A Typical Day for Sophie at the Embassy

8:50 a.m- Show up to work early, stand nervously by security guard while he calls what I know to be an empty office, looking for someone to escort me in.

8:55- Still no answer in Cultural Affairs office, because no one has come to work yet.

9:00- A familiar face finally arrives, takes pity on me, and escorts me in.

9:02- Marine exchanges my passport for a red visitor’s pass.

9:10- Arrive in Cultural Affairs office, hang up coat, swivel back and forth in chair waiting for the two interns in the office to get to work.

9:15- Interns arrive late, exchange small talk and a joke or two, discuss previous nights activities.

9:30- Freak out thinking passport is lost, look everywhere for it, then remember the Marine has it.

9:45- Help intern edit daily news report of German media to be circulated to those working in the embassies in Germany, and then back to Washington. Chuckle at expressions and word choice used by native German speakers who write the report in English. 

10:00- Tanya arrives and whisks me off to a presentation. The interns follow.

11:00- Go back to desk, attempt to unlock Tanya’s iPad. She wrote down the passcode on the first day but I lost it and am too ashamed to go back to her office and ask for the seven hundredth time.

11:10- Swallow pride and get passcode from Tanya. Write it down again.

11:30- Talk to interns about their work and lives back home, discuss differences between Germany and America. Continue reading “A Typical Day for Sophie at the Embassy”

In Which I Am Frowned Upon by German Society For My Poor Choice in Footwear

Let me preface this post by pointing out that as of today in Berlin, it is bone-chillingly cold. The last few days have been positively spring-like, but last night took a turn for the worse and snow has been coming down in flurries every few minutes. As of now, snow covers the ground and everything on it, and it doesn’t show signs of stopping.

Since I arrived I have been taking note of many cultural differences between Germany and the US, but I haven’t experienced them firsthand until today. I brought with me two pairs of Embassy-appropriate shoes, and chose to wear the more sensible of the two, a black pair of loafers which unfortunately exposed the top half of my foot. I saw nothing wrong with this, except for the knowledge that my feet would be a little uncomfortable during my walk from the apartment to the train, then from the train to the embassy and back again that afternoon. Continue reading “In Which I Am Frowned Upon by German Society For My Poor Choice in Footwear”

 

Like a child on her first day of school, my aunt walked me up to the formidable grey building. The slick stone wall is engraved with the words ‘EMBASSY TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA’. There is a length of velvet roping sectioning off a clearly marked pathway to the door. Standing between me and the door is a severe looking security guard. He glared and watched as we approached. His arms were crossed over his broad chest. 

“Identification.”

I handed over my passport, and looked up at him nervously. I felt like a kid trying to get past a bouncer. He nodded, and muttered something into a walkie talkie. I entered trough the thick doors as tourists walking past stared. I was led to another security guard, who stared me down with a similar glare. 

“Electronics.”

I handed over my cell phone, iPod, and my headphones. He put them in a special cubby. I would get them back when I was ready to leave. My first-world brain panicked for a second. What would I do without my phone? 

Wanting to kick myself, I walked through a metal detector and over to a big window, behind which sat a Marine in full uniform. He stared at me through the glass. I smiled weakly and slid my passport under a slot in the window. He slid back a red pass reading ‘Visitor. Escort Required.’ 

I was given a tour of the building, as well as taken through the different floors meeting people. I shook hands and introduced myself. The more people I met the more I was struck by how everyone working in the Embassy had such a wide variety of skill sets and backgrounds, the incredible breadth of education being used. If you were a math major, you could find work at the Embassy. If you were a foreign language major, there was a place for you. Communications, Sociology, Political Science, Management, Media Science, Journalism, everything under the sun was represented in the people I came in contact with. 

In the afternoon I took an art tour of the Embassy with some of the other interns. The Embassy is chockfull of exciting art, including a piece by Andy Warhol dusted with diamond dust, and four Jackson Pollocks. This was not something I had expected, and it seemed to me to be a little bit of a shame that these incredible works of art were there in the building but only for those who could get past security to see. 

I ended my day with an interesting and informative WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) presentation. This presentation went over what we should do in the case of an attack using WMDs. This does not mean bombs or guns; the building is well equipped to deal with those, but rather in the event of specialized biological attacks. Mustard gas or anthrax, for example. Working in such a high-risk environment puts you in a potentially dangerous situation, or rather as the presenter put it; as soon as you put an American flag on a building, you may as well be painting a big target on the side of that building. 

After learning how to use the nerve agent neutralizer syringes, I appreciated the surly security guards a little more. After all, they had everyone in the building’s best interests at heart. When I left for the day to take the S-Bahn back to the apartment, I grinned at the guard standing outside and told him to have a good night. He nodded back at me and glared.

A Short Bit In Which I Describe My Lufthansa Experience

“I’m a firefighter, if that makes you feel any better.” boasts the man sitting next to me, in response to my reluctant admission to being what they call a ‘nervous flyer’. Joe from Jersey, the firefighter, spends the next seven hours alternating between assuring me that he ‘never flies economy class’ (I’m sorry sir, but according to your seat assignment, you do in fact fly economy class just like the rest of us peasants), and snoring loudly. I made the mistake of telling him I spoke no German, to which he gleefully delegated himself the task of teaching me everything he knew. Nein, danke. 

I learned a lot more about Joe during that flight than I ever wanted to know, and quickly realized with a sinking heart that overnight flight meant I could not pointedly look out the window the entire time, too engrossed in nature’s beauty to listen to stories about his Slovakian girlfriend he was going to visit. As the maraschino cherry on top of the double-fudge milkshake brownie sundae, Joe gave me a parting gift as we exited the plane. It was a pocket sized cartoon pamphlet entitled ‘Where Will You Spend Eternity?”

 

T-Minus 20 Hours

It’s crazy to think that I am less than 24 hours away from something I have been looking forward to since middle school. Senior Projects are one of the things so inherently Westtown, that I feel on par with the night before my first middle school canoe trip, or the day I moved in on Girls 3rd.

However, no matter how many years I have been waiting for this day, I can confidently say that my Senior Project ended up being completely different from anything I had imagined as a 12-year-old. When my proposal came back passed by the committee, and it became clear that I was indeed going to Berlin, spending a week at the American Embassy, the first thing that popped into my head was, “But what am I going to wear??”.  Continue reading “T-Minus 20 Hours”