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Monday, August 31, 2015

Renewing My German Student Visa

When I was first accepted to graduate school in Germany, I went straight to the Ausländerbehörde (foreigner's office) to get my German student visa. However, I was a little disappointed when, instead of receiving a visa for the entirety of my two-year program, I was only issued a one-year visa.

Invalid German visa

So, I always knew that I would have to renew my residence permit before it expired on September 30, 2015. This is not only annoying because I had to go back to the soul-draining Ausländerbehörde, but a German student visa also costs around 70-120€ (it seems to be a different amount every time)!

Anyways, I was previously advised by the people at the Ausländerbehörde that foreigners should come in at least 3 weeks before the expiration of a visa, so I knew I wanted to go in around the end of August.

Normally, my local Ausländerbehörde only accepts walk-ins, which is always frustrating when you get a large family in front of you that requires a one hour (or longer) appointment. So, I was really happy when I checked their website and saw that they now do everything by appointment.

Since I hate phone calls, I wrote an email to the office to request an appointment. After my appointment was set up, the man replied with a list of everything I would need:
folgende Unterlagen bringen sie bitte mit:
  • Nationalpass (Passport)
  • Aufetnhaltserlaubnis (Residency permit/visa)
  • Nachweis Krankenversicherung (Proof of health insurance)
  • aktuelle Immatrikulationsbescheinigung (current proof of enrollment at the university)
You may notice that he didn't mention anything about money. But I knew better, so I stopped by the ATM on my way there to withdraw 150€ (better safe than sorry).

My appointment at the Ausländerbehörde was scheduled for 9:50, but I didn't get called in until 10:30. After handing all of the requested documents over to my case worker, he then asked for a new photo.

"Unfortunately, you did not mention that I needed to bring a photo in your email," I replied in the politest German possible.

"Well, I need a current photo," he answered quite bureaucratically (if that's a word).

"I have a biometric picture with me, but it is the same picture that I used last time..." I was seriously worried that I would have to come back another day with new photos (but also thankful that I kept my extra biometric photos in my wallet).

The man contemplated whether or not he could accept the photo before reaching out his hand.

"How current do pictures need to be, anyways?" Marco chimed in, quite annoyed at the situation I was finding myself in.

"Less than 6 months."

Gott sei Dank, the man accepted my photo, although he was not pleased. At least I know for the future that photos more than 6 months old are not "current" (nevermind the fact that driver's licenses are valid for 15 years in this country).

Next came the topic of money. Since it was a Verlängerung (extension), it only costed 80€ (I guess that standard price for a new visa is over 100). I handed over a 100€ bill, which I had just picked up at the ATM. The man tried making a joke by asking if the bill was real, or if I had printed it myself. I didn't laugh. He went into another room and came back with my receipt.

Receipt for my German student visaa

What he didn't come back with was my change. So, I quickly remarked, "Where is my 20€?"

"That was a test. You passed."

Not in the mood for sarcasm, we all just sat in silence while he finished typing things into his computer. After getting fingerprinted (yes, they fingerpint me everytime) and getting my change, I was ready to leave.

So, what I really needed to renew my student visa was:
  • Passport
  • Current residence permit/visa
  • Proof of health insurance
  • Proof of enrollment at a university
  • Biometric photo
  • 80 Euro

Good luck to anyone that has to go to the Ausländerbehörde in the near future. I am happy that I just bought myself another year before I will have to return (although I do have to go back in a few weeks to pick up my new student visa... darn it).

To read more about living and studying in Germany, make sure to follow me on Bloglovin' and Facebook. You can also leave any questions in the comments below.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On Paid Vacation

Unfortunately, my contract for the part-time job I have had for the past year came to an end. In fact, today was my very last day. I'm not too sad, though, because I will still be paid until the end of September. How? Germany!

I have been working a part-time job at my university since October 2014. The job is great, the pay is great, everything is great. Learning that I had paid vacation days made it even more great.

At just 15 hours per week, I never expected I would have any kind of benefits. Heck, I worked full-time jobs in the U.S., but since I was paid hourly, I never received any vacation days (unless I just wanted to take unpaid time off). So, when I first approached my boss about taking vacation for Christmas 2014, I explained to him that I would work extra hours the weeks prior to and after my time off to make up for the lost hours.

"You could also just use some vacation days," he explained.

"I have vacation days?!" I asked, confused as to how a part-time student worker could possibly have earned vacation days.

"Welcome to Germany, where workers actually have rights," he replied with a smile.

Calling HR that afternoon, I was shocked to find out that I had 6 vacation days to use during my first 6 months at my job. After my 6-month probation period, I would earn 24 more days to use within the next year.

Yep, that's right, 30 paid vacation days!!! Since my time off is calculated at 6 days per week, that is 5 weeks of paid time off! Working 15 hours per week, that's 75 paid hours!

Unfortunately, my job contract ends on September 30th. However, I won't be working a day of September. Why? Because I still have 24 days of vacation to use! So, I will be sitting back and sipping mojitos at home as the paychecks continue to roll in for one more month (in reality I will be crying at the computer as I write term papers, but whatever).

How many paid vacation days do you receive per year?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Where's My Summer Vacation?!

As long as you ignore the crippling debt it leaves vulnerable young adults with just as they are about to enter the job market, college in the U.S. is great! The campuses are immaculately manicured, there are loads of free activities to take part in, and you get a summer break that lasts three months! Three months!

So, as I sit at my computer, taking a break from writing a term paper, I have to ask: where is my summer vacation?!

Technically, German students do get quite a lot of time off between the summer and winter semester. This year, the break at my university stretches from mid-July to early October. However, I have to write six term papers during this time! Don't forget the fact that three of those are in German (and each should be 15-20 pages long).

Admittedly, most of my fellow students just ignore their responsibilities and enjoy their nearly three-month vacation. Then, they just write their papers during the next semester (which is nuts and super stressful). Unfortunately, I am boring and responsible. So, I would rather waste away my hours of summer as I sit in front of my computer everyday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Oh, and don't forget that I am also technically working 3 part-time jobs at the moment. So, I spend about two days per week writing and three days working. But then I also spend most weekends working/writing... #SummerFun

Am I done complaining yet? Oh, not quite. Although I said that I am wasting away my hours of summer, it is not actually so dramatic. At least Germany decided to make it easier to justify sitting inside all day by having crappy weather. I actually had to turn on a space heater at work on July 31. A space heater. In July.

I take a picture on my walk to work whenever I see my lucky white rabbit in the campus garden. Here is the most recent one that I took:

My lucky rabbit

Wow, doesn't that look like such a beautiful sunny August morning? Not really. I actually had to stop walking through the campus garden to get to work this week because it has been raining nonstop for 3 days, and the path is flooded.

It actually rained so much, that the drain on our balcony clogged, and it was 2-inches deep in water. That was fun to deal with at 8 in the morning.

Hopefully it will all be worth when I am finally done with (at least the majority) of my term papers, and I can relax on my parents' patio in the U.S. for two weeks.

P.S. Whenever I feel really discouraged, I watch this remix video of Shia LeBeouf. I highly suggest it to anyone needed a little motivation:

Thursday, August 13, 2015

30 Before 30

I turned 25 last month. So, I figured this a great time to make a 30 before 30 list -- that is, a list of 30 goals I want to accomplish before I turn 30 years old.

Deadline: July 8, 2020.

1. Finish my Master's degree
This one should be done by September 2016, which means it will probably be one of the first to be crossed off this list.

2. Attend a Bundesliga game
Although I have been living in Germany for over 2 years, I have still never been to a professional soccer game!

3. Find a job I love
This would be the logical follow-up to finishing my Master's degree.

4. Knit an entire sweater
I am a decent knitter, although I do not knit very often. Let's hope I find the time to knit my own sweater before I turn 30!

5. Visit 3 new countries
This is very manageable, considering I haven't visited the majority of the countries that border Germany (I'm looking at you, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Poland).

6. Read 100 books
In general, I read 1-2 books per month. So, reading 100 books in 5 years should be achievable, as long as I continue to read consistently. If you are wondering what books I am reading, you can visit my Goodreads profile (I currently have 56 read books on my profile, which means I should have 156 by the time I'm 30).

7. Get a pedicure and/or manicure
I have never had a professional pedicure or manicure. This is mainly because I hate being touched by people, which I need to get over.

8. Spend a night in a 5-star hotel

9. Start learning a new language
Since classes are free as long as I am still a student, I have been considering taking a Spanish course next semester...

10. Read 30 books in German
I already have a lot of German novels on my Kindle, but I often skip over them in favor of English books, just because I know I can read them faster and easier. I should stop doing that...

11. Visit 10 different Christmas markets

12. Get my student debt into the 4-figure range
My student loan debt is currently in the 5-figure range. I am not sure paying it all off within 5 years is manageable, but I hope that I can at least get it below $10,000.

13. Adopt a dog

14. Buy a house
This is by far the loftiest goal on the list.

15. Learn to drive stick shift
Marco gave me a stick shift lesson over a year ago, and I have my German driving license. I'm still too anxious to actually drive stick shift, however, and I want to overcome that.

16. Grow a vegetable garden
Like how I grew tomatoes on our balcony last year, except on a bigger scale.

17. Get a professional haircut
Confession time: I have not had my hair cut by a professional in over 3 years. It started as just not wanting to do it while I was in Germany. Then it slowly grew into a sort of phobia, because I don't like being touched. I own nice hair-cutting scissors, and regularly cut my hair at home, but I should really go get it professionally cut and styled sometime within the next 5 years...

18. Learn to code
I have learned a bit out of necessity due to past jobs and my blog, but I really want to learn some more. I will probably just utilize free resources online like codecademy.

19. Vote
Another confession: I have never voted. I will write more about this later, but it is something I am quite ashamed of, and something I definitely want to change.

20. Enjoy black coffee
Marco and I bought our first coffee machine a few months ago. Since then, I have begun regularly drinking coffee (just one per day, usually in the afternoon) for the first time. However, I am still a little bit of a wuss and rarely take it black.

21. Visit a winery

22. Get a massage
Once again, I hate being touched. The thought of getting a massage actually makes me feel a little bit sick, but I really want to get over this, because I am sure there will be a point in the next 5 years where a professional massage could really do some good!

23. Master the German language
When people ask, I generally say that I am "proficient" in German. I don't always feel comfortable speaking it, and I still make mistakes. However, I can effectively express myself and discuss any topic just fine. For me, mastering the langauge would come when I never find myself struggling for words, and I don't feel so self-conscious when having to speak German with a stranger.

24. Run 5k in less than 30 minutes
I recently started the C25k program, and it is going really well! I hope to be able to cross this one off the list within the next couple months.

25. Unplug for (at least) 24 hours
I love the Internet. Whenever I my phone "pings" to tell me I have a new email, I feel the need to look at it immediately. So, it would definitely do me some good to completely unplug for a day, or more (hopefully while on a nice beach vacation).

26. Invest in a handbag

27. Maintain an HbA1c under 6.5
This is a health goal to keep my blood sugar under control (I have Type 1 diabetes).

28. Run 10k
After feeling comfortable running 5k, I want to move up to 10k.

29. Do a pull-up
I don't just want to run, I also want to be strong. I don't think I have ever been able to do a pull-up, but it would be so cool to be able to do! I want Michelle Obama arms!

30. Throw a party for my 30th birthday!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Candy Bar Confusion

Do you know what's in a Milky Way? What about a Mars? Well, depending on where you are from, you may be confused when buying these candy bars in a different country.

Let's start off with a little test.

What kind of candy bar is this?

What kind of candy bar is this?

1. If you answered Milky Way, then you are buying your candy bars in Germany/Europe.
    If you answered 3 Musketeers, then you are buying them in the U.S.

2. If you answered Milky Way, then you are buying your candy bars in the U.S.
    If you answered Mars, then you are buying them in Germany/Europe.

Confusing, huh?

The German boyfriend and I first realized these differences when he visited me in the U.S. I was eating a Milky Way, and although it clearly said "Milky Way" on the package, Marco argued that what I was eating was actually a Mars bar, Fast forward a few years, and I am starting to get a grasp on the confusing variations of candy bars from the Mars Corporation.

To clear things up, let's look at the filling and packing of the various candy bars in question.

Here is what an American Milky Way looks like:
American Milky Way

Here is what a German Milky Way looks like:

Milky Way packaging in EuropeGerman/European Milky Way

The Wikipedia article on Milky Way describes the difference as:
The European version [of the Milky Way] has no caramel topping, and consists of a nougat center that is considerably lighter than that of the Mars bar.
Basically, the German Milky Way is the American 3 Musketeers (a candy bar name that does not exist outside in Europe):

3 Musketeers - American candy bar

And the American Milky Way is the same as the German Mars:
Mars packagingGerman Mars Bar

So, to review:
German Milky Way = American 3 Musketeers
American Milky Way = German Mars

We also know that the 3 Musketeers does not exist in Europe, which leaves us with the question: What is an American Mars bar?

Personally, I have never eaten an American Mars bar, nor do I remember ever seeing them in stores. Turn out, they were discontinued in 2002, 

But if you were curious, this is what the American Mars looked like:

American Mars bar
This candy bar contained nougat and almonds - a variation that I am pretty sure doesn't exist in Germany or the U.S. anymore... Although, as a lover of nutty candy bars (Baby Ruth is my favorite), I think I would have quite liked it!

What is your favorite candy bar?
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