An Okay Year of Your Life

It’s nearly October half term, and you know what that means? It means it’s about the time that Year Abroad starts getting hard. A reliable source* told me this while I was on my year abroad, and to be honest, based on my experience, it’s true.

Of course, it depends on your definition of hard. Beginning a year abroad is very difficult. Suddenly you’re trying to navigate things that are scary, if usually straight forward, in a foreign language. I never expected buying a sim card to be as difficult as it was. An hour it took me. All because I didn’t know the word for account in German. (It’s Guthaben, in case you were wondering).

But October half term is around the time you’re starting to get settled. When everything that was once new and terrifying, is now commonplace (though sometimes still terrifying).  For me, it was when the sheer enormity of living abroad for nine months was starting to get to me, and Maddie – fabulous person that she is- came to visit me.

Unfortunately, if year abroad blues are setting in for you, I have neither time nor money to come and visit all of you. So I have written a list. It’s a list of all the things they should really tell you before a year abroad.

1.     It does not have to be the best year of your life.

I can’t stress this enough. Your year abroad does not need to be the best year of your life.

I know that your uni probably wheeled out excitable fourth years to tell you how much they enjoyed their time abroad and they want to go back as soon as they graduate. That’s because they have to make you excited enough so that you actually go, rather than en masse mutiny.

Your year abroad might be the best year or your life, and if it is, that’s awesome. But for those feeling like the year abroad isn’t really looking like the best thing ever now that it’s started, that’s okay.

I am here to tell you as many times as you need that your year abroad is just another year. It might be great, it might be awful. Most likely, it’ll be alright with some ups and downs. And that is completely fine.

2.     Ignore people’s blogs.

I know it seems weird that I should say that seeing as this blog began as a year abroad blog, but seriously. If you have year abroad blues, don’t feel obligated to keep up with everyone’s “look at how great this year is” posts.

As someone who runs a blog, I can tell you that no-one’s life is as good as it looks online. No-one’s. Unless someone has a depressingly honest online presence, most people will only put good or good slanted things online. So don’t be fooled by that thousandth “I’m having so much fun – you wouldn’t even believe it” post. They’ve struggled with the language and culture shock too.

3.     You do not know enough vocab.

No matter how good at the language of your new country you are, there will always be something to trip you up. For me, bin bags was a particularly prevalent piece of vocab that to this day I still do not know in German.

Whether you realise this on your first day or five weeks in, it’s okay. Take a deep breath. You’re in the country to learn the language after all. If you knew it already, you wouldn’t need a year abroad.

4.     FOMO is a real thing.

FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out, is unfortunately an actual thing. Between friends at home doing fun things and everyone on their year abroad putting only the good bits online, it’s easy to feel like you’re not making the most of your year abroad.

My only advice is try not to worry too much. It’s not particularly useful advice but I don’t really know what else to say. I suffered from FOMO on my year abroad. You just kind of have to get on with it.

5.     Bits of it’ll be great

No matter how your year goes, whether or not it’s the best year of your life, there will some bits that are great. It’s just how life works. Whether it’s the friends you make, or a trip you take, or even just being able to order McDonalds and not have your nationality identified, something will be good.

I hope that if you’re on a year abroad you are having a good time, whether or not it’s the Best Year of Your Life. My Year Abroad was good (you can read all about it in reverse order here), but it wasn’t the best year of my life. And I survived. You’ll be fine.

I also hope that any year abroad blues disappear soon. If you want to talk about how awful/great/mediocre your year abroad is, please feel free. You can leave a comment below, or tweet me. You can even email me katsblogofstuff@gmail.com. Hope you’re all okay out there.


Things I wish I’d known: Year Abroad edition

Even as my time at university comes to an end, I still have friends who have yet to reach their final years. And some of those people have year abroads to go on (Hi Helen). Leading up to a year abroad is scary, because moving to a foreign country will always be at least a little terrifying, and so I thought I’d share some things I wish I’d known before my year abroad.

1. Your language skills need work.

Moving to Germany showed me how lacking my language skills could be. Most notably in the first week I was in Ilmenau, trying to buy a sim card became a huge production because I didn’t know the word for account and the woman at the shop didn’t speak any English.

But it’s okay. You’re not meant to be great at your language yet. That’s why you’re doing a year abroad. You’ll muddle through, with half learnt words and charades and a lack of every day vocab, and a few weeks/a month/two months in you’ll realise you can actually speak the language, and have been for a while. It’s all going to be okay.

2. You’ll be exhausted.

Having to speak your second language all the time is really tiring. Between trying to remember vocab and grammar and then pronunciation and then understanding replies, you’re probably going to be knackered for a while. Don’t worry. Sleep and it’ll be fine.

3. Things take time.

Getting used to the new country, making friends, not being bone tired at the end of every day – everything’ll happen. But it takes time. Which I think is the most parent-y thing I’ve ever said. But it’s true.

4. Cultures are different.

I didn’t think Germany would be that different to home. It’s a western European country after all, only separated from Britain by France and the English Channel. And while in broad strokes it wasn’t that different, it was the details that tripped me up. I found myself missing Sunday opening times for shops, for crying out loud. Be prepared for ridiculous things to be different.

5. It doesn’t have to be the best year of your life.

My university, like many other universities I assume, get enthusiastic fourth years to talk to second years about their year abroad, and the phrase “It was the best year of my life” gets bandied around like there’s no tomorrow.

Your year abroad does not have to be the best year of your life. If it is, that’s awesome – I’m really happy for you. But if it’s not, that’s legitimate too. You don’t have to come back for your final year and be that fourth year who talks about their year abroad for half an hour.

I feel like maybe my advice has painted a bleaker image of a year abroad than I intended to. They’re great, I really enjoyed mine. But sometimes I think all the “it’s the best year of your life” marketing makes people forget that it’s still real life. And nothing is ever perfect all the time.

If you’re heading off on a year abroad, I hope you have an amazing time, whether or not it’s the best year ever. If you want to read about my misadventures in the middle of Germany, they’re all Year Abroad posts in reverse order. And if you have anything you wish you’d known before your year abroad or questions, or you just want to say ‘hi, I go to Spain in September and I’m scared. Will everything be okay’, leave a comment. And yes, everything will be okay.


Welcome to the Future

Happy New Year! If you celebrate by the Gregorian Calendar, obvs. 2015 is the year of hoverboards and Jaws 19 and ridiculous fashion, if Back to the Future 2 can be believed. Which surely it can be, as Marty McFly would never lie to us.

I celebrated the New Year with friends and many games of Articulate, which has thus far set the tone for my 2015. Unfortunately, tomorrow means I have to return to essays because university is still a thing and deadlines are looming.

But before that, I figured I might take a look back at 2014. Because what else are you meant to do in your first blog post of the new year? Happily, I have a whole blog of stuff to help me remember what happened in 2014.

I guess the most important thing about 2014 is that for six months of it I was living and working in Germany. Which was an interesting introduction to the real world, but hey, it’s not so bad. Makes me look forward to when I graduate.

Travelling wise I did more than I’ve ever done before. Budapest, Warsaw, Belgium. A dozen or so places in Germany, not to mention London and Norwich over summer. You can find my opinions on the European places on this blog if you have a search. London and Norwich missed out on a blog post. Whoops.

I had my first real job and then started back at university. Fourth year sucks. Well, the amount of work sucks. Some of modules are actually pretty great, and I love my house (except for the mould and the washing up). I picked up swing dance again, which is ridiculous amounts of fun, and my appreciation of Quidditch, though changed, still exists because, damn IQA players go hard.

The highlight of the year has to be seeing Eddie Izzard in Berlin. (See here for more details) But that doesn’t diminish how great other parts were, like exploring Shoreditch with my best friends and my 21st birthday.

2014 was a very busy year, and it was mostly good, which I feel is the most that can be expected from a whole 365 days. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because I’ll never keep them, but I do have hopes for the rest of 2015. They’re mostly fairly grown up things, like I hope I graduate, I hope I get a job, I hope I find somewhere to live. It’s all boring but important things.

So after starting this year with a fairly sedate blog post, I hope your 2014 was mostly good and that your 2015 is as well.


Great European adventure: Part Három & Vier – Budapest and Brussels

At the end of the last post about the Great European Adventure, me and Beth were still in Poland. To get Budapest, which is in Hungary for you geography scholars, we had to get to the airport. There’s a train to the airport, so we packed up our stuff and made it to the railway station in plenty of time. And that’s when the fun started.

When we got to the railway station, we had no idea what train we needed to get other than the fact it went to the airport. So we duly went to the ticket office to ask for tickets to the airport. Turned out the woman working the desk was the first person we talked to in Warsaw who didn’t speak any English. She directed us, or so we thought, to a taxi help centre across the main concourse of the station. We hurry over, and ask the lovely people there if they could help us. They did speak English, and told us to go to the newsagents in the middle of the railway station. At this point, me and Beth were pretty sure something had got lost in translation, but we went across and lo and behold, to buy tickets to get to the airport you have to go to the newsagents. Perfect sense when there’s at least a dozen ticket desks… But the woman behind the counter was very lovely and helpful, even when I confused her. So yes, we eventually managed to get tickets and get on to the train and get to the airport and yes. The Polish section of the Great European Adventure had been successfully completed – onto Budapest!


The Hungarian parliament, side on.

When we got to Budapest, we picked up our Budapest cards. The Budapest card, for a mere 30 ish  euros, let us use all public transport free for 72 hours, as well as get us into some of the museums and Baths for free/reduced rate. Basically, it was great. Definitely worth it. After we’d picked up our magic cards, we headed towards our hostel. We were staying at the Bebop Apartments and after thoroughly confusing the guy who checked us in because he couldn’t decide if me and Beth were a couple, we were in Budapest, in a beautiful hostel, which had the most ridiculous bunk beds.


Beth proving she could stand up on the top of the upper bunkbed and not hit her head.

With the rest of our day, we decided to head into the city centre, because any time you’re not exploring the new city you’re in is just wasted, right? And we were in Budapest centre for about, ooh, twenty minutes and decided we didn’t ever want to leave.


St Stephens, looking beautiful in the setting sun

We spent a long while wandering round the outside of St Stephens Basilica, which was beautiful and then we ended up at the Danube, listening to a band, which included a washboard, play jazz. As the sun started to set. It was just…pure magic. I swear there were sparkles in the air.


Music in the streets is the best.

We had a wander along the chain bridge, marvelled at the parliament building, and just generally soaked up the city. We ended up at a place called Lizt Square for food, which is an area that has roughly a bazillion and one restaurants. It’s right next to a hexagonal traffic light system. I know this, because we walked all round it until we found where we were looking for.


Me on the chain bridge. We did not cross it as many times as me and Maddie crossed the Charles Bridge in Prague.

The second day, the first thing we did was head for the Baths. Budapest is famous for its baths. My last experience of public baths was in Japan and that was segregated by gender and involved a lot of nudity. Budapest baths, on the other hand, are non segregated and swimming costumes are required.  We went to the Lukacs Baths which we got into free thanks to our Budapest cards. Once inside, we headed straight for the thermal baths. If there’s a special order to which pools you go in, we didn’t crack it. It was really chill, just hanging out. There were a lot of OAPs there, but we weren’t the only young people. It was awesome.


Anywhere that signposts wifi is my kind of place.

Leaving was a wrench, but when you’ve basically become a prune, what’re you going to do? We headed back to the hostel to dump our stuff, before combing the streets to find somewhere to buy food. It took us longer than you would have thought, but we managed it, then headed to the Buda side of Budapest (we were staying in Pest). We hit up a park for a picnic and finally, when Beth persuaded me to move, we walked up to the castle.


Look at the pretties.

I am not the fittest of people. And I hate stairs. And I’m sure Beth will happily tell you just how long it took me to get up to the castle (Answer: far too long). But, it was worth it. Despite there being tons of roadworks going on within the castle complex, it was amazing. It looked like Hogwarts. And they had an icecream shop. And did I mention how beautiful it was?


See? Hogwarts.

That evening we ended up back at Lizt Square for food, because as I mentioned it has a billion restaurants. And after that we went to one of the coolest pubs I’ve ever been to.


Fairy lights, glitterballs and washing lines. An weirdly good mix.

Szimpla Kert is one of many ruin bars in Budapest. Essentially, it’s a pub in an abandoned warehouse. But it’s a warehouse strung with fairy lights, decorated with random furniture and junk. I mean, one of the seats was a bath.  It was a lot of fun hanging out there.


And I thought trees were meant to grow upwards.

On the third day we decided we were gonna get up at a time that allowed us to outside while it was relatively cool, because with the temperature pushing 40 degrees, we were finding it a little difficult to function by the time midday hit. That’s 40 Celsius for anyone who’s think 40F doesn’t sound warm at all. So we headed to Heroes Square, a place that had been described to us as the most beautiful place in Budapest.


Heroes Square is perfectly fine.

No offense to whoever thinks that but I disagree. I mean, it’s not ugly, but if I wanted monuments and pillars I’d go to Trafalgar Square. And when the rest of Budapest is so beautiful, why pick Heroes Square as the best?

We had a wander, but our main purpose for being there was the art museum at the side. But when we got there, all exhibitions were closed except for the one you had to pay for. So we turned tail and headed to the other side of the city in search of the contemporary art gallery.

I have to take a moment here, and if Beth’s reading this, she knows what I’m about to rant about. The guide to the city we had was in Hungarian and English. Which was super useful as we don’t speak Hungarian. And it labelled this Gallery as being in the “Whale” shopping centre. Which we couldn’t find. Wandering in the midday heat had been exactly what we’d been hoping to avoid. And there we were. Searching for this gallery. It turns out that the Shopping centre is the “Balna” shopping centre. Which was prominently displayed on the outside. Balna means whale. Whatever translator thought translating the name of a shopping centre was a good idea, was wrong. So very wrong. Grrr.


Two very happy, slightly sunburnt, friends.

But we had a lovely time in the air conditioned gallery and then we headed to the Kiraly Baths, which were exponentially fancier than the Lukacs baths the day before. Of course, they weren’t free, but it was definitely worth the whole five ish pounds. There were the standard different heated pools, including the main one that was under a dome with holes in the ceiling so that through the steam (and my steamed up glasses) it looked like stars. Beth made me go in the cold pool. Word to the wise: don’t go from a 40 ish degree pool to a 15/25 isg degree pool. Don’t do it. There was also a hot tub and a Jacuzzi and at least two saunas. It was so good.

After lounging at the Baths for hours, we went back to the hostel, ‘cause thanks to the temperature pushing 40 degrees, we both felt a bit weird. So we hung out at the hostel till I got cooler and Beth learnt to juggle. And then we headed out for food. We ended up eating right next to St Stephans basilica and it was a lovely way to end our time in Budapest.

Budapest was amazing. Beth described it as “A city men would go to war for”, and I feel like that’s fairly accurate. I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s been and didn’t love it. It was amazing, and I’d really recommend going if you get the chance. Because it’s just…magical. And you’re basically obliged to lounge in warm water for long amounts of time – what could be better?

The next day we were meant to be undertaking a 13 hour train journey from Budapest to Ilmenau, via Dresden and Erfurt. Unfortunately, while we were on a train for over 13 hours, it was massively delayed and the first train that should have taken us 9 hours to get to Dresden, in fact took 13+. We managed to get on a train to Leipzig but that was where we had to stop because there were no more trains until the morning.


By the time we’d been on the train for 8 hours, we put all of the seats down to make a giant bed.

It wasn’t so bad. We had a compartment to ourselves, and even though for this train journey it was a second class compartment, it was actually a first class, so it was super comfortable. Staying in Leipzig wasn’t exactly my idea of ideal, but we found a hotel and the lady on the front desk complimented my German and we had a chat about Ilmenau because her best friend lives there.


Always time for one last Spaghetti Eis.

The next day we made it back to Ilmenau and had a wander. Then my Dad turned up to drive us back to the UK. Have I mentioned that my Dad’s lovely? And we didn’t go straight back to England though. We had a day in Brussels.


On my last night there, I made it to the Robot Bar in Ilmenau.

One thing I would say about Brussels is that their tourist attractions all have mascots. Who insist you have photos taken with them. It was a little unnerving. We went to the Atominum which was pretty cool, even if me and Beth can’t say it’s name. At all. If you’re at school in Brussels, or I assume anywhere, you can have a sleepover in one of the balls. Me and Beth were pretty sad to find out we weren’t eligible.


The Atominuimiumium.

We also went to Mini Europe, which has mini representations of important landmarks of the members of the EU. That was pretty cool, especially when I got to see landmarks from the countries I’d been in the previous two weeks.


Mini Berlin! Complete with Berlin Wall…

The next day we walked to see the EU building, which is quite shiny. Unfortunately, we were a day early for the opening of the visitor’s centre, so we got in the car and finished the drive home. Which marked not only the end of the Great European Adventure but my Year Abroad as well. At the time I was too tired for that to really sink in. But now, writing this six months later, it seems so surreal to think that I lived in Germany for 9 months. It seems so long ago now! But that is a post for another time. Hope you enjoyed the Great European Adventure. I know I did.


We’re the coolest.


Great European Adventure: Part Dwa – Warsaw

So last time, I left it as I was headed to the railway station to go to Poland to meet Beth. And just so you know, this is Beth. She’s featured on this blog before, specifically in this post.


She gets excited about flamingos.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof is a huge railway station with at least four levels, so leaving Maddie to go and catch a train meant I left super early to make sure I didn’t miss my train. It meant I ended up being an hour and half earlier. Course, the aforementioned hugeness of Berlin Hauptbahnhof meant there were plenty of places to sit.

When I finally got on my train, the only people in my compartment were me and nice old polish man, who trusted me enough to keep an eye on his suitcase while he went down to the dining car to get breakfast. Yeah, this train was early enough that people hadn’t had breakfast before getting onto it. When we crossed the Polish border, our compartment filled up, and a mere six ish hours after getting on the train I was getting off a train onto Polish soil.


Starbucks was getting in on the welcome committee.

 The first challenge was to try and find Beth when neither of us had phone signal, but we managed and had quite a squealy reunion in quite a busy railway station in Warsaw. Our second challenge was figuring out how to use the metro system. After asking one of the “we’re here to help” people, we managed it, but it is all down to the woman who helped us, despite her limited English.

Getting out of the tube station the first thing we saw was  Marks & Spencers. Not so impressive. But then the second thing we saw was the Palac Kultury I Nauki or in English, Palace of Culture and Science.


It kind of looks like a rocket, don’t you think?

After nearly getting hit by a tram as we tried to cross a dual carriage way and a tram line at the same time, and discovering that I can’t use google maps, we ended up at the hostel, which was up too many stairs. We stayed at the Mish Mash Hostel and it was really nice, and the wifi there is the best wifi I have ever experienced. I have the best priorities.


All the cool graffiti. 

So we spent our first afternoon wandering around Warsaw, and it’s a really attractive city. I mean, they have spires and domed churches and Copernicus Square is super cool. So Copernicus was a scientist, who suggested that the sun was in the centre of the solar system, which is, as I’m sure you’re aware, the actual state of things. He’s a very important astronomer and mathematician, and so he has a whole square named after him with a statue of him in the middle and the solar system on the floor. It’s really cool.


That’s Copernicus in the background. The statue not the people going about their lives, obviously.

We also found an open air concert and chilled there for a bit, and basically all was well in Warsaw. It didn’t feel super touristy and in fact, it’s not. Krakow tends to be where people head and I hear it’s beautiful. Warsaw felt like a place real people live. Ugh, that sounds so pretentious. What I’m trying to say is that it wasn’t like London in that in the centre there’s a hundred and one things to do and see, and shops on every corner hitting you over the head with the fact that you’re in London, London, did you know? Warsaw felt more like Birmingham in that, yeah there’s stuff to do, but if you just want to wander round, maybe do a few things, that’s fine.


The University Library is super ivy covered.

On our second day, it absolutely tipped it down. We hit up a bakery because the secret to good travelling is to buy cake for breakfast, and then, in an absolute downpour, we made our way to the Copernicus Science Museum.[HYPERLINK] Of course when we got there, it was chock-a-block of school students and we were told that there were no more tickets left at all. For the whole of the day. So we shrugged, walked round to the planetarium, bought tickets for the evening.

When I say we bought tickets, I should probably explain what happened when we tried to buy tickets. Firstly, we had to wait for the screen to flick back to the English screen time because neither of us speak Polish. Not an issue in and of itself except for the fact that they appeared to work on the basis that no-one spoke English so the English menu flashed up for less than five seconds at a time. Then, when we’d finally picked something, the helpful cashier told us it was for kids. Normally this would not stop us, but he was attractive and I got flustered because I wanted to look cool, and I’d already had to go “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Polish. Do you speak English?” So I picked something else at random. To which he replied, “that’s for kids as well.” And in the end he picked for us. Because it was the only way it was gonna work.


Outside science exhibits are the best. Even when it’s raining.

 Outside of the science museum there are interactive exhibits and we spent about an hour jumping on pavement xylophones and trying to figure out how various displays worked. Then, because we are nothing if not children, we went to the zoo. In the rain. We saw so many animals, but I think the highlight was the bison. Well, for me it was the highlight. I think the elephants were the highlight for Beth. Either way, despite being sodden, we had fun.


The laziest lion I have ever seen.

Afterwards we ended up in a café slash pub slash something for food. And then, after Polish beer and interesting goulash, we headed all the way back to the Science Museum for the planetarium show, which was a show of stars without explanation but with live musical accompaniment. I cannot lie, I fell asleep. Which you may or may not remember is somewhat of a theme for me, as I fell asleep in the planetarium in Jena. Beth was very amused by my uselessness, and says that the planetarium was awesome.


Goulash is one my favourite things discovered while travelling.

Our third and final day we headed back to the science museum and we actually got in this time! Yay! The museum was amazing. Seriously seriously amazing. There’s a robot that writes poetry and a comparison of different methods of drawing waters and various logic puzzles.


It wrote poetry! Bad poetry, but poetry nonetheless.

And then we ended up in the fourteens and over section, which was super cool. There was a ton of computer based experiments, and they were really interesting. There was one about how to tell if someone is lying, and one about how much you react to gross images. There were ones about how you say something is more important what you actually say. We spent so much time in that section, because it was amazing. By the time we came out of the section, we had the energy to pit ourselves against animals – My grip is not as strong as a boa constrictor and Beth can’t hang from a tree as long as an orang-utan. Then a lovely polish guy explained to us the experiment in the main atrium which is about proving that the earth spins. And we ended on that high note.


This proves the earth spins. #factz

After a long day at the science museum we headed back to the hostel to summon up energy before heading out for beer and pierogi. Pierogi are essentially pastry dumplings with stuff inside them. They are also tasty, though I feel like they need gravy. But most things taste better with gravy, so yeah…

20140607_211632 20140607_210720

Om nom nom

After food, we headed to the Palace of Science and Culture. Remember I mentioned it at the beginning? Because you can go up it and look across the city. And on some days, you can go up it at night. Which is what we did. There was a rock concert going on below it and we whiled away at least a good hour, marvelling at the beauty of Warsaw in the dark.


Purple spaceships are the best kind of spaceships.

Warsaw was really great, not least because I was there with one of my best friends. It’s an attractive town, has really great food and there’s stuff to see. As a linguist (yes, I did just write that), I felt embarrassed every time I had to say “I’m sorry. I don’t speak any Polish, do you speak English?” and was always relieved when invariably the person went “Yes, but not much.” Happily everyone spoke enough English to help us out, except for one lady who I’ll get to in my next post (It’ll be about Budapest guys. Tell your friends). But we did get talked at in Polish a lot. Thankfully everyone was really quick to pick up on our blank faces and was really lovely about helping us. So yeah, don’t expect everyone to speak English if you ever go. We tried to at least learn thankyou, but we mangled the pronunciation so much, we really confused the locals. As a language-y person, I felt really bad about not speaking any Polish, but a year abroad has made me much more confident to go ‘look, I’m sorry that I don’t understand.’

So yeah, Warsaw. Good place. Handsome place. Enjoy.


Great European Adventure: Part Eins – Berlin

Fair warning: this blog post has many pictures and few words. Though a picture is worth a thousand words, so…

 If you can cast your minds back to four months ago, I was leaving Ilmenau. And can you remember why? Don’t stress if you can’t. Seems harsh to spring a quiz on you when I went AWOL. And some of you are new. So to recap, I was leaving Ilmenau because my contract with the school (I was doing a teaching assistantship on my year abroad – check out these posts for details) was up and I was doing some travelling before headed back to Blighty.

So Berlin. I left Ilmenau super excited because in Berlin Maddie awaited me. You remember Maddie, right? She came over to see me way back in the autumn and we hit up Prague  and I haven’t shut up about Prague since. Also, you know. Berlin’s one of my favourite places.


Maddie’s the fabulous blonde. 

With Berlin and one of my best friends awaiting, is it any wonder I was excited? So excited in fact that when I got to Berlin and had to use the S-bahn, it took me two stops before I realised I’d managed to use the ticket machine in German without any issues. Result. Year abroad really works, guys.

In Alexander Platz I met Maddie and she guided me to the hostel we were staying in, whose name totally escapes me at the moment. (Maddie has informed it was called One80). It was a decent hostel, the guys on reception were super lovely and it wasn’t a *ridiculous* distance from an s-bahn stop. What more could you want?

20140602_165104The global clock in Alexanderplatz. You can play guess where the tourist is from by which section they take a photo of.

The first afternoon I made Maddie do a huge walking tour of the places I’ve been in Berlin, for which I’m not sure she’s forgiven me. We went down Unter den Linden, to the Reichstag, past the Holocaust memorial, through Potsdamer Platz, past part of the Berlin wall, via a Fotomat to Checkpoint Charlie. Seriously, I made her walk so far. I am a terrible person. I mean, we were both shattered anyway from travelling and then I made us exercise. A truly terrible person.


And we walked past Trabi World.

The second day we headed over to Kreuzberg for brunch. Now Kreuzberg was described to me at various points and by various sources as ‘the place to be’, ‘the root of all hipsters’ and ‘up and coming but not quite there yet’. It was only about 10am when we got there but it was dead. Last time I was in a place so empty I was in the business district of London on Palm Sunday.

   20140603_101235    20140603_114604   20140603_114949

All found in Kreuzberg.

After walking down several heavily graffitied streets, we ended up at Nest, a place that The Guardian recommended for brunch in Kreuzberg. Yes, we’re super cool.

 20140603_104301 20140603_104257

Brunch of champions.

Brunch at Nest was delicious. Seriously, it was so good. You should go. Afterwards, in somewhat of a food coma, we wandered through Kreuzberg, taking photos of the graffiti and wondering how anyone can afford to buy things in the hipster shops.  We then crossed the river and walked up the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is a 1.3km long section of the Berlin Wall that acts an art gallery. Many of the paintings are reproductions of graffiti that was on the Berlin Wall while it still divided the city. It’s really interesting, though I need to say, it is long. It was way longer than we expected.

20140603_135359  20140603_124658  20140603_123032

Yay Graffitii

After finding a S-bahn stop because we were exhausted from walking the length of the East Side Gallery, we ended up at a huge arts and crafts shop, whose name I have completely forgotten. We spent a good couple of hours walking round it, looking at all the expensive paper and fabric that we wanted but could neither afford nor fit in our suitcases.  And then at some point we must have headed out for dinner, and I can say with 90% certainty that we had beer, because we had beer with almost every meal.


My favourite piece of graffitti we saw. Represents reunification of Berlin.

The next day we went to Kreuzberg for brunch again, because we are the coolest people you’ll ever read about in a blog. This time it was at a place called Salon Schmück and although good, it wasn’t as good as Nest.


I like eggy bread. I like bacon. I kinda like maple syrup. All three together is a bit much though.

Afterwards we headed up to the Natural History Museum because I’d been wanting to see dinosaur bones since January. Like I said, I’m a cool kid. The Berlin Natural History Museum is currently undergoing massive renovations. However, they still have dinosaurs, they still have moon rock and the biggest wet collection of specimens in the world. That mean stuff kept in jars of ammonia, not in, like, a swimming pool or anything. Just so you know.



In the dinosaur exhibit they had binoculars that, when you focused on the dinosaur skeletons, filled in the organs, the skin and then what their habitat would have looked like. And then the dinosaurs moved. And it was one of the best things ever.  Then we wandered into an audio visual description of how the universe came into being and how it’ll probably end. And that sounds lame, but you got to lie back on a round sofa and watch it above you and that was awesome.

When you carried on round, there was a massive exhibition on birds, including what a T-rex would look like with feathers. Which is still one of my favourite things. And then in the shop I bought a stuffed toy bison. Because as I have previously mentioned bison are my new favourite animals. And Heinrich is the cuddliest stuffed toy bison to ever exist.


It looks like a colourful chicken. Jurassic Park would be very different. 

We headed out for tea at some point, again with the beer, and then I, tipsily, decided we needed a selfie with the Brandenburg Gate. This lead to me getting very confused about the Berlin public transport system and selfies of this calibre:


That’s the symbol of victory sticking out the op of my head. 

Which was a pretty great end to part one of my Great European Adventure. Because the day after I got up at an early time to brave the S-bahn alone, heading to the main station to get on a train to Warsaw alone.

I do love Berlin.  And getting to go with Maddie was awesome, even if she wasn’t so keen on the city. But I have to say the best part was Heinrich. Because cuddly bison are the best.


Heinrich giving his best duck face.


The Last Week

Guys, it’s finally here. My last full week in Germany. Well that nine months went quick. Did it feel quick for anyone else? I mean, I swear I got here a month ago. Anyway, on with the week.

Monday I was in Ilmenau having a wander, posting stuff, generally doing the day to day stuff of living here. Which is soon not to be my day to day routine. Seriously, where has the time gone?

Tuesday I was at the Freizeit Zentrum with all of the 3/4 classes, doing arts and crafts based on Knights. These included wooden swords, cardboard shields, princess hats (you know, the pointy ones with wafty cloth sticking out the top) and hobby horses. It is my greatest sadness that I did not get to make a sword as well. But I did get to watch the kids bashing each other to bits with them… Why we armed kids who hit each other anyway, I do not know. Because we were at the Freizeit Zentrum I went and had a look at the animals and was quickly joined by Miriam who was greatly amused by my habit of making animal sounds at the animals.

Tutoring was on Tuesday this week rather than Wednesday, so we ran through all of the memory games and dominoes that I’ve made over this year. I gave Luka and Vicky two Roald Dahl books each and in return I got a guide to Serbia with Luka’s home town circled on it and the instruction ‘visit here’.  Then I was at my last CV ever, where Kim insisted on telling everyone. Which was sweet. Awkward but sweet.

Wednesday I was back at the Freizeit Zentrum, this time with all of the 1/2 classes, doing arts and crafts based on Native Americans. My main contribution to this was explaining what a peace pipe was, that yes it was pipe you smokes and don’t use them as makeshift weapons. Seriously, what is it with kids and hitting each other?

When we got back to school, I had my farewell from three teachers because I pretty much couldn’t have picked a worse day to be my last day at school and everyone was busy. But I have a card signed by everyone and a brand spanking new huge towel. And I got hugs from my favourite teachers, so that’s pretty rad.

Thursday I started to pack up my room. I don’t know how I have so much stuff. Thank heavens Dad’s coming to pick me up.

Friday I did some more packing (a constant theme for the rest of this week) and I went into Ilmenau to post stuff and generally have a wander.

Saturday I went into Erfurt for the last time. Went to the Cathedral and mourned the soon to be lack of elven architecture in my life. Went to my favourite book shop possibly in the world. Generally wandered and tried not to freak out that I might never be in Erfurt again. Remembered that the Great European Adventure requires me to change train in Erfurt so it’s fine.

Sunday I finished packing for the Great European Adventure. What’s the Great European Adventure I hear you ask? It’s what I’m doing for the next two weeks. Berlin, Warsaw and Budapest. All before I head back to merry old England. Because if I don’t take advantage of the fact that travel in Europe is super easy, what is the point of my year abroad?


A Suspicious Abundance of Well-behaved Kids

So, this week began, as most of them do, with tutoring prep on Monday. I decided as it was the penultimate week, I should do a recap of all the stuff that we’d done, which meant making a crossword and a match the sentence sheet.

Tuesday I was at work, though I wasn’t needed in my first class as the kids had a competence test which the English teacher had forgotten about, so I wound up supervising a class who were typing up stories on Word. I appreciate I’m 21 and not 8, but I was still a little shocked that none of them knew how to change the font size on Word. Happily, explaining how to use Word auf Deutsch isn’t too difficult. Or at least it isn’t as long as the kids listen. I also had to explain to them that the computer doesn’t know every word in the dictionary and sometimes it’ll tell you you’re wrong when you’re right. Especially if you’re typing up from a piece of work your teacher has already corrected. Not that they listened.

In my second and third class they were practicing dates and numbers and colouring in. None of which really requires me, but the colouring at least means, that for the most part, they all behaved. In the evening I made dominoes for tutoring to recap vocab from the year, which meant going back through what we’ve done this year. Which is a lot more than I thought.

Wednesday began with circle time and that class found out it was my last lesson with them. I’m going to miss first period on Wednesdays. It always starts with circle time and there’s always at least one kid who says they’re happy that I’m there again. And Jonas always remembers to include me in circle time despite me never actually sitting in the circle. We didn’t actually do English because the dentist was in school so the kids were in and out of class. But I did learn about what teeth are called in German.

Second period I talked about birthdays and then we played pass the parcel. Which had some of the kids very excited. So much tactical playing went on. In my third class I wasn’t needed and in my fourth I was supervising colouring in again, advising on what colour to colour apples.

At tutoring we did all the recap stuff I’d prepared and then the kids made pictures of their favourite topics from this year. For Vicky it was animals and for Luka it was London.

On Thursday I did German with Klasses 3/4c for the last time, and for the first time in the whole year they were all super well behaved. Still a little smartalecy,but well behaved none the less.

Friday began with the topic favourite places. I’m glad that while they’ve been doing favourite places they haven’t asked me, because trying to explain why Harrods food hall is my favourite place is difficult. And then I was asked to explain telling the time. This is difficult because here in Ilmenau they tend to use regional terms rather than standard German for the time. So instead of explaining English to Standard German, it was a case of explaining English to Standard German and then attempting to say it in Ilmenauese as well.

In my second class they went round the circle to wish me luck and happiness and sunshine and a nice new school for once I leave. We were doing about families still and I was listening to them explain their family trees to me. At the end one of the boys came up and said it sucked that I was leaving, and did I really have to go back to England? Which was super sweet.

In my final class they were doing colouring again, and yet again a normally rowdy class was very well behaved. I think there’s something in the water.

Saturday was spent not doing a fat lot. On Sunday I did the Brits proud and forgot to put any sun cream on and now my back is burnt to a crisp. Well done me. I also started packing, which basically entailed putting my winter clothes in a suitcase. All hardcore packing is waiting for next week. So if I’m unreachable in the second half of the week, it’s because I’ve died under the weight of all the packing. 


Not Gone Yet.

So in little over a week, I’ll be very slowly heading home via Berlin, Warsaw, Budapest and Brussels, which means somehow, my year abroad is nearly at an end. Which seems ridiculous. Surely I’ve only been here a month, maybe two at the most… I’m pretty much firmly in denial, but occasionally it hits me, and it’s terrifying. Mainly because I don’t want to have to write essays again. But as it is nearly over, I feel I have to do the list of things that I’ll miss. Then in a month I can tell you if I actually miss them.

  1. Spaghetti Eis.

Okay, so I haven’t had spaghetti Eis all that often this year, but if I wanted to, I could. And soon that will come to an end. Spaghetti Eis will just be a distant dream once more. If my “planned” careers don’t work out, I’m going to open a German ice cream parlour in England. And then I can have spaghetti Eis every day.

  1. Dark Beer

Before this year I wasn’t really a beer drinker, but seeing as cider is scarce over here, I didn’t really have a choice. And you know, it’s Germany. Got to drink beer. That’s like not having pasta in Italy. The great thing about Germany is that because beer is so popular there’s a billion and one choices, including a distinction between light and dark beer. I will miss dark beer. But I guess there’s always Guinness.

  1. Dramatic Clouds

Moving on from food and drink slightly. My Grandma reckons the sky is higher here, and I can’t really disagree. (All scientists please shush.) And with higher skies comes more dramatic clouds. Clouds so dramatic they’ll probably win an Oscar before Leonardo di Caprio. They’re beautiful and all mine to survey for free from my kitchen window.

  1. The surroundings

So I have often commented this year that Ilmenau is small. And it is compared to anywhere else I’ve lived. It’s also the first time I’ve lived somewhere that isn’t heavily industrialised. This means with woods and lakes and general German expanse of land it’s very beautiful here. Don’t get me wrong, there’s beauty in cities (Have you seen Birmingham’s new public library?) but here the beauty is very much more nature based. The park at home isn’t quite the same.

  1. Work

As much as half six starts were a shock to the system and as much as kids can be brats, I have really enjoyed my work. Not enough to make me want to be a teacher, but enough that I’m going to remember this year fondly.

  1. Not being assessed in German

This has been awesome. I know that the whole point of school and university is to grade you on your skills, but being able to use German and know that each mistake isn’t costing me marks is fantastic. Also means I’ve become way more confident with my German.

  1. The people.

C’mon, you didn’t think this list was going to forget people did you? From colleagues to the pupils to the BC Café everyone has been fantastic. Thank goodness for the internet and age of social media.  

I’m probably missing important things, or even unimportant things, that I’m not going to realise I miss until I actually get back home. But I think I have to resign myself to the fact that there’s always going to be part of me that misses Germany. However, I haven’t left yet. 


Pass the Parcel Overload.

A confession: I may have somewhat forgotten to write this blog post. Hence it’s sparseness. Blame the weather and the fact that I’m leaving soon has suddenly hit me. 

Not much was done in Monday. Tutoring prep and wandering round Ilmenau were the order or the day. 

Tuesday I wasn’t needed in my first class, which was fine, though there was an awkward moment where I used ‘sie’ meaning they and the teacher thought I meant ‘Sie’ as in formal ‘you’ and told me I could use ‘du’ aka the informal you.  Then in my second and third class I talked about birthdays. 
In the evening I was at a CV for the first time in about a month. Not much has changed. Except for the president.
First lesson on Wednesday was Maths instead of English which was fairly straightforward as it was one of the 1/2 classes. In my second and third classes I talked about birthdays and then we played pass the parcel. I have a class of kids who can’t read ‘cake’ but can sing along perfectly to Olly Murs. Then in my final class we watched A Very Hungry Caterpillar and I was asked the difference between muffins and cupcakes. (Answer: I have no idea.)
At tutoring we did about the weather – a giant map of the UK helping my impression of a weather person – and played Guess Who.
Thursday I did Maths and German on the computers with Klasse 3/4c, same old, same old.
On Friday, I talked about birthdays and played pass the parcel with my first class. Bored of Olly Murs at this point, I ended up using Queen. Because Queen is always appropriate music. In my second class I was talking about family, which included making a family tree out of pictures of my family. Also a discussion on whether half siblings and step siblings count as just siblings, which I didn’t really feel qualified to weigh on, seeing as I don’t have any siblings of any kind. Third and final class was watching A Very Hungry Caterpillar. 
Saturday was spent in Erfurt, shopping and generally enjoying the sunshine. It was really weird to think that it might be the last time I’m ever in Erfurt. I’m going to really miss this one book shop.
Don’t really remember what I did on Sunday, so I’m guessing it wasn’t a lot. Probably some tutoring prep.