Monday, March 31, 2008

Arghhh, you can shove your hoops!

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This is the last day of my work contract. Through work, I've had access to full-text articles and other such resources that help me to work on my master's thesis, not to mention various regular class projects. Since I'm not done with my thesis yet, I asked if it would be possible to continue to keep an account there to finish all my master's work.

They told me that it is possible through some sort of "non-paid contract" and I provided documents for this. Then, just before the long Easter weekend, the secretary emailed to tell me that in fact the "non-paid contract" isn't possible unless I'm registered as a student. Although I am indeed a student, I am not registered through the university as such. It costs money and isn't required by my program. Well, she wanted me to be registered within two days.

I contacted Mainz and was told it takes weeks to register, but they would send me the forms by mail. I told the secretary about this problem and she said I might as well just register in Heidelberg instead, and the cost would be around 100 EUR. Then we all left on our respective vacations.

When I returned I tried to get things in motion to register in Heidelberg, but I was apparently confused about what is necessary. How can I register at a university where I'm not studying? I tried finding out some information, but was sent in a giant circle from one phone number at the university to another. Finally, the secretary's vacation-time replacement helped me, and it looked like things might be working out. It was all going to be finalized this week.

Today I got an email from the secretary informing me that the cost to register here in Heidelberg will actually be nearly 600 EUR for one semester. This is outright impossible. I just don't have the money and to save that much, I'd settle for getting friends to help me find full-text articles and whatever else I need. Also, having the "non-paid contract" still means I'd have to give the secretary a time schedule of when I will be in and out, when really I wasn't planning on having a schedule, just coming in when I need some articles!

So, I'm back to trying with Mainz, as my deadline for getting it done has been slightly extended and I might still be able to pull it off. I know it was much less than 500 EUR when I registered there my first semester. I emailed them with some questions and received the following email in response:
This e-mail was sent from an unmonitored e-mail-address and we are
unable to respond to any replies without the following subjects-fields in
your e-mail.

Your questions about the application process for international
applicants at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz can only be answered if
you use one of the following 5-digit words (for example ZUL-D) in the
subject field of your e-mail:

ZUL-D
if you require information in German

ZUL-E
if you require information in English

ZUL-M
if you have already read our information and have further questions

ZUL-T
if you want an appointment.
Please indicate favorite day and if you prefer morning or afternoon

ZUL-P
if you require information about PhD-programmes
What the hell!? What next!? All this just to have access to scientific journals. I have my own computer, I have SAS and Excel and Word and internet access, all I need is access to journals....
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Friday, March 28, 2008

Der Zahnarzt

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This morning I had my first experience at the dentist in Germany. On my sister's first night here, I chipped a front tooth while eating ice cream (only a klutz like myself could manage this). We found a dental office with English speakers and made an appointment.

I was quite nervous because the appointment happened to occur at the same time as a horrible cold sore outbreak. It popped up on vacation and it was Easter Monday, so we never came across an open Apotheke, and I had forgotten my trusty Abreva. Hence, I got the worst cold sore in recent memory because it went untreated for about 24 hours. On top of that I have a little spot of gingivitis in the back that flares up 2-3 times a year, and happened to start to flare up last night. So, I expected all kinds of lectures on the horrors of HSV-1 and gingivitis, as I have received from previous dentists in the US.

Thankfully, they were quite nice and focused on the matter at hand. No lecturing about how my teeth are crooked and I need braces, on the evils of herpes, or on the "pockets" in my gums that will lead to my inevitable downfall. He fixed up the cracked tooth, looked at the other teeth, and recommended only a filling for a very small cavity, and a minor cleaning. However, the filling isn't covered by insurance and costs 30 EUR. I asked about this, and it's because my insurance only covers the silver-colored amalgam fillings, and this dentist doesn't do those type of fillings. He only does the tooth-colored ones. The assistant tried to tell me the tooth-colored ones are better, but I remember the dentist in Boston telling me that the cheaper silver-colored ones are actually better and last longer. So, perhaps I found myself a good, but posh, dentist, who wants to get more money by not doing the things insurance covers. I guess I should look elsewhere for that filling. It's in the back, so it doesn't really matter what color it is. The cleaning will also be 40 EUR. Does anyone have experience on insurance in Germany covering those? Forty EUR is not bad - cleanings at my dentist in Boston cost $99, but I never had to pay because insurance completely covered 2 cleanings per year.

In other fun at the dentist, I had to fill in the standard patient questionnaire with demographic info and medical history. It had been translated into English for dummies like me with poor German. The title of the page read, "Anamnesis elbow for the patients of dentistry". Hee hee! Anamnesis is an overly medical word for patient history - I had to look that up - but it's correct. Elbow, however, is pretty funny. I know from work and class that the German word for questionnaire is Fragebogen. The word for elbow is Ellbogen. Rainbow is Regenbogen. So, Fragebogen, directly into English, is kind of like Questionbow. Somehow they translated it to elbow. That is kind of awesome.

It's in the nature of Germans to correct things like this. They love to help you and inform you, as off-putting as it might seem to Americans (we tend to be quite sensitive, I think). I debated for a while about whether to tell them about the mistake. In the end, I just couldn't do it. My German is terrible and I don't feel that I have a right to correct anyone's English at the risk of making them feel stupid. They probably wouldn't feel stupid, given they are used to correcting and being corrected with each other. But, I still couldn't do it.

Lots of photos of our last vacation coming soon! I'm dealing with a lot of administrative stuff and class stuff right now, but I'm working on the vacation stuff here and there.
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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Snow!! And, unrelatedly, Baden-Baden.

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It's snowing big, fat snowflakes!! This is the first snow I've seen falling this year, and it's happening after half the trees are already in bloom. We missed whatever snow they had in Heidelberg over Christmas. Cool!

Last weekend we had a great visit from my friend Mary, who came over from the States, spent a few days in Koeln, and then came down to Heidelberg. Our paths have unfortunately not crossed that often since college so it was really great to spend some time together, and it put my mind back on a lot of old times that I really hadn't thought about in a while.

On Mary's second day here, we took a trip down to Baden-Baden, a nearby town which we'd been meaning to see since we moved to Germany. Baden-Baden is a different type of place. The typical little German town might have a Marktplatz with some half-timber houses, a church or two with some sort of significance, maybe some bits of town wall here or there and an Eis cafe. Baden-Baden is, as its name suggests, known for its baths and has been a resort town even since the days that Mark Twain came through. A stone-paved canal runs through the center, there's ritzy shopping, a long, beautiful park, a casino, lots of hotels, and of course the baths.

Baden-Baden Mar 08

Near Friedrichsbad (Frederick's Bath) there's a spigot* with thermal spring water running through which you can feel and taste. I wasn't expecting it but the water actually felt really nice even just on my hands. Maybe I'll be converted to this whole bath concept yet. I didn't taste it, but Mary and Damon reported that it was really salty. A sign warned people not to drink over a certain small amount each day.

The downside to Baden-Baden was the remoteness of the train station. We had to take a somewhat long bus ride, which was made even longer on our way home by tons of Sunday traffic. A woman on the bus overheard our English conversation and wanted to know what happened to "our wonderful dollar", and asked "isn't the health care there terrible?" Oh, so blunt.

We finished the day at the somewhat touristy Zum Seppl restaurant/bar in Heidelberg. The food was mediocre but the inside of the place is pretty cool to see at least once.

*Who else pronounces it "spicket"?? American hick dialects represent!
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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Hochwasser!

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Okay, it's not really a flood, but the Neckar is really high today! I just took this photo a little bit ago along the north side of the river. The Old Bridge even looks a little out of proportion with the water so high. (I didn't get a good photo of that, though...you can sort of see it here in the distance.) Normally there's a stone path between the wall and those trees. You can see other passersby checking it out, too. I guess it rained a lot somewhere...
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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Unglaublich.

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Pardon my foray into the world of posts not even remotely related to Germany, but oh lawdy:

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Crab Rangoons

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I completely forgot about their existence.
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Thursday, March 06, 2008

If I go there will be trouble...

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Today I found out that there will be no new work contract for me after this one runs out at the end of this month. I knew this was likely going to happen, but the whole experience has still left a bad taste in my mouth for various reasons. The fifteen months at the job have been mostly good and I've learned a lot, but the throughout the whole time, the job was full of miscommunications that left me feeling like I was the idiot, one day after another. It started with a miscommunication, and has now ended with one - how appropriate. And, there's still another three weeks left for them to get in a few more jabs in at my dignity. Somehow I'm supposed to get it together enough to give a presentation next Tuesday to all of them, too.

In the meanwhile, my husband is stressing out to the point of being irritable and unhelpful as well. He's gone from, "Can I help with the laundry?" to "Why don't you just do (insert household chore I ask for help with here) yourself?" His fellowship will end later this year, also, so we are coming upon a point of important decision-making regarding our future plans. I've been encouraged by a couple of people at work, whatever their motivations for doing so might be, to apply for a PhD program here. It would mean three more years in Heidelberg. Though I am not eager to leave, the prospect of three more years here still somehow feels a bit constraining. I don't feel any sense of permanence here...but then, I've never felt that way about anywhere. I could really use the PhD and additional experience. Having a foreign master's isn't likely to get me a leg up anywhere if we move back to the US.



If I don't apply or don't get a position, I could be looking at unemployment for a while - and the door will be open to leave Heidelberg, either for another city in Germany, for another country, or for returning to the States.

We don't feel ready to leave Germany yet - we really like life here, and haven't yet done nearly the amount of European travel we wanted to do while here. But working here has been another story. There are definitely aspects that make it difficult. I'm sure language is a major player, but there are also some cultural differences that seem small at first, but end up huge after a while.

We especially don't feel ready to go back to the US. The big advantage would be jobs. We could work there with full confidence in the language and a good grasp on expectations and social environment. Language alone is such a huge advantage. Being near friends and family is also an advantage, but the chances are that even in the States, we might not end up very close to any of them anyway. But the economy is a point of concern. The differences in health insurance and government benefits, especially for those having children, is another huge one. The lack of decent vacation time. The sprawl and the difficulty in finding a place to live that's affordable and doesn't involve a huge commute. The lack of public transit. I do love Boston, but I remember feeling so suffocated there. Even if we'd had a car, it would have taken hours to get to a place that wasn't covered in suburbs. And we had no car, so we'd be festering inside the Boston/Cambridge city limits for weeks on end. And Boston is the city with GOOD public transit. Never mind that most place in the US have terrible systems, or don't have any at all. In short, we're nowhere near the point of romanticizing the US yet - wouldn't it be nice to stay here at least until we get to that phase, so that we can look forward to going back?

Sadly, in the end, work usually wins out over quality of life. It's only one aspect of a complete life, but it's where the money is and in the end, I'm sure that work will eventually lead us back to the States. We just don't know how soon.
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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Thanks Dad! Plus a contest...

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I'd like to thank my awesome Dad, whose generous Christmas present is helping us fund our next trip. Thanks Dad!!

We know we will hit at least two cities on this trip, and are aiming to run through a third as well, all within less than a week. I'll send a yet-to-be-determined prize to anyone who can guess the three cities. One guess per person, please. :) Here are some vague hints: All three cities are in Europe, none of them are in Germany, and neither of us has been to any of them yet. Our itinerary is as follows: Overnight train to city 1, 2 nights in city 1, day trip through city 2 on our way to city 3, two nights in city 3, and an overnight train back to Heidelberg.
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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Batten down the hatches!!

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Whoooaa! I should pay more attention to the weather report so that when a crazy storm wakes me up at 8am, I don't get worried that we're under attack! It's so windy here there's a constant rushing noise and little whitecaps on the Neckar!

Heh, cool!
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