From Ghana to Vancouver to Paris to Insanity

I’m once again on the brink of going completely insane. Tuesday my application for a semester abroad in Vancouver is due. I’ve obsessed over this whole thing for more than half a year now and I’m getting so close to actually ridding all of these stupid forms and papers from my desk and my mind – and at this very moment I’m totally chickening out.

Flashback to about 2.5 years ago a few months before high school graduation: It’s going on midnight, I’m sitting at my desk in front of my laptop, which is covered in Word documents planning out my “I need to get out of Germany and do something crazy NOW”-trip to Ghana. At this point my imagination has transitioned from the phase where you see every damn thing through rose-tinted glasses to the phase where that utopian image is brutally shattered. This is normally also the stage where fear kicks in. Major fucking fear. In the case of Ghana this fear arrived about a week before departure while packing and repacking my brand-new globetrotter backpack (with too much medication and not enough t-shirts). I was scared to death. After almost a year of planning this trip, it had suddenly occurred to me that I would actually be leaving my family, my home, my dog, my nice and comfy safe spaces and my comfort zone for Eight. Months. Turns out, those were the best eight months of my life up to now and I would have killed myself for not getting on that first plane from Munich to Hamburg. But by the time I boarded the second plane to Dubai, I was already exhausted, and ready to bawl my eyes out. Since I was crammed inside a metal bird with too many strangers at that moment, I saved the bawling for the first week I spent in Ghana. I went through the first culture shock in my life, and it wasn’t pretty. But after that first week, things began to be totally awesome. I started adapting to the new circumstances and basically learned how to survive on my own in a strange country with amazingly awesomely weird people (my fellow volunteers, some of whom are still my bestest friends) around me. And after two months of that I went to the US and to Costa Rica and then back to the US and I survived it all and it was the coolest time ever!

Flash-back-forward to today: My illusionary pink bubble (wait – I hate pink. Let’s make it orange or something.) was viciously shattered by a documentary we watched for our Canadian Culture seminar about the punk scene in Vancouver. I suddenly realized that Vancouver was actually a city. And cities are seldom perfect environments for dreamers and  idealists and people with a completely skewed picture of foreign places, as myself. (For some reason, I would usually describe myself as a pretty hardcore realist, but somehow this feature just disappears when it comes to traveling.) Cities are dirty, cities can display radical inequalities, cities can be dangerous – life can be dangerous! I think I’m actually suffering from Paris Syndrome, only like a year in advance of the actual encounter.

So I have to turn in a whole stack of papers on Tuesday. My letter of motivation still needs a more creative introduction, something right between “a semester abroad would greatly benefit my academic advancement bla bla boring” and “Vancouver: The L Word was shot there (which means Kate Moennig touched Vancouver soil!) and Tegan Quin lives there – by the way, they also have this great university I’d like to spend a semester at!”. I haven’t gotten past those extremes yet. Since our department has this amazing invention called the Writing Center, I thought I’d stop by there to get some feedback on my letter and my resume. If only these people would actually show up to their official office hours postet on their official website hosted by the official American Studies department of the official Faculty of Language and Literature Studies of the totally official University of official Munich, I would have one less problem now. Since nobody was there, I wrote an email to make an appointment for this week, which has not been replied to and also I got mixed up with the times so they might actually ask me to come at a time that I actually can’t really make but ACTUALLY I asked for this time, but – I probably won’t be able to make it. You still with me? The bottom line is, I hope they never answer that email, I hope it went straight into the spam folder and will sit and rot there until one day after many years someone will clean out that spam folder and curiously wonder if that pathetic person actually ever made it to Vancouver and survived there for four entire months. If you’re from the Writing Center and reading this (which is highly unlikely): DON’T ANSWER THAT EMAIL! I BEG YOU! I can’t stand when strangers have to make an extra effort for me (such as replying to an email and then having to reschedule because of my temporary mind fog and stupidity), and even less do I want to actually deal with a stranger that has had extra effort because of me. And that, people, is another episode in the life of a person with chronic worrying-syndrome and (social) anxiety.

To make matters just a little worse, I started scrolling through my Facebook feed, because I’m pathetic and don’t have anything else to do with my life, and came across the headline: “The Feminist Celebrity of the Year could be a straight, white man for the first time”. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! I need to sleep. Desperately. I’m so done with this world right now, I need to go create my own.



Being back in Germany sucks.

And I mean big time. Finally got off the plane this afternoon and wish that I had followed through with my escape plan, which involved building a new life in the Land of the Free, no matter what it takes. Damn you, America, for not having affordable college education!! I’m trying not to flip right now, so I’ll just write. About why being back in Germany sucks.

1. I went through three flights, two of them delayed and therefore making me run through two airports like a crazy woman, huffing and puffing up and down escalator stairs, silently cussing out people in my way that don’t know the fear of missing a flight, sweating like.. well, a pig really, getting mad at chilled passport security people for taking all the time in the world to compare my mug shot like passport photo to my currently red-hot stressed-out face and making my way through slow-motion-crowds yelling “Excusez-moi” and “Pardon” and “Sorry” the same way flight attendants go through the aisles going “Coffee, tea, water, coffee, tea, water, ma’am, any coffee, tea, water, sir, coffee, tea, water?” – I went through all that for THIS.

2. Everything seems gray. I just came from Sedona, Arizona. If you’re not familiar with that place (and if you’re not, don’t go there! We have enough tourists!! I could kill those TV people for constantly promoting this amazing town and making the entire Valley show up on holidays!), it has red rocks all around. And now in spring there are yellow poppies, green cactus (saguaros on the way to Phoenix, anybody?), green leaves on the trees, pink and purple blossoms, I can’t even properly describe all the color everywhere! Whoever says the desert is not colorful clearly has never been to the desert. Everything was greening up, so now I come over here and this part of the world is still stuck in winter. The trees are bare, the Autobahn is still as grey as always, from above the fields looked gray, not to mention the clouds hanging around as low as the ground. I haven’t seen a grey cloud in weeks! How depressed can you get by your environment?!

3. Everything is different. In a stupid sort of way. The country seems flat as a pancake (and we’re talking Bavaria here, people) compared to the rocks and hills of Arizona, the traffic signs are blue instead of green, the license plates are white instead of colorful and unique from state to state, the mountains are blue instead of red, I actually have to speak German, I can’t pass cars on the right anymore, mph was switched back to kmh, lbs to kg and gallons to litres, the gas prices suck and the sockets are weird! I just tried to plug my American adapter into one of those German ones. I feel like somebody screwed up my entire world right now!

4. German timezone sucks. The day is already almost over here when it’s just starting in Arizona (and they also don’t have this stupid daylight saving thing by the way…), which is absolutely depressing! They’re having all the fun over there while I’m here sleeping! Strangely enough I don’t feel that way about the German day starting when I’m going to sleep in Arizona… Not to mention that in Arizona the sun actually comes up in the morning. Cold and long winters just mess with my psyche too much, even though I was able to escape it for two months.

5. Ter-min-e. I hate that word. Translates to a-ppoint-ments by the way. Over here I have too many people waving too many appointments in my face. Germans in general seem to be waving Ter-min-e in each others faces all the time! With a dentist, a blood-test-vampire-sucker and various other people I don’t like waiting, who would want to come back here? Of course some a-ppoint-ments would catch up with me eventually in America, too, but I’m sure that the American blood-suckers and dentists are waaay more awesome. Sorry, Germany.

6. Lastly, the radio stations are all wrong. What happened to Country on 105.7 and the charts on hot 97.5 or 102.9 every morning while driving to the shelter? Over here they don’t even know what Country is! Face it, Germany, the US just has way better taste in music.

I solemnly swear to move over there as soon as possible. For good. So that I don’t harass any more people with my state of mind and major culture shock after returning from paradise to gray, boring hell. Maybe it’s just jet lag and I can sleep it off. But it could also be my home telling me to FINALLY QUIT LEAVING IT ALL THE TIME!

End rant, thank you. Curtain close.


Why You Possibly Have The Wrong Passport

Have you ever had the feeling that you’re living in the wrong country? Say your passport or another identification document claims you’re – for example – German, but all your life you’ve really felt like you were mixed up at birth and are actually a rightful citizen of the United States of America? Or, different scenario, you’re actually a half-blood American and yet you’re still bound to live in a different country right now because you can’t afford higher education in the U.S.? Maybe you’re not sure yet which your true nationality is, so here are some signs that may indicate you’re located at the wrong side of The Pond.

1. Other people dig their German flags out of the garage or cellar for international soccer tournaments. You have an American flag hanging over your bed.

2. You wonder why globalization has been able to transfer jobs to China, but not double-stuffed Oreos to Germany.

3. You do somersaults when you finally discover Root Beer at your local grocery store and then roll your eyes when you see they labeled it “Kräuterlimonade”.

4. You do more somersaults when you notice Dr. Pepper at the grocery store.

5. You know that lemonade does not look like Sprite.

6. You celebrate every American national holiday but have a hard time remembering the date of the Day of German Unity.

7. Your day is made whenever you hear an American accent on the street.

8. If you have the choice between a beach vacation on a beautiful island and a trip to the U.S., you always choose the latter.

9. You incorporate words like “awesome”, “dunno”, “like” and “Heeeey!” into your everyday language a lot.

10. The first thing you’ll do when you graduate from college is buy a one-way ticket to the land of the free.

11. You prefer American pizza over Italian pizza.

12. You know what real Mexican food tastes like.

13. Your Spotify App is never on the Deutsch-Rap playlist, but always on U.S. Charts.

14. You can almost sing the American national anthem.

15. You prefer touchdowns over soccer goals.

16. You know that GAP printed on a hoodie does not stand for Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

17. The language on your computer, phone and social media accounts is set to English (USA).

18. You are tired of staying up all night to watch the Oscars and the Superbowl.

19. You’re tired of having to rely on Youtube and various apps to watch Ellen. Or basically any other American TV show. Because German TV just sucks.

20. Living in meat-eating Bavaria, you dream of Los Angeles, where it’s so easy to eat vegan. Even if you’re only vegetarian.

21. You’re starting to catch on to the American political system and are still in the dark about the German one.

22. You like the two-party system because it only requires you to keep up with two organizations of insane people instead of over 20.

23. You know the difference between donkey and elephant.

24. You like your drinks iced.

25. When in Germany, you miss greeting everybody on the street.

26. You can’t get over that starting a German conversation with “Excuse me…” doesn’t work.

27. To you, road trips always involve picnics.

28. A six-hour road trip doesn’t bother you at all, especially since you can actually see some country instead of concrete noise-insulating walls on the way.

29. You know that lbs doesn’t necessarily stand for Landesbausparkasse.

30. You own a full set of cups, tablespoons and teaspoons and prefer American recipes because they’re so easy!

31. You know what fl oz means.

32. You can’t live without a microwave.

33. You refuse to watch American movies in anything other than the original language because the German synchronization is always terrible.

34. You can’t believe IHOP has not made it to Germany.

35. You put ketchup on eggs and occasionally on spaghetti.

36. You type “why Germany sucks” into your trusty google search engine for research purposes and after reading through some of the results you are now physically hurting. And you could write a long article about narrow-minded stereotype-fulfilling uneducated Americans that have no clue about Germany!

New York City in Pictures

Concrete jungle where dreams are made of

There’s nothing you can’t do

Now you’re in New York

These streets will make you feel brand new

Big lights will inspire you

(Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind Pt. II)

IMG_0520© Steffi Berens

IMG_0572© Steffi Berens

IMG_0777 Steffi Berens

IMG_0815© Steffi BerensIMG_0953

© Steffi Berens

IMG_0989© Steffi Berens

IMG_1107© Steffi Berens

IMG_1227© Steffi Berens

IMG_1206© Steffi Berens

IMG_0838© Steffi Berens

Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York

Life Savers in the Concrete Jungle

My recent trip to New York City was once again one of those things I come up with to push the homebody into something a little more adventurous than my student life. Once the plane ticket is booked, I can’t get out of it anymore, which is good because up to now these missions have always turned out to be extremely awesome! So here are some things that saved my life in the Concrete Jungle.

1. Mama’s Pizzeria

After a forever trip across the Great Pond and a 1.5 hour ride through Queens and Manhattan combined with constant thoughts such as “Where the hell am I?” “I need FOOD! NOW!” “I want to sleep until I die.” and “No seriously, where the hell am I??”, Mama’s Pizzeria on Amsterdam Avenue (between 106th and 107th St, if you’re ever in that area) clearly prevented my entire system from croaking. They have humongous pizza slices with various yummy toppings for a great price and also very friendly people preparing them. By the way, shout out the nice black guy that talked Canon cameras with me on my second time around!

2. MetroCard

This tiny yellow paper card is awesome! It get’s you anywhere and everywhere, if you have the Pay-Per-Ride option you can even use it on the AirTrain to and from JFK Airport. Not so awesome are the barriers to get to and from the tracks, they’re about as wide as a needle eye and if you manage to squeeze yourself through one of those (remember it’s freezing outside and you’re wearing a coat that turned you into the size of an American football player) that doesn’t mean your suitcase will squeeze through, too. I won’t even get started on those turning barrier thingies that fit a supermodel but not a football player and definitely not a traveling one and I also won’t mention the doors marked with huge “Emergency Exit Alarm Will Sound” signs that everybody passes through without a single alarm going off.

3. Oriental Food Joints

They say if you only have time for one museum in New York, it should be the Metropolitan Museum of Arts. I agree. You pay what you want for admission ($25 for adults, $12 for students recommended) and get to see a huge collection of paintings, photographs (my favorite), sculptures and furniture from America, Asia, Europe and ancient Rome and Egypt. I have to confess that the best part of the Met was the falafel sandwich I got from one of the oriental joints on the street right in front of it. $7, but the best $7 I’ve spent in my life.

4. Google Maps

My general advice for New York is: Get lost! Seriously, you stumble upon the cutest little streets if you have absolutely no clue where you’re going. That’s how I found Gay Street. Since I was more lost than found most of the time, Google Maps really saved my life by getting me back to the hostel every evening. And if you think that’s just terribly unspontaneous and boring, let me tell you: You’re probably even more likely to get lost with a virtual map and a moving blue dot in your hand than without because you’re absolutely positive you know exactly where you’re going. Which you don’t. I can’t count how many times I walked a mile into the wrong direction before noticing.

5. Dunkin Donuts

Imagine a warm, old-fashioned doughnut with ever so fluffy dough coated in sugar paired with hot coffee after a long walk through the freezing cold of NYC. Definitely a life saver, especially if you can’t smile for selfies that should prove you were there anymore because your lips feel like they have been forever conjoined by temperatures below zero (Celsius!). Plus their coffee must be really good, since Ellen is advertising it on her show. I have no idea about coffee. I just like it hot.

6. Pick A Bagel

This cute bagel shop at Lexington Ave and 77th St made the best sesame bagel topped with two inches of scallion cream cheese ever. I’m drooling just thinking about it. Definitely a life saver and highlight of the day! Shout out to the sweet, disoriented German gentleman I met on that corner by the way – I hope you made it to 133rd St although I don’t think that’s even on the map.

7. Early Morning Times Square

If you don’t want to get run over, squished or crushed by people and also don’t care much for Kiss Cam (nobody kisses anybody anyways, it’s just a bunch of Asian people taking a picture of the Kiss Cam taking their picture), visit Times Square early in the morning. It doesn’t even have to be the still-zombie kind of early in the morning, 9 a.m. is still good. If you’re lucky you can catch the Good Morning America sign at Times Square Studios and if you wait a little until the crowds at Starbucks are finally in their offices you can have coffee and breakfast with real New Yorkers reading the NY Times, tapping away at their laptops or having casual business meetings.

Because that’s what New York is: Sitting in a warm place drinking coffee and watching the craziness pass by outside. And the food. Don’t forget the food.