My relationship with the German language via GIFs

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For the last five and a half years I have been sitting in German classes with this exact expression on my face. Grammar and syntax and vocab– oh my! Although I keep progressing up the official ‘levels’ of German class, I have yet to wipe this wide-eyed terror off my face. I sit in the back, certain I will soon be found out as the imposter I am, and stare at the blank sheet before me in hopes that the answers will appear before me in magic ink.

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Then I walk out of German class and go to the local bakery to buy a pastry. The interaction starts off well. I am puffed up with confidence from the last few hours surrounded by other on-native speakers, and I ask for my croissant. The lady stares at me as if I have just proposed marriage and frowns. WAS? 

I repeat my question, confidence faltering like a middle schooler at a dance. CAN I HAVE A CROISSANT? Things are rapidly deteriorating. I finally point– THAT ONE! The lady begrudgingly gets it for me and I rush out, swearing to myself I will give up bread from this moment forward, amen.

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Later that night at a party, someone in the group makes a joke. Everyone is laughing hysterically, and I follow suit out of self preservation instincts. I don’t want to look like the dud who doesn’t think their home-run joke is funny. But then they turn to me and ask a follow up question. Busted. My only options now are to admit I was faking it or run to the bathroom.

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In an attempt to broker peace after the joke catastrophe, I begin speaking in German to someone. But a few sentences in, she can no longer bear the pain of my murderous grammar in her ears, so she switches to English. I am both relieved and insulted.

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By the end of the night, I am as dead inside as Michael Scott. I crawl home and Skype someone in sweet, sweet English.

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But hey, at least there’s always copious amounts of coffee to cheer me up and energize me for another day of adventures in German.

Ps. Some people have accused me of being dramatic. No idea why.

Pps. German, don’t be upset. You know I secretly love you very, very deep down.

An interview with my German professor

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My German professor is one of the most interesting and well-traveled people I’ve ever met. He has instructed me for the last four semesters, and I will miss his classes immensely after I graduate. His life has intersected with history time and time again, so I thought it would be a travesty if I didn’t take advantage of his insights while I had the chance. So last week I sat down with him and listened to a few of his stories. I’ve written them down in the short essay below, and I hope you find them both interesting and inspiring. Enjoy!


I hated being drafted in 1961. I’m the oldest of five children and that was the first time in our family that there was a major “break.” It was hard on the family and hard on me. I dreaded it and was not excited.

When I was in high school, I had a music teacher named Hering who was a displaced Jew from Vienna who escaped before WW II. He was a child prodigy and concert pianist who taught me piano. He was so wonderful. He himself was taught by a line of teachers who studied under Beethoven himself. There were no German classes in my high school, but this music teacher began to teach me German. It sounded so interesting to me, even though I couldn’t really understand it yet. Little did I know then that I would one day be sent to Germany.

But once I was sent to Germany with the military, I realized God was opening a big door for me. I was a Conscientious Objector, so I was trained in basic medical care instead of combat. The military gave me the opportunity to travel and see historical places, so I took advantage of it. I became passionate about learning German, unlike my fellow soldiers– I was odd in that respect! I was working at a military hospital in Landstuhl;  the whole country was on alert against Russia, who was building the Berlin wall that year (1961). Sometimes we would go out on mock field missions where we had to simulate a battle scene with Russia! I used to not wince at all when I had to draw blood, but today the thought alone makes me cringe. In 1962 there was a big 7.1 earthquake in Iran. There were over 12,000 deaths and hundreds of people who were injured . We were put on alert and thought that we might be sent to Iran to help, but at the last moment it was cancelled. I was relieved because it would have been my first time confronting death so head-on, and I knew it would be difficult.

That was the only real emergency while I was in Germany. We were never sent to Berlin, but it was always a possibility since it was a “flash point” city. The Russians were flexing their military muscles and the atmosphere was tense. I knew several people who had left East Germany and come to West Germany.

One real blessing was that I got involved in the church in Kaiserslautern. A black family took me to church every Sunday and Bible study during the week, rain or shine, sleet or snow. The preacher there, Hans Nowak,  mentored me. He was immensely talented, and inspired me to become a preacher in Germany years later.

I was in the army for two years total, and then I came back to the US. I had an expectation that I would go back to Germany one day. I didn’t know when or how, but I just knew I would. I went to college at David Lipscomb University and did my masters at Vanderbilt University. When I applied to Vanderbilt, I wrote in my application that I aspired to be involved in Christian ministry in Germany one day. One of the professors degraded me and put me down for that, but I never let it get to me! I applied for an exchange year at Humboldt University in Berlin and was accepted. I got involved in the church there, where I soon began preaching. Heinz Müller, the preacher in Berlin, was also an inspiration to me, and I’ll never forget when he said, “Du predigst nächsten Sonntag.” I was so nervous! I was an exception because I wasn’t formally trained in theology or hermeneutics, but I taught myself through experience. I became interested in Greek and Hebrew too. I worked in the Müllers’  bookstore while I studied in Berlin to support myself. It was in Berlin where I met Udo Herbst, who was a Berliner and had become a Christian years earlier. He helped teach me Hebrew.

Then after I finished studying in Berlin, I committed to do full time mission work in Munich from 1971 to 1975. There were four churches in the US who sponsored me out of the generosity of their hearts. Munich is where I met my wife, Pat, who had a job with the US government.

I still hadn’t written my dissertation, and I had a deadline to finish my Ph.D. So eventually I went back to the US to finish up at Vanderbilt University. I knew I needed to have a Ph.D. to support a family one day. Then I got my first teaching job at Abilene Christian University, where I stayed for eight years. It was hard to readjust to life in the US. Life in West Texas was somewhat boring compared to Germany.

Then in 1983 Pepperdine University offered me a job. I accepted eventually and we moved in 1984. I haven’t regretted coming to Pepperdine. I would do it again. I’ve had wonderful opportunities and met talented students. It is a ministry to me because I’ve had contact with and influence on so many diverse students. For instance, I am going to baptize a former student on Saturday, and I’ve officiated at the weddings of several students over the years. Not all the non-Christian students I’ve taught have become Christians, but I feel like I’ve influenced them positively in one way or another. I enjoy working with the very multicultural student body at Pepperdine.

If I have any advice for young people, it would be to keep your aspirations high and in alignment with God’s purposes for your life. Never let anything discourage you. Once you become convinced you have a calling in life, never let anything or anyone stop you.


Fascinating, right? I particularly related to the part where he said, “I had an expectation that I would go back to Germany one day. I didn’t know when or how, but I just knew I would.” I too have an expectation that I will return to Germany one day, though I don’t know all the details yet!  I’m so glad I took the time to record these memories in perpetuity. I would encourage you to interview someone in your life who intrigues you! Human stories are incredible.

P.s. A few photos from Berlin in the 1960’s

The Cold War

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I’d like to tell you about a little phenomenon I’ve come to call “The Cold War.” No, it has nothing to do with the Red Scare or the 1950s or communism at all for that matter. Instead it has to do with the German language.

Every day I go out to a new cafe and order something. I say, “Ich hätte gern ein Kaffee.” I know for a fact my grammar is correct, and my accent is not horribly obvious. But they always respond in english every time without fail! After I take a moment to look around and make sure there’s not a flashing “American” sign above my head, I am left to decide which language I should proceed in. We’ve reached a stalemate.

Now I know they’re just trying to be helpful, and are eager to practice their already perfect english, so part of my is tempted to just give in and speak english. Maybe I should just make things simpler for us all and say, “Yes, I would like a small coffee, thank you.”

But the whole reason I’m here is to learn German! So often I’ll reply in German again, stubbornly smiling and attempting to subtly send them a message. But the really awkward part is when, after I’ve implicitly or explicitly insisted we speak German, I make a stupid mistake or don’t fully understand. Then I’m force to swallow my pride and ask again in English. My face be like:

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Its quite the experience my friends. I know I sound somewhat dumb complaining about first world problems, and I really am grateful to have help if need be, but it’s just so frustrating! Over all, though, I’m completely in awe that an entire country know a second language so thoroughly. It is incredibly impressive and inspiring. Bravo Germans, bravo.

But the Cold War rages on.

Playing Tourist for a Day

IMG_4286It’s easy to forget all the reasons you love living where you do, especially when life gets busy and you don’t have time to go out and fully appreciate it. That’s why everyone needs to play tourist in their own home every once in a while. I got the chance to do just that this past weekend when two of my German friends from my summer in Hildesheim came to visit. I showed them around my university, Griffith Observatory, Hollywood, Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, and even took them home to El Segundo to meet my family. It was just what I needed. I loved speaking German with them, reliving old memories from Germany and making new ones in Los Angeles. Seeing them in awe of the beauty here made me that much more grateful to call this place home. Sometimes seeing it through the eyes of another is all it takes to put the magic back in a place! Below are a few photos from the weekend if you’d like to see!IMG_4150.JPG^Aren’t they great?! Yes, the answer is yes.IMG_4282IMG_4210IMG_4202IMG_4155IMG_4179^Love this place so much. I visited not to long ago (read here) but I can never get enough.IMG_4263IMG_4260IMG_4235IMG_4227^We hiked a ways towards the Hollywood sign and all the wild flowers were in bloom. This is one of the prettiest times to visit Southern California in my opinion.IMG_4231IMG_4297^Randomly found this in the forest near the observatory…apparently LA and Berlin are sister cities. Who knew?!IMG_4293IMG_4175IMG_4151IMG_4342IMG_4345IMG_4322IMG_4318IMG_4311Have a good one friends, and don’t forget to get out and explore your city!

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

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?

Hello Hamburg

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Greetings friends, thanks for dropping by! Today I’m excited to share about my recent experience in the german port city of Hamburg. Although it is the second largest city in Germany, it seems less well known than other cities like Munich and Berlin. I myself didn’t know much about it, which makes me all the happier I visited, because it is truly a gem. My friend from home joined me as part of her two month Pan-Europe adventure, which made the weekend extra special. Keep reading as I attempt to convince you to add Hamburg to your next travel itinerary!
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Speicherstadt First thing Friday morning, we took the underground to the Speicherstadt, an area of canals lined with warehouses from the late 19th/early 20th century. They continue to serve the bustling port of Hamburg today, and are as beautiful as they are functional. Confession: I may or may not have pretended to be in a historical romance movie while wandering through the area. Fun fact: Hamburg has more bridges then Amsterdam and Venice combined!

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St. Michael’s Kirche Whenever I visit a large city, I like to climb up to a view point to get a better idea of the layout of the city as a whole. The tower of St. Michael’s Kirche (church) provided the perfect outpost! We opted to take the elevator to the top instead of the stairs (#noregret) and were not disappointed by the panoramic views.
IMG_6549.JPGIMG_6589.JPGIMG_6600.JPGIMG_6619.JPGLandungsbrücken & Blankenese Next, we made our way to the main pier for passenger ships, called Landungsbrücken. It is situated on the Elbe river and is a major point of transportation for many of the city’s residents. We hoped on a commuter fairy because it was the cheapest option, and sailed up river to the neighborhood of Blankenese. Blankenese is the equivalent of Fifth Avenue in New York City or The Strand in Manhattan Beach- ornate, grandiose mansion line the beach front streets, each with a unique style and story. We loved strolling around and looking at the architecture!

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Rathaus & Alster The Rathaus, or city hall, is that incredibly designed building in the picture above. I adore the green patina roof and central clock tower, don’t you? The Rathaus is smack dab in the part of the city called the Alster, named after the Alster river that runs through it, forming two large lakes. The atmosphere in this area was electric- people shopping, eating, and exploring. We did a bit of window shopping, ate at the weekend market in front of the Rathaus, and then took a stroll around the lake to work off said food.IMG_6844.JPGIMG_6750.JPG
Breathing in the salty sea air and having deep conversations with an old friend was just what this California girl needed! Thanks Hamburg, you spoiled us!

So, have I done it? Are you ready to book a flight to Hamburg? I will join you there, because one weekend just wasn’t enough time. Speaking of time, I’d better be off. I can’t wait till we meet here again, have a great week friends!

Why Children Make the Best Teachers

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Hello friends, thanks for stopping by! As you may have inferred from this post, I have a love/hate relationship with the German language. In the big picture, I have no doubt German is the language for me, and that my goal to be bilingual is worth while. But in the smaller picture, I often get hung up on the daily frustrations and struggles of learning a foreign language. I have a habit of setting high, somewhat unrealistic goals for myself, such as being fluent by the end of the summer. And when I don’t meet those goals, I feel like a total failure. For instance, the other day I accidentally asked someone if they were pregnant, when I really meant to ask if they were a twin (the words are so similar!), and then I accidentally bought sour creme at the grocery store instead of yoghurt (again, the words are so similar!). I get so annoyed with myself, and start to think, If I can’t even do this right, I will never be fluent...maybe I am hopeless after all! It’s a downward cycle. I spent the first three weeks in Hildesheim living with a newly wed couple. We had an amazing time together, but I felt extremely discouraged in the language department. It seemed as though I’d reached a plateau. I’d taken three semesters of German and lived in the country for nearly eight months, yet I could hardly form a coherent sentence! I listened and drank the language in all around me, but couldn’t seem to actually speak myself. Then, just when I felt like throwing in the towel, the day arrived for me to move in with another family to work as their Au Pair. And just like that, my feelings about language acquisition changed overnight. What changed, you ask? Friends, I believe I’ve discovered the secret…Children! Ok, so maybe I’m not the first to discover said secret, but I’m sure glad I did. Below are three reasons I believe children make the best teachers, plus an assortment of random iPone photos from our recent walk around the neighborhood. IMG_6386

1. You Have No Choice- The children I’m watching are ages three and a half, one and a half, and three weeks. Surprise, surprise- none of them speak English, which is actually an incredible advantage! First of all, their adorable little voices speaking German is too much for my ears to handle. Second, I have no choice but to speak German with them. Since little kids are very expressive physically, it’s easy to decipher what they really want. For example, the little girl I watch said, “Du sollst mich anfangen!” then proceeded to run away from me squealing and looking over her shoulder. I had no idea what ‘anfangen’ meant, but I correctly assumed she wanted me to chase her. Basically, we play a giant game of charades, and I learn new words. It takes out the middle step of translating from German to English back to German, and accelerates the pace!

IMG_63372. You’re On The Same Level- I am a perfectionist in nearly every area of my life, and I want so desperately to speak perfect German. But that’s just not how the process works. It’s trial by error, baptism by fire, falling down and getting back up again. If you don’t speak first with errors, you will never speak perfectly later. I get self-conscious speaking with adults, because I’m afraid they will think less of me or assume I am unintelligent because I don’t sound intelligent. I know this is not true 99.99% of the time- people have been so incredibly gracious and helpful- but I still  feel that way often. With kids, on the other hand, we’re on the same level linguistically. I never feel as self-conscious and can speak without inhibitions. I don’t mind when they correct me or ask me what I just said.

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3.  You Learn With Them- When I read a picture book to the kids, I’m learning just as much as they are. If I point to an animal and ask, “What’s that called?” I usually don’t know the answer myself- I genuinely need them to tell me! I’ve learned the vocabulary for all five senses, common animals, house hold objects, and automobiles from children’s books. I love discovering the world with them, one word at a time.

IMG_6349^The good life.

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^Where can I get one of those bikes without pedals in my size?

IMG_6341^The weary traveller.

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^Grass is just so fascinating.IMG_5578.jpgIMG_5583.jpgimg_5558.jpgIMG_5593.jpg

^One of the only areas of town that wasn’t bombed during WWII.IMG_5588.jpg^These German gardens, though.

So friends, if you’re struggling to learn a new language, look around for a kid to help out! That sounded kind of creepy…but you know what I mean. Easier said than done, I know, but I hope this post has been encouraging- you are not alone! If we put ourselves in a child’s shoes and remember to take one baby step at a time, we will be over that plateau in no time! Have a great week friends, I miss you already.