A Klausur in German is a university-level final exam.

I have one this morning for my intensive German class.

If I pass this exam, then I get to take the UNICERT II German certification exam.  Which would certify me, I guess, to be middlin’ fluent in Deutsch.  (Or level B2 proficient, if you want to use terminology that actually sounds correct.)  Before I leave Germany, I hope to be able to take and pass the UNICERT III exam (completely fluent in Deutsch, or level C2 proficient), but I have to take the UNICERT II first.  One step at a time.

I’m going to go study.  Wish me luck!


new comforts of home

american food

Before I left, I had no idea how much I would miss that which I rarely ate at home.

German food is good; don’t get me wrong. But there are plenty of American foods that I almost never made at home that I now eat nearly every day.

For instance, at home in America, I rarely ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But in searching for the little comforts of home, a PB&J is a tiny piece of America. I can get a little jar of American-style peanut butter, some sliced bread, and some fruit preserves, and I feel a bit more connected to my mother country.  (Does that phrase sound weird to anyone else?  My mother country is the country of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. …yes, it does sound weird.  But I digress.)

I mentioned this to some of the other exchange students here the other day (hi, guys!  I know some of you read my blog…) and I’m apparently not the only one experiencing this.

I am also not the only one turning to modifying American classics to fit the environment.

use of nutella = adaptation

Background: Nutella is awesome.  If you have never eaten it, put your computer to sleep, go to the store, buy some Nutella (you can buy this in many American grocery stores, including at Wal-Mart), and come back and experience the awesomeness.  Nutella is chocolate-hazelnut paste.  Imagine creamy peanut butter, but made out of hazelnuts.  And it tastes like chocolate.  Spreadable chocolatey goodness.

"american style" peanut butter and store-brand nutellaPictured:  “American Style” peanut butter and store-brand chocolate hazelnut paste, aka Nutella

Enough background.  Now that you have a jar of Nutella, go get peanut butter and bread.  Peanut butter on one piece of bread, Nutella on the other.  That makes a fantastic sandwich.  Some of the other exchange students have even started putting banana slices on the sandwich as well.  I haven’t tried that combo yet, but I probably will sometime soon. It sounds amazing.

So yeah.  We exchange students do what we can to stay connected to home, but we like to spruce things up with indigenous foods as well.  🙂

print that door

I have a funny story.

The first time I went to Germany was back before my last year of high school.  I was getting to visit a friend who had been a pen pal for a long time.  (Hi, S!)  I enjoyed my visit and was thankful for the chance to finally meet my pen pal and see a country that spoke the language I had been attempting to learn for years.

But I discovered that there are some things you don’t always notice when learning German in a German class in school, college, or anywhere other than in a German-speaking country.

using doors

Such as door instructions.

From having switched my main Gmail account and my computer’s operating system to German, I had learned that the German verb drucken means to print. When I was exiting customs at the airport, I noticed something.

The doors said drücken.

It turns out that drucken means to print, but drücken means to push.  The similarity between the words kind of makes sense if you see a printer as something that pushes paper.  (If you see a door that says ziehen, by the way, pull on it, don’t push.)


But it really struck me how many words differ by a very minute detail: the umlaut.  The little dots over ä, ö, and ü.  Not all of the words that differ by just an umlaut have similar meanings, either.  Schön means pretty, but schon means already or almost.  Not similar.  It isn’t hard to tell which is being said from context if you know the difference between schön and schon, but for a non-fluent German speaker such as myself, learning new words that are very similar in spelling but very different in meaning is bewildering at times.

At least living in a country that has words that differ by just two little dots over one letter gives me plenty of opportunities to laugh at myself.  : )

ode to german chocolate

Chocolate is amazing.

I’ve met a few people in the world who don’t like chocolate, and I always wonder how that is possible.  But that’s not the point of this post.

The picture below is just a small portion of the selection of chocolate items one can get at the grocery store and at many large department stores here in Germany.

chocolate, conveniently available pretty much everywhere groceries or foodstuffs are sold here

The chocoholic in me loves the amazing variety of chocolates here.  In America, if I wanted Milka chocolate, or Ritter Sport, or Nutella, I would have to pay out the nose for it.  Only a few flavors from the major German chocolate companies are available in America, but here in Germany, there are shelves and shelves and shelves with flavors and mix-ins and variations I didn’t know anyone would think of.

And cheap, too! Each of those Milka bars cost me 0.89€.  The generic Nutella?  0.99€.  Real Nutella?  Maybe a Euro more.  In America?  I’m pretty sure the prices would be at least double.

In other news, in an effort not to gain fifty pounds–er, sorry, 22.6796185 kilograms (thanks, Google!)–I am walking a lot and starting to exercise.  Gotta burn off the chocolate somehow.

And now, back to my Milka bar.  mmm, chocolate.

each word a thousand times

I have heard that when learning any language, if you are exposed to a word 1000 times, you know that word well enough to use it without having to think about it very much. You own that word. Some words require fewer than 1000 exposures, and some more, but the average is apparently 1000. I’m not sure how researchers were able to follow people around long enough to judge how long it took them to learn new words, but judging how I feel about a lot of the new vocabulary I have been learning these past few weeks, 1000 times sounds about right.  Not that I count or anything.  (disclaimer:  I actually have no idea and am just going off of what I heard.)

my well-worn dictionary

Assuming the 1000-times figure is correct, I think I can tell approximately how many times I have heard words I am learning.  Here’s my guess as to my word-learning progress stages:

1-10 times: I have trouble pronouncing the word because it is unfamiliar. I would not think of using it in a sentence, spoken or written, because it is not familiar enough yet.  If I have to read the word aloud, I will have to concentrate pretty hard if I want to not mispronounce it.

11-200 times: This is the embarrassing stage in word-learning. I know the word for this person, place, thing, idea, action, descriptor, etc. exists, but when speaking or writing, I often need a lot of time to remember what the word is. If I don’t happen to have a dictionary handy, expect me to say “uhhhh…” when trying to remember the word, because it’s figuratively speaking just on the tip of my brain.

201-500 times: I can think of the word more quickly now when I need it, but I am still likely to mispronounce it or misspell it. If the word in question is a noun, I might get the gender of this word correct half of the time. (German nouns are all either feminine (die), masculine (der), or neuter (das), by the way. The gender determines adjective and pronoun endings and sometimes differentiates between entirely different meanings of a word.  Such as die Leiter = ladder, der Leiter = leader.)

501-750 times: By this point, I can generally think of the word when I need to use it, but will occasionally still slip up. Common spelling mistakes (mixing up ie/ei, using the wrong pluralization, forgetting an umlaut (the little dots over ü, ö, ä)) are still likely. I might remember the correct gender 70% of the time. Maybe. I am still likely to mix up words that have the same spelling but different genders.

751-999 times: The word starts to come to me naturally, without me having to think “what was such-and-such auf Deutsch again?” I generally get the spelling consistently correct by this point, and with verbs, I am familiar with how the spelling changes as it goes from past to present to future tenses and in-between. I will still mess up on the noun gender occasionally because noun genders are hard to memorize.  At some point in this interval, I start to really own the word and become more confident in its use, to the point of being able to define it both in English and in German if I am asked.

1000 times: I don’t have to think about the word to use it in a sentence, and I know the meaning (or at least the meanings to which I have in some way been exposed). There may be alternate definitions to learn, and I may not know all of the prefixes and suffixes associated with the word, but when I do run across that kind of variation, my knowledge of the base word makes understanding the meaning of the modifications much easier.

Learning a language is hard, but I am thankful that I already posses the ability to think in German. Not all the words I would like to use always come to mind immediately, and I will probably always find it easier to think and express myself in English than in German. But German is getting easier. When out interacting with the world, I try to seize onto every bit of German I can find; if I hear a word in the streetcar or see it on an advertisement or newspaper, that’s one more time I have been exposed to the word. Which gets me that much closer to the magic 1000. One tiny little step at a time.

academic success?

I am getting a little nervous about my academics here.  True, the semester hasn’t even started (in Germany, the academic year runs from October to September, so I’m technically taking the equivalent of a summer class).  But I’ve heard from other students here in my major that the classes I will be taking when the semester actually starts are hard.  Very hard.

As a study-abroad student, for the class credits I earn here to transfer back to Virginia Tech, I only need to pass my classes.  I definitely intend to do better, of course–I don’t want to settle for a low grade and for not learning much–but I am relieved to know that if the language on the final exam confuses me and I only barely pass the exam despite knowing the material, I get the class credit.  All my grades will be pass/fail to Virginia Tech, and with the language barrier, that may be a good thing.  My German is improving, but there is so much technical vocabulary I don’t know!

But to try to do better than just passing with a minimum grade, I am trying to review some classes I took over the last year that I realize now I did not quite understand.  At the same time, I’m trying to look up technical vocabulary so that when the professor starts talking about putting the equations of motion for a fluid system into state-space form, I can actually follow what he’s saying without needing to scramble for my dictionary.

I’m thankfully making some friends here–even some friends who will be taking the same classes or who have already taken them.  I hope those friends don’t mind helping me both study and translate.  I will definitely need the help.  I heard from a professor one that “no one gets an engineering degree alone,” and that is certainly true.  Mechanical Engineering is a broad discipline, and people who are able to understand mechanical design might have problems comprehending thermodynamics.  I have gotten help from many people at Virginia Tech, and I have helped a few myself.  We’re all in this together.  Now I just need to get reassurance that this camaraderie is international.

There’s a part of me that thinks that my nervousness is partly due to the fact that I have not even signed up for my classes yet, while other people in my class year at VT are 1/3 of the way through the semester.  Another part of me is concerned that the classes here are graded based on a single final exam at the end of the class (that you apparently need to study really hard for).  I hope that I can handle this, but at the moment, I have no standard by which to measure my success or failure.  And if the only exams are at the end, I won’t have a standard for a while.  I need to quit worrying and just do my best to be proactive so I won’t have to worry as much later.

Here’s to academic success!  (hopefully!  If you are a praying person, please pray for me!)


I’m about to take myself to a breakfast buffet to celebrate.  Why?  This is my 30th day in Germany.  Today, I have been living in a foreign culture and coping with culture shock for a month.  My year-long study abroad is 1/12th over, give or take a few days.

I’ve learned a lot already.  I’m more sure of myself than when the plane first landed, even though I keep on making mistakes both with the language and the culture.  I’m learning to bounce back from those.  Family and friends are more important to me than ever before, and I’m learning how to better keep in contact with them.  I’m actually trying to correspond with people instead of just saying “let’s keep in touch” and friending them on Facebook and forgetting it.  (I’m still working on that part, though.  I’ve been learning who exactly my friends are, and it turns out that God has blessed me with a LOT of friends.  So if I haven’t written you a message yet, please be patient.)

I can now count Euros using mostly just the edges of the coins I can see in my wallet, and I know enough functional German to talk to people I meet in German without having to revert to English.  (They sometimes switch to English, since they can tell I have an accent, but oh well.)  I’ve started a list of the places I want to visit while I’m here.  A very long list.  I’m not sure the break between semesters I’ll have will be long enough.  But we’ll see.

I’ve also made enough friends in my major to hear about some of the classes I’ll be taking, though.  They are hard classes.  I have started reviewing material from classes that would be prerequisites for these hard classes at Virginia Tech, and I hope I get enough understanding from that review (and from translating the notes I take!) to be able to follow class well enough to pass.  I heard from a former participant in this program that not everyone in her year actually passed all their classes, which scares me.

So, 1/12th of the way in, and I’m both getting more comfortable and getting very nervous about classes. What does that mean?  More coffee.

coffee:  you can sleep when you're deadimage from http://www.stationbay.com/coffee-sleep-when-your-dead-tin-sign.htmlidea from my mom.  Thanks, Mom!  See?  My parents are great.  They support both my study abroad and my love of coffee. ❤

rawr on mathildenplatz

I was wandering around in Darmstadt yesterday when I came across a park with a fountain.  There are several of those in Darmstadt, but this particular one is called Mathildenplatz.  While I was taking pictures, I noticed something.

fountain on mathildenplatz

Zoom in on the lion on the right a bit.  From a different angle, you can see…

lion statue on mathildenplatz fountain with moss moustachethat that lion has a sweet-tastic moss moustache.  Win!


I just wanted to write a post dedicated to church.  I was incredibly nervous before I came to Darmstadt about being able to find a good church that shared my beliefs, and even more nervous about finding a Bible study, especially since my German skills aren’t that good.

But I now can say that I have a home church here.  And I go to a Bible study comprised of German college students.  And I have friends–German friends, even!  Even when my language skills still need more development!

The first Sunday I lived in Darmstadt, I nervously went to Evangelisch-Freikirchliche Gemeinde Baptisten Darmstadt (EFG Darmstadt for short), a Baptist church.  Here is the web site.  In German, btw.

At that church service, I met K, who has been a great friend.  She invited me to her Bible study group, and when I mentioned that my German skills were poor and that I had trouble understanding when people spoke quickly or mumbled, she started emailing me English translations of many of the announcements to make sure that I could get the right information.  And yet she has been willing to speak German with me when we are hanging out or in Bible study so that I can get more practice and learn.  She has helped me out in other ways, too; she recommends stores in Darmstadt and sights to see.  Being a newbie here, I am super-thankful!

Other people in the Bible study are very friendly as well.  I’ve met a lot of people in the last few weeks, and I don’t remember all of the names.  But the people I’ve met in the college student Bible study are very friendly and don’t seem to mind listening to my mistake-riddled sentences.  I have even been told multiple times that if I don’t understand something that someone says, all I have to do is ask for clarification or for them to repeat it more slowly.

God has been good to me here so far.  I’m homesick, so I don’t always feel like I belong here and I often feel alone.  But this church and this Bible study and the friends I have made there are gifts from God, and I am extremely thankful!

ludwig iv

Just thought I’d post a few pictures of one of the statues here.  It is near the Darmstadt Schloss (castle) and someone has mounted colorful cartoon-character-esque speech balloons around the statue to make it more fun.

ludwig iv saying "was denkst du, wer ich bin" and "machtplatz!"The yellow speech balloon translates to “Who do you think I am?”  The red speech bubble is a play on words.  “Marktplatz” means marketplace, and “Macht” means might or strength.  Hence, “Machtplatz!”

side of ludwig ivHere, the orange sign translates roughly to “How’s life?”  But says Wiiiieh instead of Wie, since I think it is supposed to be the horse talking.  And the green sign near the horse’s rear end translates to “Pffft. That stinks!”  Yeah, I guess so, Ludwig.

ludwig iv overallAnd this is the overall statue.  I took these pictures when I did because it was sunny for a few hours that day.  Ahh, sun.  I miss you.

I never thought of photography as a hobby, but this is fun.  There will be more pictures this year, I can assure you that.