September 1, 2013: The Journey and the Aftermath Thereof

Still reeling from the forever lost hours which flowed so freely from the jet engine turbines only two days ago, I feel like I am in a dream, waiting to awake in my soft bed, comforter pulled to my chin with the sweet southern sun shining in through the bedroom window. Instead, I wake up alone at all sorts of odd hours in my small dorm, still feeling the haze of sleep. This dream-like daze, which I know is more real than it tries to lead me to believe, is neither good nor bad. It just is. This is my reality, these are my tears and these are my triumphs. Leaving home is difficult. No, that’s not quite the right word, a better word might be uncomfortable. It is extremely unnerving to leave everything you have grown so used to, everything you have taken for granted. It is especially taxing when nothing seems to want to fall into place and instead lays scattered on the ground waiting for you to pick up the pieces.

As I am writing this, I have no internet, which means no contact with the loved ones I left behind. None. Trying to find internet around town has proved more difficult than I imagined and I was only successful briefly in my endeavors. Only successful enough to read part of one concerning email from home, but not enough to read it in its entirety nor respond. At least until this morning my stress and anxiety were compounded by the absence of my suitcase, which I am convinced was drug off of my new flight at the very last minute after being reassured time and time again by the ticketing agents that my luggage would be on that not-so-last-minute change of flights. Yes, even my flight schedule was changed due to the late arrival of our plane and the subsequent repair of the air conditioning, which delayed my flight from Chicago to Montreal by four hours. Despite my original lengthy layover in Montreal, this new development in incompetency meant I would no longer be able to make my connecting flight. “Not to worry!” the ticketing agents exclaimed, “We can have you on the next flight out of Montreal to Frankfurt on the 30th!” Despite their original claims and because of my persistence, I was able to get on a 6:30 flight that evening from Chicago to Frankfurt, and with my carry-on in tow, I set up camp near my flight gate and prepared for another four hour wait in O’Hare, making my total layover (which was originally supposed to be a little under two hours) about an eight hour event.

Relieved to finally be somewhat back on schedule and with the flight running relatively smoothly (I even managed to snag a bulkhead seat!), I felt like I could relax. I did manage to sleep on and off for several hours, which is almost impossible for me to accomplish on most long plane trips. I watched two movies, one of which was Zoolander, which surprisingly enough, I found enjoyable. This relatively stress-free period did not last. After sorting out all of the mess with my luggage after I landed in Frankfurt, it was time to buy my train ticket to Nuremberg, which was not terrible, just any transaction where I have to spend a considerable sum of money at once makes my insides a bit queasy, especially since this is the first of many of those expensive transactions. For the duration of the two hour train ride, which was also delayed, I focused all of my attention on staying awake. I did not want to risk missing my stop and thus delaying my sleep even more. Once out of the train I waited for Frau Arneth, who is one of the people in charge of my program, and more importantly she was my ride to Erlangen. So I waited, and waited, and waited, and what should have been a quick stop in Nuremberg turned into a two hour wait. Granted we were both at the train station, however we kept missing one another until finally I reached her on her home phone after she had given up on finding me. This time I was armed with a sign which had her name hastily written on it. This proved much more effective as we found each other immediately.

This takes me to my brief tour of Nuremberg, which I must say was absolutely beautiful. I can not emphasize enough how much I wish I was actually staying in Nuremberg as opposed to Erlangen. The old part of the city is surrounded by a large wall, with guard towers at the corners. On top of a hill there is a sort of castle (in German there are two words for castle, but they differ slightly and so here I will refer to it as a castle even though it is probably a mix between a castle and a fort). This is about all I was able to see on the tour, but it was simply beautiful. As soon as I figure out the public transportation system, I will surely spend some time in Nuremberg.

That being said we made our way to Erlangen and to my dorm, which after seeing Nuremberg was a bit disappointing. Not to say that Erlangen does not have any beautiful historic parts, they are just not as impressive nor am I particularly close to any of them. I live more on the outskirts of the city and I have to ride a bike for about 15 minutes to get to downtown. I keep hoping that the university is not quite as far, but it seems to be spread out as opposed to American universities, which are conveniently located in a central area, with housing only a stones throw away. While I am on the subject of housing, my dorm is small, but it has everything I need, with the exception of an oven (I will probably mourn this fact for the entire duration of my stay here). I have my own bathroom, which may even put the smallness and efficiency of Japanese bathrooms to shame, and all of the furniture and bedding was loaned to me through the program. Mind you, this is not a complaint, just a description of the room. I don’t have any qualms about my living arrangements, outside of the apparent lack of an oven.

Outside of getting to Erlangen, there really has not been any further adventures. Well in my mind there have been adventures, but to someone reading this they would probably sound extremely mundane and would bore the poor reader into a coma. Just to give you an idea, I rode my bike and found downtown Erlangen, which luckily for me the drivers here are much better about watching for bikes than those in America. I got my German cell phone and bought minutes. I looked everywhere for internet and I even ventured out as far today as to order some tea at Starbucks. Granted the man got my order slightly wrong (I wanted just tea, not a tea latte), but this marks the first entire transaction which I didn’t balk at the chance to speak only German because of a thick accent or because the person was speaking so quickly that my ears would trip over themselves trying to keep up. Both luckily and unluckily for me, most people here know English and the first time I open my mouth to ask them to repeat themselves more slowly, they begin to explain everything in English. This means that I get to understand everything perfectly, but it also means that I feel incompetent for the rest of the afternoon and shy away from speaking German. Hopefully this is something I can work on and maybe as time passes and as I get more comfortable here, I will be able to speak and understand German without being my own worst critic.

As for right now, this is all I have to offer. I have not taken any pictures, because I have decided to sort of ration my pictures. I don’t want to sort through hundreds of meaningless shots every couple of weeks, but rather, I want to choose shots in the moment that really capture something of my experience. I hope I can pull this off. Until then, Tschuss!

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