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Monday, April 25, 2016

Floor Meat | Mistranslation Monday

If you didn't know already, I am American. Thus, I grew up speaking American English. In Germany, however, students are generally taught British English. So, over the past five years, I have had to slowly convert my German fiancé over to my mother tongue.

Ground meat or floor meat?

Unfortunately, even after five years together, Marco still uses some quintessentially British terms instead of their American counterpart. One instance of this happened last week when we were writing up a grocery list.

"Add minced meat," Marco said.

"Only if you can say it to me in American English," I replied. 

[Before you think I am a crazy flag-waving, bald eagle-flying lunatic - know that I don't always require to speak perfect American English whenever he talks to me. I was just curious in this moment if he knew the American term for "minced meat."]

"Ummm... I know there is another word for it, but I can't remember...." he said.

Alright, I thought, let's give him a clue.

"What are you standing on right now?" I asked him.

Marco paused for a moment, before exclaiming:


Then we went to the store to buy some delicious floor meat.

P.S. Marco was obviously joking, although he still could not think of the word "ground meat" even after my hint.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Learning to Drive Stick Shift, Part 2

Back in September 2013, my German fiancé gave me my first stick shift driving lesson. We went from driving circles in the parking lot to driving around a traffic-filled roundabout in about 15 minutes, which was too much too fast. I was terrified the entire time, and I never got back into the driver's seat of a manual transmission car for the next 2.5 years.

Learning to drive stick shift in Germany

Over Easter this year, Marco and I drove 800 km (500 mi) south to spend the week at his childhood home in Ravensburg. As usual, Marco drove the entire way, as I fed and watered him from the passenger seat (I'm a great passenger).

A couple days after arriving, however, Marco started suggesting that I try driving stick shift again. Just the parking lot, he kept saying. We don't have to leave the parking lot.

Learning to drive stick shift in Germany
Well, that boy convinced me to drive circles around the parking lot that afternoon, and it went pretty well. It was especially entertaining for the nearby construction workers, who I think the workers had a fun time watching me sporadically stall the car. 

Learning to drive stick shift in Germany

The parking lot experience went so well, in fact, I asked Marco to take me to some country roads where I can drive faster without encountering many other drivers. And that's exactly what we did. And it went pretty darn well.

A couple days later, Marco and I were invited to his cousin's house for a grilling party. Over dinner, Marco tuns to me and says, "That should probably be your last beer, because you are driving home."

Since he didn't ask me previously, I felt quite anxious at first, but I agreed to the arrangement. And when the party finally died down around 3 AM, I actually ended up driving home Marco, his brother, and his cousin - a car full of drunk German men.

The drive home from Marco's cousin's house was only about 15 minutes, and I don't think I ever saw another car (it was 3 AM on Easter Sunday). And although I did drive well under the speed limit, it went pretty darn well.

Learning to drive stick shift in Germany

On Easter Sunday, Marco was anxious for me to practice driving again, so he suggested we go to McDonald's to grab a coffee (yes, we went to McDonald's on Easter Sunday). I quickly agreed, thinking that I could handle anything after the drove home the night before.

Unfortunately, there was one thing I didn't take into consideration when I agreed to drive into town: stop lights. There were five stop lights on the way to McDonald's, and every single one turned red just as I pulled up. The first three were fine, as there was nobody behind me, so I felt comfortable going really slowly. On the fourth, there was a car behind me, and in my attempt to take off quicker, I stalled the car. Luckily, I got it on the second try, and the person behind me didn't seem too perturbed.

When trying to turn left into McDonald's side street, I got caught by my fifth and final red light. And, of course, there were three cars behind me. The light turned green, and I stalled the car. I turned the key again, let my foot off the clutch, and it stalled again. Third times a charm? Nope, it's dead.

Then the light was red again, and as I sat there waiting for the green, I tried my hardest not to look in the rear-view mirror.

I didn't drive home from McDonald's that day.

After that slightly traumatic experience ("Scheiß Anfahren!" - as Marco's father said to me), we headed back to the parking lot, where I practiced stopping and starting again over and over and over.

Learning to drive stick shift in Germany

On the day after Easter, Marco and I were planning to drive the 800 km back north. After strategically building up my driving confidence over the past week, Marco asked if I would like to drive "just the first half hour" of the trip. "Sure," I said, "as long as there aren't too many stop lights."

Well, that half hour quickly turned into four hours. That's right, I drove half of the way home! And I did it with only one minor freak-out when traffic on the Autobahn slowed to a near stand-still for a couple kilometers. Otherwise, Autobahn driving is pretty easy, considering you can just stay in 5th gear and forget that you are driving a car with a manual transmission.

Unfortunately, I am still nervous about driving through city traffic and have not yet taken to the wheel in our city. Hopefully with a little more practice, however, I can reach that level.

Can you drive stick shift? How did you learn?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Writing My Master's Thesis

Since I know a lot of fellow international students (or soon-to-be-international-students) read this blog, I figured I would write a little update on my current studies, namely: writing my master's thesis.

writing a master's thesis

I am now in my fourth semester of my master's program, which runs from April 1 to September 30. During this semester, I am writing my master's thesis - a scientific work of approximately 80 pages that proves I can analyze a topic, conduct research, formulate an argument, and write a long-ass paper.

Knowing my fourth semester was getting nearer, I started to think about possible topics back in November. I had one class in my second semester that was particular interesting and inspiring for me. In fact, I used the methods I learned in that class to create a research project with two of my fellow students, which piqued the curiosity of my professor.

Since that relationship was already there, I went to that professor to ask about writing my thesis with him. He was immediately on board and suggested some ideas for developing a thesis topic in the same field as my research project.

It took about two months for me to finally settle on a concrete topic and develop my research questions. I wrote up my research proposal in the first week of the new semester and nervously sent it to my supervisor.

The very next day, I already received a reply from my professor: "Ihr Exposé gefällt mir sehr gut..." He really liked it! I was thrilled. To top it all off, he suggested that I ask a highly influential researcher (who basically created the field I am working in and I had cited multiple times in my proposal) to be my secondary supervisor.

Well, I sent him an email that very same day, and the next morning, I already had a reply: "Klar mache ich das! Dein Exposé sieht ja schon prima aus..." He said yes, and said that my proposal is great! Unfortunately, he is located at a different university in Germany, so I probably won't be able to meet him in person anytime soon, but he offered to send me comments and feedback by email.

So, now I am busy writing my master's thesis, knowing that I have two respected researchers supporting me - which is a great, but also nerve-wracking, feeling. The funny thing is that both of my supervisors have their PhDs in mathematics and/or physics. Meanwhile I am getting a Master of Arts in digital media and haven't taken a math course since senior year of high school...

Let me know if you have any tips for writing a thesis! Any help is appreciated :)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Day in the Life of an American Student in Germany

I know, I know. I haven't been around in a while. First it was Easter, then it was the start of a new semester, and this blog got put on the back-burner. But I am back!

Since this is my last semester of grad school, I figured I would make a "day in the life" post to give you all a glimpse into my current "student life." This particular day (Wednesday, April 11th ) didn't turn out quite as expected, but I still took pictures all along the way. I also want to apologize in advance for the potato-quality pictures (my cell phone camera isn't the best).

Here we go!

8:00 AM
drinking green tea

My alarm went off at 7:45, and my wonderful German fiancé got up first to make me a cup of green tea. I drank this while making some breakfast, checking emails, and planing out my day.

9:00 AM

After breakfast I got myself ready for the day. Here is my before and after, where surprisingly little has changed (except for the fact that my shirt changed color and I put on jeans).

 10:00 AM
writing on my bed

I had two hours before I had somewhere to be, so I got on my computer to try and get some work done. I turned in the proposal for my Master's thesis to my supervisor the day before, so I didn't currently have any work to do for my thesis. However, I did have to plan a short lesson for my English tutoring later in the day, and I still have a term paper to write for last semester (oops).

12:00 PM
class in Germany

Next, it was time for my Master forum, which is where all the Master's students from my field (there's 10 of us) sit in a room together for two hours and talk. Turns out, I am the only person in the forum with a set topic, but when I try to explain what I am doing, nobody understands me. 

I really need to practice how to explain my thesis topic in two sentences. I think the best scientists are those that can explain their topic (no matter how complex) to anyone, and still have them understand what it is they do.

2:00 PM

After a less-than-great Master forum, I go back to my apartment to grab something to eat. I check my emails, and see that my supervisor emailed me back. Marco was also at home, so I threw my phone to him and said, "read it for me!" 

The email started:
"Dein Expose gefällt mir sehr gut...

He said he really liked my proposal! And he read it the day after I sent it to him, which is pretty incredible. This picture shows how I was feeling in that moment. 

3:00 PM
path in German forest

I was only at home for 30 minutes before having to leave again. I recently began tutoring two teenage girls in English, which can be challenging (they aren't always so thrilled to see me) but also can be a lot of fun. I tutor them at one of the girls' houses, which is about a 25 minute walk from my apartment. I could drive the car or ride my bike, but this is what the walk looks like (see above picture), so I don't mind.

4:00 PM
teaching English

We met for one hour, where we discussed irregular verbs. I had them create a story using at least one irregular verb in every sentence, and things got a little crazy. There was a man named James whose girlfriend got bit by an alligator, so James killed all the alligators and made his girlfriend a purse with their skin. Yikes.

5:00 PM
bridge over the Ilmenau

I leave tutoring around 4:30 to walk back over the Ilmenau (the river that runs through my city) and head home.

6:00 PM
American food in Germany

Before going home, I figured I would pick up some groceries at Penny (a discount grocery store near our apartment). As you can see in the picture, they still have some products leftover from "America week," including cheese squeeze, jarred hot dogs, and "cup 'o noodles" in macaroni & cheese flavor.

After checking out, I reached in my pocket and realized I forgot my keys when I left the apartment after lunch. Luckily, Marco works at the university (also near our apartment and the grocery store). When I got to his office, however, he's wasn't there. I tried walking around his institute a little bit, but there are a lot of laboratories (he's a chemist), and I didn't want to start opening doors to the labs to ask people where he is. Instead, I just sat outside of his office... for over an hour.

Here's to never forgetting my keys ever again.

7:00 PM
Parmesan Zander for dinner

 I started making dinner around 7:00 pm: Parmesan-crusted zander with potato wedges and salad. After my roller coaster of a day, I also decided to have a glass of wine.

8:00 PM
Watching Netflix and drinking wine

By 8:00 pm, I was done. I poured myself another glass of wine, lit a candle, turned on Netflix (I'm currently watching Mr. Selfridge), and put my feet up until it was time to go to bed.

As I am writing this the next day, I realize that I forgot to mention that I slammed my finger in the gate as I was leaving the girl's house that I tutor. It hurt pretty bad, but I didn't realize just how bad it was until this morning. It's quite purple, and I can't bend it all the way.

What a day!
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