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Monday, February 13, 2017

Floating Candles | Mistranslation Monday

One afternoon, not too long ago, I was browsing Pinterest with my girlfriend from Lithuania (as stereotypical ladies do). And as you can imagine (and as evidenced by my other Mistranslation Monday posts), mistranslations are quite common when us two non-German women spend the day speaking German with each other.

Floating candles, schwebende Kerzen, schwimmende Kerzen

Anyways, as we were browsing Pinterest, my friend found a lovely centerpiece that we thought would be perfect for a winter wedding. It looked something like this:



After thinking about all the different flowers and greenery we could put in the water, we starting talking about where we could buy the floating candles - except we were speaking German, so we were saying schwebende Kerzen - the literal translation of "floating candles."

After typing schwebende Kerzen into Amazon, however, we couldn't find what we were looking for. Do floating candles not exist in Germany? Are they just unpopular? Are they illegal?!

About 15 minutes later, Marco (the German) came into the room, and I asked him, "Do you know where we can buy floating candles?" - except we were speaking German, so I asked, "Weißt du, wo man schwebende Kerzen kaufen kann?"

He looked at us both, obviously confused. then replied "Like in Harry Potter? Do you those really exist?"

Floating candles / schwebende Kerzen
These are the kind of floating candles Marco was picturing
Like with most mistranslations, his confusion only caused us to become even more confused. After showing him some pictures of what we were talking about, however, the confusion was solved.

Schweben does mean "to float," but unlike English floating, schweben can only happen in the air. Maybe a more accurate translation would be "levitating."

Things don't "float" on water in German. They swim. So, the candles we wanted weren't schwebende Kerzen, they were schwimmende Kerzen (or just Schwimmkerzen). Lesson learned!

Floating candles

These are the candles we ended up buying, and like many things sold in Germany, the German word for the item isn't even on the package. Instead, there is just English and French. The Germans are just left to figure it out, I guess (and foreigners are left to wonder).

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Top 5 Tips for Writing a Master's Thesis in Germany

81 pages. 23,937 words. 1 hour-long oral defense. Although I never thought I would be able to say this six months ago, now I can: I DID IT! I successfully completed my master's thesis (and my master's degree).

For other international students preparing for the final semester of their master's degree, here are my top tips for writing a master's thesis in Germany.


START EARLY
If you are doing a classic 4-semester Master's program, then I suggest you begin looking for a topic and supervisor at the start of your third semester. I chose my topic based on a term paper that I enjoyed writing and wanted to explore the material more deeply. You can also choose to write a master's thesis within a company - such positions can be found on job websites like Indeed and Stepstone.

I approached my professor in my third semester to ask him if he could supervise my master's thesis with my chosen topic. Since I had completed a term paper for one of his classes in the previous semester, he already knew me and my writing. So, he agreed to supervise me, but first requested a research proposal (Exposé). My proposal was about four pages long and included an introduction, research question(s), methods, and a short literature review.

After my first supervisor approved my proposal, he helped me choose and contact an external secondary supervisor. Then, after my secondary supervisor agreed and approved my proposal, my fourth semester was just about to begin, and I was ready to go!

STICK TO A SCHEDULE
The best part about writing a master's thesis? The freedom of doing your own research! The worst part about writing a master's thesis? The freedom of doing your own research.

Unless you are writing with a company, your schedule will be pretty flexible as you write your master's thesis. This means that it is up to you to create a daily schedule that includes plenty of time for research and writing. At the same time, however, you do not want to burn yourself out by sitting in front of a computer for 12 hours a day.

Before starting my thesis, I procrastinated by doing research into productivity. Two methods stuck out to me, both of which I used throughout the various phases of writing my thesis.

POMODORO METHOD
The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management technique that is based on 25-minute productive periods followed by five-minute breaks. If you want some group encouragement in using this method, follow the Shut Up and Write account on Twitter (or Shut Up & Write UK), which leads Pomodoro sessions for academic writers every Tuesday. And if you need to write on any other day of the week, just send them a message and request to join the private Shut Up & Write group that is active just about 24/7.

MARTINI METHOD
If you aren't in the mood for frequent breaks and would rather just power through your thesis, then the Martini Method is for you. Set a reasonable goal in the morning, work until you achieve this goal, then relax guilt-free for the rest of the day. Supposedly, this method was named after novelist Anthony Burgess's writing technique, which involved writing 1,000 words every day. As soon as this goal was reached (regardless of whether it took just 1 hour or 10) Burgess would stop working and relax with a dry martini.

CREATE DEADLINES
Your university will probably set a deadline for you to turn in your thesis (at my university, this is five months after registering your topic). However, unless you want to have a lot of sleepless nights at the end of the semester, you need to set incremental deadlines.

I created a spreadsheet with the final due date of my thesis and worked backwards from there. You can start by asking yourself the following questions:
How long will research/data collection take?
Do I need to conduct any time-sensitive empirical research?
How many days/weeks do I need to write each chapter?
How many weeks before the due date should I send a draft to my supervisor?

TALK TO YOUR SUPERVISOR
Your supervisor is there to help you. Sure, some supervisors may suck and not actually want to help you (or they "don't have the time"), but in general, you shouldn't be shy about going to supervisor for help or advice in the research and writing process. I know I could have saved myself a lot of headaches if I had just asked my professor for his professional opinion on certain research decisions early on instead of guessing and stressing about it for weeks on end.

KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
Yes, your master's thesis is important, and you should do you very best when writing it. However, it is just a master's thesis. You should never let academic work stress you out so much that it effects your mental health.

While writing my master's thesis, I got into a horrible cycle of sitting in front of my computer for over 10 hours each day. I constantly felt like my work wasn't good enough and that I should be working even harder. After about a month of this, I forced myself to get outside each day by beginning the C25K running program. Spending just 30 minutes a day running around outside and enjoying the nature really helped alleviate my anxiety and keep things in perspective.

And that's it! I turned in my master's thesis at the end of November 2016, and I successfully defended my thesis on December 9, 2016. Here is a picture of me leaving my professor's office on that day (with a face of pure joy):


What is your best tip for staying productive?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Renewing a US Passport in Germany

Rain is wet. Fire is hot. Passports expire. 

I had to renew my American passport this year, and since I live in Germany, I had the option of traveling to one of the three locations in Germany: the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, the Consulate General in Frankfurt, the Consulate General in Munich, or the Consular Agency in Bremen.


[Note: US citizens over 16 years old with an undamaged passport that was issued within the last 15 years are able to renew their US passports via mail. However, you have to pay the fee via check in USD or the credit card payment authorization form. Since I didn't have a checkbook and didn't want to fill out this form, I chose to do this process in person.]

I live near Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany. However, there are no U.S. citizen services offered in Hamburg, so I set an entire day aside to take the trip to Bremen, which is 2 hours away by train.

Before I ramble on about my trip to the U.S. Consulate in Bremen, however, let's start with facts of how to renew an American passport in Germany.

WHAT YOU NEED:

• Passport
• Renewal form (DS-81 or DS-11)
• Passport photo (5 cm x 5 cm)
• Application fee payment
• Return envelope for within Germany
• [If you need to change your name due to marriage] International marriage certificate

Note that if you are going to the the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, the Consulate General in Frankfurt, or the Consulate General in Munich, you will need an appointment. The Consular Agency in Bremen, only takes walk-ins (which is where I went).

For specific information, visit the U.S. Embassy website.

Now that the formalities are over with, here is my experience with renewing my passport at the U.S. consulate in Germany.

HOW I DID IT:

To give you a proper idea of what a trek it was for me to renew my U.S. passport in Germany, I let's move through my day by time (and please excuse my potato-quality pictures - I don't have a very nice phone).

8:06
To get to Bremen for free with my student ID (all regional transportation in Lower Saxony is free with my German student ID), I would have to take two trains. To make my first train at 8:32, I got on a bus from my apartment at 8:06.

8:20
I arrived at the train station around 8:20 and walked to the platform. Less than five minutes later, I hear an announcement over the speakers:
"The train you are waiting for is delayed 22 minutes, and since your layover was only 12 minutes, this means you are also going to miss your connecting train to Bremen. Your day is doomed."
Okay, maybe the announcement wasn't that dramatic, but it was not a good start to my day. The train to Bremen ran every hour, but it was January, and I wasn't very keen on waiting outside at a crappy train station for an 52 minutes. After a frantic search on my phone, I found a train that would decrease my layover to 30 minutes.

8:54
The train that was supposed to arrive at 8:32 arrives at 8:54, and I am annoyed.


9:45
I make it to my half-way destination and have to wait for a half hour for my train to Bremen. Still annoyed.

11:05
I get to Bremen 35 minutes later than originally planned, but it's okay. The consulate was open that day until 1:00 p.m. So, everything would be okay. Next step of the plan was to get on a tram that would take me to the Bremen airport (the U.S. consulate is across the street from the airport).


11:30
It takes another 20 minutes to actually get to the consulate from the train station. I was super nervous and also too scared to take a selfie before going in (especially since there was a camera on the doorbell).


Note that it is just a consular agency in Bremen, which means they just offer very limited services for U.S. citizens - basically just passport applications and renewals. When I walked into the office, which is on the fourth floor of the building, there were two armed German police officers waiting to greet me. They asked me why I was there, and I immediately felt like I was doing something illegal and totally stuttered, "I would like to renew my passport..." They then searched my bag (remarking that I had a lot of food with me, hahah), and told me to take a seat.

The U.S. Consular Agency in Bremen is literally just a waiting room with 20 chairs and a single woman sitting behind a bullet-proof glass window. The only other person there was sitting in front of the woman behind the window when I walked in, so I took my seat and waited for my turn.

11:45
When it's my turn, I tell the woman what I need and hand her all of my documents. I hadn't printed/filled out the renewal form ahead of time, so she printed one for me (which I found incredibly considerate after my horrible experiences with German bureaucracy lately). Since some other people were waiting, I filled out the form back in the waiting area while some other people took their turn at the window.


12:30
I finally leave the consulate around 12:30. My meeting was overall pretty successful, except that I made the dumb mistake of bringing what the Germans call a "biometric photo." This is smaller than the passport photos used in American passports, so she couldn't accept it. Luckily, she still took my other documents and agreed to hold on to them until I could mail in a new picture. Here's me looking pleased with the whole experience after leaving:


13:00
I make it back to Bremen's city center and walk around for a bit while I wait for the next train back to Hamburg. If you live somewhere between Bremen and one of the consulates (i.e. Frankfurt or Berlin), then I highly suggest choosing the Bremen consulate for renewing your license. You don't have to make an appointment, it is a (if you ignore the armed German police officers) relaxed environment, and the woman that works there is very sweet.

Bremen is also a beautiful city.



13:30
I'm back on the train with another two-hour trip in front of me. You can tell from the state of my hair that it had been a very long day.


Since my new passport will arrive by mail, the woman at the consulate also invalidated my old passport by punching a bunch of holes in it.

This was actually the first passport I ever had. It accompanied on my first trip outside of the U.S., my semester abroad, and my move to Germany. But with four two-page visas and dozens of stamps, it was getting quite full.


Now I just have to sit back, relax, and wait for my new passport to come in the mail. I was told it would take about three weeks.

Have you kept your expired passports?
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