Monday, June 24, 2013

Willkommen zu Deutschland

Universität Des Saarlandes: Becoming a Student

"Nächster Halt, Universität."  After one endures the awkward communication exchange with the bus driver to obtain a ticket, a German bus ride is actually quite serene.  As I passed different bus stops filled with university students, I noticed all the trees and nature that encompassed the area.  The scenes in front of me were so beautiful and calming that I escaped into my own thoughts and almost ignored "Nächster Halt, Universität," which means "Next stop,  University."

After stepping off the bus and seeing the University of Saarland's campus, I was tempted to stay for more than just ten weeks.  Of course, I did not enjoy the view of the campus for too long because I, along with my three colleagues, wanted to get started on our research at the INM, Institute for New Materials.

In our initial days at the university, my colleagues and I toured around the university and began the process of becoming an official student of the University of Saarland.  This feat entailed acquiring health insurance, bank accounts, and student ids; signing and filling out different forms; and many different steps that seemed to take a long time.  By the end of the week, we were officially students and completed the majority of the steps.

In between this process, our group conducted background research on each of our individual projects.  We read different papers on electrochemical capacitors and gleaned information from them.  Our group also learned how to conduct Raman spectroscopy and how to make test capacitors from Dr. Emilie.  Last Thursday, we observed our first lab meeting with Dr. Presser (our boss's boss in Germany) and everyone else in our group.  Dr. Atchison assisted us through this entire process and made sure everything went smoothly.

Ich Bin Verlaufen: The German Experience

"Ich bin verlaufen" translates to "I am lost" in German.  This phrase is probably one of the most useful besides "Englisch?" and "Hilfe bitte".  Needless to say communication is important.  From this experience, I realize that not everyone is going to understand what I say.  From this trip, I realize how important learning another language is not only for yourself but for other people.  Thus far, I have traveled to Bonn.  On my way to Bonn, I had an issue with my ticket and the conductor did not know English. I felt so lost and felt bad for not knowing what the man was saying.  Luckily, the girl sitting across from me, Bettina, knew French, German, and, most importantly, English.  She resolved the whole misunderstanding for me, and we talked for two or three hours.

Of course, that moment has not been the only time where I have felt "lost" in Germany.  In fact, besides feeling lost; I have been lost. When I was on the train to Bonn, I accidentally got off at the wrong station that had a similar name.  Initially, I had a thought that I was supposed to stay on the train, but I decided to get off anyway.  When I realized my best friend was not in the station, I called her on a pay phone.  I was actually amazed to find a pay phone considering that they are almost nonexistent in the United States.  Anyway, she was in a different station in the bigger city. I ordered another ticket, hopped on a train with some Ukrainians, and shortly found her in Bonn's main station.

As much as I would love to say that knowing German would probably be the most useful tool in Germany, many benefits exist with not knowing German.  For instance, I would never have met Bettina or those Ukrainian tourists if I knew German and resolved issues on my own.  By not knowing a language yet, I have had so many interesting and often comical experiences.  Of course, I do want to learn the language and will make an effort to do so in the future weeks.  Knowing different languages is not only useful for the person learning but for others.  Actually, I had the chance to return Bettina's favor in Bonn.  Some Spanish tourists were trying to communicate with the associate at the Information desk in the train station; however, the associate only knew English and German.  My best friend and I knew Spanish and translated everything the associate was saying so that the Spanish tourists understood.

Throughout most of my time in Bonn, I spent my time with my best friend exploring, window shopping, and visiting museums and gardens.  I had a wonderful time on that excursion and hope to have many more in the coming weekends.

Saarbrücken/Deutschland: Another home?

When I first arrived in Saarbrücken and saw my room, I was thrilled.  Actually, I have the best view from my room.  As of right now, I really do not want to leave this country.  With this city and even this country, there is no need to rush or hurry.  All of the stores in the city and throughout Germany are closed by 8pm.  Stores do not even open on Sunday.  The food is of better quality because of stringent government regulations.  Many buses and trains run on the "honor" system where one buys a ticket but does not have to show it.  Much of the country is covered in forests for hiking.  From what I have seen, much of the country is beautiful.  Almost every weekend, some party of festival is happening somewhere.  When I was on the train to Bonn, I saw fields of wind turbines and solar panels.  Germany's recycling system is so intense where almost everything is recycled.  If a person purchases a drink in a bottle, one can return that bottle and receive money in exchange.

Of course, not everything in Germany is perfect.  For instance, German trains do not always arrive on time and that makes transfers difficult if you only have four minutes to transfer between trains.  No unifying system exists for opening doors in Germany.  In the United States, a handle on a door means pull and a bar means push.  In Germany, it could be either way.

In the end, these little things can be overlooked by all the other exceptional practices.  I am enjoying my time here and learning a lot.  I just wonder what is going to happen this week and the weeks to come.


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