Week Seven

A lot happened this week, even apart from the school shenanigans, and my completed visa application.

For one, this week they replaced the kitchenbox in my bedroom with a new one. The old one only had one burner that worked but when they tried to replace it, they realized the wiring was done wrong, so they had to call in an expert. Overall, it took three days to get this done, meaning I ate out a lot.

Unfortunately… and I know it’s hard to believe that this might be possible… but the new kitchenbox is actually worse. The mini-fridge is designed in a terrible way, making it much harder to fit everything into. The burner controls are now located on the top of the stove, instead of on the side, meaning the entire left hand area of the stove top is commandeered by just two little knobs. As a result, the burners are moved over to the right a little, and this means there’s actually less “counter” space in the middle.

I don’t have a picture of my old kitchenbox but it was essentially identical to the one I had in the dorms. Here is a comparison picture… I know it doesn’t seem like much… but well, when it’s all you’ve got, those small things make a big difference:

Living here in general has been mediocre. It’s a tiny tiny room, in someone else’s house. I can’t stretch out, and I have no oven… all I have is this kitchenbox. I went with this place because it was quite cheap, the location was ideal, and because I had nothing better lined up in time. Now that I have a place I can start looking for something better. Unfortunately, many people really want you to lease for 1 year, and it looks like I will be moving to Italy probably at the end of July, meaning I only have 8 months or so (I have to give 30 day notice here as well). That, plus the competitive nature of the market here, means it’s possible I won’t be able to find anything else at this point.

On the other hand, my landlords are pretty nice (although I only understand about half of what they try to say to me). On Friday, they invited me to go with them to Frankfurt for the Frankfurt Buchmesse, one of the largest (maybe the largest) book conventions in the world. Since the husband is a book shop owner, he had a free ticket for me! Just one room of this convention was basically the size of a Barnes & Noble, and there were around 14 such rooms. Publishers from all over the world were represented there (from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe!), so it was quite interesting.


Printing press tools at the Gutenberg Museum’s stand at the Buchmesse

I’ve always been interested in learning languages, but at this book fair I was reminded, once again, how important this really is. I was walking around the huge areas with international publishers, and there were so many books I couldn’t enjoy, because they were in a language I didn’t know. I was saddened by this. I’m lucky because at least I sort of know a small handful of languages… it must be so enlightening to know many fluently.

Costs this week:

I’m still annoyed at myself about food costs… it could be so much lower, honestly, but I am just being lazy about it, and completely spoiling myself.

On the other hand, I really managed to restrain myself at the book fair. I just don’t have room for books in my small room, and I didn’t want to buy them just to send them back to the States. Besides, since these are huge publishers, most of the books they sell can actually be ordered online.

  • €27 – warmer clothes since it’s getting cold
  • €3 – souvenir at the book fair
  • €2 – laundry
  • €170 – eating out and groceries (don’t recall how much of each now ugh)

Signing up for Classes


Machine at the Frankfurter Buchmesse which is using hot wax to map data from an app about the transportation requests made and routes taken in Berlin

“Our system is not really centralized.”

This is the understatement of the year, spoken by the speaker at the Erasmus orientation. The orientation was largely useless, seeing as I knew most of the information presented. If anything, it was just frustrating. German bureaucracy in general has been complicated, but not impossible to get through. By contrast, the “system” at Universität des Saarlandes has been a hopeless clusterfuck. Let me explain by example.

There are at least three different departments in charge of German language. One is the Germanistik (German studies) department, which is for the German major (and I don’t know much about that one). The second is the Deutschkurse department in the International Office that provides German as a foreign language courses to the international students (such as myself). The third is the Max Planck Institute (MPI) German language department/group that provides German as a foreign language classes to Informatik (comp sci, etc.) students (such as myself). You have to take separate placement tests for the latter two. For the Deutschkurse department you have to take a new placement test each semester, even if you were already in their classes before. In addition, there is a Foreign languages department which teaches many other languages (Arabic, Russian, Italian, French, English, etc.), except German, and you need placement tests if you want to take those too.

Now in terms of your major, at the start, you have to sign some sort of student contract (I don’t know what this is yet). After that, each department has a completely different system for class registration, exam registration, and grading. If you are taking classes from multiple departments, you will be dealing with multiple systems.

In some cases, such as in the Hochschuhsport (sports) and Fremdsprache (foreign language) departments you register for classes online as soon as registration is open and places fill up fast. In other cases, like for my department, you either register much later or perhaps don’t register at all (I’m not sure). In all cases, you register for final exams separately. After you pass your finals, in some cases you get a Scheine (certificate) or Noten (grades) from the department, in other cases you get a certificate or grade from the International Office. At the end, you collect all your certificate/grades and take them to pick up your “Transcript of Records”. Depending on your department, you pick it up either at your department or at the International Office. By the way, every single department has its own webpage, which does not correspond to a common template, so finding information on all of this is very frustrating. In short, studying here, is like studying at 5 different schools at once, and having to collect grades from each of them at the end.

In regards to my department in particular… Well, there are two coordinators for my department. The first coordinator is for the “Language Science & Technology” group, which is the master’s students who will be here for two years. The second coordinator is for the “Language & Communication Technology” group, which is for the Erasmus students (such as myself), who will only be here for one year. The classes for the groups are the same… but for whatever reason, the mailing lists across these two groups are not shared. This means that as an LCT I get different information from what my friends in the LST group; however, all the information is relevant to me! Thankfully, I have a friend in the LST group and we’ve been forwarding everything to each other.

The confusing web pages and the lack of communication made it very hard to know anything about my schedule ahead of time. I knew where and when I had to show up the first day, and that was basically it. The fact that class registration for languages and sports started before I knew my schedule meant that I just had to blindly sign up for those things and hope that the schedule will work out somehow. The problem is aggravated by the fact that I don’t know when my language classes would be, since I don’t know how well I’ll do on the placement tests.

Anyway, I took all the language placement tests figuring I’ll see where they put me, and I basically gave up on sports, signing up just for a Saturday 3-session introduction to climbing. I’ll be riding my bike everywhere anyway, which will be quite good exercise. On the plus side, it looks like you can attend some courses like the language courses without signing up for the final exam, and it seems like nothing negative happens (i.e. it doesn’t go onto your transcript as a fail or anything), so hopefully I can learn a little even if the course doesn’t quite go with my schedule… I hope I’m right about this.


Every country, every city, every family has its systems. Each system is designed to maximize or minimize something, given the limitations at hand. At home, my kitchen system is designed to maximize production and flavour of food while minimizing time spent, given the limits of budget and space. In my previous job, the system was designed to maximize profit for the company while minimizing expenditures, given the limits of the level of compensation and working environment that the workforce will accept. In my home country, the US, the political system is designed to maximize the effect of a given person/ group of people’s power, while minimizing the likelihood of riots.

Humans seem to enjoy creating systems, and are generally quite good at it– one system is rarely enough. In fact, we have created a massive sprawling network of interconnected systems, only parts of which are ever known to any given person. As we grow up, we begin to see more of these networks around us. Some people integrate deeply into them, until they can swim through them with fluid grace. Others, who feel themselves disadvantaged by them, may attempt to snap the delicate threads that bind one system to another, and to weave their own patch into the larger whole. But I would say that most of us probably never fully grasp the complexities of all the systems around us, nor feel up to the task of designing new ones to take the place of the decaying or corrupt ones that we do comprehend. For the most part, we just try to learn the ones most relevant to our situation and get by.

For better or for worse, I belong to the latter camp. Sometimes, I imagine the networks that bind us all together, and I consider the different perspectives that may lead one person to move along a thread in one direction, while another person moves the opposite way. Perhaps with enough study I could help more people move in what I view as the preferred direction. With time, I, too, could learn to dance swiftly across the network’s threads like a spider across her silks. I would build my web, and my prey would come to me.

But I quickly dismiss such thoughts. The dew drops that gather on such webs cause light to refract in a dazzling brilliance, and if I open my eyes to them, I would surely be blinded. I would fall from my the web, and be crushed by the gravity of the world, leaving only bones as witness to my failures.


Officialization 7: Student Visa

Officialization TOC



An old sundial at the winery I visited on the Mosul in my second week here

Here it is, the culmination of everything… this is what I need to get my student visa and to be able to stay in Germany legally. Everything else has been leading to this. Getting everything done has taken twice or three times as long as I expected (but I suppose I should have expected that).

To do this, after I registered, I had to first email die Ausländerbehörde (foreign authority) to make an appointment. The appointment wasn’t until a month out, so I had to do this ahead of time. Emailing for an appointment gave me a number. Once I got to the Ausländerbehörde, I put my number into the touchscreen waiting system computer, and went to the waiting room. It probably took about 15 minutes after that until my number was called.

At my appointment, I needed proof of everything that I have done thus far, plus proof of available finances. In my case, since I am on the Erasmus scholarship, this meant my scholarship acceptance letter. In other cases, bank records showing that you have the funds to live out the duration of your stay should work (I don’t know how this is calculated though).

Documents needed:

After handing over proof of my achievements in Germany thus far, I had my fingerprints taken, and then the lady filled out der Antrag (application) for me. That’s kind of cool — you don’t have to muddle through it yourself, you just have to sign it. After sending the visa application out, she gave me an officially stamped preliminary certificate of my coming visa, that I can use between the time when my Shengen visa runs out and the time I get my student visa. This time will end up spanning about a week, and so during that week I won’t be able to travel outside the country.

The student visa comes from Berlin and takes a few weeks to get mailed, so this means I needed to make another appointment at the Ausländerbehörde to come pick it up. Before then, I should receive a letter containing my PIN, and I will need to bring this letter to pick up my visa card.

Weeks Five & Six

The last two weeks have been filled with travel, and more officialization. I’m slowly starting to feel like I belong here, in as much as one can ever belong in a temporary and foreign place. For example, I finally found a really good grocery store, thanks to advice from an acquaintance, called Edeka, which has fresh produce and a huge selection. I also bought an expensive pair of shoes that will hopefully last.

I also bought a used bike off of Ebay Kleinanzeigen (similar to Craigslist), because being at the mercy of the bus system was really starting to drive me nuts, plus, I need the exercise. Actually the bike helmet and U-lock cost me more than the bike itself. I admit the bike is a tad large, but its size also makes it powerful, and I think it will work out (if not I can always resell it). Plus it was really a great deal for everything that came with it.


For 89 euros: an aluminum road bike with fenders, pedal-powered lights, trunk rack, 2 panniers, double kickstand, 2 hand pumps, 3 rain ponchos (why?), some tools (but not for everything), and 2 spare tires

Anyway, having nothing to do for these two weeks, since my classes don’t start till Oct 24th (so late!), I decided to spend part of the time travelling. I have always wanted to see Paris, and it’s just about 2.5 hours train ride from Saarbrücken. Then I visited a friend in Grenoble which is another 2.5 hours or so from Paris. It was nice to spend some time in France using my French language skills, which are better than my German skills– things just felt a little more comfortable because of that. I am really looking forward to being that good (or hopefully even better) in German… but it’s going to take a lot of work.


Obligatory Eiffel Tower pic (I have so many…)

Paris was gigantic– the monuments are massive, the metro is extensive, the people are numerous. It’s dirty in the way that big cities are dirty, and the people are distant in the way people in big cities are distant. No one was rude though, and I only got hit on once. Because the Musée d’Orsay was open late on Thursday and the Louvre was open late on Friday, I ended up being out for literally 12 hours a day for the first two days (to the point of getting blisters from walking so much). Unfortunately, I had gotten sick the weekend before I went, and all of this walking did not help me recover. I am still coughing/sneezing a little as a result, but it was worth it. The late Thursday/Friday days allowed me to see almost everything that was at the top of my list, but with a city so huge, of course, there were may things I still missed that I will have to come back for.

By the way, I stayed at Le Village Hostel Montmartre, and it was a great experience, so I can recommend them. They were very clean, comfortable, great location next to a metro station and the Sacré-Cœur, and they had free croissants (while supplies lasted) which probably helped cut down some of my food costs.

In terms of monuments, the Eiffel Tower was, of course, a must-see (though I didn’t have time to go up it this time), but the Arc de Triomphe was my favorite. It was so huge, which somehow made Paris feel all the more like a world class city to me. In terms of museums, I was very glad I budgeted a full day to the Palace of Versailles, because it was definitely worth a visit (as was the Louvre of course), but I think I enjoyed the Musée d’Orsay most of all. This museum has the largest collection of impressionist art in the world, and the impressionists are definitely amongst my favorite painters, plus, the temporary exhibition on the Second Empire they had was very interesting as well.


Clock in the old railway station that is the Musée d’Orsay

Apart from that, I actually happened upon a harvest festival, the Fête des Vendages de Montmartre, at the Sacré-Cœur, which proved to me that the French are just as good at a party as the Germans.

Long story short, I ate a lot of good and expensive food in Paris. Although I didn’t have the forethought to reserve any high class restaurant experiences, my favorite place that I ate at was Le Bistrot des Campagnes, because it was a delicious no fuss dining experience (no reservations required) for a good price. By the way, if you are planning your own trip to Paris, make certain you plan around lunches, because from 3pm-7pm everything is just closed, and you don’t want to be walking around in search of an open cafe.

As usual, the phone pics don’t do the incredible food justice:

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After a fun but hectic time in Paris, I took the train down to Grenoble, a smaller town at the foot of the Alps, to visit a friend. This was the perfect way to wrap up my vacation. Although it was a little cloudy, the Alps were still breathtakingly beautiful, and getting out into the fresh air was exactly what I needed after the smokey bustle of the big city. I could see myself living here, and just hiking all year round. But good food and good company are what make life so sweet. =)

To wrap up… it turns out that when I am bored, I have a penchant for spending a lot of money. In fact, I’m quite embarrassed about the costs these last two weeks, because I’m sure I could have gotten some things for cheaper, or avoided getting them at all and still been fine. I’m sure that once school starts, I’ll be too busy to do this though, so hopefully I can reign myself in the next few months.

Approximate costs these 2 weeks (er.. can we not talk about this?):

  • €100 – shoes
  • €20 – clothes (socks, scarf, tights)
  • €89 – bike
  • €100 – bike helmet and lock (maybe I could have gotten these for cheaper)
  • €120 – groceries (lots of pantry staples that should last)
  • €15 – cookware
  • €12 – notebooks/etc. in prep for classes
  • €456  Total

Approximate costs for travel (aaaaaah what have I done!):

  • €250 – train tickets
  • €130 – Paris hostel
  • €30 – Paris metro tickets
  • €45 – Paris museum tickets
  • €30 – small souvenirs
  • €30 – some gifts
  • €94 – dining out a few times
  • €60 – more food at the festival, bakeries, etc.
  • €669  Total


pano_20161010_161239The weather has turned. Clouds obscure the mountain peaks, threatening to descend into the river valley below and to blanket the town in dew. Only the half-hearted efforts of the pale sun can keep the chill at bay, though its fire cannot seem to gather enough strength to dispel the clouds that cling to the mountain cliffs. The trees have failed to notice the coming winter, since they have not begun to change their colors just yet. My visit here was short, but good. Guided by my map, I follow an unknown path to the train station.

My previous home is far away now and I wonder if the trees there have already changed their colors. There, my path was well understood. Carved into the stone cliffs of the river gorge, worn smooth by years of foot traffic, it was the same path I walked each day. I spent years collecting knowledge of the rituals of that place, and the role I was to play in them. They were unique and strange in their own ways, yes, but they were known.

Why did I choose to move to this new place, with its foreign paths, its confusing signs, its arcane rituals? I can play no part here, I am a stranger. In my previous home I had a role, I had stability. There were no hardships for me there. That world was crafted perfectly for my comfort, and as tribute, I had only to give myself over to routine.

The train cuts sharply through the landscape, crossing a river so clear and blue, it could have been carved from aquamarine. The tracks are flanked by green pastures, dotted every now and then with white cows or goats. Small towns with tall church steeples lay nestled in valleys amongst the pastures and the trees. I wonder if the people live happily there.

Even in the comfort of routine, life is hard. Repetition is stagnation, boredom and chronic back pain. Contentment is a shallow happiness. Beneath it grow the seeds of doubt or resentment. For some, routine is an easy tribute, because their adventure lies elsewhere. For me this is not so. (We are not all the same.) This new place brings hardships, true, but what are those hardship really? Uncertainty, confusion, foreignness? I would rather pay these tributes, for in return I receive not a life well lived, but an adventure well explored.

Officialization 6: Bank account

Officialization TOC

Opening a bank account


Versailles… ah to be this rich…

There are a lot of banks here in Saarbrücken, but I decided to go with Deutsche Bank, because they are a well-established chain with branches across Europe (and even some in the US), including Trento, Italy, where I am going next year. Hopefully I can keep the same bank account there.

To open a bank account, you need proof that you have an address. In my case, she said a lease would be sufficient, however, I made sure to register with the city first. The first thing I needed to do, was make an appointment to open an account. To make an appointment, you need der Ausweis (identification), i.e. a passport.

The process at the bank is pretty painless. They ask you some basic questions and open the account for you, after walking you through how the account works. Well, to be honest I didn’t understand much of how the account works, since it was explained to me in German, but it seems like the basics are pretty much the same as in the US.

You can have a free student account until 31 years of age, and you don’t need a starting balance to open this acount. After 31 years of age, the account is automatically converted to a non-student one, which it costs €5 per month. I’m not 31 yet, so this works for me for now. I don’t know if other banks have better deals or not. I’ll be honest with you, I just don’t have the desire to shop around right now. It’s easier for me to go with a big national chain and just roll with it at this point. If I hear of something better down the road, I can always switch.

Required documents:

  • der Ausweis – identification (I used my passport)
  • die Meldebescheinigung – confirmation of registration from the Bürgeramt

After you set up your account, they give you a bank account number that you can use immediately to transfer money in and out. The bank card and PIN apparently come later in the mail.