Ups and Downs

It’s funny how open-ended projects like this one go. There have been times in the last few days when I’ve felt my project is full of promise, with many people to talk to and many places to explore. There have been other times when I’ve found myself wondering if I even came to the right city, or if I’d ever get anyone to respond affirmatively to my emails or phone calls. There have been days when I’m full of energy and ready to do things, but also days when I couldn’t imagine moving. I’m hoping I’ll get more comfortable with this up-and-down feeling as the year (and life?) goes on!

Saturday (July 25) was my “I can’t move” day. I’d only been in Germany for four days, but I’d already been to two different cities and spent a good amount of time exploring or in transit. I presume I was also jet-lagged. So I spent Saturday resting and gathering(/blogging) my thoughts, leaving the house only for a ten-minute grocery shopping run with Kadda. During dinner, Timo, Kadda, and I chatted about a bunch of topics, including the (in?)accuracy some German culture guides I’d read that day (highlight: “avoid Nazi references in any casual conversation”); my flatmates’ thoughts on the recent Greek debt crisis and its media portrayal; and Erasmus, an EU cultural exchange/study abroad program Timo had participated in. It was a chill day, and exactly what I needed.

Sunday (July 26), on the other hand, was a chill day despite me not wanting that. I finished writing up my blog posts, fact-checking and reading related articles along the way, but I really wanted to be nailing down meetings! (I hadn’t yet experienced any wild successes, so I was anxious to get going.) Unfortunately, Freiburg all but shuts down on the weekends, particularly Sundays, so my inbox stayed empty.

I decided I finally needed to get out of the house, so I ventured outside for a walk and looked around. There are gutters along the road called Bächle (picture below), tripping into which means you haven’t visited Freiburg for the last time (according to Freiburg’s tourist website) or that you’ll marry a Freiburger (according to the Wikipedia page). As I continued walking, I realized the street was a strange juxtaposition of two places I’d been before. The street looked a bit like the shiny ones in Burano, an island near Venice that’s known for its colorful houses (picture of the Freiburg street below). However, the cars and tram somehow sounded more like vehicles on a main road in Madanapalle, India than I’d expect vehicles to normally sound. (Reflecting on this phenomenon, it may be because the buildings here are close together like in Madanapalle, and so vehicle noises reverberate off them similarly.) Afterwards, I wandered to the small nearby botanical gardens (picture below). Although it was drizzling, there were a nontrivial number of people there. Freiburgers really do love their public spaces! As hunger set in, I wandered over to the grocery store… but it, like virtually every shop, was closed. Luckily, Sundays apparently aren’t taken that seriously by the local Turkish cafe (or the ice cream shop), so I was able to grab a delicious falafel döner.


Monday (yesterday) was definitely an up-and-down research day. Some people were very nice about responding to my email inquiries, encouraging me to ask questions and offering personal introductions. Unfortunately, many of these people weren’t currently in Freiburg, and many who were in Freiburg told me they couldn’t help me/often suggested contacts I’d already tried. My SIM card hadn’t yet arrived, so I also was trying to make phone calls using Skype and an online calling card, and call quality was low. By lunchtime, I definitely needed a break. I met up with Sebastian and some of his friends at a nearby University of Freiburg cafe (note: “Mensa” means cafeteria, not high IQ society). I was encouraged when describing my project yielded a “Well, you’re in the right place!” from one of Sebastian’s friends, and Sebastian also helped me dig up more contacts over post-lunch hot chocolate. I also asked him to explain Germany’s different political parties to me, which was fun. However, during the same conversation, Sebastian alerted me that German school ended that day, and so many people with kids would take their annual six weeks of vacation consecutively starting now. (That may also mean those remaining have more time to meet with me, but who knows.) That down was followed by an up: I visited the Kumon Center featured in my first Freiburg post and had a wonderful conversation with the owner, who was really nice and offered to put me in touch with a project-relevant contact. But then less than two hours later, a researcher I’d emailed questioned whether Freiburg was the right place for my project at all! Luckily, the day ended on a couple of ups. A friend sent me a nice article about climate change and societal change, which was both entertaining and (due to its length) gave me time to calm down; I started using Duolingo and could feel myself actually learning German; and I read a bit of a novel in which the narrator reminds me scarily of a best friend from college. So I went to bed in a pretty pleasant mood…

… and woke up this morning to a message from a friend saying someone had been impersonating me on Google+ and harassing her! So I had to deal with filing a police report, reporting the impersonator’s fake Google+ profile to Google, and messaging everyone the page might have contacted to let them know it wasn’t me. Phew! However, the day was otherwise pretty good. For one, I finally got myself a SIM card! It was an accomplishment, which involved going to the local TMobile store and 1) buying a prepaid SIM card (smallest available size: micro-SIM); 2) punching it down to nano-SIM size using a local store’s puncher tool; 3) getting back to the apartment and activating/loading the card on an all-German website; and 4) carefully cutting down the SIM card further with scissors to get it to actually fit into my phone. But at the end of the day, it worked! Which means that tomorrow, I’ll be armed with a real German phone, more easily able to make phone calls. Even better, one organization responded favorably to an email I sent, inviting me to visit their office. Yay!

Anyway, I’m going to sign off here to go do some more Duolingo exercises. I unconsciously started thinking in “fake German” on Saturday, and I’d love for that to be replaced by real German… so, auf Wiedersehen!

Bonus: Some beautiful purple flowers I saw at the botanical garden. I thought my grandmother might appreciate them 🙂


Bonus 2: A poster at the University of Freiburg’s Mensa. Apparently a lot of the ingredients they use for the featured meal (except the spices) are from Germany!


4 thoughts on “Ups and Downs

  1. The purple flowers your grandma would like are called phlox (Phlox drummondii). I like them as well and “A garden without plox is an error” stated a well known German gardener (Karl Foerster). Hope all goes well with your projekt! Und Deine Deutschkenntnisse werden sich auch rasant verbessern.


  2. Looking back – at the end of the tour – it looks like more ups than downs!

    In my opinion – you did a superb job of optimizing the resources and time available and accomplishing your Watson Fellowship goals and objectives!

    We are all very proud of you and your accomplishments!


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