Let’s talk politics

 

While I can’t speak on behalf of other countries, I’ve spent 23 years of my life (minus 4 months) in the US. From the day I was born and hopefully not till the die, I have witnessed the volatile stigma that is US politics. Politics in the US isn’t rational, it’s emotional and therein lies the problem.

The Problem

The problem is simple, we don’t talk politics. I’ve spent 5 years in the college of business and it’s always the same story. I’ve invested a lot of time in my communication skills and one common theme is, “don’t talk politics”. Why? Because it’s a sensitive topic. Why is it a sensitive topic? Because we don’t have open discourse. See the paradox? And the same applies for the US as a whole. Instead of having open discussion about the political process, we judge and divide, we pick sides. Emotions run wild. It’s absolutely absurd and could easily be avoided with a simple concept, “don’t make it personal”. Instead, that’s all anyone ever does. It’s very common in the US when you meet for the holidays to avoid politics like the plague because once someone starts talking, usually the college students (good on us), we’re hounded by our older, “wiser” relatives. Or we simply make observations and we’re told that we’re wrong and that we should “read” more. Where’s the respect in that? Respect doesn’t go one way, it goes both ways. I truly believe the young can be just as wise, if not wiser than our older counterparts and yet are we treated as such? No, instead we are looked down upon. I’m not saying this is the case with every family, but it’s common enough to the point where it needs to be addressed. It’s culturally ingrained that we do not speak politics in the US! How insane is that? Where does it start? It starts with the family. Families have an obligation to teach the young to respect politics by understanding politics.

When I voted for the first time 4 years ago, I was so excited. To have the ability to influence democracy and vote based on policy. I respected Mitt Romney as much as I respected Obama. The discourse during the debates was civil and I could see both sides of the issues being addressed. At the end of the day, I chose Obama. Why? Because I liked his policies best. See? Does that seem so bad? Does that make you angry? No! How easy is that? That’s a very basic example, but it illustrates my point so well. But let’s add another element to the story, when I decided to talk about who I voted for to my family. The moment I said “Obama” it was over. It was all criticism. It was “Obama did this, Obama did that”, “Obama takes jobs away, he’s going to make it so difficult”. So what did I do after that? Did I talk more about politics with my family? No. I shut my mouth because it wasn’t a discussion, it was an argument. It’s absolutely disgusting that this is even an issue. And that it is so common. What’s worse is because a lot of people feel they can’t talk openly about politics with their family, they think this applies to the rest of life as well. Strangers, friends, etc. Where are the liberals and conservatives coming together, because right now it’s simply a free-for-all, with everyone pointing the finger. Well, I say enough is enough. So what then, is the solution?

The Solution

The solution is simple. And it is… Drum roll please. Open dialogue! Yes it starts with simply talking politics. But of course, you may be asking “How, where do I even begin”? Well, let me to tell you.

The How

  1. Listen – Yes listening is the first step. Hear what the other side has to say and go in with an open mind. Obviously you’re not going to agree on everything and that’s a good thing! If we always agreed, there’d be no reason to talk with anybody.
  2. Ask questions – What a novel concept! You’re confused on a point? Ask a question and keep digging, “seek to understand, then seek to be understood”. It’s not rocket science! Saying someone is wrong and you’re right will get you nowhere.
  3. Offer a new perspective – Expand on the questions! Ask follow up questions! Then offer your perspective! Chances are you’ll have a meaningful discussion and both parties will walk away happier.

So there you have it, we’ve taken a simple problem with a simple solution and made it overly complex. It’s time to change and that starts with the individual. If we want a better tomorrow, we have to fight for it today. So feel free to discuss, share, and re-post this article. Stay classy people.

New Year, New Mike

Background aka New Mike origin story

So I’ll be honest, 2016 was by far the best year of my life. Last year (2015) my goal was simply to become a better person, the person I always talked about becoming but never really followed through on. I had laid the foundation for success towards the end of 2014, when I decided to quit my job and join student organizations. Then, in Spring of 2015, I ran for leadership positions in those organizations and those positions became my full time job. Summer, after missing out on the opportunity for an internship, was a time for reflection. To take a look at my life; where it was, where I wanted it to be. So come Fall term, I had a goal, just no idea how to get there. I had to start somewhere, so I started with Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of highly effective people”, the book that changed my life. The first habit is be proactive. So I tried it. Instead of saying, I started doing. It helped being the Director of social media for management club and Service chair for the professional business fraternity; I could simply apply the concepts I read about to those positions. The best part? It worked. Each term, Service, Social media improved and as much as it benefited the organizations I was a part of, it was more a reflection of my personal growth. I finished “7 habits” at the start of my Spring term, when I was able to draft my own personal mission statement. Everything I value, written on paper. And I didn’t stop there. I simply kept reading. I would read a recommended “business” book, internalize the concepts, and… blog about it. Yes. My blog more or less started with the books I read in 2015 as it was fairly easy to write about. I’ve been blogging since my Freshman year of college but this was really the first time I felt my blog was worth reading, or for that matter, worth sharing.

2016: A Year to remember

So, that’s where it began. Before that? I was just trying to keep my head above the water. 2014 was the year I decided I had enough of mediocrity and started moving forward. So when you hear me say “always moving forward”, it was around this time that I adopted the philosophy. So, 2016. This year has been absolutely amazing. Winter term was the term I finally got my shit life together. Fall term there was a lot of stumbling, adjusting to the “new” Mike. Winter term was by no means perfect, but by that point I had a lot figured out. So come Spring term, I was more or less king. I knew exactly what I was doing and how to get there. After 4 years, I finally got an internship (the American dream right there). Then come summer, I secured a job where I could apply what I’ve learned.  And then… I was off to Germany, the final stepping stone. I’ve talked quite a bit about Germany already but as many know, I love talking about Germany. What you might not know is the real reason I decided to study abroad. And simply put, as cheesy as it sounds, I was there to find myself. What does that mean? I was searching for my confidence and more importantly, my independence. Did I find it? Yes! So for that reason alone, Germany will always hold a special place in my heart; it represents the end of one chapter of my life and the beginning of a new one. And now here I am ushering in a new year. So that said, what’s in store?

Goals for 2017

What do I want to accomplish for 2017? Well for starters, I’ll be cooking a lot more. A few weeks in and I’ve only been making eggs and bacon, but hey, it could be worse. My goal is to cook a new dish every week or two. I want to improve my German and Spanish to proficient levels by studying at least a few times a week. I want to run at least two times a week, but hopefully three to get back in shape. And of course, I want to spend more time with friends and overall strengthen my relationships.

2017: Broken Chains

Of course this post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t take the time to talk about the future. New Year’s Eve is as much a celebration of the past as it is a celebration of the future. This New Year in particular is special as my time at college comes to a close. I still remember my first week of college and how I cried because I couldn’t find my class and navigating campus was so overwhelming. And now? I can tell Freshman it’ll be alright, that they’ll make it. Why? Because I’ve been there. It’s been a long road and while I’m sad to leave, it’s my time. 2016 was a year of saying goodbye. Not only to the friends I’ve made over the years (now some are 5000 miles apart) but also to who I was. This will be the first year where I am ready to take on the world, so bring it on 2017!

German Culture: Food and drink

So, food.

The Bakery 

I’ve been going to a little bakery almost everyday for the past month. At first it was an easy way to get rid of my Euro cents, but it ended up turning into so much more. Not only was it a way to practice my German, bakeries in Germany are absolutely delicious. There are more options than you can imagine but as for me, I was happy getting the same thing every day. I would try to describe the schinken-käse, but I respect it too much and simply don’t have the vocabulary to put it into words. But I will say this; it was absolutely delicious. Anyways, bakeries are so much fun in Germany. This last weekend I decided to sit down and enjoy my meal inside. German culture is much more relaxed when it comes to eating meals and it was nice to just be able to sit down and enjoy my food without worrying about where I needed to be next. Speaking of which…

Cafes

While not as cherished as bakeries in my eyes, I still managed to visit a few cafes. More or less the same as bakeries, it was just really nice to sit and chat with friends. You can order coffee, beer, food, whatever. By United States standards every cafe would seem like you were sitting in a fancy restaurant but by European standards even the worst cafes are better than some of the best U.S cafes.

Food

I love German food! It’s absolutely delicious. If you’re thinking bread and sausage, you’d be correct. I’ve had a lot of bread since I came here and it’s tasted so good. Imagine the best piece of bread you’ve ever had. Got the image in your head? Good. It can’t even compare to German bread. Oh mein Gott, es ist super lecker (OMG, it’s super delicious). Soft when it needs to be or baked to perfection, I can’t even comprehend living without it (which I will have to do). And sausage, just wow. I love German sausage [insert childish joke here] and I will miss it as well. There’s so much variety in the types of sausages and while I haven’t been able to try them all, they’re my go to for dinner. Have some sausage with sauerkraut and bread and you’ll need nothing else while you live in Germany. Also add sauce, because Germans love their sauce and while I’ve never been able to figure out what’s in it, just know that all German sauce is delicious. I could stop here, but my goal is to educate you and educate you I shall. What else is there? There is schnitzel, which is breaded meat. How is it? Delicious. Then there is spätzle, which absolutely does not exist in the United States! The United States is a country of immigrants, so shame on us for losing our German heritage and not having spätzle. If I sound angry, I am. Anyway’s spätzle is a soft egg noodle that you’ll never understand unless you travel here, so just know it’s delicious. As far as other German food, there’s plenty more. But this is getting painful for me to write as it will be years before I’m back in Germany to be reunited with my one true love, delicious food. I will end with potatoes. This was the big shocker for me. I never expected Germans to have so many potato dishes. It’s absolutely amazing. I never realized how much you could do with a potato until I got over here. Potatoes were never my favorite in the U.S., but now… They say study abroad changes you and I don’t think it’s ever held truer.

Döner

Döner is special. If you’re craving your greasy fast food, this is as good as it gets. Primarily a Turkish dish, Döner can be found all over Europe. It’s pretty much a burger except with shaved meat. The meat hangs over a fire and the juices drip down. While still juicy, I personally like to believe it’s healthier than a burger.

Water

So water. In the United States water is everywhere. Go to a restaurant, water. Go outside, you have drinking fountains. In Germany? Nothing. I’ve only seen a water fountain once in the last 3 months and that was in Switzerland! You have to buy water in Germany. And what’s more, it’s carbonated. Is it as bad as it sounds? Actually, no. I almost cried when I got here because I was already overwhelmed and then I couldn’t find water, a basic necessity. But now, it’s not so bad. Water maybe costs 20 cents per bottle and you’re getting one and a half liters. As far as it being carbonated, I now like drinking carbonated water, so now when I get back to the U.S. I can fully enjoy Italian sodas and the sort (yay). If you can’t adjust to carbonated water, water comes in three forms in Germany: still, medium, and sparkling. So, relax, it’ll be alright. But I’ll be honest. Beer is cheaper in Germany than water, so…

Beer

I could’ve started with beer but then you wouldn’t have made it this far. So of course you’re wondering, “is it better than in the U.S.”? Yes, yes it is. Even the best Portland, Oregon beer (we have amazing beer, what can I say) can’t even compete with the worst German beer. There’s a lot of variety to German beer as well and I don’t want to say beer is what I’ll miss most about Germany, but… It’s so good. Paired with delicious food and there truly is heaven on Earth. Beer is why I know I’ll come back to Germany and why I have shifted my future career goals to include international business. It’s not the classes, not the amazing adventures I’ve been on, but the beer. Nothing will stop me… Nothing.

Glühwein

If you thought I was done, I’m not. Beer is great and will always hold a special place in my heart, but Glühwein… Served during the Christmas season, Glühwein is warm wine that one gets you really drunk really fast and two, tastes delicious. I’ve had wine in France but Glühwein is on a whole other level. Like everything else in Germany, it has a lot of variety and I’ve unfortunately run out of time to taste it all. My favorite however, is blueberry Glühwein, so my advice? Come to Germany for the beer, stay for the Glühwein.


One more thing…

Manners

It should come as no surprise that in my quest to embrace my German heritage, I have been eating my meals with mostly Germans. And believe it or not, I’ve picked up on German dining etiquette. To illustrate my point, imagine you’re eating a pizza right now. As a United States citizen, you are most likely grabbing the pizza with your hands and devouring it like a wild animal. Now imagine eating it with a fork and knife. That’s what I now do. It wasn’t intentional, it just happened naturally. So now you’re asking, “which method is better”? In my opinion, the German method. And what’s more, I now set my fork and knife at 3 o’clock (think of the plate as a clock) rather than simply throwing my fork and knife on the plate. It feels proper and it is my hope that when I come home, I continue the habits I’ve established while in Germany (even if I’m that weird guy eating pizza with a knife and fork in the U.S).

So there you have it, food. Delicious, German food. Feel free to discuss the topic in the comments. If you have any food that I missed, feel free to say it! Any recipes? Share them. And as always, thanks for reading!

German Culture: Learning the language

Since day one, I have been determined to learn the German language. Have I succeeded? In my eyes, yes. When I arrived in Germany 3 months ago (wow) I was overwhelmed. I remember how excited I was to head to Germany and while I was certainly nervous, it wasn’t until I arrived that it hit me. I was in a foreign country and didn’t speak the language. I had assumed I could get by with my English but in reality, it was not as easy as I initially thought. The signs were in German and surprise, the people in the airport spoke mostly German. But the killing blow was transit. Getting from Frankfurt to Mosbach. In truth, had I not had the help of my fellow students, I most likely would’ve found a nice quiet corner to curl up in and simply starve. But now I can say “ich habe Hunger und ich möchte wasser, bitte”. Which means, “I am hungry and I would like water, please”. So now it is nearly impossible for me to die in Germany. Finding a German girlfriend? Much harder. But in that case, I can always say “zu dir oder zu mir”. I’m not going to explain what that means and to my German friends, yes, I know a lot more than you think. Anyways… So on that day I had a choice, I could either give into my fears or I could face them. So instead of being helpless, I helped myself. I said, “I will understand German”. And I did, as simple as that. Duolingo, memrise, and rosetta stone. But you know what the best teacher was? Making German friends. I would like to personally thank my buddy Tim, who invited me to the underground German poker ring, where the Germans said the table language was English but ended up speaking German anyways. So what did I do? Did I say “Englisch, Bitte”? Nein. I listened. And slowly but surely what was once noise started to become words and words became very broken sentences. And now I am proud to say that can almost speak as well as a German toddler. So here’s my guide for learning German when (not if) you go overseas.

Duolingo

If you have not taken a German course before, duolingo is your best friend. It’s free and it will give you the vocab you need to succeed. Beforehand, I recommend learning the German alphabet via youtube, find what works for you. In addition, memrise should be used as a supplement to your daily duolingo training. If you have rosetta stone great, but I haven’t found it necessary to learning the language. Once you start using these basic tools, you’re ready to move on to…

Make German Friends

To be clear, this is not a guide on how to make friends, but if you’re struggling on that subject, read Making Friends (shameless plug). Any-who, this is pretty self-explanatory. You have class, sit next to the Germans. Say, “Hallo, ich heiβe          und ich möchte sprechen Deutsch mit dir”. If they give you a confused look, that means I’m still learning and I just made you look like an idiot. But the idea is, make sure the Germans know you want to speak and learn German, otherwise they’ll simply assume you want to speak English. Then, once you have friends…

Listen!!!

German, for lack of a better word, is a very strong language. If Germans scare you, I can understand completely. When I first arrived, it sounded like Germans were hissing at me. But overtime, I’ve gotten used to the language and I can now say that Germans aren’t angry, they’re just different. We have two ears and one mouth, and I think a lot of people would be done a lot of good if they used their ears more and their mouth less. Listening helps you pick up on the little nuances of the language and will help you pronounce the words better, so it’s very important!

So that’s it! As a bonus, you can listen to German bands (with lyrics) and watch German TV (with subtitles), while not necessary, it definitely will help (and it’s fun). So the moral of this story? Learn the language! I highly recommend doing it before you head over (unlike me, whoops). It’ll make for a more meaningful experience, trust me! So get excited and make sure you go study abroad, it’ll be the best experience of your life. Any questions? Feel free to comment.

 

 

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