Thursday, September 30, 2010

Welcome to my first Eurotrip!

The idea to drive from Tuebingen, Germany, to the sunny coastal Spain was a dream at first, which suddenly became a reality when i thought why not? The preparation courses in math and chemistry were over, the exam was scheduled for the 3rd week of October. There was really nothing holding me back (well, other than the organized IKEA trip-still need that lamp! And some of my own dishes wouldn't hurt either.) After a few hours of google maps and booking campsites, the trip was set to begin on Friday, October 1st with one simple goal: to see the Mediterranean sea before this land becomes covered with snow and I would have to trade shorts for a winter coat. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I realize now how difficult it is to establish a spiritual practice in a very non-enlightening, non-spiritual place, like a student dormitory. Or is it just a North American view? Are we too used to the luxury and comfort? We expect a full-scale “meditation space” if we are to meditate at all :)
I also realize that it is time for me to do what is important to me, to do what I came here to do, to not get distracted or sidetracked, but to, most importantly, use this experience to the full benefit of personal growth. I have made a huge list of questions about myself and my choices in life in my first week here and I would like to answer all of them in 6 months' time.

Yes, I am adjusting better to the life here, but by no means do I want to let go of my spiritual practice in favour of always being surrounded by people for the sake of not being alone, to find distractions from my thoughts and fears. I want to always make time for quiet “me time”, for insight and contemplation and for nurturing the inner light. There are many spiritual people who come from all walks of life, and often it has nothing to do with comfort and how easy it is for one to be quiet and undisturbed. The real peace is the one you can maintain in the middle of a crowd, or in my case a dormitory full of 20-yr olds dying to have another party.

Freedom is a gift. Even the freedom to travel half across the world and realize that you feel completely alone, abandoned and misunderstood is still a gift to be cherished.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I really want to find an art faculty this week and ask them if I can use their supplies and studio for a fee. I feel much release is needed. It is so weird to not have any of the "tools" I'd have at home to comfort me: jewellry making, drumming, drawing and painting...So all I have is my books, my thoughts, my emotions and the internet. Quite a change.

Yesterday when I saw German country side from the bus and it gave me such a different feeling. One of freedom, like no matter where I am, what apartment I live in, what the town is like... as long as i can get out once in a while and see this and know that I am surrounded by beautiful land where families live in a simple, down-to-earth country fashion, same as anywhere in Canada or Russia, or, i'm sure, rural Spain or France... it all feels like home. It gives me so much peace and much hope for the world. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Triberg trip

The other day I picked up a free map with all the best sights for South Germany. A little place called Triberg, with Germany's highest waterfalls set in the middle of the Black Forest immediately caught my attention. So, to shake off the blues a little bit, I decided to skip the afternoon of math in favour of communing with nature. And am I ever glad I did! The weather was sunny and warm, the little town was somewhat familiar, reminding me of Banff. And the waterfalls? Definitely worth the 2 euro admission fee. It was as picturesque as Germany can be and I cannot wait to come back again. The walk was followed by my first taste of the Schwabish cuisine. Sorry, not a huge fan. It is a bit too starchy, oily and bland for my liking. Most of the dishes are some variation of pork, spatzle and potatoes. It was neat to dine in an old home converted into a restaurant, though. Everything was made of wood, decorated in typical German country style fashion. So cozy!

Thursday, September 16, 2010


"Change sometimes separates us from familiar surroundings and people in our lives. The loneliness or isolation you may feel associated with this is giving you a chance to think about what's real and what's only an illusion. It's in this space you determine where your true values lie."
So here's the thing: I am only making a one semester commitment out of this, since I already paid my rent deposit and tuition fees. This makes my life right now a little easier, but still...feels like a life sentence right now. Do humans really never learn from a place where life just feels good? Or are we always forced to go through pain and struggle and challenges in order to learn? I don't want to avoid how i feel or cover it up by plunging into schoolwork. Do i think it's important that a person is happy on their own? Yes. I thought i was. I don't know what happened along the way.

Today i finally found the surrounding forest and went walking through it and some really nice neighborhoods surrounding it. I then made my way to the 15th century monastery town, Bebenhausen. The forest was huge, luscious, the air smelled amazing, -nothing like I've seen in Canada. It reminded me a bit of the sweeping hills in Missouri, actually. Same deep shades of green, moisture in the air, maple trees, oaks, the earth.... and the monastery is so fitting nearby, with such quiet and great presence! Ah, i could just sit there for hours and meditate... smell, feel, breathe. It was the only day i felt good and at peace so far. (upon getting home, there was a major house party. Again. To escape, I watched “curb your enthusiasm”, had some pasta and wine and put my ear plugs in to get at least a few hours of sleep).

Today's trip made me realize that i need to get out of Tubingen every chance I get, while it is still sunny and warm outside. I am trying to figure out the trains to get to the lake Constance in the south and the black forest. Unfortunately I missed out on the reservations for a car this weekend, but I'm hoping for the next weekend. The trains are very confusing but i am trying!
Also some students and I are thinking of getting out for an excursion into nearby areas every weekend, since they have group ticket specials for up to five people, on train and bus for 37 euros for all of Germany or 28 euros if you are staying in the Baden-Wuttemberg area. Besides, having a group of 4-5 people would help to figure out the maps and train systems and not get lost as much! So this alone gives me more hope in terms of staying here. Some places are truly beautiful and i would like a chance to see them. However, I am still only making a one semester commitment. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Life in the dorms

I don't know if I've ever appreciated Canada so much. I still don't know where in Canada I want to live and settle down in eventually, but now I know that it will most probably be in Canada. I don't see myself living anywhere in Europe really. I didn't appreciate our vast land, extensive landscapes, big houses and big toilets!
Have i told you about the toilets? Well, no matter where you go and the size of the bathroom, they are all the same: metal circles sticking out of the wall, which, unfortunately , closely resemble the ones on Russian trains. Smells quite familiar too. Enjoy!

But seriously, we live in luxury, comfort and convenience in North America, in every way. I just hope everyone realizes just to what extent. Except for the flight prices, we have the best deal ever. I think Canadians and Americans come to Europe just to see how good they have it, experience what little unique things they don't have in terms of culture and return home happy and content, knowing they are not missing anything.

As to my living arrangements, I feel like i deserve so much better. Maybe Europeans are happy with this but how can I be? I had everything I ever wanted: amazing big house, my own sanctuary, private bathroom... I knew where to go get everything, i knew how to save money, where to shop... and now? What exactly am I making all these sacrifices for? I had no idea how much language can make a difference. To constantly be surrounded by people, buildings, advertisements, special boards and have no idea what they all mean.... to be limited to some very bare, basic conversations and always make allowances for English deficiencies in other people. I feel so foreign.

Tomorrow I have to open up a bank account and put money in it, pay my tuition, so I have to decide what I'm going to do today! Sticking it out for the whole program? Abandon everything and go travel the world? Go work on organic farms in Hawaii? 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tourist or resident?

It is ridiculous to go so long without internet especially when everyone tell you: oh, you can find this and this online. Yeah, if there was such a thing as free internet in this country, then maybe! There is no free public internet whatsoever, just dusty internet cafes ran by Turkish immigrants.
So today... the woman in charge of housing changes will be in tomorrow only, so i will have to find the time to get there in between all our registration procedures. Thank god i did not have to make any too important decisions today. I opened the bank account, which you have to use for rent and school fees, but did not put any money in (the system was down), but i am happy to delay that moment because I am still very much on the fence about the whole thing. I feel like i want to jump off any moment and go home. I do not want to invest in anything- a table lamp, a towel, - anything! 
I have talked to other people more today (the Russian guy from Moscow, the Uzbek, the Venezuelan couple, the only other native English speaker from Iowa and the Austrian guy, trying to get their take on Tuebingen and settling in and how tiny and boring and inconvenient it is. Most people have a conviction that they came here for a reason and it's going to be their home for next 2 yrs, so they might as well make peace with it. Some even kind of enjoy it, while admitting that its small but cute and some things are a bit more expensive than at home. Hearing this blows my mind and i wish i could see it from their perspective. Maybe it is because those who are a bit older (the couple and Iowa guy) came here with their partners, so no matter where they go, they will feel like they are starting a new life together and not miss home as much because they have each other. I am sure that contributes to a sense of stability and emotional peace. Others who came single are quite young, 22ish, and do not seem to experience this pull towards a home-supported community.

On the other hand, I tried to buy some paper to draw on -no luck. The only store that seemed like it might carry art supplies sold envelopes all sizes and colours. I can't even buy paper!!!! The desperation continues. I have never been so confused in my life. Maybe this is what an English speaker experiences when he comes to Moscow. I bought a map of surrounding area, but i don't understand anything on it! You'd think a map should be universal, but no. I can only rely on my feet because it will be a long time before i understand the bus and train system!
My roommate kind of made an effort today. I've been avoiding everyone in the apartment, leaving early then coming late or staying in my room. But today i came home in daytime and noone was in, so i sat on the balcony enjoying the view. Right now the only thing that gives me hope is that view from our balcony on 3rdloor: the blue-grey hills behind a thick green forest, where i desperately want to go hiking and walking in, but don't quite understand how to get there (hence the unreadable map). 

If i wasn't so tired from walking all over the city every day and getting to my room after 5 pm running on 4-5 hrs of sleep, I'd try it though. So the roommate came around and talked to me, just wanting to find out what they've shown us at the orientation, even asked if i wanted to go jogging with him, to which i had to decline and say I'd rather sleep, considering the jet lag and the state I'm in right now. But he is a decent guy, pre-med school, done 6 yrs and going for another 4 years! Looking at some of these people, you wouldn't guess they are capable of that. His English is very good, actually, but he is just from outside the city. People look at me like I'm crazy when i ask why more people don't speak English everywhere in the city. Their nationalism and the whole” hello, you're in germany” is daunting. It's more common to hear some Russian talk in the crowd somewhere but i don't want to be that desperate stranger who runs up and goes: “oh, you're Russian, how wonderful! Please make me feel better about being alone!” 

As part of the orientation days, they showed us the library today and the thought went through my head: “am i really doing this whole scholar thing again? Why? Wasn't i so very happy to be done and not come back just last December?” I feel like i keep waiting for something to happen. I don't know what exactly. For classes to start? To fill my time and mind so I can replace this worry and agitation with something else?

I've also realized that i could've felt like this anywhere in Europe: Denmark, France, Italy, Spain. Anywhere can be the most beautiful place in the world but if you don't speak the language you could feel foreign and cut off. If you have to live there, that is. You really do see things differently then. When
I have, unfortunately, lost the appetite for these small pleasures. Yeah, there are a lot of outdoor cafes that look so cute and inviting... and you know how i feel? Nauseous. All the time. Ridden with fear, confusion, depression and tiredness. I look at the extensive selections of dairy, cheese, fresh bread at the supermarkets ...even my favourite cherry juices and 1 euro authentic German unfiltered wheat beer and i see how vain it is to think that it will sustain me. That maybe this will make you happy.

I used to get extremely excited whenever mom and I would go to the states. First thing I'd do is go to a supermarket and stare at the wall of cheap liquor as if I were in a museum. Well, yesterday i bought a 2 euro bottle of wine and it's even drinkable with a very decent taste. But there is no joy in drinking anymore. I drink because i want to fall asleep sooner and stop thinking even for a few minutes. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

First 24 hrs: on life, happiness and fears

So it's only been 24hrs and I've already realized a lot: that I don't feel like i made any very important decisions in my life, like I never really started behaving like an adult. And the one time i am left to do so, all i want to do is run back to safety and comfort.

I would love to have that firm belief that there is a deep healing of some kind for me here, that I will benefit from going through this, but right now it seems so unlikely. What healing? From my fears? It seems to me that if i am afraid of being alone, then i should just not be alone... but be with people I love, at home? What is the point of battling this fear anyways? Everyone is afraid to be alone in some sense and everyone is doing just fine...But that would mean that i would always be afraid to move anywhere but Calgary and i can't really tell if Calgary is the place for me. Its weird to me how I can't tell a difference between my ego indulging in my fears and the truth, the real me. I know we read all this stuff about anchoring the light, being all enlightened, but then i go through this and i am crushed. feel small and insignificant, I forget who i really am and where i came from. I come up with thoughts like this life is too hard and i don't know if I'll ever be able to go through it and enjoy it. Any of it. This duality is too great for me sometimes, my inner being feels like it's taken on more than i thought i could handle in this lifetime. I am embarrassed to admit, but i feel like my friend right now, who I have always criticized for giving up on everything. Well, now I just want to do the same and i actually sympathize with her.

I had no idea that all these issues would come up for me. It's as if I never tried to imagine this situation before, but I guess you never know how you feel until you're in it. And why didn't the thought that I would be very uncomfortable in a completely foreign country ever cross my mind before? Either i am an eternal optimist or i am just so full of illusions. Either way it feels like i do not know myself at all.

But here I find it almost impossible to relax, to mediate, because I am so overwhelmed with emotion, worry thoughts and everything. The only time today I felt calm and good was at the lecture room in our Geoscience building when the program advisor was doing the introduction. After that I left by myself to explore the city and my mood gradually got worse. It was mildly entertaining, but for the most part the overwhelming question of “what on earth am i doing here ?” doomed over me like a heavy could.

As of right now, I am without home Internet for a while, having to use Internet cafes, which makes the situation a little worse. I wish I could have contact with the other side of the world...I cannot imagine how anyone from our international group here feels excited, enthused or adventurous... it seems like they have all made peace with the fact that they are here, whether it was y coming here a week or two earlier and having time to get settled in, or maybe it's just that this is their ticket into a better future.

I tried to imagine, just before I called home, what it would feel like if I packed my bags right now (just how I really really want to) and got onto the first flight tomorrow back home? And you know what, I don't feel any relief. The sense of dissatisfaction and unfinished business will haunt me. Then i started thinking that maybe i have a deep dissatisfaction with life, that i was unhappy in Calgary before i left and here i am...miserable again. That I DON'T EVEN KNOW what makes me happy!!! Yeah, I can say being surrounded by people who love and understand me makes me happy, but what else? It seems like it needs to be deeper. This sense of happiness and calmness should come from the inside, it should not be affected by the outside parameters as much as I let it. I guess it's one thing to be able to handle things on my own in my usual environment, in Calgary, but it's another to do it here.
Well, writing is about the only thing that helps right now. I have been writing/trying to meditate for 3.5 hrs now. Have to get up in 7 hrs, having barely slept the last 2 nights. Doesn't add to my perceiving things any better. My judgement is cloudy, my body is slow and worn out, my appetite is gone. i don't feel like i belong anywhere, i feel suspended in the air, swaying from side to side. If only i could have known ahead of time what this will feel like!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Here I am!

And, here it was. The farewell parties were over, suitcases packed, ticket in hand. I turned around to wave my mom and our friend good-bye, and I was off to meet the new “old world” and face whatever adventures it brought my way. Yes, I was flying on September 11th. I know, I know, but I am not superstitious and the good deals were just too good to miss. With the time change, I landed in Frankfurt on the evening of September 12th, taking the train to Tuebingen. Now, the train: I have heard and seen nothing but the highest praise for German trains from all the travel shows. After paying what could have been a flight ticket's worth, there I was: on the great mighty DB. And it was nothing at all like I pictured. Not overly comfortable, nowhere to put your bags (trains tend to be pretty packed on weekends), and overall kind of messy. Where is the German standard? Next shocker: on the regional train going from Stuttgart to Tuebingen, some people would not move their bags off the seat next to them to offer you a place, unless you specifically addressed them in German. This is when I realized we are not in Canada anymore. Ah, how I miss you, polite, courteous Canadians!

The good thing about the University is that they assigned each of the new arrivals a person to meet them and take them to the dorm. As we were walking around the corner of the soon-to-be "my building", I noticed a particularly loud bunch of people on the balcony of the 4th floor. "well, good thing they're not my roommates"-I thought. Little did I know, that is exactly where my dorm was destined to be: in the biggest party house in the whole building. Again, the dorm was not what I imagined based on the given description. It is a shared apartment between six people, with a kitchen and a balcony in the middle and a left and right wing, consisting of 3 rooms and 1 bathroom with a shower each. Needless to say, the noise isolation is next to non-existent. First impression of the room: prison cell straight from the Cold War. Really, I did not think anyone lived like this anymore. Yikes. I need to move out asap, but for now, sleeeeep. Tomorrow morning is the first group meeting and I have a very vague idea of where it is.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How it all began

This is a story of how it all began. 

Last summer, in 2009, anticipating my soon-to-be-over last semester as an undergrad in Geology, i began looking into my options for the next year. I clearly remember the day i said: “I'll be thankful to finish my Bachelor's, there is no way I will be going on to do a Master's”. 

Less than 2 years later, there I was-applying for a Master's degree. Most of the people I knew tended to stay at their home university, where it was familiar and comfortable. Some have come to Canada from abroad, but i did not know of anyone who had gone abroad to pursue further education. I guess Canada is a pretty good place to be. However, at that point I have been going to the University of Calgary for five years, never having enough guts to even try semester at the University of British Columbia, never mind somewehre outside the country and I could not picture another 2 years at the same institution. The time there has been great, but I was desperate for a change. I was clueless where to start. Seemed like no matter where I turned for advice, noone knew anything about going abroad, all they could tell me is how the University of Calgary works. Thanks, but I was still not interested.
After doing my preliminary research, it seemed that I did not stand a very good chance in other highly competitive Canadian universities. “So why not look into Europe?”-I thought, since I was planning on going there at some point to travel and explore anyway. And this is how I found the Eberhard Karls University of Tuebingen, Germany. Never ever had I any fascination with German culture, history, food or country in general. And above all, I really thought I could do without ever hearing German language, which, to me, was not pretty in any way. Ok, well, there was a time in 10th grade when I had my “rammstein” phase, but this was long over now.

However, it turned out that not only was Germany much cheaper to live in that other European countries ( I am not considering former USSR countries or Poland), they also do not charge international students any extra fees. The top geology schools on my list were in England, Scotland, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. The international programs in non-native English speaking countries were sometimes quite limited and they tend to charge international students at least 2-3 times the cost of tuition for a EU member. Thus my decision was simple: it's an international program in Applied Geoscience, it's almost free and I don't need to speak any German!-hey, let's see if I get in.

So I know some people drive around their potential universities, meet with
advisors and “get a feel” for their next step of a life as a postgrad. This was not me. I did not even apply to a single Canadian university just to see if I get in ( frankly, the 100$ application fee has always been a factor). Instead, I've decided to bank it all on Eberhard Karls and heck, if I get in, it's meant to be, I'll pack up and go. And so I bookmarked the website, made an inquiry and forgot all about it for a few months. 

Somewhere in January, realizing that the job market for new geologists is really not looking that great, i remembered about the application form I downloaded all those months ago and decided to give it an actual chance. I asked my past professors for recommendation letters and now it was time to write the dreaded “letter of motivation”. I was trying to make it before the “early bird” application deadline, which left me precisely a week to learn all there was to writing this letter. After procrastinating and making some feeble attempts, I was left with 10 hours to go. And, in the hours of total desperation, a genius was born.

I did what most people advised: compliment the university, highlight your achievements, state why their university in particular is the best fit for you and assure them that by choosing you they simply can't go wrong. 

Well, I don't know if it was the stellar recommendations or my “I'm dying to make the world a better place” pledge, but it worked. Many many months later, after coming home at 7 a.m. from pulling an all-nighter, there it was, it my e-mail box: “we are pleased to offer you an official spot in our program”. I screamed at the top of my lungs and began jumping around the living room, excited at this unexpected turn of events. Never once had it occurred to me at that point that i will be saying good-bye to all my friends and all I knew for the next 2 years. But, there were many preparations to be had: gathering the necessary documents, selling my car and some of my other unneeded possessions, and figuring out how to pack all I might need for two years into two suitcases.