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.

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.

5 Culture Shocks I’ve Experienced So Far

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1. Bed sheets- The beds in Germany don’t have thin sheets- just a fitted mattress cover and a Decke, or comforter. I stared at my bed at home like What am I supposed to do with this thin little blanket thing? 
2. Driving everywhere– First of all, I think I might have forgotten how to drive after three months of exclusively bike riding! I used to ride my bike or walk everywhere in Hildesheim, no matter the distance. Here, we drive five minutes around the corner to the post office no matter the distance.
3. Louder voice volume- This is a stereotypical part of American culture, but it honestly is true in my experience! People’s average voice volume is louder than in Germany, and as a naturally soft spoken person, I’ve had to crank up the volume a bit to be heard!
4. Being able to understand everyone- In Germany, I could turn off my brain and completely tune out from a conversation if I didn’t feel like trying to understand. But now, I can’t help but understand, so I hear everything everyone is saying! I was sitting in a restaurant the other day and thinking why am I getting so distracted by the people next to me’s conversation?! Then I realized it’s because they were speaking in English!
5. Politics- I watched the GOP debate last night, and felt overwhelmed by culture shock! The political atmosphere here is totally different than in Germany. Not better or worse, just different. This is the first election I can vote in (scary for America, I know) so I tried my best to pay attention. P.s. if Donald Trump is president, I might just move back to Germany… :p

Also, a few photos from the other night at the beach. Love me some SoCal sunsets!
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Have you ever experienced Reverse Culture Shock? If so, what is an example?

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?

The ABC’s of Hildesheim

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I hope you’re having a happy day friends! If not, perhaps this post will make you a little bit happier. A few months ago during my time in Heidelberg, I wrote a post called The ABC’s of Heidelberg, in which I chose one experience/thought/thing in my current life to represent each letter of the alphabet. It was one of my favorite posts to write, and also one of the most popular. So naturally, I figured it was time to write The ABC’s of Hildesheim, broken up by a few photos from life lately. Enjoy!IMG_5571.jpg
Au Pair- I am living with a German family and working as their Au Pair, or nanny. I help the mom with the three small children during a portion of the day, and make life easier in any way I can. This is my first time doing something like this, and so far so good!
Birthday- I recently celebrated my 20th birthday, which you can read about here. I was a bit nervous because, other than the fact that I’m no longer a teenager (yikes!), it was my first birthday away from my family. But the community I’ve found here made sure my day was filled with nothing but joy and celebration!
Church- I am also interning for and attending a local Church of Christ, and Sunday mornings have quickly become my favorite part of the week. I look forward to interacting with the lovely church members and being spiritually rejuvenated. There is something special about worshiping the same God in another language. It reminds me our God is not American, he is universal!
Daria- Daria is the three year old of the family. She has taught me more German in the past month than in the past two years combined! She is sassy, energetic, and creative. She loves to help cook in the kitchen and take care of her dolly. I’m already dreading saying goodbye in August.
Erdbeeren- This region of Neidersachsen is known to grow some of the best strawberries (Erdbeeren) in Germany. The family and I plan to go strawberry picking in a nearby field one day soon!
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Friendship- Making friends can be hard in general, but making friends abroad is a whole other ball game! Add in the language barrier and cultural differences, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for some interesting situations. It definitely took time and a few steps outside my comfort zone, but I’ve made some wonderful friends here whom I will cherish always.
German- The German language and I have a love hate relationship (read more here). Everyday is an adventure, filled with small victories and failures! Some days I feel nearly fluent, and other days I feel like I don’t know a single word. Never the less, I’m confident I am pursuing a worth-while goal and I wouldn’t quit for anything.
Hamburg- My friend from home is visiting my this weekend as the final stop on her European tour! I can’t wait explore the port city of Hamburg together. Stay tuned for a post all about this adventure.
Inclusion- One thing I was initially nervous about was feeling lonely. I wasn’t sure I would be able to make friends and have any sort of social life. I’m thrilled to report that people have been incredibly welcoming and inclusive. For example, the other day I was sitting in the mall when a girl about my age approached me to ask me to take a survey. We ended up talking for a while, and she invited me to the movies with her and her friends! I went and had a great time, and it was a reminder that I usually have more in common with people than I think!
Julius & Jakob- Julius is the one and a half year old in the family. He doesn’t talk so much as grunt, which I find incredibly endearing. He is a huge fan of all moving vehicles and building things for the sole purpose of destroying them. Jakob is the one month year old! While we haven’t had too many great conversations yet, I love to cuddle and snuggle him when I get the chance.

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Kultur- (Culture) Hildesheim is a culturally rich city! There is always a festival or exhibit happening, so it’s impossible to be bored. This summer, the city is celebrating its 1,200 year anniversary with a giant jubilee!
Lets Start Talking- Lets Start Talking is a mission-focused organization that helps people practice their conversational english through reading the Bible. A team of five people from Oklahoma Christian University worked with the church here to ‘read’ with people in the local community. They stayed for six weeks, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them and bonding over our experience as Americans in Germany!
Mädchen- (Girls) The main focus of my internship with the church is to get to know the middle school and high school aged girls in the youth group. I have held movie nights, ice cream dates, and game days to connect with them thus far, and I can’t wait to see how those relationships develop further in the coming weeks.
New experiences- It might surprise you to hear that I tend to stay in my comfort zone. My introverted nature often makes me hesitant to step outside my bubble. But now, every part of my day forces me to take a step further into the unknown! For instance, tonight I forced myself to attend Zumba at the local gym. I was so nervous I wouldn’t understand the instructor and totally embarrass myself, but I went anyways, and LOVED IT! #noregrets
Open mind- “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.” -Prophet Muhammed. This quote rings true in my life, and pushes me to travel and see as much of the world as I can.
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Parties- Let me just say, the German people know how to party! It seems like every other day is some sort of party, whether that be a BBQ, lake side bonfire, birthday party, or movie night. I adore how hospitable and generous they are, and how they love inviting people into their homes.
Questions- I recently wrote about my thoughts on my future career. I’m half way done with college, and sometimes it feels like I should know ‘what I want to be when I grow up’ already! But to be honest, I still have no clue…and I think that’s okay.
Raps Feld- Raps Feld means rapeseed field in German. Rapeseed is the colorful yellow plant pictured above used for canola oil and animal feed.They completely cover this part of Germany, and provide the perfect backdrop for photo shoots!
Skype- Sometimes I think people either have the ‘homesickness gene’ or they don’t. Unfortunately, I think I’m one of the ones who has it! On the other hand, it means I come from a home worth missing, which I am always grateful for. Lucky for me, there are plenty off ways to stay in close contact with friends and family back home such as Skype, Facebook, or this blog!
Travel- If you’ve been hanging around this blog for a while, you know I traveled every weekend while in Heidelberg. And although that was amazing, it wasn’t a sustainable pace. Now I’m trying to live the normal ‘German lifestyle’ and experience the every day culture. But I’m not completely traveled out- I’ve visited Hannover and am planning trips to Hamburg, Amsterdam, Heidelberg, and possibly Belgium. Once the travel bug bites, you just can’t stop itching to go!
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Understanding- Most of the time I don’t understand what is being said, but I have developed a deeper sense of understanding for this world and the people in it.
Verse- My ‘life verse,’ that is, a verse I’ve chosen to encourage and inspire myself, is 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
Weather- The calendar says its summer, but you would never know by the weather lately. It went from summer to winter in one day, completely skipping over fall! But I must admit, I kind of enjoy staying at home snuggled up under a blanket while its pouring rain.
EXtremes- I go back and forward between feeling extremely comfortable and settled in a new culture and feeling completely confused!
Youth-group- I have been loving working with the youth group and being a part of the young adult group here!
Zzzz- I’ve finally reached the end of the alphabet, now it’s time to go to sleep. Goodnight friends, thanks for reading!
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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.