Derek Price
Derek Price
Germany 2012-2013
Welcome to my Lumos Student Travel Blog! I will be spending 9 months in Enkenbach-Alsenborn, Germany to help teach English at a local high school and to improve my German. Check here for regular updates about my project. Read More About Derek →

Lumos Final Presentation

Hi folks,

Not sure anyone still visits this since I’m not updating it anymore (and because I’ve completed my Lumos project), but I just remembered that I’d said that I would upload my presentation. So here it is. It contains the overview of my project, as well as some (hopefully) helpful points to consider when planning your Lumos or study abroad project.


Mein Deutschland


As of Friday, I’m officially finished with my Lumos project, but I wanted to take some time to share a few last thoughts about my trip here. I won’t bother attempting the impossible by trying to summarize nine months of my life in a few paragraphs. Instead, I’d like to go back to my first blog post, “Expectations,” and see how my experiences have compared with my hopes. Back in October I was hoping for a few things: I wanted to see a different side of Germany than I’d already seen in Berlin, I wanted to see what it was like to try to integrate into German society, and I was curious about how these months would really change me.

When I arrived in Enkenbach-Alsenborn, I could tell almost immediately that my experience was going to be vastly different than Berlin. In fact, Enkenbach-Alsenborn was about as different as you can get from an international and busy city like Berlin: E-A had one main road that bisected the train tracks, splitting the two towns roughly into quarters. As the name indicates, E-A used to be two towns, but they eventually grew together into one slightly larger town. I lived in the smaller eastern section, Alsenborn. During those first few months I biked back and forth to the school, took walks in the woods, practiced my German with my host family, and commuted twice a week to Karlsruhe for my language course. It wasn’t a lot, but it was my life and it kept me reasonably busy. However, E-A’s remote location came with a few problems: there were almost no English speakers to befriend, very few places to go to meet people, and not much to do on the weekends. Though I took a few trips during those first few months, I spent the majority of my time in E-A, and by the time the cold, dark months of January and February rolled around I became more and more aware that I needed to change something. Though life in E-A completely immersed me in a community of natives, I still needed the chance to socialize, make friends, relax, and just speak a little English. Thanks to my very helpful and flexible partner organization ELI, and my host family, I was able to work out a new living arrangement in Karlsruhe that put me in closer proximity to the things I was missing, but still allowed me to go on teaching in E-A.

During those first 5 months, I really learned what it meant to immerse oneself in something completely foreign. On one hand, there’s no better way to learn the language and customs, since they’re constantly modeled for you in a habitual and natural fashion by everyone around you. But even when you throw yourself into the deep end of the pool, you need to come up for air every now and then. In E-A, I didn’t have a place where I could go, relax, speak English, and do things that were familiar. I learned in a very immediate way how much language effects what you can do, how much fun you can have, how much work you can do; in short, I learned how completely and inextricably language is bound together with action. The statements of “I couldn’t find a place to relax,” and “I couldn’t find a place to speak English,” became, for me, equivalent.

My time in E-A and Karlsruhe definitely gave me a different perspective on Germany, and especially in E-A I was more or less completely immersed in German culture. And I really tried to integrate as much as possible, first and foremost by learning German, but also by adopting other habits, like eating a large lunch and a small dinner, becoming more direct while dealing with others, and countless other little things. But how did these experiences change me, and to what extent? That was the third question I posed to myself, and I’m honestly not sure how to answer it. In some ways I have definitely changed my behavior, as I’m finding out by interacting with my family and Americans again. But during other periods of my trip, I can recall the experience of recognizing something familiar in how I handled myself; certain challenges I faced seemed to reinforce certain personality traits or habits that I think I’ve had for a long time now. In the end, I haven’t got a good answer to this question yet, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. You can’t force some kinds of knowledge, especially self-knowledge, and maybe this trip has changed me in ways I won’t recognize for years. But I know it has deeply challenged me, broadened me, and made me more resilient and self-reliant. And that is, I think, what Lumos exists to do – to challenge you to grow, learn, and adapt to things you might not have ever experienced.

On that note, I wanted to add a big thank you to all the people who have supported me throughout this project. Of course, I want to thank the Lumos Award committee, Belmont University, and ELI for helping to make all of this possible and tolerating my mistakes and last-minute changes to just about everything :D. Also to my host family in E-A, the Steinmanns, as well as all the teachers and students at the E-A IGS, I give my sincerest thanks and gratitude for helping me figure out how to live and work in Germany. Also, to all the people I’ve met, traveled, partied, danced, sung, and studied with, thanks for making my time in Germany a little more fun. And of course, not least of all, all the people back in the States who have supported me with cards, gifts, e-mails, facebook messages, and everything else. I always loved hearing from someone back home, and you helped me get through this project as much as anyone else.

I hope you all enjoyed reading this blog as much as I enjoyed writing it, and that you felt like it was worth your time.

For the last time,



P.S. – If you have any specific questions about my project, or just want to talk a little bit about traveling abroad, always feel free to leave a comment, and I’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.

What Makes a Good ESL Lesson? – Part 2

In Part 1, I discussed how you need to consider time constraints and group size when planning an ESL lesson. In this part, I’d like to discuss how to consider the challenge of your lessons, the motivation of your students, and the materials you can use.

Challenge – finding the golden mean of “challenging but achievable” is one of the hardest things to do when planning an ESL lesson, especially for teachers who are native speakers. The most important thing we have to offer students is a natural “feel” for the language: a lifelong familiarity of all the peculiarities of English, from verb/preposition combinations to style and word choice. But this familiarity almost works against us when planning an ESL lesson because it is so difficult for us, as native speakers, to know what is difficult and what is easy. Then factor in that besides linguistic skill, certain students are just better or worse than other in general, and that you may have to work with varying age groups with varying levels of experience, and you begin to see how difficult it can be to find the appropriate level of difficulty.

Though it doesn’t help much in practice, you can take some small comfort that in theory there are only two mistakes you can make regarding how challenging a lesson is: making lessons too easy or too hard. When you actually start teaching, it will be up to you to pay attention to your own tendencies in planning, and to try and get as much feedback from students and teachers as you can. It will be difficult to get specific answers about what was difficult and what was easy from your students, but after some time you’ll start to recognize when a lesson was too easy or too hard simply from how your students behave. I won’t say “if they look bored than it was too easy,” or “if they smile and laugh and pay attention then it was just challenging enough,” because different students will react differently to easy or difficult tasks, and it will be up to you to try and figure out if a bored expression actually means the student is completely confused or genuinely bored. If you are working with another teacher, they can be an invaluable source of information about whole classes or specific students that you can’t read, since they probably spend at least as much, and usually more, time with the students than you will.

Also be aware of your own motivations when planning lessons. I know for certain that during the first few months of teaching my lessons were far too easy, and there were specific reasons why: I was a bit nervous in my new role as I had almost no precedent to follow and no materials pre-provided, I wanted to guarantee the students’ cooperation, and I didn’t want to accidently scare my students into silence with unreasonably hard assignments. As I became more comfortable with my role and work, and more familiar with the students, I gradually made the assignments more difficult and complicated. But if I hadn’t been reflecting about my lessons, and why I was planning them the way I was, I could just as easily have continued planning fun but unchallenging lessons. In the end your goal as a teacher is to create lessons and activities that give the students a chance to improve their language skills, and there is no improvement without a challenge. Again, I don’t want to simply say “Err on the side of making your lessons harder,” because that advice is useless without considering how comfortable you are with your job, how comfortable your students are with you, and a hundred other factors that can’t really all be accounted for. Be happy with small incremental improvements, try to adjust lessons that fall on the extreme ends of the difficulty spectrum, and recognize that during the course of a school year the challenge of your assignments will fluctuate more like a sine wave than diagonal line upward.

Motivation – by motivation, I mean a student’s immediate willingness to participate in class and pay attention, as well as their long-term reasons for learning English. This may not be something that needs to factor heavily into your lesson planning, and really only requires attention when something is wrong, aka the students are not participating or engaging with the lessons. In the short-term or immediate sense, your mere presence is often enough to get them to participate in your lesson, even if they do so begrudgingly. This will sound like bragging, but I really mean it as more of a disclaimer: I don’t know how to give advice about how to increase students’ interest in participation because I never had any problems. My students were at the very least cooperative, and often interested or even excited to see me. If there’s one other asset you have as a foreigner teaching ESL abroad that is a real double-edged sword, it’s that you are a novelty. But besides your novelty, you have on your side the very real fact that English truly is a global language, and that if you want to participate in any professional career around the world, you need at least a “basic level” of English. Almost all students are brought up believing this, meaning that even if they don’t have a specific idea of what they’d like to do with their English, they’ll still consider it important. One place where considering motivation can be helpful during lesson planning is when choosing subject matter for your lessons. You can’t be sure that all of your students will work for an international corporation or have to write an analysis of a Charles Dickens book, but there’s a very good chance that they may have to read a restaurant menu, give or receive directions, or phone up a hotel while on vacation or traveling abroad. By focusing on what students might actually end up using their English for, you can get an idea of which topics might make good subjects for lessons.

Materials – by materials, I mean quite simply and broadly anything you use to facilitate teaching. That means that materials can be anything from a simple question, such as “Describe your favorite vacation,” to a written-out script with cues for speaking practice. Often, a simple handout is sufficient to explain and set up a lesson, but occasionally you may want longer text examples, or even multimedia like sound recordings or videos. The reality is that in most situations, the material you use will be chosen and provided for you, and you’ll simply work your way through a book. But if you have a bit more freedom (or complete and total “freedom,” as was my case – I was given no materials to work with!), it can be worth starting a lesson with a video or cartoon, simply to avoid the monotony that can come with working solely through a lesson book, because even good books get boring after a while.

Well, that about does it. I believe that if you keep these 5 factors in mind while planning your lessons, you’ll be able to face your lessons a little bit more at ease. As I said in my first post, I’m somewhat skeptical that this kind of analysis of lesson planning is helpful as a guide, so take what I say here with a grain of salt and trust your experiences more than my opinions. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, be willing to try different things, and don’t be afraid of a lesson falling flat on its face. If you have any different ideas or experiences about planning and teaching ESL, do share them in the comments.

Until next time,


What Makes a Good ESL Lesson? – Part 1

After nearly 8 months of lesson planning for all sorts of classes, students, and groups, I decided I’d try to break down and analyze what one need to consider in order to make a good ESL lesson. These guidelines are the result of a lot trial-and-error, and even if I really did account for every factor in excellent but not excessive detail, I’m skeptical about these analyses being useful for training new teachers. That said, it can’t hurt to start with something, and if you already have some experience you might find these helpful for analyzing specific elements of your lesson planning that you can improve. After all, almost all the work of teaching is done outside the classroom, so thinking about how to plan a lesson will more or less set you up for success or failure. In this first part I’ll talk about time constraints and group size, and in the second part I’ll discuss challenge, student motivation, and  teaching materials.

Time Constraints – Never ignore time constraints. An okay lesson that fits in your scheduled time is far better than a better lesson that takes too long. If you’re working with multiple groups over the course of an hour and only have 10 – 15 minutes time with each, you almost need to under-plan; by the time you’ve explained the activity and given the students some time to work, you’ve already used up 5-6 minutes. On the other hand, if you’re in charge for 45 min. – 1 hour, you’re somewhat freer to try longer, more complicated exercises. If you can, try to have optional parts to an activity that you can cut/add, depending on the situation. For example, you can take the very basic activity of “describe and explain what is happening in this picture,” and make it last anywhere from 10 to 30 or 35 minutes. To extend the activity, you can have the students write instead of speak, and then share their writing, or create a story based on the picture, and then have the students write or speak about it.

Size of the Group – Never underestimate the effect the size of a group can have. Activities that work really well with 2-3 students can fail miserably in a classroom with 20 or more students. In smaller groups, you have several advantages: students are less nervous, you can pick up on individual strengths and weaknesses more accurately, adjust the activity to suit the group with greater precision, and correct more mistakes without holding up the lesson. However, if you do get to work with small groups, then it’s likely you’ll have less time with them, so the activity cannot be very complicated; you have to focus on one skill (speaking, writing, listening, etc.), and your activity must be fairly straightforward. Larger groups are by far more common, considering that most modern schools don’t have classes of 2 to 3 students, so you have to think about ways to avoid the pitfalls of larger groups: “stage-fright” in front of peers, the domination of the conversation by a few skilled speakers, students not paying attention or being disruptive, and “spreading yourself too thin,” or not being able to give enough helpful individual attention. In my experience, it’s good to introduce a topic to large groups with the whole group participating, then give the students individual or small-group work, and finally to have them share what they’ve done with the larger group. This allows (or sometimes forces) everyone to do some sort of work, to ask you questions while other students are busy, and then be prepared and more confident when they finally have to share their work with the larger group. I really think that the anxiety of speaking in front of all their peers is often the biggest challenge with big groups, so finding a way to both ease that anxiety, but also make the students confront it with confidence, is one of the most difficult and important challenges in teaching ESL.

Stuttgarter Frühlingsfest!


Last Sunday I had one of the best experiences I’ve had in Germany so far. I was sad when I arrived in October and found out that I was going to miss Oktoberfest since it actually begins in late September and ends in early October. But earlier this year someone told me about Frühlingsfest, which is more or less Oktoberfest during the spring (literally, it’s “spring festival,”) and I resolved to attend. Boy am I glad I did.

As you can see, my friend David and I are dressed in traditional “lederhosen” (literally “leather pants.”) Sadly, I borrowed this pair instead of buying it, since real lederhosen can be quite expensive, but I think the above picture is souvenir enough! We’re also each holding a “Maß,” which is a 1 Liter serving of beer. They don’t sell anything smaller 😀

Frühlingsfest is pretty much one big party. There are always multiple, huge tents set up for celebrating, but we chose to reserve a table at Grandls Hofbräu Zelt, one of the biggest tents at the Stuttgarter Frühlingsfest.


Inside there are rows and rows of tables and benches, though it might be a misnomer to call the benches, benches. They’re more like standing platforms. Basically, unless you’re eating or exhausted, you’re either standing, jumping, or dancing on the benches. There were several live bands playing a wide range of music, but every half hour or so, you were guaranteed to hear this song:

The words are so easy and repetitive that it’s very easy to link arms, sway side to side, and “prost!” with your friends. Even my friends who have only been in Germany for a few months were singing along by the end of the night.

Inside Grandls


All in all, it was a great time. If you ever find yourself in Germany during the spring, and you’re sad that it’s not Oktoberfest time, just remember that Frühlingsfest is (almost) just as good!

Until next time,


Fresh From the Bakery: Laugenbrezel and Laugenstange

Welcome to the first “Fresh from the Bakery” post. I’ll be using these posts to show off a few of my favorite German baked goods. Not only does it give you a chance to drool, but it gives me an excuse to buy fresh baked goods every week! For me, it was easy to decide which thing to talk about first. Behold, the Laugenbrezel and Laugenstange!

These two didn't even last a day.

Left: Laugenstange, Right: Laugenbrezel


There’s three important words here: Lauge(n), Stange, and Brezel.

  1. Lauge: literally translates to “lye,” and refers to the lye bath the dough is soaked in that gives these pretzels a distinct look, flavor, and crunchiness.
  2. Stange: literally, “rod.” There are other kinds of “-stange,” but I was interested in the pretzel variety this time.
  3. Brezel: yes, you guessed it. Brezel = “pretzel,” in English. Though it means so much more than those crunchy, dried out snacks made by companies, the likes of which rhyme with Gold Rold.

And since the German language allows you to smash words together to create new ones, that gives us “Laugen-stange” and “Laugen-Brezel.

It should be noted that there are countless names for pretzels, sometimes within the same city! In Bavaria it might be called a “Brezen,” in other places simply “Bretzel” (without Langen-), and there are countless other varieties. I usually communicate by trying as many varieties of the word while jumping up and down excitedly and pointing. Did I mention I love pretzels?

How They’re Served

Generally, the standard Bretzel is served with salt sprinkled on top. Much to my chagrin, I found that it is not typical to eat a Bretzel with mustard, although at home I do WHATEVER I WANT! That said, don’t expect any mustard to be provided when you order one. One variation that does exist is the Butterbrezel. It’s not very complicated, and I bet you can even guess which milk product gets added. That’s right, Butter!

Typically sliced like a sandwich, the Butterbrezel is just a normal pretzel with butter smeared in between the two halves. At first I turned my nose up at this as kind of gross sounding (just room-temperature butter on a pretzel? No thanks), but as soon as I tried it I became a believer. It’s a great, tasty, cheap snack. Some Butterbrezeln even have seasonings or spices added like Schnittlauch (chives), but I prefer the standard pretzel, butter, and salt version.

As for the Laugenstange, I’ve seen it served with salt or sesame seeds, but never butter. No reason why you can’t put some on there yourself!


Just like any other food you can buy, some stores make it better than others. My personal preference is when the outside of the Brezel is firm and almost crunchy; the outside should be somewhere between snack-pretzels in the US and the outside of bagels. The inside should be fluffy and a little chewy, though not too much. As I said, they’re usually served with salt and sometimes with butter, but I’ve also eaten them with cream cheese or Frischkäse (literally “fresh cheese,” but sort of like a lighter, fluffier cream cheese). The Laugenstange actually tends to have a better overall texture and consistancy, since its shape is more simple and it bakes more evenly. They make a great compliment to breakfast, or they can be a good mid-day snack, if you’re not viciously watching carbs. If you are... I can’t really recommend German food to you in general 😀


The Laugenbrezel and the Laugenstange are both delicious, cheap, and widely-available in Germany. If you’re looking for something to fill you up that tastes good, you can’t go wrong with one of these.

Until next time,


Spring Break


Spring is HERE! That may not look like much, but I’ve never been so excited to see a tree budding and blooming. I took this picture today from my living room window, as a celebration of the first day above 65 degrees since October! I figure it was worth remembering.

Admittedly, I’m already getting back into a work schedule again, since I started teaching again last week, and my language course at KIT starts next week, but before I get back into my routine I thought I’d share some of my experiences during my Spring Break. The IGS had vacation from March 18th until April 3rd, so I had a good solid three weeks of vacation. I spent the first week in Karlsruhe participating in KIT’s O-Phase, pretty much an orientation week for new international students. Even though I had already taken a language course at KIT last semester, I decided to go anyway just so I could meet some more people and also to get some more information about the specifics of registering and preparing for classes. I’m interested in that because, since my new living situation provides me with more opportunities to be on campus, I’m going to try taking one class in German this semester. I won’t be getting any credit for it, taking any exams or writing any papers, but I will be trying to do the work and attend lectures regularly, and use the class as another opportunity to practice my German in a more topically-specific, unique situation. Anyway, I learned a few important things during O-Phase, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that biggest focus of the week was partying. It felt nice to cut loose again, and I had a lot of fun and met a ton of great people.

Immediately following O-Phase week, I decided that I wanted to travel around for the rest of my Spring Break. Though I initially tried to find a few people to travel with, at least for part of the time, I ended up doing the whole trip on my own. I left in a hurry on the morning of March 25th, and took a train to Munich. At that point, I had a train to Salzburg from Munich and a hostel to stay at in both places, but no further solid plans. It was equal parts exciting and stressful to be heading out without a plan, though I ended up easily deciding on a travel route and finding some good, cheap hostels to stay at. The route I ended up taking was as follows:

From To How long?
Karlsruhe Munich 3 Nights
Munich Salzburg 2 Nights
Salzburg Venice 1 Night
Venice Florence 2 Nights
Florence Rome 3 Nights
Rome Baden-Baden

And yes, I did make an excel sheet to organize the trip. Never did I expect to use skills acquired at my old job to help organize a trip through Germany, Austria, and Italy!

I saw so much and did so much in each city that it would take ages to give them a full description, so hopefully you’ll be sated by a few sentences about each city:


Rathaus in Munich

I had high hopes for Munich, but upon reflection, I think it was my least favorite place during the trip. That said, I still had a really good time, which should really indicated just how much I loved all the other places. Munich is a very modern city, and though it has a few touristy things like Oktoberfest (which of course wasn’t going on in Mid-March) and the Hofbraeuhaus, there isn’t all that much to see. It also snowed the entire 4 days, so that made walking around outside for 6 hour stretches considerably less fun than in, say, Florence (more on that wonderful city later). I think Munich is worth 2 or 3 days, unless you’re visiting during one of the beer festivals.



Just across the Bavarian border to the east in Austria, Salzburg is famous for being Mozart’s birthplace. There are several museums, concert halls, statues, town squares, and even a chocolate called the Mozartkugel, all of which pay tribute to the famous composer. I enjoyed the city of Salzburg much more than Munich, and I can only imagine how beautiful it must be walking along the banks of the Salzach river during spring. Even though it wasn’t quite spring-weather, I still really enjoyed exploring the town, and I almost wish I’d had more time there.


St. Mark's Cathedral


I will admit upfront that my experience of Venice was both too short and ill-fated. I only stayed one night on the island, and I got soaking wet when I arrived, and was cold and uncomfortable for most of the visit. I don’t feel like I can judge this city fairly, so I’ll withhold any criticism. If I could have done this trip again, I probably would have left Venice out, simply because I didn’t have the money to stay in a nice place for 2 days, and because 24 hours was not enough time. Still, it was fun to get lost in the labyrinth-like streets and ride on the rivers connecting the islands.


Florence at Night

This is my favorite city in Europe, and quite possibly the world. I was there for two nights but would have gladly stayed until the end of the summer. I really can’t put my finger on exactly what about the city I loved so much, but I loved it so much I felt intoxicated just walking around the streets. Everything had such a unique look and mood, and it was all so beautiful. Then of course, there’s all the excellent statues and paintings in the various museums and squares around town. The Uffizi Museum is probably one of my favorite museums that I’ve ever visited, as it was big enough to hold a truly amazing and vast collection of sculptures and paintings, but still small enough that you could enjoy and digest everything you saw in one trip. The weather was also amazing, and I had gelato two days in a row. No shame.


Inside St. Peter's

This was my last stop on my trip, and though I really enjoyed the time I spent here, I think I was just getting a bit tired by the last two days. I had been walking 6 hours a day for the last 9 days, and my cash started running low so I stopped eating out, which meant I wasn’t eating enormous Italian meals to replace all the calories I was burning. It seems stupid now in reflection, but you don’t always do everything perfect the first time. Despite my travel-weariness, I managed to see the Colosseum  the Roman Forum, St. Peter’s Cathedral and the Vatican Museum, which was surprisingly excellent. I had expected more of the same Christian art that I’d grown weary of, but the Vatican Museum had a surprisingly diverse collection with some real gems, not least of all The School of Athens (I didn’t even know it was there until I walked into the room where it was!)

After Rome I flew back to an airport near Karlsruhe on my first RyanAir flight (which actually went perfectly fine because I sucked it up and paid for one checked bag ahead of time), and crashed for a weekend. It was a long and exhausting trip, but an awesome experience. I now know not only that I can do solo traveling, but that it can actually be a wonderfully free and enjoyable experience.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I may post a few more pictures here later, but I’ve already uploaded a lot of the best ones to my Facebook, so you can check them out there.

Until later,


Small Town Southern Germany

After spending quite a bit of time on trains traveling through the rural forested areas of south-western Germany, I’ve seen a lot of different small towns, and if ever something has tempted me to go off on Platonic metaphysical speculation, it’s these small German mountain villages. They’re so eerily similar that it seems like neither the strictest of German building codes nor the geography could have created such remarkably uniform instantiations. The Idea must be something like this: every town will sit in the valley in between at least two, if not mountains, than high hills. The houses will be huddled together in these valleys like cold people huddling together for warmth and safety, and will bear roughly the same color pallet. Always pale colored, plaster walls, ranging in color from a washed out red that looks like a muted pink, to grey, to similarly washed out versions of light blue and light green. The rooves will always be clay tiles of dark red or orange, and slanted steeply as to bear the load of snow more easily. The background of the village, no matter where you stand, will always be a forest of evergreen trees and other green vegetation, and you will find a few dispersed throughout the town as well.


The only things that interrupts this almost uniform description are the splashes of vivid color on franchised grocery stores and advertisements. I know there are literally armies of Marketing teams that test these color schemes for companies to get the perfect combination that stands out without being too gaudy, but it seems to me that no matter what the design, these splashes of color will always stand out too much in these little towns. I know the intended effects: have a design that stands out from others, that distinguishes your store from the others, that entices people to enter with promises of quality and consistency. But out here, “auf dem Land,” these bright colored advertisements and logos are bound to seem gaudy and out-of-place. Designed to compete with each other in urban environments, where there are a thousand more distractions, these splashes of color on the landscapes of these small German towns just look like unnecessary highlights.

In a more sober and scientific mood, I can imagine perfectly reasonable explanations that explain this uniformity: everything looks washed-out because it has been washed out, no one wants to spend extra money on ostentatious decoration, the houses have been around for a long time, there is social pressure to conform (just like there is any- and everywhere), and one of the last concerns of a grocery store chain is how a bunch of people in a rural village will feel about the change in color pallet of their town’s landscape. But I still find it fascinating that this is what necessity has produced here in southern Germany, and not something else. Whether divinely inspired or naturally mechanistic, it’s still unique.

The Little Differences

So I’ve finally had some time to digest a lot of the changes that have happened over the last few weeks, which has allowed me to reflect a little more about my trip up to this point. When looking at the calendar last night, I realized that I’m actually closer to the two-thirds mark rather than the halfway mark in my project. It was a sobering and surprising realization. I’ve done all sorts of things to try and remember my attitude and feelings during my first few months, including re-reading some of my old blog and journal entries. Of course, some things are impossible to forget: my struggle with learning and speaking a new language, figuring out my role at the high school, and navigating new social and familial habits with my host family. These are all very typical experiences for someone living, studying, and teaching abroad, and although they were all “German,” anyone would encounter those challenges studying anywhere. But as I was reviewing my old writing I kept coming across all these little notes about small, almost insignificant things. For example, I remember being absolutely delighted when my host mother started regularly making and buying soft pretzels for breakfast. I also recall being surprised the first time I saw multiple people (who didn’t even look homeless) walking around with beer bottles before noon. The examples go on and on, but I think it just goes to show that some of the most memorable things during my project have been, as Vince from Pulp Fiction puts it, the little differences.

After nearly six months, I have gotten used to speaking and hearing German regularly. I’ve become accustomed to German weather and climate. I have a better understanding of the school system and how to run a small-group English lesson. I even feel like I’m beginning to get the hang of those more advanced linguistic skills like joking, flirting, haggling, and arguing. But for the life of me, I cannot get used to the fact that I need to quickly bag my own groceries at the grocery store before the next customers’ groceries get mixed up with mine, or that you have to separate your garbage into 5 different containers. Initially, it was the common, every-day things that made me nervous, excited, confused, and thrilled. But that period only lasts for a while until you realize that Germans are humans just like Americans and they need to eat, sleep, work, go to the hospital, have children, etc. Once you can communicate in those situations, a bit of the charm wears off. But as soon as life is beginning to seem normal again, you start to notice and pay more attention to the smaller things. Your view naturally becomes more subtle as your familiarity with every day life increases. And in the end it’s the tiniest of things that stand out the most.

If my plans work out as I expect them to (and if there’s anything I’ve learned over the last year it’s that this is rarely the case), I’m going to make a concerted effort to take note of and describe more of these little differences that I experience in my day to day life. And who knows, those observations may even lead to a good blog post or two.

Hope you’re all doing well.


Back in the City

I just recently passed the halfway point of my project, and consequently feel obligated to be reflective and sentimental about the first part of my trip. I feel doubly obligated due to the fact that I have had a major change in my living situation, and am leaving my home of the last 5 months behind. The only problem is that I have been so busy during this week, I’ve hardly had time to sit and reflect. So, if this post doesn’t bear the sentimental and reflective load it should, I ask you readers to forgive me, and consider it a debt I’ll make up to you eventually.

As I said, I have decided to move, and in fact already have. It was a decision I thought long and hard about, but now that it’s done I’m sure it was the right thing to do. When I planned this project, I tried to account for every possible circumstance or problem that might come up. But as is always the case, the carrying out of the plan revealed a few errors of judgment I could never have predicted before coming to Germany. I did an excellent job (if I do say so myself) of making sure that I would have plenty of opportunities to practice my German and be available to teach English. Those aspects were, and of course still are, the most important parts of my project here. I also chose to live in a more rural part of Germany in order to “get a different perspective on life in Germany,” by which I meant different than Berlin, one of the biggest cities in Germany. And while living in Enkenbach-Alsenborn did grant me this different perspective, it also reminded me of something about living in the country which I had somehow forgotten after 5 years of Nashville city-living: there’s not much to do, and there are not many places to go. While Enkenbach-Alsenborn has much to offer in the way of beautiful trails through the woods and peace and quiet, it has somewhat less to offer in terms of nightlife, socializing, and places to work. One thing that I know about myself is that I need to have different places to go to do different things – I like to work in cafes and libraries and I like to have fun at bars and restaurants. Enkenbach-Alsenborn has an unfortunate shortage of all of those things.

So after a few months of trying to make the best of my situation, I realized that the much simpler option would be to just move. After doing the math and talking with my partner organization, I worked out an agreement with my host family that would allow me to continue my teaching project, but also live closer to the friends that I had already made (but seldom saw) through my language class in Karlsruhe. The whole moving process was a test of the language skills that I had developed over the last five months, and I know now that even though I lacked some things in Enkenbach-Alsenborn, my time there gave me language practice that has over the last two weeks proved invaluable.

So now it’s back to the city life for me. I’ve acquired all the necessary things that one needs for an apartment, and I’ve even got the heat to work (mostly). I am excited for the new opportunities and experiences that I’ll have here, and am at the same time grateful for the ones that preceded them.

I hope all you readers are doing well! We’ll talk later.