An Open Letter to German Taxpayers

(forgive me, for this post is only tangentially travel-related)

on the way to the gun range tonight (my second time after going a couple weekends ago) i heard a story on PRI’s The World about unemployed Spaniards going to Germany in an effort to find work. with all this talk of Germany’s role in the European debt crisis, and remembering the Solidarity Tax (solidaritätszuschlag) where Germans have an extra tax meant (ostensibly) for improving the infrastructure in former East German states, i just wanted to give a herzlichen dank to the German taxpayer. no, really — a sincere thank you from the bottom of my heart.

your perhaps-begrudging-but-nonetheless-steadfast handing over of your money to your government (not saying this is a good or bad thing, just factually-speaking) means not just economic bailouts for countries you vacation in and better roads and train stations for your ex-communist brethren, but perhaps most importantly and selfishly, allowing me to stay in your country for two years earning a graduate degree tuition-free that i brain-drained right out of you.

i honestly feel somewhat guilty about this. but you know, i’m just going to take what you gave me and thank you for it — two of the best years of my life. i suppose i did pay enough airport taxes and surcharges while traveling during those two years, though, to make up for some of it?

The usual postcard picture of Tübingen

My initial visa to study in Germany

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Lernen

part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge Project

Have you ever studied or taken classes on a trip? What did you study, and perhaps more importantly, what did you learn while on that trip? What would you like to learn on your travels this year?

why yes, i have! i took two years off life between 2005 and 2007 to get a Master’s degree in Computational Linguistics at the University of Tübingen, in the southwest of Germany. my primary reason was not the degree itself (in fact, that was at the bottom of my list) but primarily to live in europe and have the opportunity to travel around on the cheap. and boy, did i. cheap airfares from Stuttgart were plentiful thanks to German low-cost carriers. that, combined with (frankly) an easy program and hostels and the wonderful rail system (and annual visits by travel-loving parents) meant i was able to travel not only around Germany to many other countries in the area (pictures from which can be found on this flickr page):

  • France (a lot)
  • Switzerland (a lot)
  • Italy (quite a bit, including the 2006 Winter Olympics)
  • Czech Republic
  • England
  • Slovenia
  • Austria
  • Hungary
  • Morocco
  • Belgium
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Finland
  • Estonia

this was my dorm room the night i moved in:

my bookshelf a year and a half later (moved furniture around as well)…

and for good measure, a rainbow (or two, if you look closely) taken from my dorm room window…

but this post isn’t about my time in eden, it’s about what i learned. well, my thesis was on manipulating XML treebanks (fundamentally, large databases of linguistic data), but as i said earlier, the academic side of things, while interesting, was not my main focus. yes, i learned german (sort of — took a class before i left, but it’s really not until you get there and see how it’s used by native speakers in natural speaking situations that you really learn how to speak, incorporating words you never learn in class like krass or geil or hammer lol). but more importantly, i learned so much about cultures throughout europe and the world over since i had friends and classmates from countries like syria, romania, poland, israel, and bulgaria–countries i really did not know much about at all.

what else? i also learned that german tabloids are as bad as american ones…

german mcdonald’s restaurants often have random themes…

hanukkah traditions from danielle…

baby food tastes horrible…

…and so much more, more than could ever fit into a single blog post (or even a single blog).

it was a completely unforgettable experience, but one that really paved the way for my solo travel career (since i was older and had more money than the other students, not many could travel as often as i could, although i did appreciate their company when my friends joined in!).

what do i hope to learn in 2012? bah, i’m a sponge, and i’ll soak up whatever i can get!

oh! i almost forgot! i did do a trip within a trip — the summer after my first year four of us went to Malaga, Spain, for The 18th European Summer School in Logic, Language, and Information (ESSLLI), where besides learning that Andalusian summers are incredibly hot, i also took classes in the following:

  • Treebank-Based Acquisition of LFG, HPSG and CCG Resources (Miyao, van Genabith, Hockenmaier)
  • Linear Logic, Linguistic Resource Sensitivity and Resumption (Asudeh)
  • Working with Discourse Representation Theory (Blackburn, Bos)
  • Proof Theory and Deep Inference (Gugliemi)
  • Computational Semantics: Linking Language Processing to Applications (Flickinger, Copestake)
  • Machine Learning and Dialogue (Lemon, Henderson)
  • Higher Order Grammar (Pollard)
  • Probabilistic Methods in Computational Psycholinguistics (Levy)

good times, i assure you, despite my friends’ poses:

Today’s #frifotos – #happyplace

if i’m at a concert for a band i love, it can be pure ecstasy. absolutely happy places.

PA222515
Virginia Jetzt! – Berlin

IMG_1000
Matt & Kim – Oakland

U Shredding
Kisuy – Tübingen