Aufwiedersehen Deutschland

IMG_7725Aufwiedersehen.

Translation: Until we see each other again. Today is the day I say goodbye to my home for the past eleven months. As sad as I am to say goodbye to this place, I am infinitely more sad to say goodbye to the people who have made my experience here so worth while.

When I said goodbye to Heidelberg three months ago, I was not horribly sad, because I knew I would return to Germany in a few short weeks for my internship here in Hildesheim. I had a return ticket, a promise that my German adventure would continue, all be it in a slightly different form. But this time, I have no return ticket. Who knows when I’ll be back- a few months? Years? Decades? I don’t know what the larger future holds, but I do know I’ll California for the next two years until I graduate college. So unless someone invents teleportation, this is goodbye for the immediate future. But I am headed to another country I love, filled with more people who deeply care for me. I can’t wait to see my family and friends again! And I will carry the lessons I’ve learned here with me for the rest of my life.

Germany has taught me more about myself in eleven months than school has taught me in fourteen years. I’ve learned how truly competent, capable, and confident I am. I’ve pushed myself further outside my comfort zone than I thought possible. My eyes have been opened to new perspectives, cultures, and ways of life. But the most important lesson I’ve learned is that people are good, no matter where they live. We all have hopes, fears, struggles, successes. We are all just trying to make it in this crazy world, and we must help each other along the way. The friends I’ve made here are the real deal. I will cherish them always.

I can already tell my life has been divided into two distinct parts: Before Germany and After Germany. So thank you Germany. You will always hold a piece of me heart dear country. Aufwiedersehen!

P.s. Enjoy these photos from my week at church camp! IMG_8073IMG_8078IMG_8075 ^This angel is basically my German little sister 🙂IMG_8070IMG_8039IMG_8027IMG_7952IMG_7909IMG_7905IMG_7903IMG_8065 ^Could she be any cuter? No, the answer is no.IMG_7824IMG_7791IMG_7763IMG_7718IMG_7710IMG_7704IMG_7696IMG_7781 ^What a bunch of clowns.IMG_8053 ^I’m obsessed.  IMG_7663^I was more excited about the zip-line than the kids were…

IMG_7668IMG_7677P.s. Just because I’m heading back state side, doesn’t mean this blog is going anywhere! I will keep writing about my adventures and experiences back in good ol’ California. You can’t get rid of me that easily :p

Lessons Learned From Living Out Of A Suitcase

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I’ve been living out of a suitcase for the past eleven months. Sure, I unpacked my things into my closet, but I only have 50 lbs. of material possessions to my name. I’ve never been a minimalist by any means, in fact, I love shopping and collecting special things here and there. So when I had to narrow down my wardrobe into a tiny suitcase in preparation for my year abroad, I was surprised by just how much stuff I had collected over the years. How on earth would I choose what stays and what goes? I felt as though I needed everything, that I just couldn’t live without those sparkly purple pumps or that extra purse! But slowly, I’ve come to love having a smaller wardrobe and fewer possessions, and am actually dreading facing my closet at home in California. I like being able to pack up and take off without a second thought! So, here are three things I’ve concluded about my year living out of a suitcase that might inspire you to pare down a bit as well:
1. Stuff can weigh you down- I often end up stressing about how to fit everything in my suitcase, when if I was honest with myself, I know I won’t wear half the stuff anyways. I used to pack three outfits for a one day trip- so unnecessary. Now I try and only bring the essentials. I ask myself “Can I live without this?” before packing anything, and the answer is usually yes.
2. The less decisions, the better- Having too many clothes to choose from in the morning can lead to decision fatigue. We already have to make so many tiny decisions every day, might as well simplify your life and only have two shirts to decide between instead of seven. I promise, you will feel less overwhelmed and less stressed overall.
3. Be selective- This post is not to say stuff is bad. I LOVE stuff! It reminds us of people, places, or times in our lives. It is functional and beautiful. But wouldn’t you rather have less stuff that really means something to you than more stuff that is just taking up space? Be selective in what you purchase, so it holds value for years to come.
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Hope you enjoyed this little post friends!
Question of the day
Do you struggle with over-packing? Or is it easy for you to pare down?

Five Little Differences Between Germany and America

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Ok, so there are obviously more than five differences between Germany and America. More like 12 million, really. If there weren’t, they’d be the same country….but I digress. Anyhow, today I thought I’d share five little things I’ve noticed recently about Germany that I certainly won’t encounter when I fly home to California in ten days. (TEN DAYS?! WHAT THE HECK!)
Ready? Here we go.
1. No middle names- Many German people do not have middle names. It’s just not really as much of a thing. Some definitely do, but none of the kids I’m Au Pairing have one! Simpler, don’t you think?
2. No air conditioning or fans- Oh man, this one is a real toughie for us Americans. Coming from Southern California, my home doesn’t have air conditioning either, but the temperature is always mild and we have lots of fans for those days it peaks above 75! Here, hardly any homes or public spaces have air conditioning even though it can get really hot, and many don’t have fans. I asked why that was, and they said they believe it messes with your sinuses and gives you a stiff neck.
3. Lunch is the largest meal of the day- I totally love this custom. Germans usually eat a smaller breakfast, a big fancy lunch, and then a small ‘snack’ in the evening called Abendbrot, consisting mainly of bread with various toppings. I really like gathering in the middle of the day and having more time to digest before bed.
4. Kaffee und Kuchen- Coffee and cake is an afternoon tradition in German life. Not every day, but many days they take a break from their work and sit around to enjoy a little sweetness! This is especially big on Sunday afternoons.
5. The wedding Ring is worn on the right hand- When I first arrived, I thought no one was married, because I didn’t see any rings on the left hand. Finally someone cleared up the mystery: They wear it on their right ring finger!

Question of the Day
Can you think of a few little cultural customs that set your country apart? I’d love to hear.

Heidelberg Revisited

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Even now, three months later, I remember the day like it was yesterday. I lugged my suitcase down the stairs, said my goodbyes, and boarded the bus. I stared out the window as Heidelberg grew smaller and smaller in the distance, eventually fading from view all together. My year of studying abroad in Heidelberg was officially over, and I didn’t know if or when I would ever return. But instead of feeling sadness, a sense of peace washed over me in that moment. I didn’t cry because this chapter in my life was over, but rather I smiled because it was written in the first place. I felt overwhelmingly grateful for the chance I’d been given, and was glad it had ended on such a high note. I realized I may never live in this city again, but I can always visit and add new memories to the old. And that’s exactly what I did this past weekend!

Since I was given the opportunity to stay in northern Germany this summer as an Au Pair, I knew I had to return to Heidelberg for a day or two. So I hoped on the train Thursday afternoon and made it to Heidelberg by early evening. As I approached the main station, I felt butterflies in my stomach. Would it look the same? Would I have fun traveling alone? I’m pleased to report I thoroughly enjoyed this new experience/version of Heidelberg in every way.

My German teacher from the school year kindly offered to host me for the weekend, and we had the best time talking in both English and German! Two of my classmates who also decided to stay for internships this summer came over for dinner, and we swapped ‘Awkward American in Germany’ stories. The next day I walked around my old stomping grounds, visiting a few favorite spots and bought more unnecessary souvenirs I can’t fit in my suitcase. I just can’t get enough of this town. As I wandered the streets I’ve walked a thousand times before, I noticed new and wonderful details. It is impossible to be bored in this place.
Below are a few pictures from the weekend if you’d like to see.
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I know one thing for sure after this revisit: Ich habe mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren! (I lost my heart in Heidelberg). Or, in the words of Buddy the Elf, “I’m in love, I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it!” Have a great week friends, I miss you already.

Question of the Day
Is there a place you’re dying to revisit?

5 Tips And Tricks For Learning A Language

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I like to compare learning a new language to riding a roller coaster. One moment you are on a high peak, feeling totally fluent and able to conquer the world. The next moment you are in a low dip, feeling like a total impostor who can’t speak a single word! But the experience wouldn’t be as rewarding without both of these feelings. I’ve been through my fare share of German-related breakdowns, but I finally think I’ve turned a corner. I can form coherent sentences without a five minute delay, and understand 90% of other people’s conversations. But it certainly didn’t happen over night.

If you are learning a foreign language, I’m here to cheer you on! Below are five tips and tricks I’ve picked up along this roller coaster ride that have really helped me, and might help you too. Enjoy!

1. Utilize Movies, Books and Music- Watching one of your favorite movie in your desired language is really helpful! I like to watch Disney movies in German with German subtitles, so I can fully understand what’s going on. I already have a feel for the plot, so I can focus on the language with out getting too confused or lost. Dual-language books or children’s picture books are also wonderful tools. And lastly, listening to music can help with pronunciation and speed, plus it’s a fun way to internalize the culture!
2. Learn from Children- Children make the best teachers (read my related post here), because they don’t care about your grammar or accent, all they want is for you to play with them! Reading children’s books and playing games are great ways to improve your skills. Much of the time you are learning the language with them, and can discover new words and phrases together. Plus, is easier to take corrections from children without feeling bad.
3. Join a Club/Organization- This step has been HUGE for me! I joined a local church, and it is by far one of the places where I speak the most German. The people are super friendly and encouraging, and it is a safe place to fall down and get back up again! I’ve also joined a gym, and learned a whole new set of vocabulary through the work out classes. Join a club or organization you think you might genuinely enjoy, where you will meet like-minded people and improve your language without even noticing!
4. Find an Accountability Partner- In the beginning, I was terrified to speak German in public, so I stubbornly spoke English to everyone because I knew they would accommodate me. Until one day, a friend pulled me aside and said, “Micah, you have to speak German. That’s the whole point you are here and you’re only doing yourself a disservice by speaking English.” Talk about a wake-up call! I knew they were right, and from that point on I only spoke German because I didn’t want them to hear my speak English. Sometimes a little accountability, spoken in love, is the push you need to jump head first into the language!
5. Work with a Private Tutor- I took two years of German in a classroom setting, where I learned to read and write fairly well. I was tested on the grammar and vocabulary, but hardly ever spoke. Unless the teacher called on me or we had a verbal assignment, I did not intentionally practice my speaking skills. But when I moved here this summer, I met with a private tutor twice a week for an hour and a half each time. She spoke hardly any English, so we spoke German almost the entire time. I couldn’t sit silently and never raise my hand like in class, I had no choice but to speak. Private one-on-one tutoring may not always be an option, but if it is, I highly recommend it!

I’m rooting for you friend! If I could give you a hug, I would.
Question of the Day
If you could learn any foreign language by simply snapping your finger, which would it be?

Five Tips & Tricks for Au Pairs

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Hi there friends, thanks for stopping by to say hello! As you may know, I have spent the last three months as an Au Pair, or live-in nanny, for a Germany family. My main motivation behind this decision was to improve my German language skills and experience German family life first-hand. And although I’ve done my fair share of babysitting and camp counseling in the past, I’ve never been a huge kid person. That is, I’ve never had the burning desire to be a teacher, or felt the urge to hold the baby in the room. I like kids, don’t get me wrong, but they’ve never played a huge roll in my life.

So when this opportunity arose, I was initially hesitant. A million doubts ran through my head. Would I be nurturing and loving enough? Do I even possess the ‘mom’ gene? Will they understand my broken German? But eventually, I realized there were more pros than cons, so I took the leap of faith. And guess what? I’ve loved it! I already know this was one of the best experiences I’ll ever have, and would absolutely consider being an Au Pair again for another family.

Have you ever thought about working as an Au Pair? Do you enjoy travel, learning about another culture up close and personal, and investing in children? If so, then this job may be perfect for you! Today I thought I’d share five tips and tricks I’ve learned through this experience for those of you who have been an Au Pair in the past, are considering becoming one in the future, or are just curious about the lifestyle. Enjoy!
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1. Give It Time. I tend to want everything to be perfect right now. Unfortunately, that’s not usually how life  works. Au Pairing is no exception. The first few weeks were a bit awkward and unfamiliar. I didn’t know the family’s schedule, household rules, or lifestyle. Even though they were incredibly hospitable and accommodating, I still felt like a guest. But slowly, things changed and I began feeling right at home. There is just no way around the fact that it takes time to adjust to a new situation and complete a transition. Be patient with yourself and others through the process!
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2. Communication is Key. This point seems obvious, but I actually really struggled with it for the first few weeks. I wish I had sat down with the parents the first day and clearly outlined my hours and responsibilities. Once we eventually did so, everything felt so much easier and less complicated. When I knew that my hours where 8:00am to 1:00pm and that my ‘household chore’ was to load and unload the dishwasher, I no longer felt guilty about spending alone time in the afternoons or not doing my own laundry. We also keep a weekly calendar of events to help us all stay on the same page. Communicating expectations and needs is key to a healthy and happy Au Pair experience!
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3. Learn How to Discipline. Initially, I was extremely hesitant to discipline the children in any way. I knew when they were clearly misbehaving or testing me, but it still felt strange to reprimand other people’s kids. Again, communicate with the parents about this subject, and ask for some guidelines. Chances are, they will tell you how they usually do it, and trust you enough to make discipline decisions when you see fit. When I found the courage within myself to discipline the kids, our relationship blossomed! They garnered a new respect for me, and I acted with more patience towards them! Discipline is a wonderful tool for everyone involved when used properly.
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4. Protect Your Alone Time.
I am the mother of all introverts. If I socialize for a period of time, I need to recede into my ‘cave’ for some serious alone time. At first, I felt guilty about leaving the kids, so I would sacrifice my alone time to play with them, even after my working hours were through. But eventually I realized that I’m no good to anyone if I don’t take care of myself first. I learned to say no and prioritize time to recharge, which ultimately benefitted everyone.

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5. It’s Okay to Say Goodbye.
As my time here draws to an end, I’ve begun dreading saying goodbye to the kids. Will they think I’m abandoning them? They are too little to understand the situation, they don’t even know what America is! But then I remembered the quote “It takes a village to raise a child” by Hilary Clinton, and realized that I am a part of their village. There are countless people who played a vital role in my upbringing who are not actively involved in my life today, but I would not be the same person without them. I may not see the final product or outcome, but I know I am a vital link in the chain. I have influenced their lives for the better in some way, and that’s pretty dang awesome in and of itself.
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^Selfie attempt number 12 million.

And there you have it friends, five tips and tricks I’ve garnered throughout my time as an Au Pair. This experience is never something I actively sought out or wanted to cross off my bucket list, but I’m so glad it fell into my lap. It has been better than anything I ever could have dreamed up myself. I feel so blessed to have worked with a wonderful family who treated me like their fourth child (probably because I still act like one), and who I know will visit me in California one day. I hope this post was helpful and informative, and don’t hesitate to comment below. Have a lovely week friends!
Question of the Day
Would you ever consider working as an Au Pair? Why or why not?

A Happy List

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Once in a while, I like to write down all the little things in life that sum up to my overall happiness (you can read a few past lists here and here). I wrote this list during a particularly rough travel experience I had recently, in which one train home from Amsterdam turned into four trains and a hotel! I. Was. Not. Happy. So I scribbled down this lists of twenty things while in the train station in a last ditch effort to lift my spirits. And you know what? It worked! I realized that even though travel often comes with some unpleasant side effects, I am incredibly blessed to be able to travel in the first place and a few delays are no big deal in the big picture. Friends, if you’re feeling a little down today, I highly suggest you whip out a journal and jot down a happy list- its the cheapest form of therapy around!

1. Quiet mornings in the city before the hustle and bustle starts.
2. Lingering Summer evenings.
3. Discovering a new photographer or blog I love!
4. Skype chats with my parents.
5. Reading a book you just can’t put down.
6. Sipping coffee from my favorite “Heidelberg mug.”
7. Watching my little brother crush it at his internship in Guatemala this summer!
8. Meandering bike rides through the meadow near my house.
9. Mastering a new German word or phrase.
10. When little one year old Julius says my name in his cute German accent.
11. Birthday wishes.
12. Family vacations.
13. Editing my photos.
14. Making short films.
15. Ice cream dates.
16. Wild flowers.
17. When you pick up right where you left off with an old friend!
18. Church potlucks.
19. Kaffee und kuchen (the German tradition of cake and coffee in the afternoon).
20. When my train arrives on time- haha!

Question of the Day
What is one little thing that made you happy today?