The last week, my final thoughts

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My last week in Berlin was a great one. I spent most of my last week as the main teacher in the classroom; my host teacher planned the lessons, and I taught them. The kids were so great, and it was hard to say goodbye to them. My mom, who works in the school district, told me, "You never forget the first group of kids you teach," and for me that is this class of first and second graders in Berlin. During our goodbye, I gave them Reese's candies and a book for their classroom, which they loved, and they had all written me notes wishing me good luck in my studies and telling me they loved me. We had a lot of fun together, and hopefully I will have the opportunity to go back and visit their school someday soon!

My host teach was wonderful, and on my last day in Berlin she took me to Grunewald, where we had a massive German lunch, sat for almost two hours enjoying the sunshine and traditional cuisine, then walked through the small gardens on the outskirts of the city. She and her family applied for one of the gardens, and they're on the waiting list. They said it takes years to get one! I can understand why though, because they are a slice of secluded paradise in the middle of a huge city. Each garden has a small vacation house on the plot, with lots of room outside the house to grow plants and flowers. Each one is unique, but they are all beautiful, and the entire area of gardens is surrounded by woods. It was a really nice way to spend me last afternoon.

On my final night in the great city of Berlin, I went with Emma, another intern, to see my host father in a play. The venue was cool--in an old bath house--and it was fun to observe my host dad in a different environment! The show was nice; I'm glad I got to see some of Berlin's performance art.

I really feel like I know Berlin after this one very fulfilling month, and I'm already planning my trip back! Both my host teacher and my host mom offered me a place to stay whenever I need it, and I know I will stay in touch with both of them for a very long time.

After leaving Berlin, I spent two days in Paris followed by three more days in Madrid. Those shorter trips were fun, but seeing other cities only made me appreciate Berlin more! Paris was colder, dirtier, and much more expensive than Berlin. It was nice to see the sites, but if I was to go back to Europe, it wouldn't be to Paris. Madrid was nice, and it is somewhere I would visit again, but it still falls underneath Berlin on my list of places to go. The weather was gorgeous--above 90 everyday, but not humid--and the people were sweet. There was also much less tourism in Madrid than in Paris; I didn't see any big tour buses, and it seemed like I was a part of a real Spanish culture, surrounded by real people carrying out their real lives, as oppose to being one of thousands of tourists on vacation.

Madrid, Paris, and Berlin, all three were great, but looking back on it, I feel a special connection to Berlin that I never expected. It's strange to me that even though I understand everything, both spoken and written, in French and Spanish, and close to nothing of German, I still feel closer to Berlin than to Paris or Spain!

I didn't realize it while I was still there, but after I left Berlin I discovered how much German I actually did pick up! In Paris, my immediate responses to questions were in German! And even now, back in Minneapolis, I still find myself saying, "Genau," or "Vielen Dank."

This trip was definitely a success, more so than I ever could have imagined. I had a really great experience, and besides some trouble at airports, and one uncomfortable encounter with two drunk German boys, I can't think of how it could have been better!

Brief Observations

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My hair is getting longer and lightened by the sun. My skin is getting darker every day because I spend so much time outside. I'm going to come back to Minneapolis looking like a different person, and feeling like one too. I really feel like a part of Berlin, and I discover new little sweet spots in hidden in the city almost everyday. Today I found that on the 6th floor of KaDeWe there is an array of German meats, cheeses, chocolates, wines, and baked goods that would satisfy me for a lifetime.

Though I wish I had more time here, I really do think that because I knew I only had 4 weeks, I saw as much as possible in a short amount of time. I really took advantage of every hour here, which may not have been the case if I'd been here for a year, or even a semester. I've been truly blessed with a wonderful experience, and I'll be sad to leave, but I know I'll be back :)

Beginning the last week

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It amazes me everyday how wonderful this fellowship is, and how it is exactly right for me. It's weird to think that I applied, knowing this was something I desperately wanted to do, even though I do not speak German and I don't plan on teaching. I have, however, found so many fantastic opportunities to take advantage of, and I have learned so much! I want more time here, and I want to bring my friends from home back and show them around, so that they can all see why I think Berlin is so great!

My long weekend was a full and exciting one. I spent Thursday with my host family and their friends who were visiting from Italy. We went to brunch at a beautiful café in the woods, then we took a boat tour through the city. The information and cites were all things I'd heard before, but it was still fascinating and beautiful. Afterwards my host family went home, but I stayed out and walked around the city for hours, just exploring. Berlin doesn't feel so big anymore. The first week or so, I went many places and always took a train, so I never saw anything except my destination. Now I've been walking everywhere, connecting places I've been, and seeing all of the city; I really feel like I know Berlin, and I definitely am not ready to leave at the end of this week.

The rest of my weekend consisted of intense heat, a few scoops of sorbet, lots of walking and exploring, a museum of a workshop for blind Jews during WWII, reading an entire book (my new favorite) in one day, getting a suntan, eating good food, browsing through markets, babysitting my little host brothers, and seeing a Russian Circus! All in all, a pretty great four days :)

Sadly, things are winding down. My kids at school have realized that I'm leaving soon. Today one little boy told me, "Hannah, I wish you could stay here forever!" And at that moment, I would have given up going back to Minneapolis and moved to Berlin to hang out with my 1st and 2nd graders. They are really a great group, and I'll miss them. My host brothers are also a lot of fun; we play lots of games together, and they laugh at my attempts to speak German. They've taught me a lot, and I don't think I could've asked for a better host family! My host mother works at the American embassy, and she took me to see her workplace on Friday.

This week I'll be teaching classes at school. Tomorrow I'll be in charge all morning, and I have a few lessons planned for Wednesday and Friday as well. After this month in a classroom, I have realized that I would love teaching, though I still don't think it's what I want to do with my future. I'd love to go abroad for a year or two to teach, but my interests lie more in foreign languages and linguistic research.

I want to make the most of my limited time here, so hopefully I will have lots more to tell before I leave this weekend!

Something new everyday

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It always amazes me how much I learn everyday. From cutting avocados and eating figs whole, to German sentence structure and Berlin's history, I have learned so many new things in such a short amount of time, yet I feel like I have not even begun to scratch the surface of what Berlin has to offer.

This past Saturday I visited Potsdam's Schloss Sanssouci with my host mom and her two little boys. In order to keep the little one's happy, we took a horse and buggy ride around the park, and I was amazed to find so many palaces in one small area! Potsdam has a completely different feel than Berlin, though I love them both! After walking around the park complex, we spent an hour or so just wandering through the streets of the town, which was quaint, quiet, and adorable! I would definitely go back to spend another day there.

Getting home from Potsdam was quite an adventure due to the nuclear power protests going on in the streets outside our apartment. The police were blocking off the road to any cars, and we were not allowed in to the area we live, so with some convincing from my host mom, and after she showed her US embassy ID, we finally got through. I then set out with two other interns and a Berlin student for a night of science at Berlin universities: Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften. From 6PM til 1AM, Berlin universities were open to the public in order to exhibit their student's work. We saw tango dancers, a Korean cultural celebration, a test of how music influences emotions, and lots of physics demonstrations!

Sunday I took a free walking tour suggested to me by a German friend, and it was great! I would highly recommend it to anyone, including Berliners. Starting at the Brandenburg Gate, we walked all through the center of Berlin, and after three and a half hours, we ended our tour at Museum Island. I learned so much, and the tour guide was great. There were about 20 people in our group, and there were 4 English-speaking tours that left at the same time. This same tour happens twice a day, every day, so if anyone ever has a free day in Berlin, definitely check it out!

After the tour on Sunday, I heard about an arts flea market at Schloss Charlottenburg, so I met some of the other interns there to check it out. It was great! In a beautiful location, we spent a couple hours meandering through rows and rows of little tents, each one selling its own unique art. There were jewelry, clothing, painting, musical instrument, toy, and hat stands, not to mention lots of food! I ended up buying a beautiful wool hat for myself, and a loaf of fresh bread to take home to my host family. I wish the US had more markets like that!

My host teacher was back at school on Monday after being gone last week to have her wisdom teeth taken out. She was very pleased to find out that we'd finished the material she left us to cover, and that I'd gotten lots of experience actually teaching the class! At lunch time on Mondays she offers extra help for students who need it, and since they'd improved so much this year, we took them to get ice cream at a fantastic ice cream shop next to the school! They loved it, and so did we :)

Monday night I had one of my most enlightening experiences so far in Berlin; I had dinner with four German university students and with three of the other Minnesotan interns. We all met at the apartment of our new friend, Maja, and the 8 of us made a beautiful dinner and ate while discussing cultural and language differences between the Minneapolis and Berlin. I learned a lot about relationships (between friends, parents and children, and boyfriends/girlfriends), food, education, music, and politics. Oh, and also about Germany's regional accents and lexical differences. These are the things I might otherwise not have learned while in Berlin, but they are also the things that fascinate me the most.

After a really great morning at school yesterday, my host teacher insisted I take the rest of the day off. Since it was so incredibly hot outside, I got some sorbet, put on a sundress, and walked through Tiergarten enjoying sun and nice weather! Just as I started to overheat, I got a call from another intern, Savanah, asking if I had plans for the day. We ended up exploring Hackescher Markt, cute shops and cafés connected by a series of beautiful courtyards. It was unlike any shopping center I've ever seen! When it started to rain, we made our way home, and I had a wonderful dinner with my host family, whom I love.

This morning I had the fantastic opportunity of visiting a completely different school from the one where I am teaching. After three buses and a train, I arrived at a gymnasium in Pankow, where I spoke for and hour and a half with an 8th grade class. I talked about my background and why I'm in Berlin, then I told them about being a high school student in the US. They had lots of questions to ask, and I was amazed by the ones they chose. We talked about differences in having a job while studying, owning a car, the drinking age, public transportation, career decisions, applying for a university, cost of education, and being involved in extra-curricular activities. Something I found interesting is that the girls wanted to know about pop-culture: celebrities, tv shows, and discos. The boys, on the other hand, were more interested in political topics. I was asked about Obama, America's reaction to Osama bin Laden's death, nuclear power, what America is doing to save the environment, and my opinions of Berlin. I also was asked whether young people are actually rude to adults, and also if most Americans eat lots of fast food. These clearly came from stereotypes that the students had heard, and I was happy to clear things up for them!

I headed back to my first and second graders for the afternoon, and my host teacher invited me out to dinner with her family for tonight. There is a long weekend due to Ascension Day, so I will have to find something extra exciting to do!

So much to see, so little time

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I can't believe the fellowship is half way done, and that in two weeks I will already be leaving Berlin! I love it here. There is so much to say, I don't know where to start! How about the weather? It has been 75 degrees and sunny almost everyday, with a few minutes of rain here and there. It's just exactly the right temperature.

At school this week my host teacher was gone for four days because she had her wisdom teeth out on Tuesday. Because she didn't know whether or not we'd get an English-speaking substitute, she explained the lesson plan to me in detail, and I ended up teaching for most of the rest of the week! Because I already had a connection to the kids and their current projects, I was able to explain things to the substitute, who was happy to turn the reigns over to me. I gave a spelling test, taught verbs, led an art project, and sang songs with the kids! They are so much fun, I'm really going to miss them when this is over.

Something I've noticed about the general culture of Berlin is that it's much more open than in the US. I live right on Tiergarten, the big park in the middle of the city, so I walk through it often. On the very warm days, I've seen families having picnics, but I've also seen fields of naked men sunbathing. The first time I saw this, I was shocked, but now it has become normal for me to see public nudity in the city. There is also a lot more smoking and drinking in public and in family situations. Mothers push a stroller with one arm, a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other. Young boys walk around with open beer starting in the early afternoon. These are cultural differences that I expected, but which still surprised me.

My host family has been wonderful! They feed me well, and I am going to come back from this trip expecting five full meals a day always with dessert! Unfortunately, being a college student doesn't support that kind of budget, so I will have to readjust to a diet of apples, coffee, and rice.

My host mother has connected me with lots of great people, including an American au pair who I met on Tuesday night. He took me to an English-speaking ex-pat hangout where I met some really interesting characters. There was a French girl who spoke broken English but was super fun to talk to, an English man who has done lots of modeling, and an Australian man trying to find a teaching job. The most exciting part for me was meeting a Tunisian guy named Sami who speaks 5 languages, four of them the same as four of the five that I speak! We spent hours talking in Spanish, English, French, and Arabic. I love that I can come to a country where I do not speak the native language, but I still get to speak the languages that I know! What a globalizing world we live in.

In a similar situation, I met a Portuguese man on Wednesday night who was amazed to find a Portuguese-speaking American. This was at a cute local restaurant/jazz club where we celebrated the birthday of one of the Minnesota Goes to Berlin fellows. I'm glad the fellows find the time to see each other and see this amazing city together.

Yesterday I met a German university student, my tandem partner, at the Frei Universität. His name is Fnan an he is Eritrean. He also speaks quite a few languages, and he showed me around the school. We went to two of his classes, one of which was a huge lecture with hundreds students aspiring to be teachers. I was amazed by the disrespect. There was so much talking in the room that I couldn't hear the professor, but she continued to teach as if people were listening. Fnan told me this is normal. The second class we went to was fascinating to me. It was an German/English interpreting class of only ten students. We spent the hour translating German sentences to English and making our best judgements about which was the best way to phrase the translations. The interesting part was the difference in judgement. The professor was Irish, most of the students have learned British English, and I of course was basing my judgements on American English. Where I found the phrase 'a highly discussed topic,' to be perfectly acceptable, the Irish prof did not; however, in her mind 'since 30 years,' was fine, where to me that is incorrect. In another sentence she liked 'the Britains,' where I thought 'the British' made much more sense. I wish I would have written down more of these examples, because it is linguistically very intriguing.

After class I ate lunch in the mensa with Fnan's friends, and I wish I had their contact information so that I could see them again! They were a lot of fun, and told me a lot about the school and university systems here. One of them is ethnically Turkish but has lived in Germany his whole life. He will be the first one in his entire neighborhood to get a degree and find a real job--he wants to be a teacher :)

Yesterday I met the other fellows and Heidrun Suhr at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, an old train station which now exhibits modern art. The exhibits were unlike anything I've ever seen! My very artsy roommates would have loved it and spent hours analyzing the brilliance of it, but my brain must work in a very different way, because to me it was just crazy. There was a cool room full of massive blocks of fat. That was the art. Another room had logs arranged around the room in an artistic way, while yet another was full of land art--the use of nature to be artistic. There were circles of stone and rectangles of wood lying on the floor. One of my favorites was a room of old tvs that flashed images of people's painted faces in front of chalkboard drawings of squiggles. I would not at all be able to tell you what it means, or any significance of it, but it was the exhibit that I was the most fun for me to look at. Sometimes I wish I was more artistic...

After the museum, we walked around Mitte and into a few tiny galleries that I would never be able to find again. Heidrun really knows her way around the inside and out of this city! One of my favorite things to see was at the Charité. There was a room of x-rays of sculptures. Originally taken to examine what was needed to upkeep the statues, the x-rays were more beautiful to me than the original stone pieces.

Our walk through the city ended at Claerchen's Balhaus, an old dance floor turned into a restaurant, where we ate a nice dinner outside. Some of the tandem partners met us there and joined us for dinner, and they were all really great. I think we are going to meet up with them again!

Today I left school around 11:15 in order to be at the radio station at noon. The station was the headquarters of Radijojo, a non-profit bilingual children's radio initiative with a lot to offer. The founder gave us lots of information, and it was all incredibly inspiring; however, there were 15 of us in a tiny room with no air conditioning for two and a half hours. By the time we left, I felt light-headed, though inspired. I am going to tell some of my friends about the radio station, because the website would be a great resource for language teachers! I think the school where I am teaching now would love it too.

On my way home today I stopped for lunch at a Turkish flea market and ordered a falafel sandwich in German! I felt very accomplished, because even a few days ago I would not have been able to understand the vendor, let alone talk to him! Interestingly, even though I've eaten schnitzel, kartoffelpuffer mit apfelmus, und knödel since being here, sitting outside of a flea market with my Turkish falafel felt like the most authentic German food experience I've had.

I'm looking forward to a wonderful, relaxing weekend with my host family, and I'm sure I will have plenty of new stories to tell in a few days, but as for now, all I can say is that I love Berlin. I will definitely be back in the future.

The first week

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Wow, this week has been so full I don't even know where to start! I've been to two theatre events, two museums, lots of parks, a conference, the Reichstag, Brandenburger Tör, and of course school. My host family is wonderful! There two little boys are teaching me German, and they feed me very well! They live right in the middle of the city on a huge park--Tiergarten. My host teacher is also great. She is British, has three children, and has lived in Berlin for about thirteen years. My first day at school she took me out for a German meal: Asparagus and schnitzel, and of course a German beer. It was the first beer I've ever had, and it was delicious :)

My experiences at the school have been great. It's a very international school where most of the children are of incredibly mobile diplomat families. It is bilingual and part of the flex program, so my classroom contains both first and second graders of German and English mother tongues, though many of the students also speak a third language: Arabic, Russian, Chinese, etc. So far I have helped in all kinds of ways. I have tutored in math, read books in English, helped the English mother tongue students write in English, I've helped them plant seeds, paint pictures, and put together a picture board for visiting parents to see. The kids are great, and I already feel that I have a connection with them! It helps that the teacher is so accommodating. She doesn't give me any specific direction, but let's me do as much or as little as I want, so I can really take advantage of that and get in a lot of teaching experience! She also invited me out with her family today. We visited a pottery market on a small farm in the southwest part of the city. We drank fruit wine and ate potato pancakes with applesauce, listened to live music, and saw sheep being shorn. The pottery was nice to look at as well, but it was just an all around German-feeling event.

Friday and Saturday I took part in a seminar for German teachers of English. I spoke to them for about an hour or so about the American higher education system, and I also visited the Reichstag, the Kennedy Museum, and the Allies Museum with them. An American man named Chandler walked with us down Unter dem Linden and told us all about the historic buildings there, which may have been my favorite part of the two day experience. The teachers were all great, and I have my host mom to thank for putting me in touch with this group.

As for transportation, I feel that I've mastered the buses and trains. Even after the first day of getting around on my own, I was pretty comfortable with it. It is definitely the most efficient public transportation system I've ever encountered. Sometimes I walk even though I am such a fan of the trains, but I get a better idea of city life and where everything is when I walk.

The weather has been great too: 70s everyday, occasional rain, and lots of sun! I could live all year like this :)

All in all, it's been a great first week, and I wish I had more time here, because I already know that I'm not going to get to do everything I'd like! It's a huge city with so much to see and do, and I love almost everything about it!

Here at last!

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After finals and a few flight mishaps, I have finally made it to Berlin! I am lucky enough to live in Mitte, right on Tiergarten park near the wall that used to divide East from West Berlin. Doing my best to get used to a Berlin sleep schedule, I am horribly tired but refuse to nap. I have spent my time here so far unpacking and walking. In my opinion, walking is the best way to get to know a city!

First Thoughts

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My previous adventures--to India, to the European countries on the Med, and to Egypt--were all amazing, life-changing, and completely distinct from each other. During my five weeks in Berlin, I will be teaching English in an elementary school, exploring the city, and preparing a research paper; I expect this trip to be totally unique.

Though I study five languages and I am pursuing a linguistics major, I cannot speak more than three sentences in German. I look forward to this challenge in anticipation! I have only ever learned a language in a classroom setting, and my goal in this adventure is to come away with a solid base knowledge of the language. Of course I'm looking forward to hanging out with the kids as well :)

I'd like to thank the Check Point Charlie Foundation and the Center for German & European Studies for this incredible opportunity :)