Sunday, June 17, 2012

Stream of Consciousness Sunday - Culture shock is a strange beast


Tonight I was talking with a friend about life in Germany and said to him, "culture shock is a strange beast" and so goes the title of this post. Well, here it is. The second stage of culture shock. Yep, it's called the "Negotiation stage" where everything that is different suddenly seems very different. Things that seemed cute at first suddenly become irritating. You get homesick, frustrated and upset more easily and find yourself shutting people out at times. It's like the stages of grief in that you don't always feel everything in the exact order that they predict and you often have mini stages of all of them at times. Also, everyone experiences culture shock to varying degrees. I know I still love Germany and all the wonderful things I have experienced so far are still clear in my mind, but I have felt the reality of living here, of living abroad, of being far from the comforts of home, of feeling like I'm not making progress in my new language...all of it feels like it's in my face right now. I almost feel like I want to give up on speaking German because every time I do someone either corrects me or laughs. I want the language to be easier. I want to be able to talk to anyone about anything. I want to connect. I know I'm lucky because so many people speak my language here and there are so many great expats that I am friends with already, which helps a lot, but it is hard to feel like you are on the outside of a culture and that you can't communicate what you really want to say. I know I will not give up on German and that eventually I will see the progress I've made, but it's just one of those days, one of those weeks. It's the negotiation phase. Next stop - the adjustment phase. Really hope I don't have to wait six months for that one like Wikipedia tells me....;)



This was my 5 minute Stream of Consciousness Sunday post. It’s five minutes of your time and a brain dump. Want to try it? Here are the rules…

1. Set a timer and write for 5 minutes.
2. Write an intro to the post if you want but don’t edit the post. No proofreading or spellchecking. This is writing in the raw.
3. Publish it somewhere. Anywhere. The back door to your blog if you want. But make it accessible.
4. Add the Stream of Consciousness Sunday badge to your post.
5. Link up your post. 6. Visit your fellow bloggers and show some love.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Stream of Consciousness Sunday - Old habits die hard


One of the things that many travelers hope for is a renewal of self when we move to another country. We hope that somehow, magically we will shed all things old and become all things new. This is true to some extent, but in the past week or two I've been reminded that old habits die hard. That in order to reinvent yourself you have to work hard at it. It's anything but magic. The magic comes from having the guts to be out of your comfort zone and somewhere new and experiencing those travel moments where everything is new and exciting and special. But, since I started working full time again a few weeks ago I have been going non-stop and suddenly I realized - I have just the slightest tendency (okay maybe a big one) to overdo it. Last week in my Sunday post I talked about balancing work and life. This is sort of a continuation of this theme. Somehow I think I can do everything and still take care of myself. I just love so many things, I love people, I want to give my all to all of it. I want to be good (or even great) at everything I do. I want to be the perfect friend, the perfect girlfriend, the best blogger, the perfect aunt, the best market research decoder (my latest new job), the best English teacher etc. etc. But you know what? You can't do it all. Or at least you can't do it all and not completely crash at some point. You can't make everyone happy either. You gotta make you happy. You have to be okay with saying no to things, disappointing people, letting a few things go. It's okay. Just always remember, "Wherever you go, there you are."



This was my 5 minute Stream of Consciousness Sunday post. It’s five minutes of your time and a brain dump. Want to try it? Here are the rules…

1. Set a timer and write for 5 minutes.
2. Write an intro to the post if you want but don’t edit the post. No proofreading or spellchecking. This is writing in the raw.
3. Publish it somewhere. Anywhere. The back door to your blog if you want. But make it accessible.
4. Add the Stream of Consciousness Sunday badge to your post.
5. Link up your post. 6. Visit your fellow bloggers and show some love.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sunday Stream of Consciousness: Work - how do we find that perfect balance in life?


So for two weeks now I've been back to the 9-5(ish) working life and I have to say I have mixed feelings about it all. I've been thinking about work a lot lately, what I want to do in that area, what structure makes me happy, how we balance work and life and still do everything we hope to do. There is something about working in a foreign country when you're there for the experience that definitely makes work more enjoyable. It becomes a cultural experience as well, it doesn't feel so....serious somehow even though I still work just as hard as I do back home. I'm lucky enough to be working with a very nice group of expats and that makes it a lot of fun, but suddenly having my days structured, my free time taken after a wonderful three month break has been challenging. How are people supposed to balance it all? How do they do it? I don't even have a partner or kids to worry about and yet I never seem to have the time I need to get everything done. And I want to do so much. I want to be blogging so much more. I want to keep traveling tons and blogging about these travels. I want to be improving my photography skills. I want to finish writing the novel I started. I want to cook wonderful creative and healthy meals every night and try new recipes all the time. I want to work out every day and join a sports team. I want to play my saxophone in a band again. I want to keep teaching English as well as working for a market research company during the day, plus take on private students and also study German intensively. I want to spend time with people. I want to get to know Hamburg much better. I want to talk to people back home and write to them consistently. I want to volunteer for a worthy cause. I want to climb mountains. I want to ski. I want to run a half marathon. Phew....I'm exhausted just writing this all. I love so many things in life. I have many passions and many things that are important to me. So when I come home from a day of work and German class and I'm exhausted and can just barely find some food and then collapse for a few hours and I don't get any more done, I feel mad at myself. But then, this is life. You can only do so much. What is the answer to all this? What is the magical balance?
This was my 5 minute Stream of Consciousness Sunday post. It’s five minutes of your time and a brain dump. Want to try it? Here are the rules…

1. Set a timer and write for 5 minutes.
2. Write an intro to the post if you want but don’t edit the post. No proofreading or spellchecking. This is writing in the raw.
3. Publish it somewhere. Anywhere. The back door to your blog if you want. But make it accessible.
4. Add the Stream of Consciousness Sunday badge to your post.
5. Link up your post. 6. Visit your fellow bloggers and show some love.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Stream of Consciousness Sunday - Berlin vs. Hamburg


My head is filled with the events of this weekend. My first weekend in Berlin. My first weekend attending a blogging conference in Europe. My first time seeing so many historical places that I've read about. My first time being surrounded by so many fashionable European women all in one place. I went to Berlin for the Hive blogging conference which my sister Holly told me about when I moved to Germany. The thing about Europe is that everyone has a story and often has about ten different countries they've lived in or are from and ten different languages they speak. This is the norm here. It's a different mentality. It's one of the things I love about Europe. Berlin is in your face about this. Hamburg is very multicultural but less edgy. I feel like Berlin hit me smack in the face and didn't let up the whole time I was there. I feel the dirt of the streets, the grittiness of this huge, artsy, funky, new centre of Europe. I feel that I was experiencing multiple levels of culture shock that I'm still processing. I love Germany so far. I love the frank honesty of Germans. I love the high quality of everything. I feel like Hamburg is polished whereas Berlin likes to be unpolished. Each city with its own unique set of admirers and adorers. Each passionate in their own ways. I want to experience Berlin more, I want to visit every historical site. I want to feel the weight of a city that was divided for so long. But I feel my comfort zone, my happy place now lies in Hamburg. Hamburg is my Vancouver abroad, but much cheaper...although sadly without the mountains.
This was my 5 minute Stream of Consciousness Sunday post. It’s five minutes of your time and a brain dump. Want to try it? Here are the rules…

1. Set a timer and write for 5 minutes.
2. Write an intro to the post if you want but don’t edit the post. No proofreading or spellchecking. This is writing in the raw.
3. Publish it somewhere. Anywhere. The back door to your blog if you want. But make it accessible.
4. Add the Stream of Consciousness Sunday badge to your post.
5. Link up your post. 6. Visit your fellow bloggers and show some love.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Stream of Consciousness Sunday - Need a little humility? Just learn a new language!


Learning a new language in a new country has to be one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I have a new appreciation for people who are illiterate. I now know what it's like to try and read a sign and have no idea what it says. There have been some days in the past five weeks where I have felt like a five year old, starting all over again. And yet, when you do start to make progress it's one of the best feelings in the world. When one day I understand even just one word I didn't understand the day before, I'm proud. I was only able to study German for about six-eight weeks before I came to Germany (other than a brief stint back in high school) and although I have studied other languages and feel I'm a pretty competent language learner I felt and feel like an idiot many times a day.

I guess you could say that I'm lucky in that most Germans speak some English so when I'm stuck they will almost always switch into English and help me out, but on the other hand it doesn't force me to learn as quickly. Many Germans also love to practice and speak English so they will often switch just because they enjoy it too. If I had a penny for every time a German has said to me "Oh my English isn't so good" and then they speak to me in excellent English, well, I could have paid for my flight over here by now. In any case, although I know I'm slowly making progress it is the most frustrating feeling in the world not being able to communicate with someone. There is a Polish girl in my German class who seems very nice, but all we can do is speak to each other in basic German. There are only so many times you can say things like "Today it is sunny" and "We will bring bratwurst to the picnic" before the conversation kind of comes to a halt. I want to be fluent already, but I know it's going to take...well...A LOT of time, a lot of practice, a lot of patience and a huge buckets full of courage and humility. I have so much respect for people who move to countries where they don't speak a word of the language and yet somehow get by. I've had support here and yet there are still days and moments where I feel entirely helpless and isolated due to my lack of German skills. There are days I just want a website to be in English so much it hurts. And yet, I'm also grateful for this. I'm grateful for German dubbing that makes me watch movies and TV shows auf Deutsch. I'm grateful for websites that aren't translated into English...it's forcing me to learn. And maybe in six months from now I will be able to read the news on the TVs on the trains and understand every word. Here's hoping.
This was my 5 minute Stream of Consciousness Sunday post. It’s five minutes of your time and a brain dump. Want to try it? Here are the rules…

1. Set a timer and write for 5 minutes.
2. Write an intro to the post if you want but don’t edit the post. No proofreading or spellchecking. This is writing in the raw.
3. Publish it somewhere. Anywhere. The back door to your blog if you want. But make it accessible.
4. Add the Stream of Consciousness Sunday badge to your post.
5. Link up your post.
6. Visit your fellow bloggers and show some love.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Stream of Consciousness Sunday - Facebook envy and our online lives


What do we really know about someone's life? I've been thinking about social media lately and the effect it has had and will continue to have on our lives as it grows and develops. I remember reading something recently about something jokingly called “Facebook envy”, about how we can present our lives in one light on social media very easily. How people can interpret us as having either perhaps a perfect and wonderful life with nothing wrong or the worst life ever if all we post all the bad things that happen. I've been thinking about this as I travel, as I start fresh in a new country, as I post pictures and stories of my adventures. I keep worrying that people will think that every day is perfect and wonderful and that travel and living abroad is easy and always fun. I think those who have lived abroad realize that's not really the case, but I think about it anyways as I put my life, my photos, my stories out there. I think about being real, about really telling the story, about staying true and authentic, yet positive and appreciative of each moment. I think it's a fine balance. I think there's nothing quite like this experience to make you dig deep and really put yourself out there to the world. But you know, it's okay to have bad days. It's okay if Facebook doesn't always present the true story of our lives. No matter where someone is at, whether traveling, living abroad, living at home, having a baby, getting married, getting divorced, we can never assume anything about someone else's life. So, where will social media lead us? How transparent should our lives truly be? Where is the balance in this new world of electronic record keeping? I guess we'll see! Like I'm saying all the time these days...if nothing else, it'll be an adventure!
This was my 5 minute Stream of Consciousness Sunday post. It’s five minutes of your time and a brain dump. Want to try it? Here are the rules…

1. Set a timer and write for 5 minutes.
2. Write an intro to the post if you want but don’t edit the post. No proofreading or spellchecking. This is writing in the raw.
3. Publish it somewhere. Anywhere. The back door to your blog if you want. But make it accessible.
4. Add the Stream of Consciousness Sunday badge to your post.
5. Link up your post.
6. Visit your fellow bloggers and show some love.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Stream of Consciousness Sunday - moving to a new country

So I arrived in Germany two weeks ago today. New country, new language, new living situation, new food, new drink, new...almost everything. My last day of work before my leave also happened to be two months ago today. It's a strange thing to pack up one suitcase and leave your life behind and go to a place where you can completely re-create yourself and your life. And yet, wherever you go...there you are, right? It's true. I think that the essence of ourselves shines brightly when we are put in a new situation. That means the good, the bad and the ugly, but also the amazing. It's like throwing yourself into the deep end of the pool, shouting out for a life preserver because you feel like you're drowning, but then suddenly realizing, hey this water is warm and I like swimming. Oh yah.

A friend of mine told me that highs and lows of travel and living abroad are what make it such a rich experience. Your highs make you want to sing on top of a mountain like Julie Andrews. Your lows make you want to drown your sorrows in great German beer and then jump on a plane home where everybody knows your name and you don't have to think hard before ordering food. And yet, would any of us trade an experience like this? Of course not. You grow and you grow...much faster than at home. Sure, at home is easier, comfortable, safe, cozy, you're loved. But I'm learning you can be loved anywhere. You just gotta throw yourself in. Let yourself feel it all and then just walk. Walk and walk and explore and discover and let yourself be foreign. Let yourself be stupid and make dumb mistakes. Who cares? They don't know you. You can always use the line "I'm foreign." Works every time...mostly.



This was my 5 minute Stream of Consciousness Sunday post. It’s five minutes of your time and a brain dump. Want to try it? Here are the rules…

1. Set a timer and write for 5 minutes.
2. Write an intro to the post if you want but don’t edit the post. No proofreading or spellchecking. This is writing in the raw.
3. Publish it somewhere. Anywhere. The back door to your blog if you want. But make it accessible.
4. Add the Stream of Consciousness Sunday badge to your post.
5. Link up your post.
6. Visit your fellow bloggers and show some love.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Top 10 Things I will NOT miss about Vancouver

*Warning - this post contains six years of pent up frustration and most likely a high amount of sarcasm. Ranting will be involved. This post is not for the sensitive soul and might offend. Or you might nod and laugh in agreement. I'm hoping it's the latter.

After writing my last post on The Top 10 Things I'll Miss About Vancouver and realizing how much I'm going to miss my beautiful city, my wise sister recommended I should write the next list soon in order to get excited for my travels. So, here it goes. I apologize in advance to any hard-core Vancouver lovers out there, but, as we all know...there will always be things that drive you insane about the city you live in. Thinking about them in the weeks leading up to leaving for a year seems to be a good plan.

1. Crowded buses/sky trains and bad transit habits (and yes, I realize I'll be riding transit in Europe but I'm hoping it's maybe not quite as annoying). Particularly riding the 99 B-line in rush hour. Riding pretty much any crowded bus in Vancouver in rush hour is no fun, but there is just something extra special about the number of students on the 99 who leave their backpacks on, don't care when they smash into you and seriously people....move to the back of the damn bus. Is it really that hard? Also, sitting on the outside seat and making me squeeze past you..not okay. Eating your onion-garlic beef burger on the bus next to me....not okay. Passing your potentially lethal virus on to the whole bus well....thanks for that. At least the hospital is along the 99 route. And seriously twenty year old guy at the front...get up and move your a$$ so that old lady can sit down. We know you can read the signs about it. We see you texting on your iphone. You must be somewhat literate. And I just have to say it one more time..."MOVE TO THE BACK OF THE BUS!" Sorry, a little bus rage came out there.


2. Paying the equivalent of about ten gym memberships a month for groceries. Okay, so I spent three years living in the lovely, but ridiculously expensive neighbourhood of South Granville, but I still could never get over the fact that I would go to buy maybe five items from the grocery store and never spend less than $40. For a city that has so many health conscious people, they sure make it hard to eat healthy, organic, local food and hormone-free meat on a budget.


3. Rain, rain, grey, more rain, some more grey, light drizzle, downpour, hail storm followed by rain. Grey....um...getting the picture? Okay, so I realize that I'm moving to a rainy city in Germany so I might have the same complaint there, but seriously, there are days in Vancouver where I feel I need an IV of sunshine hooked up to my arm 24-7.

4. "No fun city". Yes, there is a reason Vancouver has this glorious title. Ever gone out clubbing on the weekends? Well, if you're lucky you might find a club that stays open until 3am, but guess what...the sky train stopped running at 1:30! So, you can find a 24-hour Tim Horton's (let the good times roll), or dish out about $30 to get home in your cab. So, your night out just cost you another two months of gym membership. Go Vancouver. Also, one of my favourite moments was being charged full cover when I arrived at a club at 8:50pm. Woot! Did I mention all the outdated liquor laws too? Maybe that's another rant.


5. Warning, this might be a sensitive one. In Canada, and especially Vancouver (and the lower mainland) we love to promote ourselves as a multicultural city where everyone gets along and holds hands and has multicultural potlucks every weekend and sings Kumbaya. Truth be told, we do have cultural ghettos, so to speak, right here in Vancouver. We have racism too. We live in a city where lines divide us by language, cultural misunderstandings, geography and ignorance. Whether we like to admit it or not, we all carry grudges against certain cultural groups and vice versa. As an ethnomusicologist I am hard on myself when I feel any such feelings come up, but they do exist. Stereotypes exist for a reason, as they say. The whole cultural landscape of Vancouver is changing at a rapid pace. Values change as certain cultural groups dominate. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next thirty years. I realize that Europe is much worse for cultural division and racism, but it is something that is always on my mind in Vancouver.


6. Congratulations Vancouver you are now the 2nd most expensive place to buy real estate in the WHOLE WORLD!! Somebody buy a cake for this city, cause we should be proud. Alright, I realize there are reasons it's an expensive place...look at those mountains....look at that ocean! But for a 30-something educated, single career gal trying to make it in this city there is no way I could possibly afford to buy even a 1 bedroom condo in Surrey. That is saying something. Some of my favourite moments (heavy sarcasm) are hearing my friends, colleagues, people on the street, say things like "Wow, I found this amazing listing on MLS...a 3 bedroom condo in East Van for only $650,000"! When did over half a million dollars become reasonable for a condo? This housing crisis in Vancouver is not going away anytime soon and it worries me to see what will happen and if foreign investors will end up taking over the city. Only time will tell....and as for us young singles and young families...we may just have to move away or rent forever.
This fixer upper is on the market for a mere 3.95 million.

7. Hockey fans don't hate me, but ....The Vancouver Canucks have to be on my list. Seriously, last year's loss in the long hoped for Stanley Cup trophy was a crushing blow to this entire city. I don't think I saw a Canucks shirt on anyone for a good six months. I only hesitantly started wearing mine again recently. Okay, so losing a hockey series should not be such a big deal, right? But it's pretty depressing when your team has never, ever won the Stanley Cup (under their current name anyway) and yet they keep charging an arm and a leg (and maybe some severed feet...sorry, couldn't help myself) for tickets. And then to follow up with the disgusting riots afterwards? I remember sitting in a pub in Kits after the game was over, seeing the riots on the news and I don't think I could fully believe that this was going on in my city. What a bunch of spoiled, moronic, ignorant, drunken idiots. Yeah, I was upset they lost, but get a life. Seriously. Oh and did winning the Grey Cup make up for the loss some people asked? I want to thwack them with a hockey stick. You know better than that silly football fan (no offense to those who like football, but really...there's no comparison).






8. Yoga pants should NOT ever be worn as actual clothing. Going to or from yoga? Yes, wear your yoga pants. I do! Hanging out at home and doing dishes? Sure, wear them all you want! Going downtown to go shopping with friends? No, do not wear yoga pants and please for heaven's sake burn the Ugg boots. And while you're at it, leave your miniature poodle at home and not in your purse. Better yet, leave your miniature poodle in Antarctica. If we're lucky the penguins will get it. So, I didn't post a photo of the pants...you all know the look. I thought that was kind of me. But here's the dog for good measure.



9. Vancouver men out there, please don't hate me for this one, but it is what it is (and yes, I realize there are some diamonds in the rough). We are all probably familiar now with the article "Do Vancouver men suck?" Having dated in this city for the last six years I can attest to this. Every single guy I've dated here has not actually been from Vancouver, true story. So, if you want to date in Vancouver, sure there are some fantastic men out there, but chances are, they aren't from Vancouver. Do Vancouver men suck? And if so, why? It's a question that my single gal friends and I have been trying to figure out for years. Is it just too laid back here? Is the yoga pant dress code lowering our standards? Is it the no-fun city attitude? The depression that the Canucks cause? I really don't know. All I know is that finding great Vancouver guys to date is kind of like finding cheap and good quality groceries in this city....you know they're out there somewhere, you've heard about friends who found them, but no one seems to know where to go to get them.




10. I had to leave one of the most pressing issues for last and that's of course the homeless problem in Vancouver. It's not just the amount of homelessness, but the amount of mentally unstable homeless people who are not being cared for, are wandering the streets and are a danger to themselves and the people around them. I even had an incident this week with one, involving the police. Although I felt good protecting myself, my heart kind of broke when I saw this mentally unstable, drunk, homeless guy with hand cuffs on. There is something seriously wrong with this picture. We live in one of the richest and best countries in the world. People coming from India and other third world countries must be shocked to see the downtown East Side when they arrive. It's not okay. Things have not improved and they only seem to be getting worse. I remember once when a very drunk homeless First Nations man climbed onto the bike rack of the 99 B-line. The entire bus, including the bus driver just kind of froze. It was like this man was making a stand, but he had no real power other than to stop the bus for a few minutes. If I could change anything about Vancouver it would be this. We need better social services, better rehab programs, more education programs for those on the fringe of society. We call ourselves a first world country....it's time to act like it.




Wow, that was pretty satisfying. I may have to write both of these top 10 lists for Hamburg at the end of my time there. Let me know some of your biggest Vancouver pet peeves in the comments. I'd love to hear them. :) Congrats if you read all the way through!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Top 10 things I'm going to miss about Vancouver

As I come closer to leaving Vancouver for a year I can't help thinking about everything I will leave behind (as excited as I am for new adventures and a new place) and so I thought I would do a short post on the top 10 things I will most miss about Vancouver, since you know, it's not the worst place to live ;) Now the question is...should I do a "Top 10 things I'm NOT going to miss about Vancouver list?" ;)

1. Seeing the snow capped mountains everywhere I go on a perfect, clear sunny day.


2. The smell of the ocean as I bike along the beach at Jericho.


3. Tasty, fresh and cheap sushi.

My Italian cousin, Nicola and I sampling some of the best sushi and yes, I am wearing my "You have died of dysentery t-shirt".


4. That perfect clean, crisp BC air. (Not really sure how you portray air in a photo...)
5. Hiking the mountains and the grouse grind (yes I actually will miss the grouse grind!)
The Chief

View from Grouse Mountain





6. Being able to choose from pretty much any ethnic food group when I go out for dinner. (here I am drinking GuaranĂ¡ at the Brazilian Festival this summer...okay, so it's not food...but hey, it was ethnic and yummy)



7. Watching people love/hate the Canucks/Luongo on a daily basis (including myself).

I hate Luongo.

I love Luongo!

8. Knowing the arts & culture scene like the back of my hand.

9. The cherry blossoms.


10. Being somewhere where everybody knows my name and they're always glad I came, in other words - ALL my peeps in Van and on Van Island. Especially these two girls in particular.

Me and adorable little girl I will miss #1.

Me and adorable little girl I will miss #2.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My 101 List comes to an end


A few years back I took up the challenge of creating a list of 101 Things to Do in 1001 Days. It was very fun and exciting at the start, but as I progressed through it I realized that perhaps some of the goals were A)Not fun enough and B) Too ambitious. It was a great motivator to do things that I'd been putting off for a while, but if I were to do it again I would add more wacky and weird things like Dean did (I will never forget his "Make a pie out of whatever ingredients I can find" goal....that was just plain disgusting)! I am brainstorming a new type of fun list of goals for when I'm in Europe which I can blog about. Anyone have any ideas?

My final total of completed goals was 51/101. At least I passed....just barely. ;)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why travel?

"Glorious it is when wandering time has come." -Eskimo song


There's been a question a lot of people have been asking me lately and something I've been thinking about as well and it's this: "Why do you want to leave your job, family, friends and life here and live abroad for a year?" I realize that there are some people who have no desire to travel or live in a foreign place, we all have different paths and desires after all, but that has never been me ;). From as early as I can remember I have wanted to explore. I have had that call to distant lands, that urge to jump out of my comfort zone and be transported to another world. You don't always have to go far to experience this. Just driving across Canada was an eye opening experience for me (and yes, Canada is huge so it is far I realize ;). I've lived abroad twice now, both times in the UK and both were very unique and life changing experiences. This time I wanted to live somewhere where I had to learn a new language. My passions in life are music, culture and languages and I have always wanted to live somewhere where I would be forced to learn a new language.

So what is it about travel, about living in a foreign culture that calls to me so much? My mom gave me a wonderful book a few years back by Phil Cousineau called "The Art of Pilgrimage" and its beautiful words tap deep into the traveler's psyche. As he says, "A pilgrimage is an opportunity to reconnect with your soul" (p. 87). Maybe living for a year in another country is not exactly a pilgrimage, but I'd like to think it is a type of soul journey for me (and sure I could even throw some soul music in for good measure.)

There is something so raw about being thrown away from all you are used to, forced to make a life for yourself somewhere new where, in general, nobody knows you and every day there is a good chance you'll feel awkward and uncomfortable or say something embarrassing (well, I do this at home all the time anyway so that's not too new for me ;). You could say that about living just about anywhere else, but throw in a new culture and country and it brings the challenges and joys to a new height. My friend Janet told me a while back that the thing about living abroad is is that your highs are higher and your lows are lower, but I haven't met a single person who has ever regretted the experience.

It's not an easy thing to leave your loving family (particularly your ridiculously cute nieces) and amazing friends back home, but there is also nothing like the thrill you get from connecting to a foreign land and people. Also, lucky for me I have some wonderful friends and family already in Europe. I will never forget standing on the edge of the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland and feeling the pull of that stunning scenery or even just walking to and from work when I lived in Winchester, England and being steeped in history. Maybe it has something to do with my European mixed breeding, but I often feel a pull to all my countries of origin - Italy, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, England etc. There is something about being in the place where your ancestors came from that makes you feel even more like you.

I think we've all felt different calls in our life, whether it is for a certain career, education, activity, person...and of course location. It's usually only after we've been there for a while, or even come back home that we truly know why we went. So pretty soon I'll be off and if nothing else, I'll have some good stories to tell. ;)

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The German consulate - efficiency and an ocean view

Germany for the win! I have a work visa!


As you may have read in my last blog post on bureaucracy I was about ready to cry after my experience at the Italian consulate. I decided to take a look at what other countries had to offer and since my cousin Greg had been touting all of Germany's many wonderful benefits I decided to look into it. For any Canadians out there from 18-35 years old Germany and Canada now have an agreement called the "Youth Mobility Agreement" which encourages young Canadians to have a cultural work experience in Germany. There are a few different types and the website states that:

Under the YMA, the German Foreign Missions may issue a visa to the following individuals:

-young Canadians interested in work and travel during their stay in Germany
-young Canadians who wish to do an internship
-Canadian post-secondary students
-young professionals

It's free of charge to apply for it and lasts for an entire year. The major requirements other than age are that you have to have full travel and health insurance paid for before you even apply for the visa for an entire year and a one way ticket booked (although they didn't even check for this at the consulate.)

So I really had no idea what to expect when I made my appointment for the consulate. I went it with a binder full of paper work...proof of everything under the sun including a three times revised letter of invitation from my cousin. I was ready for anything.

My appointment at the beautiful German consulate in downtown Vancouver was scheduled for 11:00am. I arrived exactly on time and was out of there in eight minutes flat. The visa officer was warm and friendly, even commenting on my German middle name (my mom's maiden name). She took my application, looked at my health insurance, quickly peeked at my passport and then said, "You can pick up your visa tomorrow morning." I just looked at her for a moment dumbfounded and replied, "I'm sorry? What? That's it? Tomorrow?" She smiled and nodded and said, "Yes, it's our easiest visa." She didn't even look at the flights I had painstakingly booked, my letter of invite, my financial records...nope. I was in. Apparently Germans love Canadians. So far so good anyway. I glanced around the immaculate, peaceful consulate which has stunning views of the mountains and ocean and almost laughed. What a difference from the Italian consulate. Now if I could only import Italian food and language into Germany...hmmm.

About a week later (since I couldn't come in any earlier) I went to the consulate to pick up my passport and visa and once again was out of there in eight minutes flat. Since eight has always been my lucky number (with my birth date of eights) I figure this is a good sign.

So, with passport and visa in hand I can now work legally in Germany as of March 12th, 2012 in any job I can get (which may be slightly limited due to my current lack of German skills...hey at least I can say "I don't understand" and "I bring you new sacrifices" in German...) other than au-pair work (they apparently don't want us English speakers coming in and corrupting German kids with our North American English) and starting my own business.

Anyways, visa and paperwork may not be the most scintillating of topics, but I tell ya, when your life plans are in the hands of some bureaucrat in an office, you suddenly care...a lot.

Eruope....here I come! Are you ready for me? :)