Lonely and Happy

I embraced my return to Munich just under two weeks ago with about as much happiness and enthusiasm as a German sales assistant uses to serve customers. None. Despite, against all expectations, really enjoying last term, all I could think about was my loneliness and boredom; wallowing in the misery that is those two together, despairing at my still pretty poor German, thinking why on earth did I not just stick to studying English and subsequently blaming every German teacher I ever had for sparking any remote interest in the language. I don’t know about you but January blues always hits me quite bad. I spend weeks and weeks counting down to Christmas and then to watch it all be taken down in one day, with nothing remotely exciting to anticipate in its place, leaves me often feeling quite empty. But for the past six years I’ve had exams and coursework to keep me occupied and sufficiently stressed; to give me purpose. Having got all necessary work out of the way before the holidays, I had no distraction this year and subsequently used my return to Munich and the ampleness of free time it brought to downward spiral into a cocoon of purposelessness and self-pity, while chain-watching Gossip Girl.

With a slight verbal kick up the backside from mummy, and the return of a couple of friends to Munich, I managed to shake it off (Ms Swift forever being my life’s anthem) and start to remember why I actually enjoyed myself last year. While the highlights such as travelling and other one-off events definitely do contribute to the experience, it’s the littler, more random things that really make it for me. For example, cocktails two nights in a row because the opportunity was there and why not? Doing a free walking tour of Munich so that I finally have something vaguely intelligent to say about the place when people feign interest (did you know it all started because of a bridge?). Playing Taboo and Scrabble in German, against three Germans, and being happy that I didn’t loose by too many points. Happy to loose! And I will  leave you with one story that totally sums up why it’s actually good to be back.

Friday morning I was in charge of taking the three year old I live with to Kindergarten. Shouldn’t be a problem having already picked her up a few times in the past and the Kindergarten gives her breakfast. Just got to get her up, dressed and out. The night before the parents quickly brief me on the protocol and check I know where it is. I nod enthusiastically, of course I know where it is, I’ve been before, no need for clarification; as they shut the door and go to bed I quickly suppress the voice in my head telling me it’s not sure I do know where to go. I mean, my sense of direction can’t really be as bad as I think it is. Morning comes, I wake the girl up, shove a hot chocolate at her to stop her crying, get her dressed and put her in the buggy, a couple of tantrums aside, so far so good. I walk confidently up the road, waiting for the familiarity of it to hit me and show me where to go. That never happens. I walk, I turn back and try a different turning, I walk some more, still nothing. I can’t find the Kindergarten. By this point we’ve missed breakfast so I have no choice but to hang my head in shame and go back home while trying to explain to the three year old in frustrated broken German why exactly we can’t get there.

To cut the end of the story short, I tried several ways to find an address, getting very worked up and stressed, but, with no luck, I ended up taking a deep breath, loading kid into buggy and once again following my nose. And I got there. Late. Very late. But there nonetheless. I was in stitches telling the mother what happened. She now knows the phrase “to completely blank” in English. Thus is my battle with year abroad. I have struggles. I battle loneliness, fight boredom, I get frustrated at my so far from perfect German and sometimes, nay often, I just want to go home; but I keep fighting, finding ways to keep busy. And when I look back on it, I realise it was fun, if not hysterical. I may have been lonely on the way at times, but who says you can’t be a lonely and happy?

Reflection on Term I Part II: The Highlights

As promised, my refusal to get weighed down with all the regrets with a list of five highlights of my first term.

1) My wonderful, wonderful Host Family

As the first people I met in Munich these people have to be number one on my list. They have not only given me a place to stay in a desert of affordable accommodation, but they have completely welcomed me into their family life; starting on my first day where I was invited to the husband’s surprise birthday party along with 30 other members of their friends and family. I. Was. Terrified. But I persevered going along on walks, joining in with games night, even meeting and staying with their extended family. It may not all sound very exciting but they have given me a home away from home, not just just a room in a house and in a big city where I know no one, I am grateful.

And that’s without mentioning the great effect that living with them has had on my German. Especially the little daughter. She’s the best tutor ever. For anyone wanting language practice I would seriously recommend babysitting a three-year-old. My pronunciation has improved from reading to her, I get to practice German without being self-conscious of making mistakes, and she just doesn’t seem to care that you sound funny. It was, however, a mildly depressing moment when I realised I have been learning German longer than she has and she’s still better than me.

2) School

While I’m still not convinced teaching is quite my thing, working in school has been fun, challenging, but fun. I am still terrible with the students names, yet I am getting to know them quite well; and I love walking through the school and hearing choruses of “Hello Mrs Morrison” (in a strong German accent), it makes me feel accepted and I genuinely look forward to going into school. There’s a first.

3) Venice

So I travel now. I’m a traveller. One who admittedly still very carefully chooses her hostels and has yet to embrace The Backpack. But nonetheless, I had a lovely few days in Venice with fellow Assistants across Bavaria. Visiting palaces, exploring islands, eating pasta, and even attending opera. Oh yes, and the walking tour. Love a good walking tour. I even popped to Verona for a day, fulfilling my English Lit Student duty and seeing Juliet’s balcony; for something that’s supposed to be romantic, the chewing gum people stick on the surrounding walls is repulsive. We didn’t stay long. But overall, a successful trip.

Venice
Venice

4) Berlin

Still travelling. It’s almost as if I’ve caught the bug. Berlin did not disappoint as I had initially feared, what with all the hype around it. What I really love about the city is that it is not a museum to itself. Yes you can walk around and see the remnants of its destruction and subsequent division, but it has rebuilt itself and, with excellent museums in place to remember what is important, it’s happy to move one. Perhaps what illustrated this for me were the notice posts scattered around the place that were bulging with leaflets and posters; no one took the old ones down, but just stuck the new ones on top. Like the posters, Berlin has not tried to remove its past, but has simply built on top of it; it is the foundation of a thriving city that is the capital of one of the most successful and influential countries in the world today.

Berlin, in front of the Brandenburg Gate
Berlin, in front of the Brandenburg Gate

5) Christmas Markets

Christmas here started for me at the end of November with the opening of the Christmas markets. I have been to a LOT of Christmas markets, even travelling out to Ulm and Salzburg. Both beautiful small cities. I ate food, drank Gluehwein, at one point thinking I had drunk too much because all the stalls kept repeating the same stuff. Two slightly more unique markets that I particularly enjoyed were the Medieval and Tollwood. The former was a cute little thing, tucked into a hidden crevice of the city, selling things like medieval dress, alcohol and even wax and seals (who needs those?!). Tollwood was considerably bigger, held on the same grounds as Oktoberfest; the tents were brightly lit in rainbow colours and each one contained different things, from food to drink to handmade items. Charming. These definitely got me through the last remaining weeks until Christmas.

Entrance to one of the many Christmas Markets
Entrance to one of the many Christmas Markets

That’s term one, am now waiting to see what’s up in term two.