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




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.

my one word for 2012: story

very inspiring story about one's life as a story.

source: http://www.amazon.com/Million-Miles-Thousand-Years-Publisher/dp/B004SUQ9KS/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1326639470&sr=8-3

I’ve been back in Darmstadt for over a week now. Christmas at home with the family was fantastic. It was hard to leave my parents and friends at home to come back to Darmstadt, but I’m refreshed and prepared to finish what I started here.

Since a new year has begun, I’ve picked my New Year’s Resolution. It is a single word, using a New Year’s resolution program started by Port City Community Church, the church I went to during my internships in Wilmington, NC. That system is called My One Word. You pick a word that represents the growth you want to see in your life for this year.

My One Word for this year is story. As in, my life story is part of a big, exciting story God has planned out. I can sit inside on my computer all day every day and make my story dull and uninspiring, or I can get out, explore, meet new people, take (sensible) risks, and generally make the story of my life a good part of God’s bigger story.

I’m making a consious effort to get out of my apartment and interact with the world, in order to have more chances to develop my story. For instance, I’ve started running. I can’t run for very long at the moment, but even running as a beginner is more healthy than sitting in front of my computer.  And it gives me more of a chance to see beauty in nature and to interact with the people around me. (Especially the people out walking their adorable dogs!)  And I’m making travel plans for later this year, which means more chances to develop my story.

This word goes along with the word I picked for last year, which was go. Go, as in stop-worrying-about-how-the-semester-defining-conversation-with-this-professor-will-go-and-go-ask-him-your-question-already, and go as in go-take-a-risk-and-study-abroad. Those were my ideas for the way go would work in my life in 2011.

The ideas I have for why I choose a particular word each year aren’t always the same ideas I have about the word by the end of the year. By the end of 2011, I began to go out of my apartment and take a walk around town to distract myself from homesickness, I had had to go ask professors and teaching assistants for help or advice (in German), and I had gone on trips to see cities I may not get much of a chance to see again.  I saw myself mature in the way I handled life situations by how I looked at the word go in January vs. in December.  There were both victories and defeats, but I learned a lot.

When I went to Nürnberg for the Christkindlesmarkt, I decided that My One Word for 2012 would be story. I had had the idea bouncing around in my head for months.  On the train ride, I read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller.  That book convinced me that I want to focus on making my life a better story in 2012. (Very good book, by the way. A friend of mine who also blogs quoted it on Facebook, and I knew I had to read it.)

So that is My One Word for this year: story. Want to pick a word for this year? Great! Here is the page with a guide of how to do so.  I hope you find this approach to New Year’s resolutions as inspiring as I do.  Best wishes for the new year!

three months

Today I have officially been in Germany for three full months.  I’ve been taking my senior engineering classes in German, exploring Darmstadt and the surrounding areas, and adjusting.  I’ve made friends, found a church, and even gone on a retreat with Campus für Christus.  I’ve heard that a few months into an exchange is when the worst of the homesickness strikes, and I have been pretty homesick as of late, so I’m optimistic–I may be near the turning point where I can enjoy living in the moment in Germany despite missing my family and home.

The retreat this weekend helped immensely with the homesickness. Ironic, too, since we were in Mühltal, a little town half an hour from Darmstadt by bus.  It had little cell phone reception, and the building in which we stayed had no internet access.  But in the midst of the disconnectedness, I made some new friends.

It turns out that quite a few people in Darmstadt’s Campus für Christus group have already studied abroad. When I got homesick this past weekend at the retreat, the German students were willing to talk with me about what it is like to study abroad, how much the experience is worth it in the end, and the paradox of how it can be both fun and painful at the same time.

I met a girl who studied for a year in California (or “Cali,” as she called it) during high school.  We chatted about American restaurants we have both tried and the differences in shopping for clothes in American stores and German stores.  At one point over the weekend when I was especially homesick, she prayed with me.  And she even made sure to get my contact info so we could keep in touch.  🙂

I also talked with another girl who spent six months with missionaries in Brazil.  She knew how hard it is to feel comfortable talking to one’s new friends in the new country and how challenging it is to forge good, close friendships despite the language barrier.  And she completely understood the feeling I sometimes get here–the feeling that I’m so surrounded by German culture and German people and German architecture and German everything to the point where I wonder if America is even still there.

But one thing that I found most encouraging talking to the former exchange students is that they came back to their home country.  They went to the other country, experienced homesickness, experienced and enjoyed what the other country had to offer, and then they went home.  So often I feel as though I am expected to want to stay here in Germany forever even though I only signed up for a year.  I’ve met people who were exchange students and decided to stay in their exchange country, but now, having met quite a few students who studied abroad and came back to their home country, I feel like the exchange students who stay in the exchange country are the exceptions rather than the norm.

Both of the girls I talked to mentioned that the first few months in a study abroad go by very slowly and the homesickness is especially hard.  But after a few months, you get used to where you are living and the time goes by quickly.  By the time you’re sitting on the plane home, you wonder where the time went.

So for me, I’m going to ignore the expectation some people have of me that I’ll want to stay here in Germany forever.  I’m allowed to want to live in the same country as my family, and I’m only here for a year.  Having been here three months now, I’m on track to soon hit the point where my year starts moving really fast.  So I’m going to make the most of it.

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!

friday youtube party 1

I was recently writing an email to some family members who were under a lot of stress.  I wanted to help, but I’m kind of far away at the moment, so I gave them what I sometimes need to improve my mood:  distraction.

Yep, distraction.  If I’m in a funk, homesickness or otherwise, I’ll go write out my frustrations for a while, but after a few minutes, I just find myself writing the same things over and over.  I miss my family.  I miss my friends.  I miss home.

That’s when I know to do something completely different.  Get out of my apartment and go for a walk, or If the weather is bad or if it is late in the day, I read one of my favorite blogs or go searching for random stuff on Youtube.  Sounds weird, but it helps.

So when I emailed these family members distractions, I sent them a ready-made Youtube lineup.  Need a distraction yourself?  Here are the videos I sent:

Halloween was recently.  I wish I could have seen this middle school science class in person!

What’s a Youtube party without the Old Spice Man?

…and Grover as Old Spice Man?  Awww.

Two words: Extreme. Ironing.

Europe’s The Final Countdown, on cello:

(And the original Final Countdown:)

making the most of this year

Homesickness has hit me pretty hard this week.  I keep having little flashbacks to places I’ve been in the past.  Driving down Main Street in Blacksburg, VA to get to church at Virginia Tech, or of my parents’ house, or of the beach in Wilmington.  Even strangely specific places, such as particular grocery stores and the various Wal-Marts and Targets I’ve been to.

I’m not sure why I keep thinking of all these things, but in some ways, I’m thinking my mind just wants to know that all the stuff I remember is still there.  That I’m not crazy and reminiscing about imaginary places.  Surrounded by a foreign country that I’m only half-used to and only being able to contact family members through email and video chat is still jarring.  Everything I was used to at home has not been nearby for two-and-a-half months now, and it feels so far away!

Things will be fine after a while, I’m sure, and since I’m only here for a year, it won’t be too many months before I can go to all those familiar places back home again whenever I want.  For now, I need to get out of this rut and enjoy the advantages of Germany.  So my plan to take steps to make the most of my time here:

– Come up with a list of books I want to buy while I am in Germany, since getting German books in America is both difficult and expensive.  And since I like to read.

– Buy a few movies or TV shows on German iTunes.  (I already have a 25€ iTunes gift card ready to go.)

– Research the places I want to visit while I’m in Europe.  I have a map on my wall with several cities I’d like to visit already marked.

But amongst studying for classes, taking exams (first one is in December!), grocery shopping, applying for grad school, being involved with Campus für Christus, volunteering in the robotics lab, and blogging–with all this stuff to do, as well as exploring what Germany has to offer, how do I have time to be homesick?

I’m honestly not sure.  But I do know this: being homesick means that home is worth missing.  I’ll get there eventually.  I just need to enjoy where I am now.

getting from frankenstein’s castle back to darmstadt: an adventure

Yesterday, I posted about the Halloween celebration I went to at Frankenstein’s Castle in Eberstadt, Germany.  The party was fun, but getting back to Darmstadt was an adventure.

I went to Frankenstein’s Castle with two other friends.  While waiting for the train to Eberstadt to arrive at the train station in Darmstadt, we met three other people who were also heading to Frankenstein’s Castle. We chatted a bit about costumes and what train stop to get off at, but once we got to the castle, the three of them went on their way and my friends and I went on ours.

After the party was over, the shuttle buses took partygoers back to the Eberstadt train station.  My friends and I went towards the station entrance to check the schedule for the next train to Darmstadt, but suddenly the people we met earlier came out of the entrance and reported some bad news: the last train to Darmstadt had left for the night. The next train would not arrive for six hours.  All six of us needed a new way to get back.

We all went to a nearby bus station, costumes and all, and waited for a bus that took us to where we could catch a streetcar to Darmstadt.  But even once we got to the streetcar stop (around 1:30 AM!), we discovered the next streetcar would not be coming for 36 minutes.

One of our new friends asked us if we wanted to split a taxi between the six of us to get back to Darmstadt, and we all agreed.  He called a taxi company.  No one picked up. Called again. No response.  He resignedly sat down to wait for the streetcar.

But we were tired, and I was nervous being out so late at night in an unfamiliar town.  Even once the streetcar came, we would only be able to take it to the city center of Darmstadt, and we would then need to walk a couple miles back to the student apartments.  So we finally encouraged the guy who had the number from the taxi company to call again.

The guy called a different taxi service this time, and finally, two taxis arrived to take us back.  My friends and I thanked our taxi-finding friends and got into our taxi.  We finally got back to the apartment safely at 2 AM, and the cost of the taxi was thankfully only a little over 4€ per person.

It was an interesting feeling being in a taxi.  In the past two months, I have used my own feet and streetcars and buses as nearly all of my transportation.  I realized how much I miss driving, and how much I miss having a seatbelt.  The taxi ride wasn’t long, but it was enough to make me realize how very much I miss driving my own car.

I’m thankful I made it back safely, and I even learned a few life lessons.  The morals of this story:

1. Always–ALWAYS! check the schedule of the return trains.  If the last train that goes from your destination to the town your apartment is in leaves at midnight, know that and plan around it, or make alternate return transportation plans!

2. Make sure you have the phone numbers of two or three or more taxi companies in your phone that cover the towns and areas you will be in.

3. Travel in groups if you are unfamiliar with the area, and make new friends along the way.  Be cautious and use common sense, but stranger does not always mean danger.  (Calling a reputable taxi company to help a stranger isn’t creepy.)

4. And be thankful if you have a car where you live and can drive it.  I very much look forward to being back where my car is and where I understand the rules of the road. (And where I can crank up the radio and sing along with no one able to hear me to tell me to shush.)

So my adventure to celebrate Halloween was both memorable and educational.  And I got to ride in a car!  And I do not ever want to stay out that late ever ever ever again.  Yikes.


There are a lot of things I miss about home and about America, but one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the beach.  After seeing this post on Lynna’s blog, I decided it was time to write about it.

I spent two summers working as an intern in Wilmington, NC, and the second summer I was there, I truly learned to LOVE living at the beach.  I would head back to the apartment after coding all day at work, change into beach clothes and flip-flops, grab a snack and a book and head for my car.  I would drive the 20 minutes to Wrightsville Beach, park my car, grab my purse, and go relax.

I enjoyed walking through the sand and the shallows and watching seagulls fly by.  Eventually, I’d find a good spot to read and delve into my book, occasionally looking up to appreciate the quiet and the scenery.

view of figure eight island in wrightsville beach, nc


And I discovered beach sunrises.  One day, I decided that it might be one of the few times I could go to the beach and watch the sunrise without having to go on vacation to actually get to the beach, so I woke up early and watched the sun rise over Wrightsville Beach.  From that day, I was hooked.  Waking up to a quiet neighborhood at 4:30 AM, driving to the nearly-deserted beach while singing along with the radio, and then arriving and spending some time watching the majesty unfold.  Just God, the beach, the sunrise, and me.

sunrise at topsail island.  one of my favorite pictures from my time at the beaches in the wilmington area.I know I’ve posted this picture of the sunrise at Topsail Island before, but it’s one of my favorites, so you get to look at it again.  🙂

For the next ten months or so, I’m going to be living where the nearest beach is a long train ride away and is probably too cold to enjoy except during the summer.  But I’m so thankful for the memories of living in Wilmington.  And when I get back to the USA, I gotta plan a vacation.

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.