The erste Woche (first week) of classes have begun. It is going to be a fairly easy week, even though our day will start early. According to the cultural Module Maddi and I had chosen before arriving at the University of Kassel, we would have German language class beginning at 8:30 a.m. every day. Our day began much the way they would throughout the rest of our stay. Beate would awaken us, and breakfast, coffee, and tea would be spread on the table. Heinrich would read his newspaper and ask us what was going on for the day. It was a nice routine. This would be a good week to explore and work on the first entry for the UMass Boston Study Abroad blog page.
I will tell you a little about Maddi. I keep mentioning her name, but not saying too much about her. She is a philosophy major, fairly fluent in German. She was placed in the highest level of German class taught at the International Summer University (ISU). She is very dedicated and smart. Once she was finished in Germany, she would be traveling to California for a short, intense term in philosophy before continuing fall classes in her home state of Wisconsin. She was very passionate about her major and had a strong love for her German instructor at her college. I was lucky to be paired with her in a homestay, because she proved to be a priceless interpreter when there was no understanding. She would be my German sister.
Heinrich dropped us off at the Obervellmar tram station. It would take us right to the university where we would make our way to the building where our classes were held. Coffee hour with slight refreshments would be held after German class, where we could all socialize and get to know all the other students as well as the coordinators. The first week, many of us were done for the day, so we would explore together. I was still pretty sick so we went in search of an *Apotheke* (apothecary) so I could get some more medicine.
One of the other students who was from Michigan needed to figure out the situation with her SIM card for her phone. The phone issue was a little bit of a roadblock for me. I didn’t quite understand the language enough to communicate and understand what the salesman at the airport was telling me when I bought my SIM card. It only cost twenty Euros for a month SIM card, but I was unable to text or make phone calls. Fortunately, and for reasons I could not fathom, I had no issues with the data. I was able to communicate through WhatsApp with my family and the other students. We made a couple of different group chats so we could keep up with each other and know when something was going on within the society of the international students studying together that summer.
Alicia, the student from Michigan, and I made our way into Königsplatz to achieve our goals. I was also on a search for a book bag. I didn’t think I would need one while there, but I soon found that it is a good idea to carry one around. Shopping bags, plastic or otherwise, are not readily given in stores in Germany. It is not environmentally sound. If you would like one, you have to buy it, or, better yet, just put everything in your book bag once you have paid. I found this a little disconcerting at first, but soon grew used to it. It is a habit I have tried to continue since returning.
We also found that recycling is treated a little differently in the part of Germany we were in. I cannot speak for the rest of Germany, but in Kassel recycle bins for plastic bottles were not always easy to find. The coordinators told us it is best to leave recyclables on a bench and people who like to collect them will take them and take them to an automated return station, usually located in a grocery, store for money. It felt a little odd to do so, but we saw how quickly they would be snatched up, so not only were we making sure they were recycled, but we were, in a way, helping someone else make a little money. In other words, Germany makes it both easy and difficult to recycle. It is just a matter of figuring out how the society deals with it.
Alicia and I finished our errands, then met the rest of the group back at the *Mensa* (cafeteria) for lunch. Let me tell you, the food in the cafeteria at the University of Kassel puts the food here to shame—not that that is a very difficult thing to do. It is clean, as well as environmentally friendly. They use real plates, silverware, and cups so that so much waste is not going back into the environment. I have never understood why we don’t do that here at UMass Boston, but that is an entirely other discussion. I tended to eat mostly vegetarian while I was there, because I am not much of a pork person, nor am I very adventurous if I don’t know the names of foods in another language. I found myself loving the tomato, cucumber salad with vinaigrette and the Äpfelshorle the most. Äpfelshorle is a seltzer and apple juice mix like soda. It soon became a favorite of mine especially since regular distilled water is something that is not popular in that part of Germany. Seltzer water, or “bubbly water” as I liked to call it, was the norm.
The first week was a lot of fun, a lot of getting to know the area and each other. It was also the week Maddi and my group won the scavenger hunt, the prize being a ten Euro–certificate to the local Irish Pub, which would become a popular hangout for us. The first week was so full of activities and socializing it helped with the homesickness aspect of missing my daughter, mom, stepfather, dogs, and bird. I couldn’t help but thank my lucky stars as I settled in for the night after a nice dinner and a little family time with Heinrich and Beate to talk to my mom for a little bit. Every sacrifice, every obstacle that had to be hurdled was such a low price for such an experience and this was only the first week!