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!)

exam stress, again (updated)

First of all, I’ve gotten many encouraging emails, Facebook messages, and blog comments about my exams.  Thank you guys so much!  ❤

Unfortunately, the exam last Thursday was much harder than I expected; several key questions were based on the more obscure topics in the book that, from the look of the homework problems, should not have been important topics upon which to test the students.  But there are plenty of German students in the class who were also unpleasantly surprised by the test’s difficulty level.  Please pray that the professor and graders have wisdom in assigning grades (and hopefully curving the exam)!

But now, if you are a praying person, I need more prayer.  I’m studying for an exam scheduled for Wednesday, which will be my last exam of the semester.  This exam I have to take in German, and I have to know the vocabulary well enough to write out answers in German.

I have emailed the professor a request for an oral exam, which means I would go to his office, he would ask me test questions, and I would answer them verbally (and would be able to ask him for question clarification and vocabulary hints).  So far, he has not responded to my email.  Please pray that he responds quickly with an appointment for an oral exam, and please pray for my ability to learn all of this stuff–class content and vocabulary–by whenever my exam time ends up being!  I’m so nervous right now.  I want exams to be over.

UPDATE:  The professor for the class of my last exam has offered me an oral exam appointment!  God is good!  And to those of you who were praying for me and/or who left encouraging comments, thank you! ❤

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.  🙂

learning from being “wrong”

I knew that studying abroad would mean I would be going through a lot of personal growth.  That’s just what happens when you live in a new culture and you have to adapt to your surroundings.  But as nice as that sounds, the personal growth can be painful and irritating.

When you go to live in a foreign culture, many things that you do one way at home are done a different way in your new country of residence.  If you try to do something the way you are used to doing it–that is, the “right” way that you do it at home–you will often be “wrong” in the foreign country because they do things differently.  You get funny looks, amused and sometimes even hurtful comments.  Each is a reminder that you’re not at home and you’re wrong.

For a while, being wrong so often bothered me.  I remember the first time I tried to use my shiny new EC-Card (like a credit card and ATM card for a European bank account) to pay for groceries.  First, I managed to misread the little drawing that showed me how to insert the card into the card reader.  Oops, my bad.  After the cashier told me to turn the card around and I got it to read, I reached up to type my PIN onto the card reader’s keypad.  That’s what the keypad’s for, right?

By this point, I should mention, I had barely said a word.  I think I said “Hallo” to the cashier, which should not have been much of a giveaway that I’m a foreigner.  But when I started to type my PIN into the little keypad, the cashier said, in English, “No, no, you have to sign.”  Italics and all.

I was frustrated not only from the embarassment of not knowing how to pay, but also that the guy switched to English just because I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to use my PIN.  I stick out as a foreigner pretty often here, but I can speak decent German.  Had he said “Nein, Sie müssen unterschreiben” instead, I would have understood.  Why rub salt on a wounded ego, mister?

Now, over a month later, I am much less irked by these embarrassing situations.  Not long ago, I went to the post office to pick up a package.  After I handed the clerk my delivery notice, she asked to see my ID.  I showed her my student ID chip card.  (In many stores in the areas surrounding Virginia Tech, students can use their Hokie Passports (university photo ID’s) as actual photo ID’s to make debit/credit purchases and such.  So I assumed that the fancy photo ID chip card that TUDarmstadt gave me would be acceptable.)

But this lady didn’t think so.  “Das ist kein Ausweis” (That’s not an ID), she said.  She went on to tell me that my driver’s license would work.  Pity that my American driver’s license was at the apartment (I’d love to have seen the look on her face), but I happened to have my passport handy, so I chalked the interaction up to experience and handed her my passport instead.  She checked it, gave me my box of medical supplies (thank goodness they arrived!), and I went on my way.

A couple months ago, that interaction would have been really frustrating and I might have left the post office in tears.  Now, I don’t care as much what people think.  Things that I know how to do correctly in America are done differently here, and I understand that. Sometimes the person on the other side of the desk is understanding (especially if I tell them, in German, that I’m an exchange student and that my German is still weak), and sometimes they seem to think I’m stupid regardless of what I say or do.

But I’m not stupid.  I’m used to different processes, and I’m going through the process of getting used to new processes.  I’m going to look silly along the way at some points when I try to do something the way I’m used to doing it in America and it doesn’t work.  But I’ve gotten more used to letting the criticism or irritated responses from people I encounter roll off my back.

Sometimes I wonder what the best souvenirs I can get for myself from Darmstadt and Germany are.  Whatever little trinkets I end up choosing from stores, I really think the best souvenirs are going to be the lessons I learn here.

Such as that sometimes, I’m going to have to look foolish to get what I need.

Such as that me not knowing some new process isn’t my fault, but it is an opportunity to learn.

Such as that I should take criticism with a grain (or two, or five) of salt.  Hurtful criticism should be directly ignored.

And that God knows that my intentions aren’t to irritate the person on the other side of the desk. His opinion is what counts in the end!

cow double dot

In my last Strukturdynamik lecture, I was pretty happy because I was understanding the technical vocabulary used during the lecture itself and in the textbook. But while listening to the professor speak, some of my friends from exchange program and I noticed something.

The professor was referring to a displacement of a beam being analyzed in an example as the variable q. As in, when the beam was pulled down, the end of the beam moved downward q centimeters. Similarly, the velocity of the movement of the beam was the time-derivative of q, often referred to as q-dot because it is written as a q with a dot over it. Acceleration, the second time-derivative of q, is q-double-dot.

Now’s a good time to mention that the letter q, in German, is pronounced very similarly to Kuh, the word for cow.

As soon as we realized why the professor kept talking about cows, we all started cracking up every time he mentioned q as a displacement variable in an example problem. And we did a lot of example problems.  Cow, cow, cow-dot.

In a break during the lecture, I drew you a picture.

derivative cows, inspired by my strukturdynamik class

As a translation, Kuh = cow, Punkt = dot, doppel = double. And µ is pronounced “mu,” for those of you who aren’t up-to-speed on your Greek pronunciation.

We noticed a few other funny pronunciation things, but the comics for those either aren’t drawn yet or didn’t turn out as well. But I may never be able to keep a straight face in Strukturdynamik again. 😀

to-do lists on my desk

I am still so thankful to now have a regular schedule.  I’m definitely still homesick, and I definitely still miss my family and friends at home.  I still feel some pressure from the people who live here to decide to stay here in Germany for grad school, but I’ve already decided that when this year is up, I do not want to live somewhere where there is an international border between my family and me.

But for this year, I’m still, of course, dealing with homesickness.  I’ve heard it gets better after a few months.  And now that classes are started, I actually have things to do to keep my mind occupied.  I have notes to study, practice problems to work on, paperwork to collect and photocopy for my student visa interview next week, and tons of other little administrative things to do.

In addition, I’m working on figuring out how to take the GRE, a test I’ll have to take in order to apply for grad school in the USA.  But to take the GRE internationally with accommodations for diabetes still involves sending a bunch of paperwork to New Jersey with a doctor’s note.  Sorting out those details, on top of my classes, language learning, and the research I’m doing to decide which grad schools to apply to is definitely keeping me busy.

I’m stressed from all the to-do lists covering my desk and filling my mind, and of course more stressed nervous that I may forget to add some little important thing to those lists.  But I’m staying connected to home through chat and email, and I’m understanding my lectures a tiny bit more each day, and I’m getting more accustomed to life as a student here in general.  I’m still not fully adjusted, and at the moment, the day I will be fully used to life here seems very far away.  And the day I go home again to stay there seems even further away.

But those days will come, and in the meantime, I’m making progress.  Slowly but surely.

2 months

I’m having a busy week so far.  It’s the second week of classes here at the Technische Universität Darmstadt, which means that some classes are only just starting and some have yet to be scheduled.  And there are other administrative or general meetings to attend.  My weekly schedule is starting to work itself out, but slowly.

But I’m thankful to finally have a schedule. Something to keep myself busy on most days.  Some reason to wake up at a certain time (even if the reason is an 8:00 AM class) and some reason to do productive work.  Having free time is great, but I find myself happier when my schedule is full.

I’ve been here in Germany for two months now; today is the 61st day since I landed at Frankfurt Airport.  I’ve heard that four months is the typical time it takes for someone to fully adjust to living in a foreign country, and that certainly seems to be true.  I still get homesick, but I’ve figured out that I can love my family and miss living in America and still love America even if I find some aspects of Germany that I like.

This week, posts may be sparse, as I’m still figuring out what lectures and practice problem sessions I’ll be attending, and things will be a bit crazy.  And once things settle down, I may be posting more mundane stories, since I won’t have as much time to travel.  But the study abroad experience is about learning to live in a different culture.  Yes, it is partially about travelling, but after visiting a few cities, the cities start to all look the same; it’s who I get to know and what I accomplish here and what I learn about myself that matters most about my experience.

I’m making friends and starting to understand the German in my classes a bit better.  And it looks like both of those things will continue to improve, as I’m meeting new people nearly every day and getting in plenty of German practice.  I’m still very definitely homesick, but for two months, this isn’t a bad start.

campus crusade for christ in germany

Last night I went to my first Großgedacht, which is the large-group meeting time for the Darmstadt branch of Campus für Christus.

Campus für Christus is the German extension of Campus Crusade for Christ, a Christian student organization I was a part of for a couple years at Virginia Tech. The German version is just as much focused on God and Jesus, but has a somewhat different flavor.  Still a great time of fellowship and fun, though!

The worship songs we sang were in either English or German.  (Some songs translate well, others don’t.  And some are written originally in German anyway.)  There were also powerpoints of what missions trips some group members went on over the summer, as well as announcements for events later this semester.

The message was fantastic.  The speaker, who is the girl to the left in the picture below, spoke about the Armor of God in Ephesians 6.  And, of course, as she mentioned the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, etc., she had one of the leaders of the group put on “armor” that was comprised of fireman’s equipment, tin foil, and other found items.

putting on armorI would say that the blurring is to protect their identities, but I actually just didn’t get a very good picture.  But the guy has a tinfoil breastplate, fireman’s boots, a fireman’s helmet, a blue trash can lid as a shield, and some kind of toilet paper holder (I think?) as a sword.  Even with all the humor, the message was great.  It was in German, so I didn’t catch everything, but still great.

I am so thankful that God got me connected with this group.  Before I arrived, I was nervous that I would have a hard time finding students who shared my beliefs, but judging by the number of people in the room last night, I have plenty of potential friends in this group!

campus fuer christus people!

The group, right after the Großgedacht ended.  Yay friends, and yay God for bringing us all together!