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.

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fun (with mistranslation) friday: power poems

I’m currently studying for my first Strukturdynamik (Vibrational Mechanics) exam, which happens on Saturday.  …Ok, I’m currently writing a blog post, but much of this week has been studying.  Details, details.  Anyway.

Last week, the professor gave a list of topics that would be covered on the test.  One of the topics he mentioned was Leistungsdichte.  I don’t think we’ve ever used Leistungsdichte in homework or had an example of it, but it’s in the textbook somewhere.  But I didn’t know how to use them or what they even were.

I didn’t think I needed to look the word up in a dictionary.  After all, I knew that Leistung means power, and I figured that since some equations that have specific names end in the word Satz, which means sentence, I thought that this was a similar case.  The word Gedicht means poem, so maybe since the word Leistungssatz was already in use as the name of equations that calculate power, they decided to stick dichte on the end.  Power poems.  Sounds pretty fun, right?

I finally went up after class on Wednesday and asked a TA for clarification, mentioning at the beginning of the conversation that I was an exchange student, so I might have missed some details due to the language barrier.  He showed me where in the book the relevant equations were found and clarified the terms used, and then said that, in English, Leistungsdichte means Power Density Spectrum.

Good to know.  I still think Power Poems sounds cooler, though.  🙂

sunday best: heidelberg christmas market

Last Friday, a few of my friends and I were burnt out from studying and decided to take a well-deserved break to go to Heidelberg for the Christmas market.  And, as always, I had my camera.  (Yes, I have become “that girl who takes a lot of pictures,” a title I am proud of.  I’m making memories here, people!)

The Heidelberg Weihnachtsmarkt was beautiful and a lot of fun.  One interesting thing about Heidelberg’s Christmas market: there were several smaller Weihnachtsmarkt sections instead of one or two large main sections.  Once my friends and I got some food or did some shopping and finished walking through the aisles of stands in one section, we would get to the end of that section and notice the glow of more Christmas lights a bit further down Hauptstraße, where yet another section of the Weihnachtsmarkt was set up!

This particular Markt had a lot of food, at least in comparison with Darmstadt and Frankfurt’s Christmas markets.  A bit disappointing to not find many Heidelberg-specific souvenirs for sale, but the food was good.

the crepe stand where I got a nutella and banana crepe.  my friend a is trying to block my picture.

For dinner, I had traditional Weihnachtsmarkt foods, including a bratwurst and a Nutella-Banana-Coconut crepe.  Here is my friend A trying to block my picture of the crepe stand.

lots of foods sold at the weihnachtsmarkt are served in paper cones

I also got some roasted cashews, which were delicious.  Many snack foods in Germany are served in paper cones such as this one, which my cashews were served in. The top of the cone can be left open for larger, bulkier snack foods (such as french fries) or can be folded down over the food for smaller/easier to drop foods, such as my cashews.

the candle pyramid in heidelberg

This is the giant electric candle pyramid/Christmas pyramid in the main portion of the Heidelberg Weihnachtsmarkt.  I think this is a Weihnachtsmarkt tradition no matter what city you go to.  Not that I’m complaining!  They’re beautiful.  And some of them, such as this one, have Weihnachtsmarkt stands built in.  This one sells Glühwein.

the beautiful main carousel.  look at the artwork!

There were a few carousels, which also seem to be a Weihnachtsmarkt staple.  The artwork on this one was beautiful! (As a side note, carousels seem to spin much faster here in Germany than in the USA.  I didn’t ride it for fear of not having an appetite the rest of the night.  I did not check to see whether the carousels here have seat belts, but at the speed it was turning, it might well need them!)

the main street in heidelberg that runs to the parts of the weihnachtsmarkt.  love the lights!

This being the spectacularly beautiful city of Heidelberg, the decoration was nothing to sneeze at.  On Hauptstraße, the main street in the Altstadt (the old, more pretty part of the city), these star lights guided visitors and residents between the different sections of the Weihnachtsmarkt.

a lot of the statues had beautiful wreaths around the base.  bonus: this statue has the dom (cathedral) behind it.

A lot of the statues in Heidelberg were decorated to the nines.  I saw several like this, with a giant lit-up wreath circling the base.  Much more tasteful than, say, putting a santa hat on the statue’s head. 🙂

giant cathedral, large but comparatively small christmas tree

There was a giant Christmas tree at this Weihnachtsmarkt as well, but it was completely dwarfed by the cathedral.

the view of the schloss from between some decorated trees

As you may know, Heidelberg has a beautiful castle near the edge of the city.  The last Weihnachtsmarkt section was set up with an amazing view of the castle walls, as you can see here through the decorated trees.

The Heidelberg Weihnachtsmarkt was one of my favorites, in a large part due to the amazing scenery and the already-beautiful city being made even more pretty with the Christmas decorations.  There wasn’t as much shopping to do as there is at the Darmstadt or Frankfurt Weihnachtsmärkte, but I’m not complaining; I’ll cherish the memory of this particular trip to Heidelberg for a long time to come!  I hope you enjoyed the tour!

sunday best: frankfurt christmas market

I went to the Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt on Friday!

My friends and I enjoyed some good fair food (gebrannte Mandeln, aka roasted almonds, and Käsewurst, or cheese sausage on a bun).  We also partook (is that a word?) in Glühwein, a special spiced mulled wine served at Christmastime.  I generally don’t drink, but thankfully, my blood sugar was stable enough that I was able to enjoy a mug of wine without my blood sugar going crazy.

glühwein stand with heaters nearby.  the warmth was welcome!

This Glühwein stand owner was smart and had heaters positioned near the tables.  (Note:  Germany in November is cold.)

some of the weihnachtsmarkt by twilight.  pictures don't do it justice.

The Weihnachtsmarkt looked its best once it started getting darker outside.  The lights, the festive decor, and the general atmosphere turned Frankfurt’s usual historic beauty up a few notches.

the giant christmas tree in front of the römer, a well-known building in frankfurt

Most Weihnachtsmarkts have a giant Christmas tree somewhere.  The Christmas tree for the Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt was right in front of the Römer, a Medieval building in Frankfurt.

There were a lot of different foods and products for sale at the Weihnachtsmarkt.  The selection was more commercial and touristy than what is available in the Darmstädter Weihnachtsmarkt, but it was still fun to walk around and look at things.  Here are a few of my favorites:

look to the left: beautiful chocolates.  now look to the right.  looks kind of like groceries, but it is candy.

This candy stall was selling beautiful chocolates (left side of picture) and candy shaped like groceries (right side of picture).  Click the picture to zoom in; the details on the food-shaped candies were pretty amazing.

stand selling candle pyramids, aka kerzenpyramiden

This stand was selling wood-carved Kerzenpyramiden, or candle pyramids (or, according to Wikipedia, Christmas Pyramids).  The candles at the base of the candle pyramid burn, and the rising heat turns the vanes at the top, which causes a cute little carved scene to spin around.

coolest way to cook wurst ever: giant 1.5-meter diameter grill that swings and spins freely hanging over a firepit.

This is possibly my favorite way to see wurst grilled ever.  The large 1.5-meter-diameter grill was suspended from the ceiling of the wurst stand.  Underneath this free-swinging, free-spinning monster of a grill was an open firepit.  Epic.  There was an even larger one elsewhere in the Markt, but I couldn’t get a good picture of it.

I hope you enjoyed my little tour through the Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt!  Stay tuned in throughout December, as I plan on hitting a couple of other Weihnachtsmärkte this month 🙂

sun sunday: more fall leaves

It’s Sun Sunday again, since I really like taking (and posting) pictures of the sun rising or setting or just being pretty.  And since it’s definitely fall outside right now, please enjoy this picture of the sun shining through the leaves of a tree that has turned yellow.  I took this picture while walking to the Lichtwiese one day.

sun shining through fall leaves

family time across three time zones

My mom is visiting her parents in Texas, and my dad is holding down the fort in Virginia.  And I’m over here in Germany.  So today, I thought I’d express how thankful I am for video chat.  We were just able to talk for an hour or so face-to-face, and it was awesome.  And since my aunt and uncle were in the same place as my mom, I got to talk to them too!

starting a hangout on google+ with beta features.  and that is my favorite mug for tea, by the way.  mmm, tea.

Not to sound like an ad or anything, but my parents and I usually use Google+ Hangouts.  They allow video and audio chat between two or more people for free, as long as everyone has a Google+ account (free as well, and now open to the public at http://www.google.com/+/learnmore/)

(wow, this post really does sound like an ad.  If you call now, by the way, you get two for the price of one!)(just kidding.  please ignore how much this post sounds like an infomercial.)   🙂

Google+ hangouts have a pretty nice system; in addition to video and audio chat, it has integrated text chat for sharing URL’s and integrated Youtube access if you want to show the latest funny cat-on-a-roomba video you found.  New features in beta (“extras”) right now are a shared notepad, a shared sketchpad, live group editing of shared Google Docs documents, and even screen sharing.

Now that my video chat time is over, I have homework to do.  And I’m thankful to have productive work to do now, as it keeps me from getting too homesick. But family time is priceless, and I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to talk face-to-face with my parents, even if we can’t be together in person right now.  It may involve complex time-zone-daylight-savings-time calculations, but it’s definitely worth the trouble!

fall leaves

I’m about to have a busy day running errands, going to class, running more errands, and then going to Campus für Christus.  But I have been collecting pictures of fall over the past few days and thought today would be a good day to post a couple.

trees with yellow leaves on the way to the lichtwiese

yellow leaves covering the ground in an open area near the path to the lichtwiese

the church where the multi-congregation semester-beginning church service was held for students

So this last picture doesn’t have very many fall leaves.  (It has a few, so it counts as a fall picture)  🙂  This church was where a special church service was held where students could gather to celebrate the beginning of the semester, meet other students, and get encouragement and prayer.  I couldn’t understand the entire sermon, since it was in quickly-spoken German (what I’ve started terming FastDeutsch or SchnellDeutsch), but what I did understand was moving and encouraging.

Well, that’s it for today.  Enjoy the pictures of fall in Germany and enjoy the beautiful nature around you wherever you are!

visa acquired!

I finally have my student visa.  The appointment to get the visa wasn’t too bad; I had someone from TU Darmstadt’s international student office there with me to make sure I understood the forms I was filling out and what the foreigner’s office representative I was speaking with was saying.

But now I get to wait more.  There is a lot of waiting involved in studying abroad; I had to wait to get bank information in the mail to verify my German mailing address, I had to wait in a long line to register as an international student, and once I even had to wait nearly two hours to pay my first month’s rent.

money matters: what determines whether my visa will be ok for visiting my parents for christmas

What I have to wait for now is paperwork for a special bank account.  I’m required to make a bank account that has a certain amount of money in it that I can’t access directly.  Every month, a predetermined portion of that money will be transferred into my main bank account.  This kind of account, called a Sperrkonto (blocked/limited-access account) is apparently required for most international students here.

(And by the way, if you are one of the Hokies thinking about studying at TU Darmstadt, Deutsche Bank does Sperrkontos.  Volksbank does NOT.  I’m not sure about Sparkasse. But go with Deutsche Bank from the beginning, and things will be easier.)

Once I get my paperwork for the Sperrkonto and take it to my appointment at city hall, I will be allowed to leave Germany and return to Germany until the end of my visa.

Which is kind of important for when I go home for Christmas.  If you are a praying person, please pray that I can get all the paperwork in time for this appointment.  The Sperrkonto paperwork should be done in 3.5 weeks, but if that is delayed more than two or three days, I’ll have to reschedule my appointment at city hall.  Which could delay me getting my travel allowance, which could make my trip home for Christmas or the return trip difficult.  I’m sure things will work out in the end, but I can’t help but be a bit nervous until I actually have the paperwork turned in.

cookies!

Today is the day I take the UNICert II exam to test my German fluency.  Not being a huge fan of tests, I was getting a little nervous yesterday.  I went for a walk around campus to take a break from studying…

do you like cookies? sign.  yes, sign. yes i do.

…and saw this on an announcement board.

The sign translates to:

Do you like cookies?

Caution:  this is not edible. But if you find yourself always wanting cookies but cannot buy them, here’s one to take with you and look at…

Enjoy looking [at the cookie] 🙂

So of course I took one.

my paper cookie.  mmm.

Tee hee.

klausur

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!