Archive for April, 2010

Remember zweite Ankunft und StüMa

April 28, 2010

So I made it back to Germany and here I am.

I meant to write an entry detailing what I was going to be doing before I left, but things went far too fast for me, if I’m honest.

So today’s Wednesday and I’ll write up what’s happened recently in my life, so that people can stop asking me questions. In keeping with things I promised myself in the past – and pretty pertinent to this part of my life – I’m going to try and keep things as factual and non-emotional as possible, because that’d just be too open and awful and OpenDiary-ish and we’re all over that thank-you.

Since I got back from Syria, I’ve slowly been getting myself into the job/internship search. Things went pretty badly to begin with: I was emailing companies and schools that I didn’t really want to work in, but was desperate to find reason enough to come back to Germany and start up here again with the people I know here. I got pretty excited about a company called “Die Sprach Profis” (easily googlable), which has an office in south Heidelberg, but, after having chased up the woman who works in the other branch of the company in Waldkirche (miles away), I finally got a reply telling me there’d be no point because the office here in HD was tiny anyway. I didn’t get any replies from any of the schools I’d emailed either, except the Heidelberg International School, which told me I wasn’t qualified enough (I didn’t really want to be in an English-speaking environment anyway).

Then I got pretty depressed about not being able to find anything and worrying that my whole life was over and that I’d ruined everything and I’d find nowhere in all of Germany that would allow me back in, never mind in Heidelberg.

Then I made my merry way across to the Job Börse of HD University and found myself confronted with 70 pages of job/internship offers, stretching as far back as 2007. I leafed through them all, tabbing what I thought was interesting and copying/pasting what was a pretty vague query-email, changing the requiredz and leaving in the basix.

I eventually found myself looking at a page written by the Theater Orchester Heidelberg, which is the town-run theatre and orchestra company, hosting a total of 5 different performance houses (one of which is round the corner from where I was (and still am/will be) living). Small butterflies in stomach.

So I wrote off to them, with a non-copy/paste email and lots of chatty German, but staying strictly in the Sie-form (polite version of ‘you’).

Long story short: I’m working for them now.

I’m an intern in the Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit (commonly the “ÖA”) and our daily responsibilities including gathering info from the regional and national newspapers and presenting each story that’s relevant to the House on appropriately-sized sheets of paper (called the Pressespiegel), then giving this thing out to the various places that need to see it (so it’s in an internal way of keeping tabs on what’s been said about the place in the press). Other tasks including helping maintain all the publicity side of things and hanging up posters and distributing flyers. It’s all pretty basic, but the best thing about all of it is I’m speaking German all day, every day. To the point where I really am thinking that I’m going to have to do more English speaking (like… actively), because I miss being able to think quickly so much.

Having said that, twice in the past two days, German natives have been starstruck-shocked that I’m not a native: firstly, last night after a quick #7 from Tiger and Dragon (which is a sweet-ass Chinese in the Carré – and I LOVE the #7 (to the point where I dreamt about it, when I was in Syria)), Sarah and I went to Rewe (supermarket) to get some supplies and, speaking in English as we were when we got to the checkout, the woman on the checkout, having scanned my items, to me it was 10-Euros-something in English. I looked at her – those closer to the German-speaking me might know that I absolutely hate being spoken to in English by someone who speaks German when they know I speak German (in her defence, she didn’t know that) – and asked her what the price of the plastic bags was, in German obviously. She said, “oh!” and carried on her exposé about the bags. Later, when conversation about plastic bags had died down, I said, “I have to admit though, you have a very good English accent” (still in German). She thanked and asked where we came from and I said, “we’re both English.” She looked at us in an I-didn’t-hear-you way, so I asked, “Where we’re from?” she, “yes,” me: “We’re both English” whereupon she sat bolt upright and put up her hands in shock.

The second occasion was today in the bakery I always go to at the train station. I was trying to pay exactly and still don’t have numbers down in this language yet (still can’t get my head to expect and correctly compute the digits being before the tens) so I had to keep changing how much I was giving her and I said, “sorry, I still have to think about numbers in English.” She looked at me, cleanly a much quicker girl than the Rewe-employee, and said, “But I didn’t know you were English. One wouldn’t notice.” Which made me smile and we had a small chat about that – my colleagues from ‘work’ (… lol) then accused me of flirting (on the flirting at work topic, I’ve already been outed here – another story).

So that’s a bit of an aside.

I’m still getting emails these days from people I’d emailed before asking me to send of my documents, but I’m pretty happy here. I hope it won’t get boring towards the end (I’ve told them I’m staying until the end of July, by which time I should have a pretty good idea of what’s going on, as well as some pretty impressive German skillz – and, actually, the email address for the office that’s run by us interns will be renamed to my name, which’ll be nice. People’ll know who I am and everything!).

On the domestic charge, I’m currently crashing in the place I lived in previously, my wonderfully yellow-painted room now filled by the returned Janni. This entails me sleeping in Torben’s room, who’s sleeping in Ami’s room, until Helena moves out, then Torben’ll move into Helena’s room and I into Torben’s. Make sense of that, if you can. It’s currently a smidge annoying that I don’t have any space of my own and I am literally living out of my suitcase, but that’s not a problem. It’s super nice of them to let me move back in like that, with next to no notice, so I’m grateful on all fronts.

I am, however, super, super tired and still haven’t caught up on my 9 hours’ travelling from Sunday. I got in pretty late and then had to start here pretty early, so it’s all been go-go-go since then. And people want to see me in the evenings and I end up not getting to sleep for a while because of this or that or the other.

On that topic, I can confirm that I do have a boyfriend. Facebook friends of mine will have already seen and, hopefully, liked this. Can’t say too much about it because of the emotion-boycott mentioned previously, but assume super-goods or ask for more info (given on request).

What else is there? I’ve been thinking about things to put in this blog for ages and now I’ve come to it, things are just escaping me.

Let’s be hyper British and talk about the weather.

That’s actually a bit of a weak link into something I do want to talk about, but thought I’d make the most of being British, especially given how not-good it is of late.

Germany certainly does feel a smidge different. Everything’s all happy and sunny and, in places, a bit sticky (weather-wise) and the evenings are cool enough to walk around in your t-shirt without problems. Walking home is a sweaty affair and the big boots I’m insisting on wearing make for smelly feet. But that’s not really the issue, other than the fact that I’m shocked that Heidelberg could change so much in the small amount of time that I’ve not been here (it was still pretty cold and snowy when I left (in fact, the day I left, when Maz took me to the airport, there was snow everywhere! We definitely thought we weren’t going to make it all the way to Frankfurt).

The point is: I’d sort of expected it all to slot back into place and be like I’d never left. And, well, it is. I mean, it is. But it’s also not. There are annoying things about Germany that I’d completely forgotten, things that’d been caught by the auto filter that is my germanophile of a brain. These things don’t have names, so I can’t describe them much at all other than abstractly saying things like “the smell” and “remembering to go shopping” and “washing machine” and other things like that. All things I’d’ve had to deal with anywhere else in the world (that makes it sound like Heidelberg’s a smelly place and that’s definitely not what I mean at all – I just mean getting re-used to the smells I’d got used to before).

So it’s a bit weird being back and having the same old surrounding. It’s most weird, to be honest, when I’m walking somewhere that I haven’t been since I’ve been back yet. Like – because I know my way around the whole city pretty easily, when I do end up going to places on the way to somewhere else (the somewhere-else having already been visualised in my head), I’m shocked to find they’re marginally different: a different feel, a different smell, slightly different lighting (I’m v aware I haven’t seen Heidelberg in April before).

So that’s that.

On the topic of whether or not I’m having more self-analysis on my relationship with the languages I’m learning: I’m definitely doing well with German. More than once a day, I find myself literally cracking up with joy and rapture at the way the language works or find myself just smiling at a sentence someone has said, even if the content of the thing is pretty benign or empty (learnt a phrase that fits here: die gähnende Leere (the yawning void)). So that’s nice.

I’ve brought my Teach Yourself Polish book (even though the font-face reminds me a lot of the time that I tried to teach myself Turkish and ended up hating that too – call me fickle or call me a woman and sing it in Italian) and its appropriate CDs with me so that I can sit down and work on that, but the job doesn’t really permit much time to do anything. It is the first week though, so that’s all due to change. I’ve managed to get myself Wednesdays off, which will definitely allow for some time with friends and doing some Polish and otherwise doing things I want to etc.

So that’s all. If you’ve got questions, put’m in or email me (love getting emails) and I’ll do my best to answer. I’m not all that conscious of things I’ve missed out and just know that I owe my blog some <3. Now it is done.


Remember leaving Syria and dropping Arabic?

April 20, 2010

Here it is. Long-awaited and standing weakly in the shadows of its readers’ expectations.

Many of you have asked for this entry and for the reasons for my rumoured return to the UK.

So yes, Ladies and Gents, I can confirm I have left Syria for cooler climes and am currently in another in-between stage, at home in the UK. This state, however, won’t last for long, considering I have to get back to Germany for reasons I’ll document at the end of this.

A lot of people I’ve told about this have been surprise to hear it, particularly because of the way I am known to rant on about Arabic and its grammar for hours at a time unless meantime interrupted. Yes – it is a shock.

Please know, however, that it is not because I didn’t like Syria. I liked Syria and Damascus a great deal and my life there was very good. It was wonderful to be near Fay again and see all the other Durham faces I’d missed; I had started getting to be friends with Fay’s Syrian friends, which would’ve solicited much Arabic-speaking conversation, later in my stay and the family I was staying with were very, very lovely (thanks, Yansé, for helping me find them – even if I did steal).

“But why then?!” You may be shouting. Ok.

When I left Newark, on the train at the beginning of March, on my way to Heathrow to begin my Syrian adventure, I was surprisingly emotional. I think I wrote about this already, but I cried like a small child, all over my parents and my brother. I was shocked by the emotional reaction that had spurred in me, because I’d expected the change of scenery and my want to learn Arabic would override and make me super excited, let alone the fact that I’d soon be seeing Fay. I put all of this worrying about my own emotional reaction under a beautifully woven Syrian rug when I got there.

I moved in and I started my course, having spent a week settling in and finding my way around the Old City. The course started and I was surprised by how well-written it was. But something was wrong with me. And not just that I couldn’t be bothered to work. I know that feeling – that “ugh, I spend my whole life doing this, break pleez” feeling. It wasn’t that.

At this point, I should probably let it be known that this is a super, super hard thing to describe. The thought-processes I have about the entire thing are really complicated and affected by loads and loads of things, including tiny reasons that don’t have any bearing, but tapped on the fragile icy surfaces of the whole problem and, in their small insignificant way, but larger number, the cracked the ice and I feel through into the water.

Basically, I realised that the problem was I didn’t actually like Arabic. I am constantly fascinated by how it works – how the whole semitic tree of languages can work, the way three letters, interspersed by other letters of a seemingly lower level of hierarchy can fit together to make meaningful stuff – the way all of these families of words were linked by these three letters that, like a skeleton, filtered down through the tree and held it all together in a sensical block of semanticism in my head.

Fascinated, I say. Fascinated by it – that’s true. But not enough. I realised that the only thing I liked about Arabic was that. I was constantly looking up words in the Hans Wehr (which is a canonical tool of Arabic study for non-native learners of the language, having rearranged the ‘alphabet’ (and with it the structure of the dictionary) into a way that more suits the nature of the language in the first place) and looking down the root forms to find out what it meant and looking how the meaning changed in one form or the other. But the word itself I didn’t care about. The one word that I constantly looked up and where this was particularly prevalent for me was the root ع ق د. The fact that I don’t know what it means know is testament to what I’m saying, but it was one of those words which would have lots and lots of meanings in lots of different forms (sometimes very, very drastically to ‘earlier’ forms of the word) [ps: I realise all of these words are super Arabic-language related and not that comprehensible, but you don’t really have to understand it – just know that there are lots of forms based on individual ‘root’ letters in Arabic – the interested can go to Wikipedia and find out there (it’s a trait known to all ‘Semitic’ languages (and what also gives them their name))].

So this latent not-like in me lead me to think: well, I’m here now and having Arabic would be a fantastic + on my degree: stick it out. And that’s a sensible thing to think or advise. But it too has its counter argument. I realised that I was there, in that place, grappling with a language that is difficult for someone coming from a language so distantly related (it made me realise how wonderful it is coming to another European language, because the similarities really do help), wanting eventually to be near fluent in the language. That’s what I’d need and… perfectionist me… wouldn’t let it be any other way. It was a case of, “you either get amazing at this language and become a complete Arabicophile, or you stop.” And I wanted to be amazing; I really did. But not liking the language enough played a deciding factor in that.

Not liking it would lead to me not being motivated enough really to get to grips with the things that I couldn’t do and not having a tingle in my heart when I read Arabic sentences meant not really learning them. Sure, I’m using my experience of learning German as a benchmark and I know I shouldn’t, but on the other hand, I sort of can. I am so lucky to have found a language that really sparks with me in a way that means I’m very rarely sick of it – even among other linguists at Durham: a lot of people tell me or hint that they’re not nearly as in love with their main foreign language as I am with German. And that’s sorta good to hear; this way I know I’ve struck gold. But the point is: when I was learning German, I’d mutter sentences to myself and playing around in the grammar would give me a little golden fleck of joy in my heart (GEEEEEEEK): Arabic, on the other hand, didn’t do that nearly as much and rarely ever. Even now, when I read German sentences, the mixes of verbs with dative and the way you can put your object at the front of the sentence all cause me to smile at the way the language works like an appeased God at his creation, benevolently smiling. Arabic doesn’t do that. It was just a jungle of words and phrases, little bits of little words that wouldn’t fit into the grammar-calculator (grammarculator?) that my brain has become (as a result of German). The exceptions would bug me beyond comprehension and, sure, I could deal with them and put them into use, but I didn’t get anything from them. And God knows, Arabic’s the kinda language where you’ve got to love the irregularities because of how many there are.

That makes me sound like I’m saying that Arabic was “too hard” for me. That’s not true. I didn’t find Arabic ‘too hard’ at any time in my entire career of studying it (the past 2.5 years). I was always confident with it and happy to be one of the best. New grammatical concepts would go straight into my brain without much problem and I could factor them in and remember them pretty well. New vocab, vocab learning being a weakness of mine in language learning generally, was difficult, but that’s why Fay and I were so good at revising together: what I could bring to the grammar comprehension, she could bring to the vocab learning. But the point is: it’s not that it was too hard. At all. I could easily have fought my way through, but my motivation would’ve lacked and the level to which I’d’ve learnt Arabic would’ve suffered as a consequence.

Another thing I realised as I was dealing with all of this in my head in that dark, dark week just before I came home (and believe me (or Sophia), it was a pretty dark week. I was  plagued with decision-making and guilt and worry that I’d be ruining my degree), was that my interest in Arabic and my knowledge had just about got to the same point. I took up Arabic 3 years ago with the express desire to learn a new language and not because I was interested in the Middle East (much at all actually). That sounds sacrilegious coming from someone who’s studied it, doesn’t it? That’s the point, though, I guess. A lot of my peers were super interested in it and even if not wanting to pursue a career in languages (it’s my plan to study interpreting after I’ve finished my BA) had a reason to approach the language in that they were interested in the world and world politics. I’m only interested in the world in a selfish and egotistical way, which is pig-headed and blunt of me, but what’s a little honesty between friends?

This feeling of my interest and knowledge being at the same point crudely expressed itself once in me thinking, “Everything I wanted to know about this language, I could’ve learnt from the Wikipedia page.” I felt disgusted with myself for thinking that a few days later and still sort of do now, but there is a truth in it. I’ve realised that my heart lies in languages itself and not in Arabic as its own language, which lead me onto thinking I should actually be doing a degree in German and Linguistics, but where’s that gunna get me in an interpreting career?

I didn’t really think about any of these things when I first took up Arabic at 18. I hadn’t really considered the idea that I might not enjoy it and was just hell-bent on being an ‘Arabic student.’ “I study Arabic” are strong and addictive words.

This is by no means the end of the reasoning behind what’s gone on my head, but I can tell you that I’ve thought about it simply (“Do I like this language?”) and not simply, going through all the various emotions. Having that many things in your head all at the same time is really tiring and I was a little steel ball in a big metal hemisphere, at the edge of which were towers exuding all kinds of gravitational pull in different directions and I’d roll wildly from one edge to the other and topple down to the centre again. And whenever I thought, “I’m leaving,” the metal ball of my consciousness would rest, perfectly addressing the attraction of all the towers and still remaining in the middle, quivering slightly under the pull, but there and safe. But letting it go made me roll about and feel sick. So possibly one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.

As I say, please don’t view this as a comprehensive discussion of my thoughts. If you want to know anymore, you can talk to me about it – I am willing to discuss it, but I can’t promise I’m not going to repeat myself. The one-sentence summary of the affair is this: “I didn’t like it enough to become really, really amazing at it and so decided it wasn’t worth it.”

Since then, I’ve had to deal with the repercussions, obviously. The first thing I should stress, and the first thing I needed stressing to me, is that it’s actually not a ruining factor in my degree. I don’t lose the 2 years’ study I’ve already done and it will appear on my degree certificate as it is. I also won’t lose the knowledge. Just because I’ve stopped doing it, doesn’t mean all of it just drops out of my head as if it had never existed in the first place. Secondly, this allows me to concentrate on German in my fourth year and for the rest of this year abroad. Now I can go back and really get as amazing as I want to and that fills me with such joy. I know I’ve got better so far and I knew when I left, I could feel it, that I still had some way to go before I’d be happy. That’s why leaving wasn’t such a big thing – I couldn’t think about it directly because it’d upset me too much.

It doesn’t entirely rule out coming back to Arabic in the future. This is something I realised while I was deciding too – I’m grateful for the fact that I learnt German really slowly and, by the time I really realised I loved it, I already had all the basics in my head and moving on from that was easy. 7 years’ tuition at school really did set the foundation. So I am in a position now to let my interest in Arabic grow, if it’s going to, and then facilitate some further, motivated study of the language at a future time (that’s not to say that I have lamented the fact that I’m giving up on it now, in my life, where I have this period specially set-aside for it (then again, having a higher interest in it and pursuing the language with greater motivation will give a greater gain)).

The future’s not all bright though. I need a second language and am taking applications and suggestions. Although I heard from an EU interpreter who gave a talk at Durham that the EU was super short on English native interpreters (that’s a global shortage actually) and interpreters for German (making me auto-appeal to two shortages), I still don’t satisfy the very basic of the EU’s criteria – you must have 3 languages and one of them must be English (in my view, this is biased against English natives, because anyone who’s interested in languages and isn’t an English native gets English exposure all around and almost everyone in Europe speaks some quality of English, enabling linguists to go on and study one other language and just perfect their English (a little cynical, but who’s counting?)). Having had this experience with Arabic means that I can more accurately assess how I’m going to react to a language and what exactly it is about languages that pleases me.

So I sit here in on this little island (currently, aggravatingly, underneath an Icelandic cloud of ash grr), and I look at the European mainland and I see: the Romance languages of France and Spain and Italy; the breed of Germanic languages from Germany right up into Scandinavia, and the Slavic languages from behind the former iron curtain. I look at myself and I see: one understanding of a Germanic language, one ability and love for languages and an appropriate talent to learn them, and one fascination with regular, but complicated, grammar systems. When I put the two together, and realise that having languages from different families is more favourable, because of the way my career would open me up into languages similar to the ones I’ve already learnt, the Slavic languages look most appealing. And where better to start than Polish, neighbour of Germany, homeland of The Polish Plumber in England and step 1 on the wrung of Slavic understanding.

Sure, it’s a bit stupid for me just to pick these languages out of nowhere, I know. But I have to start somewhere and my logic will hopefully stand. I’ve bought myself a Teach Yourself Polish book (yet to make any kind of real in-road into it though) and will probably take a course in it at Durham’s Languages For All programme next year, assuming my little Teach Yourself book entices me enough.

Any suggestions anyone has on languages I could learn that’d be handy for the EU (or otherwise) are gratefully received – thinking outside the box is also very gratefully received (big shout-out already to Jane on that front with the British Sign Language suggestion!).

So that’s that.

Things to look forward to in the next blog post:

What’s happening next? Where’re you going for the rest of your year abroad? Are you coming back to Heidelberg? What are you going to do there? Where will you live? What the bloody hell are you knitting at the moment?! and other such fun stories.

It’s been great. Love to all.