I’m still safe and well, but I’ve been slow updating my blog because of all the different things I have been doing, and like usual, I start writing but don’t get very far. I never forget, though, and I have a lot to tell you.
I know I am not alone in struggling to maintain motivation at times, with the heavy knowledge that the world is in chaos in most places you look. But, my small personal achievements this term are keeping me going to the Christmas holiday, which is now in sight.
Festive preparations at school
In the past two weeks, my school has been getting into the festive spirit. December 6th was Nicholaustag, and the Weihnachtsmann made an appearance. I felt priviledged to creep into one Year Five class (the youngest children) to watch him read out a special letter. Each teacher prepared a thoughtful letter evaluating how well the children had settled into school, and some goals to improve upon as a class for next term.
The Weihnachtsmann’s sack contained a chocolate Santa for each child – the excitable, surprised looks on the children’s faces took me back in time to the Christmas excitement I felt as a child.
It was also very kind of the Schuleitung to place a “Weckmann” (see above) on every Lehrerzimmer table, also to mark Nicholaustag.
Christmas party (Weihnachtsfeier) with the choir
In the advent period, and in the lead up to Christmas, I have enjoyed learning lots of German Christmas songs with the choir. I was even invited to their Christmas “Weichnachtsfeier” – surprise Christmas party! We were all given a vague address of the meeting-point for the evening, which was where two roads met. As always, I left more time than I needed to arrive at the mysterious festive gathering, and my friend Google Maps was there to help, but I couldn’t see anyone else I knew.
I waited and waited, feeling anxious by this point, thinking I’d made a Dyspraxic Mistake and misunderstood something. But before long familiar faces appeared. A table was brought out onto the pavement, and a dancing, singing Father Christmas placed there too. Someone poured out the Glühwein, and we began to sing Christmas songs together as we were waiting for everyone else to arrive.
They led us into a mysterious place… through a garage (lots of beautiful old cars, mind), converted into a vintage, American-themed diner. I was mesmerised by where they had brought us. Look:
I think everyone enjoyed the evening – great music and company. Towards the end of the night, the Weihnachtsmann said a few closing words. What I was least expecting, though, was that he would ask “and who is new in the choir this year…?” and for everyone to point at me! I had to go up to the front, and was hugged by Father Christmas. I was both touched and in shock, to the extent that I couldn’t find the words to answer his so-called easy question “tell us a random fact about you?”
Taking a trip over the border, en nederlands spreken!
The day after the choir party was yet more eventful. I had spontaneously arranged to meet an old friend in Venlo, the city just over the German-Netherlands border, but was not expecting to be travelling much further. I was wrong! My friend was much more familiar with the perplexing train and ticketing system (thank goodness – the “Inchecken” and “Uitchecken” rules were complicated). My heart was racing when my friend suggested we catch a train to Roermond, and then on to Maastricht. I was amazed by how much we managed to fit into just a few hours – I usually give myself the whole day to explore one town or city. I also only resorted to English when we got to the art museum. My two months of learning Dutch was enough to make my understood in shops, cafés, and asking directions in the street. So that’s proof it is possible to learn a foreign language in a foreign language! That said, now that the Dutch semester has come to an end at the Volkshochschule, I have decided not to re-register, as I would rather learn Dutch in English, and start a course in England.
Time to reflect: progress getting from A to B with dyspraxia
My confidence navigating and using public transport has improved since August (albeit with an arguably unhealthy reliance on my friend Google). You can probably tell that from just reading my first blog post in Heidelberg. I also managed to get to Munich and back just over a week ago without a problem – I want to say more about that in my next post.
When I remember that I struggled to cross roads just a few years ago, I feel like I have made progress in this area, and want to share it with you. I don’t want to speak too soon, as I know travelling will never be completely stress-free for me, but this term particularly I have successfully planned trips to visit friends in different cities. That’s involved processing often confusing bus/train timetables in German, getting used to new U/S-Bahn and ticketing systems, often changing between platforms rather than direct journeys, and most importantly keeping calm when things don’t go completely as I plan.
I have tried to make an extra big effort with my time-organisation to keep in with the important Punktlichkeit culture (though not always taken so seriously at my school, so maybe I can relax a little!) As someone who was constantly rushing around like a headless chicken to get onto the school bus in the mornings, it baffles me that I have rarely been late (for anything important at least!) in Germany. My coping strategy is setting multiple alarms, and I have also got used to planning in “late time” of about half an hour, so I always arrive early in the event of a train delay or something.
The next part of this blog (detailing what I got up to in Munich, as well as the last days of school before Christmas) will be coming up really soon, so keep following.