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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *