Thursday, March 20, 2014

When You Find Yourself on top of a Mountain Wearing Skis

When you find yourself on top of a mountain wearing skis, it's helpful to know how to get down. Between March 9th and March 17th, I found myself regularly on top of a mountain.

I grew up skiing. There are pictures of 5 year old Molly stuffed into a snowsuit with baby skis on. I've been to ski school. I was a regular attendee on the Church Ski Trip. I was in the Alps one day two years ago. It wasn't until the first day of the 7th grade Skifreizeit trip, however, that I realized my own version of skiing could be better classified as scraping and skidding and trying to reach the bottom of the slope ASAP.

It felt like I happened to be on top of a mountain, and my task was getting down.

This was an embarrassing realization, because I had spent the past week getting annoyed at everyone (I really mean everyone) asking if I knew how to ski: "Aber, kannst du überhaupt skifahren?" "Fährst du überhaupt ski?". Maybe if their tone of voice didn't seem to imply that Americans in general can't ski or that we don't even have mountains, I wouldn't have been so over confident in my reply. After the fifteenth time, though, the question was hitting a nerve.

And now, day two of "This Alp Adventure" I was eating my words. Due to unfortunate circumstances that morning, I ended up skiing down the mountain (Talabfahrt) alone around lunch time. I literally face planted myself down the slope to the extent that my goggles needed to be cleaned and pockets emptied of snow. I reached the end of the Talabfahrt swearing I would never board a lift again and slumped off to lunch.

Enter David (kami)Katze(r): a man known for his skiing speed
During lunch, I came clean and told David I was checked out of skiing. Didn't like it, wasn't particularly good at it and didn't care about improving.
David, however, loves to ski.
David also has an A+ in confidence building.
He was determined to show me that I was capable of and could love skiing, too. I must have been somewhat fishing for this motivation because it wasn't hard for him to convince me to get back on the lift only half an hour after I had sworn of the entire Alps.

True Confession: I'm a ski school drop out. On more than one occasion as a kid, I have left my ski school class after they graduated from the easy bunny slopes to the more advanced greens and blues. I'm fearful of most things (like steep slopes) and being the worst at things and as a result, decide to give up on them (like skiing). It's an unfortunate pattern.

Thats why it was good to have David, someone who wouldn't give me the option of giving up.

First, he took away my ski poles, my life lines. The sticks of safety I used to scrap myself to a stop anytime I got too fast. Until they were gone, I hadn't realized how much I was relying on them. I joined in on the exercises with the other students, carefully winding themselves down the mountain in exaggerated bent knee positions and triangle turns. It occurred to me then, that turning was sort of an essential part of skiing that I don't remember being instructed in. Turns out, bending your knees is kind of key.

Next, David taught me how to carve by bending your knees and leaning extremely into the side you wish to turn, in such a way that your glide on the very edge of your ski and cut a smooth line into the snow without scraping up debris along the way. Carving these elegant S's on the gently sloping hill was one of my favorite moments of the trip. It was the beginning of feeling in control of my skiing. Looking back on those moments, I can't say that I hate skiing, because it really was fun.

Now, I don't mean to allude that after a little carving lesson I was hooked on skiing. That afternoon, skiing the Talabfahrt with David was a rather miserable experience. It was a beat the clock situation: 20 minutes to get down the mountain before the bus left at 4 and it was going to be over my dead body if the bus left late because of me. Never was the need to get down from a mountain more urgent. But even as I screamed "I hate skiing!" going over countless moguls, I knew I would rather have been miserable on the mountain, than cozy in the gondola because sometimes it pays to make yourself miserable.

On the bus ride home that night, I felt exhausted and annoyed, but also proud. I did something I didn't enjoy, or feel confident in, but completed it all the same. And such went the remainder of my ski week. I repetitively found myself in situations I either didn't want to be in or didn't think I could do, and did them anyway. Basically I'm a poster child for the pedagogical principles of Skifreizeit: learning about myself, tackling challenges, conquering fears, and bonding with my fellow skiers. On the bright side, I was in the Alps (see picture), so I wasn't really suffering.

I tried the best I could to like skiing and there were some great moments where I really had fun, but over all its not really the sport for me. Perhaps more importantly though, if I find myself on top of a mountain wearing skis, I can get myself (safely) down.

There are many more stories from the week to be told, but I'll just conclude with these pictures.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Good Day for a Good Mug

 Americans, how many mugs do you have in your cupboard? My family has about ten too many all of which regularly irk me as I put away dishes and try to cram them on the shelf. I have however missed them all this year. Germany's mug culture is a bit different. They tend to be smaller, and often taller and narrower. The satisfaction of wrapping my hands around an oversized, orb like ceramic mug this year has seldom been achieved.

Today, however, I bought a mug from Edeka. It's somewhere between a tea cup and a small bowl in size, with a very flat bottom. White ceramic with a limey-green inside. I've been staring at the mug for 7 months; literally ever time I go to Edeka. In all honesty, I don't like it that much. I didn't buy it sooner because I thought I'd find a prettier one. But, even in my beloved Müller (my favorite German store for all things practical and necessary), there wasn't one I liked. And at this point, my new mug makes me smile. It makes me laugh at the fact that I kind of hate it, but admired it at a distance for so many months. And now its mine.  :)

Last Friday I survived Elternsprechtag aka Parent-Teacher conferences. Five parents signed up to talk with me in the evening. After the mock conference videos we watched in the Schulseminar with the other Liv (referendar... aka student teachers), I was nervous what I could say if a parent was upset with me. I was worried they would question or criticize my methods of teaching. I didn't think my German would hold up. I planned on practicing all week and roping friends into doing role-play conferences with me. Instead, I worried all week, procrastinated practicing and ultimately, just sort of winged it, and it went totally fine. The best part of the experience was hearing parents say "contact me anytime with any problems." I felt like it opened a door that I had been afraid to knock on. I've heard other colleagues say, "well, in that case you can contact the parents" in reference to certain behavior. Up until last Friday, I felt such a huge distance between myself and the parents. Maybe because I wrote them a rather ... intense..? .. letter this October expressing my opinion with the class and never heard back from them. I almost felt like they were my enemies- just silently judging me, not saying anything and secretly supporting the misbehavior of their children.
GOOD thing I stopped playing mind games and got in touch with the reality that parents can actually be partners in "crime" in the whole education of the child game.

Speaking of parents, there is a parent-teacher group meeting tomorrow. Mostly after the French trip in a few weeks, but also about classroom dynamics. I don't really know what to say, but I think its important that I'm there.

Time management is still an issue. I realized this week that I am often afraid of running out of things to do, that I drag out assignments that could actually take 5 minutes into 20.
Teaching the 9th graders is consistently rewarding, because they appreciate my style of teaching and the fact that the entire lesson is in English (they have to pay ten cents for any German spoken). However, its difficult to get even 7 minds to focus on one task. I constantly worry that I am not pushing them enough and class is too easy. Since I am always feeling like I could be doing more, I can't enjoy the relaxed moments in class or plan fun things because they feel "unproductive".
(worrying is a theme in my life at the moment)
I just want them to be the best. I want them to be the stars of their English classes next year.
And yeah, I want them to credit me for it  :p
But mostly, I just want them to be good.

In unrelated news, the chocolate chip cookies have been perfected (win), but my pancakes are lacking pretty much everything that makes pancakes desirable. Anyone have any tips? Recipes ? ( Thanks!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Post Pizza (P)thoughts

I hope this post will commemorate the beginning of more frequent blogging. I'm really sorry for the inconsistency (read:disappearance) over the past many months. I like to write and I've gotten out of the habit. I'm going to try and force myself to write regularly so help remind myself why I like it so much.

My aunt always says that good things come from being bored- creative things, innovative things. For me, I think good things come from being lonely, or perhaps alone is a better word, since alone doesn't have the same melancholy intonation. Overall, I haven't felt very lonely in Rimbach, but I have spent a lot of time alone.

Its a stark change compared to overly-scheduled and -social Olaf life, but its been oddly refreshing. Although I consider myself a social person, and perhaps an extrovert, I really love the time when I do things by myself. I like being alone. I like the things I find to do while I am alone. I like the energy I find within myself to take control of my own happiness. And as I am further imbedded into the Rimbach/MLS community, I am learning that alone time is no longer being forced upon me as often. And I find myself missing that carefree attitude of "I can do whatever I want because if I don't do something, I won't be doing anything." And thats a very liberating feeling.

As the liberating feeling of aloneness has declined, the empowering feelings of belonging and acceptance has increased. I don't have as much time alone, because I have found more and more people here that I want to spend time with and get to know. I've found people I can relate to and know that they understand who I am, and that has made all the difference in my experience here. School life hasn't changed, but the way I approach it has (who saw that coming?...). I've accepted more of the German school culture for what it is and stopped fighting students as much for talking in class. I've accepted that I will make mistakes and that doesn't mean I'm a bad person (although I need to be reminded to forgive myself more often). I feel more confident in my ability to be a teacher and confidence to make a decision on my own.

I think the biggest frustrations currently are: time management (knowing how long to spend on each part of the lesson), motivating lazy students (#ephase) and controlling disobedient students (eighth graders).

Today, Monday, I spent the first two hours of the day trying to make 15 and 16 year olds talk to me. In the third hour, I had a very nice time with my 9th graders, but should we have discussed the h/w in 10 minutes instead of 25? Am I creating a relaxed classroom environment, or an unproductive one? In the fourth hour I tried in vain to pull together a last minute lesson plan on the Superbowl to sugar coat the fact that I was going to teacher Gerunds for the 4th day in a row to my 8th graders. In the Pause, I got laughed at by a handful of 7th grade boys during Aufsicht. In the fifth hour, I lost my patience within the first five minutes of class and in the last five, gave a completely pointless punishment pop quiz on vocab that students "should have learned" over the weekend. I left school feeling dumb and ineffective today.

After school, I took the Katzer family up on their never ending, open invitation to stop by whenever and joined them for lunch. I love being at their house and I always leave feeling happy. With four daughters under the age of 13 running around, its always a good dose of family time.

I indulged in a pizza delivery this evening for the first time and watched this weeks SNL with an IPA a bought in Berlin that I realized, after drinking half, had expired. So, mostly a win of an evening. And now I'm writing this post. And wondering if I am going to lesson plan before falling asleep......

Anyway, I feel this nagging obsession to feel like I'm telling the whole story on this blog, and it somehow never feels like it even captures the essence of why I love my life here. My mission for the next month is to capture those moments in writing.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Who Owns a Language?

In Intro to Cultural Anthropology freshmen year, Tom Williamson asked us if its possible to ever really be fluent in a language. I dismissed his question immediately. Ja, duh. I'm fluent in English. Case in point. Then he went on to say that he is certainly not fluent in Physics. Or anything related to football culture. I had to agree, neither was I, but how well do you have to know a language to be considered fluent? Although frustrated at the time with Tom's question, his conversation helped prepare me for learning German abroad. I understand that fluency isn't a constant, its fluid. Fluid enough in a language to be able to adapt to never before discovered vocabulary or grammar structures.

I've never been one for memorizing grammar rules. I liked memorizing vocabulary, but that was mostly in comparison to learning grammar. My solution to mastering German has been repetitively living in the country. Its much easier to try and pick up on a language as a baby would than sitting with a textbook.

They say living in a country is the best way to learn, but there is a flaw in that logic when 85% of the country (ballpark figure) is "fluent" in English. And 99% of that 85% REALLY love speaking English. Its a rare occasion I meet someone new and they learn I'm American and they don't try and say something in, if not switch the entire conversation into, English. Or worse, they very sweetly and in a generous voice let me know that they speak English and we can just speak in English (because thats probably easier, right?).

Am I exaggerating? Perhaps a bit.

However, I honestly feel panic-y sometimes when talking with other people I know speak English because I'm just waiting for the moment when they revert back to English. Or the moment they'll lose patience with my jumbly opinion and ask me to repeat it in English. Or I won't understand what they've said, and instead of repeating it a different way in German, they'll say it in English. I feel physically distressed even writing this. I know the don't mean to insult my intelligence, but thats how it feels. They don't realize what its like trying to learn another language when everyone else already speaks yours.

How many times have you heard people say, "if you want to learn a language, you need to live there; you need to immerse yourself"? This is such a commonly understood fact, yet I have to fight for my right to speak German. That's how I feel. I have to fight my own laziness for I know I could be well understood in English and I have to fight the determined will of the German nation to practice and perfect their English.

I don't live in a host family. When I'm at home, I'm in my own English brain. Then I'm teaching English in class. Or lesson planning. 50% of my day is going to be, without much choice, in English.
Which means that any conversation in German during the day is highly valued and highly appreciated.

I know I can be unjustifiably sassy about this topic. Probably because I never confront people about it and just let it boil.

Because, what right do I have to say what language we should speak? How is that wholly my choice? A conversation, a relationship, is more than one person. Because at this point, I really feel like Germans own the English language (what does "own" even mean? ... ) Americans don't own English and if the British did, they certainly don't now. English- the global language. Its not American English- the global language, or BE for that matter. Germans have their own way of using the English language that is different than how I would (not wrong, just different). English is fluid, too.

So do I have the right to say I only want to be spoken to in German?

Friday, January 10, 2014

That Time I Thought a Lot and Wrote Nothing

I'm embarrassed. I haven't written in months. Much has happened and I partially regret not documenting it at the time. I love patterns and consistency, and I broke my blogging pattern. I was angry and frustrated at times, and afraid I'd write something that I would later regret, so I didn't write anything at all.

October brought letters to 8th grade parents, the much awaited conclusion of a NYC travel project, and a wonderful 2 week vacation full of old friends and swiss alps.
November brought strong emotions: frustration, indignation, disrespect and immaturity; but also respect and appreciation. It brought new relationships, mentors, friends. It brought kale, and lots of it. It brought a week long trip to Berlin and a holiday concert in a castle. It brought acceptance. It brought grammar lessons. It brought honest conversations. It brought resilience.
December brought a little bit of snow, soup recipes and reassuring words. It brought a good friend with sound wisdom. It brought teacher conferences. It brought Haribo. It brought pranks. It brought time spent with families. It brought IPAs. It brought a visa. It brought a flight home to Massachusetts for the holidays.

I returned home (?) from Massachusetts this morning after a 3 week vacation in the US. My good friend Lena, bless her, picked me up so I didn't have to battle the Deutschebahn system with all my luggage. I couldn't have packed more. Granted, much of the weight was from gifts and consumable goods such as baking soda, chocolate chips, vanilla and powdered cheese (I saved weight by leaving the box of macaroni at home), I know come July I will be regretting the accumulation of belongings I've transported to Germany.

I guess there's a lot I want to say right now, but I don't know how yet.
I mainly wanted to reopen my blog up tonight so that the next time I have something I want to write about, I won't hesitate trying to summarize the last 3 months.

I'm trying to catch my breathe this weekend from the holidays and travel. I'm also trying to finish all my grading. I'm not dreading school, but I wish I was walking back with a real plan of how to change things. I've talked to enough people about 8th graders over the vacation that I know I can't keep troubling myself with how frustrating they can be. Its the age, and not all my fault. But I still need to figure out how to manage an effective classroom, and thats the knowledge I wish I was walking into school with on Monday.

The best part about coming back, was knowing that I haven't even reached the half way point yet. I have more time in Rimbach ahead of me, than I have lived previously. That, I find very uplifting.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Looking For Halloween Memories

Hey Everyone Who Reads This Blog,

Would you like to share a memory from Halloween with my 8th graders? I have a double period with my 8th on Halloween and this seems like a wonderful time to share this part of American childhood culture. I was envisioning getting interested family and friends (and blog readers) to write a 300-500 word memory, story, reflection type thing about how they celebrated Halloween (pre-college memories would probably be best, mind you). The 8th graders' English is quite good (better than most Americans' foreign language is at 8th grade), but maybe imagine writing for an American 5th grader. Have fun writing the memory, but don't get too fancy with the sentence structure :)

I'm imagining stories like... favorite costume, memories of making or going out to buy costumes, the year you discovered the best candy route, the year your sister stole all your snickers bars and left you smarties, how long you made your candy last, the year your parents told you that you were too old to trick or treat, the neighbor who yelled at your for going trick or treating when you were in high school (...), the scariest haunted house etc. Anything you want to share! It could also be a memory after childhood about handing out candy. I was envisioning mostly trick or treating stories, but if you have a pumpkin carving story or creating a haunted house story or any other tradition you want to share, be my guest!

Please feel free to share this request with anyone you know who might want to write something. It literally makes no difference to me who it is or how old they are. Basically, I am creating my own textbook for this day and since no one ever knows the people in textbooks, anyone willing to write something is more than welcome!

If you are comfortable sharing, I'd like to have your name, age, and city/state where you lived at the time of the story. I think it might be nice for the students to have some context of who wrote their story and also will show the possible similarities and differences between places in the US.

Please email me at :

I would love to have these all collected by Oct. 28th at the latest :)

Thank you in advance!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Foiled by Stickers

There is this cool promotion going on at Edeka (grocery store) right now. It seems like something that happens regularly or perhaps at multiple grocery stores, I don't know. They have these books you can buy (for a reasonable price of 1.99) to fill with stickers of all the different animals, reptiles, insects and plants in Germany. Every time you spend more than 10 euoros at Edeka, you get 4 stickers. Hanna Schmitt informed me of this little collectors game last week and I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical. However, I whimsically bought the book this weekend and have no regrets. Its great! Next to each picture, there is a detailed description of the animal and what region of Germany they come from, what the eat, their behavior etc. The book is divided by region, too, so I can specifically go to the section on the Odenwald if I wanted to. AND! it is a partnership with the WWF. AND! it comes with an extra "Abenteuerbuch"(adventure book) to prepare me for going out in the wilderness and also how to make drums and wind chimes out of old pieces of wood. Besides, as I justified to myself, I am learning about Germany, creating a hobby, and bonding with my neighbors all in the same gig.

Hanna and Caroline were happy to hear I joined their trend, and I was especially pleased when Caroline asked me through a grin if I had any doubles yet. Doubles? I asked. Yeah, like the same sticker twice. Ohhhh. So apparently this is a trading game too. School children stock pile the stickers they have more than one of, and than trade with their friends at school. Sadly, I am too much of a beginner to have much to offer, but all the same, Hanna offered to give me her remaining fox stickers to complete my series.

Today I went to buy dip making supplies (sidenote: I have never made nor watched anyone make dip before. It was a quasi stressful situation. I skyped my mom) at Edeka and thought I would buy some stickers, too. Afterall, I want to be a fair trader in the game of German Animal Sticker Collecting, but apparently you can't buy the packets. I had envisioned a sort of supplementary packet you could buy in the case that you didn't spend over ten euros. As I was trying to phrase my question to the cashier, I couldn't remember the name for sticker in German. Low and Behold, it is also "sticker", but I was fussing around trying to say something with "kleber" and not making much sense, meanwhile a line started forming, and the cashier says to me "Uh, English?". Then she explains to me, in English, that you cannot purchase stickers, you can only receive them complementary after a ten euro or more purchase. Then she proceeded to give me a packet of stickers anyway, even though I had only spent 7 euros.

So in conclusion, possibly the first time someone in Rimbach has stopped my German to speak English was over the word sticker and a silly collectors game. Egal.