Aug 26, 2008

The German Exam

I return home, thinking about the German exam, not worrying a lot, but the thought of 14000 bucks almost being wasted was disturbing me. My dorm, named Frauensteige 2, is a doublet, with 2 individual rooms sharing, a kitchen and a bath. So I happened to meet my room mate, William Enrique Fonseca Barbosa (and I thought only we had long names) from Columbia (South America), when I returned, who seemed to have arrived in the morning on that particular day. Later we ended up talking about the cleaning and the purchase routines. In the evening, we got our internet connections, and boy what a relief from some heavy boredom! I started to think, that walls were to be my companions for the next 2 years. One would have easily guessed my next step, yep logged onto gmail and importantly orkut, " now everything felt right!" Thats it, I began wondering how the entire evening had passed and suddenly it was 10pm. No wonder, there was a certain amount of pain in my stomach, indicating my hunger. Having worked in a software industry, I should have known that computers are addictive. "So what do I make for dinner", was the thought that came up, not that I had an entire list of options to select from, but I didn't have anything. "Sigh! Ok, lets have some cornflakes" , it was a pretty enthusiastic decision, considering the fact that I had apples, milk, cornflakes and honey. That pretty much shows that, that was the best option. So for the first 2 days, this was my breakfast and dinner, thanks to Mensa, that I got to eat something different at the university.

So the next day, on the day of German exam, I wake up at 9 am (Test was at 10am). "Damn! what the hell?" , it seems that I had kept the alarm, but somehow I managed to turn it off, when it rang, one can understand these oblivion sleeps, due to the change of timezone. "Hurry, hurry! I dont want to be late as usual, and that to for this exam!" , was my only thought, but in vain. Luckily, I had an accomplice "ha ha, much better",William too was late. So we goto the particular room, "damn those two, Vamsi and Bhuvan, how come they are on time? traitors, grrrr!" I went to the last row, as it was the only empty place we had. "Why is Vamsi not writing anything? Not a good sign!", I thought to myself, then I realized that he didnt learn German in India. "Anyways, lets do it!" We were given the question paper, and the instructor told that the exam was for 45 mins. "Wait, wait, we arrived 15 mins late, so we have only 30 mins then?" , I had just finished thinking that, and then, "No grace time!" , I heard. "Are the Germans Telepathic." "Ah! well, cant do much about that now."

But when I went through the question paper, I was full of smiles, as I was able to do most of the questions, and only if I had come earlier, I could have completed the question paper, well before time. In between, I saw Vamsi giving me a smile and leaving the room, within 10 mins, and even Bhuvan was not to be seen. William did tell me that he had learned a bit of German. So, we were the last to leave the room. I had to leave last 15 questions, allowing me to attempt only 45 out of 60. We were told to wait for the results and in the mean time, the instructor would help us to know the Erasmus team. There were around 80 students taking the exam, I suppose. We were given an invitation for the Erasmus party in the evening. And then came the results. They said that they would be calling up names classified by the course level as 1a, 1b, 2 and 3, in the ascending order. However, after giving the exam, I was sure that this performance would not put me in basic course again. As they had started calling the names, Bhuvan and Vamsi were put in leavel 1a. And I was surprised to see, that my name was not called in the course level 1b too. All the 14000 bucks utility came to my mind and was such a relief. And then I heard my name, again sounding really bad, "Neanndaaa.....gopaall Harish, did I say it correctly ?". I was already embarassed, nevertheless "Never mind, it was fine!", (Whats with this Germans, why do they stress on 'a' so much!) in course level 2. William was also out in course level 2. I was happy, but only for a moment, something caught my attention, there were no chics in Course level 2. When I had entered the examination room, I saw some great beauties in the 2nd row. "Wow, after all Germany was never a bad idea!", all the hopes in vain. It was as if my fate came with me from India all along. Even worse followed, all those beauties in course level 3, "damn, damn! if only I was earlier. Why didnt I wake up early?". I even had the temptation to ask for a re-test (lighter note), but whats gone was gone. Summarizing, course level 3 had around 70% girls and 30% boys. Anyways, I was happy that attempting fewer questions I was able to get that level. 14000 bucks, very very useful. I came to realize, that I was lacking in communication but written and reading skills in German were pretty good. But yeah communication still had a long way to go, nevertheless, it was good to see that this development will be in a country where German, oops Deutsch is the mother tongue (Deutsch ist die HauptSprache :D).

Aug 25, 2008

The Next Day...!!

After a wobbling start to the next stage, the next morning greeted me with some beautiful snow around my dorm. However, this took sometime to sink in, as I got up with the usual gloomy, swollen eyes, asking for some tea, except that I didnt hear any response. It struck me immediately, that am in a different country, and what was worse, I didn't have TEA (damn, this was a bad idea..!!). This was something, I was really addicted to, back in India. Whether I eat or not, tea is a must for me, and now as I write this blog, I am surprised, that I have lived for 4 months, without having a taste of Tea. Not that am very happy about it, but still its good to know, that I was not actually addicted to Tea. Ok, if am mentioning Tea in caps, it has a certain amount of importance in my life, guess my close buddies will be knowing it.

So I wake up, to find no Tea, no newspaper, no TV (didn't get my internet connection yet), no music (both mobile and ipod were dead), hmph..!!!, one cannot ask for a more boring morning. However, I forgot all these, when I saw the snow outside my window, and thought of taking sometime off and viewing its beauty. It was amazing. I had seen snow earlier, in Kullu-Manali, but this was different. There were people rushing to cover their cars, some of them trying to start them, and this particular scene got embedded so deep, that I still remember every detail of that day. But I had to move on, I had to goto the university, to meet our coordinator, for doing all formalities.

So Bhuvan and myself, start off to the uni, thanks to the detailed map, it was pretty easy to spot the bus, except that we had to argue about the direction of the bus to be taken. The best thing about the uni was, for starters, the engineering department was located separately and easy to find. On our way, we happen to meet our first batch-mate, a girl from China. Even though we are the closest among all the neighboring countries, and we compete in all the fields, the biggest competition between both the countries, will be "Who memorizes whose names first?". I guess it took us 10 mins, to explain her our names and get her name, and still I dont remember her name. However, she had a pet name, which was rather simple, Jojo. There is no link between her pet name and her original name. So this is how the conversation went:

Me/Bhuvan: Hello, so are you looking for the Commn Dept?
Jojo: !?!?!?!?
Me/Bhuvan: Are, you looking for the Commn Dept? (extremely slowly)
Jojo: Ya, ya (shaking her head up and down..!!! I feel this is very common in China..!!)
Me/Bhuvan: Hi , I am Harish (Me)and I am Bhuvan (Bhuvan)
Jojo: Haaiisssh??? Poooovan???
Me/Bhuvan: (Great never knew my name could sound so bad..!! Bhuvan please take the honours of explaining) I guess I can write the name (Bhuvan) (Brilliant - Me)
Jojo: Ya, ya (Again shaking her head). Oh oh Haariisshh (r extremely silent)(Chalo, a bit better than the last time..!!) and Boovan (ha ha..!! mine was better - Me)
Me/Bhuvan: Whats your name?(Bhuvan) (I am not going through that again..!! - Me)
Jojo: §$%§$"$%..!! (believe me, i still don't know..!!)
Bhuvan: May be you can write it..!!
Jojo: Ya ya

And so somehow Bhuvan got her name. And then, the impossible happened, 5 more Chinese appeared, and we ended up explaining our names for the next half an hour, and thanks to our coordinator, we had to stop. Then came the usual, formality section, filling up of n-number of forms, (isn't there an easy method to do this..!!), but I had to appreciate our coordinator's patience to put up with us for almost 2 hours. Vamsi, arrived late, as usual, and then we set out to have a tour of the uni. Our bank accounts were opened and then we went to mensa, (Lunch canteen in the uni), there again I gave a failed attempt to reclaim my lost heroics, in German. So this is how it was:

Me: Entschuldigung (Man this is the only word in German that I have mastered..!!) Was haben Sie .... für Mittagessen ?(Tanslation - What do you have for lunch?) (Ok, that was better than before)
German Guy: %§$%"§%&$%&$"$" in German
Me: (damn, I havn't learned food names in German..!! fine, lets go step-by-step) Sigh, Können Sie Englisch sprechen?
German Guy: Ja, so we have .....!!!
Me: (Someone, grab and pull me inside the earth..!! I can see Bhuvan and Vamsi, with all giggles behind me..!! Guess they could have done this better..!! well it can't be helped)

What came next was going to be really interesting, we were supposed to have a German classification test the next, to put us in different levels, based on our German knowledge. (Man with this kinda remembrance, I spent 14,ooo Rs. on German course in India, and I will be back where I started..!!), and to make it worse, I didnt bring any German course books with me (damn the baggage limits). Ok Harish, get ready for going back to Basic Course Level in German, not that anything is bad with that, but I spent 14000 bucks learning German. And so, I go back to my dorm, waiting for my German exam the next day.

The First Few Minutes after we reach Ulm...!!!

So, thats what it was to begin our journey. Sigh!!!. We just hoped, we did not have to go through the same coldness for the next two years, if you know what I mean. And I must say, we were in a place, where this has to be far from reference. Ofcourse, I did not mean that all the rooms here have heaters (uh..!! ok bad one..!!). There we were in the station waiting for the person, to accompany us. We met the station master, and here, I thought of bringing out my heroics, as the other two friends of mine, didn't goto any German class. So this is how I went about:

Me: Entschuldigung...!! (Whats next..!! what next..!!) Kannst du, nein, konnen sie... (uh..!!! sigh..!!) Englisch sprechen?
Station Master: @#%@##@$ (in German)
Me: bitte..!! (so it was true, not many of them know english)
Station Master: directs his hand, and shows us the direction...
Me: Danke... (darn..!! any tom, dick and harry, without finishing a single level of German would have done that..!! and I am supposed to have finished 2 levels..!!screw me..!!!)

Well, I finally ended up making a big fiasco, as I had realized that it was more than a month since my German classes were over and I had forgotten whatever I had learnt as I had lost touch, not that I would done any better if I had, just a mere satisfaction that those classes were useful, however, which was not to happen (not sounding pessimistic, as later those classes came in more than handy). So after this fiasco, I ended up talking with him in half english and half german. And then we were able to see the person waiting for us, relief crossed our face.We were given a file for each of us, and the first thing I noticed, that the address was just 2 lines (saves me energy, to write those big addresses, as back in India!!!). It was decided that among the three, Vamsi, Bhuvan and me, Vamsi would be going in a different dorm, and Bhuvan and myself to the same dorm.

As we started our way outside the station, we had to buy the bus tickets, and thats where I spent my first exchanged euros, and believe, it aches a lot to spend some money when you know that its actually being converted some 60 times of the money at your country. Well I realized, that I had to get used to it. The best thing about that evening was, I saw the first snowfall ever. It was not heavy, but drizzles in the form of snow. Summarizing, cold wave entry, german fiasco, euro expense within minutes of getting to Ulm and then snow. Not a bad start at all, Harish.

We get to our respective rooms, and believe me people, tracing where you are in Ulm, is never going to be difficult, which anyone coming from a crowded country, would easily realize. I figured out that it must be the same through out Germany. To make it even simpler, we were provided maps by the university and so well detailed, that no one can ever get lost. The person, who brought us, also invited us for the dinner and the returning part was a challenge, as we were on our own. We still had some arguments, and luckily we got on the right bus back home. Special note, our dorm was near Ulm's biggest brewery (not sounding very appealing, but just as a landmark). And so we move on...

Aug 21, 2008

First Step outa Country..!!!

A normal software professionals' day, it sucks, was coming to an end, just when I happened to open my mailbox and the usual filled up inbox, but my eyes kept searching it, as it did for the last 2 months, the news that would lift me off this boring, monotonous, software job (am not against software, but it was the kinda job I did). Well those drained twins, keep searching, even after viewing the high radiation monitor for around 10 hours, they kept searching for the news, until their persistence paid off. The mail had come, from the University of Ulm, for a 2-year Masters course in Communication Technology. The day of excitement and enthusiasm, started, as for the first time, I was going to step outa country.

Well the preparations had started much before the mail came, not sounding over-confident, but still the German class, learning a new language is always fun. The next 3 months were full of discussions, with seniors, friends, batch-mates (luckily found two of them) and was good to know, that someone will be there to accompany throughout the the next 2 years. So some spice was added to my software life, every evening would be full of excitement, with all the preparations for visa, traveling, studies ofcourse, etc. I still remember, this friend of mine, who conducted a 100% fool proof visa interview, from Germany, before my original interview, giving me different tips to answer. The biggest challenge was laid forth by the airlines, giving a baggage limit of only 30Kgs. But then, thanks to a comprehensive check list of items, I was able to save some expenditures, except for the unavoidable ones and luckily my baggage was just enough.

And then the D-day had come. It was good and I was really overwhelmed, to see most of my friends turning up to see me off (thanks guys..!!!). So it was first trip to the airport, the inside precisely, and I still reckon my walk being dead slow, and my head turning almost 360°, hope my eyes could go back too, not amazed at airport, but just to be careful checking if anyone is calling me. The baggage check was done, after a last wave of bye to my parents, there I was with flight ticket, moving towards the plane. The only traveling mean, I hadn't used yet (well Helicopter and Rocket do not count, i hope). It was the Qatar Airlines, and was ahem, a bit crampy till Qatar. But then from Qatar to Germany, it was quite comfortable, nevertheless, I spent most of my traveling time sleeping.

And then we landed at Frankfurt, I was still trying to believe that I was 100s of miles away from my country infact in a different continent. Well realization soaked in once I was in one of world's busiest airports, the design, the complexity, just eluded any other airport I have been to (ok I have been to Mumbai airport). The first step in Frankfurt was not that bad, as we did feel a bit cold, but what awaited us later was a complete shock, as we were struck by the cold wave, which is supposed to be usual, when we stopped at Ulm. None among the 3 of us were ready for that, we were just with our jerkins, and we were literally frozen, when we got down at the Ulm station. Probably that symbolized the way the next 2 years was going to be. Instinctively we reached for our Big baggage, only to find it sealed, luckily I had my winter clothing in hand luggage and put it on (thanks to my friend's advice). So there we were in the Ulm station, still recovering from what struck us, and waiting for the person to receive us. The three of us realized that the journey had just begun!