BLAMELESS: A Cautionary Tale of Freelancing, Head Injuries, and Shoddy Police-Work

Hey there! I decided to take a break from writing about being a wacky foreigner because I wanted to continue throwing random nonsense at y’all instead.

My great friend at A Gamer’s Story suggested that I try writing about video games (also, if you like video games, you should definitely go check out his blog!). We’ve been supporting each other as writers for the last five years, but we’ve never tried to cross over into the other person’s territory.

Until now.

After a ton of suggestions and constructive feedback, it’s ready.

Behold: Blameless, a free-to-play horror game I found on Steam.

BLAMELESS intro

WARNING: SPOILERS AND PROFANITY AHEAD

The game starts out with you, the main character, telling your story. You are a freelance architect and were offered a last minute job to look at some property. You think it’s odd, but accept it anyway. You go to the property, which is in the middle of nowhere. The man who called you shows you around. There are tools and construction material piled up everywhere and blocking off the exits. You find a bloodstain, and then he hits you over the head.

You wake up in a dim room filled with tools and pieces of wood. There’s fresh blood on the floor. You have to figure out how to get out of there.

It had a very realistic feel to it and I loved the music. Being rusty at puzzle games, I tried to get into the mindset of “What’s the logical thing to do here? What would happen in real life?”

Well, in real life, if someone hit me over the head and I passed out long enough for them to drag me upstairs and lock me in a secret room, I would probably have a concussion. I would need medical attention. I would probably not be in the condition to jump up and down on the work table to see what the funny lines on the ceiling were.

Actually, confusion and changes in behavior are symptoms of a concussion, so that might be exactly what I would do. YOU DON’T KNOW MY LIFE.

I’m ashamed of how long I spent doing this.

Even though there are tons of tools lying around, you can’t use any of them. Maybe it’s just me, but the main character came across as a little naïve. When you find that the door is locked and the handle removed, the main character says, sounding mildly puzzled, “Why would he hit me and then lock me in here?” And then you continue to walk around the room, still not being able to use the tools or put them in your inventory (although you just got hit in the head real hard, so this could be plausible).

In real life, my reaction would have been, “Oh fuck,” and then I would have scrambled to find something to defend myself with. If someone hits me over the head and locks me in their tool shed, that someone is getting a sledge hammer to the knee.

Seriously, I can’t even hide these in my bra?

For the next twenty minutes I wandered around with different tools in my hand, looking for something in the room they might be able to interact with. You can interact with stuff by clicking the mouse, but if the game doesn’t explicitly allow you to use an item, clicking just makes you drop it. And in order to interact with anything else, you have to drop whatever’s in your hand. I dropped those tools so, so many times while I was trying to get out.

Eventually I found the door to the attic, but I couldn’t figure out how to reach it. I felt like I had examined every inch of that room, and still had no idea what to do.

I thought to myself, “Maybe I’m taking this too literally.”

A few minutes later I thought, “Maybe it’s because I’m rusty at puzzle games.”

Some time later I thought, “Maybe it’s because I suck and I’ll never get out of this room and the game icon will just sit there on my desktop and mock me forever!”

And so, with great big pile of self-loathing, I turned to the internet for help (fuck you, desktop icon!). Oh, the shame.

But then I found that one of the German YouTubers I’ve been following did a Let’s Play of Blameless. For the past few years I’ve been trying to only watch gaming videos in either German or Spanish, because then it still counts as learning. My shame melted into slightly less shame when I found that Corrupted was the one who would be helping me on my possibly brain-damaged journey out of the tool shed.

I wasn’t cheating. I was practicing my German. Yay, learning!

I was relieved to find that, although he spent significantly less time jumping up and down looking at the ceiling, he had pretty much the same issues I did. I watched just long enough to get the first clue, and then I went back to my game.

I figured out how to open the door to the attic, but the attic was dark and scary looking. I really, really didn’t want to go in there. This is a horror game. Therefore, there’s probably something horrible in the attic. I wandered around the room some more, hoping I could somehow fool the game into letting me put the hammer in my inventory in case I needed a weapon.

NOPE

Eventually I gave up and went into the attic, armed with my broken cell phone and a shaky sense of adventure.

The attic was dark and creepy, as expected. I had to crouch down to get past a bunch of wooden beams, and at one point there was a sudden noise that made my character jump and go, “What was that?” I was extremely tense, but nothing attacked me. So far, the game was relying on psychological horror, and it was working.

Eventually I found my way out of the attic into another room. There was no ladder, so I had to jump down, thinking about all the potentially life-saving tools that I wasn’t allowed to use in the previous room.

wallet cropped

And she left her birth control pills in here. I’d better put this in my pocket so I can return them to her. There will be no unplanned pregnancies on my watch!

My confidence restored, I explored the adjoining rooms. There was a door held shut by some wires. I found metal clippers in another room, but they were broken and couldn’t be used. Then I found a box of screws. I was able to put a screw in my inventory, too! YES! I knew what to do next.

clippers 1 cropped

Them clippers gon’ get it.

I really enjoyed the mechanics of fixing the broken clippers. It made me feel like I’d EARNED the right to cut those wires. I fully expected to be able to open and close the clippers as I held them.

clippers 2 cropped

Muahaha! Feel the clipping force of my newly-repaired clippers! Clippy clippy cli—

clippers 3 cropped

Fuck.

Eventually I clipped my way to what looked like an alley. There was a chain-link fence blocking off one side leading up to a wall, which left the door at the other end of the alley as my only option.

The door was ajar and there was a light on inside, but it switched off as I approached it.

Shit. I didn’t even have my clippers anymore.

I walked through the door, expecting to be attacked at any second. As I went further into the building, the light switched back on and the door slammed shut behind me.

Again, the main character’s naiveté showed. I tried to run back to the door, but then he stopped and said, “There’s no going back through here. I don’t even want to go back.”

You fool! You’ve been locked in an abandoned building against your will, and now someone is guiding you through it. He obviously wants you to go in this direction. Have we agreed with his decisions so far? NO. Which means we should NOT do what he wants. If he wants us to keep going forward, then OBVIOUSLY we should go back the way we came.

Seriously. He didn’t even check if the door was locked.

Despite my infallible logic, I pressed forward. After wandering around another part of the creepy abandoned house, I found this:

box wearing shoes cropped

Is that box wearing shoes? Silly box. You’re not people.

I pulled the box aside and found:

corpse 1 cropped

Oh. Well, I guess birth control is no longer a problem.

She has a piece of paper and a set of keys in her hand. There’s a very realistic creaking sound as you pry her hand open to get them out. The music intensifies and you can hear the main character’s ragged breathing. He was clearly terrified, and so was I.

After I’d gotten the keys, I found a door to the yard outside. There was equipment and rubble everywhere, and two sheds on the other side. One had the lights on, and one was dark. I’m not sure which was worse. All in all, the atmosphere of the yard was very well-done. Even though I had a big, open sky over my head, I still felt trapped and afraid. Yay!

None had happened so far, but I was still braced for jump-scares. There was a lot of running back and forth between the buildings across the yard; keys in one building, locks that they open in other buildings, a fuse-box opener. Even though nothing bad happened while I was running back and forth, the tension in the atmosphere was amazing.

One of the doors you have to get through is held shut by a pile of heavy stone tiles, which means…

You guessed it. Fun with blocks!

You get to pick them up and drop them somewhere else, all within the comforting glow of your buggy flashlight. Or you can pick them up and drop them in the dark. The choice is yours! The stone tiles feel very heavy, like you would get a good crunch out of them if you swung them at a kidnapper’s head.

These were blocking the door to the shed with the light on. As I moved the tiles so I could open the door, I started thinking about the logic behind it. The killer must have been in that shed at some point. For some reason he decided to leave without switching off the lights, and then piled a bunch of stone tiles in front of the door. Did he think no one else would be able to lift these tiles? Did someone else put them there while he was in the shed, and he had to go out the window? Did he have a concussion, too?

What if this was all a distraction, so he could sneak up behind me while I was having fun with blocks? Quick, Hedgehog, LOOK BEHIND YOU!

I spun around.

There had been nothing supernatural so far. No ghosts. No monsters.

But holy shit, man. This was spooky.

Eventually I made my way into the garage. As soon as I opened the door, the lights flicked on and the wind whistled under the garage door. My character said, “Well, this is the way out.” Naturally, instead of trying the door to get out, I began exploring the garage.

In the back of the garage I found a ladder that I could pick up. “Cool,” I thought. “Maybe I can use this to escape.” But the main character had just said that THIS was the way out. I figured I should at least try it his way. I dropped the ladder and pressed the button for the garage door.

The garage door opened with agonizing slowness. It was loud and clunky and I was positive my kidnapper would hear it and come running. After a few seconds, the lights blew out and the door slammed shut.

I thought, “There’s NO WAY he didn’t hear that.” I waited for him to burst into the room and murder me.

The seconds ticked by and I was still un-murdered. I remembered that I had a fuse-box opener in my inventory, so I cautiously peeked out of the garage and then scurried across the yard to the building with the fuse-box. There’s a note on the inside of the fuse-box that tells you how to fix it. I have never had to deal with a fuse-box in real life, so this was a completely new experience for me. I felt a sense of pride as I flipped the switches. “I’m so good at this,” I thought. “After playing this game, I bet I could fix a real fuse-box without even electrocuting myself.”

Then there was a loud FZZT! and I was on the floor. The screen went blurry and my character’s heart was pounding. After a few seconds, my vision cleared and I got back up. The lights were back on. I did the logical thing and clicked on the fuse-box again to see what would happen.

I’m glad one of us is taking this seriously.

I went back to the garage and tried the door again. It took forever. I had to stand there and hold down the button while the door screeched open. The whole time I was thinking, “Oh shit oh shit oh shit.”

When the door was about halfway up, there was a sudden jolt and the music got loud and intense. I looked up and saw this:

I was cornered. As the killer walked toward me, I started cycling through my inventory, hoping I could defend myself with something. Wad of paper? Nope. Wallet? Nope. Broken cell phone? OH SHIT HE’S COMING CLOSER. Keys? Maybe? I might be able to hold them in my fist like Wolverine claws like they tell women to do when they’re in a parking lot at night. Left-click. Nothing. Right-click. NO, DON’T PUT THEM AWAY! HE’S RIGHT THERE! FUCK! Now he’s right in front of me and I have a wad of paper in my hand! Can I punch him? OH SHIT HE’S HOLDING A METAL BAR. RUN!

And then he swung, and the screen went black.

I stared at the screen, heart still pounding. I wondered if I had done something wrong. The game started in the garage. It took me a minute to figure out what was going on. Was this the last checkpoint, or did the killer knock me out again and leave me here? Eventually I figured out that no, Hedgehog, you failed and this was the last checkpoint. I decided to try out the ladder I’d found earlier.

I carried the ladder out of the garage, still expecting the killer to come running at me. I wondered if there was a time-limit. Maybe he finds you if you take too long to escape after you first try the garage door. I found a place behind the garage to put the ladder. As I climbed my way to freedom, I thought, “There’s no way it’s this easy. Something horrible is going to happen.” I looked around, hoping that, since I was high off the ground, I might be able to see him coming.

Still nothing.

I went ahead and jumped the fence. As soon as I landed on the other side, the game saved. That’s never a good sign. Something bad always happens right after a checkpoint. Still, there was a fence and a murderer behind me. The only way to go was forward.

From this side of the house, I could see the lights from the city off in the distance. I had made it out! Freedom was so close!

As I ran forward, there was a familiar jolt, the music intensified, and I turned around to see the killer standing behind me. This time I didn’t even try to fight. I wanted to run, but I fumbled with the sprint button and he caught up to me.

BAM.

I stared at the loading screen again, feeling stupid. The game started outside the fence I had just cleared and there was no way back. So much for the garage.

When he appeared this time, I ran directly at him. Who knows? I thought. Maybe the trick is to intimidate the killer by appearing louder and faster and crazier than him. Maybe if I surprise him, I’ll be able to overpower him and escape. Yes, clearly a senseless act of aggression is the solution here.

BAM.

After getting hit in the head a few more times, I eventually outran him.

I made it to the front gate with him right behind me, and then two police cars pulled up. I was saved! They yelled at me to get down on the ground, and when I looked behind me, the killer was gone.

The game cut to a conversation in the police station. The main character is being interrogated, begging the police to believe that he had been lured there. The officer tells him that the neighbors reported someone matching his description running around the property and there was no evidence of anyone else being there. When they found him, he had the victim’s wallet in his pocket, blood on his hands, and his fingerprints were on the body. As far as they were concerned, he was guilty. He would be in prison for a very long time.

I was outraged. I had already told them that a man called me and arranged to meet me there. They really couldn’t be bothered to check my phone records? Did we forget that I’d been hit in the head? Shouldn’t they have someone look at me? Do they have a time of death for the victim? Where’s my lawyer?

The game ends with the main character sitting alone in the interrogation room. It was devastating. I’d fought so hard to escape, and now I was going to prison for a crime I didn’t commit. That was the whole point of the killer luring me there. He won.

It was sickening. Apparently, the solution for the whole situation was: do nothing and wait for the authorities to arrive. Sure, I might have starved to death if I hadn’t been smart enough to get out of the first room, but at least I wouldn’t be this guy’s scapegoat.

Or maybe there was another solution: at the very, VERY beginning, call a friend and tell them that I was about to meet a creepy guy in the middle of nowhere, or maybe complain about it on social media. If I had checked in on Facebook with “gonna meet some weirdo 4 work lol #ihatedriving,” would I still be going to prison?

The game was superbly done. I’m a big fan of horror, but I tend to gravitate toward supernatural horror, with monsters and ghosts and the like. There was none of that in this game, but it still had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. It had a good story, it looked great, and I loved the music. It was brilliant in its simplicity.

Also, I had to go back and replay the game a few times in order to get all the screenshots I wanted for this post. And I was pausing the game a lot so I could add more to what I’d already written, make a snack, chat with my roommate, etc. So according to Steam, it took me ten hours to pass a 40-minute puzzle game.

Also also, if you want more stuff about video games, hop over to A Gamer’s Story and check out his blog.

Congratulations on making it to the end of this ridiculously long post! High five, you.

TTFN!

 

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Data Entry Turns You Into a Zombie

Before I got fancy and moved to Germany (“fancy” here means “I spend my entire day in the S-Bahn and climb a lot of stairs”), I did data entry for a few years.

Data entry is hard for most people. Your entire job is to sit alone in a cubicle and type. Even if you need to ask someone a question, there is very little human contact. You might have a short conversation, and then you go back to your desk and type for another few hours. My shift was from 3:30 to midnight, which meant when I got out of work, the streets were empty and all of my loved ones were asleep.

I fucking loved this job. It’s the perfect place if you’re an introvert with the social skills of a coconut that’s been set on fire. If you time your bathroom breaks just right, you don’t even have to look at another human being.

coconut

You want to pay me to sit all by myself and ignore people? I do that for free already!

*Image by Lisa Natalie Baker via Twitter

The people running this place got pretty into the holidays. They put up decorations and had events at the company for almost everything. But my favorite was what they did in October. Every week leading up to Halloween there were costume contests with different themes.

For one week, the theme was zombies. There was even a prize for the best costume. I was so excited.

It’s not like I was unhappy with they way I had to dress for work. The dress code was extremely casual there, so people typically wore jeans and T-shirts to work. I loved it, but I also love costumes.

My coworkers, apparently, did not.  The day of the costume contest looked like a normal day at the office. Everyone was wearing the usual T-shirt and jeans, exactly the same as every other workday.

Which was a shame, because I showed up like this:

13041364_1154429677921660_8542520061747019903_o

As I lurched through the office and looked at all of my costume-less colleagues, I thought, “Are you fucking kidding me?” In the time it took to get from the parking lot to my desk, I decided: there is a severe lack of Halloween spirit, and it’s my responsibility to make up the difference. Never fear, dear coworkers. Hedgehog is here to punish you for being boring!

What ensued was probably the most fun I have ever had while on the clock. One of my coworkers hadn’t seen me yet, so I snuck up behind him and waited for him to turn around. When he did, I snarled and lunged at him. He screamed as he jumped away from me. I think I almost gave him a heart attack.

I did feel a little bad about this.

But not bad enough to stop.

Every time I left my desk I would lurch around, flailing my arms and growling at the people near me. If someone crossed my path, I would chase them back to their desk.

The best part was my lunch break. As I was on my way to get my lunch, I noticed that someone made the mistake of leaving their office door open after they had left for the day. The office was situated in the hallway between the breakroom and the main building.

Then I got an idea. An awful idea. Hedgehog had a wonderful, awful idea.

I poked my head inside, peeked back out into the hallway, and thought, “I’ll take it!”

For the rest of my lunch break, I hid inside the empty office, waiting for people to walk by. When someone was about to pass in front of the door, I would jump out in full zombie-mode, screaming and clawing at the air. These innocent people went from taking a peaceful walk to the breakroom to cowering in terror in front of me.

The important thing to note here is: there were security cameras all over this building. I’m pretty sure someone was watching the whole thing. I’m also pretty sure that people throughout the building could hear what I was doing.

So why didn’t anyone stop me?

I’m sure what I did was very wrong. What kind of lunatic would do something like this? Does this count as workplace harassment? When I came to work the next day, I fully expected to get called into HR.

Instead, I got an email. “Congratulations!” it said. “You won the costume contest! Please come to the main office to pick up your prize.”

I had won a gift card to Walmart.

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Teaching Medical English: Yay!

I started writing this during my third month of teaching, and then forgot about it for several months. Bad Hedgehog. A lot has happened since then. Thus, here are my thoughts as of some time in April.

***

I’ve only been teaching for a few months now and I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. So far, my teaching method has been “pretend to be a competent teacher and maybe they won’t notice.” It makes me feel like I have a decent shot at an acting career.

When I got hired, they asked me if I can teach English for any specialized field. The money-maker here is business English, but I don’t have a background in business.

But I do have a background in medicine.

For those of you that didn’t click on the link above, when I first started at university, I thought I wanted to be a medical examiner (the one who cuts up bodies to figure out why the person died). Medical school is expensive, so I decided to get a job in a hospital to see if I liked it before committing to $250,000 in student loans.

I hated it. Anything involving health-care is going to be understaffed and extremely stressful. I got into it because I wanted to help people, but it’s hard to give each patient careful consideration when you have to take care of 500 of them in a single workday. On top of being completely overwhelmed, there’s also the chance that you might kill someone if you make a single mistake. Most of the people I worked with on this job were burnt out and just didn’t give a fuck, which is a terrible environment for helping people.

So I hated the actual work, but I loved everything else. I loved learning the chemistry and biology, and how living things function and interact. I loved the terminology, which is basically a separate language on its own. I loved feeling like I was contributing, like the things I learned from this job could be applied to real life (I still have relatives asking me about the medications they’re taking).

When I quit that job, it felt like everything I had learned was going to waste. I was completely changing fields, and it didn’t matter that I knew how to make a sterile IV bag or that dysuria means it hurts when you pee.

I spent the next few years in a different city, studying something completely different and not giving health care a second thought. The hospital wasn’t exactly a waste of time (just think of all the character I built!), but all the time and stress and brain space I had allocated to this horrible job certainly wasn’t being put to use, either.

Then, years later, on the other side of the planet, this language school gets a doctor who wants a private English tutor to help him interact better with his patients. They look at all their teachers to see if any of them have medical experience to help this guy.

And then they call me. They even offer to pay me a bonus, because it’s in a specialized field.

This was probably the most fun I’d had in the classroom thus far. I made him do role plays where I was the patient and he had to diagnose me and give me instructions. We went over body parts and organs, common medications and side effects, and the most common things people go to a hospital for.

In one of the role plays, I was a patient concerned about pelvic pain. I figured he’s going to eventually treat a woman, so he might as well know these words.

I put a lot of work into preparing these lessons, and I was in my element. After not having thought about medicine for six years, I was shocked at how easily it all came back. No amount of preparation at the language school could have helped me answer some of the questions that came up during class.

          Student: How to explain deep-vein thrombosis to a patient?

          Me: Most patients don’t know what that is, so we say ‘blood clot’ instead.

This was something that I brought with me, completely outside the realm of teaching.

At the end of the week, he told me, “This was exactly what I needed. We didn’t have time to cover everything, but I can use what you taught me in other areas to help my patients.” He shook my hand and thanked me profusely.

It was extremely validating.

Later I realized that I forgot to erase the board after I left the room. I sincerely hope that “Is there blood in your pee?” and “We need to take a urine sample” struck fear into the hearts of the students who showed up early for the next lesson.

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I Held a Woman Hostage for Twenty Minutes: an Epic Tale of Forgetting When Class Ends

Since I’m still a baby teacher, it takes me forever to plan a lesson. I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, so I spend hours researching English grammar and plotting out examples and explanations.

Yes, it IS as crazy as it looks.

My last few lessons didn’t go as well as I would have liked, and I was just given another student for one-on-one lessons this week. My confidence as a teacher wasn’t terribly high, but I had high hopes for this new student. I took a hard look at what I had done with my previous lessons and how I could have done better. I put a lot of time into planning the lesson for this new student. I was ready for a fresh start.

First lessons tend to be hard, especially if they’re one-on-one; everyone is on edge because they’re alone with a stranger and don’t know what to expect. It doesn’t help that I have the social skills of a drunken hummingbird trapped in a hall of mirrors.

*image from Disney’s Pocahontas via https://www.pinterest.com/ism14/colibri/

Still, the lesson didn’t start off too bad. I was proud of how well I had structured it. Everything is going according to plan, I thought happily to myself. I’m starting to get the hang of this.

Then I looked at the clock.

Oh shit, I thought. We still have an hour left and we’ve almost covered everything! WTF do I do?

What I did was stall. I dragged every bit of speaking out of her that I could. It felt like I was trying to turn everything she said to me into a conversation. After we used up all the activities I had planned as a backup, there were still twenty minutes to go, so I pretty much babbled about possessive pronouns for another few minutes. This meant I was trying to spontaneously explain a grammar point that I hadn’t planned on teaching, which is a very bad idea. Don’t try this at home, kids.

When I saw the utter confusion in my student’s eyes, I gave in and said, “That’s ok. We’ll talk about this more in the next lesson.”

Then she said, “So that’s all?”

I looked at the clock. Shit! Still ten minutes to go! I thought about it really hard. I didn’t have anything else for her. My options were: let her go now and hope she doesn’t complain to the school that I ended class early, or continue talking out of my ass and hope she learns something through osmosis.

“Yes,” I conceded. “That’s all.”

After she left the room, I looked over my lesson plans again. How the fuck did we get through all of this in one lesson? I was baffled.

At around 11 o’clock that night, I realized that the class ended half an hour earlier than I thought it did. I kept her there for another twenty minutes because I was afraid to end class too early.

I had written the class times on my calendar so I wouldn’t forget.

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My Suitcase Is Too Big: Am I Compensating for Something?

Something that people have a hard time understanding is that, even though I look young and care-free, I am not on vacation. It’s ok, it’s an easy mistake to make. There are hordes of tourists crammed into every orifice in Berlin, and I don’t exactly blend in with the Germans who live here. But even though I’m very much a privileged American, I sacrificed a lot to come here, and I plan to be here for a while. I have a bank account here. I have a job here. I pay taxes here. I have health insurance here (and don’t get me started on the bureaucratic nightmare that is the German healthcare system). This is where I live now.

And since I started living here, I’ve realized something:

Germans are very intimidated by my suitcase.

I don’t blame them; it’s quite impressive. I’m sure I could fit a few four-year-olds in there, even more if I cut ’em up first. =P

For size reference, I give you a green highlighter.

It feels like every German person that’s seen me lugging that thing around has felt the need to comment on it. “Your suitcase is much too big,” they said. “You have too much stuff,” they said. “What did you put in there?” and “Why do you need all that?” They asked.

One person even made a joke about it. “How many years do you plan to stay here?” He said with a smirk.

To which I answered, “At least two.”

All this attention made me feel extremely self-conscious. Why are people being so critical? I wondered. Are all Berliners secretly minimalists? Is it a European thing to only wear two shirts for an entire year? It felt like they were judging me. “Oh look, here’s another spoiled tourist who wants to go shopping.”

Don’t get me wrong; the people who made these comments weren’t being hostile. German culture is rife with blunt statements, criticism, and unsolicited advice. To the sensitive American, this can come across as rude and off-putting, but that’s not how it’s intended. Most of the time, they’re just trying to start a conversation. It takes some getting used to, but they’re not doing it to be mean.

So why did I need such a big suitcase in the first place?

To put it simply, U-Haul trucks don’t go across the ocean.

Another thing: Germans are nuts about traveling. They typically get about four weeks of vacation-time per year from their employers, and the weather here is so awful that most of them can’t wait to leave. As such, when they see a suitcase, they automatically think “vacation.” And why would anyone go on vacation with such a huge suitcase? You don’t need all that stuff. It’s not like you’re moving there!

Right.

Once I realized this, I started to take a closer look at how German people keep their homes. For the most part, they looked normal, not the bare minimalist scheme I had been picturing. The person who told me I have too much stuff actually had twice as many clothes as I did. Right before I moved out of the first flat I lived in, the building got a new tennant. While they were moving in, the entrance to the building was filled with cardboard boxes stacked almost up to the ceiling.

Then I realized: most people don’t use a suitcase when they move; they use cardboard boxes. And they hire a moving van. They don’t usually drag everything they own through the S-bahn like I did.

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Second Official English Lesson

As I mentioned before, the school I was hired at gave me absolutely no guidance as to how I was supposed to teach. They basically threw a textbook at me and said, “Teach something.” As a brand-new, baby teacher, this was terrifying. It took almost an entire day of lesson planning before I figured out that their lack of concern meant I could do pretty much whatever I wanted.

During my first lesson, I learned that both of my students were taking this class to improve their English for work. After flipping through the textbook and trying to find something business-related that applied to them, I decided: “Fuck this textbook. We’re going off the rails.”

Fortunately, I already had some business-related material from all the over-preparation I did the night before, which meant I was able to calmly organize my lesson and get a good night’s sleep.

Hah, nope!

That would have been the sane thing to do. Hedgehog never does the sane thing.

Even though I already had several hours of material, I still managed to stay up until 3 am planning it all out (is–is this my life now?). When I woke up three and a half hours later, I was ready for my lesson.

Fooled you again! I really, really wasn’t. I wasn’t using the textbook for this lesson, so I needed to print everything out. Since I’d been an unemployed immigrant for the previous four months while I was trapped in immigration limbo, I hadn’t bought a printer. And the school that hired me didn’t have a copy machine.  The day before, I found an internet cafe just around the corner from the school and was able to print everything I needed for my first lesson without a hitch.

This led me to believe that I don’t have to stress out about printing my lesson materials when I don’t own a printer. It led me to believe that even though my entire lesson depended on things that didn’t yet exist in the physical world, I could trust the respectable establishment next to my school.

Now that I had let my guard down, the respectable establishment shoved my trust into the dirt and kicked it in its sad, trusting little balls.

I got to the internet cafe about 30 minutes before my class started. I happily plugged in my flash drive, hit Ctrl+P, and went over the lesson in my head as I waited for everything to print. I went to the register, paid, and then went over to the printer to get my stuff.

Nothing had printed.

I told the guy running the register and he apologized and restarted the printer. About five minutes went by. Still nothing.

He went back to the computer, scrolled through some of the documents I had printed, and then opened up the printer and started tinkering with the insides. At this point a few customers came in. He closed the printer, restarted it again, and went to help them.

The printer turned on again. For all intents and purposes, it looked like it was ready to print. The little green light was on, blinking at me. Mocking me.

Still nothing.

There was a line at the register now, and the guy didn’t so much as look at me. I glanced at my watch. I was supposed to start teaching in 20 minutes! I stood in the corner to let the people walk by, quietly trying not to freak out. Several agonizing minutes later, the guy rang up the last customer and came back to the printer. Hooray!

He opened it, poked at something, grunted, and slammed it shut, saying, “I don’t understand! Why won’t it work?”

What.

This did not make me feel better.

He apologized and restarted it again, just in time for a new batch of customers to walk into the store. At this point, the responsible adult in my head took over. I called the school and told them I might be late, and then quietly thanked Cthulhu that I’d put the textbook in my backpack on my way out. I flipped through the pages and tried to form a backup plan, resigning myself to another mediocre English lesson.

Finally, with 10 minutes to go, he came back and checked the printer again. That infuriating green light was still on, still blinking as it cheerfully held my English lesson hostage.

The guy apologized for what was probably the hundredth time and restarted it again. I looked at my watch and decided, this is stupid. I’m out of time.

I asked for my money back and headed to the school, inwardly cringing at how disorganized this lesson was going to be. When I got to the office, the woman running the front desk asked what had happened. The great news: When I told her, she said I could print from the office computer. My lesson was saved!

She was less enthusiastic about helping me when she found out that I needed to print 17 pages. She grumbled and said that’s too much, but she’ll allow it this time. I didn’t hold it against her. If this crappy school can’t afford a copy machine for its teachers, all its other resources are probably limited, too.

I thanked her and got everything organized, vowing to buy my own damn printer and find another school to teach at as soon as possible.

Despite the drama, I was really, really happy with how my lesson turned out. The fact that I had customized this lesson and made sure it was useful to my students gave me so much confidence. I wasn’t gonna be the teacher who drags their students through an outdated textbook just to kill time. Maybe the school didn’t give a shit, but I did, and I wanted my students to get the most of their time with me.

It turns out that teaching grammar is REALLY fun. Maybe this isn’t the case for everyone, but the linguist in me loves to dissect that mouth-watering syntax. I was that teacher who got really excited and waved her hands in the air while she was explaining and scribbled all over the board like a crazy person. By the end of class, both whiteboards were covered in pictures, formulas, and examples. I was very happy with how well the students responded to my madness.

When class ended, I was so happy I could have hugged my students, which is a big deal (as I’ve mentioned before, touching people is not my favorite). I was ecstatic. After they left the room, I closed the door, peeked out the window, and closed the curtains. Then I did a celebratory happy dance in the middle of the classroom.

For the previous four months, I’d been working my ass off to get a work visa so I could legally teach here, while simultaneously dreading the idea of having to teach. What am I doing? I constantly thought. How can they expect me to be in charge? I have no idea what I’m doing!

After my first lesson, I knew I could survive, but I didn’t feel great about it. I wondered if I was in over my head.

After my second lesson, I decided: I FUCKING LOVE THIS AND I WANNA DO IT FOREVER.

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First Official English Lesson: I Can Do Whatever I Want?

It happened, guys. I did it. I got my work visa. I’m so happy. I’ve been meaning to write about that, but I’ve been notoriously bad at writing about things in chronological order. And a post about teaching is WAY more fun than a post about German bureaucracy. The procrastination continues.

***

The days leading up to my first lesson were stressful. The lesson was three hours long on a Thursday morning, and when I was hired, they gave me a textbook and said to ask the previous teacher what he did on Wednesday so I would know what to teach.

Does this seem ridiculous? I thought so. As a brand new teacher with no experience, I had no idea what to do. During the CELTA course, it took me like six hours to plan a lesson that was only 40 minutes long. How was I supposed to plan a three-hour lesson the night before? I had virtually no guidance, no training at the school. They let me observe another teacher the week before, but only because I asked to. I’m so glad I did, because if I hadn’t, I would have had no idea what to expect or how a three-hour lesson is structured. I didn’t know the students. I didn’t know how old they were, or what their background was, or why they needed to learn English. All I knew was the chapter the class was on and that they were B2 level students (upper-intermediate).

In the end I just looked at the end of the chapter and started my lesson plan there. I supplemented the book with articles from the internet and additional speaking exercises, praying the other teacher hadn’t already covered this earlier in the week. I felt like the lesson from the book had a good structure, but I needed to have three hours of other material ready, just in case.

In retrospect, it would have been smarter to contact the other teacher long before Wednesday to see what he planned to do. That would have made life a lot easier. He didn’t answer me until 10 pm on Wednesday night, and my lesson was at 9 am the next day. Fortunately, by then I’d gotten most of the lesson planned out, along with contingency plans in case he’d covered everything in the chapter. The good news was, he hadn’t used the book at all. Despite the late reply, he was very helpful. He told me everything he’d gone over during the week, and even had a few suggestions for what I could follow-up with.

His laid-back attitude about the whole thing made me realize: The textbook is only a guideline. No one at this school is observing me teach, no one is asking about my lesson plans. I’m completely unsupervised. I can teach whatever I want. 

Good morning, class. Today we will be learning how to destroy the One Ring.

Good morning, class. Today we will be learning how to destroy the One Ring. Now shut up and eat your popcorn.

*Image from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King via film-cine.com.

I’m a night-owl by nature, and I happily stayed up until 3 am fine-tuning my lesson (note: this is not a sustainable way to live if you’re teaching full-time). I accepted the fact that I’m inexperienced and that this probably wasn’t going to be the best English lesson these people ever had, but I’d done my best to prepare, and even if they didn’t like my lesson, I would still get paid for teaching it. And I figured, if we burned through all the material way faster than I’d planned, I could make them play 20 questions or something.

In Germany, people can take a week off work for what’s known as an educational holiday (Bildungsurlaub). I only had two students, and they were using their educational holiday to improve their English for their jobs.

As I got to know more about them, I realized that the material had no relevance to why they wanted to improve their English. It felt like they were only politely feigning interest because they were stuck with me for three hours. I felt bad, because I know exactly how it feels when a teacher wastes your time, but I’d done the best I could. My timing for the lesson was actually not too bad. I took solace in the fact that, at the very least, my lesson didn’t make them forget things they’d already learned (that’s the opposite of teaching). I’m sure they got something out of it.

Also, I was convinced that one of my students was Jill Stein’s doppelganger. I immediately forgot her name and had to stop myself from calling her Jill for the entire lesson.

It felt weird to teach students twice my age. The very little teaching experience I have comes from tutoring freshman at my university. I liked teaching younger students at the beginner level. When the students can only form four-word sentences and maybe tell you their favorite color, you have to be very animated to get the point across. My wacky sense of humor was an essential tool for connecting with 19-year-old college kids.

Middle-aged Germans are much harder to impress.

This lesson made me realize that I was WAY outside my comfort zone, and I would need to change tactics if I wanted to do better.

…And that’s all I’ve got for now. Tune in next time to see how I adapted!

Tschau tschau!

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