Category: Uncategorized

Letting Go

Letting Go

“We must try not to sink beneath our anguish…but battle on.” –Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I’ve been feeling A LOT of emotions the past few weeks. It all started when I said goodbye to my parents. Since then, everyday presents new opportunities for self-reflection and growth. Change is coming. It’s drawing near on the horizon, and as always in my life, this is something that never ceases to trip me up.

Today was tough. I was incredibly overwhelmed from the moment I woke up. But what I’ve learned through a year of journaling and blogging is the power that comes when one writes down thoughts on paper. Getting those emotions out of the head is the healthiest way to deal with them. After a day like today, I needed to ask myself, why am I so stressed? What am I upset about; what is worrying me that I can’t put a finger on?

Today, just like any other day, I hope to finish it off feeling well-fueled, well-rested, content and grateful. Above all, I hope to finish the day off with a smile on my face. In order to achieve these goals, I must acknowledge the aforementioned questions though. Acknowledge that something is wrong, something is clearly bothering me, but that’s okay. It’s not so much that I am having strong feelings that is wrong; but it is incredibly frustrating for me when I can’t recognize those feelings and name them as emotions. Am I happy, sad, scared, overwhelmed?

First off, I have been feeling stressed. So much so that my body has broken out in an irritating, itchy, blotchy red rash. If my stress level is so high that it is manifesting itself in very real, very uncomfortable ways on the exterior of my body, then clearly it’s time to address this stress.

I’m stressed because a hell of a lot of things are changing in my life. There’s a hell of a lot going on, and there’s only so much that is within my control. And not being in control has definitely taken its toll on me these past few weeks. A part of me finds this quite strange. I have done so much this past year; I’ve seen so many places, met so many people, and grown as a person one hundred times over. I assumed control had nothing to do with the wonderful feelings of success I’ve had this past year.

Leave nothing up to assumptions though. Assumptions are misleading; assumptions can be wrong. Apparently, I’ve assumed lately that I’m living such a relaxed and go-with-the-flow lifestyle, and that this would help me deal when things aren’t in my control. That assumption is proving to be very, very wrong. For me, it still remains true that there are certain things in life where I feel like control is necessary.

Planning is one such area. I have always planned my life. From very early on, I knew what I wanted, when I wanted it by, and how I was going to get it. Through college, what I wanted was to graduate in three years. During grad school, my desire was to finish my schooling, and finally transition my role from student in the classroom, to teacher of the classroom. For three years of employment, despite loving my job and having wonderful coworkers greet me at work everyday, I always knew that Eagle Point wasn’t my final destination. From the very beginning it would never be my home; so I suppose during those first three years of teaching I always knew that I was going to move on.

Eventually I did. And not only did I leave my job at Eagle Point, but I left my home, my family, my dog, my friends. I left everything I knew and considered important in life, to set off on the adventure of a lifetime. Fast-forward through one amazing year and I’m left without a plan. I don’t have a job lined up for the fall yet; I don’t know what life is going to be like when I come home; I don’t know how I’ll handle the transition when I finally say goodbye to the incredible life I’ve spent the past year building for myself. I’m out of control, and that is a very upsetting truth to deal with at the moment.

It’s not just a lack of control that I’m dealing with though. Also troubling me is the fact that everything I do these next two months has such a finality attached to it. Everything I have come to know as typical life over the course of a year is about to end. Nothing will be the same when I finally board that first plane on 24 July 2017.

On the one hand, I’m really okay with this chapter of life drawing to a close. I do feel like it’s the right time to go; but it almost feels the same as ending a relationship. We all know that feeling. The one you get when you have been with a person for a significant amount of time, and you finally decide to call it quits. Even if you’re breaking up with someone for all the right reasons, it’s still incredibly hard to say goodbye. There’s so much you feel like you’re leaving behind; it’s not hard to forget, all too often, what you’re making space for.

This is how I feel about coming home. I know it’s the right choice; I know it’s the right time. But I am going to miss the days of being a traveling teacher. I am going to miss the opportunities to adventure and explore the world. I am going to miss living an ex-pat life. I’ll miss my job, I’ll miss the friends I’ve made along the way. But the thing is, come July, it will not be the first time I say goodbye.

I’ve already said goodbye once in the past year. I said goodbye to Thailand last October. I said goodbye to teaching English; I said goodbye to being hot and sweaty EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. I made it through that goodbye, and while I can draw strength from that fact, there’s a part of me that knows this time around is different.

I don’t know if I’ll ever live abroad again. Certainly I’ll continue to travel, explore, and see as much of the world as I can. But will I ever move to a different country again? That is a question too hard to deal with at the moment. That is a question best left unanswered. Instead of focusing so much on planning for my future; instead of spending all my time dwelling about the past, I turn to Emily Dickinson for advice; “dwell in the possibility”.

Possibilities are endless; this is an exciting truth. There’s still so much to do, still so much to see. Adventures await around every corner. And at the end of the day, “Everything has to come to an end, sometime.” -L. Frank Baum

An anniversary celebration in Prague: I lasted a whole year!

An anniversary celebration in Prague: I lasted a whole year!

“She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.” -Elizabeth Edwards

Monday 1 May is International Workers’ Day; happy Labor Day in Europe! As I write this post I’m sitting at a table in Starbucks in Prague enjoying my morning Americano, and reveling in the direction my life has gone over the past year. Exactly one year ago today, after forty-eight grueling hours of anxiety, excitement and travel, I officially landed on Thai soil in Bangkok. One year ago my adventure started; life sped up to an unimaginable quickness over the next three hundred and sixty-five days, and I haven’t been the same since I left.

It’s surreal that after an entire year now I find myself celebrating my day off from work for Labor (or technically I should be spelling it Labour, since it’s not actually an American holiday) Day in Prague, Czech Republic. After I finish writing this blog post, I’ll have a few more hours to explore the city before I head back to the train station to catch my bus back to Deutschland at three this afternoon.

The past year has been nothing shy of EXTRAORDINARY! I am so grateful for the endless opportunities that have showered my life in adventure, learning, adversity, and growth. I am so proud of the Emily who smiles back at me in the mirror everyday. She’s a pretty great lady! Adventurous, inquisitive, passionate, goofy, fun, loud and loving. It’s crazy to reflect back on this rollercoaster of learning that I’ve been on the past year. So much has happened; so much has changed. I’ve seen so many new and exciting places and I’ve met so many wonderful new people. But what’s most crazy of all is how, at the end of the day really, everything is still the same.

I’m still me, I still teach, I still love history, culture and travel. I’m still loud, I still laugh uncontrollably at times, I’m still quite strange. Even after all the growing I’ve done I still find myself uncomfortable in new situations. And above all, still, I am most grateful for my family and friends across the globe. The people who have stood by me, supported me in this dream, the people who I can’t wait to see again soon! If I don’t say it enough then I apologize because I think it every minute, of every single day. I am so thankful to have such a wonderful support system in my life. People who believe in me, see my strengths and capabilities, and push me to reach for the stars and always chase after my dreams. I am humbled, grateful, and blessed.

 

This past year certainly has been an adventure; I’ve done more, seen more, and felt more love than I ever dreamed possible. Even this past weekend has far surpassed my expectations! I was so busy and consumed for the three weeks in April that my parents were visiting, that I never realized I’d have the first two Mondays after spring break off from work. What a treat!

Last week on Tuesday we came back from a two-week holiday at my school. By Wednesday, after settling into a rhythm again I took a look at my school calendar and noticed that Monday 1 May happens to be a holiday (in most of the world…). Meaning a three-day weekend for me, hooray!

The thought of staying put this weekend never crossed my mind. Three days if a gift, time that is meant to be lived and explored. Instead of thinking about staying in Neustadt, I had to decide where I’d like to go. Almost immediately I settled on Prague.

I hate to disappoint, but I don’t have a great explanation as to, Why Prague? Rather, I just had a feeling that it was the right choice. Honestly, I’m sure that anywhere I ended up would have been as lovely as the next place. But I’m so glad that I ended up here!

To my surprise and delight, getting here was easy. A train to Nuremberg and then a bus to Prague. Simple enough. In total, a trip that would take me across international borders, but would require less than seven hours of travel. For this reason (and so so many more) I love living in Europe.

My first evening I found my hostel, explored the surrounding area a bit, and found a great place to taste Czech beer. While there I met two Americans, a husband and wife from Kentucky, both on their first European trip. They too love travel, as they explained to me in our ensuing conversation, but have focused much of their efforts on state-side travel as of yet (my next adventure perhaps…). We shared stories, advice, and company for a few hours; it was great. I don’t always fall into easy conversation with new people at every stop, but when I do it’s always so enjoyable. Even more, it reminds me how much I truly love my life and love what I do.

Drinks and conversation at the Prague Beer Museum were followed by a stroll over to one of Prague’s most iconic landmarks, Charles Bridge. The views and people watching didn’t disappoint. Although what surprised me most, the mass volume of people! As I mentioned before, a three-day weekend, for most of Europe; apparently I wasn’t the only one around who thought about getting out of town for the long weekend off.

Sunday was my self-guided walking tour around Prague, and it was wonderful! After ten miles of exploring I’d visited most every place that I set out to when making my original plans for the weekend. Starting off at the Prague Castle, the castle grounds, and the glorious cathedral. From there I hiked my way back down, and then back up again, to the Petrin Tower. Who knew that Prague had it’s own replica of the Eiffel Tower as well? The Petrin Tower sits atop Petrin Hill, a dense and lush space of hilly terrain and green from the ground up. It’s beautiful.

Located just between the castle and the tower is one of the oldest working monasteries founded in 1140, called Strahov Monastery. From the gardens outside I enjoyed a rest from all the walking and a snack while I took in the surrounding views of the city below.

Afterwards my tour took me back to the Old Town Square, where I found the town hall, built in 1338, and the even more famous fifteenth century astronomical clock. Next, I made my way to the Jewish section of town. Starting at the Starnova Synagogue, one of the oldest and most valuable European and world Jewish monuments, and also the oldest synagogue in Europe. I learned a bit about the history of Jewish culture in Bohemia, through the nineteenth century, as I visited the other five synagogues in town. All are located within a few square blocks from each other, set up as historical sites, memorials and museums; and centered between them is the old Jewish cemetery with headstones dating back for hundreds of years.

By late afternoon on Sunday I was quite tired. My day started early and had me trekking all around town. So in the afternoon I went back to my hostel for a much-needed nap. I would finish my day back at the Old Town Square for dinner and a lovely view. A great day!

My Monday plans consist as follows: Wencslas Square (as in the Christmas song). This boulevard is well-known in Czech history, originally as the city’s main horse-trading market. Then, in 1848 when a giant mass was held outside the national museum, the street gained more recognition. By 1918, attention fell upon it once again when they hosted a massively public celebration of the new, Czechoslovak Republic. It was here too, in the 1980s, where two university students committed suicide by lighting themselves on fire, in a dramatic and powerful protest of the communist state in Czechoslovakia. Finally, most recently in 1989, yet another celebration was held after the fall of communism was announced. (Think of it as the Times Square of Prague.)

After that, my final stop in town is the Lennon Wall. After his murder in 1980, Lennon became a pacifist hero in the region. An image was painted on a wall behind the French Embassy. After years of trying to keep it covered, white-wash after white-wash, communism was no match, and the Lennon Wall became a permanent symbol of political focus for Prague youth.

My weekend in Prague has been wonderful. I am so grateful for every adventure, big or small, that I have the opportunity to take. Life is a beautiful gift.

Thoughts from a traveling teacher: 360 days later

Thoughts from a traveling teacher: 360 days later

“I learned my strengths and my weaknesses. I experienced the exhilaration of the ups and the despairs of the lows and most of the feelings in between…I learned courage and I learned it myself.” -Ann Stirk

These past few weeks I’ve kept quite busy and have LOVED every minute of it. Having my parents in town for three weeks was the greatest gift! Spending quality time exploring with them, laughing together, discovering new places has made me feel so happy, loved and blessed. And while I’m very sad to have said goodbye, like all other times in life it wasn’t truly goodbye, but rather see you later. And in this case, I’ll be seeing them much sooner than the goodbyes we’ve shared over the course of the past year.

Mom and Dad left from Frankfurt early on Saturday morning, and are now safely back home in Oregon adjusting their sleep schedules, unpacking and settling back into a routine. I’ll be honest and say that saying goodbye was tough. Saturday morning I spent shedding tears and fighting against a dark loneliness that felt so uncomfortable and unwanted. I knew I’d be back with family and friends in just three short months, but being at home, alone, in an empty apartment just felt so wrong and so permanent. I missed the sound of my parents’ voices; I missed the morning routine of drinking our coffee together that mom and I had settled into over the past three weeks. All weekend long I fought against an instinctive sadness that I just couldn’t shake. I didn’t want to get out of bed, I didn’t want to go outside. It was as if carrying out even the simplest daily tasks reminded me that I was by myself; I was alone, and that wasn’t a feeling I wanted to address.

Still, I couldn’t let myself sink in too deep. Yesterday, while still wrestling with a bit of sadness I forced myself to remember some very important points: I’m a grown adult, I’ve been living alone now for the past year. Hell, my family and friends are an entire world away from me at the moment. And despite allowing myself to really feel the sadness of the end of an incredible adventure with my parents, today it was time to get back on track.

 

As the title of this post highlights, I have been living abroad for almost an entire year. On 29 April 2017 I will celebrate the one year anniversary of my days living and teaching abroad. Exactly three hundred and sixty days ago I set off on the adventure of a lifetime, and I couldn’t let a little sadness and loneliness detract me too long from living out the remaining goals I have set while in Europe.

Truthfully I only have fourteen weeks left until I’m back living on U.S. soil. In the grand scheme of things that’s no time at all! Now that school has started back up after a glorious two-week-long spring break, it’s time to get back into a healthy rhythm, and the time is just going to fly by. Three hundred and sixty days have come and gone and look at all the incredible experiences I’ve had along the way.

I’ve lived in two different countries, on two separate continents, had two different jobs, and done some very different things this past year. I’ve visited countless new countries along the way and had many more incredible opportunities unfold in front of my eyes. I’ve met inspiring people. I’ve had experiences I never dreamed would be possible. I’ve spent time with new people from all around the world, and I’ve even spent time with family too. I’ve said it countless times already and I’ll say it once more: my heart is so full, I am incredibly blessed to be living this life, and above all else I am GRATEFUL for it all.

The personal growth and mindful journey I’ve discovered this past year is priceless. The adventures I’ve taken, trips I’ve been on, and place I’ve seen have made memories that will last lifetimes. The strength, courage, spirit and happiness I’ve uncovered along the way is everything and more, than I ever dreamed of finding when I left home a year ago.

Everything has changed. Everything is evolving. Life is unfolding in the most beautiful way. My happiness has come full-circle. I wake up each and everyday and know that I have the power to make my life great. My commitment and dedication to yoga has been a true blessing. I’ve found peace, acceptance and gratitude at every turn. Even the professional growth that has taken place this past year will surely pay off in the future too. I may not have a job lined up for the fall just yet; and while somewhat discouraging a fact that may be in the present, I have come to truly believe that EVERYTHING in life happens for a reason. Planning and dreaming is only part of the process. Another part, far more important in my opinion, is having the confidence and courage to be patient while life unfolds in front of you.

Ultimately, at the end of this journey, that is the one lesson that I believe is the most important. Not because all the other amazing things that have happened haven’t been wonderful; but rather because it is the lesson I least anticipated to learn in this process. And it is something I will continue to practice each and every day of my life from here on out.

Life is an incredible journey, with surprises, struggles and successes at every turn. Have the courage to jump on the train and ride it wherever it may lead you. I can assure you life will not disappoint in the end.

“If you don’t get out of the box you’ve been raised in, you won’t understand how much bigger the world is.” -Angelina Jolie

Mandelbluten Festival: spring is here!

Mandelbluten Festival: spring is here!

It’s just past two p.m. on Saturday and I’m sitting outside at a picnic table in the vineyards surrounding Gimmeldingen at the opening festivities of the wine festival season in the Rhineland-Pfalz. The kickoff to winefest season is called the Mandelblutenfest, a celebration in March when all the almond trees are in full bloom. It celebrates springtime as well as the beginning days of wine in the Pfalz (pronounced ‘falltz’). And it is absolutely breathtaking on this particular Saturday afternoon!

The origins to this wine festival date back to 1934. At that time, National Socialist leaders tried to improve the marketability of German wine, by not only beginning to grow several more varietals in the region, but also by creating the German Wine Route (Deutsche Weinstrasse). In addition to the wine, each year during the festival an almond blossom queen and an almond blossom princess are elected. There is a processional through the festival streets that officially kicks off wine season in the Pfalz. Visitors can simply stroll through the streets enjoying the wine and the views, as I did, or you may sign up for official guided tours throughout the local vineyards.

Currently I’m alone as I sit here and write this draft. I made the walk over here by myself, about a twenty-five minute stroll from my house; and now I’m enjoying the wine, the sunshine and a bit of self-reflection. Soon though I’ll be joined by some coworkers so the rest of the afternoon is shaping up nicely.

As I mentioned, my walk from Neustadt to Gimmeldingen took no more than thirty minutes. Gimmeldingen is a neighboring wine village, also located along the Weinstrasse (street of wine). The walk was lovely and I could see the blooming trees off in the distance as I made my way here. So far I’ve only managed to hit the very first stall, but I was quite eager to take a seat, enjoy the views, soak up some sunshine and indulge in a traditional “Rieslingschorle”. It’s a very common beverage in the region. They simply add three-quarters of a glass with Riesling and then finish it off with one quarter of sparkling water. The Germans love adding bubbles, aka ‘gas’, to EVERYTHING, and their local wine varietals are certainly no exception. What it does is simply lighten the flavor a hint while adding a bit of refreshment with the bubbles. It’s actually quite nice and I like the flavor more than I excpected I would.

My plan for the rest of the afternoon- wait till my coworkers arrive, then check out the rest of the fest stalls while making our way through the streets of Gimmeldingen. I’m enjoying every bit of sunshine this afternoon, as the spring weather in Germany is very similar to Oregon spring weather back at home. One day it will be sunny and sixty-five degrees, the next cloudy, overcast and a cold forty degrees.

I’m really enjoying this experience as it is a unique springtime festival to the region I’ve called home for the past six months. A lot of my efforts on the weekends are to get out of Neustadt, hop on a train and explore other parts of Germany as often as I can. However, this weekend it’s nice to slow down, step back, and appreciate all that my current home has to offer.

Nuremberg: The Imperial City

Nuremberg: The Imperial City

On 2o April, 1945, the 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions of the 15th Army Corps of the 7th US-Army liberated Nuremberg from the rule of the National Socialist regime. The official victory celebration was held on 21 April 1945, on the Main Market Square. At a further victory celebration of the 3rd Infantry Division on 22 April 1945, on the Zeppelin Field, five soldiers were awarded the highest military honor for bravery in combat, the “Medal of Honor”. US American soldiers were stationed in Nuremberg until 1994. Memories of those years of respect and friendship are still vivid today.

Saturday 18 March 2017:

I arrived at the Nuremberg train station just past noon on Saturday, 18 March 2017. What struck me immediately upon my arrival was the town wall. It’s amazing that after all the destruction the city saw during the war, the wall remained largely intact. Originally a “vacation stay” for royalty under the monarchy in Bavaria, Nuremberg is home to an old castle in addition to its relation to WWII era history. The castle explains the reason and intent for having a city wall in the first place, not something you typically see when touring modern European cities. The city wall is practically the first thing that meets your eyes the moment you step foot outside the Hauptbahnhof (train station).

From my research I learned that there were basically two separate zones of the city that I wanted to visit in my short amount of time. Of course I would explore the city center, the castle, some old churches and a few museums. But I also wanted to see the Nazi Party Rally Grounds which are located about 4km from the city center. So my plan was to visit the Rally Grounds and Documentation Center on Saturday afternoon and save everything in and around the city center for Sunday before I would catch a train back home. This logic, I believe, turned out to be best, because I had the entire afternoon and evening outside the city center, allowing me to experience this unique and surreal cultural opportunity exactly the way I had hoped to.

My afternoon started with me catching the tram outside the city center to take me to Kongresshalle, or the Reichsparteigsgelande. The exhibition, which I spent more than three hours exploring, details the rise, influences, and successes of the NSADP (National Socialist Workers Party) in Nuremberg. The city was chosen specifically early in the twentieth century to play a key role in the development of the NSADP, outside of headquarters in Berlin. Walking through the museum you can’t help but sympathize with reasons many Germans accepted Hitler as a symbol of a better tomorrow. After suffering humiliation and shame at the close of WWI, many, like Hitler himself, were embarrassed by peace negotiations signed in Paris in 1919. To top it off, an entire population slipped into a disastrous recession, leaving the door wide open for someone to come in and change the direction of Germany’s future.

Still, at the end of a long day, there’s apart of me that’s completely incapable of understanding how an entire populace could simply turn a ‘blind eye’ to the horrors that were well underway by the mid-1930s. And although I left Kongresshalle feeling depressed about the course of a nation’s past, I’m glad I made my way out there and I’m very glad I took my time throughout the entire exhibition, learning a bit more about the history of the National Socialist Party leading up to the days of WWII.

Reichsparteitagsgelande: Kongresshalle is not the only piece of construction that makes up the Nazi Party Rally Grounds though. Actually my tour through the Documentation Center exhibition was just the beginning of my self-directed walking tour of the Rally Grounds. Much of the construction projects were never completed, despite their fervent and speedy construction orders prior to 1939. Still, there was so much to see surrounding Kongresshalle that I knew I couldn’t let a tad bit of less-than-desirable spring weather hold me back.

Luitpoldhain: After my tour through the Reichsparteitagsgelande I wandered over to Luitpoldhain and visited Ehrenhalle. During the 1929 Party Rally, the Nazis for the first time incorporated the then unfinished Hall of Honour in their staging of the cult of the dead. The “Fuhrer”, commemorated the fallen soldiers of WWI and the Martyrs of the NS movement. The ritual was intended to commit the “party soldiers” present to sacrificing their lives for the “Fuhrer” and for National Socialism. In 1933, Hitler had the Luitpold Grove Park remodelled into the Luitpold Arena for the Party Rallies. Opposite Ehrenhalle, a grandstand for guests of honor was installed.

Grosse Strasse, or the “Great Street”: According to the plans of the architect, Albert Speer, the Great Street was to be the central axis of the Party Rally Grounds. It is sixty meters wide and was to be 2,000 meters long. Only 1,500 meters were completed though. For this street, 60,000 granite slabs were laid. Speer, in his designs, aligned the Great Street with the Imperial Castle in the old town, to create a symbolic link between Nuremberg as the city of the imperial diets and Nuremberg as the “City of the Party Rallies”.

Grundstein Deutsches Stadium: Only a few hundred meters from where I stood visiting this prospective place, the German Stadium was supposed to be built, as the world’s largest arena with a capacity of 400,000 spectators. The foundation stone for the German stadium was laid on 9 September 1937. The works did not proceed further than excavation though, so now in its place is Silbsee Lake, after the excavated grounds filled with water.

Zeppelin Field and Zeppelinetribune: “On 20 April 1945, the 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions of the 15th Army Corps of the 7th US-Army liberated Nuremberg from the rule of National Socialist Regime.” To read this utterly brought tears to my eyes. Already my day was full of emotional and I was simply left speechless by the next stop on my tour. From 1933 the National Socialists used the area for their party rallies. The Zeppelin Field was the central venue for staging the party’s rallies. Speer, again the same architect responsible for the entire Nazi Party Rally Grounds construction chose the ancient Pergamon Altar as a model for the grandstand. The building was made of concrete, brickwork and faced with limestone slabs, and “is considered representative of National Socialist State architecture” to this day.

This location is where one finds those epitome black and white photographs of the “Fuhrer” addressing his crowds. Today the complex remains largely intact. In fact, I was actually able to stand out on the slab where Adolf Hitler once stood, only this time my audience didn’t greet me with cries of cheer and excitement. To be there, in a moment in time, sharing foot space where one of mankind’s most evil once stood was incredibly upsetting to me. Honestly, I can think of no other way of describing how I felt at that moment in time than simply saying, “Holy F**k”.

On 22 April 1945 the US Army held a victory parade at that very same grandstand though, so I pictured myself in the footprints of the liberators of freedom and a peaceful world instead. This helped curb my anxiety a bit. After said ceremony, the swastika once perched atop the complex was blown up to make the entire world aware of the end of National Socialism.

Sunday 19 March 2017:

First on my agenda for day two was to visit the Imperial Castle on the edge of the old city. On my way there I stumbled upon the Town Hall building and the first of two churches visited. The walk through the old town to the castle was just lovely. And despite not really seeing the sun at all in the sky, it didn’t rain today unlike yesterday, which was a pleasant treat. The old town is filled with narrow cobble stone streets, sandstone masonry (building materials local to the region), half-timbered houses and countless bridges crossing the river that runs through. Upon my arrival at the castle I took many pictures and I wandered around the vast grounds. This castle is one of the main unique attractions in Nuremberg, drawing visitors as early as the thirteenth century. While I opted against paying the entrance fee, I still feel as though I gained a sense of its importance and charm by just touring the outside grounds and courtyards.

From the castle I made my way over to the famous artist, and Nuremberg native, Albrecht Dürer’s house. Now a museum where many of his original works are on display, again I only admired this beautiful half-timbered house from the outside. Located almost next door is the entrance to the historic Felsengänge underground cellars. I’d say this tour was the surprise highlight of my weekend! Not having anticipated a visit here during the “planning” of my trip I’m glad I stumbled in at just the right time for the only English tour available all week. Ninety minutes later I learned so much more about the history of the imperial city, the beer brewing process in Franconia, as well as the details of the underground city of Nuremberg during the Allied bombing raids of WWII. The tunnels far pre-date their practical uses during the war though.

As far back as 1303 cellars were dug underground in the sandstone to store and house beer. These cellars over time grew into an expansive network both horizontally but also vertically. As time progressed and eventually the first “ice house” was built, the cellars’ purposes gradually changed. By the time of the outbreak of WWII and the subsequent Allied air raids their purpose evolved into a network of escape routes and evacuation centers for civilians of Nuremberg. An alert system was developed giving residents a ten minute heads up prior to the bombing raids. Families would layer clothes, grab valuables, and pack their one-alotted suitcase to take with them as they sought refuge and safety beneath the city.

Not only did they serve civilian purposes. Nazi and Wehrmarkt (German Army) leaders set up permanent offices and work spaces beneath the city, taking advantage of the safety and durability of such a location. Even more, cellars were used to house both German art and foreign pieces seized by Nazi soldiers (think of the movie “Monuments Men”) of which their entrances would be concealed from the general public’s knowledge and accessibility. An absolutely fascinating tour beneath the city streets!

Afterwards I headed outside the city wall and made my way towards the Memorium Nuremberg Trials, located at the Nuremberg Palace of Justice. This is the building home to the infamous Court Room 600, where the actual trials took place back in 1945. Twenty-four different men were brought to trial in front of an international court of justice and held accountable for the indecencies and horrors committed by the Nazi Party against humanity. Luckily for me the courtroom was available to the public for viewing; as it is still a working court room in the Nuremberg Palace of Justice, at times a trial is in session thus access is restricted to visitors. Walking around in the courtroom was as surreal as my visit to the Nazi Party Rally Grounds the day prior. To be in the presence of such revolutionary history is a blessing beyond words. I can’t even begin to describe how I felt standing inside those four walls, but I am grateful to experience such adventures in life.

Located a floor above Court Room 600 in the Palace of Justice building is the Memorial Exhibition to the trials. Another hour and a half spent with my ear glued to an audioguide, overwhelming emotions, and an expression of deep consternation across my face.

I have learned so much in the span of forty-eight hours. I visited beautiful churches, saw unique architecture, but above all I learned the value of owning one’s past. The city of Nuremberg impressed upon me deeply an overwhelming sense of appreciation, respect, and an endless amount of gratitude for every effort made towards peace in our world’s past. May we continue to let these lessons remind us all of the powerful greed that threatens humanity; and yet share an appreciation for the even stronger forces of commitment, compromise and courage that serve to protect and preserve it.

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. -Winston Churchill

Happy New Year…a few days late.

Happy New Year…a few days late.

“Friendship with oneself is all important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

Welcome to the new year! Twenty-seventeen has a hell of a lot to match up to, because in my book twenty-sixteen was about as amazing as life gets. What I cannot fathom already is that we are two weeks into January. Halfway through the first month of the year, already?! Where has the time gone? Well I wish I could have shared this next story with you all two weeks ago, but traveling without a computer, shotty data service at best, and poor wifi connections in my hostels all around Europe prevented me from writing this any sooner. Without further ado, a piece I wrote on New Year’s Eve and had intended to publish much, much sooner:

31.12.2016 9:10PM

Okay, I’ll keep this short. I just want to document this moment in case I ever feel like reliving it someday in the future.

I was all eager and excited to be spending New Year’s Eve in Paris solo; that is up until that final moment when I had to officially decide where I’d be spending my time when the ball drops. I had a lovely day at Monte Martre and Sacre Coeur today, and also a nice mellow evening at my hostel drinking a delicious Scottish IPA and beginning my newfound obsession with NARCOS. I even took myself out to dinner across the street from my hostel too. But when it came time to actually make my decision as to where I’d be heading for the night, to be honest, I had half the mind to literally stay in, cozy up in some sweats, and watch Netflix…while in Paris…for New Year’s Eve…I should be fined.

Unacceptable. Even these thoughts. They remind me that while it appears to the world watching my new year unfold on Facebook and Instagram that I’ve become this vagabond world traveler, without a home or a care in the world; deep down inside I’m still the same Emily who left on this adventure of a lifetime eight months ago. Despite even the feat of visiting multiple countries in a few short weeks, I can’t truly abandon my old self, no matter how hard I may try at times.

I recently finished reading Amy Schumer’s autobiography, “The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo,” and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I laughed, I cried, I LOL’ed, I even recommended it as a read to a few of my besties who I thought would find meaning out of it too. But it wasn’t simply the humor that I connected with. Rather Amy (it’s fun referencing her as Amy…almost as it we’re friends) opened up with her readers on a real personal level about all sides of herself, and it was for this reason that I so deeply connected to the book. She writes of being an introvert in a world where everyone expects the opposite out of her at all times. She’s a comedian. She’s meant to smile, make small talk, make people laugh. Being a quiet, introspective thinker just doesn’t fit the mold, right?

If you find this dichotomy at all interesting, then please, by all means, read Schumer’s book. Don’t leave it up to me to illustrate the humorous juxtapositions, read it for yourself firsthand. It’ll be far more interesting and a million times more funny for you. But the reason I’ve brought it up is because the dichotomy she illustrates is where I connected to the story most of all.

I’ve spent the last eight months of life living alone in a foreign country. I’ve been living alone for the first time truly, in my entire adult life, and it’s been nothing shy of extraordinary. First and foremost, it’s been wonderful, but it hasn’t always come easy. For the most part, Thailand and Germany couldn’t be more different. In Thailand, I was teaching English (not my passion); I lived with some instant besties (shout-out to Al, Iz, and Laura if you’re reading this!); I was HOT-ALL THE TIME!

Fast-forward five months and I set foot on European soil, to embark on my third teaching assignment of twenty-sixteen. Moving to Neustadt was absolutely the right decision for me- both personally and professionally. I needed to be back in my own classroom, teaching social studies, doing what I do best; doing what I love most. The small class sizes at ISN are an incredible blessing, but don’t get me wrong; just because I’ve been able to shrink my class sizes from fifty down to fifteen, doesn’t mean it’s all been rainbows and ice cream parties at school. Rather, this professional transition has been quite trying, for a number of different reasons.

First of all, I’m teaching grades nine through twelve, geography and economics. Not to mention having never taught above year ten prior to October ’16, let’s just say juniors and seniors are a whole different ballgame. Which my three years experience teaching seventh and eighth grade social studies and language arts at Eagle Point Middle School didn’t fully prepare me for…

In addition to the age of my students, I’ve also never taught the particular content I’ve been assigned at my new job either. Now I don’t mind the geo classes one bit. I teach grades nine-twelve geo, and I’m thoroughly enjoying teaching and learning the new content myself, prior to sharing it with my students. It’s heavy on the prep-side of teaching, but enjoyable nonetheless. Needless to say, I don’t share the same feelings about being an “economics teacher.” No, the econ classes are definitely a whole different story! I haven’t actually studied economics myself since I was seventeen years old, just a junior in high school myself, when I took AP Econ at AHS. Obviously, never having studied econ in college, this was a factor I chose to omit during my interview back in July for my job. Whoops…

Maybe I just figured the position being in Europe made it a long shot. Who knows? But the truth is that I’m responsible for six different preps, each of which I see four separate times in a week. Meaning that I have to lesson plan twenty-four different plans. Every. Single. Week.

Ya, ya, I can just hear my elementary ed friends rolling their eyes at me, saying that’s what they do every week. But without the risk of sounding like a total bitch, it’s very different lesson planning for a room full of fourth and fifth graders, as compared to high school students, most of which are learning at the IB level (think of it as the “AP” version of classes in Europe). The moral of this tangential story, my job is far harder than it may seem according to my Instagram or Facebook page.

Outside of work I’ve struggled since moving to Deutschland as well. Being that I’m at an international school in Europe, the median age of my coworkers at ISN is probably around 40-45. Not to beat home a dead horse, but I’m nowhere near that age. No surprise to me though, I’m actually much more comfortable being the youngest member on a staff, than being of similar age to many of my coworkers (as was the case in Thailand). While I thoroughly enjoyed the network of friends in Thailand, my three years at EPMS prepared me for my “youngest staff member” role, which I’ve fallen into again at ISN. Still, while I certainly feel comfortable in this role, and I don’t mind it in the least, it too coms with a unique set of challenges that I’ve faced since moving to Germany in October.

Being the youngest on staff may not sound all that bad, but when you work at a very small school as I do, a total of fourteen teachers for grades six-twelve, and you’re younger than the next person by a solid ten years (more likely fifteen if I’m being honest), it can potentially make it tougher on one socially. I certainly enjoy my job, I get along well with most all of my coworkers, but if you’ve noticed, I have yet to travel anywhere on the weekends with a new friend. In Thailand, I quickly set off on adventures with my favorite ladies (shout-out #2). Not the case in Germany. I’m learning the truest, most pure meaning of solo travel right now.

And by right now, I mean this very instant as I write this. Currently, I’m sitting alone at a bar, in Paris, on New Year’s Eve.

But that’s besides the point I was trying to make. Please don’t read this and misinterpret my words. I don’t want my reasons for sharing this side of reality to be misconstrued. I’m not looking for pity; I’m not sad, hell I’m very rarely lonely over here except for the seldom quiet evening at home alone. What I’m trying to convey is that I am, at heart, an introvert through and through. And while I’d like to think that living on my own, across the world from family and friends, has pulled me out of my shell, the truth is, that just ain’t gonna happen.

I’ve adapted, I’ve grown. I know now to make small talk with strangers, sure. But as my previous confession illustrates, if my darkest desire is to spend my solo New Year’s Eve trip in Paris (a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity), cuddled up in sweats, in my hostel, watching Netflix, then I think it’s very clear that I haven’t really changed as much as I thought I had over the past eight months.

Where does that leave me, though? As one year of epic proportions draws to a close, and I realize I’m still pretty much the same ol’ Emily, what can I expect or hope for in two thousand seventeen? I’m not entirely sure about anything ahead, but what I do know, is it’s one hundred percent okay to just be yourself. Don’t waste time or energy trying to be someone you’re not. Rather, learn to love yourself, and strive to be the very best version of yourself that you can be. It’s proven quite effective for me this year, because I’m honestly the happiest I’ve ever been. And that has nothing to do with the fact that I’m sitting at a bar in Paris as I write this.

Location is fluid, surroundings constantly change. Happiness though, evolves within oneself. Wherever you are, if you’re happy, you’ll be happy. Right now, at 10:30PM on 31 December 2016, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. And that’s in large part due to the fact that I have learned to love myself.

We’re often flooded with stories of love this time of year; social media perpetuates this fact. Babies, boyfriends, girlfriends, engagements, weddings. Well, I can’t officially announce it on Facebook to the world, for the sheer fact that if I did, it may be significantly misunderstood if I came out in 2017 as being “in a relationship” on social media. But despite my incapacity to do so, that’s exactly how I feel right now. As 2016 draws to its final close, the clock is ticking down; people will be rushing all across the world to find that person whom they’ll share a kiss with at midnight. Despite being all by my lonesome tonight, even at a bar out in public, I’m with exactly the person who I want to be with as I welcome 2017 with wide open arms and an open heart-myself. I’m thrilled to be so happy, content, and confident in myself that I’m the only date I need this New Year’s. A whole hell of a lot has changed this past year for me; but deep down, I’m still the same, boring, shy, loud and weird Emily, and that’s completely okay with me.

“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” -E.E. Cummings

Frohe Weinachten: 2016 you were great, 2017 I can’t wait!

Frohe Weinachten: 2016 you were great, 2017 I can’t wait!

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Happy Boxing Day from Deutschland! Today is another mellow holiday spent at home. Hanging out in the living room, kids cartoons playing on the t.v. in the background, trains, cars and tracks scattered across the living room floor, and two cute boys laughing and playing like any other day of their short but substantial existence. The twins sure do make visiting the Lee household interesting. It’s a juxtaposition of opposites here: organized chaos, structures and schedules yet random all the while. Quiet and loud, laughter and cries, whispers and screams. A clear glimpse for me into domesticated, parental bliss. Although something I surely want for myself someday, it makes me appreciate my unscheduled life of a vagabond teacher traveler. Being able to pick up at the drop of a hat, plan a New Year’s trip to Paris, and pssibly even an unscheduled trip to Brussels if I get such an urge-only time will tell. But I’ve come to realize after nearly eight months of travel thats part of the fun in it all, the spontaneity! 

Being solely responsible for myself and nothing more, worried only about what I want, where I’d like to go, what will make me happiest, is absolutely liberating! I’ve come to see the progression of two thousand and sixteen as a reward to myself. Twenty-six years of living my life the way I thought others expected me to; setting goals and racing through life to impress no one in particular, but just to say, “see, look what I can do!” It’s all a hell of a lot of work, but doesn’t leave any time for me to reap the benefits of all my efforts I’ve sewn. Not anymore though.

As this year comes to a close I can close my eyes and reflect on all that I’ve done, all the places I’ve gone, all the people I’ve met along the way, all the new things I’ve tried my hands at-all for ME. Rewards for the efforts I’ve put forth for the past twenty-six years; a celebration of such a wonderful life that I get to lead.

This holiday season has been one for the books, that’s for sure. I’ve had the opportunity to look at the holidays through a new lense. And to be quite honest, I’ve come to realize that all that has mattered to me in the past this time of year has been pretty close to spot on. It’s not about where you are in life, it’s not even about where you are in the world. The thing that matters most above all else in this world are the people you love. I may not have been able to spend this year in the presence of my immediate family and friends, but I’ve never been completely alone. 

First and foremost I have an amazing network of extended family in Germany who make me feel welcome in their home- no matter what time of year. Also, I’ve once again met some great new friends from across the globe at work. We all share a similar passion for adventure, and a dedication to education that has led us, in different ways, to a small international school in southwest Germany. These people have become my friends whom I share my struggles and smiles with on a regular basis. I am so grateful for an international network of likeminded educators. A group of people, whom through it all, despite the dramas of day-to-day life in the world of education, continue to show up to work every day, with one common goal. That is, to share our passion for knowledge and love of learning, with the next generation of the world. 

Far away from daily life in Deutschland though, I also have so much to be happy about. Thanks to the wonderful world of technology, I’m able to stay in touch with my loved ones back at home with ease. A simple phone call is all it takes, and I not only get to hear from the ones I love, but I get to see them too. And while I know life at home hasn’t grinded to a halt since I left last May, it doesn’t feel as though I’m missing out on being apart of their lives’, because we communicate so frequently. Some may find it odd that at twenty-six (almost twenty-seven…yikes!) I still like to call home everyday. Honestly though, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s almost as if I get to experience the best of two worlds. One world, in Europe, full of adventures, travel and self-reflection. And the other world, miles and miles away in the physical sense, but still on my mind and in my heart everyday.

Yes, it is very true, I have a HELL of a lot to be thankful for as two thousand and sixteen draws to a close: a roof over my head, a place to sleep each night, a backpack to lug all my stuff around with me as I traipse across Europe. Family and friends, near and far, whom I love and appreciate to an endless degree. Furthermore, an incredible career that has allowed me to pursue two passions in life simultaneously. And I just know that every trip I take, each weekend I spend away from my German home in Neustadt, I’m making myself a better social studies teacher in the long run.

There are simply not enough words in the English language to help me describe the incredible and endless amount of gratitude that I have felt these past eight months since moving abroad! I am so blessed to have such a supporting family and network of friends. People who have shown me through actions what it truly means to pursue one’s dreams. And simply put, that’s exactly what I have been doing this entire time that I’ve been away. I have been shooting for the moon, while finding solace, wonder and joy amongst the stars. 

So to all who have helped me get to this point in my life, I’d like to take a moment, once again, to say thank you. You’re all the reasons why I’m here living out my dreams and sharing my stories with you. I write this blog not for vanity, not even for myself. Rather each time I sit down to write, I’m thinking about sharing my wonderful experiences with all of my family and friends across the globe. I want you all, too, to share in my excitement, happiness and joy. Because as I’ve already said, I wouldn’t be the person I am today; I wouldn’t be where I am in life today, if it weren’t for each and every one of you. If you’re taking the time to read this, then please know, you have helped shape me into the person that I am today. And for that-for all my happiness, joy, sadness, fears, adventures, exhilaration and love-I am, without a doubt, forever and eternally grateful. Cheers to you all, warmest wishes this holiday season. I hope you had a very merry Christmas, I wish you a wonderful New Year’s, and I’ll see you all in two thousand and seventeen!

Love always, Em

Bamberg: one of the best in Bavaria

Bamberg: one of the best in Bavaria

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning.” -Benjamin Franklin

I arrived in Bamberg late Friday night after about six and a half hours of travel, for a trip that should have taken less than four. Despite it being my most difficult train trip, I made it in before nine at least, and got all check in to my hostel, The Sleepy Owl. Being just a five minute walk from the train station, was certainly a perk, especially after so many things had gone wrong already earlier in the day. I was quite tired, after I finally arrived around eight-thirty, so I decided to stay in and get some sleep before heading out to explore the city early on Saturday morning.

My train trouble, unfortunately, started when I fell asleep for the first time ever on a train, and has probably deterred me from every taking a short nap on a train again any time soon. Although I was supposed to be riding the S1 all the way from Neustadt to Osterbruken, we stopped half-way there, while only half of the train continued on to our final destination. So while I was supposed to be hopping on a different train car, I was a bit disoriented from sleep, and the train left without me. Then I was forced to wait another hour before the next train ran through, and that’s what caused the rest of the delay. Because by the time I finally made it to Osterbruken, a bunch of trains were delayed to and from southern Germany. Oh well, I made it eventually. However, I was quite tired, and since I had already grabbed a bite to eat earlier in the evening at one of my train changes, I had a cozy night in my room till falling asleep.

On Saturday, by two in the afternoon, I had made my way around much of the city. I started off my day walking from my hostel to the Dom (church), but before I made it all the way there I ran right into a Christmas market (called a Weinahchtsmarkt in Deutsche). Of course, I took a stroll through, wandering from booth to booth, sampling some tasty treats, and enjoying the holiday spirit. Eventually, I continued on and found the Domstrasse (church street), the Dom, and a few other places of historical value before stopping at my first Franconian brewhouse- Ambrausianum. I had a sampler tray with a light helles lager, a weisen bier, a dunkel, and the famous smoked bier of the region. I actually quite enjoyed it, to my surprise, and I also really like the weisen bier too.

Afterwards, I ventured on to find the next place to sample the smoked beer, traditional in Franconia. The second “brauerei” I visited was called Fassla. I really enjoyed a lager from here, and I was very pleased to finally have reached a region of Germany where they brew more than shitty pilsner (which is all I can find in Neustadt). I guess that’s to be expected though, when moving to wine region in Deutschland, not the greatest beer.

Saturday was a lot of fun. It was so great to get out of the house, and adventure outside of Neustadt, getting the chance to see different regions in Deutschland. I had a wonderful time just simply walking around town, taking in all the sites. It’s times like this when it truly dawns on me just how wonderful my life is!

I get the opportunity of a lifetime every time I step out my door and go someplace new on the weekends. So far since having moved to Deutschland exactly ten weeks ago on Saturday, I’ve had too many incredible adventures to count. I’ve met countless new people, explored wonderful new places, and enjoyed trying so many new things. I’ve had the opportunity to start a new job, teaching in a vastly different environment than ever before. Further, I’ve learned valuable new skills in teaching the two new subjects from the social studies discipline that I’ve been assigned- human geography and economics. I’ve met some wonderful new people at my job who help make Neustadt feel more and more like home everyday. I’ve visited with family while being in Deutschland, which is truly special, but also demonstrates just how small our world that we live in really is.

Of the some 195 countries in the entire world, what are the odds that I’d be living in Germany at the same time when my cousin and her family are! We’ve never lived this close together in our entire lives, up until this point. It is because of this that I’ve finally had the chance to meet Tammy’s husband Jaxon, and their two and a half year old twins, Hopkins and Winfield. I feel so fortunate to have this unique opportunity to call their home in the northwest region of Germany my family home-away-from-home. I’m having the most wonderful time getting to know a cousin on my mom’s side of the family better, since growing up our time together was always limited to two week vacations in Kansas over the summer. Even better, we are getting to know each other as adults, each on our own international adventures; which is quite special as all my memories with the Frazier cousins growing up are of me, one of the youngest of the clan, tagging along with everyone who was older than I. Also, the twins are just adorable; of course it’s hard not to be when you’re two. And I’ve finally met Jaxon, who no surprise, is a lovely person, very generous and easy to get along with. I’m forever grateful to the Lee family and their willingness to invite me into their home anytime, whether it’s a weekend, a holiday, or any other time of the year.

Not only do I appreciate my job and my family in Germany, but there is still endless exploring for me to do all across Europe! So far, I’ve hit three countries, but I’m not nearly finished. I don’t think I could have ever anticipated all the wonderful experiences I was signing myself up for, just by taking a risk and moving across the world to Thailand last May. I knew life was surely going to change, but just how much, and just how happy I’d grow to become, I’m not sure that was what I had in mind. Sure, life’s had it’s difficulties these past seven and a half months, but nothing worth having ever comes free. Instead of dwelling on the tough times though, I see them as opportunities for growth. By pushing through and forging ahead, I always know they’ll be lessons to learn and amazing experiences on the other side of each uphill climb. I just cannot express in words how fantastic life is! Seeing the world yields perspective and an endless amount of gratitude–I’m just so blessed to call this wonderful adventure my life!

Wurzburg: My first trip to Bavaria.

Wurzburg: My first trip to Bavaria.

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” -Buddha

The anticipation: Saturday 12 November 2016.

It’s nearly ten a.m. and I’ve slept in, showered, scrolled through the endless “Trump? What now?!…” Facebook posts and news articles online. I wandered out of my hostel, already have taken far too many photos to count (it’s becoming a real problem for me 🙂 ) and found a lovely cafe to stop in for my morning coffee and a breakfast sandwich, while enjoying a lovely view of the Main River just outside the window. I arrived in Wurzburg after nine last night, much later than I had originally hoped, but here nonetheless. After missed trains and late trains, and many minutes of waiting, I can officially say I have experienced my first Deutsche train-travel-troubles. Despite getting a tad bit discouraged about it all last night, as I was hoping to arrive around seven-thirty in time for some late evening exploring, I did what I always do. I trudged on, but eventually arrived much too tired on a Friday night after a long week at work to do anything. This included reading, or even finishing the movie I started watching earlier on the train ride here. So, after changing clothes, brushing my teeth, and putting my bed together (the hostel I am staying at provides linens, however you have to put them on yourself), I fell fast asleep almost immediately after laying my head on my pillow.

Waking up today I am flooded with all the emotions I had originally anticipated when I thought about what this weekend would be like. I am easily reminded why I did so much travel in Thailand; and I am beginning to feel that I’ll quickly sort out my finances in order to get as many weekend trips as possible, fit into my schedule while living in Deutschland. Already today I’ve seen a magnificent chateau, a beautiful river, and the most amazing fall colors lining the streets as I stroll through town. I am so grateful for this amazing adventure that I get to call life!

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The adventure: Sunday 13 November 2016.

Again, it’s early in the morning, I’m sipping coffee and eating breakfast at my hostel, waiting a bit longer before I pack my things to check out. Yesterday was absolutely lovely! I had a wonderful time exploring someplace new; and it was very nice getting out of Neustadt for the weekend.

After my breakfast yesterday I walked across a historic, and beautifully crafted foot bridge that crosses the Main (pronounced “Mine”) River, called the Alte Mainbrucke. This bridge, built between 1473 and 1543, has replaced an once old Romanesque bridge, linking both sides of Wurzburg together. It offers a beautiful view of Marienberg Fortress to the west, and the cityscape to the east. There are a bunch of characteristic statues of saints, all across the bridge that were added after initial construction around 1730. They give this bridge a unique historical look and feel.

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My first stop after the bridge was a quaint gift shop where I picked up a few wintery-themed Bavarian postcards to send to a few lucky loved ones back home. Afterwards, my walking tour of the city recommenced and I wound up outside the “Grafeneckart” and town hall. The Grafeneckart was originally the seat of an episcopal official in town. The building features a Romanesque tower, and has been the town hall of Wurzburg since 1316. The basement of the town hall was where I had the most fun; reading different documents about the destruction of the city during the Second World War, on 16 March 1945.

Although lacking major military posts, and hosting nearly forty civilian and soldier hospitals at the time, the bombing of Wurzburg was part of the strategic bombing campaign by the Allies against Nazi power in Franconia (a region in Germany). Wurzburg was targeted as a traffic hub and as part of the attempt by the Allied Bomber Command to break the spirit of the German people. The major raid of the city occurred on 16 March, when Royal Air Force bombers dropped incendiary bombs that set fire to much of the city, killing an estimated 5,000 people and almost completely obliterating the historic town center. Almost 90% of the buildings were destroyed in the raid that lasted less than twenty minutes.

Next, I made my way over to the Cathedral of St. Kilian. According to the plaque outside, this building is an excellent example of German architecture from the eleventh and twelfth centuries. I veered north from Domstrasse (Dome St.), and found myself at the Markplatz (Market Square). Not only did I stumble upon my first Deutsche Christmas Market, where I bought a headscarf and some wonderful fleece-lined fingerless gloves; the uniqueness of this town square for me had to be its backdrop.

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Located right next to Marienkapelle, this Gothic church is quite magnificent. From its unusual color scheme (the crimson really pops!), to the elaborate ornamentation, especially in the arches and doorways. Although original construction lasted from about 1377-1480, this church, like so many historic and grandiose buildings was no match for the intense bombing raids of WWII. The church suffered significant fire damage following the war, and the interior was replaced after 1945.

From the Markplatz, it was time for me to head east and make my way to the one true tourist site that brought me to Wurzburg in the first place. Located just outside the city center is the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, Residenz Palace. Considered to be one of the most important castles in Europe, it was built in 1720 and completed in 1744. What’s even more impressive than its exterior upon arrival, is to see first-hand what was not destroyed in 1945: the magnificent staircase and vaulted ceiling that is brilliantly painted; also the “White Hall”, “Imperial Hall” and “Garden Hall”. It’s impressive to think just how strong a structure must be, to withstand the devastation that the Allied bombing raids caused throughout town.

Outside to the back is equally as impressive, when one takes a stroll through the residence gardens. And despite visiting in mid-November, when the flowers are past their prime, and many leaves have fallen from the trees, leaving their branches barren, the wonderful fall colors managed to make up for the lack of foliage in bloom. Reds, oranges, deep yellow and brown, being here made me truly appreciate the harvest season, and transported me back home, even if it was just briefly.

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Fall is my absolute favorite time of year, culminating in my absolute favorite holiday with Thanksgiving. It became apparent to me yesterday that the holiday season has certainly arrived, especially when I stumbled upon the Christmas Market in the town square. However, the holiday season, in Europe, obviously does not include Thanksgiving. Being that this is my favorite holiday, the harsh truth that I won’t be surrounded by family, sharing in my joy of love, laughter and gratitude, is extremely difficult. There’s no easy way to say it, other than it makes me sad. I miss my family and friends, there’s no denying this fact. I miss them regularly, almost every day; and being amidst the fall colors and feelings of home is a visual reminder, as well as an emotional one, of all that I’m missing out on this holiday season.

Even still, I can be sad for a moment, but I cannot let myself dwell on what I don’t have this time of year, or any other time of year for that matter. That is not what this experience is about. Rather it’s about the exact opposite and that’s what I must focus my energy on instead. I must remind myself that I’m having the adventure of a lifetime right now; and like everything else in this world, that doesn’t come free. There’s a price to pay, and currently that price is being far away from home and family during the holiday season. If nothing else, the one thing I’ll learn from this new experience is how much to appreciate it whenever I do make it back home for the next holiday. If it was a special season to me before, I can only begin to imagine how much it’ll mean to me in the future.

After my beautiful, albeit nostalgic time spent in the gardens, I made my way back down to the river-front. I wanted to check out one of Wurzburg’s most unique landmarks. In my opinion and experience, you don’t often read about a crane listed as one of the must-see sights in a city. The Alter Krannen was certainly unique, and it must have been fate mixed in with curiosity that brought me there because I wound up finding the perfect place to stop for dinner. Right next door to the infamous crane is a German beer-house, called Wurzburger Hofbrau. I enjoyed schnitzel with a few different locally brewed beers, delicious!

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My Saturday walking tour was drawing to a close. After a leisurely dinner I made my way back to the bridge, was afforded some wonderfully lit-up views of the city at night, before returning to my hostel. I stayed at a place called Jugenherberge Wurzburg, which turned out to be great. Not only was it walking distance to the city (less than 2km), but the building is full of history itself, as it occupies a building that was once a women’s prison. A busy day full of walking and site-seeing left me quite tired and I quickly fell asleep when I got back to my room.

The afterword: Monday 14 November 2016.

A new day, a new week. After an absolutely lovely weekend, I came home yesterday around four and had a mellow Sunday evening before the work week started back up. But first–my Sunday adventure:

After a thorough exploration of the city-center on Saturday, I had planned to check out the other remaining destination on any tourist visit to Wurzburg on Sunday. Before heading home on a mid-day train, I woke up, ate breakfast at my hostel, and packed up my bags for check-out at ten. As I only had my backpack and purse, I didn’t see the need to store my bags at the hostel; instead I just decided to keep them with me on my walk to Marienberg Fortress.

Literally located right “above” my hostel, up the hill twenty minutes, it was very easy finding my way towards my destination. All along, I knew the views would be spectacular, having seen it from afar at every stopping point as I made my way around town on Saturday; it didn’t matter to me that the inside and guided tours were closed for the season. I’m typically not that enthralled with the interior of old buildings, castles, etc; I go for the exterior architecture, and above all else, the views!

About twenty minutes after leaving my hostel, although I admit I was a tad bit winded as the walk was essentially vertical in terrain, I had reached my destination. To my lovely surprise, the mid-morning views were even better than I had anticipated. As it was just after ten a.m. the sun was still rising to the east, adding a glistening sparkle to the river down below. The castle itself appeared to be rising out of the darkness, as the sunrise illuminated it, little by little. It was a truly magnificent weekend trip; and what a special way to start off a new week. I will let those views carry me through the rest of the week at work; when I think about where I was on Sunday morning, I can pause, smile, and appreciate all that is right in my life these days. I am so grateful that amidst all the craziness in life at any given moment in time, I am truly living out a lifelong dream!

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October 2016: a month of change.

October 2016: a month of change.

“Change is the law of life. And those who only look to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” -John F. Kennedy

It is 10:30am on Sunday morning, 30 October, and I’m sitting in bed with a cup of coffee in hand, Lumineers radio playing in the background, thinking about what to write. This past week I finished teaching my first full week of school at ISN (International School Neustadt). Also, as of 7pm yesterday, I have officially been in Deutschland for one whole month. Four weeks ago I embarked on a new phase in my journey, and it’s been wonderful. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been perfect, there’s certainly been a few bumps in the road, but I am content knowing that I made the right decision to leave Thailand and try my hand at something new. I haven’t been as diligent in keeping up-to-date on my blog upon arrival in Deutschland though, so I may as well spend this time writing an overview about the past few weeks. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Week 1: Frankfurt

I arrived in Germany on Saturday 1 October, in Frankfurt. I spent the weekend there, at the Hilton Garden Inn Airport Hotel, for convenience sake, but still managed to get out and explore the city a bit too. Fortunately, the ride from the airport to the city center in Frankfurt is actually much easier than many other big cities. My experience with large airports (Frankfurt Int’l is the second largest in Europe) is that they are located at least an hour outside the city, making day trips in and out much more of a hassle. Like I said, fortunately that is not the case in Frankfurt. Rather it’s just a fifteen minute train ride into the city center from the airport, and the train/rail system is very easy to learn in Germany.

On Sunday I took the ride into the city center, walked around for a bit, managed to stumble upon a local weekend market/festival, and even took a bus tour around the city. I truly enjoyed my first full-day in my new country, full of feelings of excitement for the coming months ahead.

Week 1: Teaching

After my weekend in Frankfurt, I made my way down to Neustadt to begin my first week of teaching. As I mentioned in my last blog post, Monday 3 October is German Reunification Day, therefore the first week of work for me was a four-day work-week instead of five. Although I went to school all four days, I spent most of Tuesday in the HR department: signing my contract, filing for health insurance, filling out endless amounts of paperwork, etc. Therefore, I didn’t really feel like I was “teaching” just yet. I experienced the same sense of an “absence of teaching” for the remaining three days during that first week of work. Although again, I went into my classroom on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, for several class periods the only role I took as an educator was to proctor exams. Further, when classes had finished with their end-of-term exam, being that fall break was quickly approaching, I didn’t set out to create any real lesson plans either. For the rest of that first week of teaching, I spent my days trying (and failing) to learn students’ names, introducing myself, playing YouTube videos, and letting each class spend their forty-five minute period how they wanted. What a great teacher, right?!

Despite my feelings that I wasn’t technically doing my job, I never received any pressure from the Head of Secondary to do any more than what I had chosen to do; thank goodness, a clear conscience. Instead of sharing the mundanity that was my first week as a teacher, I’ll write a couple of early comparisons between teaching in Deutschland and teaching in the states. At an international school, such as ISN, some terms are a bit different than they are at home. For starters, technically according to my official title, as stated on my contract, I am not actually a “teacher.” Rather than calling teachers, teachers, or students, students, at ISN teachers are referred to as “mentors”, and students are called “learning partners” (LPs for short).

Another difference is the structure of administration at ISN. Instead of having a district office at the top of the pyramid, international schools employ Heads of Schools. These people, most closely resemble a mixture of a principal and members of the DO back at home. They’re certainly in charge of everyone/everything, but they’re hardly ever seen. Under the Head of School, ISN employs two “vice principals”, the Head of Secondary and the Head of Primary. My “boss”, Peter, is the Head of Secondary; and it was with him whom I interviewed for the job, and it was he who offered me the position. I report directly to him, and he just so happens to be the teacher who helped cover my classes for the first six weeks of the year.

Several other differences between teaching at an international school and teaching at home include class sizes, resources, and the school calendar. Because the school I work at is so small (less than 200 students in grades K-12), my class sizes are AMAZING! The largest group I have in one lesson is 12, the smallest is 5; it’s awesome! This dynamic almost completely removes classroom management as apart of my role as an educator. Not only is it different from my class sizes of 30-35 back at home last year, but it’s miles different from teaching classes of 50 in Thailand these past five months. I am very grateful for this change, and will treasure it while it lasts.

My new classroom
My new classroom

Weeks 2-3: The Work Permit Process

Although fall break started Friday afternoon, 10/7, my “vacation” was postponed till that following Monday. I had arranged to head over to the immigration office Monday morning, to officially apply for my work permit and residency. This process, of moving to Europe to work with a US passport, has proven quite difficult for several reasons. First, when I originally started looking for jobs after Thailand, I had certainly hoped to move to Europe. It has always been a dream of mine to live abroad, but also, I have dreamed of living and working in Europe. Unfortunately I ran into trouble when I first began applying for jobs. One of two scenarios would occur: first, I wouldn’t even apply as the one application requirement holding me back was many schools don’t accept applications from candidates who hold a US passport. I’m not entirely the expert on this, but it comes down to something like giving European jobs to European passport holders, i.e. keep the jobs in the local economy. Second, if I did manage to submit an application, I would get a response a few days later saying, “Thank you for your interest, unfortunately unless you hold an EU passport, we cannot accept your application. If you’d like, check out these positions available in Asia, the Middle East, or Africa…”

Ultimately, I obviously made it past this road block. However, I was unable to file any immigration paperwork prior to my arrival in Germany because of my US passport. Technically, when I arrived (without a return ticket no less) I was instructed to say I was only here for tourism. Further, as it is not allowed for one to work on a tourist visa, I needed to apply for a work permit as soon as possible. However, one cannot apply for a work permit in Germany without a permanent address. And being that finding a place to live was one of the most difficult road blocks to overcome (since I arrived during Winefest, one of the busiest seasons in Neustadt), there were clear problems with the immigration process from the start.

None of this would have bothered me originally, as I assumed there would be a member of the HR department at ISN whose job it is to help me sort all this out. Unfortunately, one area where my small school is lacking, is in fact the HR department. It’s a one-person department, filled by two, part-time employees; only one of which speaks English well enough to help with the process of welcoming new teachers. And needless to say, she’s clearly not very good at her job…I’ll just leave it at this: another new experience, however difficult it may have been, I was able to work through it, come out the other end, having learned valuable life lessons during the process.

Weeks 2-3: Heidelberg and family adventures

After several hours of waiting at the immigration office in Neustadt on Monday, 10/10, I heaved my backpack onto my back, and made my way over to the main train station in town (called the Hauptbanhof) to set off on my vacation. Considering the fact that it costs a fair bit of money to move from SE Asia to Western Europe; on top of that, I’d already paid for an entire week’s stay at a hotel and I had close to three more weeks ahead of me before I would be able to move into my apartment; I knew that I needed to be fiscally cautious for the next two weeks of fall break. Therefore, I had only three things planned, in order to save money. First, I would take the train on Monday from Neustadt to Heidelberg (a town located about an hour and a half away), spend the night, before packing up and moving on. I would then head north, near Cologne, where my cousin Tammy and her husband Jaxon live, with their twin boys. Jaxon is in the Air Force, and they are currently stationed at Geilenkirchen NATO Air Base. Finally, I would head back down to Frankfurt, where I would meet my dad’s cousin, JoAnne for the first time, and stay with her for a few nights as well.

Heidelberg:

I chose Heidelberg as my first stop (of many) that I am planning throughout my time here, for two simple reasons. One, it’s close by, only an hour and a half by train from Neustadt; second, there’s a castle in town with great views, and I was in the mood for a bit of medieval magic. The train ride from Neustadt to Heidelberg was beautiful. Upon arrival, I walked across the street from the train station to my hostel, checked in, then headed out to explore the city. The hike up to Heidelberg Castle, although strenuous and tricky when navigating the old cobblestone streets, is certainly worth the effort. The castle and ruins combined date from the twelfth-nineteenth centuries. Having seen years of war, a number of monarchs, and countless tourists visits, Heidelberg Castle is in great condition. The most interesting part to me, was the ability to see the juxtaposition between the portions of the castle that have been restored and preserved amongst the ruins that outline what once was.

Family Time: #fraziersinholland

On Tuesday, I woke up, packed my bag, and headed back to the train station across the street from my hostel. I was taking the train from Heidelberg to Aachen (outside of Cologne) where Tammy would pick me up. She and Jaxon actually live in a tiny town called Hoengen, but with a population of less than 3,000 people, the train wouldn’t be dropping me off right at their doorstep. I enjoyed my train ride, as I had the chance to ride both the local German rail lines (S-Bahn) and the high-speed German trains (I.C.E.). In just under three hours, I arrived in Aachen and was reunited with family again, in Germany no less!

I’m very excited to have family close by. As I’ll be spending my very first holiday season away from home this year, it will be nice to have a place to go where I can be surrounded by family again. I am so grateful to my cousins as well. Tammy and Jaxon welcomed me and opened up their home to me for more than a week. I finally met Jaxon for the first time, and I also met their 2 1/2 year old twins, Hopkins and Winfield, and what cuties they are!

For the next week, although my schedule wasn’t jam-packed with sights to see, adventures, or endless places to explore (if you can imagine, there’s not a whole lot to do in a town of 2,000 people…), it was absolutely lovely to spend time with my cousins, relax, catch up on some reading, eat home-cooked meals again, and play with the twins. That’s not to say that we didn’t get out of the house at all over the course of the week. On Wednesday, Tammy had scheduled to drop the boys off at the child care center on base; then she and I drove across the border to Valkenburg for my first trip to the Netherlands! It only took us thirty minutes to arrive in Valkenburg, a town rich in history as it is home to the remains of the only hilltop castle in the Netherlands. Beneath the castle ruins lie an extensive and intricate series of caves, which we took a tour through as well. To finish off our fun day together, we took a stroll through town before sitting down outside at a local restaurant for lunch and spirits. After spending one week with Tammy and Jaxon, I have now learned that the best beer in Europe, far better than Dutch beer, even better than German beer, is Belgian. Therefore, despite being in the Netherlands for lunch that day, instead of a Dutch beer I was introduced to the first of many delicious flavors of Belgium.

That following weekend, Tammy and I had planned a trip, sans children, to Amsterdam. I had been looking forward to that weekend for the two weeks leading up to it, I was so excited to visit one of the cities on my must-see Europe list! On Friday evening, she and I drove the two hours it takes to reach the Dutch city. Tammy had booked us two nights at a hotel, and although it was about a thirty-five minute bike ride outside the city center, it was a lovely place. We were pretty tired by the time we finally arrived on Friday night, it was after eight pm, so once we checked into our room, we simply headed downstairs for dinner in the hotel.

On Saturday, we woke up, got ready, and rented bikes from our hotel to use for the day in order to “see” Amsterdam the way the locals do. Amsterdam is one of the most bike-friendly cities throughout the world. Everyone rides around on two wheels, it’s easy, convenient, safe, and faster than riding the tram or driving a car around in traffic. First on our agenda was the Rijksmuseum. This Dutch national museum is dedicated to arts, crafts, and history. I chose the Rijksmuseum over the Van Gogh museum as Tammy had been to the latter but not the former already, and she also said the Van Gogh museum is quite small, there’s not much else to see. Next on our agenda, we both would have loved to tour Anne Frank’s house, however tickets were sold out, thus it will have to wait till my next trip. For the remainder of our Saturday, we rode our bikes around town, found a nice place for lunch, toured the Heinekin Brewery (as you MUST do on any trip to Amsterdam), walked around the red light district (to get the true “Amsterdam experience”), before finally making our way back to our hotel that night.

The agenda for Sunday: view beautiful pieces of Delftware (traditional Dutch pottery), take a stroll through the flower markets, and finally take a boat tour so as to view the city from the wonderful canals. Amsterdam was wonderful! I had a terrific time in a new international city, and what a special experience to share with a close cousin. I can’t wait for similar experiences to come.

 

Week 4: Back to the grind…

This past week has been a blur. I arrived back in Neustadt on Sunday afternoon. As my apartment wouldn’t be ready until Wednesday, I again had to pack my bags and stay somewhere new for the next three nights. At this point in time, by early last week, I had been living out of my backpack for nearly six weeks (if you include the trip to Bali before arriving in Germany). Needless to say, the hotel experience had lost its novelty. By Sunday, I was beyond ready to move into my own place, finally be able to unpack, and settle down before the week of school ahead. Unfortunately I’d have to wait till Wednesday before getting my keys. Although this was tough on me emotionally, I was so over the life of living out of a bag, I managed to cope, but the anticipation was killing me.

During the days, the thing that occupied all my time was work. Coming back after fall break, I actually have to start being a “teacher” again. Back to the grind: lesson plans, SIX preps, staff meetings, professional development. Yep, it’s back to the real work world again. Gone are the days of Thai teaching with equal hours of teaching time as prep time. There’s no more Netflix between classes here. Planning for six preps is A LOT OF WORK, and will be a main focus of mine over the next coming weeks. I can’t let the stress of planning overwhelm me, I will figure out a good balance between work life, home life, and adventure.

On Wednesday, as I mentioned, I finally received the keys to my new place. I’m no longer homeless, my vagabond days are behind me (for the time being, at least…). I’m growing more and more comfortable in my new home every day. It’s much nicer than what I had in Thailand, there’s even four whole rooms in my flat: a bedroom, bathroom, living room, and a KITCHEN! I never thought I’d be so excited to cook my own food again, but living in a one-room Thai-style studio apartment has made me appreciate the value of a home cooked meal. Regardless of what it is, I ate a bowl of cereal with my coffee for breakfast this morning, but still I was in heaven. Just the fact that I can buy a box of Multigrain Cheerios is exciting to me (the only cereal I had in Thailand was corn flakes, that DID NOT taste like regular corn flakes…).

There’s a lot of newness in my life right now, and a heck of a lot of change has occurred these past six weeks. I went from living in Thailand, counting down the days till the end of the semester; to finally being reunited with my Momma after spending five months apart. We had a phenomenal mother-daughter vacation in Bali, before the dreaded and difficult “see you soon” crept quickly upon us. I managed to haul myself and all my stuff from SE Asia to Western Europe, and moved to a new town. I immediately started a new job, that has brought with it its own set of unique challenges and rewards. It took me nearly four weeks upon arrival in Germany till I finally got the keys to my new apartment; and now I’ve just finished up my first real week of teaching at my new school. Those of you who know me well, already know that if there’s one thing I have always struggled with in life, it’s change.

Change makes me uncomfortable; it makes me sad and happy at the same time. I am full of excitement when I think about all the wonderful new experiences I get to have in the coming months, but at the same time I’m flooded with nostalgia for the things that once were that will never, ever, be again. I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with the fact that I don’t handle change well, it just makes it challenging to get through each cycle of change in life. Right now, that’s my primary concern. I want to appreciate all that I learned and experienced in the five months I spent living and teaching in Thailand. However, I also want to look forward to the bright future that lies ahead. I know there are wonderful experiences to be had in my future, and I can’t let a feeling of insecurity or unfamiliarity hold me back from living life to the fullest. I am grateful for where I’ve been, and even more blessed for all that I have yet to experience. I’m thrilled beyond words to be on this wonderful rollercoaster of life!