Wednesday, 26 November 2014

And the doubts come at night

Are you the kind of person that can make a decision and stick to it?
If not, then you might be a common sufferer of "Buyer's remorse", a post-decision form of cognitive dissonance - like me.
This basically means that even after having made a decision, e.g. buying a hoover, and having taken into account every aspect of implications on your life it might have before making it, you can't help but question whether it was the right one, or if another hoover for the same price would might have done a better job.
What I'm getting at here is, that I have clearly spent hours and hours, if not years, deciding on which course to take, what to do with my life, which uni to attend, and still I find myself wondering, sometimes, if it would have been different somewhere else, and if it would have been a better kind of different.
There is obviously nothing wrong with my course choice.
Attending my modules, I realise everyday that this is pretty much it for me. I am excited about and want to work in the media industry, and I know it's competitive but I can't help it.
It's just that whenever people say this about a subject that's not medicine they get weird side glances.
But believe me, even if saving people's lives would give me utter fulfilment and I would've picked medicine, I would by now be asking myself if it was the right decision, even if I had "society's approval". (Regardless of the fact that I would look at my notes for chemistry or whatever science of the week and die in the process of trying to make sense of them.)
There is also absolutely nothing wrong with my uni.
I especially picked it because it's the top #1 uni in the UK for my kind of choice, and this reverberates from my lecturers. I once attended a lecture by an economics tutor at Globe College Munich, and I remember myself saying to my friend afterwards: "You know, I think it really doesn't matter what you study as long as you have lecturers who are as passionate and engaging as her."
And it's true. My lecturers and tutors are all brilliant, experienced in what they're teaching us and urging us to be as passionate about their subject as we are.
Yes, the common lecturer syndrome of forgetting that their course is not the only one that's being taught is still very much apparent, but who can blame them?
I rather have a lecturer like this than someone who looks in the eyes and says with a thin voice: "The sector of your study is dead."
Even my fellows are exactly... like I would have expected?
I mean, I obviously knew that it's neither possible nor desirable to be friends with each and everyone. It's just this little paranoia that comes up every so often, when you're convinced that everyone is already better friends with someone else, which leaves you excluded. (Usually not the case at all, by the way, but I think a few people can relate to that.) Especially when you never had to worry about making friends... for the last ten years or so.

And when these moments come, it's important to remember why you came to uni, that yes, you do have friends who are there for you anyway and well... cognitive dissonance might be a bit of a pain, but hey, this only means that you've already mastered the Critical Thinking they always expect you to engage with in your modules.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

British enthusiasm

Personally, I love me a good oxymoron, but saying that the title was one would be mean.

Because if there's one thing in the world I for some reason hold very dear to my heart, it's britishness.
I do realise that this doesn't really make much sense for the next person, and especially when looking at the foregone by-election I understand why people would start to question if "britishness" is such a good thing after all, but... If you look at how one of the most powerful countries in the world - well, the empire, really - could become such a lovely, quirky nation, that is most well-known for its fictional characters and knitting patterns, then sorry, I can't really find it in me not to love it.

And all of this, although I'm very rarely exposed to Brits in action. Which is why it is a little hard for me to describe what it is about Britain in detail, but bare with me, I'll try.

My exposures to 'proper Brits':
My flatmate. There's the one who is just it. The one who cherishes tea like ambrosia and raises her eyebrows at my "caffeine addiction". (One cup of coffee a day is not the end of the world. I think.)
The one you can have chats about Remembrance and how cute the Queen is with. (The Queen is pretty cute though.) The one you'd always turn to if you just don' understand how something works in this country.

The old gent on the tube. There is literally always this one guy who reads the evening standard like it's the bible, or holds like it's his shield that will eventually prevent him from forming any kind of relation to anyone around him. This guy is usually around 50 and wears "the British cap". (Like the cabbie in the first Sherlock episode does. You know the likes. Just google British cap. Trust me.)

This one guy from my seminar who complains about everything. And the funny thing is, there's one in all of my seminars, although they're not the same person. I always thought Germans were bad when it came to complaining, and that a German person couldn't be happy until there was something off they could complain about. Now this is probably true - but this kind of British person can't exist without anything to complain about. I just dropped in a conversation once that I would consider working as a barista - and I got to hear the most hilarious 15 minute rant about snotty coffee drinkers.

Which is why the certain characteristics I listed above are the only 'typically British things' I can think of at the moment, and probably the only ones you'll encounter when you choose to study here. I mean, sometimes you sense the much-rumoured traditionalism, but then again... isn't everyone at least a bit proud of where they came from?

And to come back to British enthusiasm - I always thought this to be an oxymoron.
That was clearly before I was introduced to the Great British Bake-Off.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Growing Up 101

Let's be honest: The scariest thought about uni is not about the stuff you are going to be taught (I mean, most people do pick a subject they're passionate about, don't they?), it's about moving a way from home and suddenly having to manage a life without mummy to turn to.

And while I would say I'm doing quite well so far, I can also not stress enough how much I am looking forward to returning home and have three course meals (well, sometimes, I mean, it's Christmas) prepared for me, my laundry turning up fresh and clean in my room and the hoover available without having to turn my student ID in.
Because my parents are the best.
And I think, well, if I was living in a college that maybe was housing about 20 people, there were a lot of obstacles I wouldn't have to face, but here are some things you should be able to do on your own without having to consultant an adult first, before you consider moving away from home ultimately:

This chart from Esquire is also extreeeemly helpful.
  1. How to work a laundry machine : My personal favourite. Not just because my best friend was always raising her eyebrows at me for "being 18 and never having done my own laundry in my life", but also because it makes you feel like... such a proper adult when you hold your first bag of clean, warm, fresh smelling laundry in your hands. Figuring out how much washing liquid to use for which garments and why better not to put a bra in a tumble dryer definitely makes for less disappointment when you run out of clothing at some point of your first college weeks.
  2. What can put a smile on your face when nothing else can : Unfortunately not as self-explanatory as it seems, but... It's not just that you're finally flying the nest, it's also that your friends might as well be a bit far away and the people in your seminar can be weird and the amount of coursework/your new part-time job are a bit busy so when times get hard, it is better to already know what can help you. (Because believe me, they won't give you extra time to figure it out.)
  3. How to live with a little less luxury than you're used to : Okay, there are these guys who return home every weekend. But most of the students are living on a rather tight budget, and that means sometimes saying 'nope, sorry' to going out with friends, this new pair of jeans your mum would usually have paid for or even just this really delicious looking cupcake. This doesn't mean that life suddenly becomes joyless, it just means that spending money becomes a little less carefree. (And the child in you vanishes a little more. *sniff*)
  4. How to cook your favourite meal : Simply because no one else will do it for you and you can have cereal only so often before it makes you want to throw your bowl out of the window.
  5. How much sleep you need. Goes without saying.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Recap, Rename, Repeat.

Greetings from London. The city that will forever fail to get my name right.
After my first weekend, I thought I was going to be alone on my course.

Everyone of my flatmates had met at least one person they were studying with, and I remember one occasion when we were hanging around the campus bar, where I was surrounded by about 20 Fashion students (there is Fashion Design, Buying and Merchandise, so it's not very surprising really), wondering "Is there... anyone doing PR at all?"

There is.
When I walked into the Lecture Theatre for the introduction before enrolment, I heard a voice from the back: "Anyone doing PR? PR? Hello?"
Happy to meet a kindred spirit, I gave him a high-five and waited for the enrolment process to proceed.
Enrolling at uni is like all the other bureaucratic things in life: It's pretty simple and passes much faster than in all the worried thoughts you spent on it, but then again, it's always the simple things no one cares to explain.
I'm still struggling with what to reply on a "How're you?". Do I simply say "fine, thanks"? (Which is what I do most of the time?) And if I do so, am I somewhat socially required to ask back?
And if I hold the door open for someone, do I have to say "you're welcome" after they thank me? Is this too formal? Does a "no problem" do it as well?
I just really don't want to appear rude, but I don't really think people will think much better of me if I just stand there, gaping like a fish at a loss for words. (Because that's what I sometimes do before smiling awkwardly and leaving.)
If middle school English classes would just focus on the small pleasantries in every day life, everyone would be much better prepared. (How was I supposed to know supermarket cashiers are required to make small talk with you? Now I always have to use the self checkout all the time because I have been wearing my "I hardly see how that's relevant to you."- face on more than one occasion while giving tight-lipped answers to the employees. The struggle.)

But back to the topic.
In the end, there were around 70 people taking my course, some enthusiastic about PR, others about Advertising, some simply wanted to go to uni and others didn't bother to show up until... week 5 or something.
This usually goes like this. Monday, 10.15 am, my tutor has already started.
The door opens a notch. A girl appears.
"Hello...". She hesitates. "Is this Introduction to Advertising?"
My tutor turns to her. "Yes, it is indeed. And you are? I mean, apart from 3 weeks late?"

On this first day I also learned that introducing yourself with a self-picked nickname doesn't go down to well with tutors, as they are required to look you up in databases when grading you and if you have 200+ students, having to remember nicknames for each and every one of them tends to get a bit strenuous.
So my tutor asked me: "Well, what's your real name?"
"Henriette.", I said.
But with a German pronunciation. Or something that I believed to be the English pronunciation of my name. Something that sounds a bit like this: Han - ree - yet - a. (If you read them singularly but fast, you should get something that sounds close to the correct German pronunciation.)
Now I didn't realise that the name "Henrietta" is far more common in Britain (obviously), and that if a British person was to pronounce my real name, the last e would be mute.
All of this simply resulted in my tutor saving my name as "Henrietta" in the vast outskirts of her memory, addressing me like this in every e-mail she writes me, no matter how often I subtly sign it with "Sincerely, Henriette".
Too subtle, perhaps.

This carried on:
I was elected course representative and had to change my name on the invitation forms, my rowing tutor thought I was French and when someone asks after my name, I try to mute the last e - but to no avail. It just won't stick.

Nevertheless, I had fun meeting new people, organising weekend trips and hanging around in other people's kitchens, strolling through London with awed eyes on the hunt for a NINo and listening to all these different languages being spoken around me.
I mean, I had four different languages in school. And most of my friends took different languages than I did. But London is just a whole new level of linguistic exploration.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

cross country skype relationships and not the end of the world

Dear J,

Yesterday night you sent me a text: "Sometimes, i feel like an Idiot, because i should have realized what i was saying goodbye to really, i should have known better. Still, i swore that if there would be one single thing for me to Keep, it would be you."
And I felt my heart in my throat and I got that stupid smile on my face again that I always get when I think about all the stupid stuff we have been though together, and replied with the only thing I knew to be true: "But that's the thing though: It was never good-byte. Not really"
What followed were embarrassing photos, some from the careless time we shared this summer, others from four winters back. It's amazing we still have them on our phone, although we probably never look at them (some of them are pretty cringeworthy, you have to admit.)

And I fell asleep with a smile on my face knowing that, "an ocean away", just like Benjamin Gibbard sings in Shepherd's Bush Lullaby, the first song on the mistake I made you before I went to London, your day was still in full swing and you probably took a break from work to giggle at your phone just as much as I did.

I have to admit, it feels weird having to arrange a specific time to see you.
It used to be so natural, I would show up at your doorstep with a hot chocolate and drag you out of your room when you were loosing your nerves over your biology homework and you texting me in the middle of night would mean I would get to see you in five minutes, if I just opened the door.
But I don't see myself getting annoyed at having to stay up an extra hour just to see your face smiling up at me from my laptop.
First of all, I get to catch up with "How To Get Away With Murder" like that once a week.
And more importantly, you are simply worth it.

Long distance relationships are portrayed as something doomed to go wrong in romantic comedies.
Long distance relationships are the one thing you never even attempt.
But I don't think I spent a single day breathing without thinking about you, and if it is just passing.
And it's never a depressing thought about how much I miss you.
Because yes, of course, I do, it would make things a 1000% better if I could turn around in bed and just see your calm, sleeping face, but this doesn't mean that things aren't good as they are.
Most of the time I just think about something I know we will talk about when we see each other again, or wonder what you could be doing right now. If I get particularly curious, I text you.

And when I see you again in 6 weeks, it will be like we've never been apart.
It's something I know in my bones to be true.
It will just be like a slightly longer summer holiday, one that is packed with a few more stories than usual, one that required a bit more time to be made up for.
I dragged you along for the ride, and so did you.

It is possible if you really want to.
Some people just stay with you.
All along the way.

   I miss you.
But I will let anyone afraid to leave their loved ones behind know that it's bearable.

Love, H.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

the why

+++ ALERT: This is not a post to fuel existentialistic philosophical debate. +++

That said, I decided to make a post why I chose to study in London in particular, a task rather closely link to my coursework for Advertising at the moment, which, behold, I am not going to ramble on about.

So. London.

First of all, it has always been a dream of mine. Whenever someone asked me "top ten things you want to do before you die?" or some equally generalised question, 'living in London for a certain amount of time', was always one of the top ranks on my list.
(Usually competing with 'learn to speak five languages fluently' and 'trick the world into thinking you possess magic'.)
Sounds like a legitimate reason, but I am aware that this doesn't make me anything close to unique or god forbid special, because this point is literally on every second teenager's bucket list.

But coming to London felt just like fulfilling a purpose to me:
English is my favourite language on this planet. (I haven't started learning Japanese yet.)
I have a soft spot for quirky traditionalism while at the same time craving a diverse environment.
I need people to open my eyes to new things. I need to feel small in front of old buildings sometimes. I need to feel special in a crowd from time to time. I really prefer to blend in mostly, though.
London was everything and nothing, it's modern while still holding the draw it had under the Empire.

There is no place like it.

I discover a new part of the city every week, but I could never say whether I would prefer Camden over Shoreditch, Mayfair over Belgravia, Kew over Southwark. It just all blends together in my head and makes for an all-encompassing picture that won't leave me so fast.

Thursday, 6 November 2014


Sunday morning, 14/09/14

I walk into the kitchen, having just bought a bunch of bananas and hoummous from the local Sainsbury's. There is someone in the kitchen. A girl on her phone.
Because I didn't plan on vegetation lonely in my room, I walk in and start filling whatever little space is left in the fridge.
"Oh hi! Are you the new girl?"
I smile introducing myself, sliding in the seat opposite her while she finishes her lunch. Although anything with beans might be a British breakfast. Let's just say brunch.
"So when did you get here? I didn't see you all day yesterday!"
"Well...", I start, "that's probably because I arrived literally in the middle of the night. The people at the reception desk down there were nearly asleep, just handing me my keys and shoving a 'college survival box' into my hands and that was it."
"Why would you come in the middle of the night?", she asks.
"Booked the Eurostar three months in advance?"
At least she seems excited at the prospect of living together with someone from Germany. And is apparently not a football fan. Which is a big plus this year.

Soon enough I get dragged to another one of my flatmates' room, where we talk about all the things easy to talk about - school, food, movies.
It's not hard. And I strangely feel like being in boarding school again.

Later that day, my final flatmate arrives, making the artsy feeling of our flat complete:
There is a fashion design, advertising, radio production and now a photography student starting uni this year, although there are also to girls from China studying Business at a different campus, who were assigned a room on ours.

Thanks to shops being open on Sunday ("Wait, shops aren't open on Sunday in Germany? When do you guys go shopping?"), my flatmates and I soon hit the local mall, exploring this weird adulty feeling of being able to buy whatever we want to, but on the other hand having to budget with however much money we brought with us.

There's more to come, I can feel it, I feel comfortable with these people, but in the evening I still go to bed early. Whoever has once gone abroad and switched their minds to a different language might know the feeling of exhaustion that creeps in after a few hours.
It's like wanting to say: "Hey! I know English! I can understand everything perfectly fine!" but you just grow tired far too early, because your brain just isn't adjusted to it and wants to rest now, please.

So rest I did.

Monday, 3 November 2014

"It's so hard to leave - until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world."

The first two weeks of September were filled with excitement. Or was it anxiety?
I can't really be sure, I just know that I had refused to worry about any Uni related scenarios all summer, partly because I still had to wait for my student finance letter, but quite actually more because I was working a near fulltime job with my friends and wanted to spend my summer with them.
So when I arrived back home on the first of September, reality started to kick in reaaaally slowly: "Oh. I'm leaving the country in 13 days. Should I panic?"
The answer to that was mostly "...nah.", but I can remember the days sitting in front of my laptop and refreshing my inbox because I was waiting for the guy from the translation company I had a sent a copy of my school certificate to to finish his lunch break and write me back.
I remember making last second visits to places in my hometown in the middle of the night, meeting again with friends, as if catching up before anyone leaves has ever done anybody any good, generally enjoying myself but also experiencing a weird feeling of displacement:
Being at home didn't really feel right, I was supposed to be out there, exploring the world, but leaving home seemed even worse sometimes. Why would I give up something that was so all-encompassingly comfortable?

Well, in the end it took me about a week to pack my suitcase, and when I finally pulled the zipper shut, it felt odd that my whole life should fit into roughly half a cubic metre.
I don't know how often I actually checked if my documents were all in the right place, but I had the worst nightmare the night before I actually had to leave:
I am at Frankfurt Main Central station, looking for a coffee to get somewhere, when I realised that I had left my bag (as in, the bag that contained my ticket, my passport, my enrolment forms, in short everything that identified me as a human being) on the train. So I start running towards the rail my train stopped on, hoping to miraculously find it to be still there, all the while dragging along my suitcase that keeps bumping into people and slowing me down.
I can't remember ever feeling so relieved to wake up.

On Saturday, September 13, everything is like it's supposed to be.
I like to think everyone experiences it like this, but I could be wrong:
Do you know, how in films or books, when a significant change or a long travel is going to happen to the protagonist, one they have planned for a long time to come, they always get up and do this one last meaningful thing, and if it is staring at their reflection in the mirror, thinking deep thoughts?
Well, none of this ever happens to me.
It's like some part of my brain knows that it should be excited or worried about this really crazy change that is supposed to happen in just two hours and oh my god you have wanted this for so long get excited already man, but I am generally just baffled how life is still about the mundane things like having breakfast and brushing your teeth, and nothing meaningful happens, just because it feels like it should. (At least a little.)

So my parents and my brother drive me to the station... Oh right, I forgot to tell you about this!
I am, apparently, always very intent to do things differently (at least that's what my father would claim and where he's probably very right) so I didn't opt for the easy and "mainstream" way of booking a flight to Heathrow, no, I decided to buy a Eurostar ticket three months in advance, because it was cheaper.
Well, it was cheaper.
But it also takes 12 hours.
And I will forever be grateful that my parents have not made one snide remark about it.
I like taking the train, it's a boarding school thing.
And it's only when I've found my seat, plug in my headphones with a startling realisation that my phone is not going to live for the whole duration of the ride, that my heart suddenly starts beating faster and the hormones in my head scream: This is it. You just flew the nest.

I'm not going to describe these 12 super uneventful hours of taking a train to London, and I wouldn't really recommend it to anybody, but in the end, I'm very glad that I did, because these 12 hours were "transitioning time", a time in which I was caught in a little bubble of freedom.
This feeling is - once again - very hard to describe, but I saved a diary entry from somewhere in Belgium, trying to make clear of my thoughts:

I sort of want to know where I am rather badly.
That’s what runs through my head half an hour after I’ve turned off the mobile data roaming of my phone and gaze outside the train window, overlooking small and sunny towns in the Belgian countryside. The men’s voice from the speaker has changed to French as well. Now Dutch.
I know I’m gifted with a vast knowledge in certain languages, but I stay comically oblivious to which station we’re arriving at next, due to my complete lack of understanding what he just announced.
Does that make me feel lonely know? Abandoned?
I guess it could. And some time ago, it definitely would have.
(I just realised I didn’t even send a good-bye text to everybody who might have wanted one when I still had the chance. Now I’m on my own.)
And knowing there’s a whole new world waiting for me on the other side of the Channel, I can’t even start to deny the queasy feeling starting to bloom in the region of my upper stomach, but it’s not anxiety.
It’s a revelation.
I’m a blank page at the moment.
There’s no going back from here, and what is about to happen is solely up to me. Every person I’m going to meet will have had no former impression of me, the image they are going to have of me is solely shaped by me. I’m at one of the few points in my life at which I’m able to completely redefine what that means – me.
And now I’m going to hop off the train and cherish it.

So at the lovely security check in Brussels, that is far to easy to pass as a harmless looking (white) girl, a guy helps me handle my suitcase, realising we're both German.
"So you're going on vacation as well?", he asks.
I duck my head and give an apologetic smile: "Nope. Off to uni, actually."
It's nice having somebody to talk to in this weird place, and I'm surprisingly not disappointed that it isn't in English - there will be a time for making friends in a different language, but today is not it.
Unfortunately, his seat is at the other end of the train, but I'm not sad for long, because next to me they have placed an old English gent, a history professor from the books he's reading, who starts pointing out London monuments to me once we enter the city.
To be honest, I didn't even realised we were crossing the channel at some point. Why? Because it's pitch black outside.
I keep my doubt about Downing Street being somewhere out there in the dark to myself, however, because he is nice and if he's mocking me, then it's in a nice way.
The dumb grin that starts to spread on my face, you know, the one that is usually reserved to pregnant women and boys with a crush, is real though. It's coming from somewhere deep inside.

And when I finally arrive in London at about half nine, the proper feeling of giddy excitement is still not quite there, just this slight buzz of contentment.
Which could steer from the rising level of exhaustion.
But I'm there. I made it.
People around me are talking English. Proper BBC English.
And I will take the tube, just like a proper Londoner.
And where? To my new home.

(Gifs from giphy, quote in the headline is from John Green's Paper Towns)