thesis in progress

I’m still relieved that I passed the last two classes I need to graduate, but there’s one thing standing between me and the end of my Bachelor’s degree, and that’s my thesis.

I’ve turned in a first draft of my thesis and gotten corrections, and I’m down to the home stretch. But there’s some software development that I’m having major problems getting to the point of being functional. And I have to actually go through and fix the things in my thesis document my advisor said needed correcting, and then add whatever results come of the currently-non-functional software. And then I still want to make an assembly manual (my thesis project was to design a robot arm that someday might get built but can’t be built before I leave because all the machinists at the university are somehow on vacation all at the same time).

And I made the stupid mistake of signing up for my thesis on March 20th.  A Bachelor’s thesis at this university lasts a mere 150 days from the moment you sign up.  In those 150 days, you have to accomplish all of the research, testing, program writing, experimenting, whatever–and the writing.  Day #150 is the day on which you have to hand a printed and bound copy of your thesis in to the same office you signed up in.

And the end of my 150 days is next Monday. Unfortunately, basically all stores are closed on Sunday, including copy shops. Since the office I have to hand my thesis into is open on Monday morning, I need to have my thesis printed by the time the copy shops close on Saturday night, effectively cutting two days off of my precious 150.

So you could say I’m stressed. I’m almost done, and the stress will only last a few more days. (Then I have to get ready for my final presentation, which I’m going to have to do via videoconference from the USA because my advising professors are all on vacation until after I leave, but I’m not going to worry about that right now.) Prayer would be appreciated.

But I’m almost done. I think there might be light at the end of the tunnel!


turbo bestanden!

The title means “Turbo passed!”  As in, to pass a class.  Not only did I pass the class I was so worried about yesterday, but I got what is I think the best grade I have gotten here at TUD yet.  Now the only thing I need to do to graduate is to finish my thesis project.  And get transcripts sent to VT and such.

There’s one more exam I’ll be taking in a few days, but it won’t keep me from graduating from VT.  I still have a lot more to do on my thesis project, but now I get to focus on it.  Depending on how quickly my thesis gets graded, I’ll be graduating either in August or December.  Either would be fine, really.  I’m happy.

So, in short, God is good.  I managed to recall what was needed for the test, and my grade was a pleasant surprise. Thank you all for the prayers!

Now the big question: should I return to working on my thesis immediately, or to take a nap first (I was too nervous last night to sleep well).  Hmm…

upcoming oral exam

It’s been a long time since my last post.  I’m currently in the middle of exams, and I’ve had to make some hard decisions about how to prioritize my time recently.  I will eventually get back to real blogging content.  I have so many ideas for blog posts I want to write but no time to sit down and outline or write them.  At least not yet.

I passed one exam about a week ago with the best grade I’ve gotten here in Germany so far.  A friend who had gotten a good grade in the class when she took it in a previous semester let me ask her anything and everything about the class that I had questions on, and with her explanations, everything just clicked.  She is a wonderful friend, and the grade resulting from the studying I did based on the help she gave me was much better than I could have expected had I studied just on my own.  Danke, K!

But I have an oral exam on Monday.  If I fail that exam, I not only have to go back to Virginia Tech for another semester, but I have to take two classes to make up for the lost credit instead of one; somehow, this class counts for two partial classes instead of having a one-to-one credit equivalence.  I already passed the other classes that would transfer as the other parts of the classes, but that’s a moot point if I fail this exam.  But if I do pass this exam, only the completion of my thesis project will stand between the completion of my Bachelor’s degree and me.  (And I like my thesis project.)

I’ve heard this exam is hard, so I’m studying like crazy.  I’ve emailed the TA with questions, rewatched key lectures (thankfully the professor records the audio and powerpoint slides of every presentation and posts them online), and even taken notes of notes that I took of notes that I took on my class notes.  (Literally.)  But, despite my efforts, I don’t know if I’m prepared enough. I don’t think there’s a way to know.  The constant effort to reach whatever unknown standard would allow me to pass this exam is burning me out, and quickly.

So if you have a few moments, I’d appreciate it if you send up a prayer for me.  Prayer for motivation, that I can focus, that I don’t freeze up or freak out during or before the exam, prayer that I study and remember what I need to know, and prayer that I trust the One who gave me the ability to learn stuff in the first place.  Oh, and prayer that I end up passing.  🙂

I took the flash cards I made for this exam to Darmstadt’s Orangerie yesterday, and while I was there, I took a few pictures.  Since I’m not sure how else to end this post on a high note, this is one of the views I enjoyed yesterday.  Enjoy!

darmstadt orangerie



balancing chaos

The way I’ve been describing my life this semester: chaos. Absolute chaos.

I just realized last week that I’m taking 42 credit points, which is the equivalent of a 21-credit-hour semester at a US university.  A normal courseload is 15 credit hours, with 18 credit hours being difficult but doable.  At Virginia Tech, you actually have to apply for special permission to take more than 19 credit hours in one semester.  I’ve never had to go above 18 credit hours before.

I had been avoiding counting up how many credit hours I was taking for a while because I was scared of the result.  I knew I had a lot of classes (including the exam I’m going to have to entirely retake), but I was afraid to put a number to it.  But I finally did, and now this semester seems more impossible than before.

I only need to pass my thesis project and one other class in order to get the credits I need to graduate from Virginia Tech.  Unfortunately, the class I need to pass is on fluid systems and turbomachines (involves fluid dynamaics and thermodynamics calculations), which I’m not terribly interested in.  The exam for that class has the oddest format I’ve ever heard of; we are supposed to prepare a 5-minute presentation of a scenario involving some fluid system/turbomachine system and then derive various key values for the professor, and then he starts throwing more questions at us about the scenario we picked, asking us to calculate different things related to our scenario, do dimensional analysis, etc.  Only we aren’t allowed to bring any notes to help us.  We have to have our scenario and the related equations memorized.

Yeah, I’m scared about that one.  This professor isn’t known for being a generous grader, either.  If I fail that class, I will need to go back to VT for an additional semester.  I’m doing everything I can think of to prevent that from happening.

The other classes are at least slightly less concerning, since I only need them to graduate from TUD.  Getting a BS degree from TUD would definitely be nice, but my top priority is graduating from the school I originally enrolled at–VT, not TUD.

And even then, I’m working on my thesis project and trying to write about it while preparing for these exams.  I want to do a good job on my thesis, of course.  The team I’m working with is awesome, the project is fun, I’m learning a lot, and if I work hard on it, I’ll have a nice long technical report and plenty of CAD models I can show future potential grad school advising professors and potential employers.  But since it takes more effort to pass my classes here than it takes to get a good grade in a class at Virginia Tech (due to the language barrier and different teaching/exam styles, not because Virginia Tech is bad, because VT is actually awesome), I’m not sure how to balance everything.

Oh, and on top of everything else, I’m going with the team I’m working with for my thesis to the RoboCup competition in Mexico City for a week.  It’s a great opportunity, but will I be able to recover from the week of programming all day and little sleep at night (and the jetlag afterwards) in time for exams?  There’s little chance of me getting anything related to my classes done that week, which scares me.

I know I haven’t been posting much, and my posts lately have been kind of depressing.  I look forward to posting about the language learning process, cultural experiences, and more pictures when I get home.  But right now, I’m in triage mode, and I’m scared.

I seriously don’t know if I can do this–this is the hardest semester I’ve ever experienced, and it’s not to the crazy part yet.  I’m going to try my best, but if it doesn’t work out and I end up turning into a raving lunatic, would somebody volunteer to come put me on the plane home in a straitjacket?  I may need it.  And prayer would be appreciated, as always.

On the bright side, I do have a ticket home in late August.  The chaos has an official end date.  I just hope that I can be certain that I have at least one graduation in the bag by then.

update on stressful things

First of all, I want to thank you guys for all the encouraging emails and comments I’ve gotten since I posted last.  Thank you so, so much.  I am so blessed to have friends like you all!

Things are going a bit better at the moment, sort of.  Good-ish news:  It turns out that we won’t be retaking the Strukturdynamik exam in June; we have decided/been advised to wait until the official retake in August.  That takes off some of the pressure right now and gives me more time to prepare for that 4-hour monster exam. Bad news:  Professors at VT and TUD encouraged us to take the August exam instead of the June exam because they thought there was no way on Earth that we’d be ready for the June exam.  We were told that our bad test scores were either the result of us not studying properly (I have never studied harder for an exam in my life, darnit!) or because Virginia Tech didn’t teach us the necessary prerequisite material.  Um, thanks for the boost to my self-esteem, guys.  And my home-university school spirit.  Really.  Makes me feel so good about myself and my ability to learn and my education in general.  </irony>  Virginia Tech really is a good engineering university, and I was honestly pretty insulted.  But expressing that won’t help me now.

Pushing the exam off until August just takes off that stress now and spreads it over the entire semester.  That exam will be the last one I take at TUD, so long as my current exam schedule doesn’t change.  There aren’t any lectures for that class going on this semester (not that they would help, though; that professor talked very fast and was very hard to understand), but it was mentioned that the department might be able to find a German student who did well in the class to help tutor us.  I hope so, but I can’t count on it.

I keep wondering why I decided it was a good idea to do a long-term study abroad in which I took technical classes in another language.  I’m still wondering that, and I’m regretting not just taking a single semester to go abroad and take some fluff electives and travel all over Europe.  I would still have gotten the cultural experience without having to stress over taking senior-level engineering classes in German.  I’m doing my best to learn the necessary material here, but I’m sure some things are getting lost in translation, and that scares me.  (Dear potential future employers and grad school advisors:  if I am behind on any subject due to having taken the class here at TUD instead of taking the class at VT in English, please do not pass me over.  I am willing to work hard to catch up.)  I’ve learned a lot of things here, some of which are academic- and engineering-related, but most of which are more adaptability-related.  I may not fully understand all of the systems and bureaucracy in place at this university, but I’ve figured out how to survive, and that’s worth something, right?

Or I think I’ve figured out how to survive.  My remaining 3-ish months at this university will show whether that’s actually the case.  And then I’ll be going home sometime in mid-August.  I’ll definitely need the time off.

stress stress stress stress…

I really did mean to post regularly while I was here in Germany, but I keep having to shelve things.  My life is chaos right now, and if I’ve not been good at keeping in touch, please understand.

The Strukturdynamik (Vibrations) exam I took back in mid-March did not go well at all.  Knowing that Strukturdynamik is one of the most difficult classes a mechanical engineering student could take at TUD, I studied more for that exam than I have ever studied for an engineering test or exam before in my life. I felt like I understood the material well, but the exam I took was so unlike what I had studied I had to wonder whether I was even taking the exam for the correct class.  But I was; the professor just chose some very obscure topics that were barely covered in class on which to base most of the test material.  Topics I and most other students–both the exchange students and the German students–had overlooked.  And the language barrier of course only made things worse.

The next attempt to take the final exam for Strukturdynamik is in mid-August, but we exchange students need to be able to get back to the USA by mid-August in case we need to take more classes at Virginia Tech (which is a very real possibility for all of us, so I’ve had to push my dreams of grad school back a year; I’ll hopefully apply this fall, regardless of whether I’m done and at home or back at VT to finish any remaining required classes).  Packing while studying (in a foreign language) for the most difficult, detailed class I have ever taken doesn’t sound like fun, but thankfully, the professor for the class has offered to give us VT exchange students a chance to take a special-for-us Strukturdynamik final exam on June 12.  Which is great for getting that exam out of the way, but now I have less than a month to study for it.  On top of working on my robot-arm-tastic thesis project and studying enough to survive my other classes and preparing to go to RoboCup in Mexico City just five days after the June exam.  Um, when do I, you know, sleep?

So if you’re a praying person, I would appreciate prayer.  Lots of prayer.  If not, please send some good thoughts in the general direction of Germany.  🙂  Not to sound needy, but I need all the help I can get now.  And a portable coffee IV drip.  Anyone have one of those I could borrow until August?

(Note:  If you by any crazy-random-happenstance chance happen to have contact with anyone at Virginia Tech who is planning on going into the VT=>TUD Dual Degree program that I’m in, please point them to this blog post and/or tell them to send an emailtolalaland [at] gmail [dot] com.  I have some important hints to how to survive at TUD.  And please tell them to take Vibrations at VT instead of taking Strukturdynamik at TUD!)

mirabell gardens then, studying now

Well, the robotics competition I got to go to (the RoboCup German Open) was a lot of fun (and TUD won in both the Rescue and the KidSize Soccer divisions!).  And then I spent ten days travelling around with my parents, which was amazing.  Here’s a picture of my parents standing in the Mirabell Garden in Salzburg:

my parents in mirabell garden in salzburg

The castle in the back is the Festung (fortifications of) Hohensalzburg, which we also got to tour.  Very cool.

But now, my parents are back home fighting off jetlag and I’m preparing for my oral exam tomorrow for my Machine Tools and Industrial Robots class.  There’s a fair amount of memorization involved, but also a lot of calculations I could be asked to perform.  And I’ve never had an oral exam before.  (An oral exam is where the student goes to the professor’s office and the professor asks the test questions verbally.  Then the student answers verbally, or if asked to work out a problem or draw a diagram, the student writes things out on paper while the professor watches.)  Oral exams are said to be easier than written exams, since you’re allowed to ask the professor for clarification or hints, but still, I’m nervous, to say the least.  If you’re a praying person, I’d appreciate some prayer, both for my memory and for my anxiety. 🙂

Back to studying. I am looking forward to this exam being over.

Update: I passed the exam!  Thanks for the prayers!

what is this decorative item?

So I see this decorative… thing nearly every day, since it’s smack in the middle of my field of view while I’m waiting for the next streetcar near my apartment.  And now, even after seven months of living here, I still have no idea what it is.  not sure what this thing on top of this building is

My best guess is that it’s a ceramic sculpture of a seahorse dressed as a stormtrooper.  Anyone else have ideas?

staatstheater darmstadt

I went to see the opera Lucia di Lammermoor recently at Darmstadt’s theater, the Staatstheater Darmstadt.  I got to the theater a bit early, and since the sun was setting and the theater looked beautiful, I just had to get my camera out.

the staatstheater darmstadt as the sun was setting

This is the Staatstheater Darmstadt.  Such a cool building!  As you can imagine, this park area in front of the theater is a popular picnic/hangout spot on days with nice weather.  🙂

going on a trip

I have a busy next couple of weeks.  Tomorrow I leave for the RoboCup German Open, which is a robotics competition being held in Magdeburg, Germany.  And the day after I get back from that, my parents will arrive and we will travel together some more.  I’m looking forward to both trips!

Since I seemingly only ever post on a regular basis when I’m travelling, I though I’d schedule a blog post or two for the time I’m gone.  But for today, a picture of the streetcar tracks near my apartment.  Appropriate for the travel theme, no?

streetcar tracks near my apartment