19 September, 2013

Just an update

It's been over a week since my last blog post, so I figure now is a good time for another one. Things are going smoothly here. I'm getting to know the city of Karlsruhe a bit more every day, and I'm beginning to get used to my daily routine. My typical day consists of waking up around 9 in the morning, having breakfast and cleaning the kitchen if necessary, visiting Maxim for a few hours, and then when Annika and Clara get home (the time varies each weekday, but it's usually around 1pm) I make them lunch and we eat together. Most days one or both of them goes back to school in the afternoon, so I have some time to clean up and do things like check my email. After both girls are home from school, my typical afternoon involves spending time with Clara (the younger girl), playing games with her, and making sure she does her homework. Sometimes there are other activities in the afternoon, some of which involve me and some of which don't. The ones that don't involve me are the girls' lessons (judo, piano, and dance), which happen on Wednesdays. The ones that do involve me are a bit more ad hoc; for example, yesterday Clara and I went to the shopping center (the Einkaufszentrum in German) to buy supplies she needs for baking desserts for Annika's birthday, which is this Saturday. In the evening when the parents get home, I often have dinner with the family, and then hang out with Maxim again (and sometimes some of his friends/frat brothers) for a few more hours.

Yesterday was the second (or maybe third?) time I've gone to the Einkaufszentrum with one or both of the girls, and both times I left the supermarket with a fun surprise: a Kinder egg! Since these fun little items are banned in the US, I was very excited the first time I had one. Of course, being an American and thoroughly a novice when it comes to Kinder eggs, I made a rookie mistake when I opened the first one and bit directly into the chocolate (which, in my opinion, is what you are supposed to do with chocolate). I was told off by the girls, who explained that you are supposed to pull apart the halves of the egg first to get to the toy inside. The toy itself required some assembly, but instructions with pictures are included inside the egg so my toy was up and running in no time. The toy I got in the first one was a little spinning top with blades (a bit like helicopter blades) to help it spin better, and the toy in the second one was a little tiny figurine of Princess Jasmin from Aladdin. I didn't take a picture of the first toy (despite my best intentions it was lost within a few hours of bringing it home), but I did get a picture of Jasmin in all her glory. To give you some idea of how tiny she is, I included my chapstick in the pic:


Another noteworthy occurrence in the last week is that I had to go to the Bürgerbüro (some sort of government office, I'm not sure what the English translation is) to register my name and address so the German government knows I'm here. That process was very easy, especially since Tatjana, my host mom, went with me, but in order for us both to be able to go at the same time we had to make an appointment for 7:40am. That was the easy part, and now I have to start the process to apply for my residence permit. In order to do that I need to schedule an appointment to go to the Ausländerbehörde (Alien Registration Office) and present the necessary paperwork (including passport photos which I don't have). I have to talk to Tatjana and see when we can make the appointment, because I want to get my visa figured out as soon as possible so I can stop worrying that it might be denied for some reason.

The main reason that I think it could possibly be denied is because they technically have a language requirement to be an au pair in Germany. You (supposedly) have to pass a level A1 German test, although I've heard that they are not very strict with Americans and I've never heard of another American having to take the test. I'm hoping that if I bring proof that currently I'm signed up for a German class that that will be sufficient.

That brings me to the most noteworthy thing that's happened this week: I had my first German class yesterday! There were 12 people in the class including me, and there were people from all over the world: the US, France, Tunisia, Spain, Brazil, Romania, Antigua, and (I think) Hungary, from what I can remember. The first class was pretty easy, even though the teacher spoke only German, so I was very encouraged. I'm so glad that I learned some German before I got here (even though what I learned will certainly not enable me to have a coherent conversation), because it helped me to at least understand some of the words the teacher was saying. Most of what we learned in class yesterday was a review for me, and I felt like I had a better grasp of the pronunciation than some other people in the class. There were a few people who I could tell knew a bit more than me, but there were also people who knew much less, so I felt like I was in the middle of the pack. Now that I've gotten started, I wish the class met more often so I could learn faster (it only meets twice a week, and the next class isn't until Monday).

I'm glad I left the class feeling encouraged, because the trip from home to the language school was anything but encouraging. Right when I was about to leave the house to get the train into the city, it started POURING! Granted, it's rained basically every day since I got here, but this was like nothing I've seen yet. I waited a few minutes to see if the rain would let up, but when it didn't I decided to just go for it. As soon as I stepped outside I could tell that staying dry was not in the cards for me. My sneakers filled with water after about 20 steps, and even with an umbrella my legs and arms were soaked by the time I had walked the 7 minutes to the tram stop. I was grumpy and wet and cold, and all I wanted to do was curl up in bed. To add insult to injury, as soon as I got on the tram the downpour stopped and was replaced by a nice, gentle rain shower. Talk about bad timing. I tried to dry my pants under the hand dryer in the bathroom when I got to class, but it was no use, so I spent the 2.5 hour class with wet feet and pants, and got progressively colder as the class wore on. Good thing Maxim lives close by... after my class I went to his house and warmed up. He had tea waiting for me when I arrived :)

Another thing that I have to figure out soon is getting a bank account. Maxim and I went to the bank last week to ask about a bank account for me, and the woman said I have to have a visa/residence permit to open an account. This is concerning, because I don't know when I will get my residence permit and I would very much like to have money in the next few weeks. I'll have to talk to my host family about this as well, and how they want to go about paying me until I have a bank account.

That's all for now. I'll try to write more often, but time can get away from me easily so no promises.

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