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Fulbright Orientation

On August 31 140 university-age Americans met each other in the Cologne Hauptbahnhof. We didn’t know each other, but we found each other by the DB Info Stelle and picked up like we were old friends, introducing ourselves (re-introducing, for those of us who recognized names from the Facebook group), comparing travel horror stories (apparently several incoming flights had been cancelled and trains were late) and all in all relieved to have found other people in the same English-speaking, luggage-dragging boat.

With slightly more chaos than I was expecting from a German-organized event, we were herded onto busses waiting outside the train station and driven 45 minutes out to a much quieter area called Wermelskirchen. Our destination was the Tagungshotel (conference hotel) Maria in der Aue where the Fulbright Kommision and the PAD had booked the entire place for our orientation. Representatives of all the groups that got us here were waiting for us, as well as teachers from several different Länder and Fulbright Alumnae.

I was roomed with another Fulbrighter who will be living in Nuremberg, though she does not yet have an apartment. For our small group sessions, we were mostly organized by Land, so we quickly became ‘Team Bayern’ and started comparing population-size of our cities and figuring out how we could visit one another during the next year, which was nice.

Orientation was mostly an explanation of how to legally live in Germany and how to get paid to do. Germany is the country of bureaucracy, so there’s a lot of different paperwork and several different Ämter (official bureaus, there’s one for everything) that we have to go to before we are officially registered here and can earn our salary from the PAD, the part of the German government that is sponsoring us to be here. The rest of the time was small group work that was to inform us about the school system in our state and prepare us for the possibility of teaching. We did lesson-planning workshops and watched and critiqued other Fulbrighters in a very low-stress situation to help us prepare for German classrooms. Our small group leader was a teacher from Bavaria who was very nice, eager to help us, and enthusiastic about teaching.

The best part of orientation was the opportunity to speak to some of last year’s Fulbrighters and hear about their personal experiences living, working, teaching, and traveling in Germany. They were very friendly and wanted to make us feel as comfortable as possible about the next year ahead. The food was good too. :) The weather sucked, but we basically never left the hotel, so it didn’t matter.

Perhaps most encouraging was hearing from alumna of the program. At least five people who were at some point a Fulbrighter, American or German, said that their ‘Fulbrighting’ year was the ‘best year of their life’ or ‘changed their life forever’. I guess we’ll find out in a year whether or not that’s true for everyone!

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