Confuzzledom

Just a place for me to gather my thoughts


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What is an expat?

*Warning: Long and possibly boring post ahead. I’ve tried to break it up with some pictures, but I will forgive you if you decided not to read…*

The question “What is an expat?” is something I’ve been thinking about recently. You may have noticed that nowhere in my “about me” do I refer to myself as an expat. English girl currently living in Germany, yes… but never using that word. The main reason is that, until this year, it had never even occurred to me to refer to myself in those terms. I basically moved abroad straight from university… my entire real (i.e. grown up) life has been spent outside of my birth country. And after moving around so much with the army, the question “Where are you from?” had always been a difficult one anyway. I’m here now, what does it matter where I was before? And for most of my time abroad, I’m not sure anybody else would have referred to me as an expat either…

Deutsches Eck

All the German state flags

I first came to Germany for a year abroad as part of my degree. Spending a year in a German-speaking country was a requirement to gain my Bachelor’s, and Karlsruhe was where I ended up. I had actually wanted to go to Austria, but we only had one place there and somebody else was quicker, so I got my second choice. During that year, I wasn’t even sure whether I would ever come back to Germany. And I certainly wasn’t experiencing anything like “real life”! As an exchange student, I spent most of the year partying, with the occasional trip thrown in there as well. Even lectures didn’t seem too much like hard work… apart from in German class, I didn’t have to do anything. My university only required us to attend a certain number of lectures, there was no requirement to take part in any assessments. (We did have to make a year abroad dossier to submit to our home university though).

A trip to Speyer during my year abroad

A trip to Speyer during my year abroad

Back in England, a few months before the end of final year, I realised I should probably start thinking about what I was going to do after graduation. Jan and I had been in a long-distance relationship for almost a year at that point (he was actually in America during my final year at university!) and I thought it might be nice to live near him again, so I started looking for opportunities in German. I came across an application form for British Council language assistantships and decided to apply. Then I saw the list of available countries and realised Austria was on there! Immediately, I changed my mind. Sod Germany! I had been dreaming about Austria for years. And Austria and Germany are at least neighbouring countries… nothing like the distance between England and the US! I applied, and managed to get an assistantship in Feldkirch. During that year (well, ten months… an academic year) I still wasn’t really an expat. To all the Austrians I met, I was just another graduate on a gap year. My time there was finite  and, while it would have been possible to extend the assistantship for one more year (two is the maximum they allow), it didn’t take me long to realise that I probably wasn’t going to. My boyfriend was in another country and, although I loved Austria, I had trouble making friends with the other language assistants and no idea how to go about meeting Austrians. I wasn’t supposed to socialise with the people in my classes (although some of the older ones were almost the same age as me!) and most of the teachers were as old as my parents! When it came to time for reapplications, I did, in fact, ask to extend my assistantship… but requested to switch countries. I chose Baden-Württemberg as my Bundesland and added a note saying I was familiar with Karlsruhe… and almost got my wish. I actually ended up at a school closer to Pforzheim, which meant nearly an hour’s tram journey there and back, but it was worth it to be with Jan again…

A snowy day in Feldkirch

A snowy day in Feldkirch

… and still I didn’t think of myself as an expat! I had no idea where my relationship was going or whether we could even survive actually being in the same country again after two years. Until almost the end of my assistantship, I hadn’t even thought about what to do next! Initially I had thought I might go in for a CELTA qualification, but when I ended up hating teaching at the school in Germany I was lost. In the end, I decided to go for a Master’s in translation. I was all set for a move back to England when I discovered two things. 1) A university in Bristol that was offering a Master’s in Translation via remote learning and 2) An internship in Germany that was actually paid! (Very, very rare). I applied for and managed to be accepted on both… so I now had a one-year internship and a three-year study programme ahead of me.

Once again, I had chosen something with a definite end date. At that point, I was also still living in a student residence (I was a student as well as an intern so it was allowed) and couldn’t have afforded anything else. It still all felt very temporary. During my internship, Jan finished university, started a PhD (which comes with a research position and pays a better wage than I get!) and decided to move out of the student residence. A that point, he didn’t want to get a flat with me… in fact, he chose to move in with someone he was only sort of friends with rather commit to us living together! I’m sure you can see why I wasn’t expecting to stay in Germany for too much longer…

As my internship drew to a close, Jan and I discussed what I should do next. For the first time, he actually expressed an interest in me staying in Germany, so I started looking for jobs. I managed to land one at a translation company close to Karlsruhe and, after a few months earning a proper wage, I moved into a little flat of my own… the very first time I’d had my own place! Jan still didn’t want to live with me, although he might as well have considering he spent more time at my place than at his! After ten months of work, I lost that job for financial reasons (the company had lost a lot of customers) and ended up on unemployment benefit (Hartz IV for anyone who is in Germany and knows about these things). At that point, I was seriously considering giving up and moving back to England… but for whatever reason I decided to give it one last try. That’s when I managed to get the job at my current company… and was immediately given a permanent contract.

The bed in my old flat

The bed in my old flat

Roughly six months later, Jan wanted to move out of his flat… and actually agreed that we could move in together! Initially he wanted to look for somewhere big enough for two that I could move in to later, but I was having none of it! There was no way I was moving in to his place. If we were going to live together, I wanted somewhere that would be both of ours from the start!

The sofa, just after we moved in... at that point it was the only item of furniture in the living room

The sofa, just after we moved in… at that point it was the only item of furniture in the living room

Which brings us to today… I’ve been in Germany for seven years, at the same company for four and living with my German boyfriend three and a half. My exchange student days are far behind me and , while I’m not sure whether I’ll stay in Karlsruhe permanently, my gap year days of trying to figure out what I want from life are behind me. Somehow, over the past seven years, I’ve gone from being English girl spending some time away from “real” life to something that, realistically, can only be defined with the term “expat”. I haven’t quite decided what I think of that yet…


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… and back to normal

Well, the happy, positive blogging didn’t last long. Today it’s back to my usual moany self.
As we all know I only have about a month and a half left of my internship. At the end of January I shall find out whether they want to keep me on or not. At first I thought I was doing well, then I found out that although I am only good at a very small part of my job.  I can translate. I can proofread. That is all I can do. I’m not good at project management. It requires me to be organised. Not one of my strong points. Never has been, never will be. I am also incapable of taking initiative, have no social competence, am no good at working in a team, possess very little common sense, am too quiet, don’t communicate enough, lack confidence, appear unmotivated… the list goes on. In the right kind of job with the right kind of boss and given time I could probably change those things. Unfortunately right now I’m not sure I have any of those things. I enjoy my job, but only the part that I’m good at. My bosses are nice enough but the kind of motivation I need is very different to what they (and most bosses to be honest) are willing or able to give. And as for time… well, I’ve been given until the end of January to prove I can do all those things. The result? I spend most of my time at work praying that there will be lots and lots for me to translate today (so I don’t have to ask for work, proving once again that I can’t figure out for myself what needs doing) and the rest of the time I spend worrying that I’m doing something wrong again without even realising it. I keep catching myself wondering whether, at this very moment, I look motivated and enthusiastic. I wonder whether I’m taking too long over this translation – should I have been finished by now? It’s exhausting, and it means that by the time I get home I don’t have the energy to do anything any more. I need to make some food, but I can’t even bring myself to walk to the kitchen, I was supposed to hand in a translation for uni today (luckily only a practice) but I haven’t even started yet. I have more Christmas presents to wrap but even that is entirely unappealing – and I actually enjoy wrapping presents!
I’m not sure how much longer this can go on. But there’s nothing I can do about it, cos like it or not I really, really need this job.


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Thoughts

I’ve just been looking through some random stats on my blog. It seems my most used tag is “boyfriend” with a total of 43 times. Second is work with 22 uses and in third place comes books, 21 uses. I’m pretty sure that says something about me. I don’t know what but I’m pretty sure it’s misleading. How have I managed to mention work more often than books? Must do something about that.

I need to do a translation for uni. It was actually supposed to be handed in on Monday. Oops. Not even a month into the year and I’m behind already. Luckily it’s only a practice piece so I won’t lose any marks for handing it in late or anything. It would probably be a good idea to get on and do it though.

How is it Wednesday already? I’m sure it was only just Friday. I always thought putting the clocks back was meant to give us another hour. Instead I seem to have lost about 72.

Time going fast does have its advantages though. It’s pay day on Friday. And I get extra money starting this month. I’ve already had my wage slip and seen how much I’ll be earning from now. I’m going to be rich. Rich I tell you! (Actually I’m still going to be poor, but rich compared to what I was before. And at least I’ll be able to afford a few decent Christmas presents this year).

And oh my gosh, I’ve just realised my internship is half over already. Three more months to go. And after that? We’ll see… it depends whether the boss decides to give me a proper job.

OK, enough procrastinating. Time to get on with the translation.


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August. Blink too often and you’ll miss it.

I have nothing to say at the moment, but I feel like now I’ve started this blog I must write something every single day. No idea why – perhaps I’m afraid an evil creature will come and get me if I don’t.

Oooh, speaking of evil creatures… I have been saved from the scary, scary moths. On Friday eveing I saw another of the creepy little bugs in my cupboard. It was just sitting there on the top shelf trying to look all innocent.. then it flew out and touched me!! Scream? I did! Jan, who was watching TV at the time, called me pathetic then told me to just go away, he would deal with it. So I did. And he did. He took everything off the top shelf of the cupboard, threw away some pudding rice and a tub of vanilla cappucinio (apparantly there were moths sitting on the cappucino. On the lid that is. No idea why – it’s not like there was any way for them to get to the powder inside). Then he washed out the cupboard, put my remaining food back in and since then I’ve been moth free. A whole 3 days now. Woo hoo!

Time is zooming away from me again. Already August is more than half over. Actually, it’s kind of a good thing that August is more than half over… I’m getting very low on money and need it to hurry up and be the end of the month… pay day! But still… how is this already the third week of my new internship? My last place of work is starting to seem almost like a distant memory. No wonder I never manage to get everything done… it seems like every time I blink I open my eyes to find that an hour’s passed.

See… it just did it again. It’s 7:45pm now and I haven’t done a single useful thing this evening! How do other people manage to hold down full time jobs and keep on top of all their housework and bring up children, all at the same time? With only one small room to keep tidy and no children to worry about I can’t even manage to keep on top of my laundry! Just more evidence that I’d be the world’s worst housewife I guess…


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Family weekend

My mam and brother were here over the weekend, which is why I didn’t have a chance to post. Finally my mam has actually seen the place I’ve been living for the past 2 years! It was a good weekend, but tiring. There isn’t really much for tourists to do in Karlsruhe, but we rode on the little train in the Schlosspark, had a bit of a walk in Durlach (suburb of Karlsruhe) and went to ZKM, an art and media museum in town. We also ate some of the local food. It was lovely to see the family (or at least part of it) again. Now my sister just needs to visit and the whole family will have seen ‘my’ town.

Today was the first day of my new internship. It went pretty well. The bosses and one other employee are lovely. The owner of the company even bought my lunch for me! It was a lot of information to take in at once though – In the morning I just did some proofreading and researched some terms, but after lunch I had to learn all about the database, how to enter a company into it, find a translator etc, etc. Then I had a quick lesson on how to use the translation memory software. I was pleased when I was told to go home at 3pm! I won’t normally be leaving that early but there wasn’t anything left for me to do and, like I said, a lot had been squeezed into my brain in a fairly short space of time. I’m sure things will get better once I’ve done everything a few times and figured out what’s going on!

The bosses have a little jack russell puppy who comes to work with them. She’s called Flecki, because of a little fleck on her head, and is only 10 weeks old. Soo tiny and cute!

I think I’m going to like working there, once I’ve got over the strangeness and have more of an idea what I’m meant to be doing! Still sad that I had to leave the old place though.


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Cake and stockings

I made a cake last night to take into work with me*. You see, tomorrow is the last day of my internship. In Germany, when there’s an event, the person whose birthday or whatever it is expected to bring in something yummy for the rest of their workplace. You have to bake it yourself as well mind you – a friend of mine’s colleagues were most disappointed when she took in a cake from the bakers. I’ll never understand why on my birthday I have to give other people something, but never mind. When in Rome and all that. So today I took in a cake. It was another one of those ridiculously hot days where the sun was already unbearable by 8am and by the time I was half way to work I was already roasting. Who knew a simple marble cake could be so heavy? But never mind, both cake and I made it to work in one piece and it seemed to go down well with my colleagues. A brilliant result I’d say.

Oh, and here’s something that amused me today. I was doing a translation about stockings (the black lacy kind, not the ones you get a Christmas). Nothing too difficult, just a few random terms to be printed on the packaging. One of the items on the list was “halterlose Strümpfe”. Hmm, how would we say that in English? I wondered. Not being a stocking wearer I tend not to spend much time reading the packaging for them. An idea occurred to me and I decided to see whether the internet thought it existed. So I type the words “halterless stockings” into Google. A few hits did come up, but right at the top was that question Google asks you when it thinks you might have spelled something wrong…
Did you mean: “shelterless stockings”.
Umm, no I didn’t actually, but I’m quite intrigued now. What on Earth are shelterless stockings? Are those the ones that manage to get lost in the washing machine, leaving you with one half of hundreds of pairs? Are there shelterless socks as well? The mind really does boggle! (In case you were wondering, the actual translation was “hold ups” or in American English “garterless stockings”. I don’t suppose you were wondering though… unless you’re as ignorant about the world of stockings as I am).

*Actually, Jan did most of the actual making of the cake. I just measured stuff… and managed to get it out of the oven on time.


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I’m melting…

For some reason I really didn’t enjoy work today. It’s not like anything went wrong. Normally I would have considered it to be a pretty good day. I had jus the right amount of work to do – not so little I spent most of my time twiddling my thumbs, but not so much that I was stressed out for the entire day and had to cut my lunch break short to get everything finished (I have done that in the past). No, it was just an average day as far as work load is concerned. The texts were all really nice as well, interesting and not too difficult. And yet I’ve spent the last 4 hours counting down the minutes until I could get out of there. This isn’t how I wanted to spend the last few days of my internship. I really want to enjoy the last of my time there. But today it just wasn’t working.
I think it’s the heat. It was bad enough outside, but I swear in our office it’s about 5 degrees warmer! The window is always open but no breeze comes in, the various electrical devices we have standing around  seem to be competing to see who can produce the most heat and when you try to breathe the air tastes like it’s full of moisture. I stil feel like I’m melting now and I’ve been home nearly half an hour!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the summer. It’s just this this excessive heat I detest. If I was in Spain or Greece I would understand, and I might even enjoy it (if only because I’d most likely be sitting in the shade somewhere), but it really doesn’t need to be 29.2°C (according to wundergrund.com) in Karlsruhe, Germany at quarter to seven at night.  And there are people out there who think global warming doesn’t exist? What the hell do you call this then, coincidence?

I’m off for a shower now. A cold shower!


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Three more days

I’m trying very hard to mentally prepare myself for my last day of work on Thursday. I’m not ready for my internship to be over yet. It still doesn’t feel like it’s been a whole year, but at the same time it feels like I’ve been there forever. It’s going to be so weird getting up for work on Monday morning and catching a tram to Ettlingen instead of walking the 15 minutes into town. So I’m trying to prepare myself now so that it’s not too much of a shock to the system… and so that I don’t cry on Thursday. I hate goodbyes!

In other news, my blogs hit counter has now gone over the 1,000 mark. Not very exciting to most, I know, but it makes me happy. I can’t believe people are actually reading my blog!


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This time next week…

Firstly, can someone please tell me a) what webtaskr.com is, b) why it keeps appearing in my incoming links and c) why, when I click on the link to it, do I find a paragraph from one of my blogs there with a link to me at the bottom with “read the original” post. What’s going on??? Answers on the back of a postcard please (or in the comments section if you’d prefer ;-) )

And now back to what I really wanted to talk about.
This time next week I’ll be getting ready for my last day at my current place at work. It’s very scary and also quite sad (as in upsetting, not uncool). How can it have been almost a whole year since I started my internship there? It doesn’t seem like that long. And yet, at the same time, it feels like I’ve been there forever. I love working there. Love the banter (by email) with other English-speaking interns from our branches throughout Germany. Love most of the translations I get to do. Even some of the proofreads are fun (yesterday I was reading a very funny translation about jeans). My colleagues here in Karlsruhe are brilliant – two are pretty much my age and the third is only five years older. It’s great. We can have a laugh together and I don’t feel like the little, inexperienced child amongst all the adults who know exactly what they’re doing.

And now it’s time to leave.

A week on Monday I start my new internship. Between leaving where I am now and starting at the new place I have exactly 3 days to mentally prepare myself. My current mood? Nervous, sad, excited, nostalgic, terrified… it’s an emotional rollercoaster.


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Confessing…

After blogging just the other day about how unfair it is that all the shops are having their summer sales and I have no money to buy anything I now have to make a confession.
Today I broke down and went and bought myself something.

It’s all the fault of Tally Weijl (Pleeease don’t ask me how to pronounce that. I have no idea. My German colleagues have no idea. The shop is Swiss, their language is weird.) Like all the other shops, Tally Weijl are currently having an end-of-summer sale, a fact that I only noticed today. As far as I’m concerend Tally Weijl sales are just plain amazing. The normal prices of their clothes are ridiculous. 19 euros for a T-shirt! Who in their right mine would pay that? But their sales are another story. I’ve seen clothes in Tally Weijl for 5 euros that started off being 30. Last year I bought a skirt from there that had originally been 20 euros. It’s long. It’s blue. It has bits gold bands around it with coloured embroidery and sequins and beads. I call it my gypsy skirt, because that’s what it reminds me of. My description probably makes it sound terrible, like a lurid whirl of colours all mashed together. But it’s really, really not. It’s beautiful. It may actually be my favourite item of clothing. And I found it in Tally Wijl last year reduced to 5 euros. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Then I took it to the counter and was told it had been reduced again… to 3 euros. In English money that would be 2 euros and 10 cents. Just over 2 euros for a gorgeous skirt! See, Tally Weihl sales are amazing! So when I saw the sale signs all over their windows today I just had to go in.

Now not all of Tally Weijl’s clothes are amazing. Some are just plain weird. Others I suspect I might have liked when I was 15, but these days I’m slightly too old for them. But then they have the odd item like me amazing skirt thrown in their to make it worth my while going in. Today I bought a blue and white tie die vest top with adjustable straps and a plain reddish orange top with three quarter length sleeves that will be perfect for work. Both items cost 3 euros. I think I can justify spending six euros (a little over 4 pounds) on a present for myself. And if it means spending slightly less on food this month, so what. It’s worth it to feel as happy as I do now.

In other news, the contract for my new internship has arrived. I just have to sign it and send it back then I will officially have a new job.
Life is looking pretty good right now.

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