Attempting a routine, dealing with doctors and “doing it wrong”

It would be a lie to say the last couple of days have not been very difficult for me. I had my appointment with the dermatologist on Thursday, and the mole needs to be removed and biopsied. This rather scary prospect was compounded by further stress over whether or not my insurance would actually cover this (my dermatologist’s office seemed to believe it wouldn’t), wondering where I was going to get the money, what I would do if I did get bad news in the end and whether I could stay in Germany (and so on). It turned out they were wrong, and the insurance will cover it.

There are still a lot which I need to sort out. I am still unable to register with the local citizens’ office as I need my landlord to fill out a particular form, which means I do not have a tax number, which means I can’t get paid and makes me unable to inform my UK bank of my change in address without causing problems. Hopefully that can be sorted out within the next week or two, but the delay is frustrating. I am currently sleeping on an air mattress and will not be able to buy a proper mattress and bed until I receive a paycheck, but that could be in four weeks’ time. These delays are frustrating and stressful and the cancer scare is just compounding it. I have also had some frustrations at work, and only today received a fixed timetable which will enable me to start planning my life and getting into a routine.

As a result of all this I feel I am in a very different head-space right now than most of the other ELAs I’m interacting with. I feel myself wanting a lot of time alone, as well as a lack of desire to socialise much (which honestly is really unlike me). The bureaucratic delays and the prospect of minor surgery mean I am unable to plan to go swimming next week let alone the international trips some of the others are planning. I fear that I am being read as antisocial or unfriendly in some contexts but there is not much I can do about it.

I hope that this week I can make some progress, but patience is the operative world. The world of expat and TEFL blogs often paints a very rosy picture of life abroad; but at the end of the day, moving abroad does not involve a transition from a regular person at home to a glossy idealized lifestyle-blogger type who lives a life of constant excitement, despite the image we sometimes try to present. Shit happens, and it can happen anywhere.




“Settling in”

A few days ago I was overcome with a strange, panicky feeling that something was very wrong. This was probably not helped by googling and googling different health conditions, pouring over pictures on google images and in general working myself up. The panic reminds me, now, of the last time I tried to quit smoking, especially with regard to its irrationality and its intensity. Long story short, I found a mole. After another panic about how I’m supposed to go to the doctor in this country (and so on) I managed to pluck up the courage to go, explain to the receptionist in broken German what was wrong, and get seen. It does not look dangerous, but I have a referral to a dermatologist just in case. And then, finally, comes the relief.

It has taken me longer than I thought it would to feel settled in Trier. This is probably due to a number of factors, including the fact that there is still some paperwork I can’t get done yet, and the fact it took me a while to move into a place to live for the duration of my assistantship. All the upheaval of the last few months has probably not helped, nor has my rather obsessive personality. All in all, however, my lifestyle is much healthier at the minute than it has been for a long time, and I am starting to feel calmer (especially after this morning). I had been dwelling for a long time on the subject of mortality, probably to a pathological and self-destructive extent, though that is starting to quieten down. There is only so much rumination one can manage. It is a strange thing, as if you can see the whole life you’ve already lived, with all its high points and lows (and the lows are bad, bad, bad) and look into the future and seeing yourself as if falling off a cliff. Perhaps it’s something we all have to experience at some point, though at 24 it seems morbid and premature, especially when there is probably nothing actually wrong with you!

But what is important in life? I wrote a post shortly after I started this blog trying to answer that question, thinking that paying attention to these things will help keep me in order. And I can only hope it will. There has been a lot of good here. My mentor teacher at the school is very kind and welcoming, and allowed me to have the day off today to see a doctor and relieve my medical panic. I am becoming better friends with the other ELA in Trier, and met one of the Americans yesterday. On Saturday we met up with another BC assistant and her friend. There is much to be grateful about since I’ve been here. And yet, I have the feeling that I’ve been somehow “preoccupied” or not fully present for much of it. As I start to feel calmer, I hope I can start to try living in the moment a bit more, to start living and experiencing the place in which I am as if awake and fully conscious.

On that note, between sorting out the flat and working I have not had a lot of time (nor the money, really) to see much of what the tourist orientated side of Trier has to offer. Yesterday, though, I went for a hike with another ELA and later went to see the Karl- Marx-Haus.

My resolve, for now, is to try to do a bit more with my time, and to keep the worries under control. It has felt at times, however, that I haven’t had a lot of time to myself since I’ve been here. Perhaps with a bit of rest and a bit of time to think, that feeling, too, will pass.

Sorting my life out…

I finally have somewhere to live!

It has been a strange, and very boring, adventure getting to this point. I had discussed moving into this apartment for a while before coming over, but it took a while for the formalities to be sorted out, so I spent my first five nights in Trier staying in a hostel. This was ok, except for a rather strange Russian man who kept offering me vodka, making unwanted advances, and snored loudly my room. I even bought a packet of cigarettes and smoked them before coming home, as he was apparently repulsed by the smell of tobacco, which seemed to work (though perhaps this was just an excuse to smoke).

Yesterday I went with my new flatmate to meet my landlord, which was a rather chaotic experience, and far from what I expected. Having diligently organized my documents I was told point blanc, “if you want it you can have it”, and my passports photocopied. This was very far removed from my experience of renting in the UK, but it was a huge relief. The contract is for one year, so I will either have to find a subletter or get a summer job in Trier come May.

In general, though, things have been fine. I have been spending a lot of time with one of the other foreign language assistants, who is working at a Realschule (i.e. secondary modern; I work at a gymnasium which is equivalent to a grammar school), which has been a welcome break. We are planning a hike at the weekend and hopefully some of the other language assistants will be coming from Koblenz, so everything looks good on that front.

Having finally got somewhere to live I can now, for example, open a bank account and get paid. Yesterday marked the end of the more stressful part of moving over here, and hopefully it will only get easier from here.

The first week

So…it’s been one week, and I am still in one piece.

I have to be honest, it has been a lot to get used to. On Monday we were taken by bus to the Haus Alternberg, which is in a commune (Odenthal) near to Cologne, for a three day training course. This was very helpful, if a bit intense at time, and gave me the opportunity to meet all the new language assistants, which I’m sure I’ll be grateful for over the coming months. The location itself was beautiful: we stayed in a former monastery which was attached to a large Gothic cathedral.

I came to Trier itself on Thursday, and was thrust straight into the thick of it at the school. I am still getting used to everything, though the teachers are all very friendly and welcoming. Yesterday the staff of the school went on an excursion to Saarburg, where we were given a “middle ages” themed tour of the town. This was a rather challenging test of my German, though I think I managed to get the jist of what was going on. The town is beautiful, with a waterfall right in the centre. After the tour my mentor teacher took me to see the churches and we climbed a tower which gave us a panoramic view of the city.

Unfortunately I was struck by a migraine on the way back (Kopfschmerz – new vocab), and had to leave early, but it was great to meet the other staff in a less formal setting. I am still settling into Germany, and it feels like there is still a lot I need to get sorted. Hopefully, if all goes according to plan, I will move into my apartment on Tuesday, and from there I can sort out my bank account and finalize my contract etc. There is also the possibilty of getting a part time job, which is also something I will have to look into, as my stipend leaves enough money for living costs but not much else.

On the whole, it has been a good week, and I am surprising myself with how much German I am hearing and speaking. Here’s hoping that can continue?

The big day….

So,… it’s happened. I’m in Germany right now. The journey was fairly smooth from Dublin airport to Cologne/Bonn. I am currently staying in a hostel in Cologne, having managed to navigate the rather labyrinthine public transport system.

IMG_20170827_191818Liebe Grüße aus Köln

Tomorrow the Rheinland-Pfalz education authority are organizing a special bus to take us to a 3 day training course, after which I will take my train to Trier in order to take up my post.

I’ve already had my first test of my German skills – I managed, nevertheless, to buy myself dinner in a fastfood restaurant entirely in German, as well as tickets on the subway. Here’s hoping it gets easier?


Getting ready to go – final jitters

I am flying to Cologne on Sunday. Somehow, the move only started to seem real when I finally managed to find a flatshare in Trier willing to let me live with them this week (after many messages, putting up my own ad, skype calls etc). My not being a native German speaker it seems is an attraction to some groups but off-putting to most…

After a panic about personal liability insurance (new vocab – Privathaftpflichtversicherung – it turns out Germans are more litigious than you might think), and then finding I already have it through my employer, all I need to do is show up and sign the rent contract. Fingers crossed? Oh, and buy a bed (hopefully a camping mat will do until the weekend…).

In the past few days I’ve been trying to sort out all my stuff (including setting up a new computer, which for some reason is a huge source of anxiety for me), visit some relatives and old school friends, and buy euro (can’t open a German bank account until I have the registration form from the city council). Hopefully I can pay my deposit and first month with a fat wad of cash? Well, not too fat. Trier is not Oxford.

It’s hard to distinguish the nerves from excitement. In general though I’ve been surprisingly calm and focused. Accommodation, paperwork and finances are always going to be a bit stressful – there’s not much that can be done about it – it’s just the feelings of uncertainty and “what if” that frighten me. Adjusting to new bureaucratic burdens, a new tax and insurance régime is a little bit intimidating. The responsibility was something it took a while to adjust to as a young adult in the UK…and now I am doing it again, with a whole new system in an entirely different language.

I keep telling myself it will be all be fine once I am over there and settled in. And, of course, it likely will be. I am not moving anywhere particularly dangerous or anywhere with stringent visa requirements for me as an EU citizen (that Irish passport is likely to come in handy in the near future). In future I may only look for TEFL jobs which will sort out an apartment on your behalf in advance (which is common enough). Live and learn, eh?


6 days on the West Coast of Ireland

I have just come back from a six day trip around the west of Ireland with my mother, leaving last Monday morning and coming back yesterday. We went to Galway, Connemara, Inis Mór and Kinvara (with a view to visiting the Burren).

It was one of those trips where things did not go quite as expected.

One of the things that Irish emigrés often talk about upon their return is the sense of a “reverse culture shock”, and the difficulty of resolving their memories of what Ireland is like vis-a-vis what is actually confronting them on their return.

On this trip I was confronted by an image of Ireland as saccharine, parochial, charming. The place was set out for international tourists, particularly on Inis Mór, the largest island of the Aran Islands. We took a pony and trap tour of the Island which was informative and illuminating. Alongside us were an Italian family who snapped pictures over and over of the wattle and daub, thatched houses. It was a little bit funny, because my aunt owns a very similar house in Donegal in which I spent a lot of time during my childhood, and I imagined crowds of Germans and Americans standing outside snapping pictures while we shot air rifles in the back garden or walked to the beach.

Nevertheless, particularly on Aran, I had a sense of resentment from the local people. The service we received in local pubs and restaurants betrayed a lack of training and suggested that hospitality was a profession forced on many on the island rather than chosen; we were informed during our tour that 80% of the island’s income came from tourism. For an island which previously relied on agriculture and fishing, it was suggestive of a way of life in the process of destruction and decline. The disconnect between life as lived and life as presented to outsiders was perhaps particularly startling to me as a domestic tourist.


Another point of interest was visiting St. Nicholas’ Church in Galway, which is Church of Ireland. By chance I came across some regimental banners from the Connaught Rangers, which my great-grandfather had fought in during WWI, having enlisted as a supporter of John Redmond (he had been in the Irish Volunteers and was later in the Irish Free State army). I asked if there was information about the banners, but they had none. (Interesting in itself – in my experience living in England, most Church of England churches would have some information about their regimental banners and memorials).


Moreover, as someone used to travelling alone I found being with my mother all the time at times very restrictive, especially as without a driving licence I could not really go off by myself with the car (and public transport is non-existent). The upshot of this is the realization that I really do prefer travelling solo, at least if I’m going for more than 3-4 days (I was worried I was buying into the hype a bit too much), I ought to finally get a driving licence, and self catering is the way to go (there is only so much restaurant food I can take, but this seems to differentiate me strongly from nearly everyone I’ve travelled with). I ended up buying a pack of amber leaf (the 3-in-1 packs banned in the UK are still sold in the RoI), as being around my mother’s chain smoking all day every day was too much for me – though I can hardly hold her at fault for that. I suppose one of the more interesting things about travel, aside from the cultural impressions made on you by the places you visit, is what you learn about yourself and how you relate to others (particularly travel companions).