About franziskaschwarzmann

Grad Student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

Living the questions – some thoughts on relocation

This time last year the decision was clear that I would be leaving my job at a tech startup in Boston. Although I had always been loosely in touch with the company I work for now I had not decided to return at that point. I was open to other opportunities, thinking about finally returning to the West Coast of the US, living the beach and Ocean Cali life, or laying a focus on more mountaineering adventures in a region closer to British Columbia. The little nomad adventurer within me wanted to go do something new, Middle East, South East Asia – different cultures, different values in society.

Like a withering flower

The minute I stopped working this is what happened: I could not get out of bed and when I did I basically only waited until Pouya was off to work to return to bed. Some days, full of good intentions, I started reading a book, only to put it aside after half a page – while my eyes were reading, inside my head a totally different kind of scenario was unfolding: What if I would not find a job? How many months could I afford my life before I would be broke? What do I want? What do I stand for? How important is a career versus so many other things?

You are not your career, they say, tweet, coach. And when you have a job that annoys you you keep thinking: That’s not worth it, that is bull, I want to do something different. Well, the minute I did exactly that, I started feeling incredibly worthless. And I really did not want to admit it because in my head I was supposed to feel free, to embrace that I can do anything – when ultimately some days when Pouya returned from home I had not even managed to brush my teeth.

Rural Germany with an international partner: Nothing can prepare you for it

We made the decision to come to Germany together, Pouya and I. He really wanted to live in Europe and learn German, I really wanted to be closer to my family and see them more regularly than once a year for Christmas. I also wanted to live in a system where I have more than 24hours notice, have a contract that says how much vacation I have versus a so called “umlimited vacation contract” (that ends up being no vacation because going on vacation is interpreted as not willing to put in what is needed to succeed).

I took a plane from Boston to Frankfurt in the beginning of June, crying for the first hour because I could not believe that I am actually leaving Boston, the only place that I have ever called my home. With me I had a suitcase and my true companion, a white and pink carbon road bike that I have named Tharros – which is Greek and means courage. Back in the office that I had already worked at years before I felt excited, safe and hopeful. I buried myself in work and triathlon practice – work, work out, eat, work, sleep, repeat. The first weekend I went to my hometown because I did not want to be alone, the second weekend I stayed in Aalen – on monday morning I then realized that I had not talked to any person except for Pouya on the phone, and my friends Deepti and Maria Rita  – calls that kept me going, about world politics, personal struggles, about fitting in, about pulling through.

The third weekend I went to a friend’s birthday party; when I arrived she introduced me as the party animal – we went down memory lane for a couple of hours, entertaining everyone with our truly ridiculous stories. And then there was this one time when we arrived at 7AM at her house, opening another bottle of prosecco…or that other time when we fell asleep in the bar… The night ended with me initiating a flunky ball tournament. The next morning I woke up early, packed the car (in which at that time Tharros and bike equipment were standard) and I drove – home to Kassel again. I went out with my 17-year old sister, I spend evenings with my Mama, I camped at my first triathlon weekend with my Dad.

Mid July it was time to return to Boston to pack up everything for the move and to cheer Pouya on at his first Ironman in Lake Placid. I packed my Bank of America credit cards, my CVS card, my Boston Charlie Card and off I went, enjoying flavored coffees, Bacon Egg and Cheese Bagels, Vietnamese soups, the splendid landscpapes of the East Coast from Mass all the way to New York State. It did not feel like home anymore, it felt like a place that I belonged to, very familiar.

Honestly, I did not think of how it would be to be in Germany before I moved. And neither did I anticipate how it would be to live in rural Germany with a Middle Eastern looking man. Since last June I went through phases of disbelief, sadness, hatred, solitude to the point I am at now: A point where I have managed to find peace inside of me – at least sometimes.

There is a point at which home can only be a state within yourself, not a location

Although Germany and the United States both belong to “The West” the fundamental concept of living is absolutely different. When I was in the US I always knew that I am German. Now that I am in Germany the only thing I know and appreciate is that I have a German passport. I also understand that living in Boston is not comparable with living in the rural Southeast of Germany, so comparisons are not fair to either. What is becoming more apparent though is that the person I am right now can not live for long in a rural German area – and maybe that has nothing to do with Germany, but with the fact that it is rural.

For the first time in my life I have trouble finding friends, or even acquaintances. While the Americans are said to be superficial, my experience is that they at least make it easy to spend time with. My many attempts to try and “hang out” with people here have either been unanswered or not reciprocated. Hence, I have probably never spend more time with my family. At our training camp in Cyprus we met a lot of like-minded people – obviously you start conversing when next to each other on the bike for several hours; it felt a little like a wake-up call that things will need to change in the near future.

The other day at swim practice in Aalen one of the better swimmers told me: You sometimes are like a log of wood in the water, you should swim more. I have improved my swimming from the beginning of this winter until now by 25seconds per 100meters, I said. He said that I am still slow. Perspective makes such a difference, doesn’t it? In the US, unless you want to compete with the superheroes of triathlon Jan Frodeno and Sebastian Kienle, and even then, the general attitude is to focus on the positive, on having fun. Focus on what works well, focus on your own journey, make the best version of yourself. The Germany I live in right now focuses on comparison, on standards, on being better than others.

Integration in rural Germany means: Assimilation. Or being lonely

A lot of nights Pouya and I have talked about the concepts of immigration versus assimilation. Being here with him, a clearly “Islamic” looking man, has opened my eyes to the fact that Germany has no concept of immigrating internationals, welcoming their cultures, co-existing. What rural Germans see as immigration de facto means assimilation. My parents in law tried to exchange Dollars to Euros the other day: At six banks they tried, none of them would give them Euros because they did not have an account. At the hospital Pouya and I went to after his bike accident the first question the lady asked was: Where are you from? The second was: Do you even work? I threatened her to get media involved if she refused to treat Pouya  and had to give here my credit card as a security. Up until this day no big bank in Germany is giving us a joint bank account. In the city are 12 bakeries with great bread and brötchen. If you want something “international” you can go to the Turkish supermarket – led probably by second generation Germans of Turkish descent. The minute people are moving to Canada, acquiring a Canadian passport, they are considered Canadian.

“Try to live all the questions” Rilke, my favorite poet, wrote. I am.

Five Lessons learned from our storytelling approach (German only, for now)

Video

I had the honor of speaking at two content marketing conferences about ZEISS Stories, the storytelling project that I am strategizing and implementing at ZEISS. 

My talk was perceived very well and I have been asked to share it with my fellow content marketers – all trying to figure out how to work the area of “owned content”.

Enjoy!

Ironman Training Log – The Power of Tests

When I first talked to my coach Michael Krell, he told me that I would have to do tests in all three disciplines: A 400m swimtest, 7x 1km running starting from a low heart rate to a high heartrate and, eventually, a bike test.

The first set of swimming and running tests was pretty sobering. Not only because I realized I cannot even run 1km as fast as German legendary triathlete Jan Frodeno’s average km during an Ironman, but also because these tests brought back some memories of the pain one has to go through.

That being said, this past week was test week – after another 7km on the track, another 400m in the pool I wanted to share two take-aways…

 

I. Have Faith in Your Training

I have put my trust into Michael and done my best to execute the weekly training plans he is writing for me (which is a strenuous adjustment to daily life: less spontaneity, better food planing because you are either starving or eating bullshit food, sleep discipline and,  by far the hardest for me, you’d better get used to a one-drink-rule because your tolerance is becoming pretty ridiculous compared to – how shall I put it – journalist & grad school times). For a control freak like me, with coaching experience in rowing, that leap of faith presented a challenge. Some days seemed so easy, some days I either felt like vomiting, did vomit or really tortured myself into training in the first place.  Besides that, I was always hungry, but tried to keep myself from eating more.

Second set of test results are in. I have increased my 400m swim-time by 45Seconds, about 10seconds per 100m. Since September, I have for the first time in my life ran a 10k race and a Half Marathon and I have been able to improve my fastest km time by 30seconds. In the Tufts Pool in Boston there was a massive poster reading “Have Faith in Your Training”. I never really understood what that meant, but now I do.

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II. It does not get easier, you just get faster

As thrilled and motivated as I am about my improvements, the tests as well as the longer runs every weekend have shown me that feeling better is not part of the deal. Sure thing, I have had some gorgeous forest runs that come with a therapeutic side effect, but the body also goes through phases of protest that the mind has to counter. During my run test I felt like my legs would just give in, my lungs were exploding and I had already mentally prepared myself for worse test results. Funny enough, I found cyclist’s Greg Le Mond”s quote “It does not get easier, you just get faster” very fitting.

Ironman 70.3 Mallorca is three months away and I’ll keep you updated on the journey.

Oh, January

January is a hard to deal with month for me. I might also face a couple of intimidating thoughts right at this time and blaming the one month that usually motivates people to eat healthier, smoke less and work out more. Oh, well.

Training Log

I am not sure if I have announced it on the blog, but I have decided a couple of months ago to tackle an athletic challenge – the Half Ironman in Mallorca. That means 1.9km of swimming, 90km biking followed by a half marathon of running. We booked a house by the beach, family and friends are coming. While foggy and dark, the sun never shines-January in Germany makes me long for palm trees for the first time this month I am going through rapid mood changes with regards to this race. I woke up last week realizing that time is passing and I no longer have six months (the magic amount of time needed for preparation). I counted with my fingers multiple times only to arrive at the same number over and over again: FOUR! It is only four months away.

Never good at all three
Euphoria happens when things work out well. Naturally. My swim went well, I ran a faster km on average, my bike ride felt good. Any of these make me more confident. Here’s the thing, though: I have never had a week where I felt that I have all three sports under control…when I ran a lot, I felt like a stone in the water. When I feel like a flash on my bike, I sometimes add a run thinking I must have done my first steps more smoothly. That probably is the beauty and the beast of triathlon. At times like these in January, foggy January, no me likey!

If training is well there is always this: ZE WEDDING
Yeah, because a middle distance tri race is not enough in one year, Pouya and I have also set a date for the wedding – six weeks after the race (please laugh, that’s ok). Here is the thing: If you strongly feel about a specific date to tie the knot, I strongly advise you to reserve it roughly a decade in advance…the weddingmania has taken over Germany! Some vendors told us that women choose the date according to average weather records – as if rain or sun would matter that much. Anyways, Ze wedding.

Weddings are a great forcing function of self-reflection and understanding how others see you
My friends who have only recently gotten married will all laugh: My dear Mama, who is certainly very excited sent me three dates for wedding exhibitions last week. Wedding Exhibitions. First of all, I never even knew such a thing existed. Second, rapid thoughts overtook me: I asked myself whether I gave away the vibes of being a person who would spend a day at a wedding exhibition. Then I wondered whether this is the time in my life where I would change into the kind of person I would always make fun of: The “this will be the bestest day of my life, ever”-bride and I would commence that change with the wed-exhibit. And then, combined with some earth-shattering shivers some pretty interesting self reflective thoughts fired: I really do not care this much about my wedding as I care about the wonderful man I am marrying. For this day I am hoping that some people do me the honor and travel from near and far to spend a couple of hours with me and my family, laughing, enjoying, dancing (YES, I already have the band. NO, I do not have the dress). Since I have by now project planned about a dozen pretty great events and I know how much tedious attention to detail needs to go into it, I really do not feel like doing that for my wedding. “Perfect” is a mindset, not a measure when it comes to weddings – it took me a long time putting this into words and it feels pretty f… great right now, because you have no idea, or maybe you have, how many people have an opinion on ANYTHING and everything.

My boss told me last night: “For everyone of your guests it will have been a wedding. For you it will have been your wedding. Own it.” Writing these words seems to be the first step…

I hope I successfully expressed a good amount of sarcasm. If not, I am very well aware that this is a “first-world-problem”-blogpost and I am ending it with some impressions from the trip India which is currently being wrapped into a big India diary post:

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India

I have been writing so much for work that my private headlines are not really the most creative. But this one sums it up pretty well. Pouya, me, India.

Naturally, the minute I told my body I am going on vacation it went into sick-mode, not only do I have  cold, but also a nasty inflammation in my wrist, but I strongly believe in the Indian healing powers. And in Ibuprofen 🙂

So, summed up in short, this trip is means a lot to me: It will be another wedding experience, this time in Bangalore. I am very excited to see my Fletcher friend Aditya again. The younger generation of the wedding party will then move on towards Goa and beach for a bit. Moving on from the South, we will be doing a stopover in Delhi and see the couple whose wedding brought me to India this past January, Jessica and Abhishek.

And then it is time for a big item on my bucket list: Ever since I saw the Himalayan peaks from Mussorie in January I have been thinking about that place and how I felt. It is hard to explain, but I felt complete. This time, it will be a little longer. We will be doing a five day trek, in the snow, with a big backpack, lots of emergency drugs (the German doctors needed some serious persuasion to give out some of these prescriptions; a little bit of Googling has confirmed my funny jokes about how these drugs are most likely available somewhere over the counter…). I have a lot of respect for the fast altitude gain and I hope I am trained well enough. I guess there is only one way to find out…

And then it will be time for catching up with more Fletcher friends in New Delhi, eating as much Dhal, Palak Paneer, buttered chicken and drinking so much Masala Chai that I can at least stay for a little while without graving the food that is simply unavailable where I currently am.

I will try to keep you updated with lots of pictures and little stories.

 

The German World – through His Eyes

Be careful what you wish for: When Pouya and I decided to relocate to Germany we were telling our friends that it would be an adventure. It’s surely been adventurous, but maybe not the adventure that we had associated.

  • Schorle!

The first word he perfected was “Schorle”, that is the German’s drink of choice: Juice mixed with sparkling water (that kind of sparkling that makes you burp immediately). After a few weeks in the country of Schorle, he was “Schorle’d out” and now we have been trying to order tab water – something that still seems to be an offense in German restaurants, which is funny given that German water is pretty clean on a world scale.

  • Amt!

The first world within the German world he detected was “Amt”, the public administration. When he registered in the town of Aalen the lady behind the counter asked him if he had already registered for “GOA”. He was a little confused since we will be traveling to Goa, India later this year and he was wondering how that lady possibly knew that. Goa, however, is the local trash agency, also called the trash-mafia. Trash is a serious matter in Swabia.

  • Wochenmarkt-Bag

Last weekend he came home in the morning from the baker. Since we’re living in the middle of town we can watch the crowds walk towards the local produce market on saturdays. He dragged me to the window and told me that he has a hypothesis: You are only an eligible member in the Aalen weekly market when you are carrying a wood braided basket. And he was right, every one was carrying the same bags.

  • No!

No, there is no good customer service here. No you cannot return something after 2weeks. No, there is no services that offer convenience services. No, the concept of good enough is not present: You do or you do not and if it is not built to last forever it shall not be build at all.

We are currently in Canada. At Thanksgiving dinner a family member asked Pouya what he thinks is so different about Germany, how this small country is able to compete on so many levels globally. And he told a fascinating and complex story of a nation that values work-live-balance, efficiency and incremental improvement.

The adventure in my head has little to do with what reality currently provides. Administrative craziness knows no boundaries and I have no more conniption fits to give. Yet, there are also wonderful things: weekends with friends from school, great healthy food, enough time for sports&family

It has been five years in the United States and I slowly understand I have hit a point of no return: I am the one who has changed and now experience the country with a different mindset. It is hard to discuss this with Germans that have not left as they think I am pissing on my home turf or think of myself as deserving more when openly admitting that I am struggling with being in Germany. The concept of home is something many of my international Fletcher friends have redefined for themselves and I am currently doing the same. It certainly helps to do this with Pouya whose eyes are open to the small things that I am sometimes not able to appreciate anymore.

This is us last week at the Munich Marathon where we both ran a 10k race – at freezing temperatures.

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07-17: A month to remember

Kassel – Aalen – Boston – Lake Placid – New York: Triathlons, Cardboard Boxes, Saying “See You later” and a very powerful question that I answered with a yes (well, honestly, it was “Oh my god!” Pause “Yes!”)

Reflection, what a powerful mode. Today, we finally found an apartment in Aalen. Finally, because since interest rates are ridiculous everybody is buying houses, the German economy is doing well and all of a sudden what I thought of as a relatively cheap region to reside in has become quite expensive (still cheap compared to Munich, Stuttgart and let alone Boston). I also will be able to share soon what I have spent most of my time on at ZEISS next week and which excites me a lot currently.

However, as I was sitting down today, intending to journal, I realized what a month a have just experienced in July and that it is time to share it with you. Yes, many of you know that July ended with a very powerful question I was asked, but let me give you a couple of other beautiful moments first:

My first triathlon: 750m swim, 18km bike, 5km run

I LOVED it! I swam way too fast, had to seriously recover on the bike from that, loved how me and my bike are unbeatable descenting, and what shall I say about the running portion of that sport: there is loooots of room for improvement for me :-). I got to do it close to my hometown, my Mom, Dad and sister were there and I enjoyed spending a day racing, hanging out with family and just being happy.

A trip to Lake Placid: Or, watching an Ironman actually involves some stamina

Shipping back from Boston

Well, what can I say: I had lots of Bacon, Egg and Cheese Bagels, Hazelnut coffee, went to my favorite Indian, managed to cause total packing chaos, but in the end Pouya and I had 8boxes, a bike and skies. That is it, and it still makes me pretty proud.

With a ring on my finger 

The last weekend of July I spent in New York City, speakeasy drinks, unique international food  hipster East Village, taking long midnight walks through Manhattan – which is actually quite wonderful during the hot summer days. Somewhere on that island, in the middle of the night, on our way from Alphabet city to Midtown Pouya asked me to marry him. And I did say yes. Until that moment I have no idea how long he had been carrying a ring in his jeans :-).