Sunday, January 8, 2012

My Life Since September: Part 1 (where I start class, get a scholarship, go to Oktoberfest and visit Venice and Florence)

So except for the post about what I did for Christmas and New Year's Eve, the last thing I wrote about was when I had just got to Dortmund after a 3 week tour of Munich, Barcelona, Valencia, La Tomatina Festival, and Paris. So much has happened since then. That feels like a lifetime ago. September: For the month of September, I had an intensive German language course. It covered about a semester and a half of German in 3.5 weeks. Wow. That class was really hard. Some people embraced it, worked hard and did great. I became overwhelmed (no previous German knowledge except maybe 3 informal tutoring sessions in Montevallo) and while I had fun in the class, I actually failed it. The first time I have failed a class ever. I should have studied more. People in my German class were from all over the world. Italy, Turkey, Taiwan, Greece, Spain and many other countries.
The first month here, I spent a lot of time getting used to cultural differences (4 months later, I still am). Having to bring my own bag when I grocery shop, using buses and trains, and food. Something else that was really exciting in September was Oktoberfest in Munich.
I had wanted to go, but didn’t really make any hostel reservations or buy any train/plane tickets. Then my friend Carola said I should meet up with her & her friends, and I made it happen! However hostels were so overbooked and any rooms left that would normally 20 euros were now 70 euros… per night! That’s about $95. Last minute train & plane tickets were also very expensive. So I bought a regional day pass to get to Munich, and then did a ride share ( where you sign up online and contribute gas money to random people going to the same city you are and ride back with them. I met a great person named Eva from Dortmund (she was not an ax murderer). And due to the hostels being so expensive, I actually tried couch surfing for the first time ( It is a website where you sign up, make a profile like on facebook except unlike facebook it is used to search for places to stay in countries, or if you would like to host for people to find your place and ask you to stay there. All 100% free. The only price really as cheesy as it sounds, is trust. You have to really look at the profile and talk to them and maybe even talk to people who have stayed at their house, see if they are verified, and know if that is someone you’d like to hangout with for however many days you’ll be there. And then trust them. After all, they are trusting you as well. Letting in a stranger off the internet into their house and assuming you won’t steal from them or wreck their house. I sent a bunch of requests out but it was 2 days before I was leaving, and everyone had said people were already busy since it was Oktoberfest. I put a message on an emergency last minute message board, and people answered back! I had almost given up, I was about to go to sleep and I kept checking and I just said to myself I hope I wakeup to an Oktoberfest miracle. And literally right after I had that though a message popped into my mailbox from a guy named Keith. I thought that was a funny coincidence, but waited because I would have preferred to stay with a female for safety reasons. But then all the other people who offered a place were male as well. So I accepted his offer and after he also said that another girl would be staying there from Australia who needed a last minute place too. That was probably the best first couchsurfing experience ever. He picked me up from the train station because it was late and he was worried about the large amount of drunk people and wanted me to be safe. We stayed up talking along with the other girl about each other’s travel stories, and also about how Keith with a military brat as well (his dad was in the Navy in England). He was so nice! We still keep in touch via facebook. Yes sometimes couchsurfing doesn’t end up as nice, but when it works out, it really does kind of give you hope for humanity. That a random person gives up a bed or a couch in their home to a traveler for free, asking nothing in return but maybe good conversation. Oktoberfest was fun too! I left out early the next day to meetup with Carola and her friend, and we all had on dirndls and drank beer from mugs as big as our heads. We stood on benches dancing and singing German drinking songs, and had so much fun. We made new friends at the table we sat at (we barely got a table inside the tent. It was so crowded!). I will definitely have to make a return trip to Oktoberfest one day.
October: In October, classes started. Since this exchange program is with an actual German University and not an international school, I would be having classes that the regular German students took. There were some classes offered in English, but no art classes in English. I ended up deciding to take: a zoo drawing class (Professor speaks a little English but all lectures and critiques are in German unless one on one), a figure drawing class (professor speaks zero English), German language class, Transatlantic cultures class (in English), film noir class (half English half German depending on the film). I was also taking a music and installation art class, but felt communication was a problem. I think the installation class I took at Montevallo kind of made me feel like the class would be different that it was. I took this picture on one of the days in my zoo drawing class. This class only meets once every other Friday. That is one difference about classes here, they generally meet once a week, or some art classes once every 2 weeks. They just assume you are working on your own time and will present a portfolio at the end instead of the majority of the work being made in class. Also, in my figure drawing class professor likes it when the models pose with taxidermy animals or bring in their pets. It has been… interesting.
In October I also made a dream come true: I saw the 54th International Venice Biennale!!! The Biennale happens once every two years in Venice, Italy and the whole city is flooded with gallery exhibitions as well as country pavilions at Arsenale and Giardini which are permanent Biennale grounds. And in perfect timing, my professor from the University of Montevallo was having a show in Florence so I made an 8 day long trip planning to visit Venice and Florence. I didn’t know if I would be able to go initially because it is expensive to fly to Italy, but then I got a random job editing a graduate Thesis and that covered my flight and my hostel in Venice. So many things were just perfect timing during this trip.
In Venice, I tried to couchsurf after Oktoberfest worked out so well. However I couldn’t find anyone. I stayed at a very cheap campgrounds right outside of Venice where you can rent out a dorm style trailer. It was very cold, and wet. It rained a lot that weekend. But seeing all that art really made it worth it. It felt almost like a pilgrimage. As a senior BFA student I have to decide very soon what I do after I graduate. After seeing so much art and having some of it really affect me, it made me seriously consider getting an MFA. Here are some works that still stick with me: "Destnuej(Purification)" by Azad Nanakeli

Azad Nanakeli - DESTNUEJ / Purification - 2011 from Zerdaxena on Vimeo.

"Heartbeat" by Sasaki Purification was part of the Iraq Pavilion, and Heartbeat was part of the exhibition "Personal Structures" which was such a well curated exhibition but way over priced. The person selling tickets took pity on a traveling broke art student he and let me pay by donation. the works by I was so broke on that trip I literally had bread for dinner one time in Venice. I also had a bad habit of spending my food budget on gelato (have you ever had blood orange gelato? I rest my case). I was there for art, I wasn't there to stay in the fanciest hotel and eat 4 star dinners. Like I said, that scholarship money came at the most perfect time! It was a beautiful trip and i feel so lucky to have this freedom to travel and experience art in these different countries and meet so many great people. After a life changing experience in Venice (Dramatic, but true! Good art can do that to you.), I took a train to Florence, Italy aka Firenze to help set up Karen’s show at SACI and see this city that she has been raving about in every art class I ever took with her for years. The people, the architecture… she was right! I love Florence!
I couchsurfed with a family out in the countryside outside of Florence. Malvina asked on if I had a problem with pets because she has a cat and a dog… it was a huge plus. I miss my pets. That family welcomed me in from the first minute. When she picked me up from the bus stop she invited me to a big pizza party some family friends were having with their WOOFers (people who help out on farms in exchange for a place to stay and food etc) on an organic farm. There had to be like 20 people at that dinner, Italian, American, Dutch… just laughing together and enjoying the brick oven homemade pizza while her mother sang opera. Staying with her and her wonderful family really added so much happiness to my trip. This is their cat, Marilyn
That next day I showed up at SACI which is an American art school in Florence. I helped a little with some show prep work, and then Karen showed me around. Florence has so much history it really is a beautiful place. I went to the duomo, Dante’s old house, and the Medici palace. On the day of the show Karen said she had a surprise for me. She told me we would be picking up her artist friend Azad and I got so excited. When she had asked me how I like the Biennale and which works were my favorite and I said his as one of my answers without even knowing he would be at her show. It’s nice to meet the artists behind the art. In Florence I met so many of Karen’s friends and now I understand her ties to that place. One of these people was Sister Julia, a nun who is the caretaker of the English cemetery in Florence. The cemetery itself is worth a visit so many notable abolitionists and historical figures are buried there like Elizabeth Barett Browning. But also when you are there you can understand the humanitarian work she does for Romani people who face a lot of discrimination all over Europe which often results in unimaginable poverty and hardship. Together, they are helping to restore the English Cemetery.
I left Florence with hugs from Karen at the train station and also a SACI student I met there Aisha, and left for Pisa. It was 100 euros cheaper to fly back from Pisa and it was only a few euros to go there, and 12 euros for the hostel. I got there with some daylight left so I could take the stereotypical Pisa tower picture with the help of my hostel roommate from Scotland. We hungout the rest of the night, and she told me some crazy stories about getting kidnapped in Cuba. It was so funny, when I told her I used to live in Brazil she said she always wanted to travel there but was afraid to and I said I wanted to go to Cuba but was always afraid to.
When I got back, I had received the check for my $1000 scholarship I found out I had won from the Global Scholars Foundation. I was so worried about money, that really meant a lot for me to be given that. I had written essays on various topics as part of the application and also submitted a video essay answering the question “How will your diverse background contribute to your study abroad?” As a multiracial ex-military brat artist I talked about how these things have affected my world view. It’s a pretty awful video, I have this weird look on my face the whole time but hey I guess it worked! The person who notified me of the award was so happy for me and you could tell they felt so happy to be able to give scholarships to traveling students. I feel so grateful for everything that has come my way.

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