German Rank

By the time I arrived in Germany for my summer of German language courses as a precursor to my Fall/Winter study abroad semester, I had done the whole foreign language study and foreign language immersion thing a couple of times already – I knew what I was getting into and how I wanted to go about it.

True fluency was my goal, and I knew how to manage that.

The day I arrived, however, my German was absurdly limited and rather laughable…. I could hardly ask questions, let alone understand the answers (more on that some other time).

And so, by the time I was visiting with the others in my program’s group (they had also arrived that day), and had met the head of my program, everyone had been socially established in terms of their levels of German ability.

One girl was ‘the head’ of the group, so to speak, another was ‘the absolute beginner’, and the other few were sprinkled in between them… I openly declared my poor abilities that had been used throughout the day, only somewhat successfully, and expressed concern of not placing high enough to receive credit for the German courses back at my college (you had to be at least in the second level for the courses to count, and I was worried that I might be ending up in the beginner, first level, based in the day’s events).

In other words, I was ranked ever so slightly above the absolute beginner girl, and just barely below the girl who’d studied for a few semesters already (two years, I think, actually).

However, I wasted no time in immersing myself with the German-speaking head of our program, and got help from her immediately for the things I knew I would need and want to say starting the next day, when I would be interacting with all the people at the school and taking a placement test and starting classes… again, I had done the foreign language thing before, and I was knowledgeable about how to function on minimal vocabulary and grammar – I could make anything work, so long as I had a certain set of vocabulary ahead of time.

And so, to my delight the next morning, what I had prepared myself to be able to share with others about my absurd travels getting to that small town in Germany, ended up being the essay question on the placement test!

Therefore, to my pleasure and total surprise, I was placed in none of the beginner level courses, but in the first of two intermediate courses!

Since I had arrived late the day before (again with the telling another time), I had missed the regular times for the placement tests, and everyone who had taken them then was already in the first day of classes while I took my own placement test (along with a few other people who weren’t in my program, but who were also studying at the language school that month).

Therefore, when I walked into my intermediate level class – this was after multiple verifications that they were sure they were putting me into the correct class – and I found ‘the head’ of our group sitting at one of the tables, there was a brief moment of shock for the both of us, as I blew apart the ranking of our whole group by jumping rank so obscenely (I use obscene, because it rather was obscene, in a sense).

She was not happy, to say the least.

Two weeks later, when I already matched and, in some areas, had surpassed her German capabilities, I had voluntarily removed myself from the ranking altogether.

Rather than be a part of the group so much, I had become ‘the outside associated’, someone who isn’t truly a part of the group, but who comes to visit and gets along well with everyone whenever she does.

I never spoke English after that first day, not once… and that was enough to set me away from the group hierarchy.

(Okay, I did speak English once… this British guy seemed like he was about to cry one day, while begging me to speak English, because he so desperately wanted to hear how I sounded in English, since he had known me for weeks but had heard none…, but that was genuinely the only time I did it while there.)*

And it was wonderful.

In the second month, we had a similar situation happen with the new group arriving and joining our ranks… everyone was re-ranked, with me still as an outside associate for the first round of people, but ranked in a real place by the new folks (just above ‘the head’ from the first month)…

For that month, I was ranked below a new ‘head’… however, a month or so later, when we had all moved to Vienna, Austria, I was fully removed from the ranking system by all the new people, too… I had real friends who were native German-speakers, and certain parts of my German were better than anyone else (not all parts, though, because five years does teach one a lot, so the new ‘head’ definitely had some knowledge on German that I never really intended to have)… and I still used no English.

However, I eventually started throwing in the occasional bit of English just so they wouldn’t hate me so much – speaking only German had kind of pushed me way off the ranks… almost no association at all anymore…, but I got rather pushed back out by some when they discovered my many friendships with non-foreigners….

So, yeah… essentially, I ended up a distanced associate, and that actually was really great for me… I was there to learn German and learn German-speaking culture, not American anything (which was mostly all that my group had to offer), so I did just that: I learned German and German-speaking culture by being a part of it.

And it was awesome.

And I still found the hierarchy of our group to be hilarious, especially when I blew a hole in parts of it again and again. 😛

That was rather fun, actually.

I wonder how I would have felt had I been a regular member of the hierarchy, and not the super-gifted member that I was… hmm…

Post-a-day 2019

*Something tells me that I might have used the occasional translation with the outright beginner girl for the first few weeks while she got her bearings, but we kept that rather hush-hush and between ourselves, so no one really heard or knew about my occasional English words to her.


A letter from my past self

The following is the transcription of a letter I found this week.  (Yes, it was in one of the boxes of papers and folders and such.)  I wish I had found it months ago, when I’d first returned from Japan.  However, it still did me loads of good when I read it the other day.  While I missed out on some bits it mentions, I actually did a really good job of fulfilling most of the tasks prescribed in it… a version of them, anyway.

Anyway, it is a letter I wrote to myself when I was still on my college campus, about to leave to study abroad in Germany and Austria.  As per standards of our school’s study abroad program, we all had to write our future selves a letter, which would be mailed to us upon our return from our study abroad programs.  I fully acknowledge that mine is full of grammatical errors, but that was part of why I was going abroad anyway – to improve my language skills.  Also, the whole letter is written in cursive, because I do that.  The third sentence actually caused me to tear up, and the fourth had me crying.  It’s amazing how right I was, and I really didn’t know that I ever would be in the current situation in which I find myself.


10. April 2012

Hannah Leigh, chèrie,

Ich weiss nicht, was muss ich dir sagen.  Ich kenne dich nicht, weil du so viel gechanged hast.  Welcome home – may it still feel that way to you.  You are forever welcome here, so remember that – you might need it some day.  Okay, here’s what I want you to do:

1) Go record it.  Get on your computer, write up any questions
you would love for others to ask, & then record yourself
answering them.  Then you can do what you want with
it all, but you will have that satisfaction, that completeness,
wholeness of having shared what you needed, desired, wanted
to share.

2) Talk to people.  Make a quick list of what specifically you already
have wanted to share with whom.  Call each person & set up when
& where you will share what you have to share.  Share with them.

3) Talk to Opa.  No matter where he is, go visit him & talk with
him completely in German.

4) Find someone local with whom you can be open, close, & frank, & speak
only German (or completely German) together with ease.

5) Remember that it’s all right not to “know” who you are.  Knowing
makes no difference, anyway, so no good reason to bother with it.
Look yourself in the mirror & see all that has passed, & be open to
all that will come.

6) You are woman & you create the universe with your being.  Your
power is endless, & it is selfless love that feels it.  Love your
mother & your Mother.  Love your self wholly, & your next
step will become available and visible to you.

7) Be at peace.  Even if it was &/or is hard, it is all relative.
Take it for the beneficial experience that it is, & enjoy every
bit you have gotten & will get from it all.

8) Now & every time you see that it just might possibly help,
take a deep breath & close your eyes, letting your thoughts
run around & then calm naturally as you breathe deeply.

I love you & I wish you all the best.  I am here with you always, though I will now be transformed from the time I wrote this letter.  My understanding & my love have only increased & expanded, I promise.  You are wonderful.  You are beautiful.  You are mine.

I love you.  Love me, too.
❤ Peace       Hannah Leigh


P.S. Pretend I pressed a flower in here to give you a wholesome smile & kiss.  🙂 oxox


Post-a-day 2018

My real voice

In college, I spent a summer studying in Germany.  It was a language school setup, filled with foreigners, but in such a small town that everyone knew that we were studying German, and so everyone always spoke to us all in German.  I had already studied abroad a few times before this adventure, and I had learned firsthand about what works and what doesn’t work, in terms of language immersion.  I was dedicated to learning German, and so I made sure that I only spoke in German with others, even if they spoke to me in English.  This made friendships hard among the people in my program’s group, since they all used English together; I came across a bit snobby, but I was just really committed to learning German.

I made friends with other foreigners rather easily, though, and especially ones in higher levels of German, which was even better for me.  My German was improving immensely.  But this led to a unique situation one day.

One day, near the end of either my time at the school or my friend Paul’s time there (he’s British), I found myself faced with a desperate Paul, actually begging me to speak English.  Why?! was my repeated question to his pleas.

“Because I want to hear what you sound like!”

I don’t know if he was pleased or not by how I sound in English, but I spoke a little for him.  And it was way weird, using English with him, despite the fact that I’d heard him speak English loads, and that it’s our common native language.  I had just never used it with him.

And then this brought up a unique and interesting sentiment.  He wanted to hear me, and that meant speaking English.  I can guess that my native tongue was the one in which Paul believed my identity to lie.  I know that it felt like I was setting aside a sort of mask when I switched to English with him.  I even felt a little called-out… as though I had been hiding somehow, and it had been behind German.  The real me (I) lay in English, in the English part of me.

Yet, years later, here I am, missing the parts of me that belong to these different languages in which I have lived.  A part of me, true me (I), exists only on German, and others in French, in Spanish, and in Japanese. So much so that the real me (I) is this whole combination of languages – I feel a huge emptiness and feel not myself when I am using only English in my daily life.  I listen to Spanish-speaking radio when I’m in Houston, mostly because I don’t get to use Spanish often enough.  I read every night in French, and trade off an English book for a German one at times for my evening reading, too.  I regularly pull out a Spanish book to read, or my German audiobooks.  And I have noticed that I have been searching for a tolerably satisfying way to have Japanese in my near-daily life, too.  (For now, it has just been the occasional music, and a perpetual repeat of a certain song being stuck in my head.)  When I don’t have them all, it is as though a part of me is missing, and suddenly getting to speak with someone in them, almost reminds me of that mask I was setting aside in Germany with Paul… like I am again setting aside some mask I have been wearing.

Perhaps it is now a mask of monolingualism, pretending that I only speak English, while I long for the world to talk to me in several languages, all the time.

Anyway… I’m exhausted.  And I miss Paul.  He was studying opera, and was a really great guy.  I wonder if he’s been really successful with opera these past several years.  Maybe I can go see him perform one day.  That would be awesome.  🙂

Post-a-day 2017

Inglorious Basterds

Last night, as I was going to bed (Or was it at some point in the middle of the night, when I woke up?  Or even this morning?), I recalled the film “Inglorious Basterds”, and had a slight desire to watch it.  I have seen it already, but this film and I have a sort of special connection, and for various reasons.

For one thing, I first saw the beginning of it on my first trip to France, on my Freshman year JanTerm in Cannes – a sort of momentous occasion, its being my first time there and all.  One of the students working at our dorm’s café was all excited about watching it, and got us all to sit around to watch it at the café.  After only a few minutes, I was uninterested in the film, and I left (as I recall).

A few years later, I finally watched the whole film, though I forget currently when and how.  So, it was meant to be comedic and historical and action-filled.  Got it.  Now I’d seen it, so I didn’t have to see it again.

Then, while living in Vienna (though that part’s somewhat irrelevant), I saw two films that I loved.  The first was “Keinohrhasen”, with the German actor Til Schweiger.  I fell in love with the film, and has a soft spot for Til because of it.  Then, I saw in theaters the film “Django Unchained”.  I somewhat fell in love with the German character of the film, played by Christoph Waltz, who is Austrian-German himself.  By calling to mind before the start of the film that this was a Quentin Tarantino film, I was able to enjoy the full beauty and glory of the artistry that was “Django Unchained”.

Once back in the States, however, I recalled that I had not given just perspective to “Inglorious Basterds” as a Quentin Tarantino marvel, but had judged it relative to the average film.  (I grew up in love with Kill Bill, you see, and learned QT’s style of gore and revenge and all that, somehow learning to enjoy and appreciate it because of the setting and story that was Kill Bill, probably with a bit of guidance from my brother Michael, who had shown me the films in the first place.)  So, I decided it was high time to watch the film again, though this time as a Quentin Tarantino film, instead of a regular one.

And so I did.  However, allow me to point out the setting of this film: WWII in Germany and France (or, at least, a France filled with Germans), with Americans interspersed.  When the movie began, it took me about ten minutes (?) to realize that something was amiss… or, at least, something felt like it must be amiss.

I eventually realized (and even had to pause the film for the extreme laughter that arose from within me) that it was the fact that I was completely missing the subtitles.  I was not, however, missing the dialogue.  I was just merely ignoring, nay, not even noticing the subtitles, because I simply understood what was being said.  The laughter came suddenly and from deep within – it was like this film was made for me, in a sense.  I now spoke decent French and German (and still fantabulous English, of course), and this movie played back and forth between my three main languages.  It was a perfect mix of cultures and language for my language-loving mind.

Now, that was great, but it got even better.  Then, I found Christoph Waltz AND Til Schweiger in the film.  Add that all to the expectation of Quentin Tarantino’s style, as well as the gorgeous Brad Pitt (yeah, I have a soft spot for him, too), and I was in love with the film.

You’d think that’d be enough to have a special bond with a film, but there’s one more bit to it all, and a rather profound one at that.  Seeing this film shortly after seeing Django had me notice something quite peculiar.  In Django, Christoph Waltz was quite obviously ‘the good guy’ of the film.  He had obvious morals that were oh-so-lacking in the other characters, plus he was totally BA* with his skills and tactics and sense of style.  In a way, in the time and place of Django, being German was ideal, and being American was kind of terrible.  (Do you see where this is going?)

Now, look at “Inglorious Basterds”.  Are the roles not 100% switched?  Christoph Waltz, whose character once was somewhat idolized for his status of being German, now was considered the worst of the worst in morals because he was German.  And the Americans were appropriately on the high ground this time.  Had it been another actor, I’m not sure I would have made quite the same connection.  But I found it amazing that this one man – and yes, I am aware that Christoph Waltz was not present for any of these actual periods of history, but just roll with it – could, at one point in time, be honored and respected for being himself (German), and, at the next, be despised and hated for being himself (German).

And so, I have this forever attachment and special relationship with “Inglorious Basterds”, which also inevitably drags along a bit of moral contemplation on the mentality of the human species throughout the course of human events (especially conflict).  And, of course, Christoph Waltz.  None of this would have truly linked together so well without his wonderful collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, as well as his total enrollment in the characters he played (I truly loved the one, and was distraught by his death, and despised the other, hoping throughout the film for his immediate death.).  Nods and hats off to you, sir.  And Quentin Tarantino – you’re awesome, too, sir.





Post-a-day 2017