Fahrtende. Bitte aussteigen.

‘Last stop. Please exit this vehicle.’ 

The words which echo through the tram every day as we pull in to Bismarckplatz. First in German, then translated after a slight pause as we sit at the traffic lights outside McDonald’s and the florist on the corner. This is the stop I want anyway, but now I have no choice but to get off. 

After a year of avoiding journey metaphors, this is the point I have reached with my year abroad. I’m being politely forced to leave, but also willingly hopping off where I always intended to. It’s the end of the road in some ways, but I’m equally just changing tracks. When I get off at Bismarckplatz it’s to carry on my way through the old town to uni, and as I depart the year abroad train it somehow doesn’t feel like an ending either. 

Far from feeling like the end of one long fart (Fahrtende, sorry), which I suppose can be satisfying too come to think of it (I digest – sorry, digress), it feels like the start of something new. 

I don’t come away from this experience with a new sense of European identity, or a message to preach about how we’re all essentially human and the same no matter where you go. I’m not summing up the year with some deep, insightful quote like ‘You have to lose yourself before you find yourself’ that an Instagram influencer might use. I’m not coming back with dreadlocks or a collection of polaroid photos, or an assortment of jewellery and trinkets gifted to me by fellow wandering souls on my travels through the European outback. 

It’s going to take some time to process this whole year and let it sink in that it’s really happened. But I can already say that what I am leaving with is a greater sense of purpose and worth. As previously exclusively revealed on this blog, I believe God’s calling for my life is to write. Exactly how that will look or what His purposes are with that gift isn’t entirely clear, but I now know that whatever I do after uni, I want it to involve writing. Not only does this give me direction for the future, it has also reignited my enthusiasm for my studies as I enter my final year; graduation doesn’t look like such a cliff edge any more! The young man who stepped onto a plane alone and flew into the unknown, making everything up as he went along, takes his next step with more self-assurance, self-awareness and clarity. 

‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.’ – Isaiah 43:18-19 

‘”For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”‘ – Jeremiah 29:11 

New self-awareness also extends to my flaws: my worrying and ever-worsening procrastination; the pull towards self-absorption and self-reliance, away from God and all those around me who I need and love; materialism and plugging holes in my life with things or clothes; a sometimes crippling and unfounded lack of self-esteem. 

I’m sure there are many more. However, I also leave in the knowledge that we all have our flaws, and that I am loved all the same. I’m even starting to allow myself to believe that just maybe I’ve earned some of the successes and opportunities that have come my way. I’ve also realised (as have my long-suffering flatmates) that I can hardly imagine a day which doesn’t involve listening to music, so at this point a song lyric springs to mind (from Florence + the Machine – surprise, surprise):

‘And you deserve to be loved and you deserve what you are given!’ – Third Eye

I have also gained invaluable language skills, grown up and taken on adult challenges, thrived outside my comfort zone (on a current record streak of almost five months away from home), and made friends for life. 

Apart from said friends, I think I will miss things like riding the tram (apart from the type for which I’ve developed an irrational hatred – my heart sinks when I see that orange beast coming), the gorgeous, warm summer, outdoor swimming  pools, Schnitzel, the Mensa, Heart & Soul Café, the FeG and SMD, the Neckarwiese, German quirks like waiting for the green man and the obsession with sparkling water, people mispronouncing ‘Reid’ and ‘Basingstoke’, travelling, the satisfaction of German trains being terrible and unreliable, the architecture, cheap rent, all the things that won’t fit in my suitcase, and my two wisdom teeth.

And apart from the people, I am looking forward to Wetherspoons, Nando’s, bangers and mash, having an oven, sponge cake, fish and chips on the beach, playing tennis, our new house in Bristol, the Wills Memorial Library, Boston Tea Party, St Mary’s and Emmanuel, strong and stable politics, offices which are open for more than 2 hours on every fifth Tuesday of the month preceding Saturn’s ascension, binge-watching Friends on the sofa, not being addressed formally, and physical books instead of just e-books. 

Here I hand the mic to morgxn to sum it up:

‘I’m going back home, / to the place where I belong, / there’s nothing like it, / no nothing like it. / Take me back home, / where the blood runs through my soul, / I can’t describe it, / there’s nothing like it.’ – Home 

Thank you, reader, for being here through all the over-sharing and abrupt changes from light-hearted travel blog to outpourings of deepest, darkest Dan. I am so glad to have this blog as a record of my time here in Heidelberg, and to have been able to share it with you. I’ve been able to say a lot more here than I ever could out loud, and will treasure the memories captured in these rambling posts. Overall, it’s been an incredible experience and I am eternally grateful to all of you who made it possible and have been so wonderful at keeping in touch. When I stutter and struggle for anything interesting to say to you about my year abroad in person, I’ll probably think of this blog or direct you back to it. I’ll try my best not to be that person who bangs on about how they found themselves on their year abroad and how different the culture is out there, but I can’t promise anything. I hope you’ve enjoyed this as much as I have, and I can’t wait to hear what’s been occurring in your life too!

Auf Wiedersehen,

Dan

I Lost My Heart in Heidelberg

Way back when ‘year abroad’ was an abstract concept and ‘Heidelberg’ was nothing other than a place lots of people told me was very pretty, we were played a song at uni called ‘Ich hab mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren’ – I lost my heart in Heidelberg. ‘How quaint’ I thought, half-laughing at it. Well, guess who’s gone and fallen for it now?

Ever since booking my flight home, it’s felt like the countdown is on. Everything seems to be coming to an end: the last CU evening on Tuesday, the last Next event after church last Sunday, the last three weeks of teaching, the last everything. My overwhelming emotion was sadness. At the same time as wanting to really enjoy the last few weeks here, I was almost angry that it all has to come to and end like this. To be brutally honest, there was no sense of longing to come home at all – just sadness.

This semester seems to have flown by in comparison to the first, and I don’t think I’d seriously thought about ‘the end’ before now. After all the months of build-up and excitement and attention-seeking Facebook posts about how much I was going to miss everyone when I went abroad, and then the desperation to get home for Christmas and the tears when I had to leave again, I thought I would just be able to leave this place behind. It was always going to be temporary and difficult, so I just wanted to survive, enjoy it if I could, travel a bit, and move on.

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This was the view from Anna and Tim’s hotel when they came to stay in the heatwave…see why it’s hard to leave?

But I suppose the key word here is ‘home’ (I’ve just had two wisdom teeth removed, so don’t expect anything that follows to be especially enlightening). It’s actually a good sign that I’m so sad to leave this place behind, because that means I feel at home here. I have been so blessed to have made good friends here, to have experienced a different culture and lifestyle (especially in the recent heatwave!), and to now almost be able to say that I really did ‘do it’, I lived and thrived in a foreign country in a foreign language. Perhaps I do get over-attached to places, but I think that’s part of me somehow; it takes me a while to settle down and feel at home, but I need to do it to really feel comfortable and happy. Of course it makes leaving heart-wrenching, and in my frustration at having to tear myself away from a place I love yet again I was thinking how I can’t wait to finish uni and just settle down in one place and live happily ever after (perhaps not the typical wish of a 21-year-old, but I don’t mind sounding like a grandpa).

It’s strange to me in some ways that I get so attached to places and particularly the people in them. In an unsettled phase, I worry endlessly about what everyone thinks of me, slink away from social events thinking I’ve come across as the most boring person in the room, tell myself I’ve been invited as an afterthought or out of sympathy, and even worry that I’m using people to look like I have friends by turning up to things, eating the food, and not really contributing anything to the occasion. Then I even start to feel selfish for thinking like that and making it all about me instead of just being grateful to be there and enjoying the moment. I retreat back to my room, hide from my flatmate and let life pass me by, content just to quietly exist and survive without any of the embarrassment of socialising.

Often that behaviour comes with regret attached. I would probably still say I would do my first year of uni differently in that respect if I got to do it again. But I’ve also learned to accept that that’s sort of who I am during this year. After years of trying to fit in and be sociable in a way people expect me to be, I’ve realised it’s ok to be an introvert. I’ve been an introvert for a long time now, and probably if I just go with it and don’t worry about how other people perceive it, then people will appreciate that too. I’ve had as much fun as anyone else at flat parties this year, even if I do only last a few hours before my social battery is on 2% and I’m longing for the embrace of my non-judgemental duvet.

This is where I start to think I’m on shaky ground. I had to try really hard not to write the words ‘live your truth’ or ‘you do you’ in the last paragraph, phrases which I instinctively shy away from. I’m coming round to the idea of ‘you have to love yourself before you can love others’ after my experience so far this year, although I’m still trying to figure how much, if at all, that fits with ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. I would say it’s still been possible to love and appreciate people, even when I had a very low estimation of myself or what they might think of me. I think my issue is with our ever-growing individualism in modern society (gosh, it’s all just got rather grand), although I acknowledge I am very much part of the problem. In some ways this year has turned me in on myself more, just out of the initial loneliness and the way I’ve sometimes isolated myself more than was necessary. I live inside my own head a lot and see my life in a very narrative way (something I’ve read about this semester for a seminar on personal identity, which I really think is the big issue of our time), but I also partly put that down to being a more introverted type. But that’s no excuse to not look outside of myself and love others and contribute something to the world. Anyway, this is basically what I’m writing a book about so I’ll leave that there for now…

I’ve read somewhere that folk like me are more likely to have that need to settle and make a home somewhere, but I suspect home – or the feeling of being at home – is something we’re all looking for.

Overall, it’s been a privilege to be able to make a home abroad and to have had such a warm and enriching experience, to have made friends who encourage me and love me and make me feel at home as soon as I see their faces, and who I hope I will stay in touch with for years to come. It may be goodbye to some of them forever (or until the new creation), but I will try to leave here just as I left Bristol over a year ago now: a smile on my face, and full of gratefulness for the joy it has been to be here. A challenging and sometimes confusing year, but a rewarding one too.

So yeah, right now it swings between ‘hurrah – I lost my heart in Heidelberg’ and crying to Adele at 1am (‘I woke up feeling heavy-hearted, I’m going back to where it started, the morning rain, the morning rain. And though I wish that you were here, on that same old road that brought me here, it’s calling me home…’). Now I can say I am looking forward to coming home again, even if home is also here now.

Joshua 1:9

Dan 🙂

P.S. Just had to say how much writing all that down has cleared my troubled little head, and turned all the mess into optimism. That’s why I write, so thank you for indulging me by reading along and I hope it was also beneficial to you in some way.

‘What noise do horses make in German?’ and other important questions

You might be under the impression that after 8 months (8!?) living here I’ve mastered the language. Alas, there is still much to learn.

I went to look up the word (or what at the time seemed more like a collection of letters) ‘wuhu’ the other day after being sent it in a text, and found out that it essentially means ‘wahoo’ (probably could’ve guessed that one on reflection). But the example the online dictionary gave was ‘Wahoo! I’m the sausage champion!’ which I found particularly German and amusing.

It got me thinking about other random noises and how they’re written. For example, surely horses the world over neigh, but how would one write that in German? I’m pleased to report that, as my timetable mostly consists of bank holidays and travelling, I have taken the time to look this up so you don’t have to (as I know it just shot straight to the top of your to-do list). Und zwar, a German horse says ‘iaah’, as in ‘hee haw’. That sounds remarkably like a donkey to me, but we’ll stick with the first source from my trusty and thorough Google search.

Perhaps conversing with horses in the local lingo isn’t really the most relevant measure of my language skills. I’d say I’m doing just fine with German really, and I think that there’s just certain sounds and words where I have a bit of a mental block and think ‘arghh can’t pronounce that one, so let’s avoid it’. But hey, I’ve made it this far!

In fact, it’s slightly strange to think that I have just two months left here. I still haven’t booked my flight home but it’s gonna be mid-August when it all comes to an end in a glorious shower of paperwork, bureaucracy, and frantic packing. After the homesickness and not wanting to come back after Christmas, now I can see this turning into another difficult goodbye. That’s definitely the strangest thing about student existence; you build a home somewhere knowing that it’s only temporary, but can’t help getting sucked into it all just in time to have to tear yourself away again.

In the knowledge that these two months will fly by, I have been doing my best to make the most of it while it lasts. I used up my Interrail pass going to Prague, Berlin, Milan, Como, Vienna, and Bratislava, and then got to Paris last weekend which was a birthday present from Anna and Tim all the way back in January! I saw all the usual sights, and was lucky enough to get to the French Open / Roland Garros tennis for ladies’ final day, with the end of Djokovic and Thiem’s semifinal as a bonus after rain delays earlier in the week. It was such a special day and I can’t believe I’ve seen a grand slam final! It was hard to choose between supporting a fellow left-hander who knocked out Britain’s Jo Konta and an Australian former cricketer, but Ash Barty played a great match to win the title. When she goes on to win everything else and dominate as world number one, I can always say ‘I was there!’. Now I’ve just got New York and Melbourne to go and I’ll have a complete Grand Slam…

 

I had a moment at the Louvre where I just felt incredibly lucky to have seen everything I’ve seen over the last year. I don’t know if it was the busker playing violin while I was there, but I got quite reflective and was looking at the big glass pyramid thinking of all these things I’ve been able to see which I had only ever seen photos of before or never really thought I’d see in person. I’m incredibly grateful for the people who have made it possible to do all of this, and will truly remember it all for life.

Paris is actually my last planned big trip, and I’m feeling very content with that; I think I’ve ticked off pretty much everywhere I wanted to go at the start of the year. Anna and Tim are coming out to visit in a couple of weeks which I’m really excited for, and then I’ll see if I travel anywhere else before the end. But now the weather’s so nice in Heidelberg (we had four days in a row of 30 degrees the other week, and it looks set to stay in the high 20s / low 30s for the foreseeable future) I think I’ll be quite happy here anyway. I’ve also got a wedding to look forward to at the end of July, but will do everything I can to avoid wearing a suit or tie in the heat. Another goal is to cook a full English breakfast for some German friends before I leave, and then I’ll truly have accomplished everything I could’ve dreamed of.

I’ll save all the really soppy reflections for a later blog post, but I hope I can already say I’ve grown a lot this year and am more sure of who I am and where I’m heading (although my waves of existential dread and lack of self-belief could easily fill another blog post still 😉). I haven’t nailed the year in any sense, and there are still times where I feel guilty for missing things back home (like not managing anything for Mother’s day, or failing to call Dad on his birthday) or just generally being bad at being in touch. And it’s strange seeing everyone graduate and break up for summer, but I knew ages ago that would be the case, and I’m looking forward to a fun month or so at home with everyone before uni starts again. Overall, though, it’s been a pretty dreamy year so far, and I am so blessed to have had this opportunity. I think I can also be proud that I’ll have spent just 3 weeks at home in 10 months considering I’m such a home bird!

Thank you so much again for being there through it all. I can’t wait to catch up properly in person soon!

Iaah,

Dan

P.S. Here’s some actual news lol:

  • Two presentations are over and done with for the semester, and they seemed to go well
  • I’ve started helping out at / going to a language café on Sunday evenings which has been good fun
  • Uni tennis is ridiculously expensive so I still haven’t played in Heidelberg 😦
  • I had an interesting evening the other week with CU breaking the fast with our Muslim equivalent group during Ramadan
  • I never want to be addressed formally in my life again, as the Germans love to do
  • I now choose cards based solely on their shape, having discovered that squares cost more than three times as much as rectangles to post. So I’m sorry if you get a ‘with sympathy’ card for your birthday, but blame bureaucracy.
  • I miss the beach
  • The Lesecafé is my new favourite spot in Heidelberg
  • White asparagus is disgusting and I really don’t understand why the Germans a) go to the extra effort of growing it and b) get so excited about ‘Spargelzeit’ and start eating it 24/7 covered in hollandaise sauce
  • Speaking of which, it turns out there’s Domino’s in Germany, which is exciting until you find out one of the pizzas on the menu is topped with hollandaise sauce and broccoli
  • The light in our bathroom has been out for a week and nobody’s come to fix it yet, which is problematic when you also have no window in there
  • Having previously managed to watch the entirety of Parks and Recreation, I have now successfully binge-watched all 9 series of the US version of The Office (Jim and Pam got me hooked!). These may yet go down as my two biggest accomplishments of the year.

What are you going to do after uni?

For so long my automatic response to that dreaded question has been ‘Oh, I don’t know. Publishing seems interesting, or maybe the Civil Service. We’ll see.’ That’s been my way of trying to sound relaxed about having no real idea what I’d like to do.

I always found it a tricky question. For a while I wanted to be an engineer, but then I realised I didn’t like maths and physics that much. Before that there were the childhood phases of wanting to be a pilot, and then an architect.

But if you asked me at school what my favourite subject was then I could never really answer. ‘You enjoy science, don’t you Dan?’ ‘Yeah, I guess.’ ‘You’re a good historian, and you obviously enjoy it.’ ‘Yeah, history’s pretty interesting.’ I basically enjoyed everything equally and just wanted the grades.

Now here I am doing Liberal Arts, the logical result of not really knowing what I wanted to do. Except I did choose it because I thought it would improve my career prospects (mostly thinking about publishing), and I wouldn’t change my choice for anything.

Over the last few months however, through sermons I’ve heard, people I’ve spoken to, and some honest reflection, I’ve realised there’s only really one thing I’ve ever wanted to do and can see myself doing. Does it still count as an epiphany if it’s lasted several months, or even years? I hesitate to write it, and would probably whisper it and then change the conversation if I was saying it to your face. That thing is…writing. Specifically novels, but if I managed to find a job which involved lots of writing (that isn’t journalism…might be searching for a unicorn here!) that would be dreamy too.

I’m at my happiest when I’m writing. I love writing this blog, writing letters to my family, using words to entertain people with stupid Facebook statuses. It’s the only way I feel I can properly express myself, and it’s my go-to way of dealing with what happens in my life. If I’m sad, I write about it and feel better. In moments of joy I write something down to try and capture that feeling. I enjoy it and it seems to fit my personality. The only comparable thing I’ve found in life is playing tennis; I daydream about both and find joy in doing both. Neither are particularly realistic as careers, but I’m plumping for writing as the more realistic of the two at this point.

It’s always been the thing that has got me through my education too. I still have Miss Bunkle, my legendary junior school teacher, to thank for laying that foundation. If I get good feedback on an essay, it’s usually because it was well written.

Somehow writing is what I feel like I’m supposed to do. You could say it’s a calling, although I’m not sure I believe in such things. It feels a bit strange to label something like writing novels my ‘calling’ when it’s something I’ve never actually done (well, I have been trying since I was 13) and can’t really be sure I’m even good at. It’s not something like singing where the raw talent is obvious, I upload a video to YouTube, get millions of views, and then get a record deal.

I also really struggle to square something that feels like very selfish ambition with any sense of God’s calling for my life. All this talk of ‘following your dreams’ these days just doesn’t seem to sit comfortably with that. Christians always talk about doing things to bring God glory, which I often struggle to see practical ways of doing. On the other hand, the Bible’s pretty clear we’ve all been given gifts to use and share. In fact, a major turning point for me was a sermon here in Heidelberg, which I’ve now been lucky enough to hear twice. The key question Erich posed was ‘Wofür schlägt dein Herz?’ – what does your heart beat for? What is it that God has put in your heart that you feel you are meant to do? I realised that all those times I’d been asked what I wanted to do after uni I had actually known exactly what I wanted to say. The words just never come out of my mouth because it seems so ridiculous. Fine, I could write as a hobby. But as a career or something to do after uni? It doesn’t sound right.

Yet everyone from teachers to friends to family has been telling me it’s something I’m good at for years. I just wasn’t really listening. I never believed I was actually talented at anything. I wasn’t a very imaginative child either; I only built Lego according to instructions, never got into role-playing games, and all my attempts at drawing turned out a mess (and still do!). All I felt I was good at was passing exams. I instinctively shied away from believing in myself in the name of ‘modesty’ or ‘humility’, which can be good things. I was and I still am very insecure in lots of ways, and perhaps mostly driven by fear of failure, which still holds me back from even starting to write. But I reckon we’ve all got something we’re good at, and at some point you just have to acknowledge it and roll with it. This is something that’s been on my mind for the best part of ten years now and it’s not going away, so I may as well give it a shot now while I can. Given all my past uncertainty over careers and the future, what a blessing to actually know deep down what it is I want to do! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared I’d thrown away better career options in favour of all of this along the way, but it’s a bit late to turn back now.

I’ve had an idea for a novel for well over a year, but haven’t had the confidence to even start it until now. Before I open my laptop or get out a pen, I think about how rubbish it will inevitably turn out, how my grand idea will be ruined by my lack of ability. Or how I don’t really have time to write a whole book. Or how I might just be completely deluded and barking up the wrong tree altogether. How even if I finish the thing I probably won’t be happy with it and it will only get rejected if I try to get it published.

Even now that I have finally started writing – I promised myself I would tell you all when I got to 10,000 words, which I haven’t quite yet but oh well – I still have all of those thoughts. But I’m learning already that it’s so much better to have something on the page, realise it’s all rubbish and then do something to improve it than write nothing at all.

What’s more, this is a pretty unique time in my life when I do actually have ample time to write. This feels like an opportune moment to at least have a go, and then if it all goes to pot I’ll just carry on focusing on ‘proper’ careers. I’m not exactly throwing all caution to the wind. I still know what people have gently reminded me when I’ve been brave enough to say all this before: writing does not pay the bills for most people, it’s a hobby. We just see the lucky 2% who ‘make it’. What I’m writing is, roughly speaking, all about dealing with failure, so even if it does fail at least I’ll have something there ready-made to help me through.

That all sounds pretty silly now I’ve written it down. I’m not sure I’ll end up publishing this post. I saw an interview with Zadie Smith about the shame of writing, as she called it – who am I to sit down and write a few hundred pages and expect anyone to read it anyway? I can certainly see where she’s coming from.

There’s a lot of people I could thank for getting me this far, and I hope you all know who you are. I’m lucky to have had nothing but encouragement and support in my life, and I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to listen to those voices. I’m not one of those people you hear about who has constantly been put down and told they’re not good enough to do this or that, and I can’t imagine how horrible that is. The biggest obstacle I have to overcome is myself. I suppose I partly haven’t endured all that because I haven’t actually put myself out there until now (maybe you’re having a laugh reading this and thinking I’ll never make it – by all means call me out now if you think I’m off my rocker and taking a massive wrong turn. That would be a loving thing to do.). Now I’d like for just an hour or two a day to ignore the voice in my head which tells me I can’t do it so I can have a go.

A quick thank you to all of my wonderfully creative friends and family too. People in my social media feed making quilts, or doing amazing things with makeup, painting, drawing, writing, making music, building apps and games – you name it. I am inspired by all of you just because you are brave enough to have a go and do what you do because you love it. You are incredible.

I’ll finish with a little quote which has helped me along the way and which now sits on my desk urging me to have a go, from a woman who has inspired me in so many ways already:

Fear of failure is the saddest reason on earth not to do what you were meant to do. I finally found the courage to start submitting my first book to agents and publishers at a time when I felt a conspicuous failure. Only then did I decide that I was going to try this one thing that I always suspected I could do, and, if it didn’t work out, well, I’d faced worse and survived.

Ultimately, wouldn’t you rather be the person who actually finished the project you’re dreaming about, rather than the one who talks about ‘always having wanted to’?” – J. K. Rowling, On Writing (https://www.jkrowling.com/opinions/on-writing/)

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In that spirit, I will keep on trying to try. I’ve got a whole lot to learn along the way, and may not even make it to the end (just writing this blog instead of actually doing some writing shows how my old talent for procrastination is shining through already). If you want to see how well or badly it all turns out, you can now follow me on Instagram @danreidwriter. This will probably be more ‘professional’ than personal, but I hope by committing to that and having people follow it that I’ll be more motivated to write and keep going.

I remember writing in one of my first blog posts that for once in my life I wasn’t afraid to fail. That turned out to be a lie pretty quickly when I started worrying I was going to fail all my assessments. In this case, though, I feel determined that I must have a crack at it, and if it turns out I am deluded or a spectacularly terrible writer or meant to write something other than novels then so be it. I trust that God will open the right door somewhere along the way.

Dan

P.S. The whole point of this is I can write things down that I’m too scared to say. So please do me a favour and don’t ask me about it in person, because I’ll probably just get shy and fart or run away. Although it would be also be good to have some accountability I guess.

Surprise!

And it’s hard to write about being happy, / Because the older I get / I find that happiness is an extremely uneventful subject’*

‘We’ll assume no news is good news’: it’s what Mum and I always say when we haven’t heard from family who are away, and I hope you’ve been able to say the same in the couple of months since I last wrote a blog post! So much has happened since then but it’s almost all been good, so I thought I’d just catch you up quickly and record it for my own benefit too!

After going to Switzerland at the start of February, it was pretty obvious I just needed to crack on with essays. I had 5 glorious weeks to get them done, but my talent for procrastination quickly meant that I had under 3 weeks left to write 25-30 pages. Cue the onset of the flu and a couple of stressful weeks spent mostly in the library. Eventually I got the two big essays done and handed in just in time, in the full knowledge that they will not be masterpieces (another opportunity to combat my perfectionism!). While procrastination clearly forces me to get things done eventually, it does feel like a problem I should maybe fix…

In between I was lucky enough to have some fun weekends planned. First Ryan came to visit and we had a great time seeing the sights and discovering all the vegan delights Heidelberg has to offer. He even put up with me having the flu, and brought me some delicious homemade brownies!

The weekend after that I went to Munich to see my favourite band, Florence + the Machine. I’d heard and read about how good Florence is live, and she really didn’t disappoint. It was like 2 hours of playing all my favourite songs, except in a stadium full of people also having an incredible time. I particularly enjoyed jumping up and down for the end of Dog Days having all put our phones away as instructed by Florence. The 5-7 hour Flixbus journey was far from ideal, but so worth it.

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Then it was Tom’s turn to visit, and despite some very grey weather we also enjoyed the sights of Heidelberg and catching up after such a long time apart (or I did at least…!). I managed to borrow a mattress from our new Hausmeister (an American chap, but we both persisted in speaking German to each other), only for him to say it had been a bit of a hassle and he’d rather I didn’t go around telling everyone about it because he’s ‘not here to do favours and give things out for free’. So here it is on the internet for everyone to see. After an epic, 2-hour, bilingual church service, Tom’s flight was cancelled due to wind, foreshadowing things to come…

The next weekend, having handed in the aforementioned essays (one the old-fashioned way, printed out on paper 😱), it was time to fly home and surprise Nanny for her 80th birthday. It had been hard to think much about it amid the essay madness, but once the day came it felt like going back for Christmas all over again. Of course my flight was then also cancelled due to wind, but I got there eventually. We had a lovely pub lunch all together as 12 of us, and then tea and cake back home. I feel very lucky to still have three grandparents now in their eighties, and love that just having the family together was all Nanny really wanted – I was very glad to be able to be part of the day!

While I was home, I took the chance to catch up with the gang at Spoons (where else?), and then got on the train to Bristol to surprise everyone there too. It was so much fun seeing people’s faces of confusion and excitement at CU, and I loved being back after a solid 9 months away. Three days went by far too quickly, and I’m sorry I didn’t get to see everyone I would have liked, but between staying at Anna + Tim’s and being invited to an Iranian New Year’s party at Jordan’s I think I did pretty well! I also loved popping in to see Will and Mark in the house we’ll be living in next year. There was just time for JOkEr’s birthday bash back in Basingstoke on Sunday (we escaped the escape room with 57 seconds to spare!) before heading off back to Europe…

I’m writing this on a train from Brussels to Frankfurt after a week’s holiday with the big bro, Stephen. We spent two nights in Amsterdam and then two nights in Brussels with a day trip to tranquil Bruges. Lo and behold our flight to Amsterdam was delayed three hours due to wind (would you believe it?), but this was much easier to bear and make light of in good company! Amsterdam was amazing and well worth a visit. The main thing we couldn’t get over was the cyclists, who share their own lane with mopeds and motorbikes on the pavement. They come tearing past you or at you, so you really can’t afford to be looking at your phone (tricky when you’re constantly referring to Google Maps!). But they do all this without ever wearing helmets – crazy! We also enjoyed chatting to an Australian couple in a bar while watching England play football, but ran away when we saw them at the Rijksmuseum the next day.

Brussels was equally impressive and particularly came alive at night. We made sure to consume plenty of waffles, beer, and chocolate while we were there. Sunny Bruges was a nice break from the city busyness, and we accidentally caught the start of a professional women’s cycling race which was good fun (especially when a lady across the road pushed over all the metal barriers by mistake).

This morning there was time for a final stop at the European Commission and Parliament in Brussels, which was a laugh considering today was originally intended as Brexit day. It was beautifully hot and sunny, so we enjoyed relaxing in the parks nearby.

So there you have it, that’s what I’ve been up to. I don’t know when I’ll next be home, but I haven’t left in tears like I did at Christmas. I feel a lot more settled in Heidelberg than I did a couple of months ago, and I think back then it just would have been too hard to visit Bristol and say goodbye again. Having friends to visit also makes you appreciate the place more when they say how beautiful it is, so I’m very grateful to them for making the journey. 

I don’t actually know if I’ll have a flatmate when I get home in a couple of hours, as he suddenly decided to move out but never actually told me. I also still need to register for modules for the next semester which starts in a couple of weeks. I found out this week I need to choose my modules for next year too which is a bit scary. And I’m increasingly aware of needing to think seriously about what’s coming after studying. But, perhaps because of this holiday, I feel completely relaxed about all of that. I’ve got a couple more weeks now to do some travelling, I recently got a ticket for the French Open Women’s Final in Paris in June (huge thanks to Anna + Tim for that one, who are also planning to visit in June/July), spring has sprung, tennis season will start soon… essentially, I’ve got plenty to look forward to again which is just what got me through last month’s essay stress. I’m over halfway through this year abroad now which is slightly mad, and despite the odd wave of disillusionment with studying, I’m pleased to say I’m starting to really rather enjoy it.

Mach’s gut und bis bald,

Dan

P.S. I didn’t see a single cloud all the way back from Brussels to Heidelberg, just glorious blue skies. And I no longer have a flatmate, just a very clean and tidy flat…!

* ‘No Choir’ by Florence + the Machine (who else?)

 

In Search of Mountains and Lakes

Ok, you can do this. Two simple sentences. Just remember to breathe in between them. ‘Ich fahre am Freitag ziemlich spontan in die Schweiz’ (die, NOT der!). ‘Also ich frage mich ob es noch möglich wäre, bis dann schweizer Franken zu kriegen.’ Here we go, we’re at the bank now. Just say those words.

‘Hallo. Ich frag- oh, sorry!’ Argh! Nightmare. The wrong verb came out, and then you spoke English!

Somehow I came out of that bank with the desired amount of Francs, and then I was all set for a post-exams holiday to Switzerland. I had exams last Tuesday and Thursday, so going away on Friday proved the perfect motivation for, and distraction from, revision in the couple of weeks before. The exams were actually incredibly low-key compared to exams in the UK (we were allowed texts and notes with us for a start!) so I hope they went ok.

The second one was made more exciting as it fell on the same day as a contamination of the water supply in Heidelberg – cue a rush to buy bottled water in the supermarkets, advice not to use the water for anything except flushing toilets, and the fire service shouting the news through megaphones in the street (including at the start of the exam as they announced we could all use water again – hurrah!). The biggest tragedy to come out of that was that pizza was on the menu for the canteen, which was then closed down for the entire day. Sad times.

Anyway, Friday morning I boldly ventured out with a backpack full of clothes and now safe-to-drink water to get the train to Geneva. From there I would make my way back via Lausanne, Interlaken, Lucerne, and finally Zurich before getting back on Tuesday evening. It was a quick but fun trip, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go and see so many new places! I’ve never really had a problem with the idea of travelling alone, and while it did have its scary moments at first and mean constantly having to keep an eye on my stuff (no just popping to the loo in a restaurant and leaving it at the table) I actually quite enjoyed the independence.

I started writing this out as a recount of what I did, but that got long and boring very quickly. So, instead please enjoy some photos (I’ll try and be selective!) and some general highlights/thoughts on my trip. Crikey, even that doesn’t very exciting. I admire you for persevering with this digital equivalent of your grandad’s holiday snaps slideshow.

Being in Geneva and Lausanne was a laugh because everyone was speaking French. There was even a point on the journey there where all the announcements on the train and the guards switched seamlessly from German to French, and I instantly knew I was out of my depth. But in a way it was fun to truly be a foreigner and have an excuse to be lazy and whip out the old ‘parlez-vous anglais?’ at every possible opportunity. I think my language barrier highlight came in Lausanne when an old lady next to me at the restaurant was ready to pay but couldn’t get the waiter’s attention. She was literally waving her money in the air and saying ‘S’il vous plaît!’ but he still wasn’t looking. So I did my best Mr Bean-style sympathetic sad faces in place of words, only for her to completely out-do me and do the sad face with one of the bank notes tucked under her bottom lip and wag it up and down while making crying noises. Legendary!

Staying in hostels for the first time was also an interesting experience. Mostly I was glad to have a bed and a shower after a day of wandering around giving myself an unguided city tour (I did an unhealthy amount of walking while I was there, quite enough for the year – mostly while carrying a pretty heavy bag too, so I reckon I’m fit enough for the army now). But I realised in Interlaken that the little things make a big difference. I had such a lovely welcome there (which I then realised had been lacking at Geneva) from a lady who had even been to Basingstoke at some point and was genuinely interested in helping me plan what to do. There you also got a locker in the room which was locked using your electronic key card, and there was loads of common space, including a kitchen we could use. Having started that day in Geneva, spent the afternoon roaming Lausanne, and then taken a 2 hour train journey, that was just the kind of safe and welcoming place I needed.

Also, breakfasts in these places have converted me to yoghurt on cereal instead of milk; I always waste milk by leaving it at the bottom of the bowl, don’t like the taste, and there’s no point buying it because it goes off before I can use it all up. Also, I can just buy one big pot of yoghurt rather than several little ones. AND it saves on washing up. So here’s the interactive part of the blog (whooo!): will I still get all the same health benefits from yoghurt as milk? Will I die if I no longer have milk in my diet? Let me know in the comments! But remember to take a deep breath after all that excitement.

Interlaken was already feeling like my favourite place just because of the hostel, but I’d arrived in the dark so was pleasantly surprised when I woke up the next morning and saw all the mountains. Everywhere you looked there was another enormous, snow-covered rock. I took a walk down to Lake Brienz first and couldn’t help gaping the whole way down there. I was just blown away by it all, and then spent a good hour sat by the lake itself enjoying the view. There’s something about being by water that I find really relaxing, and there weren’t many people around so it was very peaceful. I then walked back through Interlaken, with a stop for lunch in the old town, to get to Lake Thun on the other side – that’s right, there’s TWO incredible lakes. Here I also saw a mini avalanche which was a reminder that the snow is pretty but nature can be scary. After all of that I actually caved and got the bus back; my legs couldn’t move any more, and the bus was thrown into the price of the hostel anyway (Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof – don’t even look anywhere else for a hostel in Interlaken).

This second part of the trip was in German again so it felt a bit more familiar, although Swiss German is sometimes baffling. People walk by you in the street and I’m sure they say a different greeting every time; they all just sounded like noises Sims make to me! But I could at least check in and order food in the local language, even if my German was as baffling to them as theirs was to me.

Anyway, I was a bit sad to leave Interlaken, and was particularly miffed that the train journey ahead seemed to be unnecessarily long and expensive. But then we got going, and it turned out this wasn’t just any train journey, this was an M&S train journey. Well, not quite; but it was the Luzern-Interlaken Express. We started climbing up higher and higher on this train, and the higher we went the thicker and thicker the snow got which made for some more incredible views. There was also a local lady on the train who told us all which side was best to sit on, and was excitedly telling us about the ‘Gämse’ (chamois Google tells me, a type of goat-antelope basically) which often come out in the snow and which people take the journey specially to see. Every time we saw a couple she would shout and point them out, and I found myself joining in in the end!

Luzern was where I had the brainwave of the century. You know those moments when you think ‘wow, young people really are the future’? This was one of those. I was wandering around enjoying the sights (another beautiful lake with mountain views, a very old wooden bridge, more churches) when a blast of arctic wind battered my face and made me want to go inside for the rest of my life. ‘Where can I go in a strange city when I need to waste some time and want to stay warm?’ I thought to myself whilst frantically getting my hat and scarf out. ‘Of course! A library!’ And what a beautiful, peaceful, warm place it was. While snow started to fall outside, I curled up in a chair with a good book, and all was well. Libraries truly are a safe haven, a pillar of all good communities.

After a night in Luzern (or Lucerne) it was time to head to Zurich for my last stop on the way home. Somehow I imagined Zurich as a fairly bland banking city, perhaps with some kind of skyscrapers in the middle and not much besides. On the contrary, it was lovely! Again, there was a beautiful old town, interesting old churches (the Fraumünster and Großmünster) and a lake with nice mountain views. There were also some lovely parks that I spent a while wandering around and sitting in, and where there was a little beach and even diving platforms so you can enjoy a dip in the lake when it’s a bit warmer…! It was also fun to be in such a lively city atmosphere again. I had some Francs left over so treated myself to lunch at the Zeughauskeller. I was seated at a lovely round wooden table, mixing it with bankers whilst wearing the same hoodie for the 5th day in the row, but felt quite classy having a glass of wine with my risotto.

 

So yeah, that was Switzerland. I absolutely loved it and feel very thankful to have had the chance to go. I couldn’t believe some of the things that I was saying to people I met there, like ‘I’m from the UK but studying in Germany and just backpacking in Switzerland for a few days’. Sickening, but I can’t believe that is actually my life right now.

Back to reality now with several essays to write over the next month (another excuse I used to have a holiday after all the ‘stress’ of exams). The sun is out here and I hope it is wherever you are too!

Bis bald,

Dan 🙂

I Love January

In this week’s episode of German supermarket checkout dash: the cashier loses patience with the previous customer, so starts scanning my items and passing them over the till to me to start packing whilst still in the queue.

And coming up at 7:30: why the only reliable thing about German trains is that they will turn up 15 minutes late and cause you to miss all your connections, and other tales from a 5 hour journey back from Bonn.

That’s right: I’ve been back in Heidelberg for just over three weeks now. After a dreamy couple of weeks with friends and family for Christmas and New Year, there were lots of tears before I left. But life here is actually pretty great again.

Almost as soon as I touched down, I remembered Heidelberg is a beautiful city and I did have plenty of friends to catch up with after all. I was silly to think there was nothing to look forward to in coming back here, and now have loads to look forward to in the coming months.

A big part in this turnaround has definitely been celebrating my 21st Birthday. Somehow it turned out to be a really special day, when it could easily have been a quiet one so far away from home.

My lovely parents came all this way to celebrate with me, and bought out a stack of cards and presents that people had sent. I was so overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity, and still am to be honest. I didn’t really deserve or expect any of what I got, but I’m looking forward to lots of travelling thanks to people’s gifts.

Mum and Dad also treated me to a hotel breakfast on the day, lunch at a Bavarian restaurant, a trip to the castle, and a shopping trip for a new watch which I will treasure for many years to come (I felt so like Harry Potter getting a watch for coming of age!).

Then in the evening some friends came out for drinks with me, despite some of them having had a German exam right before! I was really grateful for everyone still coming, and it was lovely to see some people I hadn’t seen for a long time. An extra special touch was them sneakily bringing out a piece of cake with candles in it and singing happy birthday (double points to the waiter as well who helped them get the cake from the cafe next door, and then gave it to us on the house!). They even made the right choice by going for Oreo instead of peanut butter cake. What a great reminder that I do have some very special friends here.

There were more reasons this birthday was extra special too. First of all, there was a lunar eclipse which I got to see in the morning. For once the skies were clear and everything came together so I could actually see it. Secondly, just like my Grandad before me I turned 21 on the 21st of the month while living in Germany. Back in 1958 he was doing his National Service in divided Berlin, and 61 years on he’s still with us and has been so supportive of me being here and making the most of this opportunity. We still joke every year that he’s turning 21 again, and I think I’ll do the same from now on!

Mum and Dad also stuck around until Wednesday to do some more sight-seeing and get to know Heidelberg better. It was great fun showing them around and spending quality time with them, and they kept on paying for food so they can definitely come back. The only problem was that temperatures stayed below freezing the whole time they were here, so we had to get good at putting on hats and scarves and gloves to go outside, only to have to strip them off again before we melted once we’d stepped back inside again!

 

So yeah, that’s enough bragging about how great my life is right now. But this has really been just the boost I needed. As I came back I was feeling guilty about not enjoying all of this as much as I should be, and realised I’d had pretty low self-esteem for a while. I just felt so loved this week and really feel optimistic about the future again now. I’m a quiet type so it takes me a little longer to settle and feel like I’ve made good friends, but if I didn’t know it before then now I definitely know that I’ve found some gems here.

I’ve got a couple of exams next week but now have the energy to revise for them (philosophy is haaarrddd!), and after that I’m going to go off on holiday (I think Switzerland really might happen this time – watch this space!). Then it’ll be time to write some essays, but also have some chums to visit at weekends and do a bit more travelling. Also, Florence + the Machine concert on 2nd March is only getting closer, and she released two new songs this week which I can only assume was a late birthday present. Then plans are afoot to go travelling with my big bro, so things really are looking up!

Thanks again for sticking with me through thick and thin. I expect I’ll be back after exams! Hope you’re all doing well and that exams have gone well there too, and that the weather isn’t quite so cold. I’m lucky I always have a birthday to celebrate in January, so I hope the January blues haven’t hit you too hard.

‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ – Jeremiah 29:11

Dan 🙂

P.S. It’s snowed three more times since I’ve been back.

My Very Own ‘Queen’s Speech’

The doors of the advent calendar are flying open, the weather has got so cold I can’t feel my toes or fingers any more, and the smell of Glühwein hovers over everything. There was even snow on the ground this morning. It can only mean one thing: Christmas is coming!

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That also means it is nearly home time for me, and I am almost too excited to put into words. I can’t wait to run at my family and hug them, to see their faces, to catch up, to eat ridiculous amounts of food with them, to belt out some carols in church surrounded by friends and family, to finally sit in a Wetherspoons once again with a G+T in hand and a bowl of chips, to have a bubble bath, and then to wake up on Christmas morning and do it all again before gathering round for the Queen’s Speech.

Just the thought of being home fills me with so much joy that I can’t help smiling every time. This coming week feels like a scene from Love Actually in my head: the snow, the Christmas songs, the emotional reunion at the airport…it’s all there! I’m not a million miles from home here, but having the extra distance and also just the small time difference of one hour has really bought into focus the fact that Basingstoke is home. It’s not the biggest or most exciting town in the world, but it’s where I always look forward to coming back to and where a lot of the people I love are.

Having said all that, I feel like I’ve got past the stage of feeling homesick and upset and wanting to give up and go home. This is just something I’m excited about after almost three months away, and a break in the semester to look forward to – very similar to how it was in my first year at uni.

The Christmas season is so wrapped up in all of these things, and above all family time. I’ve been wandering around Christmas markets here in Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Esslingen, Bad Wimpfen (thanks to a tip-off from my grandparents!) and Nürnberg, soaking up the atmosphere, Glühwein and Bratwurst (they literally sell sausages by the half-metre in baguettes, what more can I say?). Whilst the crowds sometimes filled me with hate for humanity, and the majority of the stuff being sold is tat that I can’t imagine anyone needs, there have also been some quiet moments off to the side where I’ve realised again how blessed I am to be here at all.

Often as you wander past the stalls stacked with sweets, wooden figurines, clothes and jewellery, a band will strike up a Christmas tune. These have really put me in the Christmas mood, and I’ve been listening to some old favourite carols – another home comfort. Some of the lyrics have really struck me upon hearing them again. The first verse of ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’, for example, ends like this:

Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

These two and a half months have been full of hopes and fears. Lots of my hopes have certainly been fulfilled, and I should remember to be more grateful for them. I have managed to settle down and make some good friends, I got a nice flatmate, I’ve got to see loads of new places, and speaking German hasn’t always been a total disaster. But I also still come away from social gatherings mulling over all the stupid mistakes I made in German, fearing that I made a fool of myself, don’t believe people when they say things like ‘Oh, I wouldn’t have know you were an international student at all’ (‘They’re just being nice’, I tell myself’), and fear that I will fail my exams. I’m still full of hopes and fears for the next semester, and for life beyond studying too.

But ALL of these hopes and fears are met in Bethlehem with the coming of Jesus, and it really feels like this coming holiday is where all of the turmoil and joy of the last few months will come to rest. Even that probably puts far too much hope on the holidays themselves, and I doubt all of my hopes for them will be fulfilled – we’ll sing the carols to the ‘wrong’ tune, or I’ll get tired and irritable with my family, or I’ll wish (as I already do) that I’d booked my return flight just a couple of days later. Christmas is a chance to put all of that to one side and to re-focus on the ‘everlasting light’ instead, whether it matches up to my idea of a ‘perfect’ holiday or not.

Another verse, this time from ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ (sorry for the ye olde language, but the old ones are always the best):

For he is our childhood’s pattern;
Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.

Not only are all my hopes and fears met in Jesus, he knows my sadness and gladness too. In the stressful times and also the good times where I’ve felt like I’ve been getting on just fine, I’ve been very quick to forget this. I haven’t been alone for one second in my whole time here.

Even as I write this, I fear that it’s all pretty self-centred. This is a blog all about me and MY year abroad, how I am doing and what I am learning. I’m well aware that some of the people I’m so looking forward to seeing have also had a difficult couple of months. We all share these struggles, and I’m glad we’ve kept in touch and been able to be honest with each other. You’ll get the hugs I wish I could have given you very soon!

So I’m coming home for Christmas excited for a break and time with loved ones, and maybe as a slightly more mature person already. Everything I have experienced has, I hope (there’s that word again!), made me more level-headed, patient (I’ll forever have more respect for people not speaking their first language now), and humble. I haven’t nailed it by any means so far, but I’m definitely on a valuable learning curve. I’ll also be bringing back some German food and songs, and will probably be jealous of the Germans celebrating Christmas a day earlier than us. Perhaps I’ll bring the snowy weather with me too.

I wish you a very Happy Christmas wherever you may be celebrating it, and whether it is a difficult time of year for you or if you don’t really celebrate it at all. I look forward to seeing some of you soon!

Dan 🙂

P.S. I’m sorry these posts seem to have got so serious – I’ll try and inject some more fun into them again soon!

FRREEEEEDDDOOOOMMMMM!

It’s been a while friends. I hope you’re all doing well and enjoying this glorious winter weather. I actually quite like the cold weather because it gives me an excuse to get out the hat and scarf and gloves and blanket and warm shoes and socks and Glühwein. Although for some reason my room is always insanely warm even when my radiator’s not on which is a bit disappointing.

You may remember from previous posts that I was pretty worried about a presentation that was coming up. Well as of yesterday I’ve now done two presentations and I am a free man! I can finally stop banging on about presentations. I mean I always find presentations pretty scary, so having to do them in another language always felt like a big challenge. I found the first presentation pretty embarrassing because of all the words I mispronounced and some technical issues, but I got some nice feedback from the lecturer so felt better going into the second presentation. This presentation was all about women’s protests in the abolition movement which I actually found quite interesting, and again the lecturer seemed satisfied with how it went. Overall, giving the presentations was a pretty humbling experience, and I’m mostly just glad that they are over.

So, yeah, after a pretty busy month of presentations (did I mention I had to give two presentations?), I’ve promised myself that December will involve much less work and much more Christmas-market-based fun! The market opened here in Heidelberg on Monday. Apart from making it pretty annoying to get to lectures (not only because of the room it’s taking up but also the temptation of food and drink at every turn) it has made things look very pretty and Christmassy, even if it is a bit controversial for starting before December.

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I really hope adults are allowed on this thing, because I will be straight on it.

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I’ve bought a ticket for my next trip as well; I’m off to Stuttgart and Esslingen next weekend, mostly for the Christmas markets. The weekend after that I’m hoping to go to Nuremberg. Somewhere in between I’m hoping to get to Bad Wimpfen, which apparently has a beautiful Christmas market (my lovely grandparents sent me a newspaper clipping which recommended Bad Wimpfen as particularly special, so it must be worth a visit!). Before all of that, I’m off to Karlsruhe tomorrow for a CU weekend away which should be good fun. Going away to Switzerland after my first presentation (don’t know if I mentioned that?) never happened because I was tired and disorganised and ill, so I’m making up for lost travelling time here. We’ve also got an ‘Adventsgottesdienst’ to look forward to next Tuesday, which sounds essentially like a carol service – can’t wait!

If time really does fly when you’re having fun, then before I know it I’ll be on the plane heading home for Christmas. I am genuinely excited to be home for a couple of weeks and have a house full of my lovely family (corny, but very true). I think if I have a Christmas list this year it will mostly be full of home comforts like bangers and mash, time with friends and family, and new socks because mine have holes in.

Speaking of which, another shout-out to Ryan for sending me a parcel full of thoughtful gifts last week (while I was still preparing for my presentation). Four tins of baked beans, pens, socks, chocolates, soap, ibuprofen to name just a few of the gifts gave me a real boost. I’m very lucky to have such caring friends and family, and I can’t thank you all enough for keeping in touch and looking after me!

Right, once you’ve finished throwing up at all the soppiness, prepare yourselves for a photo dump. I never properly posted about my trip to Freiburg, way back before those presentations which I may or may not have mentioned. It’s probably my favourite place I’ve visited so far, and the Black Forest nearby was stunning!

 

Since then, I’ve also done some more tourist-y things in Heidelberg, like walking (I know, I did exercise) up to Königstuhl, and visiting the Studentenkarzer (student prison – students used to purposefully get sent there for a few days for offences like knocking off a police officer’s hat, and then spent their time decorating…well, everything). Turns out the uni also has a pretty impressive old lecture hall where graduations still take place.

 

Overall, I’d say that  November taught me that studying/life in general isn’t always fun and easy, and it’s not always obvious why I’m actually doing it. But it also taught me to be more thankful for what I’ve got (i.e. the fact that I’m even here doing this) and to try and let go of being a perfectionist. I built up my first presentation (sorry) in my head as if it was going to be the most amazing thing ever, and then when it was a bit average I felt pretty let down. So I’m trying to stop myself when I think things like ‘ahhh I can’t wait to get home and put a film on and get under the blanket – it’s going to be a perfect evening!’ and replace ‘perfect’ with things like ‘very good’ and other such more realistic words. What a joy that we can look forward to a time when all things really will be perfect (Romans 8:18-25).

Anyway, this has gone on far too long already. Newsflash: life is pretty good, speaking German is still quite scary, but Christmas is just around the corner whooo! Also, bonfire night and Remembrance Sunday came and went here without any of the usual fireworks or poppies, so I hope you all did it properly back home.

Thanks for sticking with me, and enjoy the rest of your day! I’m off to carry on binge-watching Parks and Recreation (I took a BuzzFeed quiz and turns out I’m Ron Swanson, my favourite character).

Dan 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a Difference a Day Makes

It’s 7:30am. My useless curtain has let the sunlight in as usual. Maybe I’ll just roll over and go back to sleep. Reading. Food shopping. Seminar. Cleaning. Washing. Presentation. Dinner. Get cracking on that to-do list!

Woah, woah, woah. We haven’t even had breakfast yet. I scratch around for a clean bowl and a clean glass. Cornflakes. Orange juice. Milk. Just put them all in the right thing in the right order.

Ok good, time to get the tram. Double check you’ve locked the door. No, triple check. Keys? Wallet? ID? Go. Crikey it’s cold out here. 2 minutes until the tram comes. Wait by the bin so you’re right by the door when it stops. Get on the front so you don’t have to walk so far at the other end. Thank goodness there’s heating on this thing.

Red man. Wait. Wait. Patience. Green man. Go go go. I thought this was a pedestrianised zone? What are all these delivery vans doing? Why has that Mercedes just tried to run me over? Quick, look up at the pretty buildings. Now focus.

Oh gosh, this seminar. Who am I kidding that I can do philosophy? Everyone here thinks I study philosophy. I don’t. What was that reading about? I haven’t a clue. I can’t breathe. Why am I so nervous? Do I look as nervous on the outside? Do any of these people feel the same right now?

Wait a minute, I’m sort of understanding this. And it’s quite interesting. Now it’s over. Off to the library. Bag in the locker. Up the stairs. No, not those stairs. Into the Lesersaal first, then up those stairs. Ok, print the next load of reading.

Lunch time. Queue time. I’m too warm. I’m hungry. This queue is too slow. Salad leaves. Cucumber. Squeeze through the crowd. Spag bol! Weigh plate. Place card on reader. ‘Guten Appetit’. ‘Dankeschön’.

Tram part 2. Ahh the 22. My good friend. Bismarckplatz. Altes Hallenbad. Römerstraße. Volkshochschule. Betriebshof. Czernybrücke. Gadamerplatz. Eppelheimer Terrasse. Henkel-Teroson-Straße. Home. Reassuring or monotonous? I’m not sure.

More reading. Does this really make me happy? What am I doing here? I can’t wait to finish studying. No more student accommodation, no more worrying about presentations on silent films. A year feels like such a long time. I was so excited before.

I miss the air, I miss my friends, I miss my mother, I miss it when life was a party to be thrown. But that was a million years ago.

Yes, Adele, I know what you mean.

Anyway, wash up this morning’s bowl and glass. Time to see some friends. That’ll be nice. Another tram, and now a bus. I’m so tired. Ooh German food. And German friends. We chat, we sing, we pray. They chat, I listen. They try to include me in the conversation, but my words turn to mush. The bus is coming soon. I slip away.

Oh dear, oh dear. That wasn’t much good. I’m not very good at German. I was always lazy at learning it. Maybe I’ve peaked already. I won’t get any better than this, and then I’ll fail my degree. That’s ok, lots of successful people dropped out of uni. Right? I am so tired.

The sun is up. What a beautiful morning. Thank you, Lord. I think I’ll have banana on my cornflakes today. Yeah, then I’ll shave as well. Bit of self care.

Oh yep, I’ve got some reading to do. That could take a while. Let’s just try an hour now. Oh look, it’s done. What next? Perhaps the library.

Look at that view from the tram. Those hills. Those autumn colours. Wow. I am so lucky to be here. In a few years’ time I’ll look back on this and think ‘what an amazing year that was’.

I’ve got long weekends too. Perhaps I’ll go away soon. Switzerland isn’t far, that’s on my list of places to go. I’ll do that after this presentation’s done maybe. Something to look forward to.

Let’s just nip into all the shops on the way to the library. Those prices are ridiculous! Imagine advertising a €250 coat in the window as if that would entice people in! €20 and we’ve got a deal. Those shoes are nice though, I’ll take those.

Now let’s ask the librarian for some help with that book we’ve ordered. ‘Also ich hab ein Buch vorgemerkt…’ There we go, you can speak German. Maybe you’ll get a degree after all. Just keep trying.

Ok, home time. We’ll do a little bit more work, and then we can enjoy some food, get under the blanket, and stick some tele on. Stop work at 8, and come back to it in the morning. Sleep.

What a difference a day made! Twenty four little hours brought the sun and the flowers, where there used to be rain.

Indeed, Dinah Washington. Indeed.

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Matthew 11:28.

 

Dan 🙂