the last one.

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My last two days in Heidelberg were incredibly moving.  I had my last run along the river.  Had my last ice cream.  My last exam.  Said my last goodbyes to acquaintances.  My last bike rides.  My last hours of sleep.  My last conversations in German.  On Wednesday I had a last dinner with a dear, dear friend.  I hung out with my friends at the DAI one last time.  I returned home to hang out on the terrace with my housemates one last time.  Two of my best friends in my house stayed up all night as I packed.  I laughed, I cried.  I hugged and high-fived and fist-pumped my way through the goodbyes.  I exchanged gifts.  It felt simultaneously like Christmas and a tragic goodbye.  Some of these people I will never see again, that’s just the way life works.  But others I know I will see.  I have to.  These people became my community and my family.  This photo was taken at the grill party last weekend by my photographer friend Amelie.  In it I am surrounded by friends I love, playing music as the warm summer air fills us with memories.  This experience was not just about University, or studying abroad, or internships or clubs.  It was about life.  And The Heidelblog was about the beautiful opportunities that reveal themselves when you dare to say “yes” to the universe and all of the challenges that come with it.  This experience showed me just how beautiful life can be, and I thank you for joining me on the journey.  I hope you have gained some new perspectives along the way.

And now, I leave you with this:

‘Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring– What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here– that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.’

-Walt Whitman

 

May you have the inspiration and courage to contribute a verse.

All the best,

Hannah

cream

cream

At the end of last week I attended the AJY program’s farewell party.  As usual, the AJY program pulled out all the stops.  The meal was in an old castle on a mountain in a nearby town.  The room in which we ate had medieval flairs and the meal was scrumptious, complete with five courses.  Frau Heckmann thanked all of us for a great semester and made a few closing remarks.  And I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for this program.  It grants a person the personal freedom they cannot and would not get at an American University, the resources necessary to design one’s own adventures, and the comfortable support necessary to feel both empowered and at home in a foreign place.  It is personable, the staff is compassionate, and the food is always delicious. They counseled me through every major academic decision, employed me for a semester, and hooked me up with countless opportunities. AJY is the cream of the crop, and I recognize that this year would not have been possible without the kind, patient, wonderful people of AJY.

not about the Schein

alternative

 

A “Schein” in German is a grade.  Well, it’s more than a grade in a class.  It’s more like proof of a grade.  So at the end of a semester, your professor fills out a half of a sheet of paper with your name on it and your grade in the class.  And you have to physically pick up the piece of paper from your professors and transport it to the responsible parties (in my case, the AJY office).  In the midst of everything else going on, you have to physically go to all of the various institutes and pick up your precious grades.

At the end of one year in the German university system, I have noticed numerous differences between the worlds of German and American Academia.  German university values structure, precision, and recitation.  The pace is much different, and students have the entire 2-3 month break to write all of their papers.  The great news?  They have 2-3 months to write their papers.  The bad news?  They never have a real break.  The bad news for me?  I don’t have 2-3 months of break, since my Fall Semester begins at the end of August.  Being caught between two systems was difficult.

American academia, while much more focused on deadlines and productivity, allows for way more creative space within research, presentations, and individual study.  In the States, it’s about asking questions, finding syntheses and pioneering the collaboration of new ideas.  

I’m not saying one system is better than the other.  I am just grateful to have experienced both systems.  The American system has changed the way I think and formulate ideas, and the German system has changed the way I learn and think about learning.  I do have to say, however, that I’m not a fan of the Scheins.  The grading system is tough as it is, and most Germans are perfectly content with simply passing.  And there’s something comforting about viewing your grade on a computer screen, distant and impersonal.  But the Schein is a reminder that a grade is simply a subjective piece of paper.  And I find it difficult to accept a half of a sheet of paper as the truest measurement of all that I have learned, so trivial that it has to be transported and filed away by hand.  And this is when I realize…it’s not about the Schein, is it?  It never really was.  It was about the letting go of having complete control of the familiar, leaning into a foreign system, diving head-first into the most intimidating academic situations, many in another language.  No piece of paper will ever carry the weight of what I have learned.  It’s just not possible.

meat

DSC_1009

 

Apologies to my vegetarian friends who probably find this photo disgusting.  However, these meat patties represent a wonderful time had by all.  Last Saturday Kurt, Beth and I (the Americans living in my house) trekked out to Rewe (our grocery store of choice) to buy meat and buns for the grill party we were hosting as a farewell for all of the Americans in our program, all of our friends, and everyone in our house.  When Kurt asked the meat lady how much ground beef she had in the store, she brought out an enormous bag.  Because it was in kilograms, I have no idea how many pounds it was.  But we bought all of it– every last morsel in. the. store.  And while it wasn’t cheap, this meat investment was something we were willing to split, because we wanted to give our beloved Germans and international friends a true American experience. Did we get stares from the conservative meat-buying Germans?  Yes.  Did the cashier judge us as we lifted nearly half a calf onto the conveyer belt at the checkout?  Absolutely.  But we didn’t care.  We knew what we were doing (or at least we thought we did, and sometimes that’s all that matters.)   So we trekked home with an enormous sack of meat and buns and threw together a successful farewell party.  We told everyone the party would start at 5:00, which worked out perfectly.  About 15 Americans showed up at 5:04 and helped us throw everything together.  By the time the Germans showed up (including our housemates) it was 7:30 and everything was ready.  The Italians were there by 9:30.  And by 10 we had a melting pot of nationalities, all eating a lot of meat.  And life was good.

 

goodbye, mel

mel final

Let me paint you a picture of last Tuesday:  I had an enormous linguistics exam the next day, I needed to turn in a packet and paper to a professor at her office hour, I had my last German History class, and I needed to at least attempt to start packing, among other things.  It was seemingly unbearably stressful. In order to hand in my paper, I needed to make copies at the copy shop on the corner.  But I didn’t have any cash, due to my debit card having expired a few days before.  And the copy center didn’t take card.  I wanted to avoid selling back Mel (my bike) until my last day– Wednesday, but it was becoming clear that in a desperate attempt to obtain cash (for copies, remember), I needed to sell Mel back on Tuesday.  So I rode Mel one last time over to Max Weber House to my last German History course, then dropped Mel off at the bike shop where I bought him/her.  Long story short, I ended up selling Mel to AJY instead.  And the ceremonial act of leaving Mel behind was one of the hardest goodbyes of the week.  Mel and I had countless adventures together– Mel was more than my car.  Mel was the enabler of my discovery, my speed, my transport of goods.  These are photos of my final moments with Mel, taken by my dear friend Beth.  I know a bike is just a thing…but man was Mel a wonderful thing.  Mel was undoubtedly the best investment I made this year, and some of the best advice I can give to those new to Heidelberg is to buy a bike.  You won’t regret it.

heart

heart

Warning:  this piece contains higher-than-usual levels of nostalgia.  Read at your own will.

It is 9:14pm as I write this.  I am sitting in the AJY center, surrounded by a mountain of books and papers.  I am finishing a fifteen page linguist pilot study paper in English for one of my English classes.  I am exhausted and have never worked so hard in my life.  The past month in general, and especially the last two weeks have been full of the usual end of the semester stresses, in addition to the assignments most German students have two additional months to complete after the semester ends.  Because my semester at the other Heidelberg will begin shortly, I must complete everything before I leave on Thursday.  I’ve gone from feeling sad that I can’t fully soak up my remaining days doing things I enjoy, revisiting my favorite places and visiting with friends to having serious anxiety about how I am going to manage to pull everything off, take my last (hardest) exam the day before I leave, and pack.  And yet I sit here, writing this, because as I just biked back through the city I was struck by the overwhelmingly beautiful essence of this place and this time, and the importance of pausing, even at life’s most pressing moments, to take note of it. 

Many people say “I lost my heart in Heidelberg”.  The phrase was originally in a pop song which was later made into several stage productions.  Nearly every kid who studies abroad here utters the phrase in moments of nostalgia either toward the end of their stay or after they return home.  But I’ve always struggled with this phrase.  I haven’t “lost” my heart here, my heart and mind have been made fuller.  I have grown in ways I didn’t previously imagine to be possible and have learned to see the world in a drastically different light.  I have met incredible people, seen incredible views, and will carry all of this with me as I move forward.  And I have worked.  Hard.  This has not been a walk in the park (though there were many literal walks in literal parks). Coming here this year was the best decision I’ve ever made. I also couldn’t be more excited to return to my American home; to see my people.  To embrace air conditioning and garbage disposals (you’d be surprised at the things you come to miss) and free water in restaurants.  To hug people in public and not have to do small loads of laundry every three days because of the washer sizes.  There is good everywhere, that I know.  And as difficult and unbearable and utterly overwhelming as transitions can be, they can be beautiful, too. But I refuse to “lose” my heart anywhere.  If anything I gained a lot of heart this year.  But that heart comes home with me, it doesn’t stay here.  And it is time for me to enter into the next adventure.  Sure, I will miss this place everyday.  But part of what makes this place so dear to me has been this time, and the fact that everything was temporary.  

As I rode my bike through the city, I took note of the couples eating outside at restaurants, their flatbreads half-eaten and their faces aglow.  I took note of the hanging lights outside at the mensa and the way the warm summer air, freshly conjured from the river swept through the conversations of those strolling through Heidelberg’s illustrated cobblestone streets, carrying with it street performances from the old bridge.  And I took note of how truly blessed I am to have gotten to be here, in this place, at this time, to have had opportunities that have pushed me so hard and allowed me to grow so deeply.  And in that moment I felt truly humbled, for this entire experience has been a humbling one.  And though I will one day crave every last detail of this place, no part of me has been lost.  And it’s no way to live; constantly imagining your body parts being left behind all over the world.  Rather, I will carry pieces of the world with me, into the next chapter.  I refuse to do it any other way.    

trash

trash

Once a week per semester, each person living in my house has kitchen duty.  This involves scrubbing down the kitchen in the morning and at night, washing the towels, sorting bottles, and sweeping.  Once I had to scrub the inside of the oven, which was rough.  Based on my excavation findings, there is a lot of history in that thing.  But the most challenging part of Kitchen Duty (Küchedienst) is the trash.  After nearly eleven months I have FINALLY mastered the German trash system, but it has not been an easy journey.  Much like the German health care system, the German trash and recycling system is lightyears ahead of its North American friends.  What you see displayed above is BIO (far right), which is for anything biodegradable…basically compost.  The yellow bin is for non-paper packaging.  This can include milk cartons, grape cartons, plastic tubes, etc.  The blue is paper, which includes egg cartons and anything rip-able (my words, not theirs).  Finally, if you have anything left to throw out, it goes in Restmüll, which literally means “leftover trash”.  Not pictured are two types of glass sorting buckets, and all plastic bottles go in a completely different bin.  When I had Kitchen Duty each semester I struggled most with Operation Trash, because there is some overlapping that is allowed to happen.  It’s basically like Rock, Paper, Scissors.  BIO can technically go into Restmull, Papier can technically go into Gelbtone, but not all Gelbtone can go into Papier and it’s pretty much a low key crime if you put BIO in Restmüll, I mean come on, get it together.  Tin foil (I think) qualifies as Gelbtone but I honestly take the cowardly route and play it safe by putting it in Restmull.  It may sound simple enough, but there are sometimes split second game time decisions that need to be made, and you just have to give the whole thing your best shot with strange objects that seem to defy trash stereotypes if there is no German around to ask.  Honestly, though, this is not a complex system.  It’s far more convenient than dumping everything into a giant, pulsating landfill where nothing will be ever be recovered.  I know a handful of Americans who are into the recycling scene, an act most Americans don’t think twice about.  But why isn’t recycling main-stream in America?  And why not to the German extent?  Why is this not something we have caught onto?