The first day consisted of a very long plane ride. Thank goodness I had an aisle seat and lovely people to sit with!
We got to the hotel and could’t check in for two hours. Even though I wanted nothing more than to collapse into bed, it was nice because we got to go out to dinner with some people from our program and get to know each other better. Oh and did I mention that our hotel is literally right by the Chelsea Stadium? Ya talk about fan girling over a stadium! The team even stays at our hotel before matches. We got checked in and then our group decided that we should take the tube (the underground transportation system) to find the best fish and chips in London. After that trek, we split up into an even smaller group and wait for it……….went to King’s Cross Station and went to the ever lovely Platform 9 3/4! I got to geek out with pictures and the guy there was hysterical. I think at one point, we all broke out into dance to Oliver Twist.
The next day was our tour day and we got shuffled around London by a blue badge. These people are the ones who are certified by a very picky group and know pretty much everything there is about London. We drove by little shops and he would say things like “The Queen got her hair cut here” or “This is where so and so of the royal family was born” or “See this building called the Australia House? Well Gringotts banks was filmed inside there” (That is another Harry Potter reference for those of you that are unaware). He was so friendly and even timed our tour perfectly so we could see the changing of the guards at Buckingham palace. Also, he told us that we need to pronounce it correctly. It is pronounced without the H’. So not BuckingHam, its Buckingam. (Just practice your best English accent.) Our day went on and I got to see Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Trafalger Square (where we had the most amazing British tea and scones), and the National Gallery. The day was concluded with Indian food and a pub with friends.
The next day we flew to BERLIN!!!!
We arrived and got our roommates and apartments. I am very happy with who I ended up with and glad that there are a few other combinations of girls that I can go visit in their apartment. OH and one of the other girls has a pillow pet as well so we decided that our pillow pets are going to have schnitzel parties! We went to dinner and I was so happy to be asleep by 9:30.
This past week has been jam-packed with Abenteuers (Adventures). As we got settled into our classes, I quickly realized how utterly German my professor is! His accent is so typically German and his mannerisms confirm his inherent German culture. He has chosen that we would spend half of the class in lecture and half looking at monuments and museums that are important to our class. The class is called “The Berlin Wall: Tales of Division and Unity.” So, naturally we are in the heart of all of th places we would be learning about in a textbook. Instead of discussing them in theory, I get to go with my professor and class to places all over Berlin. He is our own personal guide, because he stops us about every third or fourth block and tells us something interesting about a memorial I would have missed or an important building I would have never known about. He is so enthusiastic about it which makes this class a million times more fun! We have already seen the Brandenburg Gate, The Palace of Tears, and The Berlin Wall. Needless to say, I am having a marvelous time at one of the world’s most famous schools.
Another thing about school is that all the classes are taught in English. Not a huge shock when you first think about it, but there are people from all over the world here. We have people from Denmark, China, Japan, Korea, Montenegro, Italy and many others. I am so impressed by their knowledge of the English language and the fact that they can have intelligent, collegiate level conversations in English. Also all over Berlin (and most of Europe), if I am having a hard time speaking German or I can’t quite say what I need to say, all I need to do is ask if they speak English and they instantly speak the language. It really heightens my awareness of the privilege of being born in the States where our first language is English and on the other hand, it makes me sad that the US does not put more emphasis on the importance of beingo bilingual. This time here just makes my desire to be trilingual even greater.
Speaking of trilingual, I had the neatest experience here in Berlin. I was getting on the train and I saw three people signing to each other. Usually in the States I would try to talk to them and say hi, but I know there are different sign languages so I didn’t want to try and look like a fool. I decided not to do anything and got on the train. Later, I ended up sitting next to them on the bus and decided to swallow my pride and try signing to them. They were instantly so excited and ASL is pretty universal form of sign language so even though some of their signs were really different, we were able to communicate. They live here in Berlin and were so excited to meet a Californian who signed. I walked away from that experience so excited and realized how many out of the ordinary experiences one can have if only you are only open to the opportunity.
I am even more excited to tell you all that I found a zoo- I live right next to one! Every zoo that I go to, I naturally compare to the San Diego Zoo and I am happy to report that, for the first time ever, I have found a zoo that is up to par. I saw many animals and even saw the tigers doing the dirty (classy right?). I saw more elephants in one place than I have ever seen before. I am sad to say that they did not have hippos, but they did have manatees. I put my fist up to the glass and told him “knuckles” and then he swam up to the glass and his fin was pretty darn close to my hand. In my zoo obsessed mind, that means he totally understood me and we are now best pals!
I took a day trip to Dresden with my program and, wow, it was so beautiful! My favorite site there was Frauenkirche, Church of My Lady. This is one of the most famous churches in all of Europe. During the second World War is was not bombed, but the Phosphorus bombs that the US dropped on the area, made the building so weak that it fell apart on its own. The government decided to rebuild it, but use pieces from the original building. They tested all the bricks and found them suitable to use in the reconstruction along with new ones as well. You can see black bricks and white bricks and so the combination of old and new is very visible. Just one more story of hope and reconstruction in the midst of war and post-war here in Germany.
P.S. I am super bummed that the day after I left London, Kate went into labor! But I guess I will get to tell my kids that I was there the day before the queen went into labor (Assuming Kate and William will be on the throne by then).