My first week in Siegen

I started looking for an apartment in Siegen right after I found out my grant application was approved by DAAD. The people at the international office of the university there were really nice and helpful. I was looking for a student room, because most of the Irish universities are renting out their student accommodation during the summer. In Germany though, the spring semester is still in full swing in July, and the students are still there. I was offered a small one-bedroom apartment, and I turned it down because it didn’t come with an Internet connection. After looking and looking, and getting assistance from my German colleagues, I realised that I was asking for an impossible thing. Apparently there’s a law preventing people to pass Internet connections to their tenants – the tenants have to apply for these themselves. This showed me once more how blinded we are by assumptions we make, and how we project our own environment on sites we are supposed to visit. I emailed the lady in the international office asking if the little apartment in Siegen-Weidenau was still available – and it was! It proved to be a wonderful solution: the landlords were extremely nice. They picked me up at the train station, brought me to the apartment, showed me around and volunteered to take me out if I ever felt lonely!

I learnt about the bus routes and used Google on my phone for finding the nearest O2 shop. I got there 30 min before closing time and managed to get a mobile internet “surfstick” with a prepaid account for one month. Although in the possession of a shiny HTC Desire (that was supposed to come SIM free, but didn’t!), I kept my old Nokia phone for daily usage. The prepaid surfstick and a 30 days voucher for TMobile hot spots kept me reasonably happy for the whole month I spent in Germany. Still, couldn’t do Skype voice on any of these!

The next morning I took the bus to the university, together with tens of students living in a student residence nearby. My plans to walk to and from the university, or to buy a bike faded away when I saw the steep hills Siegen is located on and the temperature reached 37 degrees Celsius. The bus was the best solution! The aprtment was located on the top of one hill, and the university on the top of another, on the other side of the valley. Three buildings, all very modern, a huge mensa(canteen), a big library, several smaller ones – everything looked quite impressive. The cable internet connection in the office really rocked, while eduroam was poor and only accessible in a few locations.

A colleague took me to administrative headquarters of the university in the city centre, were I got my stipend. I did a quick tour of the shops and returned to the apartment I got to like more and more.

The week was extremely stressful: I had brought unfinished work with me, I was still getting problems to solve from Limerick, while I was struggling to arrange my visits for the following weeks, plan the work I had envisaged to do with my colleagues in Siegen, and the temperature was getting closer and closer to 40 degrees. AC in German trains was failing, with people being taken to hospital after barely surviving locked in trains at 52 degrees Celsius. I knew it was going to be hot, but I didn’t expected it to get that bad.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was invited to a seminar were Stephan Lukosch from TU Delft presented his work in the area of Knowledge Management and Storytelling. It was a great opportunity to met Stephan in person (he had a paper together with Till Schuemmer from Fernuniversitat Hagen in a workshop I organised back in 2007), and to meet some of the other members of the Information Systems and New Media group that was hosting me at the University of Siegen.

On Friday, I discovered the joys of working from home. Sitting on the balcony overlooking the valley, sipping coffee and working away on my laptop while the birds were chirping in the nearby trees was fantastic!

My daughter, who joined me on Wednesday, took a few walks in the neighbourhood and discovered we were 7 minutes away from the woods and the footpaths that connect the whole area. We started taking walks in the evenings, which were one of the delights of being in Siegen.

Today we went to see a young friend of mine who had recently started a job at a hospital in Olpe, not far from Siegen. Sebastian was one of my online students in the e-portfolio course I ran back in 2005. At the time, he was a brilliant undergraduate student in a medical school, looking for an opportunity to continue with postgraduate studies abroad. We had met briefly in Bucharest that year, and we kept in touch the whole time after that. The day was really hot, but a nice boat trip on Biggesee and  a quick dip in the lake made the day much more bearable.

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July 11 2010 | Research and travel and Uncategorized | No Comments »