Tag Archives: WHU

Home Is Where You Let It Be

(Entry from May 11, 2014)

This morning, I hopped on a train to leave my home forever, and didn’t look back. I realized there was no sense in thinking too much about it. I boarded the train from Track 2 in Vallendar station to Koblenz as I had done so many times during the semester that it all felt routine.

I’ve moved around before, but it was almost always back and forth from the places I called home. Whenever I left, I knew I’d come back eventually. This time was different. I never expected to feel such at home in little quaint Vallendar, but I did. The truth of it never hit me so much as it did tonight, after I settled into my lodging for the night in Stuttgart that I’ll probably never see Vallendar again. And even if I do return, it wouldn’t be the same. I’ll just be passing through.

Something I’ve always struggled with is the saying, “Home is where the heart is.” Can it be more than one place? What if I don’t feel anything for anywhere? Germany made me realize I could do something about this, that I made the mistake of merely adapting to my surroundings, thinking it was enough, and never trying to  belong.   There is a difference. Feeling you belong makes the place home, wherever you are. Otherwise it is just an address, simply where you live. All my life, I’ve been trying to balance out the cultural differences, trying to awkwardly fit in to both. At some point, I knew as hard as I tried, I would always be a mixture of at least two worlds, but I always saw the glass as half-empty and not half-full.

Germany taught me many things, but the most powerful and simplest of one was the great difference a small change of mind can be. I wanted to be European. I wanted to thrive in this new surrounding. I came here with an open heart and mind, freed myself all my emotional baggage upon arrival — and it made all the difference. Germany became home for me because I WANTED it to be.

Part of the reasons to study abroad is the demonstration and experience that one is a global citizen. One must be empathetic towards different cultures and find strength and harmony through those differences, rather than dissonance.

I know I am blessed beyond measure to have three places in the world that I can call Home. Slowly, but surely, I’m emerging from my self-induced dissonance, and truly making an effort to make music out of my eclectic identity.

P.S. I’m coming home (back to Hawaii) on May 20, at which point I will have time to really process my life over the past few months and (hopefully) give a intelligible account.

Another thing I learned/saw in action: All things do happen in some sort of weird, great design; one just needs time to make the connections.

Vallendar Living

Hi everyone!

I can’t believe I’m already halfway through my semester at WHU. So far, most of my blog has been about my experiences in getting new experiences, within and outside Germany. There will be more, I assure you, so stay tuned! But for this time, I want to show you more about my daily life in Germany.

Living Accommodations

So when you Google the name of the place where I live in, you get this:

Haus Wildburg
Haus Wildburg

That’s partly true. Haus Wildburg is a property owned by the Marien nuns who work and live in this building as well as the housing units immediately behind it past the metal gate. We live past the gate, past where the nuns live, up a little hill to the student dormitory section.

Haus Wildburg is one of the cheapest housing options available to Tauschies at WHU. For 335 Euros per month (which, I now know, is very over priced in Germany) you get this:

Single unit, with one bed, a closet, a desk, a sink, and a radiator. Oh and a chair.
Single unit, with one bed, a closet, a desk, a sink, and a radiator. Oh and a chair.

As well as usage of the kitchens and common areas, which are essentially lounges. The facilities are old, but they get the job done. It’s small, but for me, it’s enough. I don’t take up much space anyway. (Haha)

I live with nine other students, most of whom are from America, so it didn’t take much adjusting to get along. It’s nice living with other people. When I go down to the kitchen to cook dinner (which I never did back in Hawaii because there was always the cafeteria that served buffet style meals), I would usually hear the boys in their kitchen, and it almost always smells amazing. No joke. The guys can really cook.

Which reminds me of the peculiarities of Wildburg. There are separate common areas and kitchens according to gender: one each for male and female. For laundry, we have to pay four 50-cent coins to use the washer and 3 coins for the dryer. That means one load of laundry will cost 3.50 Euros. Eek! Also, the nuns are VERY diligent landlords, and coupled with the fact they speak close to no English, makes things at times quite interesting.

Food

I know Europe has a reputation for being expensive, and I can validate that because I’ve been to some very expensive places (but nice ones. More on that later), but at least compared to Hawaii, groceries are very cheap here. I rarely spend more than 10 Euros on groceries, even at the most expensive store nearby campus, and that can last me for over a week. There are a few main places to go shopping for essentials at:

1) REWE (pronounced like “RAY-VUH”): the newest store in town, a few steps from school, and the closest store to home. Also the most expensive. But if you buy the Ja! brand, it’s like Safeway Select, or Kirkland Signature, or the CVS brand. You get it for cheaper – about the cheapest it gets.

2) Lidl (pronounced like “needle” with an ‘L’): A few minutes from campus not far from the Vallendar train station. It looks like a warehouse, and you can usually find cheaper produce and goods here than at REWE. But if you get Ja! from REWE, it’s comparable.

3) Aldi & Netto: Two separate stores, literally side-by-side, only divided by a parking lot between them. They’re about the same distance from school as Lidl (a bit further) but in the opposite direction. You can probably some of the best deals at these two places as well as good variety. For me though, it’s just really far to walk with a bunch of groceries.

The German diet consists of a lot of meat (yes, wurst), which I ate a lot of during my first few weeks here. Now that I cook a lot, with one good meal a day, I can save a lot of money. My home-cooked dinners have cost me no more than 2 Euros. Actually closer to 1 Euro, with pasta, meat, and veggies.

School

Compared to most campuses I’ve been to, WHU is actually quite small, which is nice because I’ll never have to rush from class to another. Every room is clean, well-lit, and new. The school has only been around for three decades, but it has already maintained a solid reputation for rigor and excellence for years.

The largest lecture hall at WHU. Not the most comfortable one.
The largest lecture hall at WHU. Not the most comfortable one.
Another lecture hall. Smaller but with better seats ^^
Another lecture hall. Smaller but with better seats ^^

And this is one of my favorite places on campus (aside from the library that is accessible 24/7):

The WHU chapel. Anyone is welcome to play the piano as he/she wishes. It is, however, not a sanctified chapel.  Image courtesy of Google.
The WHU chapel. Anyone is welcome to play the piano as he/she wishes. It is, however, not a sanctified chapel.
Image courtesy of Google.

Oh and they have coffee serving vending machines. For 60 cents, you can get a decent cup of coffee, hot chocolate, or even shot of espresso with milk. Every school needs this. What would I do for one of these so I don’t have to wait in line for Starbucks (and watch my paycheck dwindle down…)

Also comes with a cup :)
Also comes with a cup 🙂

Bits and Pieces (Weeks 1 & 2)

Bigger and better things (posts) are on their way, but for now, please enjoy these pictures!

On Our Mini-Rhine-Cruise 

As part of the Welcome Week for Tauschies (WHU exchange students), the Vallendar Integration Program organized a Winter version of the Koblenz Ralley. Normally, at least from what I heard, guys would have to strip down to swim shorts, wade in the water, and wear trash bags while running around shamelessly (or not) around Koblenz trying to fulfill a designated set of tasks.

Thankfully, we did not have to do that. Here are some gorgeous views of the Rhine at sunset (which was like, 4:30 in the afternoon)
When we got to Koblenz, it was darkening fast. All pumped and excited, we got off the boat to await our scavenger hunt assignments. Our first tasks was to make costumes out of plastic trash bags and random stuff like streamers, balloons, and string. Unfortunately I have no pictures of our group, but we were soooo attractive as Minion (from Despicable Me) wannabes.
This was our first sight after disembarking the boat. Deutsches Eck was only a couple minutes away from where we were.

Pubcrawl

Exactly what it  says it is, for those (like me) who did not originally know what this meant. We were given a list of pubs to visit and a list of drinks to choose from. The goal of the night was to win as many points as possible, which involved getting a drink at every stop (number of points increased with the intensity of the drink) and sometimes doing some other crazier things. Like taking a shot out of a syringe. (Albeit a plastic one, but still)

And this is me, making a house of cards to prove my soberness even though my head felt otherwise. Haha.

We went to Palais afterwards, which is a classy restaurant and bar upstairs and nightclub downstairs. Being a minor from the States, I never went out (really went out) before, and I had a really great time. With the coat check and entrance fee though, I spent 10 Euros. Drinks are not included. Of course there were lots of people, and the music was pretty good. I was sorry to learn that Palais would be closing for the rest of the semester, or at least for a couple of months.
As all of my friends know, I’m not one for parties. But for those who are into the nightlife and such, I do recommend Palais if you are ever in Koblenz.

One of the Best Breakfasts I’ve Ever Had

If you stay at the Hotel Alexander von Humboldt in Vallendar, check out this gem: the breakfast parlour.

Comfy setting, great home-y service, all-you-can-eat (yes, that is smoked salmon) breakfast for 6 Euro.
Oh, even fruit juice is served differently here:  https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10202805462402439&set=a.3426326141717.2162370.1377198545&type=1&theater

Inside Goethe’s Home

Sorry the pictures aren’t that great, but isn’t the room beautiful? They only use and open this room for very special and formal functions, so chances are very good that I will never see it from the inside again.

That in the middle is a painting of JW v. Goethe himself.

Finally… (for now)

The campus, as it looked last night. Every so often, WHU invites corporate leaders from  various industries as it holds conferences each with a specific focus. Last week was Campus for Finance, and these past couple of days was Campus for Supply Chain Management (logistics and operations). I didn’t know enough about these to attend, thinking I was not eligible. However, I will  take advantage of the opportunities at upcoming conferences. I mean, who would I be if I didn’t try?

TBC… : )

From the Desk: Week 1

Dear Friend,

I hope you are doing well. It’s been so long since I have written, but even longer since I have heard back. I know we’re all busy with other things, but I should have made this a higher priority. And I shall do my best, I promise.

It is currently quite early in the morning here in Germany. As you know, I’m not a morning person. I’ve never been used to waking up before sunrise – though I have seen the sun rise because I barely slept. But right now in Germany, daybreak is so late. The sky only begins to lighten up at 8AM. By 4PM, the sun has already approached the horizon. Small things that I certainly do miss about the island. However, I am grateful for the opportunity to see the sun rise and set beautifully everyday. I have never taken it for granted, and I will miss these things until I experience them again, but I realized that even if I never do–among other things–I will be fine. Life just rolls on, and you do too. A very wise person taught me that, and while I live with it every moment, I know I will never be able thank him enough.

I am going to have such a difficult time leaving this place. At least as far as this welcome week goes, it reminds me of the United States Senate Youth Program, where in one week, I met some of the best, most brilliant young people I ever had (probably will have) the pleasure to. To this day, and I’m sure for long beyond, I will continued to be inspired by these people. Even here in Germany, though the program is not as competitive simply because of its nature, the people here are pretty awesome. Of course, the club, beers, and dance floors brings out our other natures, but hey – I’m finally learning to live a little.
By the way, don’t get jelly, but many people before I came (mostly females, not surprisingly) have made sure I did not forget how lucky I am to be in Germany. By popular demand, I feel obligated to disclose – yes, there are indeed more males at the school, and yes, they are indeed on the whole very good-looking. But I digress.

I was able to successfully register for all the classes I need, thankfully. This was the less stress I’ve ever had to experience when signing up for classes. I think I should study abroad more often, haha. I’m not used to a block schedule, but mainly, I just think I’m not used to spending so little time at school, or in actual classes. The exam schedule is pretty confusing, and the worst thing is all my classes have grades that are 100% based on the exam. Some exams aren’t announced, and even the professor is unsure. That is because WHU (or Germany for that matter) does not believe in the American style of testing immediate after the content is learned. They think delaying the exam and giving students time after the class is over will give them the opportunity to really internalize what was learned. I’m not sure how much I agree with this. We shall see. But I gotta say, having no textbooks beats all of this. I’ll probably spend maybe 50 Euro tops for all the class material, which I simply print out from the copy shop just beyond campus.

 

We spent quite some time exploring the campus and surrounding cities and meeting people. So far we have made traditional German food on our own, tried to re-create a German Christmas market (hot red wine included), went on a mini Rhine boat ride, spent a couple (or even more for some people) nights in house parties and some legit German clubbing, and was forced to walk around and do a scavenger hunt in creatively-designed trash bags across the main parts of Koblenz. (Although, the looks on the passerby faces: priceless.)

In case if you were interested, here is an ongoing album of the pictures in Vallendar, the little town where WHU is located in, so I will be spending most of my time there.

https://www.facebook.com/waisamlao/media_set?set=a.10202868338494302.1073741826.1377198545&type=3

And the time (on January 8) when a group of exchange students all went to Koblenz. You would love that city as well. I think Germany in general, in fact. You should go one day. I know you of all people will truly appreciate the historical significance of many of the regions we’ve been and things we saw. I bet you’ll pick up German in no time!

https://www.facebook.com/waisamlao/media_set?set=a.10202868744984464.1377198545&type=3

I’ve been extremely fortunate. There are many individuals who went out of their way and made my time here so great. The International Relations Office is so helpful and efficient, which is essential in reducing stress. Unlike most people, I was lucky enough to be able to meet my pre-assigned “Tauschie” WHU buddy even before I came to Germany since he actually did his mandatory exchange semester at UH Manoa. He is one of the most polite and friendly people I know, and he gave me such great advice and tips. I felt so bad when he finished his exams at UH so early that I did not expect to meet him yet, so we ended missing each other for like half an hour. But even then, after we met up, he was so very nice. It was great, and I introduced him to my co-workers (who also happen to be great friends of mine) at school, Honestly, I owe him a lot – including a beer for tonight…or last night? this morning? haha.

But by Jove, Europe! You have to go! We went to Cologne today as a MASSIVE group of Tauschies and of course later split up into much smaller groups. It’s a beautiful, colorful, extremely historic city.

Oh, and I figured out how to do postal, so I will be sending out actual letters and postcards soon!

Friend, it’s such a wonderful feeling to really know you’re doing something right, that you’re finally somewhere you thrive in and are meant to be. I’m learning so much about people, my field, Europe, life, and myself everyday.

Thinking of you, and take care!

Always, sincerely, truly,

Wai Sam

Orientation & Orienting (Tips Inside)

Hello there, I am a Tauschie.

Pronounced TOW-SHE (as in “towel” and the female pronoun)

That’s the WHU nickname for exchange students. I daresay I rather like it.

Most of my friends in Hawaii are wondering why in the world (haha, get it?) I had to leave home so early for Germany. That’s because our mandatory exchange student orientation was on January 3rd, which is practically the day after New Year’s for Hawaii.

So the night of the 2nd, a few of us Tauschies got seated at what we thought was a restaurant. Since we were a larger group, we had to bring an extra chair and moved around things a bit. But when we realized that it did not serve dinner food, we couldn’t stay and (rather unceremoniously) departed the place…right in the line of sight of the store owner. Oh dear.

Yeah. So the next morning, Cynthia and I walked down from Wildburg together and decided to redeem ourselves by purchasing our breakfast from that same bakery store. I had a chocolate croissant (chocolate inside). Warm and dee-lish. I like Starbucks, but it got nothin’ on this. Success.

The day was a pretty full one. We started at 9:00AM and it was one information session and documentation preparation after another. We all lined up to submit our information disclosure agreements and health insurance documents to get our student cards that double as access keys to school facilities and IDs. As for residential permits, we had until Friday, January 10th (a week from that day) to register at the town hall a few steps away from campus. The town hall is a blocky, orange (peach?) colored building right behind the restaurant Die Traube [see photo gallery] on Hellenstrasse. It’s big, orange, and labeled “Rathaus.” You can’t miss it.

(If anyone is interested in knowing, the 5-month permit costs 50 Euro, and the 8-month permit [also requires an electronic application] is 100 Euro).

After figuring out the initial nuts and bolts and how to legally stay in Germany for the duration of the semester, we were schooled on how to register for classes. Unlike other exchange programs I’ve heard about, WHU students don’t register until the weekend before the first Monday of the semester. Some classes don’t open up until a few days, or even weeks later. Until the classes open up, we can “pre-book” the desired course, which places it on our personal calendar so we can check the class times in relation to other classes. This was extremely helpful because I found three classes that overlapped with each other before I officially registered for them. So so so so much less stressful than registering at UH Manoa. Here, most classes don’t have a cap, so students pretty much get all the classes they need and want.

Then came the German placement tests. There was an info session where the German teachers gave an overview of the program and encouraged everyone to take German. It’s all for free, and it won’t be held against you even if you fail the final exam (and therefore the course). For those interested, students can take the exam and be certified for a specific proficient level. There are four levels offered to exchange students: A1 (Beginning), A2 (Intermediate), B1 (Advanced), B2/C1 (Very Advanced). The teachers (all female, so “Lehrerinnen” or “Professorinnen”) stressed that the subsequent class/level assignment after the exams were only recommendations; we were free to choose any level we felt comfortable with.

Since I technically took three years of German, I decided to try out the placement exam and interview. I had little hopes for myself because my three years were discontinuous and I repeated first-year German when I entered college. On top of that, I never spoke it other than the few opportunities in class. As for my placement, I expected to be in A2 at best, but somehow I got B1! I know it’ll be a stretch, but I decided to go for it anyway, since I do intend on becoming literate and partially fluent in German. Fingers crossed that I’ll survive.

We did some more exploring and checking out facilities during our free time between the orientation and the evening activity. On our expedition to find the campus gym (in Building D), we got locked inside one of the glass buildings because the inside access key scan pad wouldn’t work, even though we were able to get in. We got out the back door, and it turns out the Gym building was pretty much right there, so it was a happy mistake!

We gathered at the main Burgplatz (which is like the main Quad, center of campus) at 7:00PM under the dark sky for our campus tour. Strange, I know. But most of the things to see were indoors, so it didn’t make much of a difference. The facilities are really quite excellent. Very much so, in fact. There is a chapel, Harry Potter-esque staircase, multi-story library, a large 24/7 gym, lots of study rooms, and modern lecture halls with seats that might be too comfortable!

At 8:00PM that evening, the welcoming student committee (called the Vallendar Integration Program, aka VIP) gave a rundown of Welcome Week. It sounds better and busier than anything I expected. I don’t know if I should go too in-depth, but let’s just say these kids really do know how to party. And they do it all the time. *winky-wink*

And the fun already began that night. After a late dinner of pizza, about 60 Tauschies went with the local kids to a club in Koblenz. I didn’t go, but I heard they had a good time.

CLUBBING TIP: Apparently there’s a coat charge (about 1 Euro) and an entrance overhead fee that you have to pay WHEN YOU LEAVE, not at the door, so you don’t realize you need to get charged. I heard it’s 7 Euro, but it might vary from club to club.

*Note of caution: While Vallendar is a safe town, it gets very dark very early, and it is super quiet. I almost got lost trying to find my way back to my dormitory from another location other than campus my first night because it was so dark and there were hardly any street lights. But it’s very small, so even if you’re not sure where you are, it won’t take you long to find your way. And you’ll know the place well soon enough.

(There is a duplicate post in my personal -other- blog. Still trying to get the hang of this. Sorry for the confusion!)