The last few weeks have been busy and hard and beautiful all at once. I did a German exam, said goodbye to all of the children and staff at school, cooked with youth group. I cried silently at the train station as Inma left to go back to Spain, and swam in the lake. I visited my God-family one last time, and had tea with Sibylle. I cooked delicious food with Judith and Chokri and barbecued with the refugees from the language course. I spent a week with 25 young girls on a summer camp filled with walks and stories and fireflies and glitter and cake and singing. I came back to an evening of street theatre and dance with Lisa and her family. I was prayed for at church, and cooked dinner for 2 pilgrims who had walked 410km from Weimar. I cleaned the apartment with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. And tomorrow is the day I fly home.

I have been saying goodbye for a few weeks now. There is a word for how that feels in German – Abschiedsschmerz, the pain of parting. I have had to disentangle myself from people I love, and watch them keep walking together as I slip away.

I asked Mareike if there is a German word for the opposite of homesickness – when you will miss the place you are in, rather than your home. She said there is no word for that. Because when you feel like that, then it too has become your home. So why am I surprised that I am not ready to leave?

One of the girls in my class on the camp said ‘I like that I can always cuddle you in school. Oh… I mean, that I could always cuddle you.’ I am not ready to be past tense. I am not ready to file away this part of my life, and readjust to a new present. I am not ready for my plane ticket to be one-way, no return. I am not ready, yet. And still, tomorrow is the day I fly home.

Right now, I am stuck in limbo between two countries and two seasons of my life, almost finished and almost starting again. I am anticipating that the next few weeks will be just as much of a culture shock as the first few weeks in Germany were. Adapting to a different rhythm of life is tiring, and I need to relearn how to live in England – it is unsettling when what was once familiar suddenly seems strange. I do not like transitions.

But I did like it here. I liked the spontaneous barbecues, the sunshine-filled days, the friendly handshakes, the fresh bread rolls, the dramatic thunder storms, the fruit-filled quark cakes, the sweet cherries that grow by the side of country lanes, the shimmering lake, the quiet streets, the Sunday ‘Ruhetag’, the people who I got to know.

I have come full-circle, nearly. I arrived in the summer, 11 and a half months ago, and the warm breeze and summer holiday calm remind me that I have lived here through 4 entire seasons. Through breathtaking autumn leaves and deep snowdrifts and rainstorms and sunshine. I feel as if I blinked and missed it. So I will keep whispering to myself that it was real.

Jetzt ist es soweit.

Auf Wiedersehen, Görlitz.


From Monday to Wednesday, I got to go on Klassenfahrt with the Year 3 class (8-9 year olds). We went to Melaune, a nearby village, and had the best time.

On Monday we walked and snacked and swam.

On Tuesday, we did craft and games and trampolining and football and circus skills and barbecuing and singing round a campfire. The songs were new, but somehow familiar, and I rediscovered how happy I am looking at burning embers as the sun sets with lovely people and lilting melodies floating through the air.

On Wednesday, we cleaned and came home.

Judith’s class is an absolute dream. The kids are independent, obedient, co-operative, creative, peaceful, adventurous, quiet (more or less), and friendly. How often does it happen that you can take 19 kids to an outdoor swimming pool and not hear a sound? We could sit in a pool to watch them as they queued patiently for the slide, followed all the rules, passed each other food for Vesper, got changed without so much as a squeak. They were happy with every activity, they worked well together, and (aside from one 4.50 wake up call), they slept well. Every child was included, all the time. When we checked on them in the evening we were ushered out of every room (where they were all in their own beds, pyjamas on, teeth cleaned) because a child was reading them a story out loud, or we were disrupting their prayer time. All of the helpers went back feeling super relaxed and happy – I don’t think I will ever go on a class trip like that ever again! Judith – danke, dass du mich eingeladen hast ❤

(photo credits: Marek Giorgi, who documented the trip in the most beautiful way possible)

Last Thursday, I also went on the end of year day-trip with my Year 1 class. It was… well, different from Klassenfahrt. The kids are different, and let’s just say that some of the attributes listed above are not applicable. But it was no less wonderful. We spent the first few hours at school weeding in the garden, cleaning out the animal cages and watching the first Sams film, before getting the bus to a stables in Friedersdorf. There we were met by parents of one boy in my class, and we set off on a walk, accompanied by a pony called Jurek. After 5 minutes, when 2 of the children had already started with cries of “my backpack is too heavy – can you carry it?”,”my legs aren’t strong enough” and “we need to stop for a break right now” (the latter accompanied by literal digging in of heels and grabbing on to the long grass), I was feeling a little apprehensive. However, a picnic lunch and some team games did the trick, as did strategically timed rides on the pony, and we all arrived back in one piece. Then their parents arrived for a bring and share picnic, which was delicious.

I stood on a grassy bank at the edge of the group, watching as all of the kids played with each other and their siblings, and seeing the parents sitting on picnic blankets playing the guitar, eating watermelon and chatting about life. I was sad that soon, I won’t belong to them any more, but also overflowing with happiness that I was allowed to for this season of my life. What a privilege to have been part of the kids lives this year.  I was just passing through, really – but that community of people, teachers, children and parents – they are in it for the long haul. And if they can keep even a fraction of the magic and friendship of that evening going, then that community is going to be something really special.



1 month to go

In exactly one month, on the 11th July, I will be flying back to England. I have one short month to cram in a lot of people and places and jobs that need doing.

All year, I have been learning to say goodbye. I have adapted to the fact that in a school, your firsts are often your lasts, too. That many things, we only get to do once. But now is the time when the familiar, every-day, routine things are coming to a close. Term finishes on the 23rd June, and before then, I have a 3-day class residential trip, a day trip to a Polish exhibition and a language exam, all on normal school days. That leaves 5 days of lessons with my class. As many as I have fingers. Particularly in the cold months of autumn and winter, that seemed like an age away. On Saturday, Inma and I will say our official goodbyes at the Sommerfest, and all of a sudden, we won’t belong here anymore. It will be time to move on again, to make space for new volunteers, to let our classes go. It is a happy-sad season of our time here.

So now, I am trying to say yes to everything, even when there is no time to do it. I am choosing to stay calm about the exam I haven’t prepared for, the packing that needs to be done, the dissertation, the preparation for the week-long holiday club, the class trip with the Year 3s, the EVS report I have to write, the presentation I am doing on Thursday for some future volunteers. I am choosing to smile and laugh and eat too much cake and neglect the washing up and spend too long in the sun. I am choosing to sleep less and talk more and enjoy the stillness and welcome the busyness and hug my favourite people tightly. Because in a month, this will all be over – everything will be finished, all the stress will have been forgotten, the slate will have been wiped clean  – and I won’t get to do it again. I am trying to hold on to the moments loosely, and savour them as they slip by, bitter-sweet and delicious.



Busy days, full heart

This has been a fun week.

At the weekend, Poppy came to visit, and escaped Bamberg for the weekend. On Saturday, we drove to Bad Muskau with Mareike (my DoS has been encouraging me for months to go to the big park there) and we had the most perfect day. It was very hot, and we picnicked by a lake with a view of the Schloss. After lunch we walked across the border into Poland and wandered there, before stopping by the river to paddle and skim stones (I managed it for the first time ever!). We finished our time there in a Biergarten, having watched the steam train leave, drinking cold juice. I am lucky to have 2 such wonderful friends.

Sunday included church, lunch with a friend from youth group, and then watching Trolls. What a happy film. Poppy helped me make 20 cards, one for each child in my class, with something they love on the front. I will fill them with photos, and messages and friendship bracelets and hand them out to the tiny little hooligans that I spend my time with.


On Monday, we went to the Tierpark and I got to show Poppy all of the animals. Her favourite was the donkey ❤

And then we baked cakes, and walked to the little lake along the river. It was beautifully still. I will miss this place.

In other news, there is now a zoo in my classroom. It is bring-your-pet-to-school-for-3-weeks in my class, and the children are looking after all the animals. I have mixed feelings about the smell, and the chaos, and the capability of the children to remember to feed them – but other than a few small mishaps, it has been a good experience. It is funny how quickly you get used to the chirping and snuffling and munching of all the little creatures. I may actually miss them a tiny bit when they leave!


‘Are you fluent yet?’

An often unseen layer of a Year Abroad is, strangely enough, language learning. So here is a snapshot of some of my experiences speaking German this year. 

When I applied to study languages, my friends joked that they now wouldn’t be able to get a word in edgeways in 3 different languages… (Rude. But a little bit true.) Part of the appeal of learning a foreign language for me is definitely speaking to new people – not just with short phrases and pleasantries, but real conversations about real thoughts and feelings. I like people, and I like talking to them – so it isn’t a surprise that speaking German makes me happy, and so do the people I speak German with.

At the start of this year, the sheer volume of vocab and grammar and idiom that I learnt every day meant I needed a lot of processing time. I had to concentrate to listen, otherwise I would simply hear and ignore. Phrases that we hadn’t been taught were new and puzzling to me, too short to give me a context, but demanding a response. I couldn’t switch off, because the thoughts that run lazily through your mind when you’re about to fall asleep demanded to be translated, and then multiplied and intensified in response. My tongue felt heavy under the weight of things I wanted to say and couldn’t untangle quickly enough. In conversations, I had to listen because I was too slow to contribute. There were days where I would go home and cry in frustration that I just couldn’t explain what was in my head. Sometimes, being able to explain 70 or 80 or 90 or even 99% of your thoughts isn’t enough, because there’s still something that remains trapped and unarticulated in your mind. I started writing to free those trapped words, to help me process verbally when I lacked the people to do it with. And I remember for the first time appreciating how beautiful it is to effortlessly weave words together. I learnt to love my mother tongue for everything it could offer me and all the time I had spent, unthinkingly, getting to know it.

And now? Now, I have lost my reflex to translate everything. German is comfortable for me, and somewhere I feel safe. Not quite home, but maybe the home of someone you love. A place where you can stride in and put the kettle on, throw of your shoes, and relax on the sofa without needing an invitation – and yet a place with unfamiliar corners: the code to the safe, the place where the pegs for the washing line are kept, where you don’t know the ins and outs of the insurance policy – a place where if you answered the phone, it wouldn’t be for you. And most of the time, those corners are unimportant. You can run around for ages without reaching them, and maybe, if you didn’t stay long, you wouldn’t notice they are there. But every now and then, you aren’t concentrating on where you’re going and – BUMP. Back in the corner. A discordance, a setting-apart from the people whose home that is, a reminder that your familiarity doesn’t run as deep as theirs.

Sometimes I want to retreat, withdraw, curl up in a ball, because feeling vulnerable is hard. And when I am here, even on the best of days, my surface level of confidence is easily fractured by the fragility of my adopted language. Learning to speak when you know with certainty you will make mistakes, and not be able to express what you really want to, is quite wearing. The torrent of new information doesn’t last the whole year, but the vulnerability does. It is more tiring than I thought it would be.

A friend here, also not from Germany, told me at youth group one week that there are some days, irrespective of how high your language level is, where you just can’t break through. Where the words feel like a riddle, and the sentences are secretive, and you just can’t understand. This has been a comfort to me – knowing that amongst the days where I switch effortlessly between English and German will come days where I forget the easiest things, and feel like a stranger in a room full of friends because we are set apart by a language that we have in common – this is a calming truth. It protects me from frustration and self-doubt and isolation, and reminds me that it is ok to be a bit lost, even 9 months in to my Year Abroad.

I have less than 2 months to go – and so I should have an answer by now, to the question ‘are you fluent yet?’, which I have been asked so many times. I would really like tell you – but I just don’t know. Instead, here are 3 things I do know:

  1. I know that the answer to this question depends on the perceptions of the person asking and answering it. Maybe it means ‘are you coping ok?’, or ‘do you feel like you’ve reached the goal you set yourself?’ or ‘have you had a dream in another language yet?’ or simply ‘can you hold a conversation and communicate what you need to be able to?’. Maybe it is a filler question, because language is a safer topic than asking about work or friends. Or maybe it means something entirely different. I find it hard to give an honest answer because I might be answering a different question to the one you asked.
  2. I know that aiming for fluency is one of the biggest pressures that Year Abroad students face, and yet one that is often taken for granted. We are told it should be our baseline (after all, what is a linguist who can’t speak the language…) – on the days when apathy and homesickness and exhaustion make us feel worthless, the biggest blow of all is that we are not even managing to work on our language skills. If 100% of our time should be in our target language, then every hour not speaking our target language chips away inescapably at our chances of becoming fluent. Not only do the goalposts keep moving, but there is no way of catching up when you inevitably fall behind. I know that this attitude is hurtful for lots of YA students, and that we often don’t talk about it.
  3. And I know, most importantly, that I can aim to become more fluent every day – but German will never be my mother tongue. And that is weirdly reassuring. Every day speaking a different language erodes the gap between your abilities and those of a native speaker – but no matter how hard you try, you don’t ever get to swap categories. Fluency is continuous, but native languages are discrete. And German is not mine, no matter how much I love it or how good I get.

I’m really happy in my second language home – I like it here, and I want to treasure this time where I am surrounded by a language that I love. And I am going to try and remember that these highs and lows are right and important, richtig und wichtig (if you say it in German, it rhymes… how satisfying). If fluency means arriving, then I’m not there yet… but I’m quite enjoying the scenic route. 

Filling the gaps

I’ve not written anything for just over a month, so here are some things that have happened in that time.

The weather warmed up for just long enough for an early-April ice cream. It then got very very cold until yesterday, but a few sunny days definitely cheered us up.



I got a First Aid Qualification after a day of training at school, and picked up some new vocab along the way (stabile Seitenlage, anyone?). Here is mine and Inma’s cheer-up-the-injured-children plaster application attempt…

I got ill, and navigated the German doctor’s surgery by myself (with some moral support from Inma, some stern instructions from Mareike and Sibylle, and a kind and helpful doctor). I am happy that that 3 week long hayfever-cold-earache-tonsillitis cycle is now well and truly over, because that was a Not Fun Time. Antibiotics are wonderful things, and I now understand why the advice is to sign off work before you get to the point where your immune system is well and truly flattened. Better late than never, I suppose.

My parents and brother came to visit, and we explored Dresden and Görlitz and Rosenbach. This was in the middle of the antibiotics haze, so I wasn’t great company for my long-suffering relatives, but I was proud to show them around my home, and introduce them to some special people. G got to practice his German a little (somewhat reluctantly at times), we went to an amazing museum, they met my animal friends in the Tierpark, it snowed, we baked scones with my God-family and ate some delicious food. We got to stay in a stunning bit of the Altstadt in Dresden, which was an absolute dream. Here are some photos (mostly taken in the dark, after I had been at home all day trying to recover while everyone else went to explore):

I went to the zoo in Dresden with Lisa and her family, which was the best thing for my heart. Spending time with Lisa and Stefan and Ruth and Hanna outside of school is always special anyway, but the kids know me better now, and a combination of toddler cuddles and animals just made for the best day. I forget how much I enjoy voluntarily spending time with little children, and how children do come in a littler size than 6. Ruth sat on my lap for so long when I was reading her stories and listened so intently that I felt like I could have read for hours more. There is just something very special about the trust and friendship and enthusiasm of children. [Especially those that you are not contractually obliged to spend time with.] And Lisa’s gentle encouragement, friendship and guidance has been such a blessing this year.

I finally finished my language work for uni. 1000 words in German of stylistic and thematic analysis of an article on language courses is NOT THE DREAM. But, it is finished. And submitted. Just a teensy bit late – but after all, they can’t get to me here… mwahahah. And now I won’t have any more of that until I actually start the module in October. Let’s pretend that’s not a thing though, because it took me an awful lot of hours and an awful lot of online dictionary usage to compile an even semi-comprehensible essay, and I don’t want to think about doing that in an exam. Just the YAP to go, now.

I had a long and much-needed chat with Jess, who was (at the time) just about to finish her YA – empathy for YA struggles is the best thing, sometimes. And this girl shares my dream of primary teaching, and understands the struggle of the 10-days-work-experience-in-a-UK-school requirement, AND was willing to debate with me about the pros and cons of different PGCE courses. Shout out to Poppy, the third member of our MML trio, who has been at the other end of the phone at perfect times for love and encouragement in the last few weeks, and who is coming to visit SUPER SOON!!!

Inma and I took advantage of the bank holiday Monday to cycle to the lake. It was a lot colder than expected so we had to walk around a lot to keep warm, but was very beautiful.

We had Tag der offenen Tür at school, which was a crazy day of sweeping and moving chairs, face painting, recorder playing, acrobatics-performing, cake-eating and cheering on the children doing the bike rally, finishing with a barbecue. The bike rally was genuinely a highlight of my year… the kids are sponsored to cycle around the block for 1 hour, with part of the course including a massive hill. Seriously, it’s huge. And they cycled up it every 4 minutes. All of the teachers, friends and family take it in turns pushing them up the hill and cheering them on. 3 of my class took part, and 2 of them are really small so it was hard for their little legs – and they were just amazing. AND they took part in the acrobatics performance less than an hour later. So proud.

I interpreted a presentation on Niger from French into German for 5 different classes, which was something I did not think I could do. Translating between two foreign languages isn’t something we’ve ever had to learn or practice, and I was pleasantly surprised to be able to resurrect a good portion of my French for the occasion.

2 months to go now until I’m back in England!


The last few weeks have been mainly quite routine, with some special moments mixed in. Here are is a whistle-stop tour of some of the things I am thankful for.

I am thankful for our school musical. For the chance it gave the children to stand proudly on a stage and show off their hard work, for the story that was shared, for the months of preparation from the whole Mitarbeiterteam. I am also thankful that even with the hectic schedule of the day and the lack of breathing space, I enjoyed every second, and didn’t let it go by in a flurry of stress and instructions and child-herding.

Musical Mitarbeiter

(I can’t post photos which have children in, so you’ll have to look at the relieved faces of all the adults at the end of the show. Don’t we look colourful! Photos of children are on the school website here, if you want to see the real stars – http://www.ev-schule.de/pages/posts/musical-dankbar—ein-voller-erfolg-175.php )

I am thankful for friends who come all the way to Nearly Poland (see previous post). Hannah, Tabitha, Rachel – you are so precious to me!

I am thankful for the moments the children in my class are sweet and funny and a little bit crazy. Especially the moments without words, where they pull faces while balancing on one leg in acrobatics, or press a hair bobble into my hand so I can tie a ponytail for them, or greet me with a radiant grin and a handshake. They balance out the moments where I tear my hair out over a boy suddenly starting to write with a quill in an attempt to make his handwriting work go even slower (yes a quill. No, not a quill pen, an actual feather dipped in an actual pot of ink. This same child asked me today ‘if I was alive when Hitler was alive’ – thanks kid.)

I am thankful for all the people who remembered my 21st birthday, and sent me messages, or cards, or presents, and for all the people in my life who (like me) are not good at remembering birthdays but are the best at showing their love in other ways. I am thankful for friends far and wide, across different languages and countries and continents. [And I am sorry for my uselessness at remembering your birthdays. Deeply sorry.]

I am thankful to have made some progress on my Year Abroad Project in time for my first proper deadline. It wasn’t without its hard moments, but I did sit down and get stuff done, even on days when I wanted to crawl into bed after work. I am trying to remember what a privilege it is to be able to study.

I am thankful to live in a city where people continue to welcome me into their lives and hearts, even as my own country turns its back on Europe. I am so grateful to have the chance to live and work in Germany, and I am painfully aware that this may not be so easy to do in a few years.

I am thankful for a housemate who laughs and cries with me. This girl, she tells me she’s proud when I’ve been ‘fleißig’ trying to write my dissertation, reprimands me for procrastinating, still asks for permission every time she wants one of my tea bags. She can tell me about her day by raising an eyebrow and lets me nest on her bed just to chat. She has held me particularly close in the last weeks, as I grieve for Mark, far away from home. She rests her hand gently on my back as she passes by to give me wordless encouragement, and she can do the best impressions of the kids in her class.


I am thankful for a Patenfamilie that share the good things in their lives with me. Fellowship, fun, Finding Dory, football. Visiting them in Rosenbach helps me to breathe when everything gets hard.

I am thankful for Skype, and for the people who chat with me.

I am thankful for hay fever tablets, walks through hidden hollows with Mareike, birthday cake, animal socks, hot water bottles, emergency chocolate, the DBS update service, hand cream, a kind and patient Director of Studies, people who correct my German, sunshine, Brötchen, colouring books, tulips, English Breakfast Tea. So many blessings.

Friends in Nearly Poland: Görlitz, through Rachel’s eyes

3 of my favourite people came to stay last weekend, and one of them has written a blog post about our adventures together. Rachel, thank you for your words!


This last weekend Hannah, Tabitha and I visited Siân in Görlitz, the easternmost town in Germany. It’s where she’s working in a school for the year, as part of her year abroad with the European Voluntary Scheme. It’s also, as it turns out, where ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ and ‘The Book Thief’ were filmed.


We flew to Wroclaw (pronounced Vrotswaf) and got a bus and a couple of trains to Zgorzelec (pronounced Zgor-zjhay-lits). We met Siân and Inma there, in the pouring rain, and got the bus into Görlitz together. There was a little bit of confusion as the bus was supposedly meant to be there only two minutes after our train got in, so we ran towards a red van, because what constitutes a ‘bus’ in Poland isn’t always clear-cut, only to find that it was actually just a red van.

The bus did then actually turn up, and soon after we made…

View original post 1,202 more words

Fasching and family

On Tuesday, all the children and the staff came to school in costumes for Faschingstag. Inma came as a Red Indian, and my class had a theme of animals, hence my spotty leopard attire…

The picture below is a picture drawn for me by one of the girls the day afterwards – it says ‘I like leopards’.


I was pining a little for pancake day, so before school, Inma and I made pancakes. School starts at 7.30, so we did have to get up rather early, but they were delicious.

And this weekend, I got to visit my God-family in Rosenbach, a village about 25 minutes outside of Görlitz, to see their new apartment and land. The sun shone, and they surprised me with an early birthday cake and some flowers!

This week hasn’t been all sunshine-and-pancakes-and-animal-costumes but I am very grateful for those moments.

(On an unrelated note, joint-1st prize for ‘friends sharing farmyard animals with you while you’re in another country’ goes to Jo Lloyd for a midnight skype session with some 3 day old chicks, and Ruth Ayling for sending me daily pictures of ALL THE LAMBS. You guys are pretty great.)

Going home [part 2]

This is the sort of blog post that my friend Jess refers to as ‘more truthful than fun’ (if you could use another dose of Year Abroad musings in your life, I can highly recommend her blog, which is far more eloquent than mine: https://the1whogotaway.wordpress.com/. In fact, her last post ‘A Tale of Three Cities’ manages to much more concisely convey everything I wanted to say, and if I was technologically skilled enough to repost it, I would,). So if you’re not feeling in the mood for some rambling reflections, please feel free to make a cup of tea and watch a fun video instead.

A week of seminar in a small, rainy village outside Berlin with no internet access is a good time for reflection, especially when it is mandated by your seminar leaders, and I have been thinking about going home. Specifically, going home 3 times in the last 2 weeks – Coventry, Cambridge, Görlitz – and I realised that this three way split is something I’m finding really hard right now. As soon as you live in more than one place, I think a dull ache finds a place in your heart when you think about your other home. But suddenly, even though having 3 homes is not new, I am becoming more aware of them and the dull ache is starting to throb. I am not feeling home-sick exactly, but perhaps homes-sick… I am painfully aware that two thirds of my people aren’t at home with me, whichever home I go to.

It made me think back to a TED talk we watched on our first EVS seminar in October, by Taiye Selasi (if you’re interested, the link is here: https://www.ted.com/talks/taiye_selasi_don_t_ask_where_i_m_from_ask_where_i_m_a_local). See, after coming home from uni for the first time a few years ago, like a lot of people, I felt a little disorientated. A bit like someone had taken my identity and diluted it, because I was always packing and moving between 2 different worlds that didn’t always combine neatly, if at all. My head told me that I had no ‘real’ home, because I had no single home. It wasn’t until I watched this video that I felt permission to listen to the whisper in my heart telling me that my life was becoming richer with each new experience and with each new home, building a version of me which is more complicated to define but ever so real. Selasi talks of being multi-local, and uses the framework of rituals, relationships and restrictions to identify where ‘home’ is.

There are 3 churches and 2 schools and 1 university, spread across 2 countries and 3 different cities, where I am known. The staff in the supermarket in Görlitz recognise me, but not in Coventry or Cambridge, and yet the 2 libraries where I might be a familiar face are in the opposite places. I drink tea made with Sainsbury’s tea bags whilst packing Frühstück for school, I put on solid Hauschuhe rather than fluffy slippers because the floors are hard and dusty, I think in 2 languages. And, because I am not a local of Germany, but of the communities where I live, my rituals aren’t all English or German. I sing a Yiddish song, which once my mum sang to me, to a baby whose family fled from Afghanistan, I munch on the Spanish sausage Inma brought with her from Spain, I stumble through what remains of my French to talk to another volunteer, I answer with the Polish words ‘jako tako’ when Inma asks how my day was. These are my rituals.

I reply to messages from friends and family who are at home, my home, but not always in the home that I’m in right now, and from people who are linked to localities where I once was – a month in Kassel, a week at New Wine, an EVS seminar. I speak to those who live and work around me, in school, in the city, at church, at the language courses. These are my relationships.

I have a British passport, and a German place of residence. I have to live in Germany for at least 8 months, mandated by the powers-that-be in my Cambridge home, or I will not pass my degree – and I have to finish and submit a Year Abroad Project from a distance. I have no card access for the college that was and is and will be my home, a college that still sends me the menu for the canteen every day, but that seems suddenly very foreign after all the building work that has been happening in the last 8 months. In Görlitz, my life is constrained by the hours I work, the money I get paid, the extent to which I am allowed to decorate an apartment which is not mine. These are my restrictions.

My rituals, relationships and restrictions are a muddle of three different cities and three different parts of my life. They are entangled in me, and sorting out the strands of them is impossible.

And while we’re on the topic of being pulled in different directions, I’m not finding it all that easy to reconcile being a volunteer with being a student. Below is something I wrote after 2 months of being in Germany:

I am a volunteer – this much is clear. (Inma and I have got so used to being called ‘die Freiwilligen’ that when we were at a youth group a couple of weeks ago, they asked for volunteers for an activity and we practically jumped up out of our seats in case we had a job to do, before realising that they actually wanted children to take part). Quite often, volunteering is something extra, something different from your job or school, something which is hard work but feels nice and then you are finished and go home again. But volunteering here is our job, all week, all year. Our role was already written for us before we got here, as we are the newest in a long-ish line of EVS volunteers at our school. But we have never met those who came before us, and we probably won’t meet the volunteers coming next year, either, so we carve out our roles in the only way we know how. I don’t know if I’m doing it right (whatever right is).

I’m still a student, though. I have a dissertation to write – with no books, internet access for online resources, or, most importantly, motivation. Quite soon, I’m going to get an email from my lovely supervisor asking what I’ve done, and I will have nothing to show her for my time here so far, because all the volunteer-things don’t count as student-things. And (shock horror), the copies of Hammer’s German Grammar and Using German Vocabulary that I so optimistically brought with me for all the language work I was sure to be doing each day are lying untouched next to a pile of newspapers from the last month which I have also not read, and will probably hoard until I leave, ever-hopeful… So, of course, my German isn’t improving steadily every day. In fact, most days, all the things I want to say come too quickly for me to put the right words in the right order and I end up tripping over myself and making mistakes that would make a GCSE student cringe. (This is definitely a knock for my pride. But I have decided I would rather make hundreds of mistakes each day whilst giving 100% than hold back in an attempt to speak better German. I am a better volunteer for being a worse student…). And so, I forget grammar and vocab and that I have a Year Abroad Project to write, and that I should be diligently working on language work every day, and only remember that I have a place at a university back home when they contact me. (Side note: I’m loving this. Reading for hours each day and writing abstract essays does not come naturally to me at all, and aside from missing people terribly, I much prefer day-to-day work here, doing practical things and being with children. But it does make it harder to even pretend that I like essays when I’m out of the habit of doing them, and when there are fun alternatives, like doing acrobatics after school or baking cakes).

[As an update since then, my German has improved steadily, even when I haven’t noticed it, and even though the grammar and vocab books remain untouched and the newspapers are still sitting in a dusty pile in the corner. I am no longer in a state of denial about writing my YAP, and have been given deadlines by my DoS who promised to be ‘firm but friendly’ about demanding work from me.]

But the tension between these two roles is still there, which might be because I’m trying to live 2 years at once. You see, a Year Abroad was always pitched to us as ‘a year there’. Somewhere else, away from ‘normal’ student life, a place where we would go to and then return, hopefully wiser and better able to cope but essentially ready to pick up where we left off. Where we go, what we do, is less important than the fact that we are going away – and coming back. Whereas EVS is ‘a year here’. It doesn’t matter where we come from or where we’re going, just what we do with this year right now. It is a year of everyday life but also of adventures, to fire us off like arrows into new places. In school, my life in England remains a haze to those around me, a reality that must exist but that no-one has seen, and what is important is that I am here, right now, and ready to get on with whatever needs doing.

This year, both here and there, is going by quickly even when the days go slowly, and I have 4 ½ months left, which is not a lot. The reassurance that I ‘only have to stick it out for a year’, which I clung on to in the face of living so far away, is not comforting me anymore. In fact, it is making me feel very unsettled and confused. If my time in Germany was real, but ultimately irrelevant, it would be easy enough to wait it out and then go back to ‘normal life’. But I’m finding that it isn’t. In fact, the thought of only having a short time left in the school and community in Görlitz makes me very sad.

As we sat shivering in a room in drizzly Neukölln on our day trip to Berlin, our seminar leaders asked us to sit and brainstorm about the future, with a list of questions about what we’re good at, what we enjoy, and what the world needs. And I was fully expecting this to be not that hard. It’s something I’ve thought about often, and isn’t even an immediate question, as I’m going back for my final year at Cambridge next year. But then, in my seminar leader’s words, he found me ‘huddled in a corner against a radiator like a dying bird looking for warmth’ (thanks Lukas) – and I realised that I was finding it hard to picture not living in Germany. I am a home body, and I thought that would mean that I would always live in England. But now I have a home here too, the situation is not so clear. Going back to England will mean the start of a period where I start to mourn my life as an honorary German. I’m struggling to know what I’m more scared of… living in Germany one day, far away from a lot of my friends and family – or that I will live in England, forgetting that this, too, was real, and that Germany is also my home.


Going home [part 1]

February half term is coming to an end, and I have been doing lots of travelling around.

The first few days were spent visiting the lovely Poppy in Bamberg. It was super exciting seeing where she lives, and what life looks like there, but mostly just being together felt like the biggest treat. Eating pizza, cooking together, drinking copious cups of tea, going to a concert, lots of walking along the beautiful river and afternoon pom-pom making makes for a perfect break in still-slightly-wintery Germany.

Here is Bamberg…

Here is a picture of me meeting a Sams (a children’s book character who can grant wishes… we’re reading the books at breakfast time with my class! And the author lives in Bamberg, where the film was also set.)


And here are some photos of us on Valentine’s day, eating a heart-shaped Krapfen, because it is not every day that they are heart shaped…

Poppy and I have, in the past couple of years, seen each other in good and bad moments. Doctors appointments, training and going away with HCPT, hours of Use Of French classes, Ge7 lectures and rants about angsty German rapping, post-supervision tea breaks, pottery painting birthday treats, sunny walks in the garden and grumpy afternoons of flicking through notes, one particularly memorable attempt at translation homework resulting in us finding the soundtrack to Wicked in German and being unable to focus again. But I think it is fair to say that the Year Abroad has been the biggest challenge yet for both of us, separately, and a massive chance for us to support each other during our time in Germany. There is something wonderful about a friend affirming the things you’ve found hard, reminding you to look after yourself in practical ways, phoning you up without worrying about the time difference, and being able to commiserate over bureaucracy, language issues and homesickness – and I am thankful that I have that sort of a friend. Poppy, you’re ace.


I then flew home from Nuremberg airport, sad to leave Poppy, but feeling instantly a bit better after hearing the whine of an English child who ‘hadn’t been fed in days, mummy’ before I went through security (I didn’t think I would ever miss children whinging in my own language, but it turns out, I do) – and had a smooth flight back to Manchester. Thank goodness for well-signed paths to the railway station and English staff who give you a kindly smile when you accidentally answer them in German. I got home to hot drinks and hugs from my family and a cat brushing round my legs, and everything seemed right with the world. I was only in Coventry for one day, but I am thankful for a whole day with my family, doing special and yet ordinary things, and just being together. I remember telling mum that it would have been worth coming back to England just for that day – and I felt a lot more grounded and relaxed travelling onwards after a teacake and a night in my own bed.Jpeg

I then travelled onwards to Cambridge, where I was initially a bit floored by the onslaught of sound and bicycles and the sheer number of people, as Görlitz is… well… not like that. (Jo had a similar reaction to the utter lack of human life at 8pm when she came to visit me in Germany). And as soon as I found my feet, I was swept off them again with hugs and Valentine’s day roses from one of the best people… thank you Rachel for a lovely lunch, and for helping me readjust to student life. And I am glad the waitress managed to regain her balance after we nearly knocked her over with the suitcase (that would have been an unfortunate beginning to the trip).

And then… well, the next few days were a bit of a blur of lots of people and tea and delicious meals and cuddles. I felt overwhelmed with happiness to be back with friends who know me deeply and love me fiercely, and to be able to glimpse some snapshots of their lives right now. Friends, thank you. I love and miss you more than you can imagine, and felt really privileged to get to spend time with some of you in my flying visit to Cambridge. (And for those of you that I didn’t see, the love is of course extended to you too!). I didn’t take enough photos of these times, so here are basically the only ones I have (photo credits to Rachel, cooking credits for the meal to India, Coz and Izzy).

4 generations of MML college family, after meeting my college granddaughter Meg for the first time!
Veggie lasagne, garlic bread and salad, eaten with wonderful friends before Week 5 Blues and Chill in Jesus College Chapel. Could there be a better evening?!

And then I left, at 6am when all was quiet, for the station. After flying from Stansted back to Berlin Schönefeld, I found my way to the Hauptbahnhof to meet Inma, who had flown to Berlin Tegel, so we could travel back together. I think both of us were pleasantly surprised that we could manage to navigate through the busy city centre with no stress at all – the thought of so much unpredictable travelling would, before this year, have overshadowed all of the days before with worry, and I now feel like a bit of a Deutsche Bahn, S-Bahn, U-Bahn and any-other-sort-of-Bahn pro. The train journey was much nicer with two of us, and getting back to Görlitz really felt like getting home after a long time of being away. We packed quickly and slept deeply in preparation for week 2 of the holidays.

Week 2 was our second volunteer seminar, this time in a tiny village called Werftpfuhl, near Werneuchen, near (ish) to Berlin. It rained a lot. We met lots of new people, volunteers from all over the world working all over Germany, and did workshops on our voluntary service, the problems related to the EU, difficulties we’ve faced, migration and development, and future plans. There was no internet, but the rooms were nicer than last time, the food was less nice, but the journey was shorter – I think I probably enjoyed the last seminar more, but this one wasn’t any less helpful. Oh, and on the way back, it snowed. Somewhere between Lübbenau and Horka, huge flakes started falling, and by the time we reached Kodersdorf, the snow was swirling around the train as we rushed through the completely white landscape. Given the volume of snow we’ve had over the last 2 months, and the fact that only 5 days before, there had still been large chunks of ice on the ground, we probably shouldn’t have been so surprised by this – but snow is still a bit surprising, especially when you were expecting the weather to get warmer. Still, it has mostly thawed today, so I don’t think that we’re in for another few weeks of sledging and ridiculous numbers of layers. We now have a weekend to gather our thoughts, reply to emails, make delicious food and sleep a lot before school starts again on Monday!


Chicken, walnut, mango and apple salad was our lunch today, and it was delicious – we’re trying to make up for the lack of vegetables, salad and fruit on seminar!

This week I…

buried a tub of ice cream in a heap of snow in the garden because there was no longer enough space in the freezer for bread. (Here’s hoping the snow doesn’t thaw while we’re at school tomorrow, or the lovely landlady is going to think we’re seriously weird).

made a child cry by taking away her pencil to sharpen it. (I was later forgiven, but only after minutes of really rather heartrending sobs.)

was used as target practice for a snowball throwing competition, under instruction of the person running the after school games club. I mildly protested, but decided it was a fitting end to a day of receiving quite a few metaphorical snowball blows.

looked after a record number of 10 children between the ages of 1 and 13 at the language course for the refugees with Inma. It is 2 hours long, and I am frankly quite glad we made it out alive. 4 of the kids couldn’t understand a word of German, quite a number of the rest pretended they couldn’t understand any German when it came to any instructions to tidy up and stop hitting each other, and less than a minute in, the 1 year old had already tried to climb into the oven. Fab. I did teach some of the big ones to play snap though, and was super proud that they sat for 10 minutes playing without any arguments.

had a wonderful time at Kathleen’s birthday brunch. The food was a spectacular mix of German, Polish and Afghan dishes, there were lots of lovely people to talk to, and I got to do a Frozen jigsaw puzzle with a couple of my favourite little ones.

spent quite a lot of time wishing I was in Cambridge to hug certain friends who are having a particularly hard week, and certain others who are just super huggable.

nearly fell over lots of times on the ice, but managed not to

loved and hated the snow in equal measure

finished my Polish course

arranged to go along to the CU home group next week

was tasked with keeping a child’s tooth safe until home time after he had rather determinedly twisted it until it gave in and fell out. For those interested, the tooth fairy visits Germany too!

had this rather lovely conversation with one of the boys in his exercise book.


(For those of you that don’t speak German, or do but are having trouble interpreting the phonetic spelling, it says:

“Siân is nice and Siân helps the children”

“_____ is also nice and very funny”

“That’s true too. Thanks Siân.”)

And my fun fact for this week is that German (and apparently French) cats have 7 lives instead of 9. Who knew?!