March 8 is International Women’s Day, and is also my birthday. I’d like to think this was destiny, or my mother pre-planned my birth to land on this day, but it simply a great coincidence. A tradition that I started last year and hope to have in the future, is volunteering on my birthday. I am very lucky that my company has paid volunteer days and were onboard with me taking off time to volunteer!
Like last year, I chose to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, a reputable organization that helps build homes for those with financial burdens. It was too cold to work on a house today, so I worked in their retail store. Their “ReStore” retail stores carries items that have all been donated, and all of the proceeds go to help fund the building of their houses.
At ReStore, I organized book shelves, swept floors, tidied inventory, and even painted chairs. Painting furniture is not something I have ever done but have wanted to, so I was glad I could pick up a new “skill,” even though I’m an amateur!
I think that is the beauty of volunteering in general: you pick up new skills and also learn what you do and do not like to do. I know that we typically associate volunteering with community building but it really helps build YOU as a person, so that’s why I am happy spending my birthday’s serving others.
My 10 days abroad in Germany were a success. Sometimes my days were dauntingly long but nonetheless, I came out learning a lot more than I thought I would. This is mainly because I spent 6 days of my vacation volunteering at a small village called Laubach (app. 1 hour away from Frankfurt). However, my first impression of Germany continued until the end of the program…
The landscape of the northern part of Germany (and perhaps all of Germany), is very much the landscape that we see in New England. You will find lush, green forests and after spending many hours walking with German students in them, it felt at times as though I was in my own backyard.
Frankfurt itself reminds me of my city, Boston. This observation was apparent as soon as my taxi from the airport approached my hotel. In Frankfurt, there is an older section of the city with more traditional German buildings, as well as some of the tallest skyscrapers in Europe. Though Boston doesn’t boast the tallest buildings in the U.S., the buildings were comparable to ours and the city felt just like home.
Germans are extremely organized and punctual. This is not a bad thing and doesn’t seem like such a surprise but after spending time living in Spain where everyone is 15 minutes late, it was a difference experience to be where everyone is 5 minutes EARLY.
Germany isn’t perfect. You hear that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and it’s true. Even with socialized medicine and education, people still still worry about the same things that are worried about here in America like mortgages, juggling work and home life, etc.
Germany is more of a melting pot than I imagined. You may have heard that there are a lot of Syrians going into Germany and as whole, lots of people have been flooding into the country. To an outsider, Germany would seem like a favorable place to move to. Education and healthcare aside, Germany has the top employment rate in the Europe next to Sweden (based on a Statistica finding). The government has also been vocal about allowing migrants into the country. Whether that is a good thing or not is its own debate.
As a whole, Germans tend to value staying in one place and not moving to other parts of Europe. As some Germans explained to me, if a person finds a steady job, they are not too keen to jump from job to job. When I asked about how they felt about Americans, I was told that their was an idea that Americans move around a lot changing jobs, but that we must easily move to different states for work. This is ironic because I would have thought that with European citizenship, a European would be keen on moving to different countries!
Visiting and moving to a foreign country will always be an eye-opening experience for me but what I was not expecting on this trip was that I would connect so well with the German people. The language was so different but the people and lifestyle reminded me of American culture which was surprising. However, I look forward to going back someday and visiting some of my new German friends. Despite what you might think about the “rough” German language and any stereotypes you may hear, Germans are as lovely as the country.
As a person who has lived abroad in Spain and had the opportunity to travel to lots of different places, people have frequently have said to me, “You must have been to Germany.” The answer has always been “no” with a sigh. When I was studying and later working in Spain, I went to a lot of the surrounding countries – except for a number of countries in northern Europe – but never have been to Germany. So, I am excited to announce that come next week I will be in Germany volunteering!
So, in case you are wondering how this all started…
While I was trying to get to bed at 2 AM one morning and failing, I was on Google randomly looking at volunteer opportunities and stumbled upon a company called Diverbo which places native English speakers in a villa in Spain or Germany for 5-7 days with meals and accommodations, in exchange for speaking in English to English learners. It sounds easy and it is, if you are fine with speaking up to 12 hours a day! I am fine with this and it is perfect because longer placements would be impossible, since I work full-time.
If anyone is interested in doing something similar, you should check out their website and stay tuned because I am hoping to come back with lots of anecdotes and some insight about German culture since I will be speaking to Germans for 12 hours a day for 5 days. 🙂