Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Amazing experiences

There are days where I am truly blown away by where I am. Even though I have been here for three full years, it still amazes me. Yesterday I was driving out of a shopping center down by the Rhine river and at the exit it had three separate lanes. Lane one was for those wishing to go to France. Lane two was for those wishing to go to Switzerland. Lane three was for those remaining in Germany. One exit, with three different country options.
However, the amazing experience I wanted to write about has not happened yet, but is one that is moments away. Tomorrow night at 9pm (3pm est) I will board a bus with the entire Junior class (about 68 kids) and a handful of chaperons. We will drive through the night arriving in Carentan, France around 8.00am. From there we will spend the weekend touring the various museums, cemeteries and memorials dedicated to the troops that landed on those beaches over 65 years ago as a part of Operation Overlord. Every year for the past 12 years our school's Junior class has ventured out to Normandy for this amazing historical experience. I was thrilled to be a chaperon on the trip two years ago, and am very excited to be going back again.

Over the past month I have been reading a book by Stephen Ambrose which has proven extremely beneficial in providing me with great historical insight into the invasion and the events surrounding the invasion. Ambrose is the author of the book, "Band of Brothers" which spurred the HBO TV series by the same name. Ambrose also served as the historical authority for the movie, "Saving Private Ryan." As a class, we will watch clips of both Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers throughout the trip. Our campsite is actually within one of the landing zones of the Airborne Division - so it is quite an incredible feeling to watch the clips knowing you are sitting exactly where it happened.

I am extremely excited about this trip for two reasons; history and quality time. I will not deny my love for studying history. I absolutely love learning about history, especially World War II history. As a self-proclaimed history nerd, I am headed toward one of the most historically significant places of the 20th Century. Walking the beaches, seeing the remains of the Atlantic Wall, walking the grass of the cemeteries will be incredible.
As a side note: if you are aware of any World War II veterans who served in Europe and are willing to talk about their experience, I would love to hear their stories.
While I will no doubt enjoy the history, I am also thrilled about the opportunity to spend time with the students. Over the next five days I will be surrounded with students. The long bus trips will be great avenues for conversations, laughter and memories. Walking through the city will provide opportunities to experience the history with the students. I know a good amount of the Juniors, but do not know all of them. There are some guys within the class who I am going to be extremely intentional about getting to know. While I love history, I know experiencing the history comes secondary in order of importance to spending time with the students.

I will post next week with pictures and stories from the trip. It will no doubt be an amazing trip, but also an exhausting trip. We will drive through the night twice sleeping on the bus, and sleep in a makeshift camp site the other two nights.
Lots of history. Lots of students. Lots of memories. Little sleep. Sounds like the recipe for an amazing experience!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

History lesson

Over the weekend I heard this story and I found it quite interesting and wanted to pass it along. Going off of last week's post about Budenfest this is another little cultural moment.
For those who do not know, pretzels are absolutely HUGE over here. It seems wherever you go, you can find them, especially this time of year. Right now out in Munich the Germans are celebrating "Oktoberfest" originally a wedding celebration that has turned into a huge beer festival that attracts over 6 million people in a three week stretch, where over 7 million liters of beer are sold. After reading the history about the pretzel it seems a little odd for the pretzel to be so common at Oktoberfest. But pretzels along with cookies in the shape of a heart are everywhere you look. I am still looking into the history of the cookies. Until I figure it out, enjoy the history of the pretzel:
According to legend, a young monk in the early 600s in Germany was preparing a special Lenten bread of water, flour and salt. To remind his brother monks that Lent was a time of prayer, he rolled the bread dough in strips and then shaped each strip in the form of crossed arms, mimicking the then popular prayer position of folding one’s arms over each other on the chest. The bread was then baked as a soft bread, just like the big soft pretzels one can find today. (To be fair, some traditions date the story to even the 300s.)

Because these breads were shaped into the form of crossed arms, they were called bracellae, the Latin word for "little arms." From this word, the Germans derived the word bretzel which has since mutated to the familiar word pretzel.

Another possibility for the origins of the word pretzel is that the young monk gave these breads to children as a reward when they could recite their prayers. The Latin word pretiola means "little reward," from which pretzel could also be reasonably derived.

Apparently, this simple Lenten food became very popular. Pretzels were enjoyed by all people. They became a symbol of good luck, long life and prosperity. Interestingly, they were also a common food given to the poor and hungry. Not only were pretzels easy to give to someone in need, but also they were both a substantial food to satisfy the hunger and a spiritual reminder of God knowing a person’s needs and answering our prayers.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Each September all those in our village, as well as those in the surrounding villages come together for a non-stop three day festival called, "Budenfest." The fest somewhat loosely translates to "festival of booths" and is essentially an opportunity for local clubs to raise money. The local youth soccer team, wrestling team, accordion club, etc. set up booths in our blumenplatz and for three days they sell food and drinks. I have attended Budenfest the past three years but this year was quite different as it was literally right outside my window.
For two days prior to the actual start our road was blocked off as hundreds of individuals took to the small square to erect their buildings that would soon host hundreds of patrons. There was a lot of hammers pounding which soon became annoying - but at the same time it helped build excitement and anticipation.
The morning Budenfest officially started I had my window wide open and was in a trance as the smells of German grilling flooded my room. There is definitely something sensational about a good old American cook-out with a charcoal grill and burgers, but I think the Germans take it to another level. I didn't know exactly what I was smelling, all I know is that it was amazing.
That night I went out for a bit and walked around and enjoyed the sights and sounds. The different booths were selling a variety of food items. Of course there is traditional wurst. Some were selling pizzas (though quite different than American pizza), others had pretzels, french fries, and even a version of funnel cakes. While I loved being in a big crowd I absolutely loved sitting down and saying to those with me, "This IS Germany." There was absolutely no denying it that we were in the heart of Germany, embracing and enjoying the German culture. It was phenomenal.
Naturally our enjoyment of the night ended around midnight or so - but the Germans kept going. I woke up at 3.00am to loud music still blaring. My first thought was, "why are they still playing music at 3.00am?" My second thought, "of all the music to be playing at 3.00am, why on earth did they choose this song?" German radio is easily one of the most random things you will ever listen to. After multiple years of listening to music on German radio I am still baffled by the songs they choose to play.
Anyway, Budenfest was a cultural event that was a lot of fun to participate in and once again experience. It is easy to quickly be consumed in the "BFA culture" that you lose sight of the German culture so prevalent around you. Through the sights, sounds, and smells Budenfest brought that reality home.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


As I have settled into my new role I seem to have quite a few people asking me questions. While I don't mind questions, the annoying aspect is that they are pretty much the same two questions over and over again; How is it not being in the dorm? Or, What background/formal training do you have to be a guidance counselor?

The first question has an answer that is not yet fully developed. I am still learning my role and learning all the ins and outs of what it looks like to be living a "civilian life" as a good friend calls it. My cop-out answer so far is along the lines of, "It is bittersweet and very different. Different is different. Not necessarily good, not necessarily bad, just different." Perhaps in the coming weeks or months I will be able to better answer that question, but for the time being I am satisfied with that.
The second question has a clear cut answer, NONE. I do not have any degrees in counseling, or anything remotely close. I have never been a guidance counselor before. I have never even read the book, "Guidance Counseling for dummies." In fact, I don't know if such a book exists.
I can be honest and say I hate being asked that question. The question drives home fear of feeling inadequate and unprepared. Being asked that question seems to give the devil a foothold to whisper, "you're useless. you can't be productive here. you don't know what you're doing." After being asked I sheepishly smile, avoid eye contact and try to change the subject of conversation.
However as I get more plugged in to work I have realized the thing I do most is something you don't need any training in. It is an easy thing to do, yet so few seem to be able to do it. The task? Listening.
In reading a Chuck Swindoll book the other day I was greatly challenged and encouraged. He had this to say on the topic, "Listening. I don't mean just hearing. Not simply smiling and nodding while somebody's mouth is moving. Not merely staying quiet until it's "your turn" to say something...Check out Christ with the woman at the well (John 4) He could have blown her away with an endless barrage of verbal artillery. He didn't. He genuinely listened when she spoke; He "listened slowly." He read the lines of anxiety on her face and felt the weight of guilt in her heart. As she talked, He peered deeply into the well of her soul. It wasn't long before she found herself completely open, yet not once did she feel forced or needlessly embarrassed. His secret? He listened. He studied every word, each expression. Even the tone of her voice...Two ears. Two eyes. Only one mouth. Maybe that should tell us something."
I have taken these words to heart. In my job I spend a lot of time listening to the students, and I love it. I listen to their dreams, their desires for higher education, their struggles with academics, their funny stories. By now I know how to change a class schedule, look up grades, and inform parents their children are doing poorly in class (never a fun one). But above all as the students continually come into my office I hope to be someone who will genuinely and sincerely listen to them. That is something I don't have a degree in, and I am absolutely fine with that.