Don’t be scared, that guy is just a beautiful wood carving at the Weihnachtsmarkt.
Germany has let in almost a million refugees so far. I’m constantly seeing signs saying Refugees Welcome, though sometimes graffitied over to say Not welcome. Donations for refugees are being collected and requested on the Expat websites I follow. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was named the TIME Person of the Year. There’s a lot of pressure on Germany to figure out what to do with the people they’ve taken in and the refugee crisis right now. So far this hasn’t really played much of a role in my day to day life here, but it’s an interesting time to be in Germany and is on my mind. I understand I’m in a completely different situation than these neighbors of mine, but as I write my happy little blog, as I take pictures, enjoy a mug of gluhwein in the Weihnachtsmarkt with Sean, I recognize throughout this experience and travel, that I’m coming at this from a very privileged place.
I’ve been fretting about my visa situation for months. Ever since I set out to come to Germany with Sean it’s been a source of concern for me. I’ve told so many people what the visa requirements were, what I needed to figure out, what I was doing to figure it out. I know I drove people crazy with it (thanks for listening though!) Soooo, I can get a job, or be a student, or heck start a business in the next 90 days and say I’m self employed…yeah. I tried to find an office job, but most jobs I found and for which I was qualified require the German language. I like to think if I’d spent more time on it, and had more time on my visa, I could have networked and found something but who knows what the reality would be. People told me I could work in an Irish pub or in a cafe. I was nervous about not knowing the language very well.
As my time to be here on the Schengen agreement entry visa as an American Citizen drew closer to the end of of my 90 days, which would have been on January 4th, I was really filled with some anxiety around it. That entry visa allows American citizens to stay for 90 days within any 180 day period – pretty much no questions asked. How nice for me!
Getting the appointment with the Immigration office to get my visa, the Ausländeramt, was also a matter of uncertainty – how long would it take to get an appointment? Would I be affected because of how many people have been entering the country? If I couldn’t get it until after January 4th would I have to leave? Where would I go? 7 day trip to the U.K., or Asia, or home? What if they rejected me? But for me, the answer wouldn’t be devastating – just head back to the U.S. No HUGE problem other than an expensive plane ride, leaving Sean for a bit, and figuring out what’s next. Again not a real problem. I didn’t want to have to do that though. Originally I was able to get a January 7th appointment, but with the help of some kind people at the Max Planck Institut, I was able to get an earlier appointment, in the first week of December. I enrolled in language courses for a few months at a certified Language Institute (the Steinke Institut) and got the certificate stating I’ll be a student there in 2016, I had passport photos taken, printed out bank and insurance information, and was ready for the appointment. Still though, what if they rejected me?
We got to the Ausländeramt the morning of my appointment, and there were many people standing around figuring out their own situations. Some people looked like me, others didn’t. There were families with tiny babies and older children. A father and a son kept going into the office I was supposed to be in, seemingly just wanting to talk to someone. We kept hearing the woman inside say, in German, that they needed to make an appointment. I, of course, can’t tell who might be a refugee and who might not, but I’m assuming that most of the people there that day needed their visas to stay in Germany more than I did. I was nervous about my appointment, but I imagine my worry around it was way less than others in the building.
To cut to the chase, in my meeting with this immigration officer, I was granted a Resident’s Permit in Bonn for the next year. WOO! What a huge relief it was for me and Sean too! I know I am excited to be here, grateful that I am able to be here with Sean: I have health insurance, we have enough to travel and not worry about eating, paying rent. I don’t know who these other people were at the immigration office and where they came from, but I was thankful to have received this news and as I left I took note of these other people here, sending a silent wish to the world to help their fates be as good as mine that day. This whole little story might sound silly or dramatic, because clearly I’m not going to pass up the visa because I feel bad for the people who are fleeing their own countries for a better place for real reasons and danger. However, being in this environment and this world right now, makes me think, and realize even more directly what comes with the privilege of being an American citizen who can prove I have a reason to be here and afford to be here. Seeing the Humans of New York refugee stories of families trying to get to the U.S., makes me appreciate my U.S. citizenship even more also.
I often feel frivolous when writing about the cool things we’ve seen, where we’ve gone, what we ate, but I know I’m a lucky woman to be healthy, alive, safe and have chosen this European adventure with Sean, not being forced to search for an alternative. But the purpose of this blog isn’t to educate people on the state of the world, it’s to keep you informed on my adventures and hopefully inspire a little adventure in us all.
All of this is to also say that I am a cheesy, big old sentimental, grateful, slightly crazy, passionate, person, and don’t want to waste this amazing time in my life. Not that I am, but now that I know I’ll be here for a substantial period of time, A) Everyone can come visit (that means you friends and MOM and JAMES!!) B) I am really diving in and after the new year want to get more involved in this community and keep growing personally and professionally. At CIS, as with many places of employment, each year we were responsible for writing down our goals for the next year. SMART GOALS! Well and really through much of my life, I’ve been told to SET GOALS, measure them, track them, recreate them as needed, and start all over again. So here I am, doing some more goal setting (these could be more SMART but I’m starting here)
- My hope is to have a little portfolio of paintings to bring homewith me and maybe hang a few up. I’ve started a bit here and there but am working on it. I’ll have completed 30 paintings by the end of my time in Germany.
- Continue to blog and improve my writing with at least 3 blog posts a month
- Take better pictures and really know my camera, hone my skills
- I am working on finding a volunteer opportunity in the community
- Learn German up to at least the B1 level and actually speak to Germans more
- I’m resuming my German language courses on January 4th as well as taking a once a week course at the Max Planck Institut with Sean
- Get comfortable riding a bike around town. First step: find a bike. I’m working on that. There are amazing paths up and down the Rhine for biking and Sean and I want to hop on those when the weather’s nice.
- Establish a workout routine for life and get strong and lean again: At least 3 long walk/jog/runs a week with toning workouts on the off days (for the past week I’ve been good!)
- Sign up for and run a 5k or more around here somewhere
- Find a pilates class to attend occasionally (Pilates was founded in Germany afterall!)
- Learn: new skills professional and personally:
- Learn How to Code and do HTML
- Take a cooking class
- Take an art class
- Travel: Travel, Travel, Travel
- See each state of Germany
- Go on a Rhine River Cruise
- Take in Spring here
- See more of Europe of course
- Get to Italy (my favorite! swoon!)
- 20 new books – I do love to read, but I’m not very disciplined about it. What time is better than to do this than now? (Taking book suggestions for your favorite books!)
- Read more about European politics and goings on in the news (I am in Europe afterall)
Does anyone else have any goals for their life right now? Big and small. Silly and serious. I know life’s not all about setting and meeting goals, but they help me and are fun to look back at, so whatever works for you. And in case you’re wondering, all of the pics throughout this post are little snapshots of what I’ve been doing in attempts to get meet said goals: paintings, pictures, cooking, having fun, decorating the apartment, hanging out with Sean, trying to have fun. Oh geez, I warned you earlier, I AM SUPER CHEESY.