is lacking (I wonder why...). So, I would love for you all to answer the following question in the comments below:

Do you fold or crumple your toilet paper? 

Also make sure to write what country you are from!

I know you may think it's gross, but I am genuinely curious.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How to Defer Student Loans When Studying Abroad

If, like me, you are an American that made the exciting decision to get your graduate or post-graduate degree overseas, then you are probably worrying about what to do with those pesky student loans back in the U.S.

When graduating with a Bachelor's degree in the U.S., the average student has approximately $30,000 in student loan debt. I can regretfully say that I am this average American undergrad, which is part of the reason why I decided to get my graduate degree in Germany: German universities are free (even for foreigners).

And although I was able to immediately land a part-time job in Germany, I knew this wouldn't be enough to make regular payments on my student loan in the U.S. while also paying for my rent, health insurance, and other necessities in Germany.

So, I began looking into deferment.

deferment: a period during which repayment of a loan's principal and interest is temporarily delayed

It is fairly easy to put student loans from the government into deferment for reasons such as unemployment or economic hardship. As long as you are studying at a school that is recognized by the Federal Student Aid Office, however, then you are qualified for an in-school deferment.

This type of deferment is very important because as long as your loans are subsidized by the government, then you will not collect any interest while you are studying.

How to defer your student loans while studying abroad:
  1. Call your student loan provider to find out if your university is eligible for in-school deferment
  2. Download the In-School Deferment Request
  3. Fill out Sections 1-3 of the In-School Deferment Request
  4. Find an authorized official at your university to fill out Section 4 of the In-School Deferment Request
  5. Send a copy of the In-School Deferment Request to your student loan providers (by mail, fax, email). 
  6. Wait until your request is accepted.

Lucky for me, about 75% of my student loans are subsidized, so I became very excited at the possibility of not collecting interest on these loans for the next two years.

But how can you know if your school is recognized by the Federal Student Aid Office?

Good question.

I am getting my Master's from quite a small school in Germany. In trying to figure out if my school is recognized, I tried searching for it in the FAFSA database, but my school was not in the system. In fact, there are quite a few official online databases of eligible schools, but I could never find my university.

Finally, I decided to call one of my student loan providers to ask. Amazingly, she was able to find my school within a few minutes, and said deferring would be no problem.

Once you know your school is eligible, all you need to do is provide your loan provider(s) with an "In School Deferment Request."

You can find this document here:

After filling out sections 1-3 by yourself, you will have to find someone at your university to fill out Section 4.

Since foreign universities do not really understand how ridiculous the tuition/student loan situation is in the U.S., do not be surprised if the workers at your university do not really want to sign their name on this document. After being thrown around from one office to another at my university, the head secretary of my program finally agreed to do it (although she kept copies of it for my student file...).

Next, I simply scanned the forms, sent electronic copies to my student loan providers, and waited.

My first deferment was accepted within one week. The second provider rejected the request after 2 weeks. Note, the provider that rejected it was the same one that I called earlier to ensure that my school is eligible.

So, imagine my shock when I call them to ask why my request was denied and they tell me, "Your university is not eligible." I told her to look again, and after 5 minutes on hold, she told me it is eligible, and that someone must have made a mistake. This is what you get when you go to a school with a non-English character in the name (ü).

Although the whole process did take about one month, I am now in deferment until September 2016. In total, this has saved me at least $2,000, and I can still make payments on the principal whenever I want to (we'll see if that actually happens...).

If you are looking to go through the same process, I wish you luck!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Outen the Lights! | Mistranslation Monday

Welcome back to another Mistranslation Monday!

I have been feeling quite uninspired when it comes to this blog lately, which is mostly due to the stress of starting my Master's program in Germany.

Currently, I am working on preparing for two presentations this week (hence why I didn't post anything at all last week). Luckily, one of the presentations is in English, but the other one will be my first presentation in German in Germany in front of a room full of Germans! Wish me luck!

Anyways, back to Mistranslation Monday. After a week-long streak of feeling quite uninspired, I was quite pleased when I stumbled upon this sign over the weekend:

German to English mistranslation: outen the lights!

Was this an honest mistranslation? Was it a joke? Who knows, but I thought it was pretty darn funny.

Hope you all had a great weekend and a Happy Halloween! 

Do you have any big plans for November?
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