Arriving in Bonn was a trip and a halfffff. The complexity was intentional for the sake of a cheaper plane ticket and wow, was it an adventure.
Now that I’m here and settled, I am so happy and I’ve more or less slid into my groove. But let’s start from the beginning!
After “graduation” (those of us graduating immediately following Internship walked in the ceremony in May), I put all most all of my earthly possessions in a 10ftx5ft storage unit and flew home with my parents, a backpack, and a 50.5lb suitcase (Phew!). I spent a whopping day and a half in Kansas City because you gotta see Grandma and Grandpa any chance you get, ya know?
After some good midwestern barbeque and catching up with family, I headed out on the first leg of my journey to New York City. I spent the night with a friend in NYC (thanks, Mary!) and then boarded my plane the next day to Manchester. Suddenly, I was the one with the cool accent. I tried to sleep at least for a little while during my 6-hour layover before flying to Brussels but I found it hard to sleep amongst all the well-dressed, wide-awake travelers. I had the most divine hot chocolate from an airport café and headed out to Brussels! I stayed the night in an AirBNB in Brussels and this meant that I found myself pushing my heavy suitcase down dark residential streets at 10:30pm, praying the wheels would hold out. I was so happy to have a bed and I showered in what looked like a space ship.
In the morning, I made the mistake of putting on my socks before taking my luggage down the three flights of narrow marble stairs. With my travelers backpack on, I found myself sliding down the stairs grasping for anything that would stop the terrifying bounce-bounce-bounce of body-bruising forward motion. Monika (my hostess) ran to try to stop me and by that time I had managed to grab their hand railing so hard I broke it… HAHA. LITERALLY ONE NIGHT IN THIS PLACE AND I BROKE IT.
(stairs of near death)
She was so kind and I tried to shake off the pain while still holding on to what little dignity I felt I had left. I neglected to withdraw Euros from my bank account while I had the chance so I got rejected from a local bakery and decided just to head to the central station to catch my train FINALLY to Cologne and then to Bonn.
After lugging my suitcase around and trying not to cause any disturbance that would give away the fact that I don’t speak any German, I stepped off the tram and onto the streets of the city I would call my new home. My AirBNB host, Tina, was the light at the end of the tunnel for me. (She has been in many ways but more on that later). Bruised, sweaty, and sleep deprived, I met her at the door of her apartment and we became instant friends. She is easy going and her favorite thing to say to me is “Sssokay. No stresss!” because apparently, I’m a little high strung (peep the two-page checklist of “Goals for Internship” in my notebook…).
After dropping my things in my room and of course sending an “I made it!” selfie to my parents, I desperately needed SUSTENANCE! I wanted to keep myself awake until a reasonable bedtime so I walked to the nearest grocery store and got a sweet waffle and a cup of mixed fruit. Then I walked to the UN campus and watched the sunset on the Rhine. I was slightly delusional, but you guys, I MADE IT.
On Sunday, I took an incredibly expensive Uber to church and I found out later I was actually saying the word “cherries” over and over again to the driver instead of the word church. #GratefulForGPS. To everyone who said I’d be fine speaking no German in Germany, I’m here to tell you that you were terribly mistaken. Most people understand a little bit but I found that I’m much better received when I at least blurt out the phrase, “Ich lerne Deutch!” I am learning German!
Strangely enough, at church, the first man I met was a Spanish-speaker from Barcelona. I was ecstatic to speak to someone in a foreign language I understand! The other people I met there were also very kind and patient, helping me to learn a few more simple German phrases. Danke! (Thank you!)
I told myself not to worry about long-term housing until at least Tuesday so that I could enjoy my first day of work.
From Tina’s flat, it takes me about 25 minutes to walk to the UN Campus. There are several development agencies grouped together and several UN buildings all within the same few blocks right along the river. The buildings are huge and the view from the top is beautiful!
At UNESCO-UNEVOC we are focused on capacity building, knowledge sharing, and networking among technical and vocational education and training programs in UNESCO member states (of which the US is not one…). Each full-time staff member is responsible for activity in a particular region although everyone collaborates on most projects. We have an entire floor to ourselves and there are several big rooms with desks. I get to work with three other interns (one from China, one from Belgium, and one from Germany who previously lived in Scotland). We have become good friends! We have one of the huge rooms all to ourselves but for some reason, all of our desks are pushed into one corner and we hoarded all the office trees so it feels a bit like working in a forest.
My supervisor is a fast-talking, younger guy that, I swear, knows EVERYTHING. We bonded over an appreciation for Ellen Degeneres. I feel really grateful to have him. The project we are working on is for a TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) initiative that focuses on Mediterranean countries. My role thus far has been to compile data sets and create visualizations that will be used to populate the online platform. The office is also preparing for the annual 2-week leadership program and I was promised I could hand out name tags on the first day so I’m pretty stoked on that. I will be able to say more when the projects have officially launched!
Maybe it was a combination of not feeling secure in my housing situation and sleep deprivation but I sort of lost it on my second night. It’s not that I don’t like being alone but I just missed having a cohort-mate to turn to and be like “DID YOU SEE THAT HUGE PIGEON?” So, I’ll admit it. I cried myself to sleep. I needed to exhaust myself to try and get over the jetlag so crying seemed like a good option. It’s important to remember that change can be hard no matter how many times you’ve moved in the past, be nice to yourself and cry if you need to.
The next day, UN Bonn unveiled the new fancy features in the lobby that were added in order to be more tourist friendly. All of the employees were invited to the lobby for drinks and we all got Sustainable Development Magnets haha, YES!
I was still stressed about housing so I went out on a limb and asked Tina how she would feel about me living with her for 3 months. As it turns out, she’s a landlady over a few apartments in the area and she was happy to rent me the room I originally reserved for the first week. HALLELUJAH. When I tell people this story, they’re always so amazed. Housing in Bonn is really hard to come by apparently, even in the summer when the Bonn University students leave, housing goes quick. There are some sites you can use but they’re all in German. My advice would be to get added to the UN Intern WhatsApp group as soon as you find out you’re coming to Bonn and to ask for recommendations of where to start looking. Tina also told me she’d be happy to house any Penn students that come in the future so – keep her in mind!
By Thursday, I’d determined that I was going to get involved in the community and make friends. I saw a sign in the UN building for the local International Toastmasters group and I decided to attend their meeting. (Toastmasters is like a public speaking club!). You guys. Best. Decision. I’ve. Ever. Made. I was the only American and in a room of mostly Germans, they were so happy to have a native English speaker. They were so kind as they greeted me at the door and immediately assigned me as the “Grammarian” (the person that makes a note every time someone makes a grammar mistake while they’re speaking and then is required to call people out at the end of the meeting). In Toastmaster’s you basically clap whenever anyone moves and you DO NOT beat around the bush when giving feedback. It was refreshing and hilarious. It’s safe to say, you’ll find me at Toastmasters every 3rd and 5th Thursday of the month for the duration of my internship.
A few other things I’ve observed about Germans/Germany:
- To me, every street and city has a whimsical name, like something from a Dr. Seuss book. Neighborhoods like Dottendorf, Dusseldorf and Hinter Hoben. CUTE.
- There’s a HARIBO (the gummy bear brand) factory about a 5-minute walk from where I live.
- Everyone rides a bike to work in business casual or business formal.
- UN Bonn is home to the UNFCCC so we don’t use any kind of disposable plates/silverware. We wash our dishes after meals.
- Germans are perfectly content to just sit on a bench alone and look out at the river.
- Germans are fully present. Very few people have their headphones in and I have yet to see anyone text and walk or pull out their cellphone during a meeting.
- If I wanted to, I could practice many languages here! I’ve been able to learn a little bit of Arabic, Italian, and French! The city is very diverse!
- I’ve had to adjust my spelling – its “programme” and “labour” and “favourite” to give a few examples.
- Tons of people run up and down the beautiful Rhine River trail after work!
- I found comfort food!!!
That’s all for now! I’m so happy here and I’m excited to see what else the summer will bring!