I am writing now from my room in the Goethe Institut in Göttingen, a small town in central Germany (Niedersachsen/ Lower Saxony, to be exact). How did I get here? By train! My last post ended with Rob and I sitting in the Bologna train station waiting for our hour-delayed trains to arrive to go our separate ways. Eventually, our trains did arrive, and after a brief goodbye I struck off on my own. I found my seat on the train without difficulty (and even managed to avoid upsetting too many people in the small corridor with my large quantity of luggage on the way). Almost immediately after I sat down, the German man seated across from me began voicing his complaints (auf Englisch).
"I cannot believe these Italian trains. Why must we have such a long delay? When we left Rome we were only five minutes late, which in most parts of the world is considered on time."
And so on. I got the sense that five minutes late was not considered on time in his personal part of the world. However, after this small rant he became quite friendly, and moved into a nearby empty seat to allow me some more leg-room for the upcoming seven and a half hour overnight journey. I actually managed to sleep surprisingly well, considering I was crammed into the corner of a six-seat train compartment. It turned out to be fortunate that I had the window seat, however, because the sunrise over the mountains in southern Germany was breathtakingly beautiful. The entire train journey was worth it for that sleepy moment. Furthermore, we actually made it to München (Munich) three minutes early, much to the delight of my German compartment-mate. I was also pleased, because it meant I was able to walk straight onto the next train to Göttingen.
After a bit of confusion in which I tried (unsuccessfully) to find what looked like second class before realizing rather sheepishly that I was, in fact, already in second class (my confusion stemmed from the fact that this German second class car was much nicer than many Italian first class cars), I settled into another window seat, curious what I would find at the end of this five-hour train ride.
Turns out I didn't have to wait that long.
A few minutes after I had boarded the train, a guy about my age with a giant backpack (even bigger than mine, which is saying something) got on with his dog and settled into the seats across the aisle from where I was sitting. An hour or so into the train ride he asked me where I was going (presumably because my broken, accented response to a train employee earlier had indicated I was far from German, and there is very little to attract foreigners to central Germany. The most map-worthy city is Kassel. Have you heard of it? Neither had I). This began a conversation that alternated between German and English and lasted for the rest of the trip (read: we made slow small-talk in German until it became painfully obvious that 1. I am not very interesting in German yet and 2. his English was almost as good as mine). His name was Immo and he was on his way back from a two-month trip during which he had walked from Greece to Serbia with his dog, Lana. Before he got off in Kassel, where he had been studying at the university, he gave me his phone number and told me to come visit sometime.
This was a nice confidence booster that held me together for the last twenty minutes of the train ride and through the taxi ride to the Goethe Institut, which is slightly outside of town. Unfortunately, emotion and exhaustion collided during my oral placement test, which took place mere minutes after my arrival at the Institut (even before I was given my room keys). Since for the majority of the placement test I was focusing more on trying not to speak Italian or burst into tears, I had little hope of being placed into a more advanced section. Imagine my surprise then, when the results were posted and I was listed in the B22 section (out of a possible A1, A2, B11, B12, B21, B22, B23, C1, and C2). Not bad, considering the placement test scenario and the fact that I hadn't spoken German (other than that night in Belgium) for approximately six months.
That night was spent battling culture shock and getting to know the other Wash U students in Göttingen. There are twelve of us here, but I hadn't known anyone well before arriving. Moving from Italy to Germany was quite a shock on many levels, from the language to the food to the pace of life to the size of the town. I initially felt quite isolated, having no one to commiserate with about my culture shock, being surrounded by a group who already knew each other reasonably well, and having no internet to communicate with old friends and family (not having a debit card a.k.a. access to money didn't help either). My culture-shock induced depressive mood was further compounded by the cold and heavy rain that was a constant throughout my first days at the Institut, and the fact that I didn't speak with my roommate for the entire first week. I still don't think we're ever destined to be great friends (read: friends at all), but at least I know her name now.
Here are some photos of Göttingen to provide a mental picture of where I am now living:
|Das Goethe Institut: my room is the triple window.|
|Chandelier in the Great Hall.|
|Die Gänseliesel (goose girl).|
|Göttingen is far from Berlin.|
|Der blaue Turm (the blue tower).|
|The view from my window. Not bad, eh?|
The more time I spend in Göttingen, the more I am beginning to feel at home here and at the Goethe Institut.