Almost a Week

Hi everyone! I wanted to make a post as soon as I could. It has been quite hard, as I don’t have wifi in my dorm and I don’t have the credentials to use any of the university’s internet connections. I am writing from the mediacenter of the University, and the computer and keyboard are pretty different as they are made to write German and not English, so this post will probably have a lot of spelling and grammar errors.

I arrived in Berlin on Sunday, and since then it has been a whirlwind. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it, but I signed up for a Buddy Program for here in Berlin. The program is that you get paired with a student of TU and they help you get settled in the City. My buddy’s Name is Hayri Göcke, and I am particularly lucky to be paired up with him. He is a Masters Student studying Mechanical Engineering at TU. He picked me up at the airport and helped me get a travel ticket so I can take the subways and buses through the City. I was so grateful for the help after over 20 hours of travelling which included an intimidating look at modern Russia. On the train, he pointed out a lot of sights and notable things of Berlin. The first thing that struck me was how big the buildings are. Tampa is a pretty big city, but it doesn’t even compare to the grandiose architecture of Berlin. The Östbanhof (East Train Station) amazed me at its sheer size, and it isn’t even one of the central train stations of Berlin.  I live on the fifth floor of this horribly ugly building which is about an hour away from the university by train. When we got to my dorm, there was nothing in there. Because I wanted to pack light, I didn’t bring any bedding, towels, or silverware; something I instantly regretted. Hayri took me back to his place and lent me some for my first few days of Berlin. Then we went and got me a German SIM Card so I can use my phone in Berlin, and then we went to a traditionally German restaurant where I had my first German beer. I got some cheese pasta thing with bacon that was very good. We walked around the city and he showed me the university campus. I was shocked that the University has an actual campus with a Center and everything. I was sure that would be just a collection of buildings in the city, but it’s its own place. After setting up the SIM Card, I bid Hayri goodbye and went grocery shopping at a market under a train station. It only took me an hour to find it (even though it was right down the street). I was able to go home and get to bed at around 10 pm and thankfully avoided much jetlag.

The next day I had the welcome session for the Pre-Semester German intensive course at the University. Thanks to the help of Google Maps, I was able to find the building where it was located pretty easily. I had to wake up pretty early since my dorm is about an hour away from the university. I the course sounded like a lot of work, and we got assigned times for a placement test later that day. Since I had a couple of hours between the end of the session and my test, I went out to lunch with a couple of guys from South Korea. After wondering around for quite a while, we ended up at this Spanish Restaurant that served tapas. Something that I find really cool is that everyone can speak English. It makes me feel bad since every person here knows at least English and their native language while I only know English, but it is really neat being able to talk with people from completely different countries and cultures. I took the placement test and after that met up with a girl who came to Berlin from UF last Semester. Her name’s Samantha, and while we were only able to hang out for a while since she has exams to study for, she was able to show me a couple of cool places around the city near the university.

On Tuesday, I was woken up by the sound of my new roommate, Ben, moving in at 7 in the morning. He’s an Australian working on his master’s degree. I had to get up anyway to do some paperwork down at the university. I went grocery shopping, and then my roommate and I got to know each other while making our way to IKEA. There is probably nothing in this world more confusing than a German IKEA. It took me a half an hour to pick out bedding, and I wasn’t even sure I got the right things. Everything was written in this strange mix of German and Swiss that I suppose has a certain charm when you can speak one of those languages. They don’t use mattress sizes like we do in the US. I was looking for stuff labeled “twin” and all I got was measurements in inches and centimeters. I used how tall I am to guess what I needed, and I somehow got it right. The pillows there were shaped weirdly as well. They were either perfect squares, or the length was exactly twice the width. I still don’t know if the pillows in Europe are weird or if that’s just IKEA. After Ben and I got back to the dorm, we unpacked and set up our stuff. I went down to a central part of the City called Alexanderplatz where there was a department store that was 6 stories high. I climbed all the way to the top.

Yesterday, I went to an information session about the administrative matters involved with moving to Berlin that stressed me out. I got some coffee in the Mensa (a Cafeteria-like place) and then met up with Samantha again. She showed me the mall and a shopping center in Berlin. I had an impromptu shopping spree with a friend who came along which I badly needed because I don’t own the clothes for Berlin weather (of which I will talk later). I went to a meet-and-greet for the incoming international students at this cafe that weirdly served beer. It was really cool drinking beer in public and actually being allowed to. Then I went directly to bed.

This morning was the first day of course, for which I had to wake up at 6:30. The course seems good and the instructor seems really nice. I was glad to see that everyone else in the course can speak about the same amount of German as me.

The experience so far has been amazing. So far, it seems almost easy, but I know I’ve gotten a ton of help. I am almost sad to say that I don’t miss home at all. However, I do miss the weather. It the temperature hovers in the high 30s and low 40s, and there seems to always be clouds in the sky. It rains every day, but not like at home. The way I have been explaining it is that back home we have storms, whereas here they just have rain. One Thing I learned yesterday is that when it is cold like this, you have to keep your hands in your pockets less they dry out. Unfortunately I learned this the hard way when the cuticle of one of the fingers on my right Hand started bleeding because it was so dry. Until then, I thought that keeping my hands out of my pockets was a way of showing manliness, but now I just bury my hands in my jacket pockets every time I step outside. The rain is cold, too. It’s miserable when it rains, but when it does it’s only for a short time. I just run into a store or a cafe for about 20 minutes and come back out and the rain is typically done.

It’s also been hard getting used to the metric System. Between not knowing the metric System and not knowing the cold weather, my roommate thinks I’m from another planet sometimes. I know the conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit pretty well, but I get myself in Trouble for not knowing the metric System. For instance, the other day I bought garbage bags for my dorm, and I bought 10 liter bags for our garbage cans. As it turns out, they are much smaller than even the bags you get from Publix and definitely wouldn’t have fit in the can. Ben says we can use them for Sandwich bags.

Not knowing the language is also definitely isolating. At least I’m taking the course now. My German is getting better every day as well. I feel really good about myself when I can have a conversation with people in checkout in German, but feel really dumb when they reply to whatever I say in English.

If the media center is open this Weekend, I’ll make another post then. Goodbye!